Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Hess lands in Scotland - on this day in Scottish military history - 1941

On this day seventy years ago one of the most famous flights of the Second World War took place. Rudolph Hess flew 1000 miles to Scotland from Bavaria on 10th May 1941 trying to find the Duke of Hamilton in the hope of brokering a peace between Nazi Germany and Britain.

He flew from Augsburg Airfield in a converted Messerschmitt Bf110 with extra fuel tanks. He first crossed the British coast after 10 pm at Holy Isle just south of Berwick in Northumberland. A few minutes later he was flying over Scotland and was spotted at a Royal Observer Corps post at Ashkirk near Selkirk. Night-fighter Boulton Paul Defiants from RAF Ayr and RAF Prestwick were sent up to intercept the German intruder but failed to catch up with them before he crashed.

Flying over Southern Scotland, Hess managed to miss his target of the Duke's airfield at Dungavel House near Strathaven and flew over the Clyde near West Kilbride. He then flew down the Ayrshire coast and back inland near Ardrossan. After another 10 minutes flying he mistook Eaglesham castle for the Duke of Hamilton's Dungavel House and bailed out at ten past eleven. His plane crashed in Bonnyton Field on Floors Farm near Eaglesham.

The first man on the scene after Hess landed next to the farm, and injured his leg in the process, was farm hand Davy McLean. With a pitchfork in hand Mr McLean captured what he thought was just a Luftwaffe pilot. Hess used the assumed name of Alfred Horn at this point and after the offer of a cup of tea in a farm cottage he was escorted to Busby Home Guard Company's drill Hall at Lodge St. John, Busby.

It was there that a local Royal Observer Corps officer, Major Graham Donald identified 'Horn' as Deputy Reichsfuhrer Hess. He was taken to 3rd Renfrewshire Battalion Home Guard HQ which was in Giffnock Scout Hall.

Once they were sure he was Hess he was quickly taken out of Home Guard hands and moved to Maryhill Barracks in Glasgow under the escort of men from 11th Bn Cameronians.

After getting his injured leg seen to he was very quickly taken to the Tower of London and would never return to Scotland. His plane was soon taken away too. As a make of the Bf110 which had never flown over the UK it was wanted by the RAF for examination. From the field in Floors farm it was first taken to a rail siding in Busby and then transported south.

Today there are few mementos of the infamous night left in Scotland. There is nothing at the scene of the landing at the farm, and the crash site is next to the busy A726.

Most of what remains of his plane is now in the hands of the Imperial War Museum or the RAF Museum, however the National Museum of Flight at East Fortune in East Lothian has two large pieces of his Bf110; one of the Daimler-Benz DB601A engines and also a tail fin which had been privately held in Renfrewshire for many years before being donated to the National Museum of Flight.

Lennoxlove House, the home of the Duke of Hamilton, has Hess's map of Scotland and compass.

Maybe in a few houses in Renfrewshire there are a few other small pieces of his plane. Perhaps they had been taken by guards, visitors or souvenir hunters in the farm's field or at the Busby railway siding? Little scraps of an old plane that commemorate the incredible night seventy years ago when a top Nazi dropped into Scotland.

(On a personal note two of my cousins did stints as guards at Spandau Prison in Berlin in the where Hess was held from 1946 until his death in 1987. One whilst serving with the Royal Highland Fusiliers and the other was with the Royal Corps of Transport)

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