SLING ENOUGH MUD, they say, and some is bound to stick. You do hear these things: Wasn’t there a suspicion that Hess’s flight to Britain during the war was a clandestine attempt to tie up with Establishment conspirators here? Was the aeroplane he was supposed to have done it in even capable of the range? Was the man who ended up in Spandau prison even Hess at all?

Over the years, conspiracy theorists have raised all these questions, their cause aided greatly by the way government keeps its records secret for such long periods. Roy Conyers Nesbit and Georges Van Acker are to be congratulated in piercing this artificial fog; in an authoritative and well written narrative they reveal truth that is far more interesting than sixty years’ accumulation of fantasy.

Hess was a decorated soldier who volunteered for flying after enduring three years of frontline service. He was trained as a fighter pilot, but reached a unit operating Fokker DVII’s barely a month before the armistice. Feeling bitter and betrayed at Germany’s treatment after the war, he soon returned to conflict as an anti revolutionary street fighter. Hating the Communists as he did, Hess gravitated towards the Deutsche Arbeiter Partei (German Workers’ Party, or DAP); a fellow ex soldier and DAP member had made a great impression on him one Adolf Hitler.

Hess was totally enthralled by Hitler. No orator himself, he took it upon himself to promote the man tirelessly, becoming his deputy, and helping Hitler get his rancid thoughts down on paper in the form of Mein Kampf. With the party making light aeroplanes available to him, Hess resumed flying and took his politicking to the air; amongst other things he circled low over a left wing, Republican meeting for two hours, in a deliberate attempt to drown out their speakers.

In 1939 Hitler forbade Hess from going on operations with the Luftwaffe and indeed, flying at all for a year. Toward the end of this ban, Hess did the rounds of the aircraft industry before Messerschmitt agreed to make aircraft available to him, in 1940. Such is the unquestioning climate of fear in a totalitarian State that no one asked any questions as the deputy führer worked up his flying skills, carefully selected a long range variant of the twin engined Bf 110 and had it equipped for protracted solo flight.

It seems that the Nazis had no inkling of Hess’ secret personal plan to make peace with Britain on the eve of Germany’s crusade against Communist Russia. Hitler was apoplectic when Hess disappeared from Augsburg in May 1941. Goering quickly hauled in Willy Messerschmitt and demanded to know what he thought he was doing, lending an aeroplane to a madman. Messerschmitt neatly turned the point on its head by asking how anyone so senior in the party could possibly be crazy.

In Britain, Hess’ plan quickly faltered on his arrival, after a well planned and skilfully executed flight. He had no concept of British politics and completely misjudged the national mood. The ‘contact’ he demanded a meeting with was the Duke of Hamilton, a man he had not even met. Not only was the Duke in RAF service away from his home and Hess’s landing point but he was a member of the Prime Minister’s party and had no interest in making peace with an enemy.

The Nazis were quick to write Hess off as a madman. Our people were quick to appreciate that Hess was mentally unbalanced and decent enough not to misrepresent his arrival as a defection. Hess was well treated in England, although there was concern he would either kill himself, so depressed was he, or be murdered by Nazi agents. At the war’s end he was, of course, tried at Nuremberg.

What you think of Hess’s long imprisonment extended by the Russians after he turned down a secret political defection deal depends on your feelings about the man. Whilst they give full account of his zealous involvement in Nazi politics, Nesbit and Van Acker seek to show that Hess was not rabidly anti semitic. Amongst other things, they cite an official notice he issued after the infamous kristallnacht, ordering a stop to ‘incendiary actions’ against Jewish businesses and the like. For once I was led to question their usual impeccable sources; this one came from a book by the contentious ‘Hitler didn’t order the holocaust’ historian, Da