Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Guest Post: Icebreaker

Two posts on Today in Alternate History explored a potential “shadow history” where Stalin had pitted Western Europe against one another as the opening part of a plan to swoop in and seize the whole continent once it was weakened, based on Viktor Surovov’s book Icebreaker. One man, Rudolph Hess, who did attempt to broker peace in our own history, rushes to Britain to stop the war before it is too late.

10 May, 1941 - Mysterious Flight to Scotland

A twin-engine heavy fighter was shot down for ignoring an Identification Friend or Foe transmission sent by two Spitfires of 72 Squadron dispatched by the British Chain Home station at Ottercops Moss near Newcastle upon Tyne.

MI5 investigators at the crash site began to piece together an extraordinary chain of events. There was no body in the plane, prompting a search for a survivor. Local farmer David McLean had discovered a man wrestling with a parachute in a field south of Glasgow. The German was desperate to reach the Duke of Hamilton with a message, so McLean helped him to get in touch with the Home Guard and police. MI5 realized they already knew who the inexperienced pilot of the Bf 110E-1/N Messerschmit was: Rudolf Hess, Deputy Fuhrer of Germany.

Hess had traveled to Scotland in a last-ditch effort to save Europe from Stalinism. MI5 had intercepted a letter from Hess to the Duke of Hamilton, whose home Dungavel House Hess had been trying to locate before becoming lost over Scotland. Hess warned of “Icebreaker,” the planned Soviet invasion for taking control of all of Europe.

Hess had actually been seeking to negotiate peace since September 1940, but he failed to understand the power struggle at the apex of the British Government. Various factions within it were concerned with the conflicting objectives of saving the British Empire and the Class System, avoiding future domination by either America or the Soviets, and of course the overt idée fixe: defeating the Nazis. Needless to say the only point of agreement was that ending the war either through victory or peace settlement was highly unlikely to achieve all of these goals.

Yet Prime Minister Winston Churchill was far from a friend to Josef Stalin. Churchill had played an active role in the War of Intervention in 1918, the failed attempt to overthrow the Bolshevik State soon after the Russian Revolution. Most likely because of these anti-communist credentials, he was probably not the right man to engage with Stalin. Prior to the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement, Britain had failed to ally itself with the Soviet Union. Suddenly ending the fight with Hitler to turn on Stalin might seem a possibility to Hess, but he had vastly misread British sentiments after Poland.

Worst still, Hess misaligned himself with the Establishment trying to engage the Duke of Hamilton in the mistaken belief that he was an opposition leader. Although he had correctly presumed Churchill would not break off the war with Germany, Hamilton was not the man to overthrow Churchill. Despite receiving no response (due to MI5’s interception), Hess decided to fly to Scotland but was delayed by the weather and his own meager flight training. Time was of the essence: the pre-emptive Soviet attack was less than a month into the future.

11th May, 1941 - Dungavel House Talks Collapse

There was never any realistic prospect of an agreement being reached at Dungavel House, and yet details of the secret negotiations were concealed by the forty-five year incarceration of Hess which finally ended in his murder by British agents in Spandau Prison. Hess’s initial flight was covered up as “Raid 42,” declared by MI5 in the books as a mission to test British northern defenses.

While MI5 followed Hess’s trail, the Duke of Hamilton met with him after serving duty at RAF Turnhouse. After discussion and meeting with the MI5 agents, Hamilton took Hess to Dungavel House for talks. The centerpiece to the proposed Anglo-German Peace Treaty was that British Prime Minister Winston Churchill would recognize the Deputy Fuhrer as the Head of Government. Hess in turn had made arrangements for a coup d'état led by senior German officers in Berlin. Only a peace settlement with Great Britain would deter Stalin from launching Icebreaker, the Soviet invasion of Europe. Hess even argued that Hitler was in favour of the deal brokered by Hess, his overthrow being necessary to end the war with the Western Allies.

Hamilton sent word to Churchill, but of course offer was rejected out of hand. The Nazis could not withdraw from all of their occupied territories (Hess himself had been a proponent of Lebensraum since his days at the University of Munich), and Churchill would not accept anything less. Agreeing to German demands would have portrayed Churchill as surrendering in the ongoing Blitz. Hess’s signal for the coup in Berlin never came as he was placed under arrest, first in the Tower of London and then in the luxurious “Camp Z” at Mytchett Place in Surrey.

Stalin’s invasion of Europe began soon after. Although Britain suddenly found herself allied with Soviet Russia against Germany, it made for uncomfortable bedfellows. Through the course of the war, Churchill would constantly argue for strategies that seemed to put Russia at a disadvantage, such as fighting Germany in North Africa rather than opening up a European front immediately and campaigning against Operation Dragoon in southern France, instead prompting an invasion of the Balkans to secure oil fields there (a suggestion American President FDR and his “Uncle Joe” in Moscow refused). The Soviets would not dominate all of Europe by the end of the war, but more than half with a great deal of influence into Italy and France.

Given the subsequent events that occurred in the summer of 1941 and through the coming years into the Cold War, many would take the view that the British Government had made a terrible mistake, and it was for this reason that the negotiations were shrouded in secrecy, particularly the plots to overthrow Hitler and Churchill.
Hess’s stubborn intransigence at doom for Europe raised the remote prospect of the Duke of Hamilton attempting to force Churchill from power, but there was even less likelihood of this gambit succeeding. Had Hess gone to a different source, the war might have gone very differently.

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