General Speidel: did he save Paris?
Who would want to destroy the Eiffel tower, the Louvre, Arc de triomphe, Notre Dame and all the other magnificent monuments of Paris? As the allied forces fought their way towards the French capital in 1945, Hitler gave the order for its total destruction. Many of the soldiers? were wired up for destruction.
On August 26 1944, General Hans Speidel (1897–1984) answered the phone at the German HQ in Paris, when Alfred Jodl the chief of staff, called Field Marshal Walter Model, commander of the Western front, with Hitler’s orders to fire V1 and V2 rockets at Paris immediately. Model was not there… and Speidel did not pass the order on to his superiors. He had studied in pre-war Paris and served in the German Embassy, and had developed a strong affection for the French and their culture.
A junior officer in WWI, Speidel took part in the 1940 invasion of France in WWII. In 1942 he was sent to the Eastern Front where he served as chief of staff of the 5th Army Corps, and later of 8th Army. In 1943 he was promoted to general.
At that time, Speidel was already involved in a plan to assassinate Hitler. In April 1944 he became chief of staff for the commander in chief of the army group in the west, General Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. Speidel established contact to the military commander in France, General Carl Heinrich von Stülpnagel, who tried to convince Rommel to join an action against Hitler. Shortly before the assassination attempt of July 20 1944, Rommel was seriously wounded and was replaced by General Field Marshal von Kluge, who was unwilling to make a firm commitment to participate in the coup attempt.
Although Speidel had not been informed about the planned assassination, on July 20 1944 he tried to persuade Kluge to launch the prearranged measures. Hans Speidel was arrested on September 7 1944 and initially imprisoned and interrogated in Berlin. At the end of 1944, he was released for a short period but then imprisoned again in different places. A few days before the end of the war he managed to escape his pursuers and get to safety in south-west Germany. With the war’s end in 1945, Speidel took up academic work at the University of Tübingen until it was time to put on a new uniform, that of the Bundeswehr, the West German armed forces, after NATO agreed on the rearmament of West Germany.
My wife and I met General Speidel, at his home in the spar town of Bad Honnef at the end of his life. Remarkably, he served as commander of NATO land forces in Central Europe from 1957 to 1963 and was West Germany’s first four-star general. His office was in Fontainebleau outside Paris.
After mixing with Adenauer, Eisenhower, Montgomery, Helmut Schmidt, and so many others, he was bored, with life at home in a wheelchair, and was glad to see us and his wife Ruth, welcomed us. He looked very frail and when his daughter arrived, we were soon on our way! She was worried our visit would be too much for him but not before he expressed his pleasure at the thought of the peoples of Europe uniting.
Rudolf Hess: who killed the last prisoner?
Rudolf Hess (1894–1987) was Hitler’s deputy. The former WWI flyer had been close to the Nazi leader since 1923. He created an international sensation when in 1941 he secretly flew to Britain on a self-styled mission to negotiate peace between Britain and Germany. He was interviewed by distinguished diplomat and former soldier, Ivone Kirkpatrick and others of rank.
There were those who thought a significant faction of the British establishment would welcome peace with Hitler’s Germany. After all, Britain’s situation was not good with the ‘Battle of Britain’ nightly bombing raids, food rationing, the U-Boat menace at sea endangering Britain’s food supplies, labour shortages, fear of spies, mistrust of the Irish, the fall of Greece.
Tried at the Nuremberg war crimes trials, 1945-6, Hess was given a life sentence which he served at Spandau prison in West Berlin, initially with seven of his co-defendants. In 1987 his allied captors pronounced his death as suicide but doubts were raised about this verdict and, indeed, about his original flight. Among the doubters was his Moroccan carer Abdallah Melaouhi who worked as a nurse caring for Hess from August 1 1982 until his death on August 17 1987
Melaouhi was able to obtain an accurate impression of Hess’s physical capabilities. He did not consider that it would have been possible for Hess to have committed suicide by hanging himself, as was later published by the Allied Powers. It is clear that he met his death by strangulation, at the hands of a third party.
“He had neither the strength nor the mobility to place an electric flex around his neck, knot it, and either hang or strangle himself. Hess was so weak that he needed a special chair to help him stand up. He walked bent over with a cane and was almost blind. If ever he fell to the ground he could not get up again. Most significantly, his hands were crippled with arthritis; he was not able, for example, to tie his shoelaces. I consider that he was incapable of the degree of manual dexterity necessary to manipulate the electric flex as suggested. Further, he was not capable of lifting his arms above his shoulders; it is therefore in my view not possible that he was able to attach the electric flex to the window catch from which he is alleged to have suspended himself”. – Melahoui
To my surprise, I was asked by British contacts to visit Melaouhi at his home in West Berlin. He was polite and friendly but careful in what he said. This did not contradict his statement above.
A few days later, I had a greater surprise! The telephone rang. The caller announced that he was Wolf Rüdiger Hess (1937-2001), the son of Hess. I told him I could say little as I was under contract. However, I did tell him that Melaouhi had said that Hess had never given any trouble and was a gentleman. Wolf Rüdiger Hess questioned his father’s death and thought he had been murdered.
Another doubter was W Hugh Thomas, as a British Army doctor he examined Rudolf Hess in Spandau prison and came to the conclusion that something was not right about the patient’s identity. He later wrote the book The Murder of Rudolf Hess.
My final ‘witness’ in the Hess case was someone I knew quite well. Sir Frank Roberts (1907-1998) who knew Germany before the war and, after it as Ambassador. He had met Hess in pre-war Germany and during the war. We had a good chat about his life and times but he stopped short of saying much about Hess.
Overall, my search had been very interesting but, left me without any firm conclusions on what happened to Rudolf Hess.