London Tower

In central London and next to the north bank of the Thames is the Royal Castle of the Tower. It began to be built in the 1000s by William the Conqueror and served as both a residence for royalty and as a defense castle for enemies of the ruling monarch. Through the centuries, the castle has been expanded with several defense rings and towers depending on the threat the ruling monarch experienced. The monarchs also kept treasures and other treasures within the castle walls, most famous are the so-called crown jewels.

The Tower also has a history as a prison and execution place for enemies of the monarch. Both enemies of the state and royal relatives saw themselves imprisoned and executed within the castle walls. After execution, usually by beheading, the bodies were quickly buried under the castle chapel. Being sent to the Tower as a prisoner was proof that one was considered an important and dangerous enemy. Myths and legends about those executed flourish and are protected and create a mystery around the castle. Bl.a. Henry VIII’s wife Anne Boleyn who was executed on the order of her husband haunt at the place where she was executed. At the turn of the last century, the Tower opened up to visitors, but its function as a garrison, prison and execution site coexisted.

During World War I, 11 people were imprisoned and executed. These had been guilty of spying and revealing British military secrets on German behalf. When the second world war was at its door in September 1939, the Tower was closed to visitors. The possibility of German invasion could not be ruled out and the Tower regained its original function as a defense bastion. Taxes and other treasures were moved from the castle in order not to be destroyed or looted by the Germans. There was no invasion, but the Tower was damaged by German air raids on London in 1940 and 1941.The tower was also used to initially imprison and interrogate prisoners of war before being sent on to other prisoner-of-war camps. As in the first world war, spies were also imprisoned and executed during the Second World War.

The most famous prisoner of the Tower during the Second World War was Adolf Hitler’s deputy Rudolf Hess. Hess had been with Hitler since the beginning of the Nazi party and was the one who created the myth of Hitler as the savior of Germany. Hess was a devoted and loyal admirer of Hitler but came after the outbreak of war to lose Hitler’s favor more and more. This may have contributed to the decision made by Hess in the spring of 1941.

On May 10, 1941, Hess took off with a Messerschmitt BF 110 from the airport in Augsburg with destination Scotland. Hess, a trained pilot, managed to reach his target without incident and skipped parachute and let the plane crash. Hess landed on a field just south of Glasgow and was first looked after by a local farmer who in turn contacted the home guard who came and put Hess under arrest.

Hess asked to speak to the Duke of Hamilton and, at the next stage, to the prime minister Winston Churchill. Of this there was nothing and Hess saw himself imprisoned as a prisoner of war. On May 17, he was taken to the Tower and interned in a part called the Queen’s house. For four days he was interrogated before being moved to Mytchett Place southwest of London, which hastily been prepared for this most unexpected prisoner.

After a suicide attempt in June 1942, he was moved to a hospital in Wales where he remained for the rest of the war. In 1946, he was sentenced to life in prison. He was taken with other convicted war criminals to Spandau prison in Berlin. Hess died in August 1987, by then the only remaining prisoner in Spandau for 21 years.

Why Hess conducted the flight to Scotland is still disputed. It is likely that he had an ambition to bring peace with Britain as Hitler’s deputy. This at a time when the attack on the Soviet Union was not more than a month away. A peace agreement with Britain would have meant that Germany avoided a two-front war. The British, however, were not at all interested in this, but stopped him on the verge of forgetting.
Hitler insisted that Hess acted on his own initiative and declared him insane. He also became concerned that Hess had revealed the upcoming invasion of the Soviet Union, but this does not seem to have happened. Hess also never gave any hint that he acted on behalf of Hitler and if so he kept it a secret for the rest of his life. One reason why Churchill, in a time of German domination, wanted to downplay that Hess was in British captivity might be that he did not want peace advocates to get water on a mill if Hess. Another theory is that it was the British intelligence that tricked Hess over to Britain. The exact reasons and who knew what, we will probably never find out.

Current status: Preserved with museum. (2014).

Address: The Tower of London, London EC3N 4AB.

Get there: Metro to Tower Hill station.

My comment:

What characterizes the Tower is the White Tower (White Tower), which with its four towers stands out and is one of several famous landmarks in London. The tower consists of so much more than just the white tower and can be well worth a visit. The Queen’s house is not accessible to visitors as it is the residence of the governor of the Tower and his family.

Follow up in books: Manvell, Roger, Fraenkel, Heinrich: Hess (1973).