BY RICHARD MADDOX
A RECENT TALK ABOUT CONSPIRACY THEORIES surrounding Adolf Hitler at the UK National Archives (1) focused on the enduring theories about his possible survival after April 1945.
As a prelude to the talk, the Archives exhibited copies of some documents that related to rumours – or ‘alternative facts’ concerning Herr Hitler.
One concerned him living in Perpignan two weeks after D-Day 1944.
According to various internet sources the general story has been in the public domain for a while (2) (3) (4) but is interesting and illustrates what with hindsight are clearly outlandish rumours have a way of gaining credence in times of conflict or under other pressures.
Further research on the Internet brought up a memo to the Prime Minister from General Hastings Ismay, Churchill’s senior military advisor at the time mentioning the plot and Alfred Duff Cooper the British Ambassador to France (then based in Algeria). (5)
In his diaries (6) Duff Cooper notes that on 19 June 1944 a French army Colonel Dur (who was on the staff of General Georges Catroux, the commander of Charles De Gaulle’s Free French Forces in North Africa).
Dur told the British Ambassador that the Adolf Hitler was in Perpignan until 24 June, the following Saturday, that he was there to assess the military situation and to reconnoitre escape routes to Spain if the war situation required.
The French colonel proposed this would be an ideal opportunity to ‘bomb’ the house where the Führer was staying – disguised as a Polish Jew.
Perpignan had been occupied by German troops since 12 November 1942 and by June 1944 following the landings in Normandy, allied troops were expected to land in the region. Operation DRAGOON – the start of the Liberation of Southern France began on 15 August with troops coming ashore between Hyeres and Cannes.
Although Dur had many details concerning Hitler in France – including that he was staying in a house at 2 Avenue Wilson – Duff Cooper was not entirely convinced.
Dur refused to name his source or to adequately explain why he had come direct to the British rather than taken the matter through his own French Army chain of command.
Duff Cooper spoke to Commander Francis Brooks Richards (7) who was head of ‘F’ Section SOE Algiers. That evening he came to see Duff Cooper and said that SOE were concerned regarding planning an attempt on the Führer and how this would affect British policy, whether the attack would make a martyr of Hitler and indeed if he had the authority to start making a plan. The Ambassador said he would take responsibility to authorise the plan.
The next day (Wednesday 20 June) Duff Cooper was having further doubts and could not reconcile Hitler being away from Berlin so soon after the Allies had landed in northern France.
Meanwhile Brooks Richards told Dur that an aircraft was standing by – but that the operation would only proceed if Dur revealed his sources.
The Head of ‘F’ Section, Algiers had also spoken to Henri Frénay a senior French Resistance figure who had fled to Algiers in July 1943 and it was decided that Dur must reveal his sources for the sake of credibility.
When this was put to him again Dur asked for 24 hours to think the matter over. And then promptly disappeared.
Duff Cooper concluded that Dur had come up with the plan as a way of revenging himself on enemies in the southern French town.
Meanwhile the General Hastings Ismay had received both Duff Cooper’s signal and (it appears from his letter to Churchill) information from SOE on the possible assassination plan.
It’s interesting that (in the same letter to Churchill) he remarks that the view from the British armed forces Chiefs of Staff was that ‘it was almost an advantage that Hitler should remain in control of German strategy, having regard to the blunders that he has made but that on the wider point of view, the sooner he was got out of the way the better’,
(1) Hitler Lives! Alternative facts and conspiracy theories – a talk by Sir Richard J Evans, FBA, FRSL, FRHistS, FLSW, President Wolfson College, Cambridge and Provost of Gresham College, London, 30 August 2017.
(3) http://www.midilibre.fr/2013/05/24/en-juin-1944-les-anglais-pensaient-que-hitler-se-cachait-a-perpignan,703094.php – retrieved 3 September 2017
(5) http://www.paperlessarchives.com/wwii-d-day-assassinations.html#VIEW – retrieved 3 September 2017
(6) The Duff Cooper Diaries, 1915 – 1951, edited by John Julius Norwich https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=uXLhAgAAQBAJ&pg=PT320&dq=duff+cooper+perpignan&hl=en&sa=X&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=duff%20cooper%20perpignan&f=false – retrieved 6 September 2017
https://www.theguardian.com/news/2002/sep/19/guardianobituaries – retrieved 6 September 2017