During WWII, before it became clear the Nazis were going to lose, is there any especially noteworthy examples of a member or members of the Nazi party defecting to the Allies?

I'm aware noteworthy is fairly ambiguous, but I'm not really sure how else to phrase the question.

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    To the close-voter: too broad? WW2 is fairly well defined in terms of years, the OP has chosen a singular axis power, and is explicitly asking for noteworthy examples. I can see issues with this question, I I'm not sure I agree on 'too broad'
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Apr 10, 2015 at 14:57
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    Interesting; this is a list question which makes it difficult to answer conclusively. There are imprecise words that are likely to drive discussion rather than answers ("many", "especially", "noteworthy", "persecuted"). There are also words that are associated with questions invite discussion over scholarship ("I'd imagine"). Having said all that, I'm not sure I perceive this as too broad. OP is new to the forum; is there a way that we can offer guidance to revise this question to be stronger? Would "What is the most noteworthy defection of a Nazi to the Allies during WWII?" be stronger?
    – MCW
    Commented Apr 10, 2015 at 15:17
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    @MarkC.Wallace I was worried noteworthy was a poor choice of words. I'm happy to change the wording, any other suggestions are appreciated.
    – Daft
    Commented Apr 10, 2015 at 15:22
  • @MarkC.Wallace I've edited the question, hopefully it helps.
    – Daft
    Commented Apr 10, 2015 at 15:35
  • OP revised to "most noteworthy" at my advice; blame falls to me, not OP. @Semaphore 's solution may be superior.
    – MCW
    Commented Apr 10, 2015 at 16:07

9 Answers 9


Most noteworthy would be Hess' flight to England in 1941, although that was not quite a defection.

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    The only answer meeting the specification: "before it became clear the Nazis were going to lose", which occurred anytime after the debacle at Stalingrad, simultaneous (as near as matters) with the defeat of Rommel at El Alamein and the Torch landings in North-West Africa. Commented Oct 14, 2016 at 22:42
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    Hess's declared mission was to negotiate peace. That is not quite the same thing as defection.
    – WS2
    Commented Oct 31, 2021 at 17:24

Defection rather implies changing sides in a conflict. None of the senior Nazis seem to have done that:

  • Hess seems to have wanted to persuade the UK to make peace with Germany, but his idea of how to do this was hopelessly wrong. He seems to have assumed that the UK monarchy of the 1940s worked like the pre-WWI German Empire. Richard J Evans' The Hitler Conspiracies: the Third Reich and the Paranoid Imagination, Penguin, 2020, which is about debunking said conspiracies has an account of the offer. Germany would get back the colonies taken from it at the end of WWI, but the British could keep their empire if they gave Germany a free hand in Europe, and made peace with Italy. The British were not at all interested in this: if Germany were given time to consolidate its conquests, it would grow stronger, make new demands and a new war would break out.

  • Himler was trying to preserve his existing position as head of the SS and Police, and add the leadership of Nazi Germany to it, by getting the Americans, British and French to join the German side in the war against the USSR. This was considered treason by the existing Nazi government, but was not a defection to the Allied side.

  • Surrendering yourself, or the forces under your command is not defection. If German forces in Italy had switched sides and made war against Germany, that would be defection, but they didn't do that, and the Allied side wouldn't have been interested anyway.

  • Willy Lehmann was a spy, but spies aren't usually considered defectors unless they visibly change sides, or flee to the side they've been working for.

  • Paulus might be considered a defector, at the point when it was starting to become clear that the Germans weren't going to win, but he was a military officer rather than a politician, and not a Nazi Party member.

Ernst Hanfstaengl quit the cause before the outbreak of war, but it's hard to call him a senior Nazi.

  • Re: Paulus; rather not a PG (member of the party) at all? Commented Oct 31, 2021 at 2:18

How about (for an EARLY example) Fritz Thyssen? He was a wealthy industrialist who gave large contributions to the Nazis from 1923 to 1932. He was one of the major characters who urged von Hindenburg to appoint Hitler chancellor and was elected as a member of the Reichstag. However he soured on the Nazis (and Germany) at the beginning of WWII and took his family to Switzerland (and then France), after which he was expelled from the party and his company was seized. Later he made the mistake of going to Belgium right as the Germans invaded and he ended up in a concentration camp, but managed to survive the war.


In April 1945, toward the end of the Nazi regime, Heinrich Himmler, the head of the Gestapo (Secret Police) and "SS" military units, left Berlin against Hitler's orders, and began negotiations with representatives of neutral Sweden, as an attempt to surrender Germany to only Britain and the United States, while allying with them against the Soviet Union.

He did this on his own authority, without the consent of Hitler (who expelled him from the Nazi party), in fact, against Hitler's express instructions to stay in Berlin. His overtures were rejected, but he was basically the highest-ranking Nazi (fourth after Hitler, Goering and Goebbels) to try to negotiate with the Allies without authority from Hitler. (Admiral Doenitz, who did surrender to the Allies, did so with authority vested in him by Hitler's last will and testament.)

  • Great answer, I don't think you can get more noteworthy than Himmler. Thanks Tom, much appreciated!
    – Daft
    Commented Apr 10, 2015 at 16:05
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    This is a great answer, but is this really a defection?
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Apr 10, 2015 at 16:29
  • @CGCampbell: That was certainly Himmler's intention. Whether or not he "pulled it off," you can judge from the link or other sources.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Apr 10, 2015 at 16:56
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    @CGCampbell Defection is "the desertion of one's country or cause in favour of an opposing one." To me, it seems that Himmler was trying to meet the US and UK half-way, essentially saying "We'll give you something you want [German surrender] if you give us something we want [help fighting the USSR]." I don't see that as defection. Commented Apr 10, 2015 at 20:11
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    Himmler defected from HITLER (and was treated as a treated as a defector by Hitler).
    – Tom Au
    Commented Apr 11, 2015 at 2:17

Operation Sunrise led to the surrender of all Axis forces in Italy on 2 May 1945, 5 days before VE day. Several high ranking officers were involved in the negotiations and the story is complicated, but Field Marshall Albert Kesselring, the Commander in Chief of the Mediterranean Theater, knew of the negotiations and ultimately approved - I would call this a 'noteworthy defection.'

Allen Dulles' book 'The Secret Surrender' tells the story.


I'm not sure whether being captured blunts the definition of "defection" at all, but after Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus' capture, he cooperated with the Soviets completely, even making anti-war propaganda statements for the Soviet Union.

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    After getting hung out to dry by Hitler lie that, who can blame him. Commented Oct 14, 2016 at 22:39
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    I'd argue that this was "after it became obvious that the Nazis would lose"; though just barely. Commented Oct 14, 2016 at 22:44
  • I hear you, but given that he was so arrogant in excusing the war crimes in Poland (see Canaris, by Heinz Hoehne, Cooper Square Press, New York, 1999), I can have no sympathy for Paulus either. Canaris told him of the war crimes being committed, but Paulus was furious with Canaris for even raising the question, and didn't want to hear about it.
    – andrew
    Commented Oct 14, 2016 at 22:50
  • I do agree that that was "after it became obvious that the Nazis would lose," though this doesn't commend Paulus in any way--it makes him a fair-weather fan.
    – andrew
    Commented Oct 14, 2016 at 22:51
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    You're not going to find a prominent Nazi who had a sudden change of heart over to the side of the angels. Such an animal does not exist. On the other hand, whether you think Paulus was a good guy or not, his is the only one of the examples presented so far that resembles an actual "defection". Paulus surrendered against Hitler's express orders to never do so, and despite Hitler's (rather pathetic) promotion of Paulus to Field Marshal because supposedly no German field marshal had ever surrendered his army.
    – Spencer
    Commented Nov 24, 2016 at 0:53

Try to consider Willy Lehmann. He was recruited in 1929, before Hitler came to power, initially for money, but when the War became expected to start, his collaboration became more ideological as he was strongly against it.

He headed the Gestapo department that was doing counter-intelligence against Soviet industrial espionage.

He transferred over a lot of very important info to the Soviets, that on German weapons, rocket technology, submarines, Gestapo cryptographic codes, and even the exact date for the invasion of the USSR.

When the USSR had lost link to him, he conducted a risky step, and in 1940 put a letter into a post box of Soviet embassy calling for continued collaboration and said his work in Gestapo would lose any meaning if the USSR would not resume contacts.

In 1941 after invasion of the USSR the connection with him was lost. In 1942 the Soviets tried to reestablish contact, but the Germans captured the sent communicators and executed Lehmann afterwards.

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    How is your description of Lehmann's activities a defection? Espionage, sure, but not a defection. Commented Oct 18, 2016 at 16:45

I miss one person on this list: Admiral Canaris. Like the others, he wasn't a defector. But he greatly hindered Germany's war efforts, because of his dislike of Hitler.

He was completely trusted by Hitler, and send by him to Franco to negotiate a treaty between Spain and Germany. Either to allow safe passage of the German armed forced to occupy Gibraltar or become a direct Axis partner.

Franco didn't want to support Germany in any way. Instead of negotiating for Hitler, Canaris told him exactly how to do that without incurring the wrath of Hitler.

That's exactly what happened during the meeting in Hendaye between Hitler and Franco. The meeting failed. Afterwards Hitler remarked he'd rather have a tooth pulled than negotiate with Franco ever again.

Canaris was head of the Abwehr, and did a lot to foil Nazi plans, but always indirectly. He was found out, arrested, tortured, put in a concentration camp and executed under humiliating and torturous circumstances.


Goering was the only one. Obviously the war was over by then but Hitler was still alive and ordered his Assassination. Ironically he was considered Nuremberg's "top catch" even though besides the Battle of Britain he was mostly a political figurehead. Whether Admiral Canaris and even Admiral Raeder were in fact traitors is still speculation. The Nazi Command Structure had far from total control over the totality of the "Nazi Regime."

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    This answer would benefit from sources.
    – MCW
    Commented Nov 24, 2016 at 19:48
  • Any introductory History of World War 2 would source this. Certainly simply watching the actual trial doesn't hurt either as it was filmed in real time. As a Primary Source good luck topping that one. Commented Nov 24, 2016 at 19:55
  • I'm not going to source a book I'm working on. Do your own damn homework. Commented Nov 24, 2016 at 20:03
  • I meant to ask if you could cite the film of the trial - you are correct, that sounds like a valuable resource.
    – MCW
    Commented Nov 24, 2016 at 20:05
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    I know you address this in your answer but still, mentioning Göring and the Nuremberg Trials when asker clearly said "before it became clear the Nazis were going to lose" it's a bit too much.
    – Brasidas
    Commented Nov 25, 2016 at 1:02

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