Rudolf Hess, 82, a former deputy of Hitler who is the ast occupant of the four power Spandau prison for war criminals, attempted to commit suicide this week, according to Western sources.

The sources said Soviet guards at the prison overpowered Hess on Monday before he could injure himself seriously with a knife somehow slipped into his cell. French television, which first reported the suicidd attempt, quoted a psychiatrist who saw Hess yesterday as saying he was suffering severe depression.

Responsibility for Spandau rotates among France, Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union iwth France currently in control. Its official refused comment beyond saying Hess is in "good physical condition."

It was at least the second time since. He was jailed in 1941 - after parachuting into Scotland - that he has attempted suicide. Albert Speer, Hitler's arms chief who was released from Spandau in 1965, said in his memoirs that Hess once slashed his wrists with glass from his spectacles.

The Soviets have rejected Western attempts to release Hess and close the costly prison, which once held six criminals convicted at Nurembarg, and which housed 600 convicts before World War II.

Hess was found guilty in 1946 of "plotting a war of aggresion" and he began a life sentence at Spandau in 1947. The Soviets insist on keeping him in captivity as a living reminder German's Nazi past. The psychiatrist quoted by French television recommended [WORD ILLEGIBLE] of conditions to include free use of television and access to family - now confined to one monthly visit by his son.