– December 18
) was a Stuka
dive-bomber pilot during World War II
. Rudel is famous for being the most highly decorated German
serviceman of the war. Hans-Ulrich Rudel was the only person to be awarded the Knight's Cross
with Golden Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds.
Rudel flew 2,530 combat missions and successfully attacked many tanks, trains, ships, and other ground targets, claiming a total of 2,000 targets destroyed - including 800 vehicles, 519 tanks, 150 artillery guns, a destroyer, two cruisers, one Soviet battleship and nine aircraft which he shot down.
Rudel, the son of Lutheran minister Johannes, was born in Konradswaldau (Silesia
), Germany (it became part of Poland after 1945). He was raised in a number of different Silesian parishes. A poor scholar but very keen sportsman, after the Abitur
(certificate of education), he joined the Luftwaffe
in August 1936 as an officer cadet, and began basic training at the "School of Air Warfare" at Wildpark-Werder.
In June 1938 he joined I./Stuka-Geschwader 168
as an officer senior cadet. Rudel had difficulty learning the new techniques, and with the rest of the unit already fully trained, he was marked as unsuitable as a combat pilot and was transferred for special training in operational reconnaissance
at the Reconnaissance Flying School at Hildesheim on 1 January 1939
and promoted to Leutnant
on that date. After completing training he was posted to Fernaufklärungsgruppe 121
(Distance Reconnaissance Squadron) at Prenzlau
Rudel was a teetotaler and non-smoker. His fellow pilots coined the phrase Hans-Ulrich Rudel, er trinkt nur Sprudel (Hans-Ulrich Rudel, he drinks only mineral water).
As World War II started and during the Polish Campaign he flew (as an observer) long-range reconnaissance missions over Poland from Breslau. Rudel earned the Iron Cross Second Class on October 11, 1939. After a number of requests he was reassigned to dive bombing, joining an Aviation Training Regiment at Crailsheim and then he was assigned to his previous unit, I./StG 3, at Caen in May 1940. He spent the Battle of Britain as an Oberleutnant in a non-combat role. Still regarded as a poor pilot he was returned to a Reserve Flight at Graz for further training and was there confirmed for dive bombing training. Assigned to I./StG 2, based at Molai, his poor reputation preceded him and he also spent the invasion of Crete in a non-combat role.
Combat duty during World War II
Rudel flew his first four combat missions on June 23
, during the German invasion of the Soviet Union
. His piloting skills earned him the Iron Cross 1st Class on July 18
. On September 23
, he sunk the Soviet battleship Marat
, during an air attack on Kronstadt
harbor in the Leningrad
area, with a hit to the bow using a 1,000 kg bomb. By the end of December, he had flown his 400th mission and in January 1942 received the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
. He became the first pilot in history to fly 1,000 sorties
on February 10
. Around this time he also started flying anti-tank operations with the 'Kanonenvogel', or G, version of the Ju-87, through the Battle of Kursk
, and into the autumn of 1943, claiming 100 tanks destroyed.
By March 1944, he was already Gruppenkommandeur (commander) of III./StG 2 (appointed on July 19, 1943) and had reached 1,800 operations and claiming 202 tanks destroyed.
On March 13 1944 Rudel may have been involved in aerial combat with the Hero of the Soviet Union Lev Shestakov. Shestakov failed to return from this mission and is posted as missing in action since. This is how the story comes from Rudel's memoirs:
Was he shot down by Gadermann [Rudel's rear gunner], or did he go down because of the backwash from my engine during these tight turns? It doesn't matter. My headphones suddenly exploded in confused screams from the Russian radio; the Russians have observed what happened and something special seems to have happened... From the Russian radio-messages, we discover that this was a very famous Soviet fighter pilot, more than once appointed as Hero of the Soviet Union. I should give him a credit: he was a good pilot.
In November 1944, he was wounded in the thigh and flew subsequent missions with his leg in a plaster cast.
On February 8, 1945, a 40 mm shell hit his aircraft. He was badly wounded in the right foot and crash landed inside German lines. His life was saved by his observer Dr.med. Ernst Gadermann who stemmed the bleeding, but Rudel's leg was amputated below the knee. He returned to operations on March 25, 1945, claiming 26 more tanks destroyed before the end of the war. Determined not to fall into Soviet hands, he led three Ju 87s and four FW 190s westward from Bohemia in a 2-hour flight and surrendered to U.S. forces on May 8, 1945, after landing at Kitzingen airfield, home to the 405th Fighter Group.
Eleven months in hospital followed. Released by the Americans, he moved to Argentina in 1948.
According to official Luftwaffe figures, Rudel flew some 2,530 combat missions (a world record), during which he destroyed almost 2,000 ground targets (among them 519 tanks, 70 assault craft/landing boats, 150 self-propelled guns, 4 armored trains, and 800 other vehicles; as well as 9 planes (2 Il-2's
and 7 fighters). He also sank a battleship
, two cruisers
and a destroyer
. He was shot down or forced to land 32 times (several times behind enemy lines), but always managed to escape capture despite a 100,000 ruble
bounty placed on his head by Stalin
himself. He was also wounded five times and rescued six stranded aircrew from enemy territory. The vast majority of his missions were spent piloting the various models of the Junkers Ju 87
, though by the end of the war he flew the ground-attack variant of the Fw 190
He went on to become the most decorated serviceman of all the fighting arms of the German armed forces (the only person to become more highly decorated was Hermann Göring who was awarded the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross), earning by early 1945 the Wound Badge in Gold, the German Cross in Gold, the Pilots and Observer's Badge with Diamonds, the Front Flying Clasp of the Luftwaffe with 2,000 sorties in Diamonds, and the only holder of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Golden Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds (the highest-scoring ace of World War II, Erich Hartmann, also held the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds — but his Oak Leaves weren't gold). He was also promoted to Oberst at this time. He was the only foreigner to be honored with Hungary's highest decoration, the Golden Medal for Bravery.
- Front Flying Clasp of the Luftwaffe in Gold and Diamonds with Pennant "2.000"
- Ehrenpokal der Luftwaffe
- Wound Badge in Gold
- Combined Pilots-Observation Badge in Gold with Diamonds
- German Cross in Gold (2 December 1941)
- Iron Cross 2nd and 1st Class
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross (6 January 1942)
- with Oak Leaves (recipient 229), 14 April 1943
- with Oak Leaves and Swords (recipient 42), 25 November 1943
- with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds (recipient 10), 29 March 1944
- with Golden Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds (sole recipient), 29 December 1944
- Hungarian Gold Medal of Bravery
- Mentioned five times in the Wehrmachtbericht (27 March 1944, 28 March 1944, 3 June 1944, 6 August 1944, 10 February 1945)
After the war
After the war, Rudel for a time moved to South America where he became a close friend and confidante of the Argentine president Juan Perón
, and Paraguay's dictator and Nazi admirer Alfredo Stroessner
. Even without a leg, he remained an active sportsman, playing tennis
, and even climbing the highest peak in the Americas, Aconcagua
(6,962 meters or 22,841 feet). He also ascended the second highest volcano
on Earth three times, the Llullay-Yacu
in the Argentine Andes
(6,739 meters or 22,109 feet).
Rudel returned to West Germany in 1953 and joined the German Reich Party. During 1953 on Rudel's return to Germany he published a war diary entitled "Trotzdem" (Nevertheless, or In Spite of Everything). Discussion ensued in Germany on Rudel being allowed to publish the book because he was a known Nazi. In the book he supported almost every Nazi policy. This book was later re-edited and published in the United States as a book of memoirs called Stuka Pilot that supported the German invasion of the Soviet Union as the Cold War intensified.
He became a successful businessman in post-war Germany.
In 1976 Rudel was involved in what came to be known as the Rudel Scandal. Two high-ranking Bundeswehr generals, Karl Heinz Franke and Walter Krupinski, were forced into early retirement.
In addition, Rudel's input was used during the development of the A-10 ground attack aircraft.
Rudel died in Rosenheim in 1982, and was buried in Dornhausen.
Verloren ist nur, wer sich selbst aufgibt. ("Lost are only those who abandon themselves.")
- Wir Frontsoldaten zur Wiederaufrüstung (We Frontline Soldiers and Our Opinion to Rearmament of Germany), Hans Ulrich Rudel, (booklet), private publication, Buenos Aires, 1951
- Dolchstoß oder Legende (Daggerthrust or Legend), Hans Ulrich Rudel, (booklet), private publication, Buenos Aires, 1951
- Trotzdem, Hans-Ulrich Rudel, Plesse Verl. Schütz; Auflage: 8. Aufl. (1950) eventually published in Germany during 1953
- Stuka Pilot, Hans Ulrich Rudel (Author), Lynton Hudson (Translator), Douglas Bader (Preface), Ballantine Books; New York, 1st American paperback edition (1958) a substantially re-edited edition of the Trotzdem
- Stuka Pilot (War and Warrior), Hans-Ulrich Rudel, Legion for the Survival of Freedom (October 1987)
- Mein Kriegstagebuch: Aufzeichnungen eines Stukafliegers (My war diary: Recordings of a dive bomber flier), Hans-Ulrich Rudel,(Wiesbaden : Limes, c1983).
- Mein Leben in Krieg und Frieden (My life in war and peace), Hans-Ulrich Rudel, (Rosenheim : Deutsche Verlagsgesellschaft, c1994).
- Berger, Florian, Mit Eichenlaub und Schwertern. Die höchstdekorierten Soldaten des Zweiten Weltkrieges. Selbstverlag Florian Berger, 2006. ISBN 3-9501307-0-5.
- Brütting, Georg. Das waren die deutschen Stuka-Asse 1939 - 1945. Motorbuch, Stuttgart, 1995. ISBN 3-87943-433-6.
- Coram, Robert. Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War. Back Bay Books, 2004. ISBN 0316796883
- Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer. Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939-1945. Podzun-Pallas, 2000. ISBN 3-7909-0284-5.
- Just, Gunther. Stuka Pilot Hans Ulrich Rudel. Schiffer Military History, 1986. ISBN 0-88740-252-6.
- Piekałkiewicz, Janusz. Den Annen Verdenskrig 6, Norsk Peter Asschenfeldt AS, 1988. ISBN 82-401-0523-8.
- Rees, Philip. Biographical Dictionary of the Extreme Right Since 1890. Simon & Schuster, 1991. ISBN 0-13-089301-3.
- Tauber, Kurt P. Beyond Eagle and Swastika: German Nationalism Since 1945. Wesleyan University Press, 1967.