Hans-Ulrich Rudel in 1944
|Nickname(s)||Eagle of the Eastern Front|
2 July 1916|
Konradswaldau, German Empire
|Died||18 December 1982
Rosenheim, West Germany
|Buried at||Dornhausen, near Gunzenhausen|
|Years of service||1936–45|
StG 3, StG 2, SG 2
|Commands held||III./StG 2, SG 2|
|Awards||Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Gold Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds|
|Other work||Writer, businessman, member of the German Reich Party|
Hans-Ulrich Rudel (2 July 1916 – 18 December 1982) was a Stuka dive-bomber pilot during World War II. The most highly decorated German serviceman of the war, Rudel was one of only 27 military men to be awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds, and the only person to be awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Golden Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit goldenem Eichenlaub, Schwertern und Brillanten), Germany's second highest military decoration at the time and the highest degree of the Knight's Cross.[Note 1]
Rudel flew 2,530 combat missions claiming a total of 2,000 targets destroyed; including 800 vehicles, 519 tanks, 150 artillery pieces, 70 landing craft, nine aircraft, four armored trains, several bridges, a destroyer, two cruisers, and the Soviet battleship Marat.
Hans-Ulrich Rudel was born on 2 July 1916 in Konradswaldau, Silesia, a province in the Kingdom of Prussia. Today it is Grzędy in the administrative district of Gmina Czarny Bór, within Wałbrzych County, Lower Silesian Voivodeship, in south-western Poland. He was the son of Lutheran minister Johannes Rudel and his wife Martha, née Mückner. He was raised in a number of different Silesian parishes. As a boy he was a poor scholar but a very keen sportsman. In August 1936, after his Abitur (University-preparatory high school diploma), he joined the Luftwaffe as an officer cadet, and began basic training at the "School of Air Warfare" at Wildpark-Werder.
In June 1938, he joined I./Sturzkampfgeschwader 168 in Graz as an officer senior cadet. Rudel had difficulty learning the new techniques and was considered unsuitable for combat flying, so on 1 January 1939, he was transferred to the Reconnaissance Flying School at Hildesheim for training in operational reconnaissance. He was promoted to Leutnant (second lieutenant) on that date. After completing training, he was posted to Fernaufklärungsgruppe 121 (Long-Range Reconnaissance Group) 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 sparkling water).
World War II
During the Polish Campaign at the start of World War II, he flew (as an observer) on long-range reconnaissance missions over Poland from Breslau. Rudel earned the Iron Cross 2nd Class on 11 October 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./Sturzkampfgeschwader 3 (StG 3),[Note 2] at Caen in May 1940. He spent the Battle of Britain as an Oberleutnant (first lieutenant) in a non-combat role. Still regarded as a poor pilot, he was sent to a reserve flight at Graz for dive bombing training. Assigned to I./Sturzkampfgeschwader 2 (StG 2), based at Molaoi, his poor reputation, by then unjustified, preceded him, and he also spent the invasion of Crete in a non-combat role.
Rudel flew his first four combat missions on 23 June 1941, during the German invasion of the Soviet Union. His demonstrated piloting skills earned him the Iron Cross 1st Class on 18 July 1941. On 23 September 1941, he and another Stuka pilot sank the Soviet battleship Marat during an air attack on Kronstadt harbor in the Leningrad area, with hits to the bow using 1,000 kg bombs. By the end of December, he had flown his 400th mission and in January 1942 received the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. On 10 February 1943, he became the first pilot in history to fly 1,000 sorties. Around this time, he also started flying anti-tank operations with the Kanonenvogel (cannon bird), 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 (group commander) of III./StG 2 (appointed on 19 July 1943) and had reached 1,800 operations. At that time, he claimed 202 tanks destroyed.
Around this time, Hitler thought Rudel was too valuable to be risked in combat. Hitler, through Göring, gave the order to ground Rudel permanently. Rudel refused to accept this command, and Hitler had no choice but to reluctantly rescind it.
On 13 March 1944, Rudel may have been involved in aerial combat with the Hero of the Soviet Union Lev Shestakov. Rudel flew into a valley to evade him, at times flying only 10 feet above the ground, constantly performing brutal evasive maneuvres. Prior to this engagement, his rear gunner's machine guns had been jammed. Rudel was flying so low that he had to evade trees and it was at this point that his rear gunner realized that Shestakov had crashed. Shestakov failed to return from this mission and was posted as missing in action. 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 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 8 February 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, Ernst Gadermann, who stemmed the bleeding, but Rudel's leg was amputated below the knee. He returned to operations on 25 March 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. Landing at Kitzingen airfield, held by the US 405th Fighter Group, Rudel had his men lock the brakes and collapse the landing gear to make the aircraft useless to the Americans and to render the airfield unusable by blocking the airstrip. Then he surrendered to U.S. forces, on 8 May 1945.
Eleven months in prisoner of war camps followed. Released by the Americans, he moved to Argentina in 1948.
According to official Luftwaffe figures, Rudel flew some 2,530 combat missions (still a world record).[Note 3] He was never shot down by another pilot, only by anti-aircraft artillery. He was shot down or forced to land 32 times, several times behind enemy lines.
|“||Only he is lost who gives himself up for lost||”|
— Hans-Ulrich Rudel
According to his autobiography, on one occasion, after trying a landing to rescue two downed novice Stuka crewmen and then not being able to take off again due to the muddy conditions, he and his three companions, while being chased for 6 km by Soviet soldiers, made their way down a steep cliff by sliding down trees, then swam 600 meters across the icy Dniester River, during which his rear gunner, Knight's Cross holder Hentschel, succumbed to the cold water and drowned. Several miles further towards the German lines, the three survivors were then captured by Soviets, but Rudel, knowing there was a bounty on his head, again made a run for it. Despite being barefoot and in soaking clothes, getting shot in his shoulder, and being hunted by several hundred pursuers with dog packs, he eventually managed to make his way back to his own lines.
In total, he was wounded five times and rescued six stranded aircrew from enemy territory, although the two mentioned above were recaptured. 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 often 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 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, and the Front Flying Clasp of the Luftwaffe with 2,000 sorties in Diamonds. He was the only recipient 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 were not gold). He was also promoted to Oberst (colonel) at this time.
- Honour Goblet of the Luftwaffe (Ehrenpokal der Luftwaffe) as Oberleutnant in a Sturzkampfgeschwader (20 October 1941)
- Wound Badge in Gold
- Pilot/Observer Badge in Gold with Diamonds
- German Cross in Gold on 2 December 1941 as Oberleutnant in the III./Sturzkampfgeschwader 2
- Iron Cross (1939)
- Front Flying Clasp of the Luftwaffe in Gold and Diamonds with Pennant "2000"
- in Gold (18 July 1941)
- in Gold and Diamonds with Pennant "2000"
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Golden Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds
- Knight's Cross on 6 January 1942 as Oberleutnant and Staffelkapitän of the 9./Sturzkampfgeschwader 2 "Immelmann"[Note 5]
- 229th Oak Leaves on 14 April 1943 as Oberleutnant and Staffelkapitän of the 1./Sturzkampfgeschwader 2 "Immelmann"
- 42nd Swords on 25 November 1943 as Hauptmann and leader of the III./Sturzkampfgeschwader 2 "Immelmann"
- 10th Diamonds on 29 March 1944 as Major and Gruppenkommandeur of the III./Schlachtgeschwader 2 "Immelmann"
- 1st Golden Oak Leaves on 29 December 1944 as Oberstleutnant and Geschwaderkommodore of Schlachtgeschwader 2 "Immelmann"
- 8th (1st and only foreign) Hungarian Gold Medal of Bravery (14 January 1945)
- Italian Silver Medal of Military Valor
- Mentioned five times in the Wehrmachtbericht (27 March 1944, 28 March 1944, 3 June 1944, 6 August 1944, 10 February 1945)
References in the Wehrmachtbericht
|Date||Original German Wehrmachtbericht wording||Direct English translation|
|27 March 1944||Major Rudel, Gruppenkommandeur in einem Schlachtgeschwader, vernichtete im Süden der Ostfront an einem Tage 17 feindliche Panzer.||Major Rudel, commander of a ground-attack group, destroyed 17 enemy tanks in a single day in the south of the eastern front.|
|28 March 1944||Zwischen Dnjestr und Pruth griffen starke deutsche Schlachtfliegergeschwader in die Kämpfe ein. Sie zerstörten zahlreiche feindliche Panzer und eine große Zahl motorisierter und bespannter Fahrzeuge. Dabei vernichtete Major Rudel wiederum neun feindliche Panzer. Er hat damit in mehr als 1800 Einsätzen allein 202 feindliche Panzer vernichtet.||Between Dnyestr and Pruth large German aerial assault units joined the battle. They destroyed numerous enemy tanks and a large number of motorized and horse-drawn vehicles. On this occasion Major Rudel once more destroyed nine enemy tanks. On more than 1800 missions he has destroyed 202 enemy tanks.|
|3 June 1944||Major Rudel, mit dem höchsten deutschen Tapferkeitsorden ausgezeichnet, flog an der Ostfront zum 2000. Male gegen den Feind.||Major Rudel, decorated with the highest German award for bravery, flew his 2000th mission against the enemy on the eastern front.|
|6 August 1944||27 weitere Panzer wurden durch Schlachtflieger vernichtet. Hiervon schoß Major Rudel allein 11 Panzer ab und erzielte damit seinen 300. Panzerabschuß durch Bordwaffen.||27 more tanks were destroyed by ground-assault aircraft. Major Rudel alone destroyed eleven, taking his total to 300 tanks destroyed with aircraft guns.|
|10 February 1945||Oberst Rudel schoß in den letzten Tagen 11 sowjetische Panzer ab und erhöhte damit seine Abschußerfolge auf 516 Panzer.||Colonel Rudel destroyed eleven Soviet tanks in the last few days, increasing his personal score to 516 tanks.|
After the war
Rudel was married three times. He had married Hanne in 1942. The marriage produced two sons, Hans-Ulrich and Siegfried. They divorced in 1950. According to the news magazine Der Spiegel, one reason for the divorce was that his wife had sold some of his decorations, including the Oak Leaves with Diamonds, to an American collector, but she also refused to move to Argentina. Rudel married his second wife, Ursula née Daemisch in 1965. The marriage produced his third son Christoph, born in 1969. Following his divorce in 1977 he married Ursula née Bassfeld.
After the war, Rudel for a time moved to South America where he became a close friend and confidant of the Argentinian president Juan Perón, and Paraguay's dictator and Third Reich admirer Alfredo Stroessner. Although missing one leg, he remained an active sportsman, playing tennis, skiing, and even climbing the highest peak in the Americas, Aconcagua (6,962 meters or 22,841 feet). He also ascended the fifth highest volcano on Earth three times, the Llullay-Yacu in the Argentine Andes (6,739 meters or 22,109 feet). During his stay he became acquainted with notorious Nazi concentration camp doctor and war criminal Josef Mengele, whom he later helped to relocate to Brazil by enabling an introduction to Nazi supporter Wolfgang Gerhard.
Rudel returned to West Germany in 1953 and became a leading member of the nationalist political party, the German Reich Party (Deutsche Reichspartei). Prior to his return to Germany, he published a war diary entitled Trotzdem ("Nevertheless" or "In Spite of Everything") in Buenos Aires in November 1949 which was published by the Dürer-Verlag in Argentina. Discussion ensued in Germany on Rudel being allowed to publish the book because he was a known Nazi. In the book, he supported National Socialist policy. This book was later re-edited and published in the United States as the Cold War intensified as a book of memoirs called Stuka Pilot that supported the German invasion of the Soviet Union.
He became a successful businessman in post-war Germany.
Rudel visited the Germany national football team at the 1978 FIFA World Cup held in Argentina in their training camp in Ascochinga. The president of the German Football Association, Hermann Neuberger, justified the visit and stated that criticizing his visit was "an insult to all German soldiers" ("käme einer Beleidigung aller deutschen Soldaten gleich").
Rudel died in Rosenheim in 1982, and was buried in Dornhausen on 22 December 1982. During Rudel's burial ceremony, two Bundeswehr Phantoms appeared to make a low altitude flypast over his grave, although Dornhausen was situated in the middle of a flightpath regularly flown by military aircraft; Bundeswehr officers denied deliberately flying aircraft over the funeral. Four mourners were photographed giving Nazi salutes at the funeral, and were investigated under a law banning the display of Nazi symbols.
- Wir Frontsoldaten zur Wiederaufrüstung (We Frontline Soldiers and Our Opinion on the 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, Dürer-Verlag, Buenos Aires, (1949) 1. Auflage (1.-5. Tausend); Subsequently by 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 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: notes by a dive bomber pilot), 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).
- The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Golden Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds was second only to the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross (Großkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes), which was awarded only to senior commanders for winning a major battle or campaign, in the military order of the Third Reich. The Grand Cross of the Iron Cross was awarded only to Hermann Göring (for the Luftwaffe's victories in the Battle of France), making the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Golden Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds the highest decoration the average soldier could theoretically achieve.
- For an explanation of the meaning of Luftwaffe unit designation, see Organization of the Luftwaffe during World War II
- For a list of Luftwaffe ground attack aces see List of German World War II Ground Attack aces
- According to Thomas on 15 July 1941.
- According to Scherzer as pilot and technical officer in the III./Sturzkampfgeschwader 2 "Immelmann"
- Just 1986, p. 43.
- Just 1986, p. 12.
- Piekalkiewicz 1988, p. 95.
- Hans Ulrich Rudel – Stuka Pilot, Ch 13
- "Hans Ulrich Rudel".
- Patzwall 2008, p. 174.
- Patzwall & Scherzer 2001, p. 389.
- Obermaier 1976, p. 31.
- Thomas 1998, p. 229.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 366.
- Scherzer 2007, p. 643.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 68.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 41.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 37.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 35.
- Berger 2000, p. 297.
- Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 3, p. 66.
- Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 3, p. 67.
- Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 3, p. 116.
- Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 3, p. 192.
- Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 3, p. 438.
- "Hans Ulrich Rudel". Der Spiegel (in German) 48. 1950. Retrieved 17 August 2014.
- Astor, p. 170.
- Levy 2006, p. 273.
- Posner & Ware 1986, p. 162.
- Stuka Pilot, Hans Ulrich Rudel (Author), Lynton Hudson (Translator), Douglas Bader (Preface), Ballantine Books; New York, 1st American paperback edition (1958)
- "WM-Anekdoten: Ein Jahrhundertspiel und ein Jahrhundertskandal". Spiegel Online (in German). Retrieved 18 August 2014.
- Coram 2004, p. 235
- "Letzter Flug—last flight". Der Spiegel (in German) 1. 1983. Retrieved 4 December 2010.
- Astor, Gerald (1986). The Last Nazi: Life and Times of Doctor Joseph Mengele. Weidenfeld. ISBN 0-297-78853-1
- Berger, Florian (1999). Mit Eichenlaub und Schwertern. Die höchstdekorierten Soldaten des Zweiten Weltkrieges [With Oak Leaves and Swords. The Highest Decorated Soldiers of the Second World War] (in German). Vienna, Austria: Selbstverlag Florian Berger. ISBN 978-3-9501307-0-6.
- Brütting, Georg (1995). Das waren die deutschen Stuka-Asse 1939 – 1945 [These were the German Stuka Aces 1939 – 1945] (in German). Stuttgart, Germany: Motorbuch. ISBN 978-3-87943-433-6.
- Coram, Robert (2004). Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War. Back Bay Books. ISBN 0-316-79688-3
- Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer (2000). Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939–1945 — Die Inhaber der höchsten Auszeichnung des Zweiten Weltkrieges aller Wehrmachtteile [The Bearers of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939–1945 – The Owners of the Highest Award of the Second World War of all Wehrmacht Branches] (in German). Friedberg, Germany: Podzun-Pallas. ISBN 978-3-7909-0284-6.
- Fraschka, Günther (1994). Knights of the Reich. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Military/Aviation History. ISBN 978-0-88740-580-8.
- Just, Günther (1986). Stuka Pilot Hans Ulrich Rudel. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Military History. ISBN 0-88740-252-6.
- Obermaier, Ernst (1976). Die Ritterkreuzträger der Luftwaffe 1939–1945 Band II Stuka- und Schlachtflieger [The Knight's Cross Bearers of the Luftwaffe 1939–1945 Volume II Dive Bomber and Attack Aircraft] (in German). Mainz, Germany: Verlag Dieter Hoffmann. ISBN 978-3-87341-021-3.
- Patzwall, Klaus D. (2008). Der Ehrenpokal für besondere Leistung im Luftkrieg [The Honor Goblet for Outstanding Achievement in the Air War] (in German). Norderstedt, Germany: Verlag Klaus D. Patzwall. ISBN 978-3-931533-08-3.
- Patzwall, Klaus D.; Scherzer, Veit (2001). Das Deutsche Kreuz 1941 – 1945 Geschichte und Inhaber Band II [The German Cross 1941 – 1945 History and Recipients Volume 2] (in German). Norderstedt, Germany: Verlag Klaus D. Patzwall. ISBN 978-3-931533-45-8.
- Piekałkiewicz, Janusz (1988). Den Annen Verdenskrig 6, Norsk Peter Asschenfeldt AS. ISBN 82-401-0523-8.
- Rees, Philip (1991). Biographical Dictionary of the Extreme Right Since 1890. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-13-089301-3.
- Schaulen, Fritjof (2005). Eichenlaubträger 1940 – 1945 Zeitgeschichte in Farbe III Radusch – Zwernemann [Oak Leaves Bearers 1940 – 1945 Contemporary History in Color III Radusch – Zwernemann] (in German). Selent, Germany: Pour le Mérite. ISBN 978-3-932381-22-5.
- Scherzer, Veit (2007). Die Ritterkreuzträger 1939–1945 Die Inhaber des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939 von Heer, Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm sowie mit Deutschland verbündeter Streitkräfte nach den Unterlagen des Bundesarchives [The Knight's Cross Bearers 1939–1945 The Holders of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939 by Army, Air Force, Navy, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm and Allied Forces with Germany According to the Documents of the Federal Archives] (in German). Jena, Germany: Scherzers Miltaer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2.
- Tauber, Kurt P (1967). Beyond Eagle and Swastika: German Nationalism Since 1945. Wesleyan University Press.
- Thomas, Franz (1998). Die Eichenlaubträger 1939–1945 Band 2: L–Z [The Oak Leaves Bearers 1939–1945 Volume 2: L–Z] (in German). Osnabrück, Germany: Biblio-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-7648-2300-9.
- Williamson, Gordon (2006). Knight's Cross with Diamonds Recipients 1941–45. Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84176-644-7.
- Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 3, 1. Januar 1944 bis 9. Mai 1945 [The Wehrmacht Reports 1939–1945 Volume 3, 1 January 1944 to 9 May 1945] (in German). München, Germany: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag GmbH & Co. KG. 1985. ISBN 978-3-423-05944-2.
- Frey, Gerhard; Herrmann, Hajo: Helden der Wehrmacht – Unsterbliche deutsche Soldaten (in German). München, Germany: FZ-Verlag GmbH, 2004. ISBN 3-924309-53-1.
- Hans-Ulrich Rudel in the German National Library catalogue
- "Eagle of the Eastern Front" by Don Hollway. Includes photos & video
- Rudel at 'Achtung Panzer!'
- Hans-Ulrich Rudel (many photos)
- Rudel's tombstone from "Graves of World War II personalities"
- Rudel's combat with Soviet fighter ace Lev Shestakov
Oberstleutnant Hans-Karl Stepp
|Commander of Schlachtgeschwader 2 Immelmann
1 August 1944 – 8 February 1945
Major Friedrich Lang
Oberstleutnant Kurt Kuhlmey
|Commander of Schlachtgeschwader 2 Immelmann
April 1945 – 8 May 1945