Hans-Ulrich Rudel

Hans-Ulrich Rudel (July 2, 1916 – December 18, 1982) was a celebrated German fighter, bomber and spearfighter on the Eastern Front during World War II . Rudel was possessor until his death of the highest German decoration of his time: The Iron Cross with Oak Leaves in Gold, Swords and Diamonds of the Third Reich .

In its official service sheet, 2,530 combat missions were claimed in which it claimed the destruction of: 519 Soviet tanks , the Marat battleship , two smaller cruisers , nine enemy planes , 150 antiaircraft batteries, 70 landing craft, countless bridges, lines railways and hundreds of boats river sunken military transport, the latter at Stalingrad.

The Luftwaffe attributes the fact that it has been shot down 30 times by enemy antiaircraft artillery without being shot down by an enemy hunt. Nicknamed in Nazi Germany the “Eagle of the Eastern Front”. His main motto was: “He is only lost, he who gives up .

Childhood and youth

Hans-Ulrich Rudel was the son of a Protestant pastor of Upper Silesia and spent his youth in various villages in that region. I had two sisters. From an early age he developed a taste for sports and heights. Although his father wanted him a professional career, he began to improve in physical education until the entrance of Germany in World War II . In his free time he practiced sport and rode a motorcycle . He came to compete in the decathlon and to be a sports instructor. His school grades were deficient, because his only interest was in the sport activity , where he obtained excellent yields and a remarkable physical state that, later, in more than one occasion would help him to save the life. When it ascended to power the Nazi party adhered to the Hitler Youth .

Entry into the Luftwaffe

His entry as a cadet at the age of 20 in 1936 in the newly created Luftwaffe had a very unpromising beginning because his low schooling played against him and could not qualify for combat fighter pilot , which was his goal. He was assigned to training in Stukas squadrons in Graz , in which he did not qualify sufficiently to be a fighter and bomber pilot , being assigned to the Hildesheim Air Reconnaissance Center , considered the last operational step in the Luftwaffe.

After completing instruction as a reconnaissance pilot, his stuttering, being an introverted person and something obsessed did not give him a good image before his peers and superiors.

His performance and efforts during the invasion of Poland were acceptable and he was promoted to Second Lieutenant and was awarded the Second Class Iron Cross in 1939 .

Due to this progress, it was reassigned again, not without many difficulties, to its aerial group in Caen . At that time the fighter plane was the Stuka bomber .

In the school bombing of Stuttgart Rudel he had a slow progress, and was initially described as a mediocre pilot and second class, because it was hard to maneuver the heavy and slow Stuka Ju-87.

Its slow progresses were worth not being considered for the campaign of the Balkans nor the battle of Crete , where its squadron was transferred, being assigned only like a reinforcement. This annoyance awoke in Rudel the firm will to surpass, doing extra practices in a Stuka to achieve to dominate the apparatus; His efforts and his progress did not go unnoticed to his superiors, who had already described him as a desperate case .

On the Eastern Front

The opening of the Eastern Front to the vast fields of the Soviet Union gave it an excellent opportunity, coupled with the growing shortage of combat pilots. In July of 1941 , he was assigned to Army Group North in the area of the Baltic , where he began to stand out as a clever and daring pilot Stuka, which earned him to receive the offices of lieutenant first and Iron Cross First Class.

Its actions were directed to operate on the traffic of the highway Smolensk – Moscow in support to Army Center, where it destroyed several enemy convoys. Later its squadron based its operations in the vicinity of the lake Ilmen and later settled down in Tyrkowo to realize missions in support to the North Army on the sector of Leningrad .

The beginning of Rudel’s fame came precisely on September 21, 1941. His squadron was ordered to put off the Russian ships in the port of Kronstadt , where they were the cruiser-battleship Marat and another smaller cruiser whose actions Artillery had markedly damaged the activities on the site of Leningrad , so the Wehrmacht called for the immediate annihilation of these enemy naval units. After a thorough study of the situation, it was concluded that it was possible to carry out an attack on Kronstadt , and Rudel was shipped a 1000 kg bomb for this mission. Its device acquired a lot of weight and when it reached the port, it stung almost 80 ° at high speed from only 3,000 m high, releasing the heavy bomb 300 m above the Russian ship, before leveling his device again, something that got Perform with difficulty and bordering the limit. The Marat was fatally damaged by splitting in two and sinking, but touching bottom under water only to the freeboard , its batteries were reconditioned and continued to make fire during the siege of Leningrad. Rudel claimed to be the author of the impact, and recorded this in his autobiographical book “I was pilot of Stuka” – this statement is questioned by various Soviet investigators.

Modern sources declare that German propaganda made the legend that Stalin put a price on his head by offering 100,000 rubles for his capture dead or alive and the title of Hero of the Soviet Union . Other sources, however, claim that the Soviet Union officially offered no reward or interest in enemy pilots, and that, nevertheless, after the German defeat, the Russians were extremely interested in Rudel and vehemently demanded his surrender.

By December of the same year, he had flown more than 500 combat missions with a resounding success. On January 15, 1942 he received the Knight ‘s Cross and the office of lieutenant colonel and was withdrawn with great displeasure to Rudel from the front so that the Luftwaffe could use his experience in the training of new pilots.

He was assigned to the bombing school in Graz , where he taught young Luftwaffe pilots. In this interval Rudel took advantage to contract marriage. The task of instructor was mortificante for his abilities and asked to return to the front.

After insistently insisting several times, his superiors decided to send him in December 1942 as head of the 1st . Squadron of the 1st Wing of the 2nd Stuka Group that was stationed in the sector of Stalingrad , a destination very little desired for any other German military, where it was fought for the conquest of the emblematic city. In the sector, he carried out missions of attack to artillery positions, bridges and the fluvial transport, sinking several barges with equipments and soviet military that came and went from the jetty towards the west shore of the Volga . Rudel sank or damaged not less than 400 military barges

He also tried with some success to place bombs on Russian tanks and rescued some fallen comrades. He participated in actions aimed at facilitating the liberation of the 6th Army Friedrich Paulus . However, the rapid counter-offensive ( Operation Uranus ) launched by the Russians did not allow the German army to keep their tracks, and Rudel’s squadron had to retreat to avoid their capture.

Missions antitank

In 1943, Rudel completed his 1,000th mission and was commissioned to test the new modified Stuka Junkers Ju 87 D-3 with 3.7-cm anti-tank artillery and tungsten head- piercing projectile .

The built-in Rheinmetall-Borsig guns removed this maneuverability device, making it vulnerable to attack by enemy fighters, so it was assigned an escort of normal Stukas to perform combat missions. For these reasons the new Stuka did not have great success.

During the call Operation Citadel , Rudel talked with the technicians of the Junkers and modified Stuka Ju 87 D-3, being developed the version G-1. When it was used for the first time, it demanded the destruction of 12 Russian tanks in a single day. This version was much more maneuverable than the D-3, and the grouping of Stuka anti -tank Panzerknacker (Tank-tanks) was formed , because the attacks could be more flush and accurate. But its combat front developed during the initiated and already permanent retreat German in Russian territory. The Soviets called him Stuka’s pig .

On October 25, 1943, Rudel received from the Führer the swords for his Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves and the “suggestion” of being removed from the front, but Rudel firmly stated that he would only accept the decoration if he remained with his unit, Which Hitler reluctantly agreed to. In March 1944 he was promoted to Oberst ( colonel ) by reaching the 1,500 combat missions and claiming the destruction of 400 enemy tanks. He also operated a Focke-Wulf Fw 190 single- seater, specially modified for him, demanding the demolition of 11 Soviet aircraft.

The Miracle Escape

At the beginning of March 1944 , Rudel had his darkest episode. During a routine mission he realized that one of his companions had made an emergency landing in a sector heavily patrolled by enemy forces. Rudel wanted to rescue the fallen crew and when trying to take off, his machine sank due to the large amount of mud that was in the field. This fact did not go unnoticed by the enemy patrols, who immediately went to the sector where they had seen the landing of the German planes. Rudel and his now mates of misfortune had to run across the field to avoid being caught.

The hope of Rudel and his companions was to reach the river Dniester , a wide and mighty river distant to 6 km of the place. Rudel, in better physical condition than his companions, managed to cross the wide river, but his machine gunner, friend and companion of 1,500 missions, Erwin Henschel , drowned during the crossing a few meters from the shore. Both the pilot and the machine gun that Rudel had come down were taken prisoner. Rudel escaped with a pistol shot on his right shoulder. Even so he managed to sneak out and run, running for about 20 miles until, after a hard and troublesome road, he reached the German lines a day and a half after what had happened. The loss of his partner was a blow to Rudel.

In his memoirs, Rudel affirms that his only objective was to continue living in order to fly again.

The most decorated soldier of Germany

On March 29 he received from the Führer in person the highest German decoration, the Diamonds for his Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords , and Hitler again asked Rudel to withdraw from the front, but this again conditioned the acceptance of the Medal not to be withdrawn.

In November 1944, Rudel was injured in the leg while flying near Budapest , by an impact of anti-aircraft grenade shrapnel, leaving his left leg badly damaged, admitted to a hospital in Berlin , amputated .

The Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves in Gold, Swords and Diamonds was imposed personally by Hitler on January 1, 1945. Until the end of the conflict, Rudel was the only one who received it and was therefore the soldier with the highest German decoration. He was ordered by express order of the Führer to remain in Berlin. Rudel, by his own decision, was sent back to the front.

The Luftwaffe officially attributed the destruction of at least 519 tanks and 13 Soviet aircraft, Rudel was shot down at least 30 times by anti-aircraft.

Prison and life in postwar

The Soviet occupation of Germany forced Rudel and his squadron to surrender to the Americans, who received him well and enjoyed recognition of his fame. He was transferred to a field of officers of high rank in England, where he recovered of his ailments in the stump of the amputated leg.

Interrogated by the Allies, he was shown photographic evidence of Jewish extermination , declaring that he was unaware of the scope of the situation and defended himself by comparing these massacres with bombings by British and Americans with phosphorus bombs on Dresden and Cologne . Unlike other charges, Rudel remained firm in his Nazi ideology even after the Holocaust crimes of the Hitler regime were revealed . He was not found guilty of war crimes or crimes against humanity, despite requests for extradition from the Soviet Union, he was not subjected to the process of denazification, he was released in 1948 and returned to Germany.

He wrote the book “Pilot of Stuka – 2,500 flights against Bolshevism”, where he relates his experiences during the war, in particular his expeditions on the Russian Front.

The motto of his life was: “Verloren ist nur, wer sich selbst aufgibt” (“He is only lost, he who gives up”) .

He divorced his wife in 1950, with whom he had two children. He spent some years (1948-1956) in Argentina during the government of Juan Domingo Peron , along with other German aces, such as Adolf Galland , but his marked pronazi thought made him unpopular among his peers, who ended up maintaining some distance . Among his business was the representation of the Mengele company, and he warned and even helped escape fugitive Josef Mengele to Paraguay . Rudel advised the Argentine Air Force , 1 was very close to Perón and from this position played a key role bringing former Nazi leaders to the upper echelons of power in Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil , including Otto Skorzeny .

He climbed the Aconcagua and other Andean heights a couple of times despite his orthopedic leg. In 1953 he climbed the Llullaillaco , discovering the Sanctuary of Inca Height , where the American anthropologist Johan Reinhard and the Argentine archaeologist Constanza Ceruti unearthed the Mummies of Llullaillaco in 1998 .

He then traveled back to Germany, where he devoted himself to industry and had some involvement in politics attempting to revive National Socialism without success.

He died in Rosenheim at the age of 66, never denying his political convictions, his Nazi affiliation, defending his ideals as a patriot, the cause of Hitler whom he considered a true leader and condemning the attack of July 20, 1944 led by Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg .


  1. Back to top↑ He was a professor at the Air War School of the Argentine Air Force.