Stuka Pilot Hans Rudel : Germany's Most Decorated Soldier
Germany's Most Successful Stuka Pilot
Known as the "Stuka Pilot" Hans Rudel would become the most decorated serviceman in all the German armed forces during Second World War. He was the sole recipient of the Knight's Cross with Golden Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds on December 29, 1944. While defending Berlin from the Red Army in the final days of the Reich, Rudel's plane would take a direct hit from anti-aircraft artillery on February 8,1945, losing his right leg below the knee, just six weeks later he was back in his Stuka flying combat missions. Despite his injury, he continued to fly with an artificial limb (though his wound had only partially healed), and destroyed 26 more enemy tanks. Rudel was the wing commander for the elite tank-hunter squadron within the German Luftwaffe, known as the Stuka "fire brigade" thrown into the front line wherever the latest Red Army breakthrough threatened disrupt the German Army's fragile front line.
Rudel would later describe his attempts at perfecting aerial tank busting tactics more vividly during the titanic tank battle at Kursk July 12,1943:
" With these gigantic offerings of enemy tanks, an attempt would be possible. The Soviet armor formations were provided with strong Flak (anti-aircraft) defenses, but I figured that if we flew at between 1,200 and 1,800 meters altitude, I would be able to nurse a damaged aircraft to our own territory unless, of course, one fell like a stone. Loaded with bombs the aircraft of the first Staffel (flight of planes) flew behind me in single cannon planes. This is how we tried it! In my first attack, four tanks exploded through the fire from my cannons. By the evening, the total had risen to twelve."
During his career in the Luftwaffe, Rudel flew over 2,530 combat missions, shot down 11 enemy aircraft, destroyed 519 Soviet tanks, 150 self-propelled artillery pieces, over 1,000 military vehicles and a Soviet battleship. On September 23,1941, during an attack on the Soviet Baltic Fleet in Kronstadt, Rudel dropped a massive 2,200lb bomb that blew the bows off the battleship Marat sinking he massive ship. In subsequent attacks he also sank a Soviet cruiser and destroyer. Rudel was responsible for such huge loses to the Red Army that Soviet dictator, Joseph Stalin, place a 100,000 Ruble price tag on his head. His personal bravery and toughness during the Second World War was unparalleled which ranks him as one of the most extraordinary pilots in military history. Rudel's most famous quote was: "Verloren ist nur, wer sich selbst aufgibt" (Lost are only those, who abandon themselves). Rudel risked his life six times to rescue downed comrades. He himself was shot down 30 times by ground fire, never by an enemy plane.
In April 1943 Rudel received his cannon-armed Ju87G, and that is when his tank-busting career began on the battlefield. He also found the Ju87G highly effective against amphibious craft, destroying 70 during the battle for the Kuban bridgehead. During the epic Battle of Kursk in July 1943, Rudel tested the first Stuka equipped with a 37mm cannon under each wing. On the 12th of July 1943, Rudel attacked a column of T-34 tanks with his new cannon equipped Stuka destroying four enemy tanks, by the end of the day his tally would be twelve. Soon after the battle of Kursk the Luftwaffe would create an entire squadron of tank-buster Stukas with Rudel as their leader. In February 1945 Rudel flew his 2400th mission and his tally of Soviet tanks destroyed with his JU87G had reached 505. He would write the book on how to attack tanks from the air during he Second World War. He would determine that best way to knock out tanks was to hit them from the back or side where the tank's armor is the thinnest. By the end of the war Rudel would destroy 519 Soviet tanks alone with his cannon equipped JU87G Stuka.
At the end of the war Rudel surrendered his squadron of JU87s to American forces. Afterwards, he joined former members of the Focke-Wolf company in Argentina. Rudel returned to West Germany in 1953 and became a leading member of a Neo-Nazi nationalist political party, the German Reich Party (Deutsche Reichspartei or DRP). He later returned to Austria, where he settled in Kufstein and worked as a ski instructor.
The JU87 Stuka Dive Bomber
Tank Buster Stuka
The Russian battleship Marat
Rudel with Peron and his wife in Argentina
Hans Rudel Survives The War And Relocates To South America
After the end of the Second World War with the help of "Odessa" in1948 Rudel would travel to Cordoba, Argentina, and become a consultant in the Argentine aviation industry. When the regime of General Juan Peron collapsed in the early 1950s, Rudel would return back to West Germany. During his stay in South America Rudel became acquainted with the notorious Nazi concentration camp doctor and war criminal Joseph Mengele, whom he would later help relocate to Brazil by setting up an introduction to Nazi supporter Wolfgang Gerhard.
When the Second World War began, Mengele was a medical officer with the SS, an elite squad of Hitler's bodyguards who would emerge as a secret police force who would wage a campaign of terror throughout the Second World War. In 1943, Mengele was granted a position that would earn him a well known place in history, as one of the most infamous people to ever walk the planet, as the Chief Doctor of the Auschwitz death camps in Poland. Rudel was a great pilot, but was a very poor judge of character due to the fact he was devoted follower of Adolf Hitler and friend of Josef Mengele.
Rudel was an ardent Nazi, a character flaw that would cause most to never really honor his accomplishments on the battlefield. In the final days of the Second World War, it was rumored Rudel offered to fly to Berlin and rescue Hitler when the Red Army was within a mile of his bunker. His plan was to land on one of the few streets still in German hands near Hitler's bunker and fly out with him before the Red Army over-ran his bunker. But Hitler wouldn't grant Rudel permission to carry out the mission, believing Rudel was too important to the cause to risk his life that late in the war.
Dr. Mengele would inject thousands of death camp inmates with everything from petrol to chloroform to study the chemical effects on his victims. He plucked out the eyes of Gypsy corpses to study eye pigmentation, and conducted numerous gruesome studies on twins. Mengele would escape a death sentence after the war by moving to South America with the help of "Odessa", he would become a citizen of Paraguay in 1959. With Rudel's help Mengele would later move to Brazil, and meet up with another former Nazi party member, Wolfgang Gerhard. Mengele at some point in time during his hiding he would assume Gerhard's identity to escape capture. Josef Mengele would die of a stroke while swimming in the ocean off the coast of Brazil in 1979.
Josef Mengele the Mad Doctor of Auschwitz
Rudel and the A-10 Warthog
Rudel worked with American engineers during the design of the A-10 Warthog, which was so successful against Iraq during the first Gulf War it would decimate Iraqi troops as they attempted to leave Kuwait, the escape route would later be termed the Highway of Death. During the Second World War, Rudel flew the first anti-tank Stuka, armed with two 3.7 cannons beneath its wings, during the battle of Kursk in July 194, it was the first time this type of aircraft was used in combat, and with great success in one day Rudel destroyed 12 Soviet tanks.
Hans Rudel died in Rosenheim, West Germany on December 18, 1982, of heart failure. He was buried in Dornhausen on December 22, 1982. During Rudel's burial ceremony, two West German Phantom jets appeared to make a low altitude fly-over of his grave. Although Dornhausen was directly in the middle of West German military airspace government officials closed the air lanes during Rudel's funeral out of respect for his decorated military career. Four mourners were photographed giving the Nazi salute at the funeral, exposing one of the darkest chapters in world history.