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Hans Rudel Stuka Pilot: Tank Killer of WWII

Updated on November 20, 2016
Mark Caruthers profile image

BA University of Arkansas Fayetteville Geography & History

Hans Rudel Germany's Greatest 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. 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 losing his right leg below the knee, just six weeks later he was back in his Stuka flying combat missions. 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. 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. 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).

Hans Rudel Stuka Pilot

The Stuka was a dive-bomber used at breakthrough points to blast holes in enemy defenses.

The Stuka was the symbol of Blitzkrieg (lighting war). Each Stuka was equipped with a siren to strike fear into the enemy.

Tank Buster Stuka below with a 37mm cannon under each wing.

The Russian battleship Marat during the Second World War

Rudel Sinks A Soviet Battleship During The Siege Of Leningrad

On the 23rd of September 1941, Rudel's Air Wing attacked the Soviet fleet in the Leningrad area. During the attack Rudel sank the Soviet Battleship Marat with a single 1000KG bomb when he scored a direct hit on the ship's ammunition store breaking the ship in half.

Hans Rudel Tank Buster

During the epic Battle of Kursk in July 1943, Rudel tested the first Stuka equipped with a 37mm cannon under each wing. On the 5th of July 1943, Rudel attacked a column of 12 T-34 tanks with his new cannon equipped Stuka and destroyed them all. Soon after the battle of Kursk the Luftwaffe would create an entire squadron of tank-buster Stukas with Rudel as their leader. 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 Stuka.

Stuka Dive Bomber

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.

Josef Mengele the Mad Doctor of Auschwitz

The "Angel of Death" Dr. Josef Mengele

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 he 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.

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.

The Highway of Death Desert Storm April 18th 1991

Iraqi tanks along Highway 80 leading out of Kuwait into Iraq (Highway of Death) April 18th 1991.
Iraqi tanks along Highway 80 leading out of Kuwait into Iraq (Highway of Death) April 18th 1991. | Source
Highway of Death Kuwait 1991
Highway of Death Kuwait 1991 | Source
Iraqi tanks on the Highway of Death
Iraqi tanks on the Highway of Death | Source

A-10 Warthog

The A-10 Warthog was built to off-set the Soviet tank advantage over NATO forces in Eastern Europe during the Cold War. The Germany Army deployed Rudel's anti-tank Stukas in the same manner to break up attacks from huge Soviet tank formations on the Eastern Front during the Second World War.

Han Rudel in 1979

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.


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    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 2 years ago

      Writing for Hub Pages has taught me the value of old books.

    • Mark Caruthers profile image

      Mark Caruthers 2 years ago from Fayetteville Arkansas

      Yes, I had a copy I don't remember what I did with it, you can't find one now.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 2 years ago

      Do you mean the book Stuka Pilot? It was a popular book in the 70s.

    • Mark Caruthers profile image

      Mark Caruthers 2 years ago from Fayetteville Arkansas

      I read Rudel's autobiography in the 70s, tough to find the book today. Most of the story is from memory, for him to survive the war seems impossible. The original terminator, after the war Rudel climbed mountains in South America.

    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 2 years ago from Auburn, WA

      All of these Luftwaffe Aces who survived the war appeared to have become very successful in postwar Europe or South America; sometimes the U.S. To borrow a line from Liam Neeson, they had a "particular set of skills."

      Many of them wrote their autobiographies but now are out of print in English. If you get a change try a few, especially the ones who were POWs in Russia.

      Nice article. Rudel's only stain appears to have been aiding Mengele.