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Hans-Ulrich Rudel (2 July 1916 – 18 December 1982) was a Stuka dive-bomber pilot during World War II and a member of the Nazi party. Rudel is famous for being the most highly decorated German serviceman of the war. Rudel was one of only 27 military men to be awarded the Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds, and the only one 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, 70 landing craft, 4 armored trains, several bridges 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 his Abitur (University-preparatory high school diploma), 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 in Grazmarker 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 (Long-Distance Reconnaissance Squadron) at Prenzlaumarker.

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).

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 11 October 1939. After a number of requests he was reassigned to dive bombing, joining an Aviation Training Regiment at Crailsheimmarker and then he was assigned to his previous unit, I./StG 3, at Caenmarker 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 Grazmarker for further training and was there confirmed for dive bombing training. Assigned to I./StG 2, based at Molaoimarker, his poor reputation, by then unjustified, 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 23 June 1941, during the German invasion of the Soviet Union. His piloting skills earned him the Iron Cross 1st Class on 18 July 1941. On 23 September 1941, he sank the Soviet battleship Marat, during an air attack on Kronstadtmarker harbor in the Leningradmarker 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. 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', or G, version of the Ju-87, through the Battle of Kurskmarker, and into the autumn of 1943, claiming 100 tanks destroyed.

By March 1944, he was already Gruppenkommandeur (commander) of III./StG 2 (appointed on 19 July 1943) and had reached 1,800 operations. At that time he claimed 202 tanks destroyed.

On 13 March 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 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 and surrendered to U.S. forces on 8 May 1945, after landing at Kitzingenmarker airfield, home to the 405th Fighter Group. He had his men lock the brakes and collapse the landing gear to make the aircraft useless to the Americans.

Eleven months in hospital followed. Released by the Americans, he moved to Argentinamarker 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 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.

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 Dniestermarker river, during which his rear gunner, Knight's cross holder Henschel, succumbed to the cold water and drowned. Several miles further towards the German lines the three survivors were then captured by Soviets, but the irrepressible Rudel again made a run for it, and despite being barefoot and in soaking clothes, getting shot in his shoulder, and then being hunted down by dog packs and several hundred pursuers, jogged his way back to his own side over semi-frozen earth during the following days. He became infamous among the Soviet Red Falcon pilots who could often be heard receiving orders to "get that Nazi swine in the Stuka with the two bars who always shoots up our tanks", the bars being a reference to the two Bordkanone on the Ju87G. Eventually a 100,000 ruble bounty was placed on his head by Stalin himself.

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 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.


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 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, Aconcaguamarker (6,962 meters or 22,841 feet). He also ascended the second highest volcano on Earth three times, the Llullay-Yacumarker in the Argentine Andes (6,739 meters or 22,109 feet). During his stay he became an acquaintance of notorious Nazi doctor, Josef Mengele.

Rudel returned to West Germany in 1953 and became a leading member of the Neo Nazi 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 Nationalist. In the book he supported National Socialist 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 Rosenheimmarker in 1982, and was buried in Dornhausen.


  • 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).





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  • Scherzer, Veit (2007). 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 (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 Universitymarker Press.
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