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Hans-Ulrich Rudel
Hans-Ulrich Rudel
Last Wartime Rank: Colonel
Unit(s): StG. 168, StG. 2
Theatre(s): EF
Combat Debut: 1939
– 519 Tanks
– 70 Assault Craft/Landing Boats
– 150 self-propelled guns
– 4 armored trains.
– 800 other vehicles
– 9 aircraft (7 IL-2 Sturmovik, 7 fighters)
– 1 Battleship, 2 cruisers, and a destroyer
Total Sorties: 2,530
Knight's Cross with Golden Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds.
Hans-Ulrich Rudel, the son of a Lutheran minister, was born in Konradswaldau (Silesia), Germany (it became part of Poland after 1945). After the Abitur (certificate of education), he joined the Luftwaffe in 1936 as an officer cadet, and on 12 April of that year began basic training at the "School of Air Warfare" in Berlin. Assigned initially to I./Stuka-Geschwader 168 in Graz he was considered not suitable as a combat pilot and was transferred to Fernaufklarungsgruppe 121 a reconnaissance unit, at Prenzlau on 1 January 1939 and promoted to Leutnant on that date.

As World War Two started and during the Polish Campaign he was reassigned to flying long-range reconnaissance missions. Rudel earned the Iron Cross Second Class on October 11, 1939. He was then admitted to dive-bomber training in May 1940, and after completing it, was assigned to I./StG 3, a Stuka wing in France. He spent the Battle of Britain as an Oberleutnant in a non-combat role. He took part in the invasion of Crete, but that was also in a non-combat role.

Now with I./StG 2, Rudel flew his first four combat missions on June 23, 1941, with the German invasion of the Soviet Union. His piloting skills earned him the Iron Cross First Class on July 18, 1941. On September 23, 1941, he sank the Soviet battleship Marat, during an air attack on Kronstadt harbor in the Leningrad area, with a hit to the bow with a 1000 kg bomb. By the end of December, he had flown his 400th mission and in January 1942 received the Ritterkreuz. He became the first pilot to fly 1,000 sorties on February 10, 1943. Around this time he also started flying anti-tank operations with the 'Kanonenvogel', or G, version of the Ju-87, through the Battle of Kursk, and into the autumn of 1943, destroying 100 tanks.

By March 1944, he was Gruppenkommandeur (commander) of III./StG 2 and had reached 1,800 operations and destroyed 202 tanks. In November 1944, he was wounded in the thigh and flew subsequent missions with his leg in a plaster cast.

On February 8, 1945, a 40mm shell hit his aircraft. He was badly wounded in the right foot and crash landed behind German lines. His life was saved by his observer Ernst Gadermann who stemmed the bleeding, but Rudel's leg was amputated below the knee. Amazingly, he returned to operations on March 25, 1945, destroying 26 more tanks 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 May 8, 1945, after landing at Kitzingen airfield, home to the 405th FG.

Eleven months in hospital followed. Released by the Americans, he moved to Argentina 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 shot down or forced to land 32 times (several times behind enemy lines), but always managed to escape capture despite a 100,000 ruble bounty placed on his head by Stalin himself. He was also wounded five times and rescued six stranded aircrew from enemy territory. 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 flew the ground-attack variant of the Fw 190.

Hans-Ulrich Rudel
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 Goering 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 ace of World War II Erich Hartmann also held the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds — but not in 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, Rudel became a close friend and confidante of the Argentine president Juan Perón. Rudel wrote a book titled In Spite of Everything, and a book of memoirs called Stuka Pilot that supported the German invasion of the Soviet Union. Even without a 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 second highest volcano on Earth three times, the Llullay-Yacu in the Argentine Andes (6,739 meters or 22,109 feet). In addition, Rudel's input was used during the development of the A-10 ground attack aircraft.

Rudel returned to West Germany in 1953 and joined the German Reich Party. He became a successful businessman in post-war Germany. He died in Rosenheim in 1982, and was buried in Dornhausen.

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.

Rudel was a teetotaler and abstained from alcohol and tobacco. His fellow pilots coined the phrase Hans-Ulrich Rudel, er trinkt nur Sprudel (Hans Ulrich Rudel, he drinks only mineral water).

Hans-Ulrich Rudel

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