Hall of Fame

Hans-Ul­rich Rudel (1916-82)

SP's Aviation - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - — Joseph Noronha

THE SON OF A cler­gy­man who never did well in school is hardly the right can­di­date to be­come a deadly Stuka pi­lot and the most dec­o­rated mil­i­tary avi­a­tor in the world. Yet that is the story of Hans-Ul­rich Rudel, a Ger­man pi­lot of World War II nick­named “Ea­gle of the Eastern Front”. His record of de­stroy­ing over 500 en­emy tanks in air-to-ground at­tacks is un­likely to be ever ex­ceeded. Apart from be­ing an air­borne killing ma­chine, he was un­be­liev­ably lucky, man­ag­ing to sur­vive in­tense fight­ing from the day the War be­gan till Nazi Ger­many sur­ren­dered. He was shot down 30 times and se­ri­ously wounded on five oc­ca­sions, yet lived to tell the tale. He ex­hausted all the medals and awards the Nazi gov­ern­ment had till they fi­nally in­sti­tuted an­other medal — the high­est in Ger­many — called Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Golden Oak Leaves, Swords and Di­a­monds. It was never awarded to any­one ex­cept Rudel.

Hans-Ul­rich Rudel was born on July 2, 1916, in Kon­radswal­dau in the Ger­man Em­pire. As part of the Hitler Youth move­ment he be­came a cham­pion de­cath­lete with the po­ten­tial to com­pete in the Olympics. On De­cem­ber 4, 1936, Rudel vol­un­teered for mil­i­tary ser­vice in the Luft­waffe, the Ger­man Air Force. His ini­tial flight train­ing was sat­is­fac­tory, but when it came to prac­tis­ing to make ac­cu­rate aerial at­tacks, he was un­able to learn the nec­es­sary dive bomb­ing tech­niques. Hence he was de­clared un­suit­able for com­bat fly­ing. In De­cem­ber 1938, he joined the Re­con­nais­sance Fly­ing School for train­ing in op­er­a­tional aerial re­con­nais­sance as an air ob­server. But when Ger­many in­vaded Poland on Septem­ber 1, 1939, Rudel re­peat­edly re­quested trans­fer back to a dive bomb­ing squadron. His pleas were fi­nally ac­cepted and in May 1940 he re­sumed dive bomber train­ing. But he still had trou­ble learn­ing the at­tack tech­nique.

In early 1941, Rudel joined a Sup­ple­men­tary Dive Bomber Squadron — a spe­cialised train­ing unit for new strike pi­lots. That is where he fi­nally mas­tered the Junkers Ju-87G two-man dive bomber. In his very first op­er­a­tional mis­sion in June, he dis­abled four tanks. By the end of the day he had ac­counted for 12 tanks — the equiv­a­lent of an en­tire ar­mour com­pany. His method was to come in low and close — so close that his plane was usu­ally in dan­ger of be­ing dam­aged by the tar­get’s ex­plo­sion. Be­cause of Rudel and a few other in­trepid Luft­waffe pi­lots, the Ju-87G emerged as one of the war’s chief tank de­stroy­ers. Rudel alone claimed 519 Soviet tanks.

But tanks were not Rudel’s only prey. In Septem­ber 1941, he flew a cou­ple of mis­sions against the Soviet Navy’s Baltic Fleet, achiev­ing a di­rect hit on the Marat with a sin­gle 1,000-kg bomb. With his tech­nique of com­ing in high, then get­ting into a 90-de­gree dive above the ship with the nose of his ma­chine pointed straight at the top of the ves­sel, and re­leas­ing the bomb at the last pos­si­ble in­stant, it would have been strange had he missed. The at­tack ig­nited the ves­sel’s am­mu­ni­tion store, caus­ing a gi­gan­tic ex­plo­sion that cracked the hull of the 600-foot war­ship in half. He man­aged to pull out of the dive per­haps a dozen feet above the wa­ter. In all, 326 men were killed and the ves­sel grad­u­ally set­tled to the bottom in shal­low wa­ter. It took months to be par­tially re­paired. Rudel later sank a cruiser, a de­stroyer and 70 land­ing craft. He also claimed more than 800 ve­hi­cles of var­i­ous types, over 150 ar­tillery, anti-tank or an­ti­air­craft po­si­tions, four ar­moured trains, as well as nu­mer­ous bridges. Over­all, he sin­gle-hand­edly de­stroyed suf­fi­cient war ma­te­rial to com­fort­ably equip the mil­i­tary forces of a small na­tion.

On March 20, 1944, Rudel landed be­hind Soviet lines to res­cue a downed Ger­man avi­a­tor, as he had done on at least five ear­lier oc­ca­sions. How­ever, he was un­able to take off again as the wheels of his air­craft had sunk into soft mud. Ac­com­pa­nied by three other pi­lots he headed back to­wards Ger­man ter­ri­tory on foot. With Soviet sol­diers in hot pur­suit, ea­ger to claim the 1,00,000-rou­ble bounty that Soviet leader Stalin had set on Rudel, the men at­tempted to swim across the freez­ing Dni­ester River. Three got across barely alive af­ter the freez­ing swim, only to be re­cap­tured. Rudel was wounded but man­aged to escape again. His motto was, “Lost are only those who aban­don them­selves.”

Fe­bru­ary 8, 1945, was an­other mo­men­tous day for Rudel as he man­aged to de­stroy no less than 13 tanks. How­ever, dur­ing the fi­nal at­tack a 40mm shell hit his air­craft. He was badly wounded in the right foot and crash-landed among friendly troops. His leg had to be am­pu­tated be­low the knee. But he “es­caped” from hos­pi­tal and was fly­ing op­er­a­tionally again by March 25, 1945, af­ter get­ting his air­craft’s rud­der pedal mod­i­fied. Later, fly­ing with a pros­thetic leg, he claimed 26 more tanks be­fore the war ended. His squadron had to sur­ren­der to the US forces on May 8, 1945, thus end­ing his dis­tin­guished mil­i­tary ca­reer.

In all, Rudel flew 2,530 com­bat mis­sions dur­ing World War II, the ma­jor­ity be­ing on the Junkers Ju-87G, while 430 were flown on ground-at­tack vari­ants of the Fock­eWulf Fw 190. He did not en­counter much aerial op­po­si­tion which ac­counts for his mea­gre tally of nine aerial vic­to­ries, seven of which were fighter air­craft. Nei­ther did he ever take leave nor did he al­low in­jury to keep him out of ac­tion. Even Adolf Hitler idolised him and while pre­sent­ing one of his many awards re­marked, “You are the great­est and most coura­geous sol­dier the Ger­man peo­ple have ever had.” Hans-Ul­rich Rudel died on De­cem­ber 18, 1982, in West Ger­many.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.