Hans-Ulrich Rudel (2 July 1916 – 18 December 1982) was a Stuka dive-bomber pilot during World War II. 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 2530 combat missions and successfully attacked many tanks, trains, ships, and other ground targets, claiming a total of 2000 targets destroyed - including 800 vehicles, 519 tanks, 150 artillery guns, one destroyer, two cruisers, one Soviet battleship, 70 landing craft, four armored trains, several bridges and nine aircraft which he shot down.
Rudel fled to Argentina in 1948. A committed and unrepentant Nazi, he founded the Kameradenwerk, a relief organization for Nazi criminals that helped fugitives escape to Latin America and the Middle East. He briefly helped shelter Dr. Josef Mengele, the Auschwitz "Angel of Death."
Hans-Ulrich Rudel in The War That Came Early
Rudel was not part of the invasion of Czechoslovakia. With limited resources, the German High Command had kept its Stuka pilots grounded during that battle, knowing that they'd be needed in the West. Rudel and his squadron were part of the invasion of the Netherlands, bombing several cities during the five day invasion. Rudel and his squadron flew on the crucial bombing run on Rotterdam, which effectively knocked the Netherlands out of the fight, and allowed it to be overrun. After Belgium followed suit two weeks later, the German high staff thought it was the moment to strike England and France proper.
The actions of the Luftwaffe over south-east England were largely failures. During the bombing of Ramsgate, Rudel had to rush the operation and drop the bombs without properly aiming in order to get out without being shot. He was later shot down for real, while flying over northern France, though both he and his back gunner Albert Dieselhorst managed to parachute on German-held territory.
Being known for his loyalty, in the follow-up to the Wehrmacht's failure to take Paris and the Generals' Plot against Adolf Hitler the SS tried to recruit Rudel as an informer. Rudel, however, refused.
The Western Front stalemated not long after. Rudel, realizing that the Stuka was too vulnerable to continue further bombing operations and that the Allies were gaining the advantage in tank numbers, suggested that the plane's lateral machine guns be exchanged for anti-panzer weapons. He tested the invention himself on two separate occasions, destroying a dozen tanks while the enemy couldn't respond. After this, he was awarded the Knight's Cross and a promotion to Senior Lieutenant.
As 1939 passed into 1940, Rudel was moved to Poland to help fight the Soviet Union. He was stationed in Bialystok, where, despite his disdain for the Jews and for the Poles, he fell in love with a barmaid named Sofia, who was half-Jewish. Even as the front advanced after the big switch, Rudel continued to visit Sofia in Bialystok throughout 1940, despite the ideological contradictions his feelings for her presented.
- The Big Switch, pg. 87.
- Ibid., See, e.g., pgs. 120-123.
- Ibid., pgs. 283-286.