Hans-Ulrich Rudel’s name and the story of the Stuka (Junkers 87) belong together. The crank-winged dive bomber became legend during the attack on Poland in September 1939, and the blitzkrieg through France and the Low Countries in spring 1940. It fell out of the sky like a bird of prey, siren screaming, spraying machine gun fire, and dropping bombs on fleeing civilians on crowded country roads, leaving the dead, and wounded in its wake.
The Stuka lost some of its luster during the Battle of Britain in summer, 1940. The British Hurricanes and Spitfires found the Ju-87 an easy kill.
The Stuka again ruled the skies over Crete and during the invasion of the Soviet Union. German fighters cleared the skies of Soviet machines, most of which were left overs from the days of the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.
Deemed an average pilot in training, Hans-Ulrich Rudel, volunteered to fly the Stuka in lieu of flying bombers. He spent his early years as a flight instructor before being assigned to 3 Gruppe, Stukageschwader 2, Immelmann. Rudel quickly gained a reputation for diving quite low and achieving remarkable accuracy. During the siege of Leningrad, on 16 September, 1941, the Luftwaffe, caught the Soviet battleship Marat at sea. Rudel hit it with a 500 kilogram bomb, damaging it and sending it back to Kronstadt harbor. There he hit it again, this time with a 1,000 kilogram bomb, breaking its back.
Rudel flew his 500th sortie in September, 1942, and his 1,000th on 10 February, 1943. By this time the Ju-87D replaced the Ju-87B model. Rudel helped to evaluate the Ju-87G model. This variant carried a 37 mm cannon under each wing which fired shells with tungsten cores. These shells made short work of the thin, rear armor plate of the Soviet tanks. During the Battle for the Kursk Salient in July 1943, Rudel destroyed twelve tanks on the first day. He often flew at an altitude of five to ten meters above ground level on his attack runs. (Please refer to previous blogs on Hitler’s Airborne Anti-Tank Guns Part 1, February 2017, and Part 2, March 2017.)
During the battle for Cherkassy and the Korsun pocket in August 1943 (please refer to my blog of October 2017) on the Dnieper River, Rudel continued his destruction of Soviet tanks . By March 1944 his unit operated at the Dniester Bridgehead farther north.
Hans-Ulrich Rudel was a proponent of ‘tank-busting.’ During his career he destroyed at least 519 tanks. Some sources credit him with many more. He flew 2,530 combat sorties, more than any other pilot flying on the Eastern Front. He rescued six air crews by landing in the midst of battles to pick them up. Shot down by anti-aircraft fire at least 30 times, he was never shot down by a fighter. In addition to the Marat, he sank two cruisers and one destroyer.
Near the end of the war he was wounded by a fragment from an exploding Stalin tank, resulting in the amputation of his right leg. His left leg was put in a cast.
When Germany surrendered, Rudel, directed to surrender to the Russian, instead surrendered to the Americans. After the war he moved to Paraguay where he lived for thirty years until returning to Germany where he died of a brain hemorrhage 21 December, 1982, at the age of 66.
Sources: Warplanes of the Third Reich, William Green, Doubleday and Company, Inc., Garden City, NY, 1972
War Over the Steppes, The Air Campaigns of the Eastern Front 1941-1945, E. R. Hooton, Osprey Publishing, New York, NY, 2016
‘He was ‘worth an entire division.”‘ Ludwig Heinrich Dyck, WW II History, Sovereign Media Company, Inc., February, 2020