Monday, 7 April 2014

Book Review - Stuka Pilot by Hans Ulrich Rudel

Stuka pilot by Hans Ulrich Rudel, foreword by Douglas Bader, translated by Lyndon Hudson

Dublin Euphorion Books 1952

Hans Ulrich Rudel was the most highly decorated German soldier of World War II, being the only person to receive the Golden Oak Leaves with Swords and Diamonds to the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. He earned this award for flying over 2000 missions in an obsolescent aircraft, and destroying hundreds of Russian tanks.

This memoir takes us from his very unpromising first flights through to the German defeat and his imprisonment and eventual release by the allies in 1946. It is a story that , if it was fiction, would not be believed. Rudel was posted to a Stuka squadron, and as someone who struggled in training, had to earn the respect of his squadron before being allows to go on missions. Once he earned that right, his fitness, ability and unswerving dedication earned him the respect of all Germans, up to and including the FuhrerRudel served on the Eastern Front for his war, and his memoir is a story of successes followed by the long retreat into the heart of the Reich. As such it is a harrowing story of failure against huge odds and the loss of friends one after the other.

Rudel was shot down over a dozen times, and the stories of his escapes from the Russian forces almost beggar belief - which only added to his fame and notoriety on the Eastern front. The one thing Rudel wished to do above all others was fly. On more than one occasion the Reichsmarshall and even the Fuhrer forbade him to continue flying, but he disobeyed all orders to do so. By the end of the war he felt a personal responsibility to protect Germany and flew sortie after sortie, even after he had lost a leg. Eventually the end came, and he had to try to come to terms with all the death for no outcome. His time in captivity was mild - Douglas Bader tried to get him get an artificial leg, although the Americans were less friendly.

There are other points of interest in this book. The Russian fighter forces, even to the end of the war are rated as substandard by Rudel, apart from a very few pilots. Its clear to Rudel that, from 1944 on, the standard and level of command in the German army fell away. Like many German memoirs of war from the eastern front, the reader gets a sense of the long, bloody and inevitable retreat that took years and millions of lives - it is almost unbearable to read, so to live through it must have been like being in hell.

While Rudel is not overtly Nazi or political in the book, he has a strange naivety about the aggressiveness of Germany, continually failing to understand why there is such enmity to their country. In fact I wonder if indeed there isn't a hidden message in the book - the final paragraph: "I dedicate this book to the dead in this war and to youth. This new generation now lives in the frightful chaos of the post-war period. May it, nevertheless, keep alive its faith in the fatherland and its hope in the future; for only he is lost who gives himself up for lost!" - seems to almost deny the evil criminality of what had occurred during the war. Added to this Rudel's post war stints in Argentina and Stroessner's Uruguay where he spent time with Mengele, and there is some not to pleasant speculation the reader can make about Rudel.

A point of bibliographic interest is the publication of this book in Ireland. Apparently 1952 was still too soon for a book such as this to be published in England itself, although the printing was done there.

As wartime pilot memoirs go, this is a good one. if you can find this I highly recommend it.

Cheers for now, from
A View Over the Bell

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