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
Fuhrer. Rudel 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
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