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Hans-Ulrich Rudel

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Hans-Ulrich Rudel
A man wearing a peaked cap and black leather military coat with an Iron Cross displayed at the front of his uniform collar.
Hans-Ulrich Rudel in 1944
Born (1916-07-02)2 July 1916
Konradswaldau, German Empire
Died 18 December 1982(1982-12-18) (aged 66)
Rosenheim, West Germany
Buried at Dornhausen
Allegiance  Nazi Germany
Service/branch Balkenkreuz (Iron Cross) Luftwaffe
Years of service 1936–45
Rank Oberst (Colonel)
Unit 2.(F)/AufklGrp 121
StG 3, StG 2, SG 2
Commands held III./StG 2, SG 2
Awards Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Golden Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds
Other work Businessman; founder of relief organization for Nazi war criminals; member of the German Reich Party

Hans-Ulrich Rudel (2 July 1916 – 18 December 1982) was a German ground-attack pilot during World War II. Post-war, he was a prominent neo-Nazi activist in Latin America and West Germany.

During the war, Rudel was credited with the destruction of 519 tanks, as well as a number of ships. He claimed 9 aerial victories and the destruction of more than 800 vehicles of all types. He flew 2,530 ground-attack missions exclusively on the Eastern Front, usually flying the Junkers Ju 87 "Stuka" dive bomber, and 430 missions flying fighter aircraft. Rudel was the most decorated German serviceman of World War II receiving the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Golden Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds in January 1945; the decoration was created specifically for him.

After the war, Rudel went into private business. A committed and unrepentant Nazi, he fled to Argentina in 1948 and founded the "Kameradenwerk", a relief organization for Nazi criminals that helped fugitives escape to Latin America and the Middle East. Together with Willem Sassen, Rudel helped shelter Josef Mengele, the notorious former SS doctor of the Auschwitz concentration camp. He also worked as an arms dealer and a military advisor to the regimes of Juan Perón in Argentina, of Augusto Pinochet in Chile, and of Alfredo Stroessner in Paraguay. Due to these activities, he was placed under observation by the US Central Intelligence Agency.

In the West German federal election of 1953, Rudel, who had returned to West Germany, was the top candidate for the far-right German Reich Party but was not elected to the Bundestag. Following the Revolución Libertadora in 1955, the uprising that ended the second presidential term of Perón, Rudel moved to Paraguay, where he acted as a foreign representative for several German companies. In 1977, he became a spokesman for the German People's Union, a neo-Nazi political party founded by the extremist politician Gerhard Frey. Rudel died in Rosenheim in 1982, and was buried in Dornhausen.

Early life and career

Rudel was born on 2 July 1916 in Konradswaldau, in Prussia. He was the third child of Lutheran minister Johannes Rudel.[1] As a boy, Rudel was a poor scholar, but a very keen sportsman. Rudel attended the Volksschule, and the humanities oriented Gymnasium, in Lauban. He joined the Hitler Jugend in 1933.[2] After graduating with Abitur in 1936, he attended the compulsory Reichsarbeitsdienst (RAD) at Muskau, working on the banks of the Lusatian Neisse.[3]

After his RAD service, Rudel joined the Luftwaffe as Fahnenjunker. Following basic training, his flight training began in June 1937 at the 3rd Air Warfare School at Wildpark-Werder near Berlin.[3] In June 1938, now an Oberfähnrich he joined Sturzkampfgeschwader 168 at Graz-Thalerhof.[Note 1] There, he was assigned to dive bombing training.[4] Rudel, as a teetotaler and non-smoker, was not well accepted among his peers. He also had difficulties learning the new techniques, and was considered unsuitable for combat flying, so on 1 December 1938, he was transferred to the Reconnaissance Flying School at Hildesheim for air observer training.[5] He was promoted to second lieutenant on 1 January 1939. In June 1939, he was posted to the Fernaufklärungsgruppe 121 at Prenzlau.[6]

World War II

German forces invaded Poland in 1939 starting World War II in Europe. Shortly before the invasion, Aufklärungsgruppe 121 was moved to Schneidemühl, at the time close to the Polish Corridor.[5] As an air observer, Rudel flew on long-range reconnaissance missions over Poland. He flew several missions over the Brest-LitovskKovelLutsk railway line,[7] and received the Iron Cross 2nd Class in November 1939.[8] Following the invasion, Rudel submitted several requests for transfer back to the dive bomber force.[6] In March 1940, he was posted to 43rd Aviators Training Regiment, based at Vienna-Stammersdorf and later at Crailsheim. There he served as a regimental adjutant.[8] In late June 1940, he was transferred to Sturzkampfgeschwader 3 formerly his old unit, which had been renamed, and was based at Caen, France.[8]

Rudel did not fly operationally during the Battle of Britain, since he was still regarded a poor pilot.[6] Serving in a non-combatant role, he was promoted to Oberleutnant in September 1940. In early 1941, he was transferred to the Stuka-Ergänzungsstaffel at Graz-Thalerhof, a specialized training unit for new dive bomber pilots.[9] There, according to his own account, he finally learned to master the Junkers Ju 87 two-man dive bomber. In mid-April 1941, he was assigned to Sturzkampfgeschwader 2 "Immelmann", based at Molaoi, Greece. His poor reputation as a pilot preceded him, and he spent the Battle of Crete in a non-combat role.[6] At the time, the Geschwader was commanded by Major Oskar Dinort.[10]

War against the Soviet Union

A map of Eastern Europe depicting the movement of military units and formations.
Map indicating Operation Barbarossa's attack plan

In June 1941, StG 2 was moved to occupied Poland in preparation for Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union.[11] StG 2 had been placed under the control of the 8th Air Corps, part of Luftflotte 2 (2nd Air Fleet), and supported the northern flank of Army Group Center.[12] During the first two weeks of the campaign, StG 2 flew ground support missions for armored units of 3rd Panzer Group advancing towards Smolensk.[13] Rudel flew his first four combat missions as a dive bomber pilot on 23 June 1941.[11][14] On 18 July 1941, he was awarded the Iron Cross 1st Class.[4]

Marat in 1939

By August 1941, the 8th Air Corps was shifted northwards to support Army Group North in its attempt to capture Leningrad.[15] Rudel flew numerous combat missions in support of the 16th Army and 18th Army advancing northwards.[16] On 21 September 1941, Rudel flew his first mission against the Soviet Baltic Fleet task force that was bombarding German forces on their advance. He claimed a hit on the Soviet battleship Marat.[17] Marat' was sunk at her moorings on 23 September 1941 by two near-simultaneous hits by 1,000-kilogram (2,200 lb) bombs near the forward superstructure. They caused the explosion of the forward magazine which demolished the superstructure and the forward part of the hull. 326 men were killed and the ship gradually settled to the bottom in 11 meters (36 ft) of water.[18] Her sinking is commonly credited to Rudel, but he dropped only one of the two bombs.[19]

Army Group Center opened Operation Typhoon, the Battle of Moscow, on 30 September 1941; the 8th Air Corps was again placed under the command of 2nd Air Fleet.[15] On 2 December 1941, Rudel was awarded the German Cross in Gold, the first pilot of III. Gruppe to receive this decoration. By the end of December, he had flown his 400th mission, and on 6 January 1942 he received the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross.[20][6]

In early 1942, Rudel was granted home leave. During his vacation, he stayed with his parents in Alt-Kohlfurt and got married.[21] Beginning on 15 August 1942, Rudel flew missions as squadron leader in the Caucasus and over the Black Sea.[22] On 23 September 1942, he damaged a 4,000 gross register tons (GRT) merchant ship in the harbor of Tuapse. In early November 1942, Rudel was briefly hospitalized in Rostov-on-Don and treated for hepatitis. From November 1942, Rudel flew in the Battle of Stalingrad.[23] On 25 November 1942, I. Gruppe of StG 2 defended an airfield occupied by StG 1 at Oblivskaya against attacks from a Soviet cavalry division. That day, Rudel flew 17 combat missions.[24]

Ju 87 G-2 "Kanonenvogel" with its twin Bordkanone BK 3.7, 37 mm cannon

In February 1943, Rudel flew his 1,000th combat mission.[25][26] He then participated in the experiments with using the Ju 87 G in the anti-tank role, armed with two 37 mm BK 37 under-wing autocannons.[27] In April 1943, he was promoted to Captain.[22] The anti-tank unit was moved to the Kerch Peninsula where it attacked the Red Army landing craft during the Soviet Kerch–Eltigen Operation. Some of these attacks were filmed by an onboard gun camera and shown in Die Deutsche Wochenschau, a newsreel released by the Reich Ministry of Propaganda.[27] In April 1943, Rudel was awarded the Oak Leaves to the Knight's Cross, receiving them from Hitler personally in Berlin.[25] During the Battle of Kursk, Rudel flew the cannon equipped Ju 87 G against Soviet tanks in the area of Belgorod.[28] In July 1943 Rudel was appointed acting commander of III. Gruppe.[28] In October 1943, Rudel was credited with the destruction of his 100th tank and was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords on 25 November.[29][30]

Defeat on the Eastern Front

In January 1944, Rudel led III. Gruppe in defensive support of the 8th Army. During the Kirovohrad Offensive (1–16 January 1944), the 2nd Ukrainian Front, under command of Ivan Konev, attacked the German 8th Army. The Soviet operation was successful and led to German forces being encircled in the Battle of the Korsun–Cherkassy Pocket (24 January – 16 February 1944).[31] From 7 to 10 January 1944, Rudel was credited with the destruction of 17 Soviet tanks in these battles; he claimed his 150th tank victory on 11 January 1944, and flew his 1,700 mission on 16 January 1944.[32] He was officially appointed Gruppenkommandeur of III. Gruppe on 22 February 1944, and promoted to Major on 1 March 1944, with his seniority back dated to 1 October 1942.[22] On 20 March, Rudel landed behind Soviet lines to save a downed crew from captivity. This was his eighth mission of the day; the target area had been a bridge spanning the Dniester near Yampil. Unable to take off as the wheels of his aircraft had sunk into the soft ground, the four headed back to German held territory on foot. Pursued by Soviet troops, the men attempted to swim across the Dniester River. Rudel and two of the others made it across, while the fourth, Hentschel, drowned in the attempt.[33] Soon afterwards, the three were captured. Rudel was wounded by small arms fire in the shoulder as he made his escape and returned to German held territory the following day.[34] Upon his return, Ernst Gadermann, previously the troop doctor of III. Gruppe, joined Rudel as his new radio operator and air gunner.[35]

Rudel completed his 1,800 combat mission on 25 March 1944. The next day he flew several more sorties during the prelude of the First Jassy–Kishinev Offensive (8 April – 6 June 1944), and was credited with the destruction of 17 tanks at Fălești, 40 kilometers (25 mi) north of Iași. This achievement was mentioned in the Wehrmachtbericht, a propaganda radio report, the first of five such mentions, on 27 March 1944.[36] The next day, Rudel was again mentioned in the Wehrmachtbericht, which reported his 202nd tank kill. For this he was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds on 29 March 1944. Rudel was the tenth member of the Wehrmacht, and the seventh pilot, who had received this award. The presentation was made at the Berghof, Hitler's home in the Obersalzberg of the Bavarian Alps near Berchtesgaden.[37] Following the presentation, Rudel went on vacation, and stayed with his wife and son at Alt-Kohlfurt. He then returned to the Eastern Front, flying to join his Gruppe, which was based at Huși, southeast of Iași.[38] Rudel flew his 2,000th combat mission on 1 June 1944, destroying his 301st tank that day, 78 of which had been destroyed with bombs and 223 with the 37 mm cannon.[22] This event earned him his third mention in the Wehrmachtbericht, which was broadcast on 3 June 1944. The Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe, Reichsmarschall (Marshal of the Reich) Hermann Göring, presented Rudel with the Combined Pilots-Observation Badge in Gold with Diamonds (Flugzeugführer- und Beobachterabzeichen in Gold mit Brillanten), and the Golden Front Flying Clasp of the Luftwaffe for Ground Attack Fighters with Pennant "2,000" (Frontflugspange für Schlachtflieger in Gold mit Anhänger "2,000").[39]

On 13 July 1944, III. Gruppe was transferred from Huși, Romania to the central sector of the Eastern Front, where the Red Army was attacking towards the Vistula in Operation Bagration. Flying from an airfield at Chełm, the Gruppe targeted Rava-Ruska and other targets in the Ukraine and Belarus area. On 22 July, the Gruppe moved to Mielec in the Vistula-San triangle; from Mielec missions against armored columns at Jarosław, Rzeszów, and the Wisłok were flown.[40] On 5 August 1944, Rudel claimed 11 tanks destroyed, earning him his fourth mention in the Wehrmachtbericht. Rudel's number of tank kills had now reached 378, including 300 destroyed with the 37 mm cannon.[41] Fighting on the Courland front, he was credited with 8 tank kills on 14 August 1944, taking the total to 320 tank kills with the 37 mm cannon. On 19 August, Rudel's aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire in the vicinity of Ērgļi, Latvia. In the resulting forced landing, both he and Gadermann were injured, Rudel in the leg, and Gadermann suffering several broken ribs.[39] Rudel's unit was then ordered to transfer back to Romania, and then to Hungary. From 28 August onwards, Rudel operated from airfields at Buzău, 70 kilometers (43 mi) northeast of the vital oil refineries at Ploiești, namely Tășnad near Tokaj, Miskolc, Sajókaza northeast of Lake Balaton, Farmos near Szolnok, Vecsés near Budapest, and Börgönd near Székesfehérvár.[42]

Wing commander

Rudel was promoted to Oberstleutnant on 1 September 1944, and appointed leader of SG 2, replacing Stepp, on 1 October 1944.[43][Note 2] On 17 November 1944, he was wounded in the thigh, and had to make an emergency landing at a fighter airfield near Budapest. Following his release from the hospital, he flew subsequent missions with his leg in a plaster cast.[45]

StG 2 emblem

On 22 December 1944, Rudel completed his 2,400th combat mission, and the next day, he reported his 463rd tank destroyed. On 29 December 1944, Rudel was promoted to Oberst (colonel), and was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Golden Oak Leaves, Swords, and Diamonds, the first and only person to receive this distinction. This award was presented to him by Hitler at the Adlerhorst, Hitler's headquarters in the Taunus mountains during the Battle of the Bulge, on 1 January 1945. On 14 January 1945, Rudel received the Hungarian Golden Medal for Bravery (Vitézségi Érem Arany), which was presented to him by Hungary's Head of State Ferenc Szálasi at Sopron, Hungary.[43]

On 8 February 1945, Rudel was credited with the destruction of 13 tanks near Lebus on the Oder River, earning him his fifth mention in the Wehrmachtbericht on 10 February 1945.[45] During the attack on the 13th tank, a 40 mm (1.6 in) shell hit his aircraft. He was badly wounded in the right foot, and crash landed inside German lines. His observer/gunner Gadermann stemmed the bleeding. Rudel was taken to a field hospital of the Waffen-SS at Seelow, where his leg had to be amputated below the knee.[46] He was then hospitalized in the Zoo flak tower in Berlin, and was flying operationally again with a modified rudder pedal on 25 March 1945. He claimed 26 more tanks destroyed by the end of the war.[47] On 19 April 1945, the day before Hitler's final birthday, Rudel spent the evening talking to Hitler in the Führerbunker, an air-raid shelter located near the Reich Chancellery in Berlin.[48] According to John Toland, author of the book Adolf Hitler, who based his statement on Rudel's book Stuka Pilot and personal interviews with Rudel, Hitler had ordered him to take charge of all jet fighter aircraft. Rudel refused, as he preferred flying to a desk job. By the time Rudel left, it was after midnight.[49]

On 8 May 1945, determined not to fall into Soviet hands, he left his ground personnel behind and led three Ju 87s and four Fw 190s westward from an airfield at Klecany, north of Prague, landing at Kitzingen airfield, which was held by the United States Army Air Forces 405th Fighter Group.[50][51] Rudel had his men lock the brakes and collapse the landing gear to render the aircraft useless; all but one obeyed his order and wiped off their undercarriage.[52] There he surrendered to US forces, and was taken prisoner of war. Over the next eleven months, he was held captive in Erlangen and Wiesbaden, then in prison camps in England and France, before he was taken to Fürth in Bavaria.[53]

Later life

In April 1946, Rudel was released from captivity at Fürth. While Rudel was interned, his family fleeing from the advancing Red Army had found refuge with Gadermann's parents in Wuppertal. There, Gadermann helped Rudel look for work. He was offered an office job, but he did not accept the position.[54] He then owned and operated a haulage company in Coesfeld.[28] In 1948, he emigrated to Argentina via the ratlines, travelling via the Austrian Zillertal to Italy. In Rome, with the help of South Tyrolean smugglers, and aided by the Austrian titular bishop Alois Hudal, he bought himself a fake Red Cross passport with the cover name "Emilio Meier", and took a flight from Rome to Buenos Aires, where he arrived on 8 June 1948.[55][56]

South America and Nazi activist

After Rudel moved to Argentina, he became a close friend and confidant of the President of Argentina Juan Perón, and Paraguay's dictator Alfredo Stroessner. In Argentina, he founded the "Kameradenwerk" (lit. "comrades work" or "comrades act"), a relief organization for Nazi war criminals. Prominent members of the "Kameradenwerk" included SS officer Ludwig Lienhardt, whose extradition from Sweden had been demanded by the Soviet Union on war crime charges,[57] Kurt Christmann, a member of the Gestapo sentenced to 10 years for war crimes committed at Krasnodar, Austrian war criminal Fridolin Guth, and the German spy in Chile, August Siebrecht. The group maintained close contact with other internationally wanted fascists, such as Ante Pavelić, Carlo Scorza and Konstantin von Neurath. In addition to these war criminals that fled to Argentina, the "Kameradenwerk" also assisted Nazi criminals imprisoned in Europe, including Rudolf Hess and Karl Dönitz, with food parcels from Argentina and sometimes by paying their legal fees.[58] In Argentina, Rudel became acquainted with notorious Nazi concentration camp doctor and war criminal Josef Mengele.[59] Rudel, together with Willem Sassen, a former Waffen-SS and war correspondent for the Wehrmacht, who initially worked as Rudel's driver,[60] helped to relocate Mengele to Brazil by introducing him to Nazi supporter Wolfgang Gerhard.[61][62] In 1957, Rudel and Mengele together travelled to Chile to meet with Walter Rauff, the inventor of the mobile gas chamber.[63]

In Argentina, Rudel lived in Villa Carlos Paz, roughly 36 kilometers (22 mi) from the populous Córdoba City, where he rented a house and operated a brickworks.[64] There, Rudel wrote his wartime memoirs Trotzdem ("Nevertheless" or "In Spite of Everything").[65] The book was published in November 1949 by the Dürer-Verlag in Buenos Aires.[Note 3] Discussion ensued in Germany on Rudel being allowed to publish the book, because he was a known Nazi. In the book, he supported Nazi policies. This book was later re-edited and published in the United States, as the Cold War intensified, under the title, Stuka Pilot, which supported the German invasion of the Soviet Union. Pierre Clostermann, a French fighter pilot, had befriended Rudel and wrote the foreword to the French edition of his book Stuka Pilot.[67] In 1951, he published a pamphlet Dolchstoß oder Legende? ("Stab in the Back or Legend?"), in which he claimed that "Germany's war against the Soviet Union was a defensive war", moreover, "a crusade for the whole world".[68] In the 1950s, Rudel befriended Savitri Devi, a writer and proponent of Hinduism and Nazism, and introduced her to a number of Nazi fugitives in Spain and the Middle East.[69]

With the help of Perón, Rudel secured lucrative contracts with the Brazilian military. He was also active as a military adviser and arms dealer for the Bolivian regime, Augusto Pinochet in Chile and Stroessner in Paraguay.[70] He was in contact with Werner Naumann, formerly a State Secretary in Goebbels' Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda in Nazi Germany. Following the Revolución Libertadora in 1955, a military and civilian uprising that ended the second presidential term of Perón, Rudel was forced to leave Argentina and move to Paraguay. During the following years in South America, Rudel frequently acted as a foreign representative for several German companies, including Salzgitter AG, Dornier Flugzeugwerke, Focke-Wulf, Messerschmitt, Siemens and Lahmeyer International, a German consulting engineering firm.[71] Rudel's input was used during the development of the A-10 Thunderbolt II, a United States Air Force aircraft designed solely for close air support, including attacking ground targets as tanks and armored vehicles.[72]

According to the historian Peter Hammerschmidt, based on files of the German Federal Intelligence Service and the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the BND, under the cover-up company "Merex", was in close contact with former SS and Nazi Party members. In 1966, Merex, represented by Walter Drück, a former Generalmajor in the Wehrmacht and BND agent, helped by the contacts established by Rudel and Sassen, sold discarded equipment of the Bundeswehr (German Federal armed forces) to various dictators in Latin America. According to Hammerschmidt, Rudel assisted in establishing contact between Merex and Friedrich Schwend, a former member of the Reich Main Security Office and involved in Operation Bernhard. Schwend, according to Hammerschmidt, had close links with the military services of Peru and Bolivia. In the early sixties, Rudel, Schwend and Klaus Barbie, founded a company called "La Estrella", the star, which employed a number of former SS officers who had fled to Latin America.[73][74] Rudel, through La Estrella, was also in contact with Otto Skorzeny, who had his own network of former SS and Wehrmacht officers.[75]

Sport and political ambitions

Although missing one leg, he remained an active sportsman, playing tennis, skiing, and mountain climbing. In 1949, he competed in an international skiing competition held at Bariloche, taking fourth place in the men's slalom.[76] In 1951, he climbed the highest peak in the Americas, Aconcagua, at 6,960.8 meters (22,837 ft), and by extension the highest point in both the Western Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere. Due to deteriorating weather conditions, Rudel had to turn back short of the summit on 31 December 1951.[77] In 1953, Rudel ascended the Llullay-Yacu in the Argentine Andes, at 6,739 meters (22,110 feet) the fifth highest volcano, three times.[45]

Rudel returned to West Germany in 1953 and became a leading member of the Neo-Nazi nationalist political party, the German Reich Party (DRP—Deutsche Reichspartei).[78] In the West German federal election of 1953, Rudel was the top candidate for the DRP, but was not elected to the Bundestag.[79] According to Josef Müller-Marein, journalist and editor-in-chief of Die Zeit, Rudel had an egocentric character. In his political speeches, Rudel made generalizing statements, claiming that he was speaking on behalf of most, if not all, former German soldiers of World War II. Rudel heavily criticized the Western Allies during World War II for not having supported Germany in its war against the Soviet Union. Rudel's political demeanor subsequently alienated him from his former comrades, foremost Gadermann. Müller-Marein concluded his article with the statement: "Rudel no longer has a Geschwader!"[80] In 1977, he became a spokesman for the German People's Union, a nationalist political party founded by Gerhard Frey.[81] In 2004, Frey and Hajo Herrmann published an abstract of Rudel's biography in the book Helden der Wehrmacht – Unsterbliche deutsche Soldaten [Heroes of the Wehrmacht – Immortal German soldiers]. This publication was classified as a far-right wing publication by the German scholars Claudia Fröhlich and Horst-Alfred Heinrich.[82]

Public scandals

In October 1976, Rudel inadvertently triggered a chain of events, which were later dubbed the Rudel-Affäre (Rudel Scandal). Aufklärungsgeschwader 51 (51st Reconnaissance Wing) the latest unit to hold the name "Immelmann", held a reunion for members of the unit including those from World War II. The Secretary of State in the Federal Ministry of Defence, Hermann Schmidt authorized the event. Fearing that Rudel would spread Nazi propaganda on the German Air Force airbase in Bremgarten near Freiburg, Schmidt ordered that the meeting could not be held at the airbase. News of this decision reached Generalleutnant Walter Krupinski, at the time commanding general of NATO's Second Allied Tactical Air Force, and a former World War II fighter pilot. Krupinski contacted Gerhard Limberg, Inspector of the Air Force, requesting that the meeting be allowed to be held at the airbase. Limberg later confirmed Krupinski's request, and the meeting was held on Bundeswehr premises, a decision which Schmidt still did not agree to. Rudel attended the meeting, where besides signing his book and a few autographs, he refrained from making any political statements.[83]

During a routine press event, journalists, who had been briefed by Schmidt, questioned Krupinski and his deputy Karl Heinz Franke about Rudel. In this interview, the generals compared Rudel's past as a Nazi and Neo-Nazi supporter to the career of prominent Social Democrat leader Herbert Wehner, who had been a member of the German Communist Party in the 1930s, and who had lived in Moscow during World War II, where he was allegedly involved in NKVD operations. Calling Wehner an extremist, they described Rudel as an honorable man, who "hadn't stolen the family silver or anything else". When these remarks became public, the Federal Minister of Defense Georg Leber, complying with §50 of the Soldatengesetz (de) (Military law), ordered the generals into early retirement as of 1 November 1976. Leber, however, a member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), was heavily criticized for his actions by the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) opposition, and the scandal contributed to the minister's retirement in early 1978.[83] On 3 February 1977, the German Bundestag debated the scandal and its consequences. The Rudel Scandal subsequently triggered a military-tradition discussion, which the Federal Minister of Defense Hans Apel ended with the introduction of "Guidelines for Understanding and Cultivating Tradition" on 20 September 1982.[84]

During the 1978 FIFA World Cup, held in Argentina, Rudel visited the German national football team in their training camp in Ascochinga. The German media criticized the German Football Association (DFB—Deutscher Fußball-Bund), and viewed Rudel's visit as being sympathetic to the military dictatorship that ruled Argentina following the 1976 Argentine coup d'état. During the 1958 FIFA World Cup in Sweden, he visited the German team at Malmö following its 3:1 victory over Argentina on 8 June 1958. There he was welcomed by team manager Sepp Herberger.[85]

Personal life

Rudel was married three times. His 1942 marriage to Ursula, nicknamed "Hanne", produced two sons, Hans-Ulrich and Siegfried. They divorced in 1950. According to the news magazine Der Spiegel, one reason for the divorce was that his wife had sold some of his decorations, including the Oak Leaves with Diamonds, to an American collector, but she also refused to move to Argentina.[86] On 27 March 1951, Der Spiegel published Ursula Rudel's denial of selling his decorations, and further stated she had no intention of doing so.[87] Rudel married his second wife, Ursula née Daemisch in 1965. The marriage produced his third son, Christoph, born in 1969.[88] A year later, Rudel survived a stroke on 26 April 1970.[89] Following his divorce in 1977, he married Ursula née Bassfeld.[88]

Death and funeral

Rudel's grave in Dornhausen

Rudel died after suffering another stroke in Rosenheim on 18 December 1982,[68] and was buried in Dornhausen on 22 December 1982. During Rudel's burial ceremony, two Bundeswehr F-4 Phantoms appeared to make a low altitude flypast over his grave. Although Dornhausen was situated in the middle of a flightpath regularly flown by military aircraft, Bundeswehr officers denied deliberately flying aircraft over the funeral. Four mourners were photographed giving Nazi salutes at the funeral, and were investigated under a law banning the display of Nazi symbols. The Federal Minister of Defense Manfred Wörner declared that the flight of the aircraft had been a normal training exercise.[90]

Summary of military career

Rudel flew 2,530 combat missions on the Eastern Front of World War II. The majority of these were undertaken while flying the Junkers Ju 87, although 430 were flown in the ground-attack variant of the Focke-Wulf Fw 190. He was credited with the destruction of 519 tanks, severely damaging the battleship Marat, as well as sinking a cruiser, a destroyer and 70 landing craft. Rudel also claimed to have destroyed more than 800 vehicles of all types, over 150 artillery, anti-tank or anti-aircraft positions, 4 armored trains, as well as numerous bridges and supply lines. Rudel was also credited with 9 aerial victories, 7 of which were fighter aircraft and 2 Ilyushin Il-2s. He was shot down or forced to land 30 times due to anti-aircraft artillery, was wounded five times and rescued six stranded aircrew from enemy held territory.[43]



1 January 1939: Leutnant (second lieutenant)[4]
1 September 1940: Oberleutnant (first lieutenant)[4]
1 April 1943: Hauptmann (captain), with a date of rank of 1 April 1942[22]
1 March 1944: Major (major), with a date of rank of 1 October 1942[22]
1 September 1944: Oberstleutnant (lieutenant colonel)[22]
29 December 1944: Oberst (colonel)[43]


  1. For an explanation of Luftwaffe unit designations see Organization of the Luftwaffe during World War II.
  2. According to Brütting, Rudel took command of SG 2 on 1 August 1944.[44]
  3. The Dürer-Verlag (1947–1958) published a variety of apologia by former Nazis and their collaborators. Besides Rudel, among the early editors are Wilfred von Oven, the personal Press adjutant of Goebbels, and Naumann. Sassen convinced Adolf Eichmann to share his view on the Holocaust. Together with Eberhard Fritsch, a former Hitler Youth leader, Sassen began interviewing Eichmann in 1956 with the intent of publishing his views.[60] The Dürer-Verlag went bankrupt in 1958.[66]
  4. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named German_Cross
  5. According to Thomas on 15 July 1941.[93]
  6. According to Scherzer as pilot and technical officer in the III./Sturzkampfgeschwader 2 "Immelmann".[95]
  7. According to Scherzer as leader of the III./Sturzkampfgeschwader 2 "Immelmann".[95]


  • Wir Frontsoldaten zur Wiederaufrüstung (in German). Buenos Aires, Argentina: Dürer-Verlag. 1951. OCLC 603587732. Unknown parameter |trans_title= ignored (help)CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Dolchstoß oder Legende?. Schriftenreihe zur Gegenwart, Nr. 4 (in German). Buenos Aires, Argentina: Dürer-Verlag. 1951. OCLC 23669099. Unknown parameter |trans_title= ignored (help)CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  1. Just 1986, p. 9.
  2. Obermaier 1976, p. 30.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Stockert 1997, p. 106.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Obermaier 1976, p. 34.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Just 1986, p. 12.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Stockert 1997, p. 107.
  7. Just 1986, p. 13.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 Obermaier 1976, p. 31.
  9. Obermaier 1976, p. 32.
  10. Brütting 1992, pp. 266–267.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Brütting 1992, p. 68.
  12. Bergström & Mikhailov 2000, pp. 31, 264.
  13. Murawski 2013, p. 11.
  14. Just 1986, pp. 15–16.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Bergström 2008, p. 13.
  16. Just 1986, p. 17.
  17. Just 1986, p. 18.
  18. McLaughlin 2004, p. 402.
  19. Rohwer 2005, p. 102.
  20. Brütting 1992, p. 75.
  21. Just 1986, p. 22.
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 22.3 22.4 22.5 22.6 Obermaier 1976, p. 35.
  23. Stockert 1997, p. 108.
  24. Murawski 2013, p. 24.
  25. 25.0 25.1 Stockert 1997, p. 109.
  26. Weal 2012, p. 66.
  27. 27.0 27.1 Just 1986, p. 26.
  28. 28.0 28.1 28.2 Stockert 1997, p. 110.
  29. Just 1986, p. 28.
  30. Stockert 1997, p. 112.
  31. Bergström 2008, p. 38.
  32. Stockert 1997, p. 113.
  33. Ward 2004, p. 217.
  34. Just 1986, pp. 29–30.
  35. Brütting 1992, p. 93.
  36. Stockert 1997, p. 114.
  37. Stockert 1997, p. 115.
  38. Just 1986, p. 182.
  39. 39.0 39.1 Stockert 1997, p. 116.
  40. Just 1986, p. 207.
  41. Bergström 2008, p. 81.
  42. Just 1986, p. 211.
  43. 43.0 43.1 43.2 43.3 Obermaier 1976, p. 36.
  44. Brütting 1992, pp. 95, 266.
  45. 45.0 45.1 45.2 Just 1986, p. 43.
  46. Just 1986, p. 34.
  47. Hamilton 1996, p. 425.
  48. Fraschka 1994, p. 132.
  49. Toland 1977, p. 1183.
  50. Just 1986, p. 35, 43.
  51. Scutts 1999, p. 90.
  52. Weal 2003, p. 116.
  53. Just 1986, p. 36.
  54. Müller-Marein 1953, p. 2.
  55. Goñi 2003, p. 287.
  56. Steinacher 2011, chpt. 1.6 "Fake Papers".
  57. Goñi 2003, p. 130.
  58. Goñi 2003, p. 134.
  59. Astor 1986, p. 170.
  60. 60.0 60.1 Benz 2013, p. 160.
  61. Levy 2006, p. 273.
  62. Posner & Ware 1986, p. 162.
  63. Goñi 2003, p. 290.
  64. Der Spiegel Volume 51/1950.
  65. Just 1986, p. 237.
  66. Benz 2013, p. 161.
  67. Just 1986, p. 272.
  68. 68.0 68.1 Der Spiegel Volume 52/1982.
  69. Goodrick-Clarke 2002, pp. 102–103.
  70. Goñi 2003, p. 288.
  71. Wulffen 2010, p. 139.
  72. Coram 2004, p. 235.
  73. Hammerschmidt 2014, pp. 254–257.
  74. Gessler 2011.
  75. Hammerschmidt 2014, p. 257.
  76. Just 1986, pp. 36, 239.
  77. Just 1986, pp. 36–37, 242.
  78. Hamilton 1996, p. 426.
  79. Federal Election 1953.
  80. Müller-Marein 1953, pp. 1–3.
  81. Der Tagesspiegel—Visit.
  82. Fröhlich & Heinrich 2004, p. 134.
  83. 83.0 83.1 Die ZEIT Volume 46/1976.
  84. The Rudel-Scandal.
  85. Just 1986, p. 270.
  86. Der Spiegel Volume 48/1950.
  87. Der Spiegel Volume 13/1951.
  88. 88.0 88.1 Neitzel, Sönke 2005, p. 160.
  89. Just 1986, p. 37.
  90. Der Spiegel Volume 1/1983.
  91. Patzwall 2008, p. 174.
  92. 92.0 92.1 92.2 92.3 Berger 1999, p. 297.
  93. 93.0 93.1 Thomas 1998, p. 229.
  94. Fellgiebel 2000, p. 366.
  95. 95.0 95.1 95.2 95.3 95.4 Scherzer 2007, p. 643.
  96. Fellgiebel 2000, p. 68.
  97. Fellgiebel 2000, p. 41.
  98. Fellgiebel 2000, p. 37.
  99. Fellgiebel 2000, p. 35.


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Further reading

External links

Military offices
Preceded by
Oberstleutnant Hans-Karl Stepp
Commander of Schlachtgeschwader 2 "Immelmann"
1 October 1944 – 8 February 1945
Succeeded by
Major Friedrich Lang
Preceded by
Oberstleutnant Kurt Kuhlmey
Commander of Schlachtgeschwader 2 "Immelmann"
April 1945 – 8 May 1945
Succeeded by