Hans-Ulrich Rudel, a member of the Nazi party, was German’s top decorated serviceman of WWII. He was born in Silesia, the son of a clergyman, on July 2, 1916. His involvement in the military resulted in his love for sports. He did not excel in school, so in order to pursue his passion of sports, he joined the Luftwaffe. He became a pilot, but was not accepted when he applied for dive-bombing training. He went on to fly long-range recon missions until eventually being accepted into the dive bomber training course.
Rudel was the one of only 27 to receive the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds; and he was the only person to receive Hitler’s distinguished award – Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Golden Leaves, Swords and Diamonds – the highest military decoration. During his military service, Rudel received other top medals, including the Wound Badge in Gold, the Knight’s Cross, the German Cross in Gold, the Iron Cross (2nd class and 1st class), Front Flying Clasp of the Luftwaffe in Gold and Diamonds with Pennant and the Combined Pilots-Observation Bade in Gold and Diamonds.
Throughout his military career – 1936-1945 – Rudel flew a total of 2,530 combat missions and accredited with 2,000 targets destroyed. Listed below are some of the kills attributed to Rudel:
• 519 Soviet Tanks (17 in one day)
• 70 assault craft and/or landing boats
• 150 self-propelled guns
• 4 armored trains
• 800 additional support vehicles
• 9 planes
• 1 soviet battleship
• 2 cruisers
• 1 destroyer
Rudel was shot down only by anti-aircraft artillery, never another pilot. Of his 2,530 mission, only a total of 32 resulted in his being shot down or forced down by the enemy - several of those occurred behind enemy lines. On one occasion he spent 11 months as a POW of the American forces after he was forced to land at an airfield held by the a US fighter group. Prior to landing, he and his crew took measures to render the aircraft inoperable to the US and blocked the airstrip making it unusable. He continued in service despite an injury that forced a leg amputation below the knee.
Hitler is quoted as saying (to Rudel), “You are the bravest and bravest soldier that the German people have ever had.”
After the war, Rudel left Germany and moved to South America. Despite having one leg, Rudel continued a very active lifestyle playing tennis, skiing and mountain climbing. He also wrote a controversial war diary before returning to Germany in 1953 and becoming a successful businessman. However, a scandal in 1976 (the Rudel Scandal), forced him and several other high-tanking officials into retiring early. He died just six years later in 1982.
Colonel Hans-Ulrich Rudel, the top German decorated servicemen of WWII lived by his own words, “Only he is lost who gives himself up for lost”.