Only he is lost who gives himself up for lost!
Note: Article is still largely a WIP. As of March 12, 2018, an extraordinary Luftwaffe personality has been brought to my attention. I hadn’t realized that Hitler had regarded Hans-Ulrich Rudel so highly, and much less that he had settled upon Rudel as a successor! This was first pointed out to me in The Artist Within the Warlord, which features selections from Hermann Giesler’s memoirs, translated by Wilhelm Kriessmann and Carolyn Yeager (a review for it can be found on her site). Since then, I’ve made my own personal inquiry into Rudel’s life, career, and heroic exploits and the revelations were staggering.
Outside the recollections of German soldiers who had made his acquaintance (particularly Wing Commander Nicolaus von Below, Otto Skorzeny, and Hanna Reitsch) and the various works of military historians, relatively little seems to have been brought up on the subject of Rudel’s outstanding service and daily life, and even more so, about the cordial relationship between Hitler and Rudel which left a deep impression in the latter. For instance, Rudel is never once mentioned in David Irving’s Hitler’s War and only has a passing mention in Savitri Devi’s The Lightning and the Sun. As far as I can tell, prominent military commanders, such as Wilhelm Keitel, Albert Kesselring, and Erich von Manstein did not deign to mention him. I have also checked The Bormann Letters and Goebbels Diaries 1942-1943 & 1945 (English translations), he is not mentioned in there either.
Von Below confessed that he had never managed to discover what Hitler and Rudel had discussed privately (on the day when Rudel personally received his most prestigious medal from Hitler in the midst of his generals). In Stuka Pilot, Rudel reveals that Hitler had asked him about his wife, his son, his parents, and his sisters, that he had “made the most detailed enquiries about my personal affairs”. Again and again Rudel describes Hitler as a man brimming with ideas and plans. Hitler had informed Giesler that he wanted to facilitate a better understanding of his private views and ideas for Rudel so he could be certain that Rudel would grow into the leadership role. Needless to say, it becomes quite clear that Giesler was a genuinely intimate member of Hitler’s inner circle and that Hitler really was interested in Rudel. Interestingly enough, Rudel is mentioned in Hans Grimm’s post-WW2 publication Warum, woher aber wohin?.
Direct mentions of Rudel:
Hermann Giesler (German) ✔
Nicolaus von Below (English) ✔ [ his Wing Commander]
Hans Grimm (German) ✔
Otto Skorzeny (English) ✔ [basic facts, mostly quoting from Rudel’s memoirs or a biography?]
Erich Kempka (English) ✔ [“Rudel also rang from Rechlin to offer his help but Greim declined.”]
Hanna Reitsch (English) ✔ [three instances: “I discussed this question with Colonel Rudel, who was in the same hospital as I recovering from a leg amputation”, “Rudel and I inspected the tower”, “But Greim refused to go, repeating his refusal over the telephone to Rudel, who had got through on the last remaining line from Rechlin to tell him that the plane was on its way”]
Christa Schroeder (English, German) ✘
Wilhelm Keitel (English) ✘
Albert Kesselring (English) ✘
Erich von Manstein (English) ✘
Karl Doenitz (English) ✘ [I only had a google books preview to check up on]
Leon Degrelle (English) ✘
Paul Schmidt (English) ✘ [I only had a google books preview to check up on]
Rochus Misch (English) ✘
Leni Riefenstahl (English) ✘
Otto Dietrich (English) ✘
Heinrich Hoffman (English) ✘
Heinz Linge (English) ✘
Eugen Dollmann (English) ✘
Kurt Ludecke (English) ✘
Hans Frank (German) ✘
Ernst Hanfstaengl (English) ✘
Albert Speer (English, German) ✘
Traudl Junge (English) ✘
Otto Wagener ?
Hans Baur ?
Alfred Rosenberg: Memoirs (English) ✘, Diaries (German) ✘
Goebbels Diaries; 1942-1943 (English), 1945 (English) ✘
Bormann Letters (English) ✘ [use the search function to preview]
Obstacles are placed across our path in life, not to be boggled at, but to be surmounted, and I was fully determined to surmount these obstacles…
– Hitler, Mein Kampf
In many ways, Rudel’s early struggles mirrors Hitler’s. Describing himself as a “black sheep”, he saw that he stood little chance of being admitted into the Luftwaffe, yet he succeeded. Although Hitler did not gain admission into the art school, he found a place in architecture. Hitler notes in his private conversations how if it weren’t for him discovering Troost’s talents, Troost would still have been a bitter man. Rudel’s “oddities” included a devotion to sports over leisure, a preference for milk over alcohol, an ascetic lifestyle in stark contrast to France’s pleasure-seeking decadency. Similarly, Hitler devoted himself to creative work over leisure, did not smoke or drink, and maintained an ascetic lifestyle in stark contrast to Vienna’s decadency.
Rudel provides a detailed description of his frustration of initially being kept apart from the Stuka formations, his “first love”, and subsequently from operational combat, which was further exacerbated by reports to his C.O. from a hostile adjutant, but this unfortunate chapter in his life proved to be according to the wise workings of Providence.
For the first time something comes over me, a feeling in the pit of my stomach: a feeling I never have again until years later when I am crawling home in an aircraft riddled by enemy bullets and serious loss of blood has sapped all my physical strength. This “something” is a dark intuition that despite everything the human factor is the criterion of war and the will of the individual the secret of victory.
War offers an excellent occasion for observing this phenomenon. In times of distress, when the others despair, apparently harmless, boys suddenly spring up and become heroes, full of determination, undaunted in the presence of Death and manifesting wonderful powers of calm reflection in such circumstances. If such an hour of trial did not come, nobody would have thought that the soul of a hero lurked in the body of that beardless youth. A special impulse is, almost always necessary to bring a man of genius into the foreground.
Rudel’s C.O. erroneously claimed to have known him, but the knowledge had actually been obtained through a filter, from the aforementioned instructor. While the battle for Crete rages on and the Stukas sortie, Rudel is left marooned in his tent. He struggles to leash his rebellious inner fire.
“We already know each other!” That is just what we do not. Not in the very least. I am positive that even now I should be a useful member of the squadron. I am completely master of my aircraft. I have the will to carryout an operation. A prejudice stands between me and the chance of winning my spurs. A prejudice on the part of my superiors who refuse to give me the opportunity to convince them of the wrongness of their “judgment.”
I mean to prove in spite of them that an injustice has been done me. I will not let their prejudice stop me getting at the enemy. This is no way to treat a subordinate; I realize that now. Time and again the flames of insubordination blaze inside me. Discipline! Discipline! Discipline!
Control yourself, it is only by self-restraint that you can achieve anything. You must have an understanding for everything, even for the mistakes, the crass blunders of your superior officers. There is no other way to make yourself more fit than they to hold a command. And to have an understanding for the mistakes of your subordinates. Sit calmly in your tent and keep your temper. Your time will come when you will really count for something. Never lose confidence in yourself!
Hitler, Table Talk, February 3-4, 1942 (Cameron & Stevens):
My thirteen months of imprisonment had seemed a long time—the more so because I thought I’d be there for six years. I was possessed by a frenzy of liberty. But, without my imprisonment, Mein Kampf would not have been written. That period gave me the chance of deepening various notions for which I then had only an instinctive feeling. It was during this incarceration, too, that I acquired that fearless faith, that optimism, that confidence in our destiny, which nothing could shake thereafter.
Hitler, Table Talk, January 27, 1942 (Cameron & Stevens):
My own conscience is clean. If I am told that somewhere there exists a young man who has talent, I myself will do what I can for him. Nothing could be more agreeable to me than to be told, when somebody is introduced to me: “Here’s a man of rare talent. Perhaps one day he’ll be the Fuehrer of the nation.”
The Artist Within the Warlord, p.g. 140, 199 –
Quotes (religion, ideology):
Rudel, Stuka Pilot, p.g. 147-150:
I cannot believe my eyes: on the hill top twenty Ivans are running towards me. Apparently they have seen everything and now mean to round up their exhausted and wounded quarry. My faith in God wavers. Why did He first allow me to believe in the possible success of my escape? For I did get out of the first absolutely hopeless corner with my life. And will He now turn me over unarmed, deprived of my last weapon, my physical strength? My determination to escape and live suddenly revives.
Suddenly at an angle behind me I hear the roar of an aeroplane and look up over my shoulder. My Stuka squadron is flying over the Dniester with a strong fighter escort and two Fieseler Storches. That means that Flt./Off. Fischer has given the alarm and they are searching for me to get me out of this mess. Up there they have no suspicion that they are searching in quite the wrong direction, that I have long since been six miles further south on this side of the river. At this distance I cannot even attract their attention; I dare not so much as lift my little finger. They make one circuit after another at different levels. Then they disappear heading east, and many of them will be thinking: “This time even he has had it.” They fly away home. Longingly I follow them with my eyes. You at least know that tonight you will sleep under shelter and will still be alive whereas I cannot guess how many minutes more of life will be granted me. So I lie there shivering. The sun slowly sets. Why have I not yet been discovered?
Over the brow of the hill comes a column of Ivans, in Indian file, with horses and dogs. Once again I doubt God’s justice, for now the gathering darkness should have given me protection. I can feel the earth tremble under their feet. My nerves are at snapping point. I squint behind me. At a distance of a hundred yards the men and animals file past me. Why does no dog pick up my scent? Why does no one find me? Shortly after passing me they deploy at two yards’ intervals. If they had done this fifty yards sooner they would have trodden on me. They vanish in the slowly falling dusk.
Rudel, Stuka Pilot, p.g. :
The next day we fly a sortie over Stalingrad, where approximately two thirds of the city is in German hands. It is true the Soviets hold only one third, but this third is being defended with an almost religious fanaticism. Stalingrad is Stalin’s city and Stalin is the god of these young Kirgises, Usbeks, Tartars, Turkmenians and other Mongols. They are hanging on like grim death to every scrap of rubble, they lurk behind every remnant of a wall. For their Stalin they are a guard of fire-breathing war-beasts, and when the beasts falter, well-aimed revolver shots from their political commissars nail them, in one way or the other, to the ground they are defending. These Asiatic pupils of integral communism, and the political commissars standing at their backs, are destined to force Germany, and the whole world with her, to abandon the comfortable belief that communism is a political creed like so many others. Instead they are to prove to us first, and finally to all nations, that they are the disciples of a new gospel. And so Stalingrad is to become the Bethlehem of our century. But a Bethlehem of war and hatred, annihilation and destruction.
Rudel, Stuka Pilot, p.g. :
The Russians are dumbfounded by the many little things our soldiers carry on their person. They think the snapshots of our homes, our rooms, our girls, are propaganda. It takes a very long time to convince them that they are genuine, that all Germans are not cannibals. They presently even doubt the truth of the indoctrinated catchword: Germanski nix Kultura. In a few days time, here as elsewhere, the Russians come and ask if they may be allowed to hang up again their icons and their crucifixes. Previously under the Soviet regime they have had to keep them hidden away because of the disapproval of a son, a daughter, or a commissar. That we raise no objection to their displaying them evidently impresses them. If you tell them that there are any amount of crucifixes and religious pictures to be seen in our country they can hardly believe it. Hastily they re-erect their holy niches and repeatedly assure us of their hope that this permission will not be revoked. They live in terror of their commissars, who keep the village under surveillance and spy on its inhabitants. This office is often undertaken by the village schoolmaster.
Rudel, Stuka Pilot, p.g. :
One evening after the last sortie of the day I drive into Gorlitz, my home town, now in the battle zone. Here I meet many acquaintances of my youth. They are all in some job or other, not the least of their activities being their home defence duties with the Volkssturm. It is a strange reunion; we are shy of uttering the thoughts that fill our minds. Each has his load of trouble, sorrow and bereavement, but at this moment our eyes are focussed only on the danger from the East. Women are doing men’s work, digging tank traps, and only lay down their spades for a brief pause to suckle their hungry babies; greybeards forget the infirmities of age and labour till their brows are damp with sweat. Grim resolution is written on the faces of the girls; they know what is in store for them if the Red hordes break through. A people in a struggle for survival! If the nations of the West could see with their own eyes the happenings of these days pregnant with destiny and realise their significance they would very soon abandon their frivolous attitude towards Bolshevism.
Rudel, Stuka Pilot, Chapter 17, p.g. 272:
The shock of the news that the Head of State and Supreme Commander of the armed forces of the Reich is dead has a stunning effect upon the troops. But the Red hordes are devastating our country and therefore we must fight on. We shall only lay down our arms when our leaders give the order. This is our plain duty according to our military oath, it is our plain duty in view of the terrible fate which threatens us if we surrender unconditionally as the enemy insists. It is our plain duty also to the destiny which has placed us geographically in the heart of Europe and which we have obeyed for centuries: to be the bulwark of Europe against the East. Whether or not Europe understands or likes the role which fate has thrust upon us, or whether her attitude is one of fatal indifference or even of hostility, does not alter by one iota our European duty. We are determined to be able to hold our heads high when the history of our continent, and particularly of the dangerous times ahead, is written.
Rudel was also a keen observer of his surroundings, vividly remembering the features of Hitler’s private study. He even noticed Hitler’s habit of repeating certain trains of thought. Christa Schroeder mentions in her memoirs:
It was his practice or method during the tea hours and when chatting at the hearth over a subject he had been reading about to repeat it several times in order to anchor it more firmly in his memory.
The Artist Within the Warlord, p.g. 199-200:
Translated by Wilhelm Kriessmann, Ph.D and Carolyn Yeager
“He should participate in all my sorrows and hopes–not only of military affairs. Rudel’s humanistic education is a favorable qualification for further tasks.”
After a brief flirtation with modern languages at the local school I take up classics, and learn Greek and Latin.
The Artist Within the Warlord, p.g. 199-200:
Translated by Wilhelm Kriessmann, Ph.D and Carolyn Yeager
As a confidant, he would assist me. I wanted to introduce him to all the areas of responsibility and make him familiar with my ideas. I would then have had the opportunity to know him still better, to be sure that he will grow into the leadership of the Reich.
I drive to Goering’s H.Q. The Reichsmarschall expresses his pleasure which is all the greater because recent events have made his position very difficult. The enemy’s air superiority has aggravated almost all our troubles and even made things impossible, but who could prevent it? He is overjoyed and proud that at this moment one of his men should have been instrumental in making the Führer create a new German decoration for bravery. Drawing me a little aside he says to me roguishly:
“You see how envious the others are of me and the awkwardness of my position? At a conference the Führer said that he was creating a new and unique decoration for you because your achievement is unique.
Whereupon the representatives of the other services objected that the recipient is a soldier of the Luftwaffe whose problems are the cause of so many headaches. They wanted to know whether it was not at least theoretically possible for a soldier belonging to one of the other services to earn this distinction? So you see what I am up against.”
The Bormann Letters, p.g. 160:
M.B. to G.B.
Fuehrer’s Headquarters 5. 1. 1945 0.45 a.m.
We must never cease to rejoice that we have our Fuehrer, for our unshakeable faith in ultimate victory is founded in a very large measure on the fact that he exists. On his genius and rock-like determination!
And his determination must needs be superhuman, for so many things fail to go according to plan when he is not there. The Fuehrer’s own creation, the NSDAP, functions well, but the Air Force–God help us all! Speer, Saur, Ganzenmüller all tore their hair in despair today! We are lucky in being able, thanks to the mobilisation of civilian manpower, to speed up the repair of some of our railway lines, but in many places even the most devoted endeavour is of no use. On the left bank of the Rhine the whole railway system is completely destroyed and at a standstill–and what that means to our lines of communication to the front you can well imagine.
Goebbels (Diaries), March 31, 1945:
In fact developments in the West are calculated to reinforce the enemy’s hope that he will soon be able to overwhelm us militarily. Gauleiter Wagner from Karlsruhe gives me a full report on the situation in his Gau. He too complains bitterly that the morale both of the population and of the troops has sunk extraordinarily low. People no longer shrink from sharp criticism of the Führer. The Luftwaffe is really to blame for the ruin of Germany but the Führer is accused of failure to make personnel changes there in good time.
[Also see Goebbels (Diaries), March 27, 1945]
The fact that someone from the Luftwaffe at such a time could be awarded such an prestigious award is astonishing. It indicates there’s more than meets the eye to Hitler’s decision. It is certain that he had the reward specially crafted for Rudel.
Es ist interessant, daß Hans-Ulrich Rudel in Dolchstoß oder Legende? zur gleichen Schlußfolgerung kommt:
“Faßt man zusammen, was sich aus den Veröffentlichungen aller Widerständler selbst unwiderlegbar ergibt, so entsteht folgender Tatbestand:
Die Verschwörung der in diesen Zeilen zu Wort kommenden Männer hat sich in ihren praktischen Auswirkungen nicht nur gegen Hitler und den Nationalsozialismus gerichtet, sondern gegen den Bestand des Deutschen Reiches. Sie haben zu diesem Zweck nicht nur mit allen Mitteln dafür gesorgt, daß Deutschland unter entsetzlichen Verlusten den Krieg verlor, sondern sie haben – das ist bisher zu wenig beachtet worden – Englands Eintritt in den zweiten Weltkrieg weitgehend begünstigt durch ihr an Lord Halifax gegebenes Versprechen, Hitler im Augenblick des Krieges zu beseitigen. Ohne England aber hätte Frankreich nichts unternommen und hätten auch die USA keinen brauchbaren Grund zum Kriegseintritt gehabt. Ohne die Arbeit dieser Widerständler wären also möglicherweise alle Kräfte freigewesen zur Niederwerfung des Bolschewismus. Muß man sie daher nicht letzlich für das Zustandekommen und den Ausgang des zweiten Weltkrieges mit all seinen furchtbaren Folgen verantwortlich machen? Soll man ihnen noch einmal, dieses Mal legal, die Möglichkeit geben, in die Geschicke des Vaterlandes einzugreifen?”
Was Lenz mitteilt, bestätigt Oberst Rudel. Dieser große Soldat, der seine leidenschaftliche und gequälte Deutschheit nie zu verbergen gelernt hat und der durch seine Einzelleistungen den höchsten Tapferkeitsbeweis ablegte, hat die Schrift ,Dolchstoß oder Legende’, Dürer-Verlag, Buenos Aires, verfaßt. Das Wort ,Dolchstoß’ ist in Deutschland schon nach dem Ersten Weltkrieg ein Begriff geworden, über den kein Einverständnis besteht. Aber, was gewußt und klar nachgeprüft werden muß in Verbindung mit allem, was vor Hitler, unter Hitler und nach Hitler an Deutschland und dem Abendland in Gutem und Bösem geschah, findet sich wiederum in Rudels Schrift. Am Schluß der Schrift stehen bei ihm folgende Sätze:
„Die Verschwörung der in dieser Schrift zu Worte gekommenen Männer hat sich in ihren praktischen Auswirkungen nicht nur gegen Hitler und den Nationalsozialismus gerichtet, sondern gegen den Bestand des Deutschen Reichs. Sie haben zu diesem Zweck nicht nur mit allen Mitteln dafür gesorgt, daß Deutschland unter entsetzlichen Verlusten den Krieg verlor, sondern sie haben — das ist bisher zu wenig beachtet worden — Englands Eintritt in den Zweiten Weltkrieg weitgehend begünstigt durch ihr an Lord Halifax gegebenes Versprechen, Hitler im Augenblick des Kriegsausbruchs zu beseitigen. Ohne England aber hätte Frankreich nichts unternommen und hätten auch die USA keinen brauchbaren Grund zum Kriegseintritt gehabt. Ohne die ,Arbeit’ dieser Widerständler wären also möglicherweise alle Kräfte frei gewesen zur Niederwerfung des Bolschewismus.“