The last two books I reviewed were, respectively, a beautifully written pseudo-memoir about a degenerate alcoholic who achieved nothing in life, and a trashy pseudo-memoir full of blood’n’guts on the WW2 Eastern Front. Now, would I be able to find a book that represented the opposite of these two?
Ladies, I present to you Hans Ulrich Rudel’s Stuka Pilot memoir of his experiences throughout WW2. Where Bukowski is a masterful writer, Rudel is dull and factual. Where Hank Chinaski is a worthless bar-fly who will call a day successful if he merely avoids shitting himself, Rudel is leading a bomber command and often destroys ten Soviet T-34 tanks a day. Where Wolfgang Faust is glorifying in the gore and lurid descriptions of Soviet atrocities, Rudel is explaining orders, regimental movements, relative speeds between aircraft and the minutae of a combat pilot.
It really is like seeing a film negative compared to the original printed image. Rudel’s book is fascinating because (i) it’s all true, and could be verified against the vast store of paperwork the Luftwaffe left behind, (ii) he’s an extremely high achiever, (iii) it’s an expert’s bird’s eye view on a massive air war. The fact he can’t write very well doesn’t hurt the book so much. The quality of the information he relates keeps it going.
It’s notable how differently Rudel approaches the Soviets compared to how Faust did. For the latter, their tactical and strategic decisions are not fully explored because he’s a bullshitter rather than a true expert. It’s like watching RSD coaches try to explain daygame. Rudel sees them as worthy enemies and fellow professionals so, though he considers many of them under-trained and prone to poor performance, he’s always judging them according to militarily meaningful criteria: material, position, morale, training, tactics etc. At times I could forget he’s talking about blowing people up.
What interested me as a daygamer  was to what he credits his success. In flight school before the war he under-performed in class and wasn’t allowed to fly during the Poland campaign of 1939. His weak reputation spread so that even when posted to Greece in 1940 the Stuka commander there tried to keep him grounded. Rudel was frequently sent on training courses in associated skills specifically as a pretext to keep him out of action. This forced him to learn everything the hard way, from every conceivable angle, until he was perfectly drilled. When he finally did get let loose in combat sorties he quickly established himself as a top gun.
His poor start forced him to get everything technically correct, and to understand the theoretical underpinning to everything he did. It wasn’t possible for him to play fast and loose, getting by on mere talent. Anyone familiar with my story  will know why that speaks to me.
It’s astonishing how brave Germans could be in wartime. Rudel fought 2,530 operational flights and would frequently discharge himself from hospital to get back to the Front. He was compelled by a sense of duty to his country and a bond to share danger with his wing. I also suspect he was addicted to the thrill-ride of bombing raids, though he never addresses the psychological dimension. A hair-raising escape after crash-landing and capture in Soviet territory doesn’t warn him off, nor does crashing in a ball of flames with two machine gun bullets in his leg. Even getting the other leg amputated after another tank-busting raid won’t stop him and he gets in a few hundred more sorties by equipping his rudder pedals to be hand-operable.
Rudel speaks very highly of Adolf Hitler, painting him as logical, very knowledgeable on wartime minutiae and technology, and warm company. He attributes much of Hitler’s strategic blundering to being misled by subordinates as to the size and distribution of his forces – such as one division being chosen for a spearhead due to it’s sixty panzers, only for Rudel to mention to Adolf that he’d flown over it a week earlier and it had only one tank – which itself was fitted up as a radio control centre to guide the Stuka’s on bombing runs. Sadly, Rudel never settles the issue as to whether Hitler had one or two balls.
It took me four days to read this – that’s a coon’s age in reading time for me nowadays – because it’s so thickly detailed and methodical in presentation. I feel like Rudel is most concerned with leaving a historical record of his wartime experience. This book isn’t written to thrill, nor to be easy reading. I did thoroughly enjoy it and can now say I’m considerably better informed about the WW2 air war than I was previously.
One strange omission is Rudel only mentions Hermann Goerring a handful of times throughout. It’s as though Rudel talked only to his immediate superior or went right up to Hitler. That’s odd, I think.
Fuck all that bullshit mate. Just check out my product page here so you can see all the fantastic books I wrote, including my Daygame Infinite and Daygame Mastery full-colour textbooks which are now selling nicely through Amazon.
 All six volumes of it