Aviation History

The mission where Stuka pilot Hans-Ulrich Rudel was hit and his right leg had to be amputated. A month later he led the remaining Ju 87s on a last attack run against Soviet tanks.

The Junkers Ju-87

The Junkers Ju 87 was one of the most feared aircraft during World War Two. Its fixed undercarriage and cranked wing gave the Ju 87 an evil appearance and the scream of its ‘Trumpets of Jericho’ sirens as it dived helped to spread terror amongst both soldiers and civilians.


Widely known as the ‘Stuka,’ from the German word for dive-bomber (Sturzkampfflugzueg), the Ju 87 first saw action in the Spanish Civil War (1936 to 1939). The campaigns in Poland and France added to its legendary reputation. With little aerial opposition it was able to attack targets with great accuracy.

Some Stukas were upgraded in 1943 with two 37mm Flak 18 cannon and they brought havoc to the tank armies on the Russian Front.

The famous tank-killing ace Hans-Ulrich Rudel used the up-gunned Stuka Ju 87G to great effect.

Junkers Ju 87 “Stuka” dive bomber with 3.7 cm anti-tank guns under the wings. The aircraft, Hans-Ulrich Rudel’s, is being started with a hand crank

Stuka pilot Hans-Ulrich Rudel final mission

As explained by William E. Hiestand and Jim Laurier in their book Eastern Front 1945 Triumph of the Soviet Air Force, during early February 1945, the Luftwaffe temporarily gained air superiority on the Oder River front and threw all available aircraft into battle to try and halt Soviet river crossing operations.

On Feb. 9, 1945, Rudel and his unit scrambled in response to reports of Soviet tanks just north of Frankfurt-an-der-Oder. Rudel began a series of attack runs on a column of 13 T-34s and JS-2s, eventually setting 12 ablaze. Soviet antiaircraft units in the area didn’t use tracers and their positions were only revealed by flashes when firing.

Due to the inexperience of the other Stuka pilots, Rudel ordered them to orbit the area and try to suppress the Soviet AA when identified. Rudel was able to set them the remaining JS-2 tanks on fire with his last 37mm round, but a Soviet AAA round hit his Stuka, smashing his right foot. He was able to land successfully, but his right leg had to be amputated below the knee.

Rudel returned to the air in late March despite the amputation of his leg. He led the three remaining Ju 87s and four Fw 190s of SG 3 on a last attack run against Soviet tanks in Czechoslovakia before setting down at a US-held airfield, with the pilots purposely landing hard to collapse the landing gear.

Rudel remained an unrepentant Nazi and Hitler supporter and escaped to Argentina after the war.

Eastern Front 1945 Triumph of the Soviet Air Force is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.

Hans-Ulrich Rudel in 1945
(Adolf Galland in the background)

Photo credit: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-655-5976-04 / Grosse / CC-BY-SA 3.0 / Wikipedia

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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