“Only he is lost who gives himself up for lost.”
So as I log on to WP to write this review, I’m notified it’s been 6 years since I started this ‘blog’ as a WP platform test. A funny coincidence is that the exact message from WP was You registered on WordPress.com 6 years ago! Thanks for flying with us. I snickered a little. Anyway, on to the subject: Stuka Pilot by Hans Rudel.
I will start with a quote from the end of the book: “This book is no glorification of war nor rehabilitation of a certain group of persons and their orders. Let my experiences alone speak with the voice of truth.” – this, I thought, should have been printed right at the beginning. The book is a highly subjective account of a man who has been through hell and back for his country on almost a daily basis during the darkest years in human history.
Unfortunately the book is not written by an experienced writer, as a novel, but rather it is a collection of thoughts, facts and memories of one person. The author himself admits to his lack of scholarly enthusiasm and preference for sports. This ends up making the reading a bit hard, the prose doesn’t flow too well as it is often interrupted, mixing philosophical ideas, descriptive sequences and action stories all in one. On the other hand, it made me feel like I was in the man’s head, and as I got used to the style, I could almost anticipate when the author would jump out of an event to relay an idea he’d only had after pondering the event itself years afterwards.
The inherent subjectivism of the book, and the relatively short amount of time between the war and the writing of the book, however, also bring out a disconcerting side of the author, his view on other ‘races’, which can be debated as his own bigotism or the effects of widespread indoctrination:
“From outside comes the noise of shots and rowdiness; the coloured soldiers are celebrating victory under the influence of liquor.” – this is right after the German surrender;
“The negroes are good-natured and obliging except when they have been drinking.” – this is when Rudel is in an American POW camp in the UK;
“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 […] 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.”
On the other hand, when confronted about the atrocities of the holocaust, Rudel reports answering in a manner I found quite satisfactory: “I cannot imagine that the mounds of corpses depicted on the photographs were taken in concentration camps. I tell them that we have seen such sights, not on paper, but in fact, after the air attacks on Dresden and Hamburg and other cities when allied four-engined bombers deluged them indiscriminately with phosphorous and high explosive bombs and countless women and children were massacred.”
Misguided or not, however, the man’s actions throughout the war are no less than heroic. He has 2530 sorties, hundreds of tanks, a battleship and gods only know how many other strategic targets taken out. He has been injured six times, and even after losing a leg he has refused to stop flying. The man’s story makes Hollywood action movies look like kindergarten fun time. During the later stages of the war, his Wing’s actions repeatedly ‘save the day’ by being the only ones who can take out soviet columns breaking through the crumbling German front lines.
It’s also quite interesting to see the author’s impressions on some of the people who were responsible for the momentous events of his time: Hitler (there are repeated meetings with the Fuhrer that end up describing his evolution, parallel to that of Germany’s, during the war), Goring (“He evidently has a certain foible for old customs and costumes. I am really at a loss to describe th garment he is wearing: it is a kind of robe or toga such as the ancient Romans wore, of a russet colour and held together with a gold brooch.”), Himmler (“it is a pleasure to work with Himmler because he is not opinionated and does not seek to impose his authority.”[…]”Only one thing will strike you. You will always have the feeling hat Himmler never says what he really thinks.”) and plenty others.
There is also plenty of humour in the book, sometimes derived from the various pranks and fun the soldiers managed to have even at the front, sometimes from the author’s own jokes: After dark the choicest and juiciest specimens of bug drop onto you from the ceiling in the night with a precision that surely makes them the Stukas of the insect world.”
The book became especially interesting to me when the Eastern front shifted back towards my home country, and we get the author’s impression of our people almost 70 years ago. Some things never change: “What especially strikes me as I walk through the town is the enormous number of dogs. To all appearances these hordes are masterless.” – another snicker.
A few more quotes:
“War awakes primitive strength in its servants, and primitive strength is only to be found in subjectivity, never in objectivity.”
“We lose aircraft in a weakly defended areas because we are cruising in the middle of an artillery duel. The air space in the line of the artillery trajectory must be avoided, otherwise there is the danger of being shot down ‘by accident’.”
“This aircraft carried Russian priests from the freedom-loving states of the Caucasus who volunteered for important missions for the German command. With flowing beards and dressed in clerical garb each of them carried a little packet on his chest, either a camera or explosives according to the nature of his mission.”
“Pilot Officer Schwirblatt who, like myself, has also lost a leg and has nevertheless in recent weeks done grand work knocking out enemy tanks. He always says: ‘IT is all the same to the tanks whether we knock them out with one leg or two!'”
“He pays us a daily visit of inspection and one day sees my Golden Oak Leaves on the table. He looks at it thoughtfully, wags his head and mutters, almost in awe: ‘How many lives can that have cost!’
When I explain to him that I have earned it in Russia he leaves us, considerably relieved.”
“When twenty four hours pass without our being given any food and we suspect that this will go on until we reach Cherbourg, because the American crew intend to sell our rations to the French black market, a party of Russian front veterans force entry into the store-room and take the distribution into their own hands. The ship’s crew pull very long faces when they discover the raid much later.”
For anyone interested in history, this book is a real gem. And since it’s a relatively hard to find book, I thought I’d also leave this link here. Next order of business – getting a 1:144 scale model Stuka. 😀