Rudel flew 2,530 combat missions and successfully attacked many tanks, trains, ships, and other ground targets, claiming a total of 2,000 targets destroyed - including 800 vehicles, 519 tanks, 150 artillery guns, one destroyer, two cruisers, one Soviet battleship, 70 landing craft, four armored trains, several bridges and nine aircraft which he shot down.
Hans-Ulrich Ridel in The War That Came EarlyEdit
Rudel was not part of the invasion of Czechoslovakia. With limited resources, the German High Command had kept its Stuka pilots grounded during that battle, knowing that they'd be needed in the West. Rudel and his squadron were part of the invasion of the Netherlands, bombing several cities during the five day invasion. Rudel and his squadron flew on the crucial bombing run on Rotterdam, which effectively knocked the Netherlands out of the fight, and allowed it to be overrun. After Belgium followed suit two weeks later, the German high staff thought it was the moment to strike England and France proper.
The actions of the Luftwaffe over south-east England were largely failures. During the bombing of Ramsgate, Rudel had to rush the operation and drop the bombs without properly aiming in order to get out without being shot. He was later shot down for real, while flying over northern France, though both he and his back gunner managed to parachute on German-held territory.
Being known for his loyalty, in the follow-up to the Wehrmacht's failure to take Paris and the Generals' Plot against Adolf Hitler the SS tried to recruit Rudel as an informer. Rudel, however, refused.
The Western Front stalemated not long after. Rudel, realizing that the Stuka was too vulnerable to continue further bombing operations and that the Allies were gaining the advantage in tank numbers, suggested that the plane's lateral machine guns be exchanged for anti-panzer weapons. He tested the invention himself on two separate occasions, destroying a dozen tanks while the enemy couldn't respond. After this, he was awarded the Knight's Cross and a promotion to Senior Lieutenant.
As 1939 passed into 1940, Rudel was moved to Poland to help fight the Soviet Union. He was stationed in Bialystok, where, despite his his disdain for the Jews and for the Poles, he fell in love with a barmaid named Sofia, who was half-Jewish. Even as the front advanced after the big switch, Rudel continued to visit Sofia in Bialystok throughout 1940, despite the ideological contradictions his feelings for her presented.