German Ace – General Adolf Galland – 104 Aerial Victories – all against the Western Allies

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Adolf Josef Ferdinand Galland was a German Luftwaffe General and flying ace who served throughout the WW II in Europe. Flew 705 combat missions. On four occasions, he survived being shot down, and was credited with 104 aerial victories, all against the Western Allies. He became a glider pilot in 1929. In 1932, he graduated as a pilot at the German Commercial Flyers’ School. In 1934, joined the Luftwaffe. Took part in the Spanish Civil War. In 1938 Galland was employed in the Air Ministry writing doctrinal and technical manuals about ground-attack, and also served as an instructor for ground-attack units. Initially in WW II he was tasked for ground attack missions, but later managed to persuade his superiors to allow him to become a fighter pilot.

Adolf Galland. Picture Credit: Wikipedia

          Galland took part in the Battle of France and Battle of Britain. By the end 1940, his tally of victories had reached 57. In 1941, he fought the Royal Air Force (RAF) in Northern France. By November 1941, his tally had increased to 96, and was given the command of the German Fighter Force, and staying in the position until January 1945. Galland was forbidden to fly combat missions in this position.

          Over subsequent years, Galland had serious disagreements with Reichsmarshall Herman Goring about how best to combat the Allied Air Forces bombing of Germany. The Luftwaffe fighter force was under severe pressure by 1944, and Galland was blamed by Göring for the failure. In early January 1945, Galland was relieved of his command, and put under house arrest following the so-called Fighter Pilot’s revolt in which senior fighter pilots confronted Göring about the conduct of the air war.

          In March 1945, Galland returned to operational flying and was permitted to form a jet fighter unit. He flew missions over Germany until the end of the war in May. After the war, Galland was employed as a consultant to the Argentine Air Force. Later, he returned to Germany and managed his own business.

Early Life and Family of Aces

          Galland was born in Westerholt in the Ruhr industrial area, on 19 March 1912 to a family with French  ancestry. Galland’s father worked as the land manager or bailiff to the Count von Westerholt. Adolf’s pet name was “Keffer”. His two younger brothers also became fighter pilots and aces. Paul claimed 17 victories, before being shot down and killed on 31 October 1942. Wilhelm-Ferdinand, was credited with 55 victories, and was shot down and killed on 17 August 1943.

Ferdinand Wutz Galland. Picture Credit Pinterest

Initial Flying Interest

          Galland’s lifelong interest in flying started in 1927 when a group of aviation enthusiasts formed an air sports club in a nearby estate. Galland travelled by foot or horse-drawn wagon 30 kilometres until his father bought him a motorcycle to help prepare the gliders for flight. By 19 Galland was a glider pilot. In 1932 he completed pilot training. Under the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was denied an air force. They were however allowed gliders and it became the way for pilots to begin their flying career. The sport became so popular in Germany. The German  military also published a magazine, Flight Sport. When he eventually attained his B and C certificates, his father promised to buy him his own glider if he also passed his matriculations examinations, which he succeeded in doing. Galland became an outstanding glider pilot, and he became an instructor.

Begins Flying as a Career

          In February 1932, Galland graduated from high school and was among 20 personnel accepted to the aviation school of Germany’s national airline, Luft Hansa. Jobs were scarce and life was hard those years in Germany. Adolf applied for German Commercial Flying School which was heavily subsidised by Luft Hansa. He was one of 100 successful applicants out of 4,000. After ten days of further evaluations, he was among just 18 selected for flight training. Galland’s first flight was in an Albatros L 101. During training Galland had two accidents; a heavy landing damaged the undercarriage of his aircraft and a collision. Worried of being thrown out, in parallel Galland applied to join the German Army. Later he was awarded B1 certificate that allowed him to fly large aircraft over 2,500 kilograms in weight. Meanwhile the Army accepted his application, but the flying school refused to release him. By Christmas 1932, he had logged 150 hours flying and had obtained a B2 certificate.

Albatros L 101. Picture Credit: Wikimedia Commons

          Early in 1933, Galland was sent to the Baltic Sea training base to train on flying boats. Galland disliked the idea of “seamanship”, but logged 25 hours in these aircraft. Later he was sent to Central Airline Pilot School. The group were interviewed by military personnel in civilian clothing. After being informed of a secret military training program being built that involved piloting high performance aircraft, all the pilots accepted an invitation to join the organisation.

Joins the Luftwaffe

          In May 1933, Galland was ordered to a meeting in Berlin as one of 12 civilian pilots among 70 airmen who came from clandestine program. He meet Herman Göring for the first time. Galland was impressed by and believed Göring to be a competent leader. In July 1933, Galland travelled to Italy to train with the Italian Air Force. In September 1933, Galland returned to Germany. He was sent to learn instrument flying and piloting heavy transport aircraft, where he flew another 50 hours and also flew Lufthansa airliners. Finally in December 1933, Galland was finally offered the chance to join the new Luftwaffe. As an airline pilot Galland had begun enjoying the easy life style, and visiting exotic places. But he wanted adventure and decided to join the Luftwaffe.

With Herman Göring. Picture Credit:

First Major Crash and Injury

          After basic training ground training with the Army, in February 1935 Galland was part of 900 airmen to be inducted to the new ReichsLuftwaffe. Galland was ordered to report to  Fighter Wing 2 on 01 April 1935. In October 1935, during aerobatic manoeuvre training, he crashed a Focke-Wulf Fw 44 biplane and was in a coma for three days, other injuries were a damaged eye, fractured skull and broken nose. When Galland recovered, he was declared unfit for flying by the doctors. A friend, Major Rheital, kept the doctors report secret to allow Adolf to continue flying. The expansion of the Luftwaffe was a priority. Galland’s medical report was overlooked. Within a year, Galland showed no signs of injury from his crash. 

Focke-Wulf Fw 44 biplane. Picture Credit: Wikipedia

Second Major Crash and Grounding

          In October 1936 he crashed an Arado Ar 68 and was hospitalised again, aggravating his injured eye. It was at this point his previous medical report came to light again and Galland’s unfit certificate was discovered. Major Rheital was rumoured to have undergone a court-martial, but the investigators dropped the charges. Galland, however, was grounded. He admitted having fragments of glass in his eye, but convinced the doctors he was fit for flying duty. Galland was ordered to undergo eye tests to validate his claims. Before the testing could begin, one of his brothers managed to acquire the charts. Adolf memorised the charts passing the test and was permitted to fly again.

Arado Ar 68 Picture Credit: Klinke & Co. Via Wikipedia

Spanish Civil War – Early Tactics and Flying in A Swimming Trunks

          During the Spanish Civil War Galland was appointed Captain of a Condor Legion Unit which was sent to support the Nationalist forces. Galland flew ground attack missions in Heinkel He 51s. In Spain Galland first displayed his unique style: flying in swimming trunks with a cigar between his teeth in an aircraft decorated with a Micky Mouse figure. When asked why, he said “I like Mickey Mouse. And I like cigars, but I had to give them up after the war”. Galland flew 300 combat missions in Spain starting 24 July 1937. During his time in Spain, Galland analysed the engagements, evaluated techniques and devised new ground-attack tactics which were passed on to the Luftwaffe. His experiences in pin-point ground assaults were used by Ernst Udet, a proponent of the dive bomber and leading supporter of the Junkers Ju 87 to push for Stuka wings.

Picture Credit:

Spanish Cross

          During his time in Spain, he also developed early gasoline and oil bombs, and proposed quartering of military personnel on trains to aid in quick relocation. Following the Nationalist victory was awarded the Spanish Cross in Gold with Swords and Diamonds’. On 24 May 1938 Galland left Spain. Before leaving he made ten flights in the Bf 109. Deeply impressed with the aircraft, he pushed to change from a strike pilot to a fighter pilot. His colleagues said “Galland was a very good pilot and excellent shot, but ambitious and he wanted to get noticed. He was crazy about hunting anything, from a sparrow to a man.”

Spanish Cross in Gold with Swords and Diamonds. Picture Credit: Wikipedia

Suggested Operational Aircraft Modifications

          On his return to Germany, he was posted to Ministry of Aviation where he was tasked with preparing recommendations on close air support. Galland favoured the virtually simultaneous attack of the air force before the Army advance, leaving their opponents no time to recover. This reasserted the lessons of WW I some others were pessimistic as to whether that kind of coordination was possible. Galland also preferred the Italian suggestion of heavy armament vis-a-vis the light machine guns on early German fighter aircraft. He suggested combining machine guns with cannon. These proved successful in the Bf 109 and Focke-Wulf Fw 190. He also recognised the innovation of drop tanks to extend the range of aircraft.He proposed specialised tactics for escorting bomber fleets. Galland did not subscribe to the prevailing idea in the Luftwaffe, and RAF, that the bomber could get through alone. All of Galland’s suggestions were adopted and proved successful in the early campaigns, 1939–41.

Focke-Wulf Fw 190. Picture Source:

Posted for Flight Testing – Unhappy

          Unluckily for Galland, his excellence at evaluation earned him a place at training facility where he was asked to test fly prototype reconnaissance and strike aircraft. This was not what he wanted, and he hoped to be returned to a fighter unit to fly the Bf 109. During his time there, he gave positive evaluations on the Focke-Wulf Fw 189 and Henschel Hs 129. He was then given an unwelcome news of posting as a group commander of the 2nd Demonstration Wing. It was not a fighter unit, but a special mix of ground attack aircraft.

Henschel Hs 129. Picture Credit: You Tube

Invasion of Poland and the Iron Cross

          During the invasion of Poland from 1 September 1939 onward, he flew in a unit equipped with the Henschel Hs 123, nicknamed the “biplane Stuka,” in support of German 10th Army. On 1 September, Galland flew a reconnaissance mission and was nearly shot down. He flew many ground attack missions in support of the 1st Panzer Division. The German Army reached near Warsaw by 7 September. Luftwaffe was executing the kind of close air support operations Galland had been advocating. After flying nearly 360 missions in two wars and averaging two missions per day, on 13 September 1939, Galland was awarded the Iron Cross Second Class.

Henschel Hs 123. “biplane Stuka“. Picture Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Rheumatism an Excuse to get out of Ground Attack

          After the end of the Poland campaign, Galland claimed to be suffering from rheumatism and therefore unfit for flying in open-cockpit aircraft, such as the Hs 123. He tactfully suggested a transfer to a single-engine aircraft type with a closed cockpit. His request was accepted on medical grounds. Galland was removed from his post as a direct ground support pilot. Given his performance with eye specialists, a certain amount of suspicion remained. He was transferred to JG 27 Fighter Wing on 10 February 1940 as the adjutant, and that restricted his flying.

Mölders’ Tactics

          After his transfer to JG 27, Galland met Mölders again. Due to his injuries, Galland could never match Mölders’ sharp eyesight. Mölders, by that time a recognised ace shared his experiences with Galland. These included leadership in the air, tactics and organisation. Mölders was group commnader of JG 53. For Galland to gain experience on the Bf 109E, which he lacked, Mölders offered him the chance to fly with his unit. Galland learned Mölders’ tactics, such as using spotter aircraft to indicate the position of enemy formation. Galland learned to allow pilots to operate freely in order to seize the initiative. He took the experiences back to JG 27, and its commander Max Ibel, agreed to their implementation.

Ernst Udet with Bomber Pilots Galland and Mölders Photo 1940. Picture Credit:

Invasion of Western Europe – First air Victory

          On 10 May 1940, the Wehrmacht (the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany)  invaded the Low Countries and France under the codename Fall Gelb. JG 27 supported German forces  in the Battle for Belgium. On the third day of the offensive, 12 May 1940, flying a Bf 109, Galland, with Gustav Rodel as his wingman, claimed his first aerial victories, over two Royal Air Force (RAF) Hurricanes. The Hurricanes had been escorting Bristol Blenheim bombers. Galland remembered; “My first kill was child’s play. An excellent weapon and luck had been on my side. To be successful, the best fighter pilot needs both”— Galland pursued one of the “scattering” Hurricanes and shot down another at low level. Galland claimed his third Hurricane later that same day. He had long believed that his opponents had been Belgian, not knowing that all of the Belgian Air Force’s Hurricanes had been destroyed on the ground in the first two days, without seeing combat.

Bf 109. Picture Credit:

Chased and Shot an Aircraft Ran out of Fuel

          On 19 May, Galland shot down a French Potez aircraft. During this flight he ran out of fuel short of the runway and landed nearby, at the base of a hill. With the help of soldiers from a German Flak battery, he pushed the Bf 109 up the hill and then half-flew, half-glided down to an airfield in the valley below. He sent back a can of fuel for his wingman, who had also landed short of the runway. He continued flying and the next day, claimed another three more aircraft, making a total of seven. For this he was awarded the Iron Cross First Class on 22 May.

First Encounter With Spitfire

          During the Battle of Dunkirk, after first encounter with the Supermarine Spitfire, Galland was very impressed with these aircraft and their pilots. On 29 May, Galland claimed a Bristol Blenheim over the sea. Over Dunkirk, the Luftwaffe suffered its first serious rebuff of the war. Galland noted, that the nature and style of the air battles should have provided a warning on the inherent weaknesses of the Luftwaffe’s force structure.

Bristol Blenheim. Picture Credit:

Battle of Britain

          On 6 June 1940, Galland took over the command of unit under 26th Fighter Wing (JG 26) with Bf 109Es.  On 24 July 1940, almost 40 Bf 109s of JG 26 took off for operations over the English Channel. They were met by 12 Spitfires. The Spitfires forced the larger number of Bf 109s into a turning battle that ran down the Germans’ fuel. Galland recalled being impressed by the Spitfire’s ability to out manoeuvre Bf 109s at low speed and to turn into the Bf 109s within little airspace. Only by executing a “Split S” (a half-roll onto his back, followed by pulling into a long, curving dive) without the float carburetor causing a temporary loss of engine power, could his aircraft escape back to France at low altitude. During the action, two Spitfires were shot down for the loss of four Bf 109s. Galland was shocked by the aggression shown by British pilots who he initially believed to be relatively inexperienced. Galland later said he realised there would be no quick and easy victory.

Spitfire. Picture Credit: Wikipedia

Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross

          As the battles over the Channel continued, Galland shot down Spitfires on 25 and 28 July. On 1 August 1940, Galland was awarded theKnight’s Cross of the Iron Cross for his 17 victories by then. The cloudy skies of Britain were a dangerous environment to confront an enemy that had an effective ground control system. Galland resolved to fly higher, where he could see most things and where the Bf 109 performed at its best. By 15 August, in two weeks’ fighting over Britain, Galland had increased his own tally to 21. On this day he claimed three Spitfires. This put him to within three victories of Mölders, who had claimed the highest number of enemy aircraft destroyed and who was wounded and grounded with a damaged knee. Galland and his pilots remained ignorant of the disastrous losses suffered by other German units and the defeat of their attacks by the RAF.

Bomber Bf 110. Picture Credit:

Summoned By Göring – Asked to Fly as AD Escorts Instead of Fighter Sweeps

          Galland was summoned on 18 August 1940, and missed the intense air battle that day, known as “The Hardest Day”. During the meeting, Göring insisted that, in combat, Bf 109 fighters escort Bf 110s, which could not survive against single-engine fighters. As high-scoring aces, both Galland and Mölders shared their concerns that close escort of Bf 110s and bombers robbed fighter pilots of their freedom to roam and engage the enemy on their own terms. They also pointed to the fact that German bombers flew at medium altitudes and low speed, the best height area and speed for the manoeuvrability of the Spitfire. Göring would not move from his position. Galland claimed that fighting spirit was also affected when his pilots were tasked with close-escort missions. The worst disadvantage of this type of escort was not aerodynamic but lay in its deep contradiction of the basic function of fighter aircraft—to use speed and maneuverability to seek, find, and destroy enemy aircraft, in this case, those of Fighter Command. The Bf 109s were bound to the bombers and could not leave until attacked, thus giving their opponent the advantage of surprise, initiative, superior altitude, greater speed, and above all fighting spirit, the aggressive attitude which marks all successful fighter pilots.

Hermann Göring with Werner Mölders (left) and Adolf Galland, confer during the Battle of Britain. (John Frost Newspapers/Alamy) Picture Credit:

Supersedes and Becomes Wing Commander

          Göring grew frustrated with the lack of aggressiveness of several of his fighter-wing commanders, and on 22 August, he replaced Handrick with Adolf Galland, who become the Wing Commnader of JG 26. The pilots were dissatisfied. Galland could not change Göring’s mind with respect to the escort missions, but he did take immediate actions to improve pilot morale. He replaced ineffective group and squadron commanders with younger, more aggressive, and more successful (aerial victories) officers within in the wing. He also increased the wing staff flight from earlier two-aircraft formation to a more lethal four-fighter formation. Galland flew as often as possible and led the most difficult missions in order to encourage his men and gain respect. From 25 August until 14 September, Galland had victories 23 to 32 shooting down Spitfires and Hurricanes. Göring, worried of growing bomber losses, asked what his fighter pilots needed to win the battle. Werner Mölders  replied, the Bf 109 with more powerful engines. Galland said, “I should like an outfit of Spitfires for my squadron.” This left Göring speechless with rage. Galland still preferred the Bf 109 for offensive sweeps, but he regarded the Spitfire as a better defensive fighter, owing to its manoeuvrability.

Act of Mercy Shooting Down Pilot in Parachute

          Göring wanted to know if German pilots had ever thought of killing the enemy pilots while descending in parachute. “I should regard it as murder, Herr Reichsmarschall’, Galland told. “I should do everything in my power to disobey such an order” if ever given. “That is just the reply I had expected from you, Galland.” said Göring. In practice, this act of mercy was not applied.

Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves – Audience with Hitler

          On 23 September, Galland became the third member of the Wehrmacht to receive the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves for achieving his 39th and 40th aerial victories. On 25 September, he was summoned to Berlin to receive the award from Adolf Hitler. Galland was granted a personal audience with Hitler and during the meeting Galland reported to Hitler that the British had proven tough opponents, and that there were signs of declining morale in the German fighter force in the absence of operational success. Hitler expressed his regret for the war with the “Anglo-Saxons”, who he admired, but resolved to fight until total destruction.

With Adolf Hitler. Picture Credit:

German Pilots Fatigue and Low Morale

          Morale and exhaustion became a problem in September. The Luftwaffe lacked the pilots and aircraft to maintain a constant presence over Britain. To compensate, commanders demanded three to four sorties per day by the most experienced men. Galland recognised the manifest fatigue of his pilots. By the end of September, Galland noticed that “the stamina of the superbly trained and experienced original cadre of pilots was down to a point where operational efficiency was being impaired. Several factors contributed to this situation. Herman Goring was German political and military leader. One of the most powerful figures in the Nazi Party. A veteran WW I fighter pilot ace, recipient of “The Blue Max”. Göring’s interference with tactics without regard for the situation or the capabilities of German aircraft, rapid adaptation to German tactics by the British, and the poorer quality replacement pilots to JG 26 Fighter pilots lost confidence in their aircraft and tactics.

Heramn Goring. Picture Credit:

Galland’s New Tactics

          Galland innovated tactics to improve the situation and found a partial solution to Göring’s irrational order to maintain close escort. He developed a flexible escort system that allowed his pilots constantly to change altitude, airspeed, direction, and distance to the bombers during the close-escort missions. The results were better and acceptable to his pilots. By the end of the Battle of Britain, JG 26 had gained a reputation as one of only two fighter wings that performed escort duties with consistently low losses to the bombers. The fighter-bomber mission was also a problem Galland had to deal with. Göring was committed to fitting one-third of all fighter wings to use modified Bf 109s to carry bombs. Galland had no choice but to accept the mission but it damaged the morale he had cultivated. Galland’s again decided to develop tactics that mixed the bomb-laden Bf 109s with the fighter escort in an effort to deceive the enemy and confound their intercept plans. This tactic slowed down the fighter-bomber losses, but the pilots still felt as though they were being wasted. Galland’s leadership still made several errors. Galland did not use training opportunities to improve the bombing accuracy of his pilots. He did not discipline those pilots who were prone to jettison their bombs early. He himself flew escort missions, thus not setting example to his men by flying bombing missions.

Last of Battle of Britain – Leading Fighter Pilots

          The Battle of Britain continued with large-scale dogfights well past 31 October, considered by many historians as the end of the campaign. Glland claimed eight victories, six Spitfires and two Hurricanes, in October taking his tally to 50. On 15 November, Galland flew his 150th combat mission. In November, his victories increased to 56, putting him level with the late Helmet Wick who had been shot down and killed on 28 November. On 5 December, Galland recorded his 57th victory. This made him the most successful fighter pilot of the war at that point, putting him ahead of his colleague, friend and rival Werner Mölders. Leading fighter pilots shared special and indefinable qualities in piloting, particularly marksmanship, hunting skills and situational awareness. During the Battle of Britain, Galland accounted for 14% of all JG 26’s aerial successes, from a unit of around 120 pilots. Four of the wing’s fighter pilots claimed an astounding 31% of all aircraft shot down.

Channel Front

          In March 1941, Goring held a major conference for units in the west. After describing in detail the coming, air offensive against Britain, he secretly admitted to Adolf Galland and Werner Mölders that “there’s not a word of truth in it.” The Luftwaffe was to transfer to the Eastern Front. Approximately two fighter wings remained in the west for the next year and a half, many of the best fighter crews remained in that theatre. Similarly, the best equipment went to the west, including the Focke-Wulf Fw 190. Just about 180 best in the Luftwaffe aircraft, were left with the western fighter forces.

          Now, promoted to Lt Col he continued to lead JG 26 in 1941 against the RAF fighter sweeps across northern Europe. In early 1941, most of the Luftwaffe’s fighter units were sent to the Eastern front or Mediterranean Theatre leaving only JG 26 as the sole single-engine fighters in France. JG 26 were being re-equipped with the new Bf 109F, (20 mm cannon).

Air Combat with Champagne on Board

          On 15 April 1941, Galland took off with lobster and champagne to celebrate General Theo Osterkamp’s birthday in France. He made a detour with his wingman towards England, looking for RAF aircraft. Off the cliffs of Dover, he spotted a group of Spitfires. Galland attacked and claimed two confirmed and one unconfirmed shot down. The actual result was the destruction of one Spitfire; the other two were damaged and force landed with both pilots wounded. During the combat, Galland’s undercarriage had dropped causing one of the RAF pilots to claim Galland’s aircraft as destroyed, but Galland landed without incident and presented Osterkamp with his gifts. Galland’s success that day represented his 60th and 61st aerial victory.

Picture Credit:

RAF Offensive

          RAF mounted a non-stop offensive with Fighter Command over France. Galland intended to engage the British and inflict maximum damage. The fighters were to scramble quickly gain height and make use of the sun and cloud to attack the enemy formation. Under these tactics many JG 26 pilots began to emerge as aces. On 18 June, Galland shot a Spitfire, taking his tally to 67, then the highest against the Western Allies.

Galland and Molders attending Theo Osterkamp’s birthday in April 1941. Picture Credit: Wikipedia

Galland Bails out and is Injured

          On the morning of 21 June, he shot two Bristol Blenheims but was shot down by a Spitfire. Galland bailed out and tugged at what he thought was his parachute ripcord, but was actually pulling at his parachute release harness. With a “sickening” feeling, he composed himself and pulled the ripcord which opened. Galland was being treated for his wounds in the hospital when he was informed that his 69 victories had now earned him the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross woth Oak Leaves and Swords.

Bail out. Pulling the wrong Chord. Picture Credit: Pinterest

Galland Survives Again

          On 2 July 1941, Galland led JG 26 into combat. Galland’s fighter was hit by a 20 mm round. The armour plate fitted to the Bf 109 just days earlier saved Galland’s life. Wounded in the head he managed to land and was again hospitalised for the second time in a few days. Galland had been shot up and shot down twice in the space of four days.

Galland Looks After Douglas Bader

          On 9 August 1941, RAF ace Douglas Bader bailed out over St Omer, France. Bader was well known to the Luftwaffe and at the time of his capture had been credited with 22 aerial victories. Galland himself claimed two Spitfires on that date. Galland and JG 26 entertained Bader over the next few days. Owing to the significant stature of the prisoner, Galland permitted Bader, under escort, to sit in the cockpit of a Bf 109. Apparently, despite having lost one of his tin legs in the aircraft, Bader, in a semi-serious way, asked if they wouldn’t mind if he took it on a test flight around the airfield. Galland replied that he feared Douglas would attempt to escape and they would have to give chase and shoot at each other again, and declined the request.

Galland with Douglas Bader. Picture Credit:

Posting to High Command – Youngest General

          His 96th victim, yet another Spitfire, was claimed on 18 November 1941. It proved to be his last official victory for three years as he was about to be forbidden to fly combat missions. In November 1941, he was chosen by Göring to command Germany’s fighter force, in the rank of a Lt General succeeding Molders who had just been killed in an air crash en route to attend the funeral of Ernst Udet. Galland was not enthusiastic about his promotion, seeing himself as a combat leader and not wanting to be “tied to a desk job”. He was the youngest General in the armed forces. Soon afterward, on 28 January 1942, Galland was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds, for his service as Commander JG 26.

With Adolf Hitler. Picture Credit: Pinterest

Full Command of Air Ops

          Although not keen on a staff position, he planned and executed the German air superiority plan for German navy’s Operation Cerberus, to give air cover to German battleships  and heavy cruisers sailing from France to Germany. The operation caught the British off guard. German fighter defences were able to shoot down 43 RAF aircraft with 247 British casualties. The Luftwaffe had prevented any damage on the ships by air attack.

          A strong proponent of the day fighter force and the defence of Germany, Galland used his position to improve things. Germany had declared war on the United States on 11 December 1941, and Galland was keen to build up a force that could withstand the resurgence of the Western Allied Air Forces in preparation for what became known as the Defence of the Reich. Galland was outspoken, something that was not often tolerated by Göring. Yet, by earning and cultivating the support of other powerful personalities including Adolf Hitler, Galland was able to survive in his position for three years.

Galland and Molders. Picture by Gabe Pecan Credit: Pinterest

Posting to Mediterranean – Major German Failures

          The first major crisis for Galland’s command occurred in 1943. Galland had been supporting operations in the area, but the Tunisian defeat caused a reorganisation of Axis air forces in the south. Luftflotte was divided in two. Wolfram von Richthofen became Luftflotte 2 commander. Galland, went to Sicily to control fighter operations under him. Galland was not able to prove himself a capable senior staff officer. Galland’s failings delighted Richthofen who was content to allow Galland “enough rope to hang himself”, which deflected attention from others.

          Upon reaching Sicily, Galland found the state of German air forces shocking, The combat units were exhausted, short of spares, and under frequent attack—the 130 fighters on the island were the target. It was impossible to completely rebuild the squadrons. The resources available could not prevent the Allied air forces acting with impunity. Göring threatened to have one pilot from each unit stand trial by court martial, and if improvements were not forthcoming, they were to be sent as infantry to the Eastern Front. Göring ordered pilots returning without claims and undamaged aircraft suffer court martial for cowardice. Under pressure from Göring, Galland also berated the wing under him.

Picture Credit: Pinterest

          Considerable reinforcements then arrived. The number of fighters increased from 190 in mid-May to 450 in early July 1943. The movement of additional fighters resulted only in the rise in German losses, which reflected the superiority of Allied production. The weak German bomber force made only a feeble attempt to support the defence of Sicily. Losses too were high. In the first nine days of July 1943, Galland’s command lost approximately 70 fighters. On the fourteenth day he was summoned to Berlin to explain the collapse of air defences on the island. Since the Allied invasion of Sicily, Galland had lost 273 German and 115 Italian aircraft and imposed a cost of only around 100 on Allied air forces.

Galland Picture upload by Natalee. Credit: Pinterest

Conflict with Göring and failed leadership

          Galland’s position brought him into gradual conflict with Göring as the war continued. Galland was often at odds with Göring and Hitler on how to prosecute the air war. In 1942–44, the German fighter forces on all fronts in Europe came under increasing pressure. In the spring of 1943, Galland suggested that the fighter forces defending Germany should by conserved by limiting fighter interceptions, and concentrate on the bombers. Göring found the suggestion unacceptable. He demanded every raid be countered in maximum strength regardless of the size of the Allied fighter escort. According to head of production and procurement Erhard Milch “Göring just could not grasp it.” The combination of declining production and attrition left Galland with a thin resource-base with which to defend Germany. By early October, American fighters were accompanying bombers as far as Hamburg. When Galland explained this to Göring, he was livid with Galland and the fighter force. He called it the “rantings of a worn-out defeatist”.

Galland with Goring. Picture Credit:

Offers to Resign         

In October 1943, Galland met Göring and mentioned the need for new and improved interceptor aircraft arose. Göring, wanted heavy cannon-armed fighters (cannons of some 2,000 lb in weight) be used en masse. Galland explained that such a weapon could not be used effectively in an aircraft. Galland also asserted the use of inappropriate weaponry such as the Messerschmitt Me 410, a favourite of Hitler’s, had caused heavy losses. Göring disregarded Galland’s arguments and continued his frequent attacks on the fighter force, accusing them of cowardice. Galland, as he always did, defended them, risking his career and, near the end of the war, his life in doing so. Galland stated that he could not agree to follow Göring’s plans and requested to be dismissed from his post and sent back to his unit. Göring accepted, but two weeks later he apologised to Galland and attributed his behaviour to stress. Galland continued in his post.

With Göring. Picture Credit:

          In November 1943 Galland issued a communique to the fighter forces, announcing the introduction of new weapons, such as heavily armed Fw 190s, to engage of destroy Allied bombers. Göring ordered his units, through Galland, to use ramming methods, and risk sacrificing the pilot. German losses were so heavy that Galland held a special meeting with division commanders on 4 November 1943. It was decided the single-engine fighters must engage in protecting the heavier fighters, such as the Bf 110, from enemy escorts, so the latter could attack the bombers. At the end of December, Galland and the staff concluded that their new tactics had failed with high losses. In mid-March 1944, shortages of skilled pilots caused Galland to send a desperate plea asking for volunteer pilots.

          American air forces continued unrelenting pressure for the duration of the war. A conference between Galland and Göring in mid-May 1944 underlined how enemy air operations were devastating the fighter force. Galland urged all fighter pilots holding short staff positions be transferred immediately to operational units. Transfer were sought from the eastern front of all pilots with more than five aerial victories. Finally, Galland asked flying schools to release 80-plus instructors.

The Disagreements on Me 262 Aircraft.

          Galland flew the Me 262 aircraft, Father of all jet planes, in May 1943 and became an enthusiastic supporter of the aircraft as the saviour of the fighter force. Galland failed to appreciate the difficulties involved in transferring a design into production, especially under the circumstances. There were also problems with the engines and series production was difficult. By spring 1944, the Me 262 was sufficiently ready for operational service. By this time, Galland faced rivalries amongst the Luftwaffe command over how best to employ the aircraft.  Galland thought the bomber corps should be disbanded and its pilots converted onto fighters. Göring opposed. Galland did not give up. He made repeated appeals for Me 262 be used as a fighter aircraft. Even this was difficult, as Hitler had taken personal control of turbo-jet production and checked where each batch of the aircraft were being deployed.

Father of Jet Planes German Me 262. Picture Credit:

          It was not until September 1944 that Hitler rescinded his directive that the Me 262 be used as a fighter-bomber. Galland decided to test the Me 262 against high-flying Allied reconnaissance aircraft. He selected the highly decorated pilot. Hitler heard of the experiment and ordered to put a stop to it. Galland persisted with the experiments and ordered operations to be continued. They achieved isolated successes until the ace pilot  Thierfelder was shot down and killed by a P-51 Mustang on 18 July 1944. On 20 August, Hitler finally agreed to allow one in every 20 Me 262 to go into fighter service, which allowed Galland to build all jet units. The unit struggled into November 1944 without much success and high losses. Galland himself flew on unauthorised interception flights to experience the combat pressures of the pilots, and witnessed USAAF bombers being escorted by large numbers of P-51 Mustangs.

Mustang P 51. Picture Credit:

Dismissal and Relieved of Command

          Despite Göring’s apology after their previous dispute, the relationship between the two men did not improve. Göring’s influence was in decline by late 1944 and he had fallen out of favour with Hitler. Göring became increasingly hostile to Galland, blaming him and the fighter pilots for the situation. In 1944, the situation worsened. By the spring of 1944, the Luftwaffe could not effectively challenge the Allies over France or the Low Countries. Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of German Occupied Europe took place in June 1944. In the previous four months 1,000 German pilots had been killed. Galland reported that the enemy outnumbered his fighters between 6:1 and 8:1 and the standard of Allied fighter pilot training was “astonishingly high”.

          To win back some breathing space for his force and German industrial targets, Galland formulated a plan which he called the “Big Blow”. It called for the mass interception of USAAF bomber formations by approximately 2,000 German fighters. Galland hoped that the German fighters would shoot down some 400–500 bombers. Acceptable losses were to be around 400 fighters and 100–150 pilots. Galland’s staff could muster 3,700 aircraft of all types by 12 November 1944, with 2,500 retained for this specific operation. Hitler rejected Galland’s plan. Hitler distrusted Galland’s theory and believed him to be afraid and stalling for time. The Führer was not willing to have German resources sit idle on airfields to wait for an improvement in flying conditions. Göring and Hitler handed over the forces pooled by Galland to Peltz whom they had now appointed commander responsible for virtually all fighter forces in the west. Peltz and his Special Fighter Staff Officer who were vociferous opponent of Galland, eventually engineered his dismissal. Whether the “Big Blow” operation would have worked is a matter of academic debate. Historians remained divided, with some believing it was a lost opportunity while others think it would have had much less impact than Galland estimated. The operation never took place. Instead, the fighter force was committed to the disastrous operation designed to support German forces during the Battle of Bulge. Galland’s influence on matters was now virtually nil. SS General Heinrich Himmler was the most powerful man after Hitler at that time. Himmler, whose relationship with Göring was poor, took the opportunity to exploit the dissent in the Luftwaffe. It was also an opportunity for the SS to seize control of the Luftwaffe and for Himmler to oust Göring from power. Göring, for his part offered no support to Galland. On 13 January 1945, Galland was finally relieved of his command.

Fighter Pilots Revolt

          On 17 January, a group of senior pilots took part in a “Fighter Pilots Revolt”. Galland’s high standing with his fighter pilot peers led to a group of the most decorated Luftwaffe combat leaders loyal to Galland (including Johannes Steinhoff and Gunter Lutzow) confronting Göring with a list of demands for the survival of their service. Göring initially suspected Galland had instigated the unrest. Heinrich Himmler had wanted to put Galland on trial for treason himself, and the SS and Gestapo had already begun investigations. The more politically acceptable Gollob, a mnational socialist supporter, to succeed Galland on 23 January. Although professional contemporaries, Gollob and Galland had a mutual dislike. Much earlier Gollob had started to gather evidence to use against Galland, detailing false accusations of his gambling, womanising, and alleged private use of Luftwaffe transport aircraft. The official reason for Galland being relieved of command was his ill health. For his own safety, Galland went to a retreat in the Harz mountains. He was to keep the government informed of his whereabouts, but was effectively under house arrest. Hitler, who liked Galland, learned of the revolt and ordered that “all this nonsense” was to stop immediately. Hitler had been informed by Galland’s close friends. After Hitler’s intervention Göring contacted Galland and invited him to Karinhall. In light of his service to the fighter arm, he promised no further action would be taken against him and offered command of a unit of Me 262 jets. Galland accepted on the understanding.

Fighter Pilots Revolt. Picture Credit: Military Wikia

As Germany Collapsed – Command of a New Unit

          On 24 February 1945 a new flying unit Jagdverband 44 was formed. The commander of this unit had the disciplinary powers of a Divisional Commander. It was to be directly under Berlin. Galland was given sixteen operational Me 262s and fifteen pilots. Galland quickly got the unit going. Göring showed sympathy for Galland’s efforts. Galland requested that all experienced fighter pilots flying with Bf 109 or Fw 190 units should be made to join the Me 262 unit. Galland believed he could get 150 jets in action against the USAAF fleets. The general chaos and impending collapse prevented his plans from being realised. On 31 March 1945, Galland flew 12 operational jets to Munich and on 5 April, began operations. The Me 262s started destroying American aircraft. On 21 April, unit was visited by Göring for the final time. Göring confessed to Galland that his assertions about the Me 262 and the use of bomber pilots with experience as jet fighter pilots had been correct. Göring said, “I envy you Galland, for going into action. I wish I were a few years younger and less bulky. I would have gladly put myself under your command.” On 21 April, Galland was credited with his 100th aerial victory. He was the 103rd and last Luftwaffe pilot to achieve the century mark. On 26 April, Galland claimed his 103rd and 104th aerial victories. His last.

German Surrender – Offer to Join Americans Against Soviet Union

          By late April, the war was effectively over. On 1 May 1945, Galland attempted to make contact with US Army forces to negotiate the surrender of his unit. The act itself was dangerous. SS forces roamed the countryside and towns executing anyone who was considering capitulation. The Americans requested that Galland fly his unit and Me 262s to a USAAF controlled airfield. Galland declined citing poor weather and technical problems. In reality, Galland was not going to hand over Me 262 jets to the Americans. Galland had harboured the belief that the Western Alliance would soon be at war with the Soviet Union, and he wanted to join American forces and to use his unit in the coming war to free Germany from Communist occupation. Galland made his whereabouts known to the Americans, and offering his surrender once they arrived at the hospital where he was being treated. Galland then ordered his unit, to destroy their Me 262s. At the time of his surrender, Galland had filed claims for 104 Allied aircraft shot down. His claims included seven with the Me 262. On 14 May 1945, Galland was flown to England and interrogated by RAF personnel about the Luftwaffe, its organisation, his role in it and technical questions. Galland returned to Germany on 24 August and was imprisoned. On 7 October, Galland was returned to England for further interrogation. He was eventually released on 28 April 1947.

Picture Credit:

Self appraisal and Introspection

          Galland did not pretend to have been error free. After the war, he was candid about his own mistakes as the Air Force Fighter Commander Production and aircraft procurement were not his responsibility but Galland identified four major mistakes during the war, and accepted partial responsibility for the first three.

         (a) Fighter pilots received no instrument training until very late in the war, after the training course had already been curtailed because of fuel shortages. Galland also did not make sure all-weather flying was incorporated into pilot training, which was of great importance for an effective air defence force.

         (b) Attrition by 1942 had created a shortage of experienced combat leaders. No special training was made available for this role. Galland set up a course in late 1943, but it only lasted for a few months. Galland thought they could learn the skills while on operations, as he himself had. This was unreasonable.

         (c) The Me 262, while not a war winner, might have extended the Defence of the Reich campaign. The problems with the engines, failures of production priorities and Hitler’s meddling are well known, but the long delay between operational testing, tactical and doctrinal development and training were largely Galland’s fault.

         (d) The German pilots were increasingly lacking in quantity and quality. Galland recognised this but could not correct it without stepping outside his own authority.

Years in Argentina

          After release, Galland travelled to Schleswig-Holstein in the north of Germany, now in Denmark to join Baroness Gisela von Donner, an earlier acquaintance, on her estate and lived with her three children. During this time, Galland found work as a forestry worker. There he convalesced and came to terms with his career and Nazi war crimes. Galland began to hunt for the family and traded the kills in the local markets to supplement meagre meat rations. Soon Galland rediscovered his love of flying. Kurt Tank, the designer of the Fw 190, had been asked to work for the British and Soviets, and had narrowly avoided being kidnapped by the latter. Tank, through a contact in Denmark, informed Galland about the possibility of the Argentinian Government employing him as a test pilot for Tank’s new generation of fighters. Galland accepted and flew to Argentina. He settled with Gisela in Buenos Aires. Galland enjoyed the slow life. His time there, aside from work commitments, was taken up with Gisela and the active Buenos Aires night life. Soon, he took up gliding again. Galland spoke fluent Spanish, which helped in his instruction of new pilots. He flew the British Gloster Meteor which was a contemporary of the Me 262. He claimed that if he could have fitted the Meteor engines to the Me 262 airframe he would have had the best fighter in the world. Galland continued training, lecturing and consulting for the FAA until 1955. In between he kept returning to Europe to test fly new types. For his services to Argentina, Galland was awarded a pilot’s wings badge and the title of the Honorary Argentine Military Pilot.

British Gloster Meteor. In Argentina 1948-55. Picture Credit:

Return to Germany and Selected But Denied Job in West German Air Force

          In 1955 Galland left South America. By that time, he had begun writing his autobiography, “The First and the Last” that was published in 1954. It was a best-seller in 14 languages and sold three million copies. It was well received by the RAF and USAF. Galland returned to Germany and was approached to join the armed forces of West Germany which was to join NATO. But the chief of staff of the USAF, got inputs that Galland had alleged “strong neo-Nazi leanings”, and was known to have served with the Perón dictatorship, which was not on good terms with the United States. Galland us disapproved for the position of chief of staff to the German Air Force. Americans also suspected that Galland’s rapid promotions were due to his association with Hitler rather than his merits. RAF had a different view because of his close association with Jewish pilots who had served in the RAF.

Own Aircraft Consultancy

          In 1957, Galland moved to Bonn and began his own aircraft consultancy. Galland worked hard and continued flying, taking part in national air shows. In 1956, he was appointed honorary chairman of the  Association of German Fighter Pilots. He came into contact with contemporaries in Britain and America. In 1961, he joined the Gerling Group of Cologne who contracted Galland to help develop their aviation business. With business going well, Galland bought his own aircraft, Beechcraft Bonanza, on 19 March 1962, his 50th birthday, and name it Die Dicke (Fatty).

Beechcraft Bonanza 35 Picture Credit:

Other Engagements

          In 1969, he served as technical adviser for the film Battle of Britain  in which the character Major Falke was based on Galland. Galland was upset about the director’s decision not to use the real names. While making the film, Galland was joined by his friend Robert Stanford Tuck. In 1973, Galland appeared in the British television documentary series The World at War. In 1974, he was part of the remaining German General Staff that took part in the Operation Sea Lion war-game at Sandhurst in the United Kingdom, replicating the planned German invasion of Britain in 1940 (which the German side lost). In 1975, he was a guest at the RAF Museum Hendon, during the unveiling of the Battle of Britain Hall, where he was entertained by Prince Charles. In 1980, Galland’s eyesight became too poor for him to fly and he retired as a pilot. However, he continued to attend numerous aviation events, to include being a periodic guest of the US Air Force for their annual “Gathering of Eagles” program at the Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell, Alabama, USA. On 16 October, he was returned the two Merkel shotguns stolen by American soldiers after his capture in 1945. Galland had located them before and had tried to buy them back, only to be turned down, as they would be worth more after his death. Towards the end of the 1980s, Galland’s health began to fail.

Galland chats with U.S. Air Force pilots at Cologne’s Flying Day of Nations in June 1956. (Ullstein Bild via Getty Images)

Three Marriages and Last Days

          Baroness Gisela von Donner had refused to marry Galland as the restrictions imposed upon her by her former husband’s will would deny her the wealth and freedom she had enjoyed. She left for Germany in 1954. Galland married Sylvinia von Donhoff on 12 February 1954. However, she was unable to have children and they divorced on 10 September 1963. On 10 September 1963, Galland married his secretary, Hannelies Ladwein. They had two children: a son and a daughter. The RAF ace and good friend Robert Stanford Tuck was the godfather of his son Andreas. Galland’s marriage to Hannelies did not last and on 10 February 1984, he married his third wife, Heidi Horn, who remained with him until his death. By the 1980s, Galland was regularly attending the funerals of friends like Tuck, and Douglas Bader. In early February 1996, Galland was taken seriously ill. He had wanted to die at home and so was released from hospital and returned to his own house. With his wife Heidi, son and daughter present, he was given the last rites. Adolf Galland died in the morning of Tuesday, 9 February 1996. His body was buried at St Laurentius Church, Oberwinter on 21 February.

Adolf Galland, Stanford Tuck and Douglas Bader. Picture Credit: Pinterest

Aerial victory claims

          With his slicked-back black hair and matching mustache, broken nose and perennial cigar, Lieutenant General Adolf Galland was the personification of the Luftwaffe fighter arm during World War II. His Messerschmitt 109s bearing the incongruous Mickey Mouse emblem became iconic images for generations of historians, artists and modelers. Yet those were superficial manifestations of his personality; the man beneath the image was far more intriguing. Researchers have confirmed records for 100 aerial victory claims, plus nine further unconfirmed claims, all of which claimed on the Western Front. This figure of confirmed claims includes two four-engined bombers and six victories with the Me 262 jet fighter.

Picture Credit:

Published by Anil Chopra

I am the founder of Air Power Asia and a retired Air Marshal from the Indian Air Force.

One thought on “German Ace – General Adolf Galland – 104 Aerial Victories – all against the Western Allies

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