Günther Rall – Third Highest scoring Air Ace of All Times – 275 Victories

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General Günther Rall was a highly decorated German military aviator, whose military career spanned nearly forty years. Rall was the third most successful fighter pilot in aviation history, behind Gerhard Barkhorn, who is second, and Erich Hartmann, who is top scoring air ace of all times. Rall flew combat missions in the Battle of France, and Battle of Britain. He was later moved to the Eastern front.  Rall claimed his first successes in the air defence of Romania. In November 1941, he was shot down, wounded and invalidated from flying for a year. At this time Rall had claimed 36 aerial victories.

Günther Rall. Knight’s Cross portrait, 1942. Image Source: Wikipedia

          Rall returned in August 1942 and by September 1942 had 65 aerial victories. By 22 October Rall had claimed 100. He reached 200 in late August 1943. On 12 September 1943. By the end of 1943 Rall had achieved over 250, the second flier to do so after Nowotny (final total 258) did in October 1943. He left the eastern front and was sent for the Defence of the Reich where he was wounded thrice. In November 1944 Rall was appointed as an instructor and flew captured Allied fighter aircraft in order to prepare instruction notes on their performance to German fighter pilots. Rall ended the war with an unsuccessful stint commanding JG 300 near Salzburg, Austria where he surrendered in May 1945. He was credited with 275 air victories in 621 missions. He was shot down five times and wounded on three occasions.  Rall claimed all of his victories in a Messerschmitt Bf 109, though he also flew the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 operationally. All but three of his claims were against Soviet opposition.

Image Source: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bundesarchiv_Bild_146-1990-021-11A,_Günther_Rall.jpg

          Rall joined the West German Air Force in 1956, served as Inspector of the Air Force from 1971 to 1974, and as the German representative to the NATO Military Committee until 1975. After his retirement Rall became a consultant.

275 victory ace, Günther Rall, visited Finland in June 2003 and gave lectures about his career. Image Source: http://www.virtualpilots.fi/

Early life

          Rall was born on 10 March 1918 in Gaggenau, at the time in the Grand Duchy of Baden of the German Empire (1871–1918) during World War I. He was the second child of merchant Rudolf Rall and his wife Minna, née Heinzelmann. His sister Lotte, was four years older than Rall. Rall stated that his father was a member of Der Stahlhelm, Bund der Frontsoldaten (The Steel helmet, League of front-line Soldiers) and had an affiliation with the German National People’s Party. He  grew up in the Weimar Republic.

Image Source: http://www.luftwaffe39-45.historia.nom.br/ases/rall.htm

Nazi Schooling

          In 1922, the Rall family moved to Stuttgart. There, in 1928, Rall joined the Christian Boy Scouts. In 1934, the Gleichschaltung (Nazi terminology the process of Nazification) converted the Christian Boy Scouts into the Deutsches Jungvolk (term for German Youngsters in the Hitler Youth). He attended the Volksschule (compulsory school) in Stuttgart. For his secondary education, he first attended the humanities-oriented Karls-Gymnasium in Stuttgart and then in 1935 transferred to the National Political Institutes of Education (Napola) in Backnang, a secondary boarding school founded under the recently established Nazi state. The goal of the Napola schools was to raise a new generation for the political, military and administrative leadership of Nazi Germany. There he received his university entry qualification.

Rall attended the Napola in Backnang. Image Source: http://www.wikiwand.com/en/Günther_Rall

Decides Military Career – Later Luftwaffe

          In 1933 the Nazi Party seized power and Rall. Following graduation, Rall volunteered for military service and joined the Wehrmacht (Nazi German Armed Forces) in December 1936 to train as an infantry soldier. On 4 December 1936, Rall joined the 13 Infantry Regiment in Ludwigsburg as a  non-commissioned officer. From 1 January to 31 June 1938, he attended the  military school in Dresden. In the summer of 1938, Rall requested to be transferred to the Luftwaffe. He was trained as a pilot at Unterbiberg airfield. Rall was transferred to the Luftwaffe soon after and he then trained to be a fighter pilot. On 1 September 1938, he was promoted to Second lieutenant. Rall then attended the “Jagdfliegerschule Werneuchen” (fighter pilot school) from 15 July to 15 September 1939 and was then posted to No. 4 Squadron of Jagdgeschwader 52 (JG 52—52nd Fighter Wing) on 16 September 1939 where he served as a flight leader of a “Rotte” (two-aircraft section) .

Luftwaffe Structure. Image Source: Wikipedia

World War II – Initial Action

          World War II in Europe began on Friday, 01 September 1939 when German forces invaded Poland. JG 52 was not directly involved in the invasion. It was positioned in western Germany, for Defence of the Reich duties and Rall did not see combat. Rall flew combat patrols in the Phoney War which was an eight-month period at the start of World War II, during which there was only one limited military land operation on the Western Front, when French troops invaded Germany’s Saar district. The Phoney period began with the declaration of war by the United Kingdom and France against Nazi Germany on 3 September 1939, and ended with the German invasion of France and the Low Countries on 10 May 1940. On 7 March 1940, he was transferred to No. 8 Squadron when JG 52 was augmented by the newly created 3rd Group. On 10 May 1940 Fall Gelb (The Invasion of France and the Low Countries) began, and JG 52 supported German forces in the invasion of Belgium and Battle of France. Rall flew combat missions in the Battle of France and Battle of Britain, claiming one enemy aircraft destroyed in May 1940. 22 years old Rall’s wing sustained heavy casualties.

Image Source: http://www.luftwaffe39-45.historia.nom.br/ases/rall.htm

First Air Victory – Lots of Bullets But Self Confidence

          On the third day of the campaign, 12 May 1940, Rall achieved his first victory. Three French Curtiss H75-C1 fighters were attacking a German reconnaissance aircraft at a height of 26,000 feet (7,900 m). Rall attacked them and shot down one, stating: “I was lucky in my first dogfight, but it did give me a hell of a lot of self-confidence…and a scaring, because I was also hit by many bullets.” The victory was his only success on the Western Front.

French Curtiss H75-C1. Image Source: You Tube

Battle of Britain – Faulty Tactics

          JG 52 was later moved to Peuplingues and Coquelles, on the French channel cost where it fought in the Battle of Britain. Due to heavy losses, he was given command of 8. Staffel (unit) of JG 52 on 25 July 1940 and was promoted to Lieutenant a week later, on 1 August 1940. Rall replaced Lieutenant  Lothar Ehrlich, who was killed in action with No. 610 Squadron RAF the previous day during the convoy battles; he was one of three pilots killed that day. Rall said of the battle, “probably no one even had time to shout a warning. Suddenly a flock of Spitfires were on us like hawks on a bunch of chickens.” Rall placed the blame for losses on faulty tactics; such as tying the Bf 109s to close escort of the slow Junkers Ju 87 Stuka dive-bombers. On the day he was appointed, JG 52 lost another four pilots, including two men of unit Commander status. Rall’s Unit lost one pilot missing in action with No. 65 Squadron RAF over Dover in the early afternoon. Rall and his unit achieved little. Several of the highest claiming pilots of JG 52, Gerhard BarkhornAlfred GrislawskiAdolf Dickfeld (1,072 comabt missions and 136 claims) were not successful over England.

Alfred Grislawski. 109 Victories. (24 victories in the Western Front, including 18 United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) four–engine bombers. Image Source: Wikipedia

Transferred to Greece and Romania

          Rall was then transferred to Greece, and participated in the final phase of the Balkans Campaign in April to May 1941 without success. Based at Athens, he flew combat missions in support of the airborne invasion and subsequent Battle of Crete in June 1941. JG 52 was transferred back to Romania to help defend their recently acquired allies’ Ploiești oil fields.

Battle of Greece. 1942. Alexander Löhr Luftwaffe, later commander-in-chief in Southeast Europe, and Wolfram Karl Ludwig Moritz Hermann Freiherr von Richthofen later Field Marshal in the Luftwaffe during World War II.

Eastern Front – Air Victories Begin

          On 22 June 1941 Operation Barbarossa, the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union, began the war on the Eastern Front. The majority of JG 52 were supporting Army Group South, and the invasion of the Ukrainian SSR. Rall’s contingent remained in eastern Romania. The Red Air Force (VVS) immediately began a campaign to destroy the Romanian oil fields. Major General Pavel Zhigarev, commanding the VVS ChF (Air Command Crimea), committed the 63 BAP (63rd Bomber Aviation Regiment) and 40 SBAP (40th High Speed Bomber Aviation Regiment). The attacks met with some success, although heavy losses forced the switch to night bombing from mid-July. Rall scored his second, third and fourth victories in interceptions of Soviet bombers. During a five-day period, III./JG 52 claimed between 45 and 50 Soviet aircraft. Rall remarked the reasons for the success was the Soviets did not provide fighter escort for their bombers.

June 1941 Operation Barbarossa. Image Source: oedeboyz.com

Becomes An Ace

          Rall claimed his fifth victory on 4 August thus becoming an “ace”. While providing escort for 77th Dive Bomber Wing on 13 August 1941, flying with 3rd Fighter Wing, Rall claimed a Polikarpov I-16 as did JG 3’s Günther Lützow (later Ace with 110 Victories). The Soviet pilots were from the 88 IAP and identified as Lieutenants Yakov Kozlov and Ivan Novikov. III./JG 52 supported the encirclement Battle at Kiev in August.

Günther Lützow 300 combat missions, 110 Victories. Image Source: Wikipedia

First Battle of Kharkov

          Rall claimed 12 victories in October 1941 as III./JG 52 fought for air superiority during the First Battle of Kharkov; an autumn offensive to seize the industrialized regions of Eastern Ukraine. On 14 October there was heavy air fighting. Rall claimed an Ilyushin Il-2 over his group’s Poltava airfield after being scrambled in the midst of a Soviet air attack. The Germans had failed in the race for the Ukrainian industrial heartland. After the capture of Kharkov and Stalino the Germans found 54 medium and 223 large factories; and all empty. Some 1.5 million wagonloads had been evacuated.

Ilyushin Il-2. Image Source: Wikipedia 

Crimean Campaign – 28th Victory

          On 23 October III./JG 52 moved to Chaplinka in the Crimea. With II./JG 3 and JG 77 it was ordered to clear the skies. The Crimean Campaign lasted into the following year. The German fighter units claimed 140 aircraft from 18 to 24 October over Perekop. Rall had reached 28 victories by this date.

Shot Down and Crashes – Survives With Broken Back

          In November the Red Army regrouped and conducted a well-orchestrated recapture of Rostov on Don. The victory denied the Germans access to the Caucasus. On 28 November 1941, Rall claimed his 36th victory near the contested city, but as he watched the burning I-16 fall in the fading light Rall relaxed his vigilance and was shot down. He tried to fly back to German lines with a damaged engine, but crash landed and was knocked unconscious. A German tank crew rescued him from the wreck. His Bf 109 F-4 (Tail No. 7308) came down in the vicinity of Rostov. X-rays revealed he had broken his back in three places. Doctors told him he was finished as a pilot, and transferred him to a hospital in Vienna in December 1941.

Günther Rall Bf 109 f4 that Crashed. Image Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/farinihouseoflove

One Year Hospitalisation – Meets His Future Wife

          Despite the prognosis, Rall defied odds and returned to combat a year later. During his treatment, he met Hertha Schön, whom he married in 1943. In Rall’s absence third group claimed 90 of the 135 aircraft claimed shot down by Luftflotte 4 in December. This was achieved without loss; making it the most successful of the German fighter groups. The VVS Southern Front admitted the loss of 44 aircraft from 1 to 22 December. The losses for the remaining nine days are not stated.

Günther Rall and his Jewish wife Hertha Schön. Image Source: Pinterest

Back to Action After One Year

          Rall came back to 8./JG 52 in August 1942. From 2 to 30 August Rall claimed victory 37 through to 62; a run of 26 aerial victories in a four-week period. On 6 August Rall claimed four in one day. At this time Rall’s unit were operating in support of the Battle of the Caucasus, deep in southern Russia. His 61st claim was for a victory achieved in the vicinity of Grozny. German forces reached the Terek River in late August 1942 and erected pontoon bridges. The Soviets began air attacks on the crossings, and Rall’s III./JG 52 claimed 32 aerial victories in their defence.

Knight’s Cross holders of JG 52 during a mission break in late 1942 in front of Rall`s Bf 109 G-2 “Black 13”. From left: Uffz. Karl Gratz (138 victories, RK), Oblt. Günther Rall and Uffz. Friedrich Wachowiak (about 120 v. RK). Image Source: http://www.luftwaffe.cz/rall.html

Awarded  Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross

          On 3 September, Rall was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross. The pilots of JG 52 opposed the Soviet 4th Air Army (4 VA) effectively; and with pilots such as Rall, Dickfeld and Grislawski, they dominated the air space whenever they appeared in strength. The 4 VA reported the loss of 149 aircraft in September 1942. On 30 September 1942 Rall claimed his 90th aerial victim, bringing his total for the month to 28.

Rall is Second From Left. Image Source: http://www.defensemedianetwork.com

100th Victory – Oak Leaves Presented by Hitler

          On 22 October, Rall was credited with his 100th aerial victory. He was the 28th Luftwaffe pilot to achieve the century mark. On 2 November 1942, Rall was required to meet Adolf Hitler and was personally awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves. Rall took the opportunity to ask Hitler when the war would be over. To Rall’s surprise Hitler replied that he did not know. After the ceremony Rall was granted leave. Rall travelled by train to Vienna on 11 November and married Hertha. Upon completion of his leave, Rall returned to the front as III./JG 52 was ordered to cover the retreat after the Battle of Stalingrad in which several Axis field armies were destroyed.

Adolf Hitler personally awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves. Image Source: http://www.luftwaffe39-45.historia.nom.br/ases/rall.htm

Kuban Bridgehead – First Real Test For German Fighters in the East

          The Kuban bridgehead was the main area of operations for Rall in early 1943. Hitler wished to maintain a foothold in the Caucasus to defend the Crimea and retain the captured and now operational facilities at Maykop town near Krasnodar. Hitler harboured a forlorn hope he could use the region as a staging area for a renewed offensive against the Soviet oilfields. The Luftwaffe was rushed to the Kuban to support the German 17th Army’s defences. StG 2, StG 77, SG 1, and the fighter wings JG 3, JG 52 were sent to the region as powerful close support just as the Soviet Front began its offensive. The fighter units were able to inflict heavy losses to Soviet aviation. Rall, who was not impressed by the latest Bell P-39 Airacobra, now in use by Soviet pilots, observed that Soviet fighter aviation displayed a new aggressive posture in late 1942 and early 1943.

Messerschmitt Bf 109G-2 “Black 13” Gunther Rall 1942. Image Source: Pinterest

          Rall achieved his first successes over the Kuban on 21 March 1943 and by 30 April had claimed 126. In April 1943, he was promoted to Captain and on the 20th of that month scored the Geschwader‘s (British Group equivalent) 5,000th victory. In the first week of May, Rall claimed a Soviet-flown Supermarine Spitfire. After filling out and submitting the combat report Rall was told by his superiors to keep the encounter to himself lest it lower morale. Three weeks later he was credited with a 145th victory. Rall noted the improvement of Soviet pilot training and regarded the Kuban as the first serious test of the German fighter force on the Eastern Front.

Gunther Rall with his Unit Crew luftwaffe aces dog unit mascot JG 52 Russian front. Image Source: http://ww2images.blogspot.com/2013/07/gunther-rall-and-his-men-with-unit.html

Group Commander

          The German defences held in the Kuban in 1943, until the autumn. JG 52 moved north in preparation for Operation Citadel and the Battle of Kursk. Rall, who had already served as acting  group commander of III. Gruppe in February and March 1943, officially moved to this position on 5 July 1943. Rall had 42 aircraft under his command—two over the full complement of machines and pilots—35 were operational. Rall continued to claim enemy aircraft. On 8 July a two-man patrol with Erich Hartmann resulted in two claims, and a third for Rall. A Soviet after-battle analysis mentioned this specific engagement: “Eight Yak-1s in the Provorot region observed two Me 109s off their flight path. Paying no attention to the enemy aircraft our fighters continued. Seizing a convenient moment, the German fighters attacked our aircraft and shot down three Yak-1s.”

Yakovlev Yak-1. Image Source: Wikipedia

Force Landing and a Mid Air Collision

          On 9 July, following combat with Soviet fighters, Rall made a forced landing in his Bf 109 G-6 (Tail No. 20019) near Petrovka, north of Belgorod (North of Kharkiv). Four days later, a mid-air collision with a Lavochkin-Gorbunov-Gudkov LaGG-3 fighter resulted in another forced landing at Ugrim airfield. Rall claimed 21 air victories in July but the German offensive rapidly bogged down. The Red Army began a counteroffensive in the region to contain the German operation and destroy its forces (Operation Kutuzov and Operation Polkovodets Rumyantsev). Rall stated that after Kursk his pilots no longer believed the “Endsieg” (German for ultimate victory), though the German army managed to stabilise the front somewhat over the following weeks. On 3 August Rall’s group had only 22 operational Bf 109s from a total of 29; from its designated strength of 40 aircraft.

Lavochkin-Gorbunov-Gudkov LaGG-3. Image Source: Wikipedia

Claim Disputes

          The claims of fighter pilots on each side has often been disputed. The 2nd Air Army, responsible for defending the airspace opposite Stab. I. and III./JG 52 at the start of the battle, lost 153 fighters from 5 to 10 July 1943, representing 40 percent of initial strength. The Soviets admitted the loss of 1,000 aircraft in their “defensive” phase of the battle. In the first three days, till 8 July, Soviet records admit the loss of 566 aircraft while the Germans claimed 923; not all of the German claims were confirmed by their own side. The 17th Air Army, opposite II./JG 52,  were reduced to 706 aircraft from 1,052. At the beginning of the offensive the only fighter support for JG 52 came from II and III/JG 3.

Gunther Rall being Recieved after a flight Bf109 g4. Image Source: Archive: Messerschmitt Bf 10 http://www.flickr.com/photos/farinihouseoflove

Crosses 200 Victories – Third to Reach

          In August 1943 Rall claimed 33 aircraft shot down as JG 52 fought over Central Ukraine through the late summer. Rall claimed two Lavochkin-Gorbunov-Gudkov LaGG-3 fighters shot down on 29 August 1943 in the vicinity of Kuybyshev, present-day Samara, taking his total to 200 aerial victories. Following Hermann Graf and Hans Philipp, Rall was the third fighter pilot to reach the double century mark. This achievement earned him a named reference in the Wehrmachtbericht (Nazi propaganda communiqué) that day and on 12 September was also honored with the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords. He was the 34th member of the German armed forces to be so honored. The presentation was made by Hitler at the Wolf’s Lair, Hitler’s headquarters in Rastenburg on 22 September 1943. Three other Luftwaffe officers were presented with awards that day by Hitler, Major Hartmann Grasser and Hauptmann Heinrich Prinz zu Sayn-Wittgenstein were awarded the Oak Leaves, and Hauptmann Walter Nowotny also received the Swords to his Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves. Following the award ceremony, Rall went on vacation until the end of September.

Walter Nowotny. (258 Air Victories). Image Source: Wikipedia

Back To Air Victories after Short Leave -250th Mark

          On his return Rall immediately began where he left off, claiming Soviet aircraft consistently. Over the course of October 1943, he claimed exactly 40 aircraft; his first coming on the 1 October. The majority were claimed in the Southern Ukraine. With few exceptions, the enemy aircraft claimed were fighters. On 1 November 1943, Rall was promoted to the rank of Major, a rank he retained until the end of the war. In November claimed 12 aircraft and on the twenty-eighth day became the second fighter pilot after Nowotny to reach 250 aerial victories mark.

28 November 1943, Rall after his 250th aerial victory Congratulations. Image Source: ww2gravestone.com

Victories Start Slowing

          Rall filed his last claim of the year on 30 November. It was credited as his 252nd aerial victory. On 11 January 1944 Rall received the certification for the Oak Leaves and Swords, along with the medals from Hitler. In 1944 Rall continued to claim but at a slower rate. The Soviet Crimean Offensive opened on 8 April and five weeks later ended the German occupation in the Crimea. Rall claimed his 273rd and last aerial victory on the Eastern Front on 16 April 1944 over a Lavochkin La-5 fighter aircraft in the vicinity of Sevastopol.

Image Source: neunundzwanzigsechs.de/jungmaenner

Defence of the Reich – Heavy German Losses

          On 19 April 1944, Rall was transferred to JG 11—11th Fighter Wing, as a Group Commander II. Group of JG 11, flying on operations in Defence of the Reich. Rall led his unit against the bomber fleets of United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) Eighth Air Force. The purpose of his Bf 109-equipped group was to engage the American escorting fighters, to allow the slower, heavier, and well-armed Focke-Wulf Fw 190 “Sturmbock” (Battering Ram) aircraft to intercept the bombers. Within two weeks since Rall was in combat. On 29 April, he claimed a Lockheed P-38 Lightning shot down north of Hanover. That day the USAAF targeted Berlin with 679 heavy-bombers escorted by 814 fighter aircraft. The German day fighter force was beginning to falter under the pressure. General of Fighters Adolf Galland reported that from January–April 1944, that 1,000 German pilots had been killed or wounded; Rall would soon become one of them. 

Hartmann Grasser (103 victories), Walter Nowotny (258 victories), Günther Rall (275 victories), Heinrich Prinz zu Sayn-Wittgenstein (83 victories). Image Source: http://www.flying-tigers.co.uk

American “Zemke fan” Tactic

          On 12 May 1944, Rall was leading a formation of Bf 109s and bounced a flight of three P-47 Thunderbolts led by USAAF Colonel Hubert Zemke. Zemke was experimenting with a new tactic, the “Zemke fan”, in which independent flights scattered in front of the bombers in order to cover as much sky as possible, thereby maximising the chance of intercepting German fighters. Zemke’s flight had strayed too far in front of the bomber stream, and the fighters of JG 11 spotted an opening. The Zemke tactic left the four flights of P-47s isolated when a large numbers of Bf 109s were encountered.

Many Years Later. General Rall with USAAF Colonel Hubert Zemke. Image Source: planejunkie.com

Rall Gets Hit – Bails Out – Injured – Hospitalised

          Rall was flying at 36,000 ft (11,000 meters) without cabin heating or pressurization, and 10,000 ft above the Fw 190s. Rall attacked claiming a Thunderbolt. His formation was then ambushed by other P-47s. Rall dived to escape, but his Bf 109 could not out-dive the Thunderbolts, which were attacking in line-abreast, preventing him from turning left or right. Rall was near to 620 mph, but took hits in the engine and radiator by pilots of the 56th Fighter Group. Rall’s left thumb was hit, and after he cleared the ice from his windshield with his remaining good hand, he decided there was no escape, and bailed out. He landed in a tree on a steep slope, then rolled down it into a gully after releasing his parachute harness. By luck he avoided aggravating his earlier back injury and was tended to by farmers. Rall was hospitalised for many months in Nassau. Doctors found his thumb was attached only by skin and could not be saved. Rall credited the wound with saving his life as the Eighth Air Force established air superiority over Germany through the remainder of the war.

Rall’s damaged flying glove, which he wore when shot down in 1944 by American fighters, is now on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

High Losses for the Unit

          Rall’s unit succeeded in this battle, but at high cost. Besides Rall’s claim of one P-47, two P-51 Mustang’s were also claimed by other pilots. The group lost 11 Bf 109s, with two pilots killed and five wounded, and many aircraft were shot down.

Moves As Instructor

          In the autumn, 1944, Rall moved to Bad Wörishofen and became in instructor at the Training School for Unit Leaders. Part of this training involved flying captured Allied aircraft and preparing notes for student pilots on their capabilities and deficiencies. Rall flew in mock-combat with Bf 109s; specifically, he flew the Supermarine Spitfire, Lockheed P-38 Lightning, P-47 Thunderbolt, and the P-51 Mustang.

Tall guy on the right is General Gunther Rall. This was in the winter of 1944/1945. Image Source: Pinterest

Appointed Head of Fighter Wing 

          On 20 February 1945, he was appointed Geschwaderkommodore of  300th Fighter Wing, operating from airfields in southern Germany during the last months of the war. On his arrival Rall found 15 burning German fighters on the airfield, courtesy of a low-level P-51 attack. Rall reported the wing was in chaos, with no radar while fuel and food had to be sought from day to day. JG 300 withdrew in Salzburg in Austria as American and French forces advanced deep into southern Germany. Rall did not claim an enemy aircraft during his time with the wing.

Image Source: Pinterest

          On 2 March 1945 JG 300 flew with all four groups for the last time supported by JG 301. The two units sent 198 fighters to contest an American air raid. Only small groups reached the bombers but successes had no effect. JG 300 continued to fly and fight into 1945. On one mission the pilots claimed an optimistic total of 50 to 60 aircraft at the cost of 24 killed to the ever present USAAF fighter escorts while Rall was hospitalised again due to his wound.

Prisoner of War

          Rall remained in a prisoner of war camp for a few weeks. He was approached by the Americans who were recruiting Luftwaffe pilots who had experience with the Messerschmitt Me 262 fighter. He was transferred to Bovingdon near Hemel Hempstead, and then based at RAF Tangmere, where he met the RAF fighter pilot Robert Stanford Tuck, with whom he became close friends.

Wife’ Jewish Connection

          After his release as POW, Rall settled back into civilian life. In 1948 he visited England again. He accompanied Hertha Rall and stayed in Grosvenor Square with Dr Paul Kaspar and Jewish acquaintances, whom she had helped to escape from the Nazis. Rall knew of Hertha’s wartime Jewish connections and was concerned it would attract the attention of Nazi authorities. In 1943, Hertha was suspected of Jewish sympathies by the Gestapo, but no action was taken. By 1954 Hertha was physician at the Schule Schloss Salem, near Lake Constance. Rall became PA to the dean of Prince Georg Wilhelm of Hannover School.

About Nazi Crimes

          Of Nazi crimes, Rall acknowledged the pilots at the front knew of Nazi concentration camps but didn’t know exactly what they were used for. When he first heard of Auschwitz and the Holocaust, initially he believed it to be propaganda. Rall could not believe that Germans would do such things. The criminal nature of the Nazi Party did not occur to Rall when Hitler came to power; “The fact that we did not explore the essence of the Nazi regime when it came to power is, of course, one of our great failings.” 

Gunther Rall : Luftwaffe Ace and NATO General. Image Source: http://www.bookdepository.com

Rejoins German Air Force

          Rall rejoined the newly established West German military in 1956 and became one of the first cadre of officers in the German Air Force. Around 6,000 air veterans survived the war but only 160 were fit to fly through years of idleness. The Bundesluftwaffe was ten years behind the times in modern aviation experience. The German military cadre knew they would have to spend years as pupils before they could stand on their own.

Trains With USAF. Image Source: http://www.luftwaffe39-45.historia.nom.br/ases/rall.htm

Trains With USAF

          Rall was sent to the United States to train on modern jets. Rall, and the former Luftwaffe officers he trained with, aspired to make the Bundesluftwaffe a carbon copy of the United States Air Force (USAF). The future chief of staff commented on modern USAF training methods compared to the old, highly individualistic training program of the Nazi Luftwaffe: “The systematic and consistent American training methods were impressive. All in all, these methods were better, more efficient in view of the aircraft we were being trained to fly. Indeed, we were going to fly jets. For most of us this was a new era. The memories of flying the Me 262 were nostalgic for some of us but not a secure foundation you could build on.”

Rebuilding German Air Force. Image Source: http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB125548213064683963

Rebuilding German Air Force

          One of his tasks was to oversee modifications to the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter to comply with the requirement of the Bundeswehr, leading to the F-104G version. The accident rate of the new version was alarming when introduced in 1960. The machine was nicknamed the Witwenmacher (widow maker) after 292 crashes and 116 deaths. Officers like Erich Hartmann and Johannes Steinhoff believed the type too advanced for German pilots. Rall and Steinhoff thought it was a matter of training. They visited the United States to receive further training which reduced accidents when introduced to the German program. In particular, the training sought to address the fundamental change in role from high-altitude interceptor in the United States to fighter-bomber in Germany; and the radically different climate and weather conditions experienced at low altitudes by German pilots over Germany.

German Aces Gerhard “Gerd” Barkhorn (301), Erich Hartmann (352), Johannes “Macky” Steinhoff (176), Günther Rall (275). Image Source: ww2gravestone.com

Senior Command

          Rall received recommendations for senior commands by his then superior General Kurt Kuhlmey. Following his promotion to Brigadier General, he was appointed commander of the 3rd Air Force Division in Münster. Rall was then promoted to Major General on 15 November 1967 and on 1 April 1968 was given command of the 1st Air Force Division in Meßstetten. From 1 January 1971 to 31 March 1974, he held the position of Inspector of the Air Force and from 1 April 1974 to 13 October 1975, he was a military attaché with NATO.

Lt Gen Rall. Image Source: http://www.luftwaffe39-45.historia.nom.br/ases/rall.htm

India Visit

In May 1973, as part of a West German delegation he was sent by the designer Kurt Tank to witness a demonstration of the Marut.  He was reportedly quite impressed by the machine even as he was saddened by the fact that it never achieved its original supersonic dream.

Image and Information Source: https://marutfans.wordpress.com/2010/04/23/german-ace-gunther-rall/ By Polly Singh

Forced Retirement

          Rall’s forced retirement in 1975 was as a result of a controversial visit to apartheid-governed South Africa. Rall received a request from a German journalist, and former Bundesluftwaffe pilot, to attend a veterans meeting there. When news of the general’s ill-advised visit to Cape Town broke, German weekly magazine Stern claimed Rall held high-level meetings with South African officials and emphasised the personal nature of the trip. Despite its policy of apartheid, South Africa was seen as strategically important to NATO and the South Africans exploited Rall’s visit. The political embarrassment, following a concerted press campaign, encouraged Defence Minister Georg Leber to retire Rall in October 1975. Rall subsequently resigned as military attaché to NATO. By the end of his career, he attained the rank of Lieutenant General.

Lieutenant General Günther Rall with a Messerschmitt Bf 109 G-6. Image Source: Pinterest

 Summary of Service and Death

          Rall served from 1936 to 1945 (Last Rank Major) and later from 1956 to 1975 (Last rank Lt. General). He Commanded 8/JG 52, III.JG 52, II.JG 11, and II.JG 300. Of his wartime service, he said simply: “We fought for our country, and to stay alive”. Rall died at his home in Bad Reichenhall on 4 October 2009, aged 91, after suffering a heart attack two days earlier. He is buried at Friedhof Sankt Zeno, Bad Reichenhall, Berchtesgadener Land, Bavaria (Bayern), Germany

Burial Stone and Cemetery. Image Source: ww2gravestone.com

Memoir “Flight Log Book”

          His memoir Mein Flugbuch (“My Flight Logbook”) was released in 2004. Rall was interviewed in documentaries such as Thames Television’s The World at War, and was a contributor to the Wings documentary television series produced by the Discovery Channel.

Image Source: goodreads.com

Aerial Victories

          Matthews and Foreman, authors of Luftwaffe Aces — Biographies and Victory Claims, researched the German Federal Archives and found records for 274 aerial victory claims, plus one further unconfirmed claim. This number includes one victory over a French P-36, one victory over a U.S. P-38, and 272 Soviet-piloted aircraft on the Eastern Front. Victory claims were logged to a map-reference. During World War II Rall was credited with the destruction of 275 enemy aircraft in 621 combat missions. He was shot down five times and wounded on three occasions. Rall claimed all of his victories in a Messerschmitt Bf 109, though he also flew the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 operationally. All but three of his claims were against Soviet opposition. He was Ace-in-day on 03 May 1943, 20 August 1943 and 10 October 1943 (5 Victories each). There was only on unconfirmed claim of a 12 May 1944 against a P-47 for which he did not get credit. Over half his victims were in LaGG-3. His last credited Victory was on 29 April 1944, a P-38.

Image Source: Pinterest

Awards

  • Iron Cross (1939)
    • 2nd Class (23 May 1940)
    • 1st Class (July 1940)
  • Wound Badge (1939) in Gold
  • “Crete” Cuffband
  • Front Flying Clasp of the Luftwaffe for fighter pilots in Gold with penant “600”
  • Honour Goblet of the Luftwaffe on 17 November 1941 as Lieutenant
  • German Cross in Gold on 15 December 1941 as Lieutenantin the 8. JG 52
  • Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords
    • Knight’s Cross on 3 September 1942 in 8. JG 52
    • 134th Oak Leaves on 26 October 1942 as  Lieutenantin the 8. JG 52
    • 34th Swords on 12 September 1943 as Captain in the III/JG 52
  • Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (1973)

Published by Anil Chopra

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

3 thoughts on “Günther Rall – Third Highest scoring Air Ace of All Times – 275 Victories

  1. Gunther Rall, peacetime commissioned (September 1938), was involved in WWII from day one right to the very end. Shot down five times, force landed a countless number of times, seriously injured three times, bailed out with a thumb nearly shot off, and came right back to fly and fight. After a stint as a POW, rejoined the Luftwaffe to rise to No 2 position.

    That takes some doing and in a most understated manner sums it all up with a simple, “We fought for our country, and to stay alive”. Hats Off. This is genuine “Big B***s” stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

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