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Günther Rall

Günther Rall

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Lieutenant-General Günther Rall (10 March 1918 – 4 October 2009) was the third most successful fighter ace
Flying ace
A flying ace or fighter ace is a military aviator credited with shooting down several enemy aircraft during aerial combat. The actual number of aerial victories required to officially qualify as an "ace" has varied, but is usually considered to be five or more...

 in history. A flying ace or fighter ace is a military aviator
Military aviation
Military aviation is the use of aircraft and other flying machines for the purposes of conducting or enabling warfare, including national airlift capacity to provide logistical supply to forces stationed in a theater or along a front. Air power includes the national means of conducting such...

 credited with shooting down five or more enemy aircraft
Aircraft
An aircraft is a vehicle that is able to fly by gaining support from the air, or, in general, the atmosphere of a planet. An aircraft counters the force of gravity by using either static lift or by using the dynamic lift of an airfoil, or in a few cases the downward thrust from jet engines.Although...

 during aerial combat. He achieved a total of 275 victories during World War II: 272 on the Eastern Front
Eastern Front (World War II)
The Eastern Front of World War II was a theatre of World War II between the European Axis powers and co-belligerent Finland against the Soviet Union, Poland, and some other Allies which encompassed Northern, Southern and Eastern Europe from 22 June 1941 to 9 May 1945...

, of which 241 were against Soviet fighters. He flew a total of 621 combat missions, was shot down 8 times and was wounded 3 times. He fought in the invasion of France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

, the Battle of Britain
Battle of Britain
The Battle of Britain is the name given to the World War II air campaign waged by the German Air Force against the United Kingdom during the summer and autumn of 1940...

, in the Balkan Campaign and over Crete
Crete
Crete is the largest and most populous of the Greek islands, the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, and one of the thirteen administrative regions of Greece. It forms a significant part of the economy and cultural heritage of Greece while retaining its own local cultural traits...

. He began the conflict as a young Second Lieutenant
Second Lieutenant
Second lieutenant is a junior commissioned officer military rank in many armed forces.- United Kingdom and Commonwealth :The rank second lieutenant was introduced throughout the British Army in 1871 to replace the rank of ensign , although it had long been used in the Royal Artillery, Royal...

, and was a Major
Major
Major is a rank of commissioned officer, with corresponding ranks existing in almost every military in the world.When used unhyphenated, in conjunction with no other indicator of rank, the term refers to the rank just senior to that of an Army captain and just below the rank of lieutenant colonel. ...

 and Kommodore
Kommodore
Kommodore is a German rank equivalent to Commodore. Kommodore originated as a title used by some Captains in World War I. A German Commodore could hold any naval rank between Lieutenant and Captain and the title of Commodore was held by those officers who held tactical control over more than one...

of JG 300 at the surrender.

He claimed all of his victories in the Messerschmitt Bf 109
Messerschmitt Bf 109
The Messerschmitt Bf 109, often called Me 109, was a German World War II fighter aircraft designed by Willy Messerschmitt and Robert Lusser during the early to mid 1930s...

.

Early life


He was born in Gaggenau
Gaggenau
Gaggenau is a town in the district of Rastatt, in Baden-Württemberg, Germany. It is located some 8 km northeast of Baden-Baden.- Geography :...

, a small town in the Schwarzwald
Black Forest
The Black Forest is a wooded mountain range in Baden-Württemberg, southwestern Germany. It is bordered by the Rhine valley to the west and south. The highest peak is the Feldberg with an elevation of 1,493 metres ....

 (Blackforest) region in Germany, as a son of a businessman. He joined the Army
German Army
The German Army is the land component of the armed forces of the Federal Republic of Germany. Following the disbanding of the Wehrmacht after World War II, it was re-established in 1955 as the Bundesheer, part of the newly formed West German Bundeswehr along with the Navy and the Air Force...

 and became a Fähnrich
Fähnrich
Fähnrich is a German and Austrian military rank in armed forces which translates as "Ensign" in English. The rank also exists in a few other European military organizations, often with historical ties to the German system. Examples are Sweden, Norway and Finland . The French Army has a similar...

(junior officer) in 1936. He entered the War College in Dresden
Dresden
Dresden is the capital city of the Free State of Saxony in Germany. It is situated in a valley on the River Elbe, near the Czech border. The Dresden conurbation is part of the Saxon Triangle metropolitan area....

, where he was influenced by one of his best friends to join the Luftwaffe. He qualified as a pilot
Aviator
An aviator is a person who flies an aircraft. The first recorded use of the term was in 1887, as a variation of 'aviation', from the Latin avis , coined in 1863 by G. de la Landelle in Aviation Ou Navigation Aérienne...

 in 1938 and was posted to Jagdgeschwader 52
Jagdgeschwader 52
Jagdgeschwader 52 of the Luftwaffe, was the most successful fighter-wing of all time, with a claimed total of more than 10,000 victories over enemy aircraft during World War II. It was the unit of the top three scoring Fighter aces of all time, Erich Hartmann, Gerhard Barkhorn and Günther Rall...

 (JG 52), with the rank of Leutnant.

Battle of France


Rall first saw combat during the Battle of France
Battle of France
In the Second World War, the Battle of France was the German invasion of France and the Low Countries, beginning on 10 May 1940, which ended the Phoney War. The battle consisted of two main operations. In the first, Fall Gelb , German armoured units pushed through the Ardennes, to cut off and...

, and on 12 May 1940, he scored his first victory. Three French P-36 Hawk
P-36 Hawk
The Curtiss P-36 Hawk, also known as the Curtiss Hawk Model 75, was an American-designed and built fighter aircraft of the 1930s and 40s. A contemporary of both the Hawker Hurricane and Messerschmitt Bf 109, it was one of the first of a new generation of combat aircraft—a sleek monoplane design...

 fighters were attacking a German reconnaissance aircraft at a height of 26,000 feet. Rall "bounced" them and shot down one. He later said:
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.


On 18 May he shot down another P-36 piloted by Czech pilot Otto Hanzlicek of GC II/5, who survived the engagement.

Battle of Britain


Later JG 52 was moved to Calais
Calais
Calais is a town in Northern France in the department of Pas-de-Calais, of which it is a sub-prefecture. Although Calais is by far the largest city in Pas-de-Calais, the department's capital is its third-largest city of Arras....

 where it took part in the Battle of Britain
Battle of Britain
The Battle of Britain is the name given to the World War II air campaign waged by the German Air Force against the United Kingdom during the summer and autumn of 1940...

. Due to heavy losses in the unit, he was given command as a Staffelkapitän
Staffelkapitän
Staffelkapitän is a position in flying units of the German Luftwaffe that is the equivalent of RAF/USAF Squadron Commander. Usually today a Staffelkapitän is of Oberstleutnant or Major rank....

of 8./JG 52For an explanation of the meaning of Luftwaffe unit designation see Luftwaffe Organization
Luftwaffe Organization
Between 1933 and 1945, the organization of the Luftwaffe underwent several changes. Originally, the German military high command decided to use an organizational structure similar to the army and navy, treating the branch as a strategic weapon of war...

on 25 July 1940 and was promoted to Oberleutnant
Oberleutnant
Oberleutnant is a junior officer rank in the militaries of Germany, Switzerland and Austria. In the German Army, it dates from the early 19th century. Translated as "Senior Lieutenant", the rank is typically bestowed upon commissioned officers after five to six years of active duty...

a week later, on 1 August 1940. He fought with JG 52 over Britain until the unit was withdrawn to replace losses.

Battles of Yugoslavia and Greece


Rall then took part in the Balkans Campaign in the spring of 1941. He also partook in Operation Merkur, the airborne invasion and subsequent Battle of Crete
Battle of Crete
The Battle of Crete was a battle during World War II on the Greek island of Crete. It began on the morning of 20 May 1941, when Nazi Germany launched an airborne invasion of Crete under the code-name Unternehmen Merkur...

 in June 1941. After the successful conclusion of Merkur, JG 52 was transferred back to Romania to help defend the oil fields there from Soviet bombers.

Eastern front


During Operation Barbarossa
Operation Barbarossa
Operation Barbarossa was the code name for Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II that began on 22 June 1941. Over 4.5 million troops of the Axis powers invaded the USSR along a front., the largest invasion in the history of warfare...

, Rall found repeated opportunity for combat, scoring his third, fourth and fifth victories in three days of June 1941. During a five day period, Rall and his Staffel destroyed some 50 Soviet aircraft. He had 12 victories in October. JG 52 was then attached to the operations of Heeresgruppe Süd
Army Group South
Army Group South was the name of a number of German Army Groups during World War II.- Poland campaign :Germany used two army groups to invade Poland in 1939: Army Group North and Army Group South...

and continued operating on the southern flank of the Eastern Front.

On 28 November 1941 Rall shot down his 37th victim, but was himself shot down. He tried to fly to the German lines with a badly damaged engine, but he crash landed and was knocked out. A German tank crew rescued him from the wreck. X-rays revealed he had broken his back in three places. Doctors told Rall he was finished as a pilot and transferred him to a hospital in Vienna
Vienna
Vienna is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Austria and one of the nine states of Austria. Vienna is Austria's primary city, with a population of about 1.723 million , and is by far the largest city in Austria, as well as its cultural, economic, and political centre...

 in December 1941. Despite the diagnosis, which said he would not be able to walk again, Rall defied the odds and returned to combat almost a year later. During his treatment he met a Dr. Hertha Schön, whom he later married in 1943.
He came back to its 8./JG.52 on 28 August 1942. From August to November Rall claimed another 38 victories, bringing his total to 101. On 3 September 1942, Rall was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was a grade of the 1939 version of the 1813 created Iron Cross . The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was the highest award of Germany to recognize extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership during World War II...

 (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes). On 26 November 1942 he was given the Eichenlaub to his Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes by Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

 personally. In April 1943, he was promoted to Hauptmann
Hauptmann
Hauptmann is a German word usually translated as captain when it is used as an officer's rank in the German, Austrian and Swiss armies. While "haupt" in contemporary German means "main", it also has the dated meaning of "head", i.e...

and on the 20th of that month scored the Geschwader's 5000th kill.

He was appointed Gruppenkommandeur
Gruppenkommandeur
Gruppenkommandeur is a Luftwaffe position , that is the equivalent of a commander of a group or wing in other air forces. Gruppenkommandeur usually has the rank of Hauptmann or Major, and commands a Gruppe, which is a sub-division of a Geschwader. A Gruppe usually consists of three or four...

of III./JG 52 on 6 July 1943. On 7 August 1943 he logged his 150th victory, with his 200th coming near the end of September, for which he was awarded the Schwerter to his Ritterkreuz. In October 1943, Rall had his best month, downing 40 aircraft. A month later, he became only the second pilot (after Walter Nowotny
Walter Nowotny
Major Walter "Nowi" Nowotny was an Austrian-born German fighter ace of World War II. He is credited with 258 aerial victories in 442 combat missions...

) to achieve 250 kills. During 1943, Rall was credited with 151 enemy aircraft destroyed, a figure exceeded only by Nowotny (196) and Hermann Graf
Hermann Graf
Colonel Hermann Graf was a German Luftwaffe World War II fighter ace. A flying ace or fighter ace is a military aviator credited with shooting down five or more enemy aircraft during aerial combat. He served on both the Eastern and Western Fronts...

 (160).

Defence of the Reich


On 19 April 1944, Rall was transferred to Jagdgeschwader 11
Jagdgeschwader 11
Jagdgeschwader 11 was a German fighter wing of the Luftwaffe during World War II. Its primary role was the defense of Northern Germany against Allied day bomber raids...

 (JG 11), where he took up position as Gruppenkommandeur of II./JG 11. JG 11 was tasked with Reichsverteidigung (Defence of the Reich) and Rall led his unit against the bomber fleets of Eighth Air Force
Eighth Air Force
The Eighth Air Force is a numbered air force of the United States Air Force Global Strike Command . It is headquartered at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana....

. On 1 May 1944, Rall was promoted to major
Major (United States)
In the United States Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps, major is a field grade military officer rank just above the rank of captain and just below the rank of lieutenant colonel...

, a rank he retained until the end of the war. On 12 May 1944, Rall was leading a Staffel of Bf 109s and bounced a flight of three P-47 Thunderbolt
P-47 Thunderbolt
Republic Aviation's P-47 Thunderbolt, also known as the "Jug", was the largest, heaviest, and most expensive fighter aircraft in history to be powered by a single reciprocating engine. It was heavily armed with eight .50-caliber machine guns, four per wing. When fully loaded, the P-47 weighed up to...

s led by Col. Hubert Zemke
Hubert Zemke
Colonel Hubert A. "Hub" Zemke was a career officer in the United States Air Force, a fighter pilot in World War II, and a leading USAAF ace...

, shooting down two. His own squadron was then attacked by other P-47s arriving at the engagement, and he was shot down by pilots of the 56th Fighter Group. Rall had a thumb shot off and was hospitalized for many months because of the onset of infections.

Rall became an instructor, and studied several American planes that had fallen into the possession of the Luftwaffe to find their strengths and weaknesses to find better strategies to teach his students. He flew the P-51 and was amazed at the luxury and quality of the American planes. He found they were spacious, heated, had armoured plate protection, and used materials and equipment that had been long unavailable to Germany. He explained that being unable to fly in combat probably saved his life at a time when Germany was totally outnumbered and the chances of staying alive were drastically dropping. However, he returned to active duty in November.

His last posting was with Jagdgeschwader 300
Jagdgeschwader 300
Jagdgeschwader 300 was a Luftwaffe fighter-wing of World War II. JG 300 was formed on June 26, 1943 in Deelen as Stab/Versuchskommando Herrmann, from July 18, 1943 as Stab/JG Herrmann, and then finally redesignated on August 20, 1943 to Stab/JG 300...

 (JG 300), operating from a variety of airfields in southern Germany during the last months of the war. Lack of supplies prevented most planes from going on missions, and the fast progress of the Allies forced his squadron to move several times and it is unlikely that he saw much combat action during this period. Towards the very last days of the war he asked the men in his command to try to stay alive rather than carry out senseless actions. He felt it was his responsibility as a leader to try to save the few lives that he could as the war was virtually over and its outcome could not be reversed. He was taken prisoner by American forces after the fighting in Germany ended.

Rall said of the campaign of 1943-1945:
In my experience, the Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force
The Royal Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Formed on 1 April 1918, it is the oldest independent air force in the world...

 pilot was the most aggressive and capable fighter pilot during the Second World War. This is nothing against the Americans, because they came in late and in such large numbers that we don't have an accurate comparison. We were totally outnumbered when the Americans engaged, whereas at the time of the Battle of Britain the fight was more even and you could compare. The British were extremely good.

After the war



Whilst in a prisoner of war camp near Heidelberg, Rall was approached by the Americans who were gathering Luftwaffe pilots who had experience with the Messerschmitt Me 262
Messerschmitt Me 262
The Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe was the world's first operational jet-powered fighter aircraft. Design work started before World War II began, but engine problems prevented the aircraft from attaining operational status with the Luftwaffe until mid-1944...

 fighter. Rall was transferred to Bovingdon
Bovingdon
Bovingdon is a large village in the Chiltern Hills, in Hertfordshire, England, four miles south-west of Hemel Hempstead and it is a civil parish within the local authority area of Dacorum...

 near Hemel Hempstead
Hemel Hempstead
Hemel Hempstead is a town in Hertfordshire in the East of England, to the north west of London and part of the Greater London Urban Area. The population at the 2001 Census was 81,143 ....

. Rall was then based at RAF Tangmere
RAF Tangmere
RAF Tangmere was a Royal Air Force station famous for its role in the Battle of Britain, located at Tangmere village about 3 miles east of Chichester in West Sussex, England. American RAF pilot Billy Fiske died at Tangmere and was the first American aviator to die during World War II...

, where he met the RAF ace Robert Stanford Tuck
Robert Stanford Tuck
Wing Commander Roland Robert Stanford Tuck DSO, DFC & Two Bars, AFC was a British fighter pilot and test pilot.Tuck joined the RAF in 1935. Tuck first engaged in combat during the Battle of France, over Dunkirk, claiming his first victories...

, with whom he reportedly became close friends.

Returning to post-war Germany, he was unable to find work. Rall started a small wood cutting business in the forest. He eventually joined Siemens
Siemens
Siemens may refer toSiemens, a German family name carried by generations of telecommunications industrialists, including:* Werner von Siemens , inventor, founder of Siemens AG...

 as a representative, leaving in 1953. Rall rejoined the military in 1956, after meeting a wartime friend and Luftwaffe pilot who insisted on him flying again. He rejoined and continued his career in the new Luftwaffe der Bundeswehr after the re-militarization of West Germany in 1955. One of his tasks was to oversee the engineering development made to the F-104 fighter to comply with the requirement of the Bundeswehr before their acquisition, and this led to the F-104G version. He insisted on the replacement of the ejection seat for safety concerns.

From 1 January 1971 to 31 March 1973, he held the position of Inspekteur der Luftwaffe der Bundeswehr
Bundeswehr
The Bundeswehr consists of the unified armed forces of Germany and their civil administration and procurement authorities...

 and from 1 April 1974 to 13 October 1975, he was a military attaché
Military attaché
A military attaché is a military expert who is attached to a diplomatic mission . This post is normally filled by a high-ranking military officer who retains the commission while serving in an embassy...

 with NATO.

His enforced retirement in 1975 was as a result of a controversial three-week visit to South Africa, where he hosted meetings with South African politicians about which his Air Force superiors claimed to be unaware of. The "private" nature of this visit was later publicised by German weekly magazine Stern
Stern (magazine)
Stern is a weekly news magazine published in Germany. It was founded in 1948 by Henri Nannen, and is currently published by Gruner + Jahr, a subsidiary of Bertelsmann. In the first quarter of 2006, its print run was 1.019 million copies and it reached 7.84 million readers according to...

. South Africa, despite its apartheid regime, was seen as strategically important to NATO and although the visit was thought to be officially sanctioned, the political embarrassment following the concerted press campaign meant Defence Minister Georg Leber
Georg Leber
Georg Leber is a German politician in the Social Democratic Party of Germany .After serving in the Luftwaffe in World War 2, he joined the SPD in 1947...

 was forced to retire Rall in October 1975.

By the end of his career he attained the rank of Generalleutnant. In 2004 he wrote his memoir, Mein Flugbuch ("My Flightbook").

Death


Rall died at his home in Germany on 4 October 2009, aged 91, after suffering a heart attack
Myocardial infarction
Myocardial infarction or acute myocardial infarction , commonly known as a heart attack, results from the interruption of blood supply to a part of the heart, causing heart cells to die...

 two days earlier.

Awards


  • Ehrenpokal der Luftwaffe
    Ehrenpokal der Luftwaffe
    The Ehrenpokal der Luftwaffe was a Luftwaffe award established on February 27, 1940 by Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring, the Reich Minister of Aviation and Commander in Chief of the Luftwaffe. It was officially known as the Ehrenpokal "für besondere Leistung im Luftkrieg", or Honor Goblet "For...

     (17 November 1941)
  • Combined Pilots-Observation Badge
    Combined Pilots-Observation Badge
    Combined Pilots-Observation Badge was a German military award instituted on 26 March 1936 by the Commander in Chief of the Luftwaffe Hermann Göring to commemorate soldiers or servicemen who had already been awarded the Pilot's badge or Observer badge...

  • Iron Cross
    Iron Cross
    The Iron Cross is a cross symbol typically in black with a white or silver outline that originated after 1219 when the Kingdom of Jerusalem granted the Teutonic Order the right to combine the Teutonic Black Cross placed above a silver Cross of Jerusalem....

     (1939)
    • 2nd Class (23 May 1940)
    • 1st Class (July 1940)
  • Wound Badge
    Wound Badge
    Wound Badge was a German military award for wounded or frost-bitten soldiers of Imperial German Army in World War I, the Reichswehr between the wars, and the Wehrmacht, SS and the auxiliary service organizations during the Second World War. After March 1943, due to the increasing number of Allied...

     (1939) in Gold
  • German Cross
    German Cross
    The German Cross was instituted by Adolf Hitler on 17 November 1941 as an award ranking higher than the Iron Cross First Class but below the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross respectively ranking higher than the War Merit Cross First Class with Swords but below the Knight's Cross of the War Merit...

     in Gold on 15 December 1941 as Oberleutnant
    Oberleutnant
    Oberleutnant is a junior officer rank in the militaries of Germany, Switzerland and Austria. In the German Army, it dates from the early 19th century. Translated as "Senior Lieutenant", the rank is typically bestowed upon commissioned officers after five to six years of active duty...

    in the 8./JG 52
  • "Crete" Cuffband
    Cuff title
    A cuff title is a form of insignia placed on the sleeve, near the cuff of German military and paramilitary uniforms, most commonly seen in the Second World War but also seen postwar....

  • Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords
    Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross
    The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was a grade of the 1939 version of the 1813 created Iron Cross . The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was the highest award of Germany to recognize extreme battlefield bravery or successful military leadership during World War II...

    • Knight's Cross on 4 September 1942 as Oberleutnant
      Oberleutnant
      Oberleutnant is a junior officer rank in the militaries of Germany, Switzerland and Austria. In the German Army, it dates from the early 19th century. Translated as "Senior Lieutenant", the rank is typically bestowed upon commissioned officers after five to six years of active duty...

      and pilot in the III./JG 52
    • 134th Oak Leaves on 26 October 1942 as Oberleutnant and Staffelkapitän
      Staffelkapitän
      Staffelkapitän is a position in flying units of the German Luftwaffe that is the equivalent of RAF/USAF Squadron Commander. Usually today a Staffelkapitän is of Oberstleutnant or Major rank....

      of the 8./JG 52
    • 34th Swords on 12 September 1943 as Hauptmann
      Hauptmann
      Hauptmann is a German word usually translated as captain when it is used as an officer's rank in the German, Austrian and Swiss armies. While "haupt" in contemporary German means "main", it also has the dated meaning of "head", i.e...

      and Gruppenkommandeur
      Gruppenkommandeur
      Gruppenkommandeur is a Luftwaffe position , that is the equivalent of a commander of a group or wing in other air forces. Gruppenkommandeur usually has the rank of Hauptmann or Major, and commands a Gruppe, which is a sub-division of a Geschwader. A Gruppe usually consists of three or four...

      in the III./JG 52
  • Front Flying Clasp of the Luftwaffe
    Front Flying Clasp of the Luftwaffe
    The Front Flying Clasp of the Luftwaffe was awarded in Bronze, Silver, and Gold with upgrade possible to include diamonds. Pennants suspended from the clasp indicated the number of missions obtained in a given type of aircraft...

     for fighter pilots in Gold with penant "600"
  • Mentioned two times in the Wehrmachtbericht
    Wehrmachtbericht
    The Wehrmachtbericht was a daily radio report on the Großdeutscher Rundfunk of Nazi Germany, published by the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht regarding the military situation on all fronts of World War II....

  • "Honorary Fellow" Society of Experimental Test Pilots
    Society of Experimental Test Pilots
    The Society of Experimental Test Pilots is an international organization that seeks to promote air safety and contributes to aeronautical advancement by promoting sound aeronautical design and development; interchanging ideas, thoughts and suggestions of the members, assisting in the professional...

    (SETP)
  • Großes Bundesverdienstkreuz mit Stern (1973)

External links