Gunther Rall - Biography
The words of Gunther Rall
Born on 10 March 1918 in Gaggenau, in the Black Forest, I began my military career in 1936 as a potential infantry officer. After graduation from the Officers’ School in Dresden, I transferred to the Luftwaffe in 1938 for flying training in Munich, There I flew the Fw 44 Stieglitz biplane, the He 44 Kadett and the Bu 44 Jungmann, receiving my pilots’ wings in early 1939.
Having qualified as a fighter pilot, I was posted to II./JG 52 to fly the Me 109E from Boblingen, near Stuttgart. In early 1940, I was transferred to the newly established III. Gruppe to join 8 Squadron, and it was here, on 18 May 1940, that I scored my first victory over a French Curtiss P36.
From June 1940 we moved to Coquelles, near Calais, in order to fly missions against English Channel ports and convoys. We were an inexperienced unit and suffered heavy losses. After only a few missions, I was promoted to command 8 Squadron. Our Gruppe was later withdrawn to replace losses and then posted to Bucharest, in Romania, to protect oil fields and refineries.
In May 1941, I flew in support of the attack on Crete and then returned to Romania. At the outbreak of the Russian Campaign, we were re-equipped with the Me 109F and went on the offensive and, operating from Romania on the Black Sea, my squadron concentrated on Russian bombers, shooting down nearly 50 in one week. Later, I participated in the German attack through the Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula towards Taganrog.
On 28 November 1941, after achieving my 36th victory, I was shot down and crashed in darkness, breaking my spine in 3 places, which left my right leg paralysed. I was hospitalised in Vienna until August 1942 and in November married my medical doctor.
Returning to 8./JG 52, I took part in the attack on Rostov and the fighting in the Caucasus, reaching my 100th victory in October 1942, for which I received the Oak Leaves to the Knight’s Cross. I then took part in the attack on Stalingrad before my unit withdrew to Nikolajew for refurbishment. Later, taking part in the fighting at the Crimean Peninsula and the so-called Cuban Bridgehead, I had my first contact in the East with Western built Spitfires, Airacobras and Boston bombers.
From April 1943 to March 1944, I served as Kommandeur of III./JG 52 where, on 29 August 1943, I gained my 200th victory, for which I received the Swords to the Knight’s Cross. It was during this period that I received my second injury, this time to my head, when a Russian fighter shot away my cockpit canopy.
After reaching 250 victories in the East I was posted to the Western Front to command II./JG 11 where we flew high altitude interception attacks on US daylight bombing raids, flying specially equipped Me 109Gs. It was here that I received my third injury, in May 1944, when I was shot down by a P-47 and forced to bail out. This time, my left thumb was shot off the throttle of my aircraft This later became infected and I spent 6 months in hospital before taking command of the Fighter Leader School in November 1944.
My early commands were all in JG 52, firstly with 8 Squadron and then III. Gruppe. With JG 52, I participated in the battles for France, Britain, Romania, Greece, Crete and Russia over a total of 5 years.
JG 52 became the most successful wing in the Luftwaffe and later produced three Chiefs of Air Staff in the new German Air Force: Generals Steinhoff, Obleser and myself. Other well known Generals, such as Walter Krupinski, Gerhard Barkhorn and Dieter Hrabak were also members. It also produced the world’s 3 highest scoring pilots, Colonel “Bubi” Hartmann, General Barkhorn and myself.
In March 1945, I took command of JG 300, flying the Me 109G and a few missions in the Fw 190D. When I was taken into captivity by the US Army, I had flown 621 missions, been shot down 8 times and achieved 275 aerial victories. In 1956, I rejoined the new Luftwaffe and eventually became Chief of Air Staff in 1974, with the rank of Generalleutnant.
Aircraft flown in combat
During my 6 year combat career, I flew the Me 109 models E to G and many sub-variants that were produced for special roles. Having flown this aircraft in both East and West, in great extremes of temperature and in several different roles, I really felt at home with it, although I recognised its limitations. These were its limited range, the poor all- round visibility it afforded, its high and narrow undercarriage configuration, which resulted in many accidents, and its need for wing leading edge slats.
I also flew the Fw 190, Me 110 and Me 262, although not in combat. Near the end of the war, when with JG 300 we were equipped with the long-nosed Fw 190D, which was powered by the high performance, water-cooled Jumo 213 engine which, with water/methanol injection, gave it an excellent performance, particularly at high altitude. However, it appeared too late to have any significant effect on the fighting.
At the Fighter Leader School, I also had the opportunity to fly the P-38, P-51 and Spitfire IX and was particularly impressed with the longevity of their engines against our own.