Günther Rall with his Ritterkreuz
10 March 1918|
Gaggenau, Baden, German Empire
|Died||4 October 2009
|Allegiance|| Nazi Germany
|Service/branch|| Luftwaffe (Wehrmacht)
|Years of service||1936 – 1945
1956 – 1975
Lieutenant General (Bundeswehr)
|Unit||JG 52, JG 11 and JG 300|
|Commands held||Gruppenkommandeur III./JG 52 and II./JG 11|
World War II
|Awards||Ritterkreuz mit Eichenlaub und Schwertern
|Other work||Inspekteur der Luftwaffe der Bundeswehr, NATO military attaché|
Lieutenant-General Günther Rall (10 March 1918 – 4 October 2009) was the third most successful fighter ace in history. He achieved a total of 275 victories during World War II: 272 on the Eastern Front, 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, the Battle of Britain, in the Balkan Campaign and over Crete. He began the conflict as a young Second Lieutenant, and was a Major and Geschwaderkommodore of JG 300 at the surrender.  He claimed all of his victories in the Messerschmitt Bf 109.
He was born in Gaggenau, a small town in the Schwarzwald (Blackforest) region in Germany, as a son of a businessman. He joined the Army and became a Fähnrich (officer candidate) in 1936. He entered the War College in Dresden, where he was influenced by one of his best friends to join the Luftwaffe. He qualified as a pilot in 1938 and was posted to Jagdgeschwader 52 (JG 52—52nd Fighter Wing), with the rank of Leutnant (second lieutenant).
World War II
Battle of France
Rall first saw combat during the Battle of France, and on 12 May 1940, he scored his first victory. Three French P-36 Hawk 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.
Battle of Britain
Later JG 52 was moved to Calais where it took part in the Battle of Britain. Due to heavy losses in the unit, he was given command as a Staffelkapitän of 8./JG 52[Note 1] on 25 July 1940 and was promoted to Oberleutnant 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 He fought with JG 52 over Britain until the unit was withdrawn to replace losses.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 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.
During Operation Barbarossa, 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 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 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 (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes). On 26 November 1942 he was given the Eichenlaub to his Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes by Adolf Hitler personally. In April 1943, he was promoted to Hauptmann and on the 20th of that month scored the Geschwader's 5000th kill.
He was appointed Gruppenkommandeur 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) to achieve 250 kills. During 1943, Rall was credited with 151 enemy aircraft destroyed, a figure exceeded only by Nowotny (196) and Hermann Graf (160). On 1 November 1943, Rall was promoted to major, a rank he retained until the end of the war.
Defence of the Reich
On 19 April 1944, Rall was transferred to Jagdgeschwader 11 (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. On 12 May 1944, Rall was leading a Staffel of Bf 109s and bounced a flight of three P-47 Thunderbolts led by Col. Hubert Zemke, 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 (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 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 fighter. Rall was transferred to Bovingdon near Hemel Hempstead. Rall was then based at RAF Tangmere, where he met the RAF ace Robert Stanford Tuck, 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 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.
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, of which his Air Force superiors claimed to be unaware. The "private" nature of this visit was later publicised by German weekly magazine Stern. 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 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"). Rall was interviewed in documentaries such as Thames The World at War, and was a contributor to the Wings series produced by Discovery Channel.
Rall died at his home in Germany on 4 October 2009, aged 91, after suffering a heart attack two days earlier.
- Ehrenpokal der Luftwaffe (17 November 1941)
- Combined Pilots-Observation Badge
- Iron Cross (1939)
- Wound Badge (1939) in Gold
- German Cross in Gold on 15 December 1941 as Oberleutnant in the 8./JG 52
- "Crete" Cuffband
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords
- Front Flying Clasp of the Luftwaffe for fighter pilots in Gold with penant "600"
- Mentioned two times in the Wehrmachtbericht
- "Honorary Fellow" Society of Experimental Test Pilots (SETP)
- Großes Bundesverdienstkreuz mit Stern (1973)
|Date||Original German Wehrmachtbericht wording||Direct English translation|
|29 August 1943||Hauptmann Rall, Führer einer Jagdfliegergruppe, errang am 28. August seinen 200. Luftsieg.||Captain Rall, leader of a fighter group, achieved his 200th aerial victory on 28 August.|
|30 November 1943||Major Rall, Gruppenkommandeur in einem Jagdgeschwader, errang am 28. November an der Ostfront seinen 250. Luftsieg||Major Rall, group commander of a fighter wing, achieved his 250th aerial victory on the Eastern Front on 28 November 1943.|
- Günther Rall @ FAZ
- Kaplan 2007, p. 66
- Toliver 1996 p. 136.
- Kaplan 2007, p. 61
- Aces of the Luftwaffe
- Kaplan 2007, p. 62
- Kaplan 2007, p. 63
- Kaplan 2007, p. 64
- Weal 2002, p.67.
- Kaplan 2007, p. 65
- Weal 2001 p. 67
- Weal 2001, p. 93
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- Telegraph 11th Oct 2009
- Obermaier 1989, p. 33
- Berger 2000, p. 277.
- Thomas 1998, p. 181.
- Patzwall and Scherzer 2001, p. 365.
- Fellgiebel 2000, p. 349.
- Scherzer 2007, p. 612
- Fellgiebel 2000, pp. 62, 476.
- Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 2, p. 550
- Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 2, p. 617
- Amadio, Jill (2002). Günther Rall – a memoir – Luftwaffe Ace & NATO General. Tangmere Productions. ISBN 0-9715533-0-0.
- Berger, Florian (1999). Mit Eichenlaub und Schwertern. Die höchstdekorierten Soldaten des Zweiten Weltkrieges [With Oak Leaves and Swords. The Highest Decorated Soldiers of the Second World War] (in German). Vienna, Austria: Selbstverlag Florian Berger. ISBN 978-3-9501307-0-6.
- Fellgiebel, Walther-Peer (2000). Die Träger des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939–1945 – Die Inhaber der höchsten Auszeichnung des Zweiten Weltkrieges aller Wehrmachtsteile [The Bearers of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939–1945 — The Owners of the Highest Award of the Second World War of all Wehrmacht Branches] (in German). Friedberg, Germany: Podzun-Pallas. ISBN 978-3-7909-0284-6.
- Kaplan, Philip (2007). Fighter Aces of the Luftwaffe in World War II. Auldgirth, Dumfriesshire, UK: Pen & Sword Aviation. ISBN 1-84415-460-2.
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- Patzwall, Klaus D.; Scherzer, Veit (2001). Das Deutsche Kreuz 1941 – 1945 Geschichte und Inhaber Band II [The German Cross 1941 – 1945 History and Recipients Volume 2] (in German). Norderstedt, Germany: Verlag Klaus D. Patzwall. ISBN 978-3-931533-45-8.
- Schaulen, Fritjof (2005). Eichenlaubträger 1940 – 1945 Zeitgeschichte in Farbe III Radusch – Zwernemann (in German). Selent, Germany: Pour le Mérite. ISBN 3-932381-22-X.
- Scherzer, Veit (2007). Die Ritterkreuzträger 1939–1945 Die Inhaber des Ritterkreuzes des Eisernen Kreuzes 1939 von Heer, Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm sowie mit Deutschland verbündeter Streitkräfte nach den Unterlagen des Bundesarchives [The Knight's Cross Bearers 1939–1945 The Holders of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross 1939 by Army, Air Force, Navy, Waffen-SS, Volkssturm and Allied Forces with Germany According to the Documents of the Federal Archives] (in German). Jena, Germany: Scherzers Miltaer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-938845-17-2.
- Spick, Mike (1996). Luftwaffe Fighter Aces. New York: Ivy Books. ISBN 978-0-8041-1696-1.
- Thomas, Franz (1998). Die Eichenlaubträger 1939–1945 Band 2: L–Z [The Oak Leaves Bearers 1939–1945 Volume 2: L–Z] (in German). Osnabrück, Germany: Biblio-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-7648-2300-9.
- Toliver, J. Constable & Toliver, F. Raymond. Fighter Aces of the Lufwaffe. Atglen: PA, Schiffer Military/Aviation History, 1996. ISBN 0-88740-909-1.
- Weal, John (2001). Bf 109 Aces of the Russian Front. Oxford, UK: Osprey. ISBN 1-84176-084-6.
- Weal, John (2002). German Aces of the Russian Front. Oxford, Uk: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1-84176-620-8.
- Die Wehrmachtberichte 1939–1945 Band 2, 1. Januar 1942 bis 31. Dezember 1943 (in German). München: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag GmbH & Co. KG, 1985. ISBN 3-423-05944-3.
- Media related to Günther Rall at Wikimedia Commons
- Günther Rall in the German National Library catalogue
- An interview from 2003 with photos, some biographical information
- A detailed account of his crash landing in November 1941
- A historynet interview with Rall
- short biography at the official website of the Luftwaffe (Bundeswehr)
- Günther Rall's obituary
- Gunther Rall – Daily Telegraph obituary
- Günther Rall receiving the Swords on YouTube
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