Günther Rall

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Günther Rall
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-J1112-0206-004, Günther Rall.jpg
Rall in the early 1970s
Born(1918-03-10)10 March 1918
Gaggenau, German Empire
Died4 October 2009(2009-10-04) (aged 91)
Bad Reichenhall, Germany
  •  Nazi Germany
  •  West Germany
Service years
  • 1936–45
  • 1956–75
Commands held
WarsWorld War II
German Representative to the NATO Military Committee
In office
Preceded byPeter von Butler
Succeeded byHerbert Trebesch
Inspector of the Air Force
In office
Preceded byJohannes Steinhoff
Succeeded byGerhard Limberg

Günther Rall (10 March 1918 – 4 October 2009) was a German fighter pilot during World War II and the third most successful flying ace in the history of aerial warfare, achieving a total of 275 victories—272 of which were on the Eastern Front and 241 of which were against Soviet fighters.

He flew a total of 621 combat missions, was shot down eight times,[1] and wounded three times. He fought in the Battle of France, the Battle of Britain, the Balkan Campaign, and the Battle of Crete. By the end of the war, he had reached the rank of major and commanded the Jagdgeschwader 300. He claimed all of his victories in a Messerschmitt Bf 109.

He 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 from 1974 to 1975.

World War II[edit]

Rall was posted to Jagdgeschwader 52 (JG 52—52nd Fighter Wing) of the Luftwaffe in July 1938.[citation needed] He first saw combat during the Battle of France, and on 12 May 1940, he scored 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 "bounced" 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."[2]

JG 52 was later moved to Calais, where it took part in the Battle of Britain. Due to heavy losses, he was given command as a Staffelkapitän of 8. Staffel of JG 52[3][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 He fought with JG 52 over Britain until the unit was withdrawn to replace losses. 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.[4]

Eastern Front[edit]

Knight's Cross portrait

During Operation Barbarossa, Rall scored 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 scored 12 victories in October. JG 52 was then attached to the operations of Army Group South and continued operating on the southern flank of the Eastern Front.

On 28 November 1941, Rall scored his 37th victory, but was shot down himself. 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. 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. 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.[5]

He came back to 8./JG 52 on 28 August 1942.[6] From August to November, Rall claimed another 38 victories, bringing his total to 101. On 3 September, Rall was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes).[7] On 22 October, Rall was credited with his 100th aerial victory. He was the 28th Luftwaffe pilot to achieve the century mark.[8] On 26 November, he was personally awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves (Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub) by Adolf Hitler.

In April 1943, he was promoted to Hauptmann and on the 20th of that month scored the Geschwader's 5,000th kill.[9] He was appointed group commander of III/JG 52 on 6 July. On 1 November, Rall was promoted to the rank of Major, a rank he retained until the end of the war.

Defence of the Reich[edit]

Rall after his 250th aerial victory

On 19 April 1944, Rall was transferred to Jagdgeschwader 11 (JG 11—11th Fighter Wing), where he took up the position of Gruppenkommandeur of II./JG 11, flying on operations in Defence of the Reich (Reichsverteidigung). Rall led his unit against the bomber fleets of Eighth Air Force. On 12 May, Rall was leading a Staffel of Bf 109s and bounced a flight of three P-47 Thunderbolts led by Colonel Hubert Zemke, with Rall shooting down two Thunderbolts. His squadron were then bounced by other P-47s and was shot down by pilots of the 56th Fighter Group. Rall's left thumb was shot off and was hospitalized for many months because of the onset of infections.

His last posting was with Jagdgeschwader 300 (JG 300), operating from airfields in southern Germany during the last months of the war. Lack of supplies kept most aircraft unserviceable and the fast progress of the Allies forced his squadron to move several times; it is unlikely that he saw much combat action during this period.[citation needed]

"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."[7]

After the war[edit]

While in a prisoner of war camp, Rall 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.[10]

Rall rejoined the newly established West German military in 1956 and become one of the first cadre of officers in the German Air Force. Around 6,000 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.[11] The German military cadre knew they would have to spend years as pupils before they could stand on their own.[12]

Rall was sent to the United States of America 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. The future chief of staff, commented on modern USAF training methods compared to the old, highly individualistic training program of the Nazi Luftwaffe:

[T]he 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.[12]

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 "window maker" after 292 crashes and 116 deaths.[11]

Officers like Erich Hartmann and Johannes Steinhoff believed the type too advanced for German pilots. Rall and Steinhoff believed it was a matter of training. Rall and Steinhoff visited the United States to receive further training which reduced accidents when introduced the German program.[11] 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 and low altitudes by German pilots. [13]

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.

His forced 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 publicized by German weekly magazine Stern. South Africa, despite its policy of apartheid, 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.[14] By the end of his career, he attained the rank of Generalleutnant.

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.

Rall died at his home in Bad Reichenhall on 4 October 2009, aged 91, after suffering a heart attack two days earlier.[15][incomplete short citation]

Summary of career[edit]

Aerial victory claims[edit]

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.[16]

Victory claims were logged to a map-reference (PQ = Planquadrat), for example "PQ 44621". The Luftwaffe grid map (Jägermeldenetz) covered all of Europe, western Russia and North Africa and was composed of rectangles measuring 15 minutes of latitude by 30 minutes of longitude, an area of about 360 square miles (930 km2). These sectors were then subdivided into 36 smaller units to give a location area 3 × 4 km in size.[17]


Rall visiting the German–Canadian Airforce Museum in 2004 in the Baden-Airpark


  1. ^ For an explanation of Luftwaffe unit designations see Organisation of the Luftwaffe during World War II.
  2. ^ According to Matthews and Foreman claimed at 13:49.[43]
  3. ^ a b The "m.H." refers to a Ilyushin Il-2 with rear gunner (mit Heckschütze).
  4. ^ According to Scherzer on 4 September 1942 as pilot in the III./Jagdgeschwader 52.[63]



  1. ^ Kaplan 2007, p. 66.
  2. ^ Kaplan 2007, p. 61.
  3. ^ Kaplan 2007, p. 62.
  4. ^ Kaplan 2007, p. 63.
  5. ^ Kaplan 2007, p. 64.
  6. ^ Weal 2002, p. 67.
  7. ^ a b Kaplan 2007, p. 65.
  8. ^ Obermaier 1989, p. 243.
  9. ^ Weal 2001, p. 67.
  10. ^ Kaplan 2007, p. 69.
  11. ^ a b c Zabecki 2014, p. 479.
  12. ^ a b Corum 2003, pp. 16-29.
  13. ^ Zabecki 2014, p. 19.
  14. ^ David Childs. "General Günther Rall: Luftwaffe fighter ace who helped create the modern German airforce". The Independent. Retrieved 16 April 2014.
  15. ^ Günther Rall @ FAZ
  16. ^ Matthews & Foreman 2015, pp. 1003–1008.
  17. ^ Planquadrat.
  18. ^ Matthews & Foreman 2015, pp. 1005–1008.
  19. ^ Matthews & Foreman 2015, pp. 1003–1006.
  20. ^ a b c d e f g h Prien et al. 2006, p. 557.
  21. ^ a b c Prien et al. 2003, p. 68.
  22. ^ a b c d e Prien et al. 2006, p. 559.
  23. ^ a b c Prien et al. 2003, p. 69.
  24. ^ a b c d e f Prien et al. 2003, p. 70.
  25. ^ a b c d Prien et al. 2006, p. 560.
  26. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Prien et al. 2006, p. 561.
  27. ^ a b c d Prien et al. 2003, p. 71.
  28. ^ a b c Prien et al. 2003, p. 72.
  29. ^ a b c d e f Prien et al. 2003, p. 74.
  30. ^ a b c d e Prien et al. 2006, p. 562.
  31. ^ a b Prien et al. 2003, p. 75.
  32. ^ a b c Prien et al. 2003, p. 76.
  33. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Prien et al. 2012, p. 478.
  34. ^ a b c d e Prien et al. 2003, p. 77.
  35. ^ a b c d e f Prien et al. 2006, p. 551.
  36. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Prien et al. 2012, p. 479.
  37. ^ a b c d e f g Prien et al. 2006, p. 552.
  38. ^ a b c d Prien et al. 2006, p. 553.
  39. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Prien et al. 2012, p. 480.
  40. ^ a b c d e f Prien et al. 2006, p. 554.
  41. ^ a b c d e f Prien et al. 2006, p. 555.
  42. ^ a b c d e f g h Prien et al. 2012, p. 481.
  43. ^ Matthews & Foreman 2015, p. 1004.
  44. ^ a b c Prien et al. 2006, p. 556.
  45. ^ Matthews & Foreman 2015, pp. 1006–1008.
  46. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Prien et al. 2012, p. 484.
  47. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Prien et al. 2012, p. 491.
  48. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t Prien et al. 2012, p. 492.
  49. ^ a b c d e f Prien et al. 2012, p. 485.
  50. ^ a b c d e f g Prien et al. 2012, p. 486.
  51. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Prien et al. 2012, p. 493.
  52. ^ a b c d e f g h i Prien et al. 2012, p. 487.
  53. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Prien et al. 2012, p. 488.
  54. ^ a b c d e f g Prien et al. 2012, p. 490.
  55. ^ Matthews & Foreman 2015, p. 1008.
  56. ^ Prien & Rodeike 1996, p. 1207.
  57. ^ Prien & Rodeike 1996, p. 1208.
  58. ^ a b Thomas 1998, p. 181.
  59. ^ a b c d Berger 1999, p. 277.
  60. ^ Patzwall 2008, p. 166.
  61. ^ Patzwall & Scherzer 2001, p. 365.
  62. ^ Fellgiebel 2000, p. 349.
  63. ^ a b c Scherzer 2007, p. 612.
  64. ^ Fellgiebel 2000, pp. 62, 476.
  65. ^ Fellgiebel 2000, p. 41.
  66. ^ 1971–1974 Günther Rall.


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External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
Major Kurd Peters
Commander of Jagdgeschwader 300
20 February 1945 – 8 May 1945
Succeeded by
Post abolished
Preceded by
Major Carl-Heinz Greve
Commander of Jagdbombergeschwader 34 Allgäu
1 October 1964 – 31 March 1966
Succeeded by
Oberst Hans-Ulrich Flade
Preceded by
Generalmajor Erwin Wicker
Commander of 3rd Luftwaffe Division (Bundeswehr)
1967 – 31 March 1968
Succeeded by
Generalmajor Günter Proll
Preceded by
Generalmajor Konrad Stangl
Commander of 1st Luftwaffe Division (Bundeswehr)
1 April 1968 – 15 April 1969
Succeeded by
Generalmajor Hans Asmus
Preceded by
Generalleutnant Johannes Steinhoff
Inspector of the Air Force
1 January 1971 – 31 March 1974
Succeeded by
Generalleutnant Gerhard Limberg