Günther Rall – “Knight of the Reich”, by Robert Taylor (15 October 1943)
15 October 1943. As the German Army fell back, JG 52 was forced back too, moving from one makeshift base to another, but they were still feared by the growing numbers of an ever- improving Soviet Air Force. And for good reason, for within its ranks JG 52 held some of the highest scoring and most formidable fighter Aces in the history of aerial warfare. One of those was Günther Rall one of the Luftwaffe’s most successful Aces.
Already highly decorated with the Knight’s Cross, Oak Leaves and Swords, the Kommandeur of III./JG 52 now led his unit’s Bf 109G fighters on their first sweep of the day. After their early morning scramble they were looking for action and, like most days, it wasn’t long before they found it, spotting a group of Soviet fighters over the city of Zaporozhye. Before the enemy pilots had time to react the Bf 109s dived in amongst them and Hauptmann Günther Rall quickly downed a Soviet La-5 to claim his 222nd victory, shooting down two more within an hour. It was the start of a remarkable month in which he scored a staggering 40 victories and, a few weeks later on 28 November, took his personal tally past 250 – at the time only the second Ace to do so after Walter Nowotny.
By the time he was posted back to the West he was well on the way to his final score of 275 victories, an achievement that made him the third highest scoring Ace in history. Had he not been wounded in action numerous times and forced to spend months in hospital, he might well have been the highest-scoring Ace of them all.
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 eight times and was wounded three times. He fought 1940 in the Battle of France, the Battle of Britain, 1941 in the Balkan Campaign and over Crete. By the end of the war, he reached the rank of Major and was the commander of JG 300 when the war ended. He claimed all of his victories in the Messerschmitt Bf 109.
In 1956 he again became a pilot in the West German Luftwaffe, and from the 1960s he held increasingly prominent command posts. He served as Inspector of the Air Force 1971–1974 and as the German Military Representative to the NATO Military Committee 1974–1975. He attended the NATO Defense College in 1964.
I have recently finished reading the book about him. I’d recommend it to everyone. I’ve read a lot of WWII biographical books. Gunther Rall’s is probably the best of them all. It describes not only the horrors of war but also the life of the ordinary German people during the war. Rall was an exceptional fighter pilot, commander, husband and father.