ADOLF GALLAND, KC with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds
A great passion for flying and aeronautics has consumed me since boyhood. Fascinated by the adventures of the world’s great pioneer aviators and stimulated by the exploits of combat pilots, I began my career in aviation, flying gliders at the tender age of fifteen. After leaving school in 1932, I graduated from Airline Pilot School and went on to complete basic military training, flying fighters, and joined the newly-formed “Richthofen” Fighter Wing as a Leutnant early in 1934.
Between April 1937 and September 1939, I flew combat missions as a Squadron Leader in the Spanish Civil War and Polish Campaign. I then participated in the Western Campaign where, as a Gruppenkommandeur, I led three squadrons of JG 26. During the Battle of Britain in 1940, I was promoted to Major and appointed Wing Commander of JG 26, with nine squadrons. In November, with 50 victories, I was promoted to Oberstieutnant.
My most important operational unit was, without doubt, JG26. Here I became one of the ‘new generation’ Commanders when I took over III./JG 26 during the Battle of France and then, along with Molders, became one of the first young Kommodores during the Battle of Britain. Initially I feared this appointment would mean flying a desk with little time for air combat. But Molders said to me: “If you want to be the new Richthofen, that’s fine, but I’m going to be the new Oswald Boelke” referring to the First World war pilot known as the ‘gentleman of the skies’. I was a fighter pilot and wanted to remain one!
In the event I managed to achieve 77 personal air victories in my Wing, being shot down three times and wounded twice. I developed a very close relationship with my officers, pilots and ground crews, and it was with great sadness that I had to depart and thereafter took every opportunity to visit my old Fighter Wing. At my Farewell Parade in November 1941when I was appointed “Inspector General of the Fighter Arm” with the rank of Oberst, Hermann Goring described JG 26 as the finest in the Luftwaffe.
As Inspector General of the Fighter Arm I became responsible for the inspection of all Luftewaffe fighter units, and, considering the responsibilities that came with my new duties, this became a decisive turning point in my military career. In February 1942 I organised and conducted the fighter escort for the spectacular ‘Channel Dash’ — the break-out of the German battleships Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen, through the English Channel. Thereafter, I visited all fighter units in the different theatres of war (Norway, Russia — from Leningrad to the Crimea and the Caucasus — Rumania, Bulgaria Africa, Sicily, Italy and France) to become fully briefed as to their operational capabilities. Like the other Weapon-Generals (bombers, reconnaissance, anti-aircraft-artillery, etc), I was responsible for everything except the immediate operational command.
In 1943 I was given the responsibility for Fighter Operations in Sicily just before the Allied landings. But with the Allied air superiority established, this was an impossible task. I then moved on to concentrate my efforts on the air defence of Germany. RAF Bomber Command was operating large forces by night, meanwhile the American 8th Air Force was flying missions out of England by day. I was given the responsibility for the Night Fighter Arm, too, and was, in the same rhythm as the war, working 24 hours every day.
The RAF and USAAF steadily gained air superiority during a time when greater fighter production was badly needed by the Luftwaffe. However, by the time this was achieved, fuel shortages, due to the incessant air attacks, became our next problem. I never succeeded in convincing Hitler to concentrate the entire effort on air defence, and even when the advanced Me 262 Jet became available, my efforts to use this purely in a fighter role were strictly refused by Hitler.
The war had already been lost years previously and the earlier introduction of the jet fighters would not have changed its course. Even if we had prevented the day offensive of the USAAF, the war would simply have been prolonged, allowing Russia to occupy even more German territory.
After on-going disputes with Hermann Goring, at end of 1944 I was discharged from my position and ordered to set up an Me 262 fighter unit. Thus I started the war as a Oberleutnant leading a squadron, and uniquely ended it as a Generalleutnant leading – again leading a squadron!
At the end of 1948, I became an advisor to the Argentine Air Force, a post I held for six years and, thereafter, was a consultant to the Aerospace Industry.
aircraft flown in combat
My first operational aircraft was the Heinkel He 51 biplane, a direct support aircraft which I flew in Spain. Although obsolete at the time, it was a nice aircraft to fly but we avoided contact with enemy fighters. Whilst in Spain, I had a brief opportunity to fly the Me 109C, but did not fly it in combat. During the Polish Campaign, my squadron flew the Henschel Hs 123 biplane. This was another nice, robust, but obsolete dive-bomber which was superior to the He 51 for direct support missions.
I began the French Campaign flying the Messerschmitt Me 109E-series, flying the E-4 variant during the Battle of Britain. I also flew the E-4N sub-variant and, in 1941, most sub-variants of the Me 109F with various levels of special armament. I later flew the Focke Wulf Fw 190C and D and, finally, the Me 262 jet fighter. The Me 262 was superior to every other fighter plane at the time, and the Fw 190C and D were the best piston-engined aircraft for use against bombers. In total, I have flown more than 80 different aircraft types, including the Hurricane, Spitfire, P38 and P51.