Archive for the ‘World War II’ Category

Gunther Rall: the third most successful fighter ace in history

January 21, 2018

Gunther Rall, a German Lieutenant-General (Generalleutnant), was the third most successful fighter ace in history. During World War II, Lt. Gen. Rall flew 621 combat missions and shot down 275 enemy aircraft.  He was shot down eight times and was wounded three times.

Lt. Gen. Rall participated in aerial battles over France, Great Britain, Crete, the Eastern Front and the final defense of Germany.  The majority of Lt. Gen. Rall’s 275 victories were achieved against Russian aircraft on the Eastern Front.  Lt. Gen. Rall primarily flew the Messerschmitt 109.  During the closing months of the war he also flew the FW-190 and the ME-262 jet fighter.  (He did not fly the ME-262 in combat.)

In August 1941, Lt. Gen. Rall was promoted to Oberleutnant — the highest lieutenant officer rank in the Germany armed forces.  In April 1943 he was promoted to Hauptmann — considered a captain when used as a German officer’s rank.  He became a pilot in the West German Air Force in 1956.  From 1971-1974 he served as Inspector of the West German Air Force.

Lt. Gen. Rall initially joined the German infantry in July 1936 but in 1938 he decided to become an air force officer.  “I went to the air force and started flying in 1938 in Neubiberg, which is a suburb of Munich,” Lt. Gen. Rall said in an interview. “In 1939 I finally graduated training as a fighter pilot on a base east of Berlin and was transferred to Jagdgeschwader (fighter wing) JG-52 [of the Luftwaffe].”

Source: Aviation History: Interview with World War II Luftwaffe Ace Gunther Rall — History Net (hereafter History Net interview): http://www.historynet.com/aviation-history-interview-with-world-war-ii-luftwaffe-ace-gunther-rall.htm.  The article was written by Colin Heaton and originally appeared in the Sept. 1996 issue of World War II magazine.

His first combat was during the Battle of France.

“At the beginning of the war I was with this wing [JG-52], and my first contact with the enemy was in May 1940.  This was over France,” he said in an interview.

Source: History Net Interview.

During May 1940, he shot down his first enemy aircraft: a French Curtiss P-36 Hawk fighter.  With the fall of France, Lt. Gen. Rall’s unit moved to Calais.

Lt. Rall’s shot down three enemy aircraft during Operation Barbarossa on the Eastern Front during June 1941.  By Nov. 28, 1941, Lt. Gen. Rall scored his 37th victory. But on that same day his aircraft was shot down.

“A Russian came in behind me.  He shot my engine dead and it was over Russian territory, so I certainly moved and turned trying to reach the German lines — not a solid line, but I saw some German tanks. I was flying westward, and I tried to make a belly landing, but I saw where I was going to touch down, in what they call a baikal. . . . I bellied in and crashed on the other side.  That was the last I knew, as I saw this wall coming against me, and in the big bang I was knocked out.”

Source: History Net Interview.

He was rescued by a German tank crew and then hospitalized with three fractures in his spine.  During his treatment at a hospital in Vienna he met Dr. Hertha Schon, whom he later married in 1943.

Lt. Gen. Rall returned to battle in August 1942.  From August to November 1943, Lt. Gen. Rall shot down 38 enemy aircraft — bringing his total to 101.  On Sept. 3, 1942, Lt. Gen. Rall was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross.  On Oct. 22, 1942, Lt. Gen. Rall shot down his 100th enemy aircraft.  On Nov. 26, 1942, he was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves.  The award was personally made by Adolf Hitler.

On Aug. 29, 1943, Lt. Gen. Rall scored his 200th victory during his 555th mission.  On Sept. 12, 1943, the Fuhrer awarded him the Swords to his Knight’s Cross.  During 1943, Lt. Gen. Rall shot down more than 40 Soviet aircraft.

On May 12, 1944, Lt. Gen. Rall was shot down by a pair of P-47 Thunderbolt operated by the 56th Operation Group of the United States Air Force.  His left thumb was shot off.  He suffered a severe infection and was hospitalized until November 1944.

“I was wounded three times, but I was shot down about eight times. I bellied in between the front lines, I jumped out and was picked up by Germans in tanks and so on. I was always lucky, except I was seriously wounded three times.  The first time it was my back.  I was then shot and hit right in the face and in my hand, and the third time I jumped out and a P-47 Thunderbolt shot my left thumb off.”

Source: History Net Interview.

Lt. Gen. Rall commanded JG 300 operating out of Salzburg from February 1945 until the end of the war, when he was taken prisoner by the Americans.  (He flew his 621st and final mission during the end of April 1945.)

“The Americans took me back to Salzburg and put me in prison, Lt. Gen. Rall said. “From Salzburg to Neu Ulm, then to Heilbronn, and there the CIC [Counter Intelligence Corps] saw me. They knew my name and said all air force officers should report, and they took me very quickly to interrogation.  Then seven of us were taken to England.”

Source: History Net Interview.

After being freed Lt. Gen. Rall went to work in the civilian world.  When the Luftwaffe was re-formed in 1956, he joined and was involved in the F-104 program.  Lt. Gen. Rall was later a German military liaison to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)

“My decision in 1956 to help establish a new German Air Force, to work for NATO and its Allies was driven by my deep conviction that based on the experiences of the past only NATO could help lead Germany back to honor by joining with its democratic countries,” Lt. Gen. Rall said in an interview.  “If I could help to rehabilitate our reputation then I decided I would give the rest of my life to it.”

Source: Jill Armadio, Gunther Rall: A Memoir, Luftwafe Ace and NATO General (Tangmere Productions — 2d ed. 2003). (Hereafter Armadio biography.)

“The Third Reich trained 30,000 pilots.  Ten thousand survived the war.  One-third.  This is the highest loss rate along with the U-boat sailors,” Lt. Gen. Rall said in an interview.

Source: Generalleutnant Gunther Rall (Telegraph — Oct. 11, 2009).

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/military-obituaries/air-force-obituaries/6299837/Generalleutnant-Gnther-Rall.html

“The highest attrition rate for all combat units in the war or traits were submarines,” Lt. Gen. Rall said during a speech in Finland.  “And right next to the submarines were the fighter pilots. In every mission from mid 44 onwards, we knew that every second pilot wouldn’t come back.”

Source: Lecture by Lt. Gen. Rall arranged by the Aviation Museum Society, Finland (June 2003). Transcription at http://www.virtualpilots.fi:WW2History-GuntherRallEnglish.html.

Lt. Gen. Rall, the son of a merchant, was born on March 10, 1981 at Gaggenau, a small town in the Black Forest of Germany.  His family moved to Stuttgart when he was three-years-old.  He was brought up and educated in Stuttgart.  He died at age 91 on Oct. 4, 2009 at Bad Reichenhall in Upper Bavaria, Germany.  When he died he was the longest living top German ace.

Source: Armadio Biography.

In 2004, Lt. Gen. Rall wrote an autobiography titled Mein Flubuch (My Logbook). The book was published in English as My Logbook: Reminiscences 1938-2006 (2006). (A new book sells from $1,499 and used books sell from $382 on Amazon.)  Another book on the career of Lt. Gen. Rall, written by Jill Armadio, is titled Gunther Rall: A Memoir, Luftwaffe Ace & NATO General (Tangmere Productions — 2d ed. 2003).

VIDEO INTERVIEW OF GUNTHER RALL (2:18)

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Major Walter “Nowi” Nowotny: Super ace during World War II

December 24, 2017

NOWOTNY.FW190.jpg

NOWOTNY’S FW 190A4 OF JG54 — By Ron Cole

Major Walter “Nowi” Nowotny was a “super ace” in aerial combat during World War II.

Nowotny was born on December 7, 1920 in Gmund in Lower Austria.  On November 8, 1944 — less than one month short of his 24th birthday — Nowotny was killed in combat with United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) fighters.

During Nowotny’s military career, Nowotny was credited with 442 flying missions and 258 victories in aerial combat.  Nowotny also had 50 unconfirmed victories. He flew the Focke-Wulf Fw 190, the Messerschmitt Bf 109 and the world’s first jet fighter, the Messerschmitt Me 262.  Nowotny recorded 255 of his victories over the Eastern Front and three victories over the Western Front.  All three of Nowotny’s victories over the Western Front were while flying the Me 262 jet fighter.  Two of those victories involved shooting down four-engine bombers.

Nowotny was 19-years-old when the British and French declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939.  Nowotny volunteered to serve his country and opted for service in the Luftwaffe, which he joined on October 1, 1939.  By the time he reached 20 years of age he had been flying for two months.  On Feb. 23, 1941, he was assigned as a fighter pilot to Jagdgeschwaer on the Eastern Front with the Grunherz JG54 Group.  Within weeks he downed his first Russian J 18.

On July 19, 1941 — Nowotny’s 24th mission — he recorded his first victories when he shot down two Russian Polikarpov I-153 biplane fighters.  On the same day, Nowotny’s Messerschmitt Bf 109 was shot down by a Russian I-153 flown by Russian ace Alexandr Avdeev (13 victories, killed in action on Aug. 12, 1942). Nowotny’s fighter ended up in the Bay of Riga, where he clung to life in a small rubber dinghy for three days and three nights.  He eventually drifted ashore on the Latvian coast. While drifting in the dinghy, Notowny was almost run over by a Soviet destroyer.

Nowotny recorded his 55th and 56th victories on August 7, 1942.  After his 56th aerial victory, he was awarded the Knight’s Cross,  On September 6, 1943,  Nowotny recorded his 191st and 192nd victories.  After these victories he was awarded the rare and coveted Oak Leaves Award.  Nowotny reached the century mark of victories on June 5, 1943, on his 344th combat mission.

During June 1943, Nowotny shot down 41 aircraft including 10 Russian fighters on June 24, 1943.  During August 1943, Nowotney shot down 49 aircraft — a number reached by Jagdgeschwader 52’s (JG 52) Erich Hartmann — bring Notwotny’s total to 161 victories. During October 1943, Nowotny shot down 32 aircraft. Nowotny was renowned even among Allied pilots.

On October 14, Nowotny downed his 250th enemy plane: a P-40. Nowotny was the first pilot in history to record 250 victories. For this accomplishment, Nowotny was awarded the Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds.

By early 1944 Messerschmitt developed a twin-engine jet propelled fighter, the Me 262.  Nowotny was ordered to Berlin and was chosen to create Germany’s first jet fighter squadron.  By autumn 1944 the squadron downed 4 MOTS, Mosquitoes and Mustangs.

Nowotny was at his post on November 8, 1944, when it was learned that two of his fighter pilots had been shot down.  Nowotny immediately took to the air in his own Me 262.  He had downed a B-24 Liberator and a P-51 Mustang fighter before he heard on the radio that there were flames erupting from his aircraft.  As Nowotny’s jet spiraled toward the ground, he opened the canopy and bailed out.  The parachute lines tangled with the aircraft’s rudder and Nowotny was killed.  The place of Nowotny’s death was near Hespe, Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen), Germany.

Helmut Lennartz, a Luftwaffe fighter ace, recalled:

“I remember Notwotny’s crash very well.  Feldwebel Gossler, a radio operator with our unit, had set up a radio on the airfield. Over this set I and many others listened to the radio communications with Nowotny’s aircraft. His last words were,’I’m on fire’ or ‘it’s on fire.’ The words were slightly garbled.”

After Nowotny’s death, Jagdgeschwader 7, the first operational jet fighter wing in history, was renamed Nowotny in Walter’s honor.

Nowotny was given a state funeral in Vienna. The guard of honor was composed of his friend Karl Schnorrer, Oberst Gordon Gollob, Major Rudolf Schoenert, Hauptmann Heinz Sturning, Major Josef Fozo and Major Georg Christl. The eulogy was delivered by General der Jagdflieger Adolf Galland and Generaloberst Otto DeBloch. Nowotny’s ashes were buried at Vienna Central Cemetery in Vienna, Austria (Group of Honor Graves at Zentralfriedhof).  Others buried at the cemetery include Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Johann Strauss and Johannes Brahms.

Nowotny had two brothers, Rudolf and Hubert, who both became officers in the Wehrmacht. Hubert was killed in action in the Battle of Stalingrad.

A list of Nowotny’s 258 victories is set forth at http://www.luftwaffe.cz/nowotny.html.

The definite biography on Major Nowotny is by Werner Held.  It is titled German Fighter Ace Walter Nowotny: An Illustrated Biography (Schiffer Publishing 2006).  It is a translation of Der Jagdflieger Walter Nowotny (1984).  The book includes material from the Nowotny family.  Mr. Held is also the author of Battle Over the Third Reich: The Air War Over Germany: 1943-1945 (Air Research Publications 1990 — reprinted Zenith Aviation Books / Air Research Publications 1993); The German Fighter Units Over Russia: A Pictorial History of the Pilots and Aircraft (Schiffer Publishing 1990) and Fighter!: Luftwaffe Fighter Planes and Pilots (Prentice Hall 1979).

Other books discussing Luftwaffe fighter pilots include: Robert Forsyth and Jim Laurier, Jagdgeschwader 1 “Oesau” Aces 1939-45: Aircraft of the Aces (Osprey Publishing 2017); Gunther Fraschka, Knights of the Reich: The Twenty-Seven Most Highly Decorated Soliders of the Wehrmacht in World War II (Schiffer Publishing 2004), and Mike Spick, Luftwaffe Fighter Aces: the Jagdflieger and Their Combat Tactics and Techniques (Greenhill Books 1996 — reprinted Frontline Books 2011).

Inspiration for this article came from a book chapter titled Walter Nowotny: Air Ace Among Air Aces, in Mike Walsh, Heroes of the Reich (2017).  Mr. Walsh is also the author many other books including Heroes Hang When Traitors Triumph: Were Sinners Really Saints (2015).

HISTORICAL FILM FOOTAGE OF THE MESSERSCHMITT ME 262 (1:19)