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Two of the most remarkable fighter leaders of all time – Erich Hartmann, the highest scoring fighter pilot in history, and Adolf Galland, who flew through the Battle of Britain, led the famous ‘Abbeville Boys’ Me109s, became commander of all Luftwaffe day and night fighters, was deposed by Goering, reprieved by Hitler, and commanded the famous JG-44 jet fighter wing.

In two and a half years of operations Erich Hartmann flew over 1400 operational missions, ending WWI as Gruppen Kommandeur of 1./JG 52 with the incredible total of 352 air victories. He is the highest scoring fighter pilot of all time – a record unlikely ever to be surpassed. His genuine signature, like that of Galland and other leading fighter pilots of WWII, places history in the hands of the few!

*** *** ***

KC with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds

I was born in Weissach, Wurtemburg on 19 April 1922, the son of a doctor. My mother was a keen aviation enthusiast and taught me to fly gliders when I was only 14. I joined the Luftwaffe in October 1940 and began my flying training at Berlin Gatow on 5 March 1941. After advanced flying and fighter pilot training, I was posted to Operational Training Unit East in March 1942, in the rank of Leutnant. Then, on 10 October 1942, I reported to JG 52 at Soldatskaya, north of the Caucasus mountains, where I joined the 7th Squadron. My first sortie resulted in an emergency landing and it was not until 5 November that I achieved my first victory, again being forced to emergency land my aircraft. My first 100 missions brought me only 7 victories.

My first really successful month came in July 1943, during the fighting in the Orel-Kursk region, when I achieved 24 victories and was entrusted with the leadership of 7JJG 52. In August, I managed another 49, including seven on the 7th, often flying up to four sorties a day. On 20 August, after shooting down two Il-2s, I was forced to make another emergency landing, this time behind Russian lines, and was taken prisoner. Whilst being transported eastwards, I was fortunately able to make my escape and returned to our own lines two days later.

I returned to combat on 2 September 1943 as Leader of 9./JG 52. A further 15 victories took my score past the 100 mark and another 33 in October raised it to 148, for which I was awarded the Knight’s Cross on the 29th. On 2 March 1944, after reaching the 200 victory mark, I was awarded the Oak Leaves to the Knight’s Cross at Hitler’s Headquarters in Berchtesgaden.

I rejoined my Wing at L’vov, in Poland, on 18 March and, the following month, we moved to Romania to protect the oilfields. Shortly afterwards, we were ordered back to the Crimea to help counter a Russian offensive. We were forced to hastily depart from this region on 8 May 1944, myself flying out with two mechanics in the fuselage of my Me 109. By 2 July 1944, my score had reached 286, for which I was awarded the Swords and, on 23 August, I passed the 300 mark. I was the first pilot to do so, for which I was awarded the Diamonds the following day, and ordered by Galland to transfer for training on the Me 262. After persistent requests, however, I was able to return to JG 52 on 1 October 1944, this time to command the 4th Squadron.

In February 1945, I temporarily led I./JG 53 until, the following month, I became Gruppen Kommandeur I./JG 52. On 17 April 1945, I reached the 350 victory mark and on 8 May, scored my last victory over a Yak 11. Hours later, the war was over and my Gruppe surrendered to the Americans in Pisek, in Poland. In my two and a half years of operations, I had flown over 1400 missions, 825 of which involved aerial combat, and had scored 352 victories.

On 24 May 1945, we were handed over to the Russians and I spent the next ten years in Russian captivity, returning to Germany on 15 October 1955. Four years later, I joined the new German Air Force, where I became Kommodore of the first of the new fighter wings, JG 71 “Richthofen”.

I spent almost my entire wartime career in JG 52 and formed many deep friendships there as a result. My first responsibility was as wingman to Eduard “Paule” Rossman, a senior NCO who was a steady, reassuring teacher. Due to his injured arm, he could not dogfight like many of the others, so he specialised in surprise attacks. Much of my later success was due to his example.

I also formed a close bond with my crew chief, Heinz Mertens, whose loyalty to me was such that when I went missing behind Russian lines, he took a rifle and entered Russian held territory in an effort to find me. Also, men like Gerd Barkhorn and Walter Krupinski were an inspiration to me in terms of leadership and camaraderie and became lifelong friends.

aircraft flown in combat

In my two and a half years of combat, I only flew the Me 109 on operations. My first experience of this fighter was in 1941 at the Fighter Pilots’ School at Zerbst, where I learned to fly the Me 109E-4. It was a superbly handling machine. However, almost all of my combat flying was in the Me 109G in all its various sub-variants. Perhaps the most widely publicised of my aircraft was my Me 109G-14 with its “Galland” canopy and the black tulip design painted on its nose. However, I only flew with such distinctive markings for a short period, since I found that Russian aircraft were deliberately avoiding me. However, as well as a fine fighter aircraft, the Me 109 was a strong workhorse, a quality which came in particularly useful during our hasty evacuation from the Crimea. With the radio and armour removed, we could put four men in the fuselage without any problem getting off the ground, even with two 30 mm cannon under the wings. If more space were available in the fuselage, I believe we could have carried five or six extra men in an emergency. **** ****

Generalleutnant 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.



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