Segment 1

The Me-109

Segment 2

Gunther Rall

Heddy, the war is lost!

Segment 3

Segment 4

Segment 5

They treated us as gentlemen

Segment 6

Ralls 3 meetings with Adolph Hitler

The Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords

Segment 7

Aerial victories

The closest friendships are between fighter pilots


Rall was an Army cadet and after the war school, kriegschule, in Dresden he was promoted to a first lieutenant. He had a friend that was a pilot already and they talked to each other on Saturdays about their training and Rall decided that is what he wanted to do. It was not easy for him to change, but they let him go to the Air Force. He started flying in Neubiberg, near Munich in biplanes like the Focke Wulf and others in the early days. When he got his wings, he trained as a fighter pilot which is what he wanted. When he finished fighter pilot training, he went to a combat wing and that's when the war started.Rall's first missions were in the west against France. Rall wanted to become a fighter pilot and due to the results of his flight training he was assigned to do so.His first flight was in a Fw-44 biplane in 1937. He remembered that the training they had back then was very different that modern day. He flew with an instructor pilot for a while and then was allowed to fly solo. Rall was a very enthusiastic pilot and liked to fly. Even on Saturdays he would get a plane and do some aerobatics. After the Focke Wulf, he flew the Heinkel Kadet [Annotator's Note: Heinkel He-82 B Kadet]. He also flew the Go-145 [Gotha Go-145] and other different types of aircraft. Until they received their wings, they flew at least 10 different airplanes. They also had night flying training with the Junkers W-34 in order to get their wings. Upon receiving his wings, there was not a big ceremony. It was expected and he had been checked many times by instructor pilots.The Luftwaffe flew already in a 4-ship formation that was developed in the Spanish War by Molders [Annotator's Note: Werner Molders, Germany's top ace at the start of WWII] and Lutzow [Annotator's Note: Gunther Lutzow]. This provided for much more flexibility. At the fighter school they still learned under the 3 ship formation and the 4 ship formation training came with the combat wing.The squadron had 12 airplanes in 4 ship formation. Rall remembered that the 4 ship formation was quickly adapted by most combat wings. Early on the British flew a 3 ship formation but changed to a 4 ship formation. The Russians had a terrible formation that improved later on in the war. The purpose of the 4 ship formation was to provide more flexibility and keep speed in formation flying.Rall started the war flying the Bf-109 E model [Annotator's note: Messerschmitt Bf-109/Me-109] that had square wing tips and struts at the tail. He flew it over France, England, Romania, Crete Island and then came back to Romania to get new airplanes. The new airplanes were Bf-109 F models. In Rall's opinion, this was the best model of the Bf-109. It was very maneuverable, the weight to speed relationship was very good, but not much on electronics and no struts since they reduce speed. It also had a stronger engine too.The Bf-109 has a very tight cockpit with a reduced visibility in the rear compared to a P-51. Rall flew the 109 for 5 and a half years and felt that pilots got used to it after flying it for several years. At low speeds the 109 had lots of lift and could land on short runways or fields. In Russia and France they didn't have runways.The 109 had one 20 milimeter cannon through the propeller and then on top of the engine there were 2 - 15 milimeter guns and guns under the wing. Rall removed his from the wing because on one mission the ammunition chain broke away due to gravity and blocked the whole [Annotator's Note: Rall may be saying something else] system. Rall flew for the rest of the war with just the nose cannon and the guns above the engine.  


The 109's [Annotator's Note: Messerschmitt Bf-109] undercarriage wasn't very sensible. Early on when they trained Romanians they would get a lot of ground loops upon landing and the gear would break.The Bf-109, along with all other European airplanes, had a limited amount of fuel time for flying. They had to add fuel tanks to increase flight time. But, they could not stay up in the air as long as some aircraft, like the P-51 which could fly for 7 and a half hours.Rall was transferred from the Russian front to the Western Front in 1944. If you were shot down over Russian territory, many pilots were massacred on the ground. This was different from the West because that theater had more gentlemanlike rules that the Russians didn't have. Rall remembers that from July through September the Russians lost around 7,000 planes, but they learned a lesson and developed new planes and new tactics. Rall's first contact in the West was French and this was his first victory. French aircraft chased a 111 [Annotator's Note: Heinkel He-111 medium bomber] reconaissance plane. Rall was a young lieutenant in the second flight. Rall attacked the French plane and got his first aerial victory. He also got hit very seriously. Rall says his first combat had two sides. 1 side gave him confidence that he can do it. The next was a warning that next time he might be the 1 getting shot down.Rall described the difference of flying in the Western Front versus the Russian Front. He flew against a strategic air force on the Western Front, but in Russia they flew against a tactical air force designed to protect the Army. Most air battles on the Russian front were 10,000 feet or so. Rall gives an example of flying in the West of 12 May 1944. They got a warning that there were ships outside in the North Sea on the frequency of the 8th Air Force. They were on 15 minutes alert, then 5 minutes alert, and then if they figured out the location they would take off. This particular attack was an attack with 800 bombers. B-17's, B-26's, and B-24's were in the sky and protected. Hub Zemke's [Annotator's Note: USAAF/USAF Colonel Hubert "Hub" Zemke] wing, the wolf pack, protecting the air space high above the bombers with around 1,000 fighters. Rall and his wing were not used to this number of enemies. They were attacking them with 75 airplanes. There were 50 Focke Wulf [Annotator's Note: Focke Wulf Fw-190 fighter/attack aircraft] and Rall's top cover of 25 109's [Annotator's Note: Messerschmitt Bf-109 fighter aircraft]. This was strategic air warfare. The psychological impact was great. In Germany, their base was simple, no runway. In Russia, they stayed in a tent from April to October then in a burned out farm. Rall lived like this for over 3 and a half years while he was there. Rall felt too that the Western fighters and bombers were much more dangerous than in Russia.Seeing the massive formation of fighters and bombers didn't phase Rall, he thought little of morale and just attacked them. He felt you just get used to the odds being bad. In Russia too, they were confronted with masses of airplanes. You did your duty. They were young, eager pilots.Rall was 21 when the war started and he started flying combat missions. He was 27 years old when the war ended. He was shot down 8 times and seriously wounded 4 times.At Kursk in Russia there was a big tank battle and alot of the German tanks were killed. Rall was shot down there. He had his 1 and only mid air collision there when he slammed into a Lak-5 [Annotator's Note: Rall says Lak-5 so the annotator believes he means a Russian Lavochkin La 5 fighter aircraft]. Rall was injured. He was sent to a hospital in Vienna where his wife worked as a doctor. Rall told his wife that the war was lost and that was in 1943. There was a hope that there would be a diplomatic solution but there wasn't, they fought to the last day. 


The Americans had very qualified airplanes in the P-51 and P-47. He remembered that the P-47 could keep a higher speed at up to 1,400km and that when he was shot down and pulled up at 1,000km and they chased him. Also, he remembered the P-47 dove much faster than the Bf-109. Rall had great respect for the airplane and the pilots.Rall's first contact at the channel with the Spitfire and Hurricane, both of which were damn good airplanes. The British also had good leadership and good organization from the ground. The British pilots were directed very well and Rall paid the price for this 1 day when they were near Calais in Coquelle. They were escorting Ju-87s, Stukas, which were slow aircraft with two bombs underneath the wings. Their order was direct escort. They had to stay with the bombers and they had to lower their flaps in order to do so. By now, at the age of 22, Rall was a squadron commander. His squadron commander, the adjutant, and the group commander had all been killed. In Rall's estimation, the British were the best pilots early on in the war. The French did not give very much way to strategy. Their strategy was mostly a static one, like the Maginot Line. The French also didn't give very much value to their Air Force. The first plane Rall shot down was an American airplane flown by the French. The Spitfire and Hurricane were good airplanes.The Russians first came with the Arado J-16 [Annotator's Note: unsure what plane Rall is referring to] which was obsolete, but dangerous. It was very flexible and maneuverable even though it was slower. Later the Russians changed to the Mig and the Yak [Annotator's Note: unsure of Rall is saying Yak or Lak] which were good airplanes for the Russians. He even remembered chasing a Lak-5 and couldn't catch him. Overall, things had to progress as the war went on for all sides.Rall later had a chance to fly all of the American and British fighters he fought against during the war. He feels that the P-51 was the best. The P-51 had a very stable undercarriage, comfortable cockpit, starting system, weapons set, speed, and endurance, 7 and a half hours of fuel which they needed. These things made the P-51 superior to the 109 [Annotator's Note: Messerschmitt Bf-109].The Focke Wulf came late, but was a damn good airplane. The Focke Wulf 190 was air cooled, while the Bf-109 was sensitive with its cooling system. At Kiev, Rall shot down and enemy plane and was then hit himself. His cooling system and oil cooler system were hit. The black oil came up right over his windshield and kept him from seeing. This wouldn't happen to the Focke Wulf. It was a much more flexible plane.After the war, Hub Zemke and Rall became good friends. Zemke's son visited Rall several times when in Germany on business. They even joked occasionally about Rall trying to kill Zemke during the war.Zemke wanted the wolf pack to saturate the air with fighters and Rall felt it was effective.Rall didn't shoot down too many P-47s. He shot down 3 or 4 P-38s, 3 or 4 P-47s, and a P-51. Rall also shot down Spitfires in the West and in Russia. After a big air battle at Rostov Rall reported that he shot down Spitfires and his commander asked him if he was crazy because Spitfires were in the west, not in Russia. Rall told him to wait and see.The P-47 was a fast airplane and heavy airplane and had good endurance.


On 12 May 1944, there was a big air raid with 800 bombers and top cover from Hub Zemke and his wolf pack. They came down to 13,000 meters in the area of [Annotator's Note: unsure what city Rall is saying] they came all the way up the Rhine River and attacked Prum where there were oil factories. Rall came down and the first P-47 went up. This was Zemke's wing. He got the first P-47 and it burst into flames. Rall changed position and then was instantly hit. He saw 4 line up behind him and had no choice but to dive, all the while continuing to get hit. Rall's thumb was shot off. He pulled up so hard he started to lose the paint on his wings. He pulled up so he could bail out. The other planes didn't follow him that far since they had to get back to England. Rall stalled out and was hanging outside the plane, but soon was pushed back into the plane. He had a problem getting out of the plane. He couldn't get hold of the handle. He got out of the plane and pulled his ripcord on the parachute at about 300 meters. Rall ended up in a tree in the Westwald about 3 meters off the ground. He was concerned because he had broken his back 3 times before and his doctor had told him to never bail out or hit the ground hard. Rall freed his connections and fell about 3 meters and hit a steep bank and started to roll. After getting out of his chute, Rall rolled down the hillside. When he got up he was met by a farmer who recognized that he was wearing an American leather flight jacket. He quickly identified himself as a German and was taken to the next farm. Rall then had to wait for an hour for the Red Cross car to get there from the next city to pick him up. They [Annotator's Note: the German Luftwaffe or Air Force] had a different structure for their squadrons. Within their squadrons, they had a squadron commander or squadron leader and maybe 2 other officers. All others were NCO's and even down to Gefreiter [Annotators Note: an enlisted rank in German military roughly equal to a US Army Private First Class]. Each squadron had 16 pilots. 3 squadrons made a group and 3 groups made a wing. It was clear that as a fighter pilot in the squadron, they had to do their duty. Rall never felt like his luck was running out. They had a number of losses and in the evenings Rall, as a commander, had to write letters home to mothers. This certainly had an impact on the mentality of pilots. The group was like a family and nobody failed.  


After losing his thumb Rall was out of combat for a while because his wound was infected.He went back to his wing early. He was wounded on 12 May 1944 and got back to his wing in August. When he got there they wouldn't let him fly in combat because of his hand and instead made him the commander of the flight leaders school. This is how he was able to fly the different aircraft of Allies. For training missions he flew the P-38, P-47, and P-51 as a target.Rall was an instructor for 3 months and then was ready for combat. He became the wing commander for Wing 300. This was the last wing. The wing separated and Rall allowed every mechanic to take instruments with them so they had something to start their professional lives with after the war.Rall walked to the American lines and surrendered to them. He was then taken to England to a British fighter school. They arrived there very early in the morning. A British wing commander came and apologized to the Germans telling them that they didn't expect them this early. He offered them lunch and cigarettes and treated them as gentleman. Then they spent about 3 or 4 weeks there and they would talk with some of the British fighter pilots.Rall heard about Hitler's death while still in Germany. Hitler's death was not a big shock and there was much chaos in leadership.Rall considered some of the dogfights in Russia as some of the most dangerous dog fighting. Until you could get behind the aircraft or beside in a deflection shot, things were difficult.The most difficult situation he ever found himself in was when he broke his back in November of 1941. They were between Taganrog and Rostov, it was cold and snowing. Rall was in a late afternoon mission with cloud cover. He got a Russian and the flames from the enemy plane blinded Rall for a moment. The Russian's wingman got behind Rall and shot his engine off. This forced Rall to dive down and his dive angle ended in a crash landing after a hard bounce. His wingmen told him later that there were German tanks nearby that came and got him out of the plane. He was hanging in the cockpit and had been scalped by the emergency handle in the cockpit. This flight had the greatest consequences. They took him back to Taganrog into a burned out school building. He was there about 2 weeks in great pain and paralyzed on his right side.Rall was taken with some other aboard U-52 down to Bucharest in Romania to a hospital for X-ray. He was told he broke his back 3 times and could never fly again. He got a cast to support his back that he had on for about 8 months. After 8 months, they cut it off and he collapsed. After another 4 weeks he returned to his wing.Rall was so determined to fly again because his squadron was like a family. He didn't want to go to another unit where he didn't know anyone. When he was ready to leave the hospital, he put in to rejoin his unit and not some other wing. 


[Annotator's Note: for the first 35 seconds of this segment Rall is speaking German with someone in the room other than the interviewer]Rall met Adolf Hitler 3 times. The first time he met him was to receive his Oak Leaves [Annotator's Note: Oak Leaves are the first upgrade to the German Knight's Cross]. The meeting was in East Prussia at the Wolfschanze [Annotator's Note: the "Wolf's Lair." the name of Hitler's Eastern Front military headquarters]. The German troops were in front of Stalingrad and there was a very positive feeling around the headquarters that they would take Stalingrad.Hitler asked Rall and the others where they were from. After that, Hitler began to speaking to the group giving them the facts of what was happening with the war. After a while, Rall interrupted Hitler and asked how long the war would last in Russia. He asked this because when the war first started the headline in the Volkischer Beobachter {Annotator's Note: the newspaper of the Nazi Party] stated that the war would be over by the first snow. Rall remembered freezing in a tent near Poltava when the first snow fell. Hitler told Rall, "I don't know." This surprised Rall because Hitler knew everything.9 months later, Rall met Hitler again when he received his "Swords". This time Hitler's speaking was different and vague, what Rall calls mystical. Hitler gave no factual information this time. This was after Stalingrad when the army kept pulling back. The public was always told that the army was just restructuring the front lines. They were never told that the army was retreating.At this time, the German military was falling back. The third time Rall met Hitler, there were 18 "Sword Bearers" [Annotator's Note: those who had been awarded the German Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords]. They were called to Hitler's Headquarters in East Prussia. The theme of Hitler's speech this time was the war in the West. When does the invasion come and where? How do we counter it? Rall saw Hitler at the table during a lunch and he had some 20 medical pills around him. That was the last time that Rall saw him. Rall also remembers that you could notice a difference in Hitler by examining his signature too.Rall received his Oak Leaves for his air victories in combat. The longer the war went on the higher the cost for the decorations the men received. Rall got the Knight's Cross for 60 victories, for 100 he got the Oak Leaves, and for the Swords it was 200.Rall was a master at deflection shooting, which he attributes to instinct. Young pilots often asked him that question and he tells them that you didn't want to shoot until the enemy was filling the gun sight. If in a turn, you had to shoot ahead of the aircraft in the direction they are turning. But, it is very much instinctive. Rall said they talked about the idea of deflection, but never really trained at it because they never had the time to.In regards to great pilots, Mullos [Annotator's Note: unsure of spelling or who Rall is talking about] and Lutzow [Annotator's Note: World War 2 German Air Force Colonel Gunther Lutzow] were fine guys. Lutzow exploded in a Me 262 on a mission.Hartmann [Annotator's Note: World War 2 German Air Force Major Erich "Bubi" Hartmann was the highest scoring fighter ace of all time with 352 aerial victories] was much more simple. He was the highest scorer, but not very much of a leader in the air. Hartmann was a squadron commander in Rall's group.Rall others as well like Krupinski [Annotator's Note: World War 2 German Air Force Captain Walter "The Count" Krupinski] and Obleser [Annotator's Note: World War 2 German Air Force First Lieutenant Friedrich Obleser]. Krupinski was the unit leader, even in the new German Air Force. Obleser took over the squadron when Rall became a group commander. 


[Annotator's Note: for the first 35 seconds of this segment Rall is speaking German with someone in the room other than the interviewer].With regards to the number of aerial victories, Gunther Rall recalls that American pilots flew some 50 missions and then returned to the United States. Germany was at war for 5 and a half years so their pilots had to serve much longer on the front lines and needed all the pilots they could get. Rall remembers that you flew many missions and didn't see any German pilots. This was similar to the British as well. They fought the war a long time, flew all the time, and had many more chances to hit an enemy in the air.After the war, Rall flew in NATO in the new German Air Force. The old air force was a national air force and flew within the national boundaries before the war. In the new air force Rall was given a refresher starting at Landsberg flying T-6s and T-33s. Then he went to the United States flying the F-84 and then F-86s in Canada. Later on he spent some time flying in 104s in Palmdale. Rall feels that the closest friendships are among fighter pilots. As a bomber pilot, you fly at 8,000 meters and don't have a personal relationship to your target. A fighter pilot however sees his enemy and sometimes even sees his face. So he had a personal relation to his target in the air. In fact, Hub Zemke was his closest friend he had killed some of the men in Rall's group and Rall had killed his wingman. Bud Anderson wrote the forward for Rall's book, My Logbook.Rall feels that it is important that young people know about World War 2 and see what comes out of war. For Rall, a war is not a solution of political problems. He feels that we'll never have a war with 800 - 4 engine aircraft and 1000 fighters escorting. What we have now with terrorism is a different kind of war. He feels armed forces have every right in defending our life and political existance, but not being the aggressor.When the war ended, Rall remembered having nothing. His wife was in Vienna but left when the war ended. Afterward, she was not allowed to go back to Austria because she was married to a German. Modern Germany is surrounded by friendly countries for the first time as a nation.Rall ends the interview discussing modern politics regarding Bush's wanting to bring Asia into NATO and Obama desiring to meet with Muslims and fix relationships with Russia. 

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