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Adolf Galland (1912-96)

Adolf Joseph Ferdinand Galland, a highly decorated fighter pilot in the Luftwaffe, was credited with 104 aerial victories and lived to a ripe old age of 84

Issue: 07-2016By Joseph Noronha

History is written by the victors,” declared Walter Benjamin. That is perhaps why we know more about the British and American military heroes of World War II than those from Germany or Japan. However, the vanquished Germans produced some of the finest military strategists, aviation technologists, fighter aces. Adolf Galland was one of their more remarkable personalities. He worked his way up the ladder as an ordinary pilot in the Luftwaffe, became an ace during the opening days of the War and was appointed commander of a combat squadron.

He rose to command the German Fighter Force by the age of 30 and continued there till the end of the War. He flew 705 combat missions and was decorated with the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds – one of Nazi Germany’s highest awards in recognition of extreme bravery or outstanding military leadership during World War II.

Adolf Galland was born on March 19, 1912, in Westerholt Germany. As a teenager, he took gliding lessons. Under the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was denied an air force, but gliders were permitted and many young German pilots began their flying career on gliders. In February 1932, Galland joined the aviation school of Germany’s national airline, Lufthansa. His first flight was in an Albatros Al-101 trainer. His early flying career was affected adversely by a couple of serious accidents. In February 1934, he joined the new Luftwaffe and by April 1935 became a fighter pilot with the JG-2 ‘Richthofen’ Wing. In October 1935, while practising aerobatics, he crashed a Focke-Wulf Fw 44 biplane and was in a coma for three days. He also suffered a damaged eye, fractured skull and broken nose. Unsurprisingly he was declared medically unfit for flying. However, the doctor’s report was concealed and he continued flying. A year later, he crashed an Arado Ar 68 fighter which aggravated the injured eye. This time he memorised all the eyetest charts and cleared the medical test.

In 1937, Galland joined the German Condor Legion in Spain, sent to support the Spanish Nationalists under General Franco. He commanded a unit equipped with the Heinkel He-51 biplanes, which were used in the ground attack and close support roles. He distinguished himself, flying 280 combat sorties. Just before the outbreak of World War II, Galland was promoted to Captain and flew 87 missions during the first couple of weeks of combat in Poland.

Adolf Galland’s tiffs with Hermann Göring, Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe, started during the Battle of Britain. In July 1940, the Germans began by attacking coastal targets and British shipping, gradually venturing out towards airfields and communication centres. The RAF’s Fighter Command offered stiff resistance, but came under enormous pressure as the Luftwaffe launched its main offensive on August 13, 1940. Then the British decided to take on the Luftwaffe directly and gradually gained the upper hand. On a visit to a forward airfield Göring, irritated by the Luftwaffe’s failure to prevail, asked Galland sarcastically what more the German fighter pilots needed to win. The young ace rather cheekily replied, “Herr Reichsmarschall, a squadron of Spitfires!”

Galland continued to flirt with death and notch up victories during the intense aerial engagements of the War. On June 21, 1941, he was shot up by Spitfires and belly-landed in a field. Undeterred, he took off on another mission, but was shot up badly. Severely injured, with his aircraft on fire, he attempted to bail out, but the canopy was jammed shut. As the plane plunged towards earth, he struggled desperately, finally managing to free himself. His parachute opened just before he hit the ground.

In 1942, Galland was promoted to Major General and then Lt General soon after. He was just over 30 years old – the youngest general in the German forces. But his outspokenness and refusal to toe the party line when he felt Göring to be in error, eventually undermined his standing with the Nazi hierarchy. He emphasised the need for more fighters to counter the intense Allied bombing raids, but Adolf Hitler was intent on using his fighters as bombers and they were shot out of the skies. Hitler and Göring were always trying to find scapegoats for their own errors of judgement and as Germany began to face military reverses on all fronts, this tendency intensified. The fatherland came under severe bombardment even in broad daylight and the Luftwaffe fighter force, outnumbered and under relentless pressure, was unable to resist. Göring publicly denounced his own pilots as cowards. He accused Galland of not employing correct tactics, relieved him of command and placed him under house arrest.

Only Hitler’s direct intervention saved Galland and he continued to fly combat missions as a Lt General, till he was shot down for the fourth and last time on April 26, 1945. By now, the end of the Third Reich was clearly inevitable. Galland was held in American military custody for two years and released in 1947. He went to Argentina and acted as a consultant to the Argentine Air Force for some time before returning to Germany.

Three Galland brothers had become fighter pilots and all three were aces. Adolf’s youngest brother Paul scored 17 victories and was killed in combat in October 1942. Another younger brother Wilhelm-Ferdinand recorded 54 victories and was awarded the Knight’s Cross before he was killed in August 1943. Adolf Galland himself was credited with 104 aerial victories. He lived to a ripe old age and died on February 9, 1996.