Germany's Adolf Galland is one of the best known fighter pilots and personalities of World War II, achieving 104 aerial victories on the Western Front and becoming the first person in the German armed forces to receive the Swords to the Knight's Cross. Born in 1912, Galland began his flying career in gliders during the 1920s and was one of the first pilots to join the reborn Luftwaffe in 1934. Because of his superior flying skills, he instructed at the Luftwaffe Fighter Pilot School and, in 1937, volunteered to fly for the Nationalist side in the Spanish Civil War.
Assigned to the famous all-German Condor Legion, Galland flew over 280 sorties in the bi-winged He-51 in the ground support role. At this time, he also wrote a series of reports on direct ground support operations that later became a vital element of the blitzkrieg. During the Battle of France in May 1940, Galland transferred to fighters and achieved his first victories, three in a day, while flying the Me-109E. Within 2 months, he commanded the 3rd Group of JG-26 and was promoted to major. By September, he achieved 40 confirmed victories and became one of the leading aces of the Luftwaffe. Following his 50th victory, Galland was promoted to lieutenant colonel and given command of JG-26.
He remained with this unit on the Channel Coast throughout the Battle of Britain. He was appointed General of Fighter Forces in December 1941 and, shortly after receiving the Diamonds to the Knight's Cross the following month, became at age 30 the youngest general officer in the German armed forces. From early 1945 until the end of the war, Lieutenant General Galland commanded JV-44, an elite fighter unit composed of German aces now flying the Me-262 jet. His outstanding professionalism, characterized by chivalry and foresight, attracted considerable admiration from Allied pilots during and after the war.
The Messerschmitt 262A, the world's first operational jet, was a high performance, single-seat, twin-jet fighter capable of speeds in excess of 540 mph--an advance of 120 mph over the fastest propeller-driven aircraft. Following Galland's first flight in the Me-262A on 22 May 1943, he described his experience, ".as though angels were pushing." While commanding JV-44, "The Squadron of Experts," Galland achieved seven aerial victories. Galland recognized the Me-262A's superior capabilities, and strongly advocated that it be the main defense fighter interceptor for the Luftwaffe. His tactical foresight was demonstrated on 7 April 1945 when sixteen Me-262s armed with rockets engaged Allied B-17 Flying Fortresses over Westphalia, Germany. The attack resulted in 25 B-17s being shot down.