"The flyingest General in the German Air Force," Günther Rall, entered the German Army in 1936 as an officer candidate in the infantry. However, the 20-year-old Rall decided aviation was his real interest and transferred to the Luftwaffe. After pilot training, he was assigned to Fighter Wing (JG) 52 in 1939. On 12 May 1940, during the blitzkrieg into France, he scored his first victory--a P-36 Mohawk. At 22, he became squadron commander of 8./JG 52 and fought for 5 months during the Battle of Britain and then participated in the German advance into the Balkans and Greece.
As the advance into Russia began, Rall's squadron downed almost 50 Soviet bombers in a 5-day period. On 28 November 1941, with 36 victories to his credit, he was shot down near Rostov. His back was broken in three places and doctors said he would never fly again! Determined to return to combat, in August 1942, he rejoined his squadron on the Eastern Front and soon earned the Knight's Cross for his 65th victory. By late October, he scored his 100th victory and added the Oak Leaves to his Knight's Cross. In April 1943, he took command of III Group of JG 52 and on 29 August 1943 recorded his 200th victory. In the next 3 months, he added another 50 enemy aircraft to his score and was awarded the Swords to his Knight's Cross.
Even though out of combat for 9 months, he was the second pilot to reach the 250 mark. In March 1944, he was sent to the Western Front to command II/JG 11, but was soon wounded in a battle with P-47 Thunderbolts over Belgium and did not return to combat for 6 months. At war's end, he commanded JG 300, flying the long-nosed Focke Wulf FW-190D. In 1956, he joined his nation's new air force as a lieutenant colonel and was sent to Arizona to train at Luke AFB. Later, Rall was responsible for procuring the F-104 Starfighter for the German Air Force. As Commander of the German Tactical Air Command, he oversaw the training of a new generation of skilled pilots. He became Commander of the German Air Force in 1970 and strengthened its role in the NATO Alliance. He retired in 1974 as a lieutenant general with almost 40 years of service to his country.
Günther Rall flew most of his more than 800 combat missions and gained most of his 275 victories in the Messerschmitt Me-109. Germany's third highest-scoring ace states that he can still picture almost every one of those combats. One he recounts occurred in the Caucasus region of Russia: "I knew I had him. We were hurtling along together, with me on his tail...both aircraft just at the same speed, and at deck level. He tried to make a shallow left turn...my opportunity. I squeezed the trigger. Blam...hit him with the first few shots and he went in immediately...nothing remained of him but a bunch of scattered debris..." Rall was considered the Luftwaffe's most skillful long-range, angle-off shot. In his own words, "It was hard work and experience that gave me my success."