Günther Rall shot down at least 275 opponents and is the third highest-scoring ace in the history of aerial combat! The son of a merchant, Rall was born in Gaggenau, Baden-Wurttemberg, on 10 March 1918. He entered military service in 1936 as an officer candidate for the infantry. The following year, he transferred to the Luftwaffe and in 1939 qualified as a pilot. He was assigned to a Jagdgeschwader (fighter wing) and based near Stuttgart. Two days after the Germans began their blitzkrieg acrosstheir western border, Rall shot down a Curtiss Hawk 75 of the French Air Force.
At age 22, he became Staffelkapitän (Squadron Commander) of 8./JG 52 and fought for 5 months during the Battle of Britain in 1940. He flew in the German advance into Yugoslavia and Greece and over the airborne landings on the island of Crete. In June 1941, as the Germans began Operation Barbarosa into Russia, Rall's squadron downed almost 50 bombers of the Soviet Air Force in a 5-day period. In late November 1941, with 36 aerial 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! Rall was determined to return to combat and, in August 1942, rejoined his squadron on the Eastern Front. On 3 September 1942, he received the Ritterkreuz (Knight's Cross) after achieving 65 victories.
By late October, Rall had 100 victories and added the Eichenlaub (Oak Leaves) to his Ritterkreuz. In the spring of 1943, he became Group Commander of III/JG 52 with 3 squadrons. He achieved his 200th victory in late August 1943 and became the 34th recipient of the Schwerten (Swords) in September. Rall added 50 more victories and became the second pilot in history to reach 250. He had flown the Messerschmitt Me 109 on all of his combats. In March 1944, he took command of II/JG 11 on the Western Front. In a battle with Republic P-47 Thunderbolts , he was wounded and lost a thumb. Out of combat for 6 months, he went on to command a fighter wing, JG 300, and flew the Focke Wulf FW-190.
At the end of World War II, he had 275 confirmed aerial victories and was known as a skillful, long-range, angle-off shot. In 1956, Rall joined Germany's new air force and trained in Arizona at Luke AFB. Later, he was a key figure in the introduction of the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter and went on to command a wing of these aircraft at Memmingen. As Commander of the German tactical air forces, he trained a new generation of skilled pilots. In 1970, he became Commander of the German Air Force and strengthened its role in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. He retired in 1974 as a generalleutnant and now lives in Karlstein near Bad Reichenhall in the Bavarian Alps.
In late 1958, the German Federal Republic selected the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter to be the primary fighter. The first Luftwaffe Starfighters were built in the United States, but, by September 1962, the aircraft was being built in seven countries including Germany. The Luftwaffe flew the Starfighter as a fighter-interceptor, fighter-bomber, and as a photographic reconnaissance aircraft. The F-104G had unmatched performance among fighters of the world and played an important role in the defense of free nations in Europe for many years.