Adolf Galland, 1912-1996

General Adolf Galland (1912-1996) was the leading German fighter ace of the Battle of Britain, and went on to serve as General of the Fighter Arm from November 1941 until the start of 1945. Galland was born in Westphalia on 19 March 1912. By the time he turned 17 he was already a well known glider pilot, having won a number contests. He applied to join the German Airline Pilot School in 1932 and was one of only 20 out of 20,000 applicants to reach the training school. Here he discovered that the entire scheme was a cover for military aviation training. Galland agreed to take part in the military training, which only now came under the control of the Nazis. After two months in Italy he returned to Germany for training on heavy aircraft, before spending a short period as a Lufthansa pilot. This was followed by entry into the army, and in the summer of 1934 with a posting to the still secret Luftwaffe. Early in 1935 the Luftwaffe was made public.  

In 1937 Galland volunteered to join the Condor Force, the Luftwaffe's contribution to the Nationalist side in the Spanish Civil War. He flew 280 combat missions between May 1937 and July 1938 and played a major part in the development of the Luftwaffe's ground attack tactics. In 1938 he was put in charge of the creation of five dedicated ground attack units, although only two survived to take part in the invasion of Poland.

Galland took part in the short campaign in Poland in 1939 with the ground attack forces, winning the Iron Cross 2nd Class. At the end of October he transferred to the fighter wing and began conversion training on the Bf 109.

His short but successful career as a front line fighter pilot began with the invasion of the west in May 1940. On 12 May, three days after the invasion, he scored his first three victories, over Liége. After ten more victories he was promoted to command III/ JG 26, then to command of JG 26. Galland took part in the Battle of Britain, becoming the Luftwaffe's highest scoring 'ace' with 57 victories to his credit (during this period the Luftwaffe over claimed by three-to-one).

In March 1941 Galland was present at a meeting in which Goering informed his unit commanders of his plans for a renewed assault on Britain, but at the end of the meeting Galland was one of two men told that this had been misinformation. Most of the Luftwaffe was about to move east to take part in the attack on the Soviet Union, leaving only two fighter groups, including Galland's JG 26, in the west to face the RAF. Galland continued to rise in rank, and to receive recognistion for his achievements, receiving the Swords to the Knights Cross on 21 June 1941 and the Diamonds to the Knights Cross on 28 January 1942 (after his 94th victory).

On 22 November 1941 Werner Moelders, the General of the Fighter Arm, was killed in an air crash while travelling to Ernst Udet's funeral. Galland was appointed as his successor, and held the job until 15 January 1945. 'General of the Fighter Arm' was a post, not a rank, and Galland didn't become a general in rank until 19 November 1942, when he was aged only 31. This made his Germany's second youngest general of the Second World War, and the youngest to see any significant active service (the youngest was Generalmajor Erich Baerenfaenger who was promoted in the ruins of Berlin in April 1945 and killed himself ten days later).

Galland's first major task in his new post was to provide cover for the 'channel dash' of February 1942, in which the Gneisenau, Scharnhorst and Prinz Eugen escaped from Brest to Germany. Galland used the two fighter wings already based in France and one from Germany for this operation, giving him 250 fighters. The RAF was unable to make a strong coordinated attack on the German fleet, and Galland's fighters were able to deal with the smaller scale attacks that did take place.

By February 1943 Galland believed that he had effectively defeated the day-light raids being carried out by the four engined heavy bombers of the US Eighth Air Force. He still wanted an increase in fighter production, but believed that the main threat in daylight would come in North Africa and the Mediterranean. In the summer of 1943 he actually took direct command of the fighter forces defending Sicily, and was still in the south of Italy on 10 July when the Allied invasion of the island began.

This invasion could be seen as marking the beginning of the end for Galland. His strengthened fighter forces in Sicily were unable to prevent the Allies from gaining air supremacy, and merely suffered heavier losses. Worse was soon to come, as the Allies launched a series of raids on Hamburg in June-August. The city was devastated by a fire storm, and a million refugees spread out across Germany. According to Galland's later accounts after the attack on Hamburg an increasing number of senior German leaders began to believe that the war was lost.

In the autumn of 1943 the first American long range fighters appeared over Germany. In September they reached Germany territory for the first time when some were shot down over Aachen. Galland informed Hitler of this ominous development, a move that infuriated Goering (partly because he didn't believe that the report was true). Neither side was satisfied with the events of October 1943 - the Allies because of the high cost of the Schweinfurt raid of 14 October, Goering because he didn't think enough enemy aircraft had been shot down. Galland was forced to pass on this negative message to his fighter wings.

Over the winter of 1943-44 the Luftwaffe fighter wing was virtually destroyed. After the events of October Galland developed a new strategy in which the single-engined fighters attempted to intercept the American escort fighters, while the twin-engined fighters attacked the B-17s. By late December it was clear that this strategy had failed and German fighter losses were running at a dangerous high level. Once again worse was to come. Early in 1944 the Allies made the Luftwaffe the main target of their aerial offensive (Operation Pointblank). 'Big Week' of 20-25 February was particularly costly for the Luftwaffe. Galland reported that the Luftwaffe had lost 1,000 fighter pilots between January and April 1944 and that the fighter wing was close to collapse. Over the rest of the year he was forced to make a series of increasingly desperate attempts to replace the lost pilots. In March he called for experienced volunteers from other parts of the Luftwaffe to become fighter pilots and even unit leaders, and by May he had been forced to take 80 instructors from the fighter schools to temporarily fill the gaps.  

By the end of 1944 it was clear that Galland was about to be dismissed. There was one last disaster to suffer before he could return to operational flying. On 1 January 1945 the Luftwaffe made an all-out attack on the airfields being used by the Allies fighters and tactical air forces (Operation Bodenplatte). Although a significant number of Allied aircraft were destroyed on the ground, they could be replaced. The 260 Luftwaffe aircrew lost in the attack could not, and Galland described this attack as the death-knell of the Luftwaffe. On 15 February 1945 he was officially removed from his post and replaced by Oberst Gordon M. Gollob.

Galland reverted to his earlier role as a squadron leader, this time in command of a special fighter unit, Jagdverband 44, that had been formed to operate the new Me 262 twin engined jet fighter. Galland had first flown this aircraft in May 1943, and became an enthusiast support of its use as a fighter. Hitler disagreed and insisted that the aircraft be used as a fighter bomber, a move that slightly delayed its entry into service (production difficulties unrelated to this decision had a much bigger impact). Now at the start of 1945 with the war already lost Galland was given the task of leading a unit of 30 leading aces against the Allied bombers. The new unit was only able to fly a small number of sorties, before on 26 April Galland's aircraft was badly damaged by Mustangs. He made a forced landing during a Thunderbolt raid on his base, and badly injured his knee. Galland was forced to hand command of the unit over to Heinz Baer, although he remained with the unit and helped it move to Salzburg in the last days of the war. Galland ended the war with 103 accredited victories (although 57 of those victories came during the Battle of Britain, a period that saw the Luftwaffe over-claim by at least three-to-one).

Galland spent two years as a POW before moving to Argentina where he remained until 1955. After his return to Germany he worked in the aircraft industry, as well as producing a valuable autobiography, The First and the Last.

‘Big Week’ 1944 – Operation Argument and the breaking of the Jadgwaffe, Douglas C. Dildy. Looks at the USAAF’s concentrated attack on the German aircraft industry, a week of massive bombing raids that forced the Luftwaffe into an equally massive defensive effort that cost them around 150 aircrew at a time when they could hardly afford those losses, as well as cutting German fighter production by around 2,000 aircraft, and proving that the long range escort fighter was the key to a successful daylight bombing campaign (Read Full Review)
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (21 February 2011), Adolf Galland, 1912-1996 ,

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