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Adolf Galland: General of the Fighters

Reprinted from WWII Magazine

Battling overwhelming odds in the air and his superiors on the ground, Germany’s Adolf Galland became a legend.

By Colin D Heaton

When historians speak of pilots and the history of air combat, certain names invariably come up sooner or later - Manfred von Richtofen, Edward Mannock, Rene Fonck, Erich Hartmann, Alexander Pokryshkin, Johnny Johnson, Dick Bong.....and Adolf Galland. Galland was the youngest general grade office of either side in World War II, and at age 29 he was more competent in aerial combat, strategy and tactics them many of the experts nearly twice his age.

Galland fought a hard battle against his superiors on the ground, which made the danger in the air inviting, almost welcome. Adolf Hitler and Luftwaffe Chief Hermann Goring, who were always trying to find fault and place the blame on others for their own failures, began pointing their fingers at the fighter pilots. Was it not they who failed to stop the death and destruction delivered by Allied bombers? Was it not the fighter pilots who demanded more of the resources and new technology, yet produced the least results? Goring betrayed his pilots and publicly denounced them as cowards, provoking the Fighters’ revolt in January 1945.

Galland, well known and admired by his enemies across the English Channel as an honorable and chivalrous foe, found and enemy he could not vanquish. The consumate warrior was engaged in heated battle with absolutist politicians and demagogues, who considered honor and dchivalry a weakness. He eventually returned to where he had risen, the cockpit of a fighter plane, but as a lieutenant general leading a squadron. As a fighter pilot he was credited with 104 aerial victories.

Galland survived the political intrigues and combat of both the Spanish Civil War and World War II, only to find himself I South America working for Argentinian dictator Juan Peron, who at least apprecited his expert knowledge and relied on his honesty.

A holder of the Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds, Galland died in 1996 at the age of 83. He granted this interview in 1994.

WWII: General, please describe your childhood and family life.

Galland: I was born in Westerhold, a small villagein Westphalia on March 19, 1912, so I am now 81 years old. I was the second son, Fritz being the oldest, then myself, Wilhelm and Paul. My father was an administrator of private lands and properties, and he was very fair, but harsh. We had the best mother in the world, and during the war, she used to pray for fog to cover our bases so we could not fly.

WWII: Two of your brothers were combat pilots - which were they?


Galland: Yes, that would be Wilhelm and Paul, the youngest. Paul was the first to die in combat, shot down and killed in 1942, and Wilhelm was killed a year later. Paul had 17 victories, and Wilhelm had 54 and the Knight’s Cross. Fritz was an attorney.

WWII: What developed your interest in flying?

Galland: Right from the beginning, as a boy, my greatest interest had always been flying. I started building models of aircraft when I was 12 years old, and when I was 16 I flew in gliders. Over the course of the next three years, I became a sucessful glider pilot, my entire purpose being to study and become a commercial airline pilot. However, my father was not very enthusiastic about this idea at all. This was my dream since 1925, and he had no understanding of my dream.

WWII: How did you become a founding member of the Condor Legion, the German pilots who flew for General Francisco Franco’s forces (Nationalists) during the Spanish Civil War?

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Galland: After one year of training as a commercial pilot I was strongly “invited” to join the “Black Air Force” (the clandestine air force Germany was training prior to Adolf Hitler’s rise to power). This was in the remarkable year of 1933, and I already had my first pilot’s license. My coinciding training as a fighter pilot helped immensely with the commercial pilot’s courses, but by 1937 I had already become a “volunteer” in the Condor Legion.

This activity was liked very much by all the young fighter pilots. I did have a small problem after a crash in a Focke-Wulf Fw-44 biplane in 1935 while in training, and a colleague, future Luftwaffe ace Dieter Hrabak, had one the following week due to bad weather.

I had modified the plane beyond normal limits and slammed into the ground. Everyone thought I was dead, and I was ina coma for three days. My parents came and stayed with me until I came out of it. I had serious skull fractures, a broken nose, which never looked the same again, and I was partially blinded in my left eye from glass fragments, so I still had to pass the physical.

My CO (commanding officer), Major Rheitel, a flier from the First World War, assisted me in my goal to return to flying. So I continued to fly, but a year later I crashed an Arado Ar-68 and again went into the hospital, where they pulled my old file stating that I was grounded. Well, with many days in the hospital again I memorized every letter and number in every possible sequence on the eye chart for my next examination. You know, to this day, I still have some of the glass from the first crash in my eye.

WWII: When did you get to Spain?

Galland: We left for Spain with the Union Travel Society, ostensibly bound for Genoa on a tramp steamer. After 12 days we arrived in El Ferrol on May 7, 1937. I had been to Spain before with Lufthansa and looked forward to returning. In our group of men there were many future aces and leaders fighting for Franco's Nationalists, such as Hannes Trautloft, Wilhelm Balthasar, Günther Lützow, Eduard Neumann and Hajo Herrmann, who flew Junkers Ju-52s. I became a squadron leader in the Legion Fighter Group, and we were equipped with Heinkel He-51 biplanes. Lüzow commanded a squadron of the new Messerschmitt Bf-109Bs.

WWII: What was the Condor Legion's strength in Spain?

Galland: Only four squadrons each of fighters and bombers and a reconnaissance squadron. We had four heavy and two light AA batteries, and signals units, but we never exceeded around 5,600 men. Generalleutnant Hugo Sperrle was the first CO of the Legion in Spain, and he personally led a flight of bombers against ships at Cartagena.

WWII: What was your first engagement in Spain?

Galland: Brunete, where we sent every plane we had against the Republican forces in July 1937. The Madrid front was controlled by the Communists, equipped with modern fighters--Russian Polikarpov I-16 Ratas. We bombed and strafed and engaged Loyalist fighters while our artillery pounded their ground positions. Finally we won, and Franco's forces were safe from a disastrous defeat. We also performed dive-bombing missions and created new tactics in ground support.

WWII: Is it true you often flew in swimming trunks and shirtless?

Galland: Yes, I flew over 300 missions as a leader, and due to the great heat of the Spanish summer we often flew with hardly any clothes on. That was another innovation we created (laughs).

WWII: Weren't you also part of the development of some innovative weapons?

Galland: Yes, we filled drop tanks and drums with petrol and oil, using them to great effect. I also thought about having the squadron quartered on a train. Since we always had to move from one base to another, that way we would be always mobile. The Spanish Civil War was much like the First World War, not static as far as the air war went, but very fast-moving. We used the trains effectively, the aircraft being flown to their new bases as needed.

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