When it comes to the raw, cruel, violent brutality of war, it is hard to imagine that there could be anything civilised about international conflicts. Words such as chivalry, integrity and mutual respect seldom come to mind. However, these words are very applicable to a military leader called Adolf Galland.
Adolf ‘Dolfo’ Galland was born in Westphalia, in Germany’s Free State of Prussia, in March 1912. As a little boy, he was fascinated by planes and started building model aircraft at the age of twelve, before becoming a glider pilot as a teenager. Galland soon had his mind set on becoming a commercial pilot, in spite of his father’s attempts to dissuade him. As with quite a few German aces, Galland received his initial flight training at Lufthansa’s Commercial Air Transport School. In 1933 he was sent to Italy, where he undertook combat training to fly for the German Air Force – the Luftwaffe, which was operating underground at the time, due to the constraints imposed upon the German Air Force by the Treaty of Versailles signed at the end of World War 1 in 1918. During training, Galland crashed a Focke Wulf FW-44 biplane, leaving him in a coma for three days. He had a fractured skull and was partially blinded in his left eye. However, he was soon back in the sky. After crashing again, this time in an Arado Ar-68, Galland’s left eye received more damage and he ended up in hospital once again. A friend stole an eye chart from a medical examiner, allowing Galland to memorise every letter in every possible sequence. Thus Galland was able to pass his eye test and ultimately his medical examination. As from that point in time, Galland had a highly successful flying career.
Combat in Spain
In 1936, civil war erupted in Spain. Germany responded by sending its Condor Legion, in order to support Nationalist rebels in overthrowing the Spanish government. Several future aces, including Galland, benefited from the civil war by gaining valuable combat experience. In fact many Luftwaffe tactics that were later used during World War II, were first tested in Spain. Galland became a Squadron Leader, whilst responsible for flying ground attack and close air support missions in Heinkel He-51 biplanes. As a matter of interest, it was not uncommon for Galland to be clothed only in swimming trunks, whilst flying combat sorties in the hot Spanish summer. After completing more than 300 sorties in Spain, Galland was awarded the Spanish Cross in Gold with Diamonds and assigned to serve in the German Air Ministry.
World War II
When Germany invaded Poland, Adolf Galland was in command of a Henschel Hs-123 squadron. He excelled at flying dive bombing missions against Polish forces and was awarded the Iron Cross. However, Galland really wanted to fly fighters. He feigned rheumatism and was given a medical certificate, which stated that he would not be allowed to fly open cockpit aircraft any longer. Galland was therefore transferred to a fighter squadron and scored his first kill against a Hawker Hurricane. By the end of the French Campaign, he had shot down fourteen Allied aircraft.
With the start of the Battle of Britain, Galland was transferred to JG.26, which eventually became a legendary fighter squadron. He shot down two fighters during his first sortie with JG.26 and several promotions were to follow during the next few months. Galland’s Messerschmitt Bf-109 could easily be recognised by the Mickey Mouse painted on the fuselage. It was also the only Bf-109 in the Luftwaffe that was equipped with a cigar lighter. Meanwhile, Galland shot down more and more Allied aircraft and he was subsequently awarded the Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves. When asked what Luftwaffe pilots needed to win the Battle of Britain, Galland responded, “I should like an outfit of Spitfires for my squadron.” This did not go down well with Herman Goering and it was the beginning of a sour relationship between Galland and Adolf Hitler’s favourite politician.
In an interview during the mid 1990s, Galland described the day on which he scored his seventieth kill. “We had attacked some Bristol Blenheim bombers over France, and I shot down two, but some Supermarine Spitfires were on me and they shot my plane up. I had to belly-land in a field where I was rescued by German soldiers. I went on another mission after lunch. On this mission I shot down number seventy, but I did something stupid. I was following the burning Spitfire down when I was bounced by another Spitfire and shot up badly. My plane was on fire, and I was wounded. I tried to bail out, but the canopy was jammed shut from enemy bullets. So I tried to stand in the cockpit, forcing the canopy open with my back as the plane screamed toward earth. I had opened it and almost cleared the 109 when my parachute harness became entangled on the radio aerial. I fought it with everything I had until I finally broke free, my parachute opening just as I hit the ground.”
Following his 94th kill, Galland was promoted to General der Jagdflieger (General of Fighters). By then, Swords and Diamonds had been added to his Knight’s Cross. Galland was no longer allowed to fly operationally and was responsible for making major tactical and strategic decisions. He test flew one of the early Messerschmitt Me-262 jet fighters and immediately realised the importance of using these aircraft as fighters, rather than bombers as Adolf Hitler had ordered. After the war, Galland said, “If we would have had the 262 at our disposal - even with all the delays - if we could have had it in '44, ah, let's say three hundred operational, that day we could have stopped the American daytime bombing offensive, that's for sure.”
Galland was never afraid to stand up to his superiors, Herman Goering and Adolf Hitler, when he disagreed with their reasoning and decisions. Because of this, he was relieved of his post, put under house arrest and accused of treason, before eventually returning to active duty as a fighter pilot. Galland joined an elite fighter unit and scored seven more kills whilst flying Me-262 fighter jets.
At the end of World War II, Galland surrendered to American forces and was held captive as a prisoner of war up to 1947. He had shot down a total of 104 enemy aircraft.
Galland tried his best to keep the fighter pilots under his command as civilised as possible. He regarded the act of firing upon parachuting pilots as murder and forbade his pilots to partake in such actions. In short, he respected his adversaries. When Galland discovered that Douglas Bader’s (see last month’s ‘Best of the Best’ article) artificial legs had been damaged, he requested that new ones be sent from England. After the war, Bader and Galland became lifelong friends. Adolf Galland became a successful businessman and died in 1996.
This article was written by Divan Muller and first published in African Pilot Magazine in 2008 - www.africanpilot.co.za