Very few Wehrmacht men came out of World War II with their reputations intact. Those with the first name of "Adolf" constitute an even tinier group: since the war, only a handful of boys are named "Adolf" every year, usually by Neo-Nazis trying to get attention. Every German soldier must accept a baseline level of guilt, for serving a predatory and malicious regime. Some of them amplified that guilt - Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich come immediately to mind - while others to some extent erased or minimized it through their conduct. One of those in the latter group is Adolf Galland. Lets take a look at Galland; not everything is flattering, but he has a pretty good batting average.
Adolf Joseph Ferdinand Galland was born in Westerholt, Wesphalia on 19 March 1912. The family had fled religious persecution in France during the French Revolution, thus accounting for his somewhat un-Germanic name. The French tradition continued through the years, and Adolf's mother Anna was French. Adolf had one older brother, Fritz (nicknamed "Toby" for some reason) and two younger brothers, Wilhelm-Ferdinand ("Wutz") and Paul "Paulinchen" or even "Paula"). Wutz also became a top Luftwaffe ace, and there are some who say he was even better than Adolf. Paul also became a Luftwaffe ace, with 17 victories.
Adolf became interested in flying in his teens, and started out with gliders. Glider clubs were popular in Germany in the inter-war years due to restrictions imposed by the Treaty of Versailles. A club was formed 30 km away, and Adolf walked or hitched there - and back - until his father bought him a motorcycle. He got his A (first level) certificate in 1929, and his B and C certificates not long after. Eventually, his father bought Adolf a glider and he became an instructor. One could say that he was a prodigy at flying, though he apparently had some accidents when starting out as well.
|A magazine photograph of Adolf Galland and Field Marshal Erhard Milch in uniform (1943), signed by Galland.|
After graduating from high school (Hindenburg Gymnasium), Adolf applied to and was accepted for training at Luft Hansa, the national airline (now Lufthansa). At the German Commercial Flying School, Galland beat incredible odds to become one of only 100 successful students out of 4000. He then beat more steep odds by becoming one of the 18 chosen for flight training. Despite more aerial mishaps, Galland earned a B1 certificate allowing him to fly large aircraft. Around this time, Galland received a highly prized offer to join the army (Heer), but the flying school saw talent in Galland and kept him. Eventually, shortly after Adolf Hitler took over as Chancellor in January 1933, Galland was given a chance to join the secret (and illegal) organization that turned into the Luftwaffe.
After some training in Italy, Galland returned to Germany and gained some flying experience with Luft Hansa. A formal offer to join the Luftwaffe came in December 1933, and after some hesitation (the Luft Hansa job was top shelf) accepted. Galland took basic training in the Heer, and then was assigned to Jagdgeschwader 2 as of 1 April 1935. That October, Galland once again had an aerial incident, and this time it was serious: he crashed his training plane, a Focke-Wulf Fw 44 and had extensive head injuries that put Galland in a coma. Doctors refused to clear him after that for further flying duty, but a friend, a Major Rheital, suppressed their report. Another accident in October 1936, this time with an Arado Ar 68, caused Major Rheital to be court-martialed (but cleared). Galland cheated on an eye examination (he memorized it in advance) in order to pass a physical and continue flying. His eyesight, however, was quite weak due to glass shards in his eyes from his accidents.
|Galland in 1943 in front of a Delahaye 135 MS limousine (Ketelhohn, Federal Archive).|
By this time the nationalist forces under Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War was being supported by the Luftwaffe, and Galland became Staffelkapitän of a Condor Legion unit, Staffel III of Jagdgruppe 88 (J/88—88th Fighter Group). Galland flew ground attack missions out of Ferrol in a Heinkel He 51. He completed 300 combat missions, and became something of a pioneer for the Luftwaffe in figuring out attack strategies. In fact, he became a proponent of the dive bomber technique that had been adopted by the US Army Air Corps (USAAC) and helped support Air Ministry (Reichsluftfahrtministerium (RLM)) boss Ernst Udet in his development of the Ju 87 Stuka. For his efforts in Spain, Galland received the Spanish Cross in Gold with Swords and Diamonds from Franco.
Shortly before leaving Spain, Galland experimented with the brand new Bf 109 fighter. He loved the new plane and decided to become a fighter pilot. It was during this time that some of eccentricities started to become noticed, and he began to develop a "reputation." For instance, Galland liked to fly missions in swimming trunks while flying a cigar (sometimes a pipe), and he had a Mickey Mouse emblem painted on his planes. A fellow student had high praise for Galland as a pilot, but also noted that he was "ambitious and he wanted to get noticed." Other pilots highly respected him, but some did not like Galland personally. Among the complaints was that he was a "dandy" who was "perfumed like a whore" because he actually used cologne (yes, that was considered sissified in those realms). Galland also was a highly skilled political operator, and that always rubs some people the wrong way.
After returning from Spain in May 1938, Galland took a few months off and visited North Africa. He then took up a staff position with the RLM due to his ground attack expertise. He developed the idea of close aerial bombardment, with the bombs dropped directly in front of the defenses. This enabled the Heer soldiers to advance quickly while the defenses remained disoriented. This became a key component of the Blitzkrieg formula. Galland also advocated the use of cannon in German fighters, which theretofore had only used machine guns. This suggestion also proved prescient. Other Galland ideas included the use of drop tanks and escort tactics. The Luftwaffe, a brand new organization, greatly needed people like Galland to develop tactics and doctrine that other air forces had formulated over decades.
|Galland in a still from a color film taken on the day of his surrender.|
After a short stint as a test pilot at Tutow training facility, Galland was appointed the Group leader (Gruppenkommandeur) of II Lehrgeschwader 2 (II.(S)/LG 2). This was a ground attack formation, not the fighter wing that he desired, but Galland now was positioned for combat experience in Poland. Having been promoted to Captain (Hauptman), Galland flew a Henschel Hs 123 biplane in support of the 1st Panzer Division (General der Kavallerie Maximilian Maria Joseph Reichsfreiherr von Weichs zu Glon, usually referred to as "von Weichs"). Galland's Henschels blasted a path through Kraków, Radom, Dęblin and L'vov. The advance was extremely successful, and the division reached the Vistula by 7 September. By 19 September, Galland had flown 87 missions and he was withdrawn from combat with an award of the Iron Cross, Second Class.
Galland still wanted to fly fighters, so he pulled one of those "pilot's tricks" that many other legendary figures used: he claimed rheumatism, which was aggravated by open-cockpit ground attack planes. This problem could be eliminated by flying fighters, which had enclosed cockpits. This almost certainly was either greatly exaggerated or completely made, but Galland got his wish: he was transferred to a fighter wing (JG 27) effective 10 February 1940. He was technically restricted from flying due to being appointed an adjutant, but those kinds of details did not deter someone like Galland. He convinced a friend from his Condor days, Werner Mölders, to temporarily take him in at JG 53. This eliminated Galland's flight restriction and gave him training time in the Bf 109E. Upon his return to JG 27, Galland flew there as well, sometimes becoming the acting Group Leader when his own commander was on leave.
|Galland and Werner Mölders attending Theo Osterkamp's birthday in April 1941.|
Fall Gelb, the invasion of France and the low countries, began on 10 May 1940, and Galland was positioned for his first fighter combat. This is where the Galland legend really begins. The campaign only lasted six weeks, but Galland quickly got down to business. His victories came in a steady stream:
May 12: three RAF Hurricanes;
May 19: a French Potez;
May 20: three kills
May 29: a Bristol Blenheim;
June 3: a Morane-Saulnier M.S.406
During the French campaign (12 victories), Galland joined Gruppe III of JG 26 ("Schlageter," an honorary title for a premier formation) as of 6 June 1940 (right after Dunkirk) as its commander. This was a top formation covering the "kanalfront," or English Channel (kanal also means "sewer," which is what many pilots saw it as). JG 26 was the Luftwaffe's spearhead for the Battle of Britain, and it collected and produced some of the top aces of the entire Luftwaffe. Galland liked to say that the key to success was good equipment and a lot of luck, and JG had its share of both.
|Galland in his Bf 109. You can see the "S" for Schlageter forward of the cockpit.|
III/JG 26 was based at Caffiers on the Pas de Calais, the nearest point to Great Britain. After a brief lull after the Battle of France ended in late June, things picked up again in July as the Battle of Britain began. Galland achieved his first victory on 24 July 1940, downing and killing RAF ace Johnny Allen of No. 54 Squadron in his Supermarine Spitfire. The combat over England was intense. Galland got another Spitfire the next day while escorting Stukas, and also one on 28 July. On 1 August 1940, when he had 17 victories, Field Marshal Kesselring presented Galland with the Knight's Cross.
The first phase of the Battle of Britain - the Kanalkampf, or Channel Battle - already was over. The next phase, Alderangriff (Eagle Attack) was about to begin. Eagle Day (Adlertag), the opening attack, was 13 August. Galland got a Hurricane kill on 12 August 1940 that was valid, but there were no witnesses so it was disallowed; the Luftwaffe was quite strict about awarding kills. Galland was favored by having a top wingman, Joachim Muencheberg, who not only protected him throughout this period, but got four kills of his own.
The Luftwaffe's effort peaked on 15 August and then entered a period of decline. The British were fighting hard and the Germans were losing more planes and pilots than them at a roughly 2-1 rate. Reichsmarschall (and Luftwaffe boss) Hermann Goering was impressed by Galland, though, and promoted him to command of JG 26 as of 22 August. Galland immediately began replacing people and also upgraded his own command formation (Geschwader Stabsschwann) to make it more effective. The changes paid off, but JG 26 was fighting not only the British, but the English Channel itself. The Bf 109s ran out of fuel over England quickly, and often they did not make it back to base at all. The vaunted twin-engine Bf 110 "Destroyers" (Zerstorers), which were highly regarded by the Luftwaffe and supposedly capable fighters, turned out to be vulnerable to the Spitfires and Hurricanes. They required fighter escort themselves after 18 August. The Stukas which could provide excellent close support to advancing troops were hopelessly inefficient as long-range bombers. The Luftwaffe fighters were not prepared for the escort role required for protecting bombing raids over London. Tactics and objectives had to be changed and changed again because the equipment was not suited to a strategic bombing campaign. Everything was going wrong because the situation itself had become unfavorable to the Luftwaffe.
|Hitler awarding medals (Galland on left).|
Things were not going well for the Luftwaffe anywhere. Galland recalled Goering asking if he would obey an order to shoot British pilots in their parachutes. To his credit, Galland stated that he would refuse to follow such an order because it would be murder. Returning to battle, Galland did what he could and continued racking up victories. He received the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves as of 23 September from Hitler's own hand after recording his 40th victory. His victories sometimes came in spurts - three on 30 October, for instance - but they were consistent and regular. By 5 December 1940, Galland was the top-scoring ace in the entire Luftwaffe - and, in fact, in the world - with 57 victories.
Galland's record has been scrutinized minutely since the war. The overwhelming majority of his victory claims have been verified from British records. While a few have not, it is important to remember that Galland sometimes reported that he shot down planes that did not become part of his official number of victories as well, but which British records verify. The Germans were punctilious about requiring confirmation of claims, either from wreckage or eyewitness confirmation (usually the wingman), as this was how promotions and decorations were determined. Not only can we assume that Galland shot down the number of planes attributed to him, he likely got several more. Galland was the go-to guy in the most elite formation in the Luftwaffe, so when especially tricky missions came up - such as trying to intercept Rudolf Hess' unauthorized flight on the night of 10 May 1941 - Galland was the man who went up personally in the twilight. In this sense, Galland protected more junior pilots who might have had difficulty in various unusual flying situations. Guys like Galland make an organization hum.
|Galland in 1943 with fellow ace Günther Lützow, who had 110 victories (mostly on the Eastern Front) (Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-468-1421-36 / Ketelhohn (t) / CC-BY-SA 3.0).|
By 18 November 1941, Galland had 96 victories. Events now intervened and, likely, saved Galland's life. Galland was appointed the chief of all Luftwaffe fighter operations, or General der Jagdflieger, upon the sudden death of Werner Mölders. He received the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds on 28 January 1942, something very few men ever received. He also became the youngest General in the entire Wehrmacht. In this position, Galland flew a few unauthorized combat missions. He managed to shoot down some USAAC heavy bombers while Inspector of Fighters, but these again were not included in his official victory totals because they were unauthorized.
Fortunes were turning sour for the Luftwaffe as it became over-stretched. The bombers were getting through, and the Luftwaffe did not have the fuel or the pilots to stop them (planes themselves were never a problem). The US P-51 Mustang fighters with drop tanks were a game-changer, and by late 1943 could escort bombers all the way to Berlin. The Luftwaffe tried many tactics, but nothing worked because it had become a numbers game. The only possible relief could come from the revolutionary jet fighters, and Galland successfully fought for the production of Me 262 jets as fighters rather than bombers. However, due in part to Hitler's interference, they took too long to enter service to change the situation. Goering gradually developed a negative opinion about Galland, blaming him for the fighters' failures. Eventually, Goering effectively superseded Galland with Gordon Gollob. Gollob, insecure in his own position, determined to remove his competitor Galland, and he enlisted the help of Himmler. Seeing an opportunity to expand his own control, Himmler prevailed upon Goering to relieve Galland as of 13 January 1945.
|Adolf Hitler almost certainly saved Galland's life.|
It was at this point that Galland truly became legendary. Rather than give up and retire, he enlisted some of his old comrades in what became known as the "Revolt of the Fighter Pilots." Led by Galland, they made various demands which involved prioritizing fighter defense and using the Me 262 as a fighter. Galland was at a crossroads not just of his career, but of his life: Himmler wanted him tried for treason, and he put Galland under arrest preparatory to having him shot. However, Galland had one more unlikely ace to play: Adolf Hitler. The Fuhrer had grown fond of Galland and supported him. He ordered Galland released immediately. Goering relented and appointed Galland to the prestigious command of the last great Luftwaffe unit left: a unit of Me 262. Galland formed JV (Jagdverband) 44 as of 22 February 1945. He hand-picked the best pilots in the Luftwaffe and quickly got them trained on jets. Operations began on 31 March, too late to save the situation but with enough time to establish a legend.
|A B-26 Marauder after receiving a direct hit in the left engine during the bombing of Erkelenz, Germany, 26 Feb 1945.|
The unit immediately was successful; Galland himself shot down two Martin B-26 Marauders on 16 April, an impressive feat in and of itself. On 26 April, Galland got two more B-26s, but lingered too long over his last victory and was bounced by P-47 Thunderbolts. He struggled back to base and landed safely under fire, but injured his knee and was in hospital for the remainder of the war.
Galland wound up with five jet victories, becoming one of the first jet aces in history. His victory total was 104, all achieved on the Western Front. While many Luftwaffe pilots racked up incredible scores against the Soviets, who had inferior planes, very few ever achieved over 100 victories against the British and the Americans. Galland surrendered his unit on 1 May after destroying its jets: one of the standing rules of JG 26 had been never to allow a plane to fall into enemy hands intact (much like the US Marines never leave a man behind). After extensive interrogation and writing an account of his wartime activities for his captors ("The First and the Last"), Galland was released on 28 April 1947. He had many further adventures, including serving in the Argentina Air Force, and finally retired to Germany. Adolf Galland passed away near Bonn on 9 February 1996.
There are some lives that just too overwhelming to really sum up in a single article. Was Adolf Galland a perfect person? Absolutely not. He served a murderous regime. But Galland was a towering figure in the history of aviation, let alone the Luftwaffe of World War II. In the post-war period, he became friends with many of his adversaries, who forgave him for whatever he had done - those adversaries that survived, that is. Many will never forgive anyone that served in the Luftwaffe, but perhaps we can at least acknowledge the talents of quite possibly the best fighter pilot who ever lived.