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Günther Rall after his 250th air victory
Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-J16509 / CC-BY-SA
Born on March 10th 1918 in Gaggenau in the Black Forest, Gunther Rall’s father was a veteran of the First World War who worked in administration after the war. The Rall family moved to Stuttgart when Gunther was three years old; his education culminated with nine years at Karls-Gymnasium, where he later recalled the emphasis of his lessons being more on classical studies rather than the sciences. After passing his university entrance exams and completing a year of compulsory labour service, Rall entered the Wermacht as an officer cadet in the infantry.
However, in 1938 Rall transferred to the Luftwaffe after meeting an old friend and hearing his stories about flying. After graduation as a Leutnant and following a strong performance during pilot training, he was selected to fly single seat fighters and trained in his role east of Berlin before joining his first unit -Jagdgeschwader 52. It was not until May 1940 that he first saw combat in the skies over France; he shot down his first aircraft – a French Curtis Hawk flown by a Czech pilot on May 18th; some other sources credit this as his second kill, having possibly shot down a Hawk six days earlier. After France surrendered Rall moved with JG52 to Calais. During the Battle of Britain JG52 spent much of its time escorting bombers, particular the slow and vulnerable Ju87 Stuka. JG52 suffered horrific casualties against the British, with the Group Commander, adjutant and three squadron commanders being lost in only a few weeks, mainly to the Spitfires of the RAF’s No.610 Squadron. Rall was quickly promoted to lead one of the group’s squadrons as staffelkapitan and was also promoted in rank to Oberleutnant, but the experiences of the Battle of Britain had a lasting effect with him. Although involved in the thick of the action, Rall did not confirm a single kill against the British. After fighting against many nations across several theatres, Rall would later go on record to say that the British fighter pilot was the most aggressive and capable pilot of the entire war. Following defeat in the Battle of Britain, JG52 moved to Romania to defend the nation’s strategically vital oil refineries. The group moved to Crete to support the airborne landings before returning to Romania for Operation Barbarossa.
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