Interview with Günther Rall

Title

Interview with Günther Rall

Description

Gunther Rall was raised in Stuttgart and enjoyed outdoor and sporting activities as a youngster and he was also a Boy Scout. He became a cadet in the army, and joined the 13th Infantry Regiment. He met a friend in the air force, and decided it was the service for him. He joined the Luftwaffe in 1938, and he decided he wanted to be fighter pilot. He scored his first aerial victory in 1940 during the Battle of France, shooting down a Curtiss P36 Hawk. During the combat he also sustained damage to his aeroplane realising how dangerous air combat can be. He also took part in the Battle of Britain flying against convoys and supporting Ju 87 Stukas, and facing Spitfire and Hurricane fighters of the RAF. He was posted to Romania flying the Bf 109F and took part in support of the German invasion of Crete, and the beginning of Operation Barbarossa, the attack against Russia, shooting down Russian bombers. Flying as a squadron commander with Jagdgeswader 52, in support of Stuka dive bombers he became an ace. In one combat with the Russian air force, he cut off the right wing of his opponent with his propeller, damaging his own aircraft, but made it back to friendly territory. During the attack against the Russians he experienced harsh weather conditions, and relied on re supply by the few Ju 52 transport aircraft available. In 1943 he received the award of Oak Leaves and Swords to his Knights Cross and Iron Cross from Adolf Hitler, and after his meeting left depressed, and with a feeling that the war was lost. In 1944 he became commander of Jagdgeswader 11 flying in defence of the Reich, mainly in daylight against the American 8TH Air Force. During his career he was able to fly captured aircraft such as the P 51 Mustang, and Spitfire, he also flew the Me 262 jet fighter. After the war he became a prisoner, and was flown to England where he met some of his former enemy fighter pilots, and particularly remembers Wing Commander Robert S Tuck. In the 1950s he joined the post war Luftwaffe and became project officer in the procurement of the F104 Starfighter aircraft. In later life he was invited to meet some Russian fighter pilots, and veterans at their base in Kubinka, and was treated to the finest foods, and drank many toasts. This item is available only at the International Bomber Command Centre / University of Lincoln.

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01:39:16 audio recording

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IBCC Digital Archive

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This content is a transcription of a video interview taped by a third party. It is available here as derivative work under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.

Contributor

Identifier

ARallG[Date]-01

Transcription

KC: So, it’s just a general, and then we’ll finish off with a little bit about what you did in NATO?
GR: Yeah.
KC: So, it’s a sort of —
DT: I think we ended up in the right place.
KC: Yeah.
DT: Are we ready to go?
KC: Are you happy David?
Other: Yes. I’m happy. Ok chaps, and if you can keep looking this way all the time just try to ignore the cameras here.
GR: I can guarantee.
Other: Ok. Off you go, chaps.
DT: Generalleutnant Gunther Rall, on behalf of everyone at the Yorkshire Air Museum may we welcome you to Yorkshire?
GR: Thank you.
DT: We are delighted to see you, sir.
GR: Thank you. It’s my pleasure to be here.
DT: If we may ask you a few questions about your family background.
GR: Yeah.
DT: Before we go on to the aviation.
GR: Ok.
DT: What exactly is your family background?
GR: I was born in the Black Forest but I was raised in Stuttgart and I actually, Stuttgart, consider to be my home town. I went to school and all the time as a young boy I had in Stuttgart and my father was a merchant. My mother was an excellent housewife in those days and I have a sister. The dominating activities during my youth was the, I was a member of the Boy Scouts, the Christian Boy Scouts and this really dominated all the activities. I was an outdoor boy which in those days we didn’t have these luxury camps, you know. We, we built our own tents and we were out. This was the one activity and the next one besides the school [laughs] I was, I was at school very well and there was, no problems. Sometimes better, sometimes less but anyhow, it wasn’t a problem. And the second activity was sport. I was an enthusiastic sportsman at athletics. A hundred metres up to four hundred metres. The, how do you call it? Long jumping and javelin throwing and this type and I was very successful as a youth and made some small championships in small circles. But anyhow, this was a dominating factor in my youth and after the elementary school I went to the Gymnasium. What we call Gymnasium, Humanistic Gymnasium, and I learned Latin and Greek. The old type of science. Latin. Greek. History. This was the predominant, the faculties at school.
DT: Do you have any brothers or sisters?
GR: I have a sister. I have a sister. She’s still alive. She lives in Stuttgart. She’s a widow but she has grandchildren and there’s a very harmonised family.
DT: So, is your, is your wife still alive?
GR: No, unfortunately not. My wife, she was a doctor. She was a Viennese and I get acquainted with her when I was in a full body cast when I was injured in Russia, we maybe we touch this later, and finally ended up in Vienna in the hospital for special treatment. There was a very famous professor and I was partially paralysed on the right side by breaking my back in three places, and my station doctor became my wife.
DT: When did you —
Other: Stop there a second. I’ll just close this door. There are people coming down the stairs.
[pause]
KC: General Rall would you perhaps just, if you are finished would you just move your finger.
GR: Yeah.
DT: Ok. Just something like that.
GR: So, that you can then start your —
DT: Yeah. Ok. Ok Darren?
Other: Yes.
DT: When did you first become interested in aviation?
GR: It was quite late. My wish was to become an officer, and first of all I wanted to get into the Navy but it was so difficult in those days. It was a tremendous selection so I thought do what you hope you get and I made my application to become an officer cadet in the Army which happened, and I became a cadet in the Infantry Regiment 13 near Stuttgart, a very famous old regiment and I made my career in the Army Officer School. And after the promotion to lieutenant then I changed to the Air Force because when I was in the Officer’s School in Dresden, I had a friend. He was in the Officer’s School in the, in the Air Force which was also in Dresden, and every Saturday we met and he told me where he was. He was in Hamburg, he was in Munich, flying. I said what the hell. I was laying on the ground and grubbing around in the, on a, on a training camp. A training field. I was challenged by this and think that’s a wonderful life and I wanted to become a flyer. This made my decision.
DT: When did you join the Luftwaffe?
GR: I joined the Luftwaffe in 1938.
DT: Was it your wish at that time to be a fighter pilot?
GR: Yes. Right from the beginning. I think according to my temperament I wanted to be a fighter pilot. I loved all the acrobatics. I was single crew flying and I, I wouldn’t have pleasure in just sitting in a big cockpit with a crew and dropping bombs. I wanted to be a fighter pilot.
DT: I knew an old gentleman who flew in the First World War with a Sopwith Camel who said that the, all the fighter pilots were the madmen and all the bomber pilots were the intelligent sane men.
GR: Ok. Let them think that way [laughs] I was happy to be a fighter pilot whether intelligent or not. I didn’t care.
DT: Did you have any boyhood heroes? Aviation heroes.
GR: I mean in those days certainly, Richthofen, Boelke. These were heroes but they were far away, unreachable, you know. They were, it was a challenge to be like he. He was too far out of my imagination.
DT: Would you describe to us your first aerial victory?
GR: The first air victory was over France. Way, you know, there was when the war against France was declared there was about six months, we had nothing. The French called it drole de guerre and when the invasion, the German invasion started, attacks started we had to escort a reconnaissance plane back from France from a mission and the rendezvous point was near the North Sea. Metz, in this area at six thousand metres and we took off from Trier which was an airfield right to the front, to the frontier and we saw the, the reconnaissance plane coming back but I also spotted ten or twelve dots behind. Far away, but pretty soon I saw these were fighters chasing that Heinkel 111. We approached them very rapidly and luckily the Heinkel was on the level, was not anymore of interest to the, to the fighters on both sides so we were in the, we were in a, in a very hectic dogfight. It was the first time I ran into the enemy and I saw the [cook house], and everybody was very, very excited. I led the second element in the squadron. I jumped down. I’d just, French P-36s. They flew the P36. Curtiss P36 just was ahead of me and was a tremendous curving and turns, rapid turns. It was the first time that I recognised if I gain a very rough turn just by gravity the leading air slots come out on the outer wing which causes a snap and they give me a, one warning of the characteristic of this aeroplane so I released the stick a little bit and everything was ok, and I give a burst and the poor guy got on flames but luckily could bale out. This was my first victory. At the same time, I heard a hell of a noise in my aeroplane and I got shot at and had a lot of holes. So, it gave me a tremendous self-confidence. I was a victor. But also, a warning because I was hit several times.
DT: How did the air fighting during the Battle of Britain compare to the Battle of France?
GR: You know, in France the, the Air Force was, the effect of the Air Force was very poor. The French in, in their planning they put priority on the Army and the Air Force was inferior in numbers and in quality. Quality as far as equipment is concerned. I mean they had very courageous pilots no doubt but it didn’t play that role as the German Air Force played in the battle against France, you know. The Air Force was a tactical Air Force with tremendous power, Ju87 dive bombers with a very effective support for the German Army. Against the British it was a different situation. The difference was that the British came with their Spitfires, with their Hurricanes. Very good equipment. In some areas superior to the 109. They were fighting over their own territory and this makes a hell of a difference. If they had to bail out, the next day they could fly another mission with another aeroplane. We were, we had the wrong tactics I must say. I just speak for my own group. We were a young group, inexperienced and the group was established three or four months before that so there was not an experienced fighter group, and we had to fly against convoys in the British Channel escorting Ju87 and the order was direct escort. Close escort. So, we gave up our, our superiority in speed. We had to reduce the speed to the Ju87 which was a deadly tactic because the Spitfires and Hurricanes just waited upstairs and came down, shot off and we had a lot of losses in a very short time.
DT: Was there a great deal of aerial fighting in the battles for Crete and the Balkans?
GR: You know the, when we came to Greece the battle was gone already and was decided and we went down to the Peloponnese for the attack to, to Crete Island and over Crete Island there was not very much air activities. It was more air to ground and, you know there were a lot mistakes from the German side. They dropped the troops at too high altitude so that means they were hanging from their parachutes for too long time and they were shot at by the New Zealanders on the ground. And then the gliders who came over there they crashed in the, in the olive, in these olive trees, and the terrain was very rough and was, there were hills. So, there were a lot of losses just by, at the landing when the, when they started. And we had to support the Army by ground attacks but it was very difficult because they dropped the, the weapons in containers, and they were, they were in a flag of swastika, with swastika and they dropped it and they just landed by the New Zealanders and they laid out the flag so we couldn’t know who is who. This was our problem.
DT: What were your thoughts when you realised that Operation Barbarossa was about to commence, with the situation on the western front still unresolved?
GR: You know, there was, we were a little bit shocked because it was against every logic. A two front war was a very deadly operation. The operation hadn’t been finished in the west and we started in the east with a tremendous enemy and with a tremendous land space to cover and we all remember the Napoleon. His fate. And we couldn’t believe it at the beginning until two weeks before we started and then it was a fact.
DT: Can you recall the first week of Operation Barbarossa?
GR: Yes. I was down in Romania, just shortly before we came back from Crete Island and we got new aeroplanes. The F 109. F was a brilliant aeroplane and we loved it. The first one with the round wing tips, and with the DB 603, and in the evening, I got the order to go with my squadron. Fly with my squadron, to Mamaia because the Russian had attacked the, the harbour of Constanta on the Black Sea and the harbour had a tremendous importance because it was an oil harbour to ship the oil and there were refineries also. So, I flew with my squadron down to Mamaia, to the beach of the Black Sea but there was nothing on that airfield. Just an empty hangar. That was it. No radar. No telephone. No. No nothing. So, I, I, the very night Ju52 came with barrels of fuel so with a hand pump we filled our aircraft and right from dawn in the morning I sent out a patrol. Two ship patrol over the ocean because if the Russians attacked, they had to come to Constanta. It was the only target. They flew patrol in six thousand metres about twenty kilometres out to the Black Sea and the whole Romanian squadron was on cockpit alert. And when they gave the signal they come, we scrambled and we were very successful. We also, we always could catch them before they reached the coast and we shot down quite a number of DB3 two engine bombers. They came without any fighter escort and this was for them a very deadly operation. And after one week with heavy losses they stopped and they never came back.
DT: What was your rank at the time of Operation Barbarossa when it began? And were you still with the same Jagdgeshwader that you were with in the west?
GR: Yes. I had the same squadron, you know. I became squadron leader in the British Channel. Due to the losses of our senior officers and the commanders were, were shot down so I became a squadron commander and I was a squadron commander for three and a half years of the 8 Squadron in the Wing 52, and at that time I was first lieutenant and squadron commander.
DT: Did you think that victory was possible in the east in 1941 or did you think it was a foolhardy episode?
GR: You know, if you start, if you go to war you always think you’ll win. Otherwise, you forget it. But pretty soon you have doubts, and we had doubts when we saw these masses. But at the beginning I must give in, there were, the Russians had tremendous losses, particularly the Air Force and the, our opponents on the other side on the run in they were not qualified. They had obsolete equipment, they had not a very good training, and they had very bad tactics so they had tremendous losses. This gave us some feeling of security.
DT: How did the Russian tactics then compare directly with the Luftwaffe’s tactics? What was the difference in the way they operated?
GR: You know, the Russian Air Force was under the command of the Army so it was a supporting Air Force. They say they also had a strategic fleet but they never showed up. Not at least in our area and I flew for quite a time. I never saw a strategic bomber from the Russians. The main bulk of the Air Force was the ground supporters. It was too heavily armed to, to the ground, and always escorted by fighters. This was the main operation. They supported their Army activities and actions continuously, and we flew the front line in the areas of priority and you always run into a bulk of EL2 escorted by fighters.
DT: How did you cope with that first dreadful winter?
GR: You know nobody was prepared for such an extreme winter situation. Particularly with the, with the temperature. We went down to minus forty centigrade, unprepared. Not technically prepared for our aircraft. You know, it was very, very difficult to start the engine in the morning which caused that we sometimes we had open fires underneath the aircraft just to heat it up. On the other hand, also our mechanics and our pilots were not prepared for this. We didn’t have the suit for that. You know, the overalls. It took time to get them over there. Can you imagine what it means for a mechanic to work on an engine without gloves at a temperature of minus forty degrees? This is a problem
DT: Yes. Which victory in Russia do you recall most vividly?
GR: You know, the most dramatic one was my mid-air collision. It was a victory but I didn’t know that it was going to be a victory. It was the day of the Pocket Battle of Kursk. In the late afternoon in the east was a tremendous cumulus cloud. In the west was the sun and the cumulus cloud was lit, you know, bright and I flew from west to east and spotted two dots ahead of me far away and I approached them with my adjutant. We flew, we had a two-ship formation and when I came closer, I saw two aircraft with a big radial engine. I knew that at that time for these tremendous operations in the, in the Kursk battle a German F-190 unit was transferred to this area. A friend of mine was the leader of that. I never have seen a 190 in the air before. I saw it in a, on a picture but not, there was no, so when I approached, I was not sure if this now was 190 or was a La 5, because against this white cumulus you only could see the silhouette, not the colours. So, I approached with high speed. I pulled up to the side and looked down and saw green, red star so I couldn’t turn away otherwise I would have been chased. So, I turned again back to the sky, down. I gave him a full burst which hit him. Pulled up my aeroplane and got in a high- speed stall and just crashed and slipped over him, and I never forget this big bang and I cut off his right wing with my propeller, slipped away and he cut off my body of the aeroplane with his propeller. But he couldn’t recover because he got in a spin. Without, without one wing you cannot recover. I had a tremendous vibration in my aeroplane and it was over Russian territory. I want to get to the German lines and it was about four thousand metres altitude and the aircraft was in a tremendous vibration. I was always looking for the right RPM setting to reduce this but it didn’t happen. But I made it back to the German lines. I lowered the gear. I was very, very cautious in making a turn because I thought maybe the, the tail comes off and breaks off by any G load on that. I landed and I saw that I had a split underneath for about one metre. He cut off that. I was very lucky. It was a victory [laughs] and it was a dramatic one.
Other: Can we just —
KC: We’re getting a bit of vibration from the —
DT: We’re picking up a bit of noise from your shoes against the legs of the table General.
GR: I see.
KC: Just. Yeah. Ok. Yes. Yeah.
Other: Ok chaps.
KC: Ok?
Other: Yeah.
DT: Which of the battles in the Soviet do you consider to be the most significant?
GR: You know, there are three battles, and I refer to the Russians themselves and they are, they are two. The first, the German didn’t reach the objective in the first year. The plan was to reach a line Astrakhan [Hungaris]. We couldn’t make it because we were late. The winter came and we couldn’t even make Moscow. The winter stopped us and the Russians stopped us in front of Moscow. That was number one. Number two was Stalingrad. Stalingrad was a turning point and we lost the Sixth Army which was a tremendous loss by wrong planning and by wrong orders directed from Hitler, you know. He never allowed a retreat of the Sixth Army. Stay where you are. And it happened. And the third battle was 1943. June. July. The Battle of Kursk where the Russians really knocked out the German tank force, and the German tank force what they say would have been a very serious part during the invasion, but it didn’t exist in that numbers any more. From the Russian side of this this made the invasion possible.
DT: Can you tell us something about Hans Rudel and Erich Hartmann? Rudel the Stuka pilot, and Hartmann the fighter pilot both as air fighter, and as people.
GR: I flew many, many escorts for Rudel and Rudel was a unique Stuka pilot. Very fanatic. He flew three or four missions a day and he also invented the tactics to kill the tanks, you know. He had these tremendous guns in his undercarriage and over the time he knocked out five hundred tanks. That’s a tank army by one man. Later on, I was, after the war I was together with Rudel in Tangmere as a prisoner of war and we were in the same room so we became very close. We had different opinions. It doesn’t mean that he was a Stuka pilot, I was a fighter pilot but I respected this man tremendously for his dedication. For his courage. Bubi Hartmann came to me 1941 or ’42, to the Caucasus as a very young lieutenant and fighter pilot. It, it took some time to adjust him to the unit and all of a sudden, he became successful, developed his own tactics and had a, developed also a certain charisma in his squadron. But his, his ability was more or less to be a single fighter pilot. His own success Certainly he raised the success of his own squadron. Bubi had a very bad fate and I have to tell this which characterises the man. Being the number one pilot very well known to the Russians. When the Armistice came Bubi Hartmann was on the Eastern Front and he got the order from higher headquarters to fly to the west. Not to come to, become a Russian prisoner. Bubi refused. Bubi said, ‘No. I share the fate of my Wing.’ And he stayed with them and he became a prisoner of war, and had a very, very hard time for ten years in Russia which almost broke his personality. But he was a very brave man. No doubt.
DT: Was he popular as a man in the squadron?
GR: Oh yeah. Oh Yeah. Yeah. Oh yeah.
DT: And was Rudel. Rudel was a loner, was he? Did he sort of work hard?
GR: I can’t tell how he was in the squadron, you know. I only know him as a person and what he did was extraordinary.
DT: Who do you consider to be the best German fighter ace of all? Who do you consider?
GR: I mean, the most talented and the most, dare I say one unique judgment, this is Marseille. Marseille is a great fighter. He was a great fighter pilot. He was. You can dispute about him as a soldier. He was a, he was a unique character. Very intelligent, with some civilian attitude but once he became a leader responsible for a school, he was a tremendous good leader and he has the benefit to have a very father type in command which was [unclear]. He really held his hand over Marseille and Marseille developed his own tactics which were tailored for him. You never can, as a proven, as a norm because everybody who would fly like Marseille would be killed. He’d make acrobatics. He’d be running to the circle of the Spitfires and he was outstanding and he was lucky for a certain time until his bad fate.
DT: Can you give a direct comparison flying the Messerschmitt 109 and the Fokke Wulf 190 and really was the TA15 —
Other: Sorry, we should change the tapes now.
DT: Right. Ok.
[recording paused]
DT: Ok.
Other: Right. When, when everybody’s set, we’re ok. Ready.
DT: Ok. General, can you give us a direct comparison between flying the Messerschmitt 109 and the Fokke Wulf 190? And was the later mark of the Fokke Wulf 190 the Dora or the TA152 as it was sometimes called better than the Messerschmitt 109 G Gustav?
GR: That’s a very difficult question. I haven’t flown all these types. I flew the 109, all the marks and the Fokke Wulf and some, some flights with a long nosed but always, I always said the Fokke Wulf to me it’s a sabre and the 109, it’s a florette, and each aircraft had its advantages and disadvantages. The Fokke Wulf was a rugged aircraft. A good undercarriage, a good adjustment of weapons, that is four guns and it was like a shower. The 109 was more sensitive. This aircraft, you know. It had a very touchy undercarriage. It had slots and I only had three weapons. One through the, what do you call it? Through the propeller. And two guns. One cannon. Two guns. Now, this is the difference and I figured out that all these victories in one day, the serious was most cases started with the Fokke Wulf, not with a 104 err not with a 109. The long nosed I don’t have this experience. Certainly, the long nosed Fokke Wulf for [unclear] with the injection engine was supposed to be better but it came late and never came in operation in considerable numbers so I cannot give you exact comparison versus the 109.
KC: It was reputed that at the end —
GR: Yeah.
KC: The, the Fokke Wulf was.
GR: Sure.
KC: An improvement over the Gustav.
GR: Yeah. Yeah.
KC: General, what were, living conditions like on the Eastern Front?
GR: It was very different, you know. In the north there was a very static wall and they were in front of Leningrad for three years. We in the south, I mean south, let’s say from Kiev, well down to the Caucasus Mountains was a fast- moving wall. Forward and back, forward and backwards and it raised tremendous problems, logistic problems particularly in the, when we had the weather season when we had mud on the road or in winter when we got a lot of snow. For the pilot himself and for the crew itself it was a life like, like gypsies, you know. We were staying for maybe for one week on a lawn selected from the air. It was not a prepared airfield. Living in tents from April ‘til October. Then we dug into the ground to get some cover from the, from the from snow and, and from the temperatures. So, this was a very different situation in the south. There was not a solid front line also, you know. You were always in the open and one day my Group, I was in the back my Group were rolled over by tanks also. By Russian tanks. It could happen. So, this was a quite different situation to the situation to the air warfare in the north or in the west.
DT: Who do you consider to be the most aggressive air fighter on the eastern front?
GR: You mean the person?
DT: Yes. For —
GR: What type?
DT: Aggressive, straight in and attack type of fighter, in the east.
GR: From the, from the Russians?
No. From, from the Luftwaffe’s point of view.
GR: Oh, I can’t tell you this, I think. I think as far as I remember in my group, you know we had a lot of very aggressive fighters [unclear] Krupinski, Bubi Hartmann, these were all very aggressive fighters and I’m sure that in other Wings they had the same calibre.
DT: Can you recall the day when Bully Lang destroyed eighteen Russian aircraft in one day?
GR: Who was it?
DT: Lang.
GR: Ah, Lang. No. I didn’t have any contact with him. I knew Emil Lang before the war. He was a great athlete. Eight hundred metre runners. He was a very good runner and I knew him from there but I never was in the same theatre with Lang. Lang was in the invasion front and he got killed there. And at that time, I was over Germany or in the hospital.
DT: During 1944 Adolf Hitler personally awarded you the Oak Leaves and Swords to your Knight’s Cross.
GR: ’43.
DT: 1943.
GR: ’43.
DT: Shall I ask that again?
Other: Yes. Please.
DT: During 1943 Adolf Hitler personally awarded you the Oak Leaves and Swords to your Knight’s Cross and the Iron Cross. Can you recall these occasions and can you recall what he said to you?
GR: Yes. You know, I got the first what was it, the first report to Hitler was 1942 when we were in front of Stalingrad, in front of El Alamein, and there was a very euphoristic mood in the headquarter because everybody thought we might get it in the next two weeks. And at that time Hitler talked to us. We were four, Captain Steinhoff and [unclear] In fact, nine months later, this was ’43 I had to report again. And you know, it was not only me but from the oak leaves onwards was what handed over the medal by Hitler himself, and after the handing over ceremony we were sitting around the fireplace and he developed his ideas. In ‘43 this was quite a different Hitler. What happened in the meantime between the first and the second visit to the headquarter was that we lost Stalingrad, we lost the Sixth Army, and all his forecasts were [laughs] not realised, and we were on the retreat in North Africa and this was a Hitler who never spoke. In fact, he spoke in mystery. In deep valley, and dark and we have to get through and silver strip on the horizon, and this junk, you know. Not substantial. And it was very, I left the headquarter very depressed like this, and we are not going to win the war.
DT: Do you think that Hitler himself appreciated that victory was impossible at that time?
GR: That’s very hard to say, you know. There’s [laughs] I’m not [pause] Hitler was a psychopath and how, what his ideas were, you can hardly analyse. You know, how can you analyse a man who says in the very last days of war if the German nation is not worth to win the war then it’s worth to get disappeared. Out. I mean one man claims the right to, to give the fate to a whole nation.
[pause]
DT: We understand that Hitler had a form of Parkinson’s disease which affected his, did you think this affected, can I ask that again, Dave?
Other: Yes.
DT: Is it correct that Hitler had some form of Parkinson’s disease and if so, could this have, affected his judgement in crucial areas?
GR: You should ask a doctor. A medical doctor. I cannot tell. I cannot give you an answer. The only thing I can say, the third time I had to report to headquarter was the 10th of January 1944, and all the, the bearer of the Oak Leaf with Swords had to report there to get the certificate, the [unclear] certificates. There was Galland, [unclear] a lot of good outstanding fighter pilots who got killed later on were assembled there and we sat around at lunch and I saw what Hitler, his medicine. It was a battery of [unclear] with around his, his table setting, and I saw my God how much medicine he has to take, but I couldn’t certainly not realise that he had a Parkinson with it. So then, this was recognised after the 20th of July when, after the explosion in his headquarters. He said that Hitler had shivers in his hands. I couldn’t make them like this.
DT: During operation Barbarossa how were the [Wehrmacht] and the Luftwaffe supplied during the critical periods of the autumn and winter?
GR: How do you mean?
DT: Shall I just explain quickly Dave?
GR: Yeah.
DT: Logistically, how did you get the, how did you move equipment?
GR: Yeah. You know —
DT: Can I ask the question again, general?
GR: No, I know.
DT: Right.
GR: This was a very difficult problem, the logistic problems of supply because there was a very, very poor road system and from fall onwards it was mud. We couldn’t move very much our trucks, heavy trucks. And in winter this was snow and it was ice and it was frozen. So, we sent back all our heavy trucks back to the west. We couldn’t use them which means we strictly depend on air transport, Ju52. But the problem was there was a lack. We had only few Ju52 available because in the Battle of Crete there were tremendous losses in Ju52 which never recovered. So, we got our support and supply by air, by Ju52. We strictly depend on them.
DT: Was the large powered glider the Messerschmitt 323 Gigant, was this a successful aeroplane during the Soviet campaign?
GR: You know, I don’t know. It never showed up in the front line. It was too big and too manoeuvrable, and too vulnerable. I flew it back from, from, when I had to report in the, back home. I flew back with, with this aircraft but from an airport which was too the west. It didn’t show up in the front area.
DT: Is it correct that when you left the Eastern Front in 1944 you were at that time the world’s leading fighter ace?
GR: It could be. It could be. I think I was. Is there a number 2? You know we always, we were equal, always, even with Nowotny. Nowotny was in the middle section of Russia and I was in the south and one time I was ahead, and he was ahead. Exactly I can’t tell you the situation when I came to the, to the home defence.
DT: Were you conscious of a rivalry between yourselves to be the leading ace?
GR: Oh, this was a friendly rivalry, you know. It was not a, I respected Nowotny. He was a very very fine character and I met him several times, and I respected him and I liked him very much.
DT: A very similar situation to the First World War.
GR: Yeah.
DT: In 1918 with Udet and Loewenhardt.
GR: Yeah.
DT: They, they battled for the —
GR: Sure.
DT: To be the leading ace.
GR: Sure. Ok. You are always you know as a young pilot you were eager to be successful but not to, you are, I was also happy when he was successful.
DT: Yes.
GR: Yeah. There was no jealousy.
DT: So, when you left Bubi Hartman was the third ranked ace.
GR: Yeah.
DT: Behind you and Nowotny.
GR: Yeah. Yeah. Bubi Hartman came up much later, you know, I was the leading when I was shot down and lost my thumb. That time. And I think at that time Nowotny was, he flew the 262 then. And I don’t know whether he was already killed or still alive, but anyhow when I was shot down and lost my thumb I had to go into hospital. At that time, I was the number one and it took three months and when I was in hospital that Bubi Hartmann came up. Bubi Hartmann and Barkhorn.
DT: And at the end of the war that was the position. Hartmann. Barkhorn. Rall.
GR: Right. Right. That was it.
DT: Batz, number four.
GR: Yes. I don’t know. Yeah.
DT: Wilhelm Batz.
GR: Yeah.
DT: When you left the Eastern Front and transferred to the west you took over command of Jagdgeshwader 11.
GR: No. For a Group.
DT: Oh sorry.
GR: The 2nd Group.
DT: How did the conditions in air fighting compare in the west to conditions on the Eastern Front?
GR: There was a completely different situation. First of all, the, the air warfare over Germany was a, was a air warfare on its’ own right. Not in relation to the Army. In Russia that was always supporting the Army. Over Germany air warfare on its own right with highly capable experienced pilots and very good equipment in numbers. In numbers. In quantities. This was our problem when I took over the Group. The situation was that every mission we flew against the, we flew in daylight so in most cases against the Americans from the Eighth Air Force in, in south England. They came over escorted by long range fighters in numbers. And the average loss rate was fifty percent which every pilot knew. Every second pilot would not return.
DT: When you, when you first went into action in the west had the P51 been introduced? Had it replaced the P47?
GR: Both were there. The P47 and the P51 but P47 was in a process of be pulled out and replaced by P51, and I had the privilege before I took over to [pause] no after that. After that I had the privilege to fly the P51 and the P47, and I could see the difference to the 109 for instance you know, in the flight manoeuvrability and all this, speed it was absolutely adequate but the big advantage was the endurance. They flew for seven and a half hours and we flew for one and a half hours. That was a big difference.
DT: How, how was the P47 as a dogfighter?
GR: A dogfight it has its benefits. I feel, you know climbing in a dog fight we feel superior. In a dive he was much faster. The structural strength was much higher than in the 109, you know. They could stand up to fourteen hundred kilometres and the 109 was limited up to a thousand kilometres. So, the rule was don’t dive away from a P47 because it’s faster and it had a bit better structure than a 109. But you cannot always select what you want. You are forced to some even illogic manoeuvres.
DT: I understand that a Thunderbolt pilot removed part of your anatomy during 1944.
GR: Yeah [laughs] He became a friend of mine which was very unusual. It was the 12th of May ‘44 and I run into Thunderbolts, and there was a dogfight and there was lucky. I got two Thunderbolts. Big flames because they were full of fuel and as the leader pulled away and made escape manoeuvres, rolls and what the hell and dive from me his second element spotted me and they chased me to the dead end, you know. They shot off my thumb, shot off the engine, cooler. It was bang, bang, bang in the aircraft and I was in a dive which was certainly I knew that I cannot make it against four P47 flying line abreast and chasing me. What can I do? When I turned to the left, I turn in the guns, I turn to the right I turn in the guns. So, I went down to tree top level, pulled up. I wanted to get out of the aeroplane. They wanted to go back to England. So, I was in that situation had a better condition. Just dropped out of the aeroplane, and pulled my parachute and after freefall of about five, eight hundred metres and the parachute opened and then I came down. Much later, years later by studying all the documents they identified this was the P47 Group, was Hub Zemke’s Wolf Pack and we became friends.
DT: Is Zemke still alive?
GR: No. Unfortunately, he died two years ago. He lived in California.
DT: How would you compare the American bomber commanders Ira Eaker, and Jimmy Doolittle with their tactics?
GR: I can’t. I wouldn’t dare to give a judgement over this. I had the privilege to visit Jimmy Doolittle when he was retired in his home in Pebble Beach in California. He was a great, great man but in those days ninety years old, over ninety years old. He was beyond of daily problems you know, and he was a very graceful man, and we are sitting there and together with Galland, with Peter Townsend was a group of us and it was a great privilege to meet him before he passed away.
DT: Did you know that the American bomber crews called him something like Doolittle the murderer because he released the fighters on the free chase?
GR: Yeah.
DT: Rather than, than fly close escort to the bombers.
GR: No.
DT: At first.
GR: No. I don’t know that.
DT: They realised later.
GR: Yeah.
DT: That it worked.
GR: It worked. It was our problem, you know. The direct escort of give the fighter the freedom to sweep the airspace clean, and use his own tactics and apply his own superiorities where, in which area he ever could.
KC: Did you use the Messerschmitt 109 with the rocket attachments underneath?
GR: No.
KC: Not at all.
GR: No.
DT: Ok. Just distracted me a bit.
[pause]
DT: Were you greatly outnumbered in 1944 when you —
GR: Yeah.
DT: Attacked the Americans.
GR: Yes. Very much, and I’ll give you an example. On this particular mission 12th of May 1944, we had a unit with two Fokke Wulf Groups. Heavy fighters. They were supposed to attack the bombers and I had a Group with twenty five high altitude fighters, 109 polished and cleaned for that and all unnecessary equipment out of the aeroplane. We cruised at a level of eleven thousand metres without pressurisation. Without, without heating of the cockpit and it was a group of seventy five. The bombers were eight hundred and we had escort, fighter escort by radar. Recognised from the Hartz Mountains down to Stuttgart. All together about eleven hundred. There might have been another German Group which I don’t know but we were, we were at the spot, you know and with this outnumbering magnitude of bombers and fighters.
DT: So, the, so the total ratio of bombers and fighters to yourselves was about thirty to one.
GR: I don’t know. I must say this this was not in our area. I mean, a bomber stream of eight hundred bombers takes about a hundred kilometres.
DT: Yes.
GR: You know.
DT: It must have been a daunting prospect.
GR: But at one point we were there, you know and this is, it was, it was always we were always outnumbered. We were outnumbered in Russia.
DT: How did you feel when you, when you saw the huge size of the American offensive operation? The sky must have been full of aeroplanes.
GR: No.
DT: Did you feel —
GR: You don’t. You don’t, you know this is a wide space. The, the, in there and you see some, you see some here, you see some there and what do you think? You know, this is more, this is not only a thinking process. It’s also let’s say a hunting instinct also. Certainly, you know the rules. How to attack, when, from which direction. How to get your formation to the enemy, you know. But from there it’s his business, you know. We cannot direct every part in a dogfight. That’s his own business, but to get them in in a good position but this is a matter of a fraction of seconds very often. Not long -term planning. It’s a moving target. A high-speed moving target and the situation changes from every second.
KC: You said that you actually flew aircraft that were stripped and polished.
GR: Yeah.
KC: So that they gave an improved performance.
GR: Yeah.
KC: The Americans did this and they took the camouflage off their fighters and polished them.
GR: Ah yeah.
KC: Did you actually fly silver polished aircraft?
GR: No. No. No. No.
KC: They were still camouflaged.
GR: They were still, yeah camouflaged you know [laughs] It doesn’t, it doesn’t work very much if they identified us whether with colour or not.
KC: You said a few moments ago that you had the pleasure to fly the P47.
GR: Yeah.
KC: And the P51. Did you fly any other captured aircraft, and whereabouts was this that you flew these captured aeroplanes?
GR: A P38, a Spitfire. I flew them and I think that one of the outstanding aeroplanes is a Spitfire, but the Spitfire had the same problem with me. I only flew, all the European’s aircraft where a fighter aircraft, were designed for short range.
KC: I understand that you have a particular quote for the P38 that it was quite a good aircraft, but there was a particular role that it was more suited to than any other.
GR: Yeah. I would, I would, I would like to fly with a P38 on vacation you know. Fantastic. Luxury. Good space in the cockpit, two engines, not the status. A very comfortable thing, you know. Beautiful. But in a dogfight, I think it’s two big, you know with two engines it turned out. The concept, we had discerned on the German side also once this idea to have the long range destroyer [unclear] and it didn’t work out. They had tremendous losses. It wasn’t that the P38 was not as bad as the 110 but compared the 51, 47 I would prefer the 51.
Other: Stop it there, chaps. We’re about to run out of tape again.
[recording paused]
Other: Ok, chaps.
KC: Going back to the, the flying of captured allied aircraft was this with the special unit that you —
GR: Yes.
KC: You flew. Were you detached to this unit?
GR: Yeah. At that, time I was not able to fly in combat because I still had an open injury, yeah and I was ordered to be the commander of a German Fighter Leader School and I had to train young officers to become squadron commanders. And we got a visit. There was a German unit formed by captured aircraft. They flew captured aircraft painted with the German insignia and, just for evaluation and they came to me, and I certainly took the chance to fly all of them as target against my students. So, I get very well acquainted with all these planes.
KC: Did, did you, did you come across the P39? The Airacobra or the Kingcobra.
GR: No. We didn’t. In Russia yes. We had a lot of Airacobra in Russia and the Russians liked them. Particularly Pokryshkin, one of the outstanding fighter pilots, Russian fighter pilots. He flew the Airacobra. We also liked them because sometimes I thought it’s a, it’s a good target because the Airacobra has the engine behind the pilot at the back which means it has the centre of gravity is way back in this aeroplane and in a dogfight if you hit and this is what I recognised, when you hit an Airacobra in the wing you get instability, you know and then it gets in a spin and can’t recover because of this centre of gravity situation.
KC: Were you invited to join General Galland’s jet unit JV44 to fly the Messerschmitt 262?
GR: No. I flew the 262. At the time I was the commander of this Fighter Leader School, and I took the chance. It was very close to the training base in the south of Augsburg where my friend Heinz [Behr] was the commander said, ‘Come over.’ Gave me the chance to fly the 262. So, I got checked out to fly the 262 and flew about twenty, thirty hours. Not in operation. Just to get acquainted with the aeroplane and then I had to take over another Wing. The Wing 300. This it would be to come to the 44 Wing from Galland, and all these guys who were in Galland’s wing their units were dissolved. They didn’t exist anymore, but I had to take over a Wing. I mean these were the ruins of a Wing but it was Wing.
KC: And was, was among obviously the aircraft was dramatically different to fly but how did you feel as an experienced pilot?
GR: It was a new dimension, you know. First, if you taxied with a, with a 262 it was a wonderful feeling. You had a beautiful view because you have a nosewheel. You taxied like in a taxi. Yeah. You know, not the zigzag of a 109 where you had the engine in front of you and you reduced the visibility, forward visibility. So, this was number one. Number two you had a very good radio situation. No background noise because there was no interference from the engine. This was very clear. Without noise. Then take off. The, you had to accelerate the throttle very, very carefully and slowly. If, you do it rapidly you can over heat and risk of fire in the engine which happened quite often. So, advance the throttle very carefully and slowly. Once you release the brakes and you rolled down the runway catching up speed and getting into the air the 262 at the beginning is very heavy and unmanoeuverable, until she really catches up speed. Then we are superior. And the 262 was the only aeroplane designed to make dogfights, you know. The advantage was attack with high speed go and start again but don’t turn the old-fashioned dogfights. This is not for the 262. But the 262 flew at about the double speed. Double the speed of the normal conventional aircraft.
KC: After the war you got to know Steinhoff very well indeed. He served with you in NATO and I think he became a friend of yours.
GR: Yeah.
KC: He often said that he felt that his crash in the 262 was due to a bomb crater but when we met General Galland he seemed to think that there was a movement between, there is control for a flap.
GR: Yeah.
KC: And the throttle controls were very close together, and he seemed to think that possibly Steinhoff had used that as well as a contributory factor. Did you get to talk to Steinhoff about that particular incident?
GR: No. You know and you have to, this was such a dramatic accident. Even the memory of Steinhoff, you know was not, couldn’t be realistic, you know, because there are a lot of psychological influence in such a situation. What really happened I don’t know. Some say with the flaps. Lowering for flaps, or reducing flaps too early and he says the crater, a bomb crater. I don’t know and whether he could have the right memory I don’t, after such a dramatic, dramatic accident, you know. He lost his face and his consciousness. Everything. How can he commemorate exactly what happened?
KC: At the end of the war of course you came into the allied, the, became a prisoner of war.
GR: Yeah.
KC: In the west.
GR: Yeah.
KC: How were you treated and what was your story of your movement from operational status to —
GR: Yeah.
KC: Prisoner of war.
GR: Well, you know this was from one day to another one you know. We want to go home. The war is over. There is no, no fighting anymore and we dissolved our units and I said goodbye and thanked them and you go to north and we go south and soon you get the food. That was last and everybody tries to go home. And we marched with my staff until the late, [unclear] and what we didn’t know at that time there was a very strong, there was a very strong all these soldiers came this is the alpine fortress. Something like that. Very fanatic Nazis fighting to the dead end. It wasn’t true. We wanted to go home. Ok. They got us and then I had some camps. Lousy camps. I don’t blame the Americans you know, because there was such a number of prisoners from one day to the other. They hardly could feed them, you know. There was a logistical problem. There was, no camps. Where to put them? And so it would happen to us also, you know. From one day we had thousands and thousands and thousands of prisoners but no camps, no food. We were fed and suddenly we have an, we had an array of people, other people who couldn’t stand it. They passed away. There was tremendous malnutrition but it was due to the fact that it was unforeseen situation. Then I was picked up by the Secret Service or whoever we call it. CIA or what. They called to get all the Air Force officers, and they called out the name. Five. Rall bump, bump and then we were interrogated privately, individually and the question was, ‘You flew the —’ Asked me, ‘You flew the 262?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ And they said, ‘Would you, would you assist us by giving us your advice? By building up a jet force. We don’t have —’ The Americans didn’t have a jet at that time in operation. The war was over. Our sympathy was with the west and I said, ok. Then I said, ok, and we were taken out from this camp and you know after we didn’t have, we were really suffering from food and no food. Lackage of food. And when this oversized jeep took four of us out of the camp after one hour or after half an hour he stopped in a small trail beside the main road and opened his trunk and here came sausage and food and tomato juices and this was the first time we were very, very happy. Then we went to Heidelberg and from there to Wiesbaden, and finally we were taken over to England in to an interrogation camp, and every day we walked up and down and talked the war over again, you know. Primarily about the different types. 262 certainly. This was a main interest. And with one of these interrogators we still have, or Galland had a close friendship with Colonel Wigman. An American colonel. He lives in Vienna and he also attended the funeral of Galland. He was a good friend. So, the treatment was very [pause] comfortable. Not comfortable but acceptable. Put it that way. Acceptable. And then I was taken to, from England to when, you know we lost, they lost interest in our, in our personalities you know, the persons because the war is still running in in the Far East, and they dropped the atomic bomb and the whole thing was over. Then we, then they lost every interest in us. And I was in France and I was as a, as a, as an American prisoner, and they were asked to lend us to the British and then we came over to Tangmere together with Rudel, and in Tangmere we sat together in the evening with all the outstanding British fighter pilots, Bader, Stanford Tuck and [unclear] and they treated us as gentlemen up there.
KC: I believe —
GR: Grateful. Very grateful.
Other: Can we just hold that chaps. I’m about to lose the batteries.
[recording paused]
GR: He was a blockhead, you know.
DT: Yes.
GR: [unclear] I cannot say that here.
DT: Right.
GR: It becomes history. This man is damned, you know. I don’t like that. He was a great fighter, no doubt. But certainly, I wouldn’t call him a friend, you know.
KC: What was, what was he like as a, did it come across in conversation, his, his attitude.
GR: Me. I. ‘I was the greatest.’ ‘I had the highest decoration.’
DT: Mohammed Ali type.
KC: He couldn’t, that was it, the special medal he got. What was it called?
GR: He got the, he had the Knights Cross with Oak Leaf and Swords in diamonds in gold.
DT: That’s right. And only Goering had —
GR: Only. Only he. Only he has. Yeah.
KC: Ok.
GR: Actually, he has the highest decoration. Rudel.
KC: Could, could you just tell us of that flight from France and your first meeting with the British officers at Tangmere.
GR: Yes. You know, we were American prisoners and one day in a camp in, in the Brittany [pause] or Normandy, Normandy and one day the American officer came, ‘Pack.’ Didn’t know what to do, and I had to be at the main gate in ten minutes, and there also was Rudel. Rudel was in the hospital camp and they also came over and the jeep came and we jumped in to the jeep, and here we went and Rudel was always saying, ‘Where are we going? Where are we going? I think the Russians have sent a ship and they turn us over to the Russians.’ The command we are not that important that the Russians come with a cruiser from Leningrad to, to Cherbourg to pick two guys up and bring them back. We ended up in Cherbourg in a little airfield and waited. And after a while a Beechcraft came with British cocarde blue, white, red. Ok. Here we go to England, and we jumped into the Beechcraft and flew over the Channel. I knew the Channel and right after we crossed the border the, the, the, the coastline the pilot reduced the throttle. We are going to land. We looked outside. I said, ‘Ah, here’s a base.’ I saw the base and we went down. Circled down, and came in and landed. And when we landed, we jumped out of the plane and the air police came and Rudel jumped out and he had his rucksack, and in his rucksack, he had his artificial leg. He was on stretchers, one leg marching. The other one was in the rucksack [laughs] It was not the brightest view of the German Air Force. Anyway, they took us very politely. Escorted us to the prison. I thought this could not be the only reason to come over here. To go in another prison. But they left the doors open. This is a good indication. Say to Rudel, ‘You must be optimistic. The doors are open.’ After a short while a very smart British wing commander came. Good looking and exquisite German, ‘Excuse me. You came earlier than expected,’ and offered us immediately a cigarette. Never happened in the last years. I mean offered a cigarette. Very nice. And then he asked us in German, ‘Did you have lunch?’ I said, ‘Sir, I didn’t have lunch in the last three months.’ And he escorted us to the officer’s mess, and we get the lunch. It was fantastic to us as prisoners, always treated by guards with a machine gun, ‘Macht schnell. Macht schnell,’ and now treated as gentlemen. And the man who treated us as gentlemen was Wing Commander Stanford Tuck and I’ll never forget. This man gave us a feeling as we were treated as gentlemen.
KC: Did you, did you know then of his reputation at that time?
GR: No.
KC: As a fighter pilot.
GR: No. I knew his reputation after. He came over and we became friends in Germany, and he attended our fighter pilot’s meeting. He was, became a good friend of Galland, as Bader did. So, but not at that time.
KC: Eventually you became a major contributor to the build Other: up of the, rebuild of the Luftwaffe after the war in the 1950s. Could you tell us a little about your role?
GR: Yes. When I got, you know Steinhoff, they joined the office in preparation to build up the force and he wrote me a letter, Steinhoff when, when the time has come and we are legally authorised for new Germany. ‘You have to come. How should we build up an Air Force without you?’ Without you, not meaning me but all the pilots, the old fighter pilots. I said I was really lucky to because you know the, the bad experiences and the, the trauma of this feeling that we fought maybe for the wrong objectives, and with all these new knowledges, what happened, and all these arguments I was not willing to jump in a new adventure at this time. So, I was reluctant but I was convinced certainly in our new democratic system an armed force was necessary for the defence, you know in those days. We still had tremendous confrontation between east and west. The hot war. The, the Cold War. The Cold War. And finally, I said, ‘Ok. I come.’ And then I joined on the 1st of January ‘56 the new German Air Force which at that time was just in an early build up situation.
KC: And where did you train for this?
GR: First, I was on the staff to do our staff work and to make all the conditions for building up the force. We had to build up the staff, the schools, the structure. And then I went to, I went to flying and I was working on a programme to get all these wartime pilots trained in the States. You know, we started our training with the Harvard Mark 4 as a trainer. Then to the T33, first jet, and then we went to the States to Luke Air Force Base in Phoenix, Arizona, and we were trained on the F84. Some others were trained in Canada on the F86. This was the nucleus of the units in the new German Air Force.
KC: And eventually you went on to fly the Starfighter, I understand.
GR: Later on. You know, in ’58 my general asked me, ‘Do you want to fly the 104?’ And I said, ‘Yes sir.’ It was a most spectacular aircraft. The first aircraft who went through the barrier of sound in a climb. There was a [unclear] sixteen thousand pound thrust rate, six thousand pound, sixteen thousand pound thrust. So, one to one. I said yes so, they took me over to Palmdale, to Los Angeles with a group of engineers and they have to try to figure out the German version of the 104. The T version. At that time, we made six flights from me to the Lockheed Company out in Palmdale and I flew the A the B, and A model, and this was for me a new dimension. Fantastic. And when I came back, I was declared to the project officer of the 104, and from there on I was every year three or four months with young pilots and we flew all the tests of first, full maximum load and night flying and with the bomb being, which changed. The problem was that due to political pressure the 104 had to replace these old timers early as possible which meant that the, the production sometimes was parallel to the, to the design, to the to the development of the aircraft. This was sometimes a critical situation.
KC: At this time the aircraft actually became surrounded in some controversy because it got the reputation as a widow maker.
GR: Yeah.
KC: As an aircraft that was unreliable.
GR: You know, the 104 you can argue about this for hours and hours. What was the reason of the unacceptable losses we had on a 104? If you ask a pilot, every pilot who flew the 104 said it’s a pilot’s aircraft it was the best aircraft we could get. The 104 was an aircraft which wants to fly. You have to. You have to force it through the air. It flies by itself. A very stable weapons platform. But you have to follow the conditions, you know. Don’t make a mistake. It’s an unforgivable aircraft also with the small wings. Due to the fact that production development was parallel and some others certainly there was a source of mistakes, of failures. But as an overall judgement the, the losses of the 104 was not due to the wrong construction of the aeroplane, mistakes in the aeroplane it was a genius development of design from Kelly Johnson in the States. But we always had, or ninety percent of the whole losses were human failure in some area. Not only the pilot. The maintenance, the [unclear] or whatever.
KC: It was designed of course as an interceptor. A pure interceptor.
GR: I know.
KC: But in Europe it was employed in a ground attack role.
GR: It was a multi-roler. We had a multi-role. We used the 104 as an interceptor, as a fighter bomber, and as a reconnaissance and we thought for financial reasons we cannot afford to have a logistic system for interceptor, for fighter bomber and for the reconnaissance. This was, surely it was wrong, because a multi-role aircraft means always not the extreme best solution for the particular role. It means a compromise. A compromise is always giving up some advantages, and this is true of the 104.
DT: Do you still maintain contact with your wartime comrades?
GR: Yes. Sure. We, in Germany we have a very fine Association. A Fighter Pilot’s Association with a tremendously good president and due to him you know we have a very good contact. And what he does you know this is biological problem that if you have in fifty years of Fighter Association there’s nobody there. They all passed away so how can you solve this? Keep this unit, this association alive. It means you have to get in new pilots. A new force. So, most of the wing commanders of the new German Air Force I mean, the unit is fifty years old already. Much older than the old one. They all became members of the Fighter Pilot’s Association so, they will, if the old characters pass away, they still arrive, the Association.
DT: I understand you were one of the first if not the very first German ace to be invited to Moscow to speak to the Russian fighter pilots.
GR: Yeah.
DT: Tell us of your experiences in Moscow.
GR: Yeah. This is, you know I was invited by the veterans. War veterans. And I was invited through the German Embassy and the German Air Attache delivered this invitation. And the, the man who had the invitation was General Oberst Andreyev, he was not a wartime veteran he was younger but he was the commander in chief of the Warsaw Pact Air Forces for a time. And when I came over, I was received very politely at the airport. Four, four persons saluted me and took me to my hotel. It was a very friendly treatment, and the next day we went out to Kubinka. Kubinka is the third most important operation base of the present Russian Air Force and it is the home of the acrobatic team with the MIG29 and the SU27. Highly modern aircraft. And there an assembly of five, four hundred officers and all the maps from the war time and all with the figures. How many army soldiers we had at the beginning and they had to compare, and the old veterans they couldn’t always get upright because they had tons of medals on their pressing down. Like a, like an arming plate, you know. But this is a Russian habit. And now, we were on the front stage and we are on the table and they delivered their speech to the four hundred officers. This was the meaning. To give these officers inspiration because the Russian armed forces are in a very, very critical shape. This was a privileged cast in the past. Now, they are completely underprivileged. They don’t have money, you know, and many draughtees don’t show up. They don’t come and all the privileges are gone and from one day to the other, you know. This is only a very short time so they are in a situation and they want to motivate their officers. Therefore, they invited the old groups, all to talk about the war and all the medals. And then I was on the stage and I had the privilege to have a very good interpreter. A very nice lady. And I spoke one sentence, and she could translate and I would think of the next one so, because I was completely unprepared. I didn’t know. It was very nice and I recapulated all my experience in the east and certainly also spelling out my high respect for their great fighting morale. Their capability to switch from a very obsolete Air Force to a very modern, very very acceptable Air Force during the war. And after that we went out to a balcony, and we had the demonstration of the acrobatic team with the MIG29 and SU27. It was outstanding. Excellent. And after that finally, we went to lunch. It was about 4 o’clock in the afternoon, and there was a tremendous table set. Beautiful. We came in. There was a band playing Russian, very nice Russian songs, and a colonel, a lieutenant colonel. He was a singer. He sung, beautiful Russian voice and a major in a duet sometimes and what I spotted on the table set was every thirty centimetres one bottle of vodka.
Other: Can you just hold it there? I’m sorry.
[recording paused]
Other: If you want to go back over the, maybe the setting out the table.
GR: About the what? Sorry? Yeah. OK.
DT: Go back to you went, you went out on the balcony.
GR: Ok.
DT: And saw the aircraft.
GR: No. When we came back into, into the lunch room, you know.
DT: Yeah.
GR: With the little band playing and singing. The lieutenant colonel singing and the major singing. It was, it was wonderful. And then we are sitting at the table, and I was sitting next to General Andreyev, and he delivered a speech and then he gave me the wings of Russian Air Force. I was very touched by this. And then there was beautiful for food, Caviar and what you have. And then he asked all these veterans toast to so and so, and it was in Russian. I couldn’t follow that, trust me [laughs] And all these old timers, one after the other toasted to somebody, to something. I don’t know what but I know after every toast of [unclear] vodka, no swallowing, just pouring in. You can imagine after eight toasts, it was a very gay club there, and this is what I would really liked, you know, and a two star general, Army general stood up and gave a poem, you know. He, how do you —
DT: Recite.
KC: Recited.
GR: Yeah. A poem. And then it was sung. And next to him was the pilot of the MIG29, and when I had, I was offered to, to make some, give some words to them, and I said, well I’m deeply touched about the wide span of Russian mentality from a very sentimental, very amusable, very agreeable situation by the songs of Russian songs, about the poems about the very, very literal mood to the strong tactical side of the pilot of the MIG29 and SU27, this was a wide span recording the Russian soul. It was no doubt.
KC: Grateful that you came over here to Yorkshire to the Yorkshire Air Museum and helped us with our fund raising. I think everybody who came to the lecture that we had last night thoroughly enjoyed themselves and certainly David and I would be pleased to know whether you are actually grateful that eventually after many phone calls and letters you did give in to the persistent Yorkshireman as you call him, my colleague here.
GR: I am very glad to be here and I’m very, I’m convinced it was good to come over here to meet friends. I can say that and to make a contribute to the, to the very, very fine Yorkshire Air Museum. And I envy you I must say. When you are about here because of the great interest and enthusiasm of your people here in masses to be interested. Historical events, and events of today which I am slightly missing in Germany. Thank you.
KC: Sir, thank you very much indeed.
Other: What we need to do now is, if you just carry on chatting and I’ll just get some listening shots.
KC: Right.
Other: You know, but if you can try and keep him quiet. So, I’m just do, you know a few close ups of his face listening, and then we’ll do the same with you.
KC: What? Talking. Listening to me, talking, you mean.
Other: Yeah.
KC: Right.
Other: [unclear] I’ll just get —
DT: Right. So when, when does your plane go general, today?
GR: 14.40 I think.
KC: Yes. Yes.
GR: And I will go to Gatwick in one hour. Then I arrive Salzburg, I think 1910, which is here 1810.
KC: I think we have to say that David and I, certainly David was the inspiration behind these things, aviation lectures and when we first started them which was about what four years ago —
DT: Yeah.
KC: Four years ago, the first ones we had was a local speaker and I think there was six people turned up.
DT: Something like that.
KC: Six or seven people turned up to the first one. We had a —
DT: And a dog. And one dog.
KC: And a dog. We had some, we had a quiz which was again just a few local people.
GR: Yeah.
DT: And at that time one of our museum colleagues said we decided to put up the entrance fee from two pounds to three pounds and our friend said. ‘You’re being very risky. Keep it to local people and about two pounds.’ And four years later here we are with such distinguished speakers as yourself as yourself and Johnny Johnson, and Wilhelm Johnen.
GR: Yeah.
DT: And the various people we’ve had.
GR: Yeah.
DT: Colonel David from the Canadian Air Force.
GR: Yeah.
KC: From all over the world. I mean it is quite remarkable. I don’t think David and I in our wildest dreams would ever have thought that we’d have spent such time with people like yourself, and the British aces. I mean it’s absolutely incredible.
DT: I’ll tell you, if we are not on record, General Rall, I said to the museum chairman one year ago we may have an opportunity to speak to Gunther Rall, and he said, ‘Who is Gunther Rall?’ [laughs] I said, ‘Well, he is the — ’
GR: Was he a German? Sorry [laughs]
DT: ‘He is the world’s leading fighter ace still left alive.’ ‘Oh,’ He said, ‘Well,’ he said, ‘Nobody in England has heard of him apart from you.’ Apart from me.
GR: Yeah. Yeah.
DT: I said, ‘That is rubbish.’
GR: Yeah.
DT: ‘Many people have heard of Gunther Rall,’ I said.
GR: Yeah. Yeah.
DT: He said, ‘I think it is a big risk for the Yorkshire Air Museum — ’ So — [laughs]
GR: Yeah. Yeah.
DT: We’ve taken —

Collection

Citation

Ken Cothliff and David Tappin, “Interview with Günther Rall,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 27, 2022, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/34887.

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