OBITUARY : General Adolf Galland

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The Independent Online
Adolf Galland was the most famous and dashing of the Luftwaffe aces who duelled with Fighter Command in the Battle of Britain. Galland, "Dolfo" to his admiring fellow fliers - who included adversaries as well as Luftwaffe aircrew - ended the war with 104 "kills", a score accumulated, in the words of his 1957 autobiography, From First to Last, first in the Spanish Civil War, and last, flying the first jet fighters on the Western Front in the closing days of the Second World War.

Galland's aggressive individualism brought him into conflict more than once with his commander-in-chief, Hermann Goering, most notoriously during a visit which the fat Reichsmarschall paid to his airfield in the Pas de Calais during the Battle of Britain. Goering, irritated by the Luftwaffe's inability to clinch victory, asked the young ace sarcastically what more he needed, to be told, "Herr Reichsmarschall, a squadron of Spitfires!" Galland said later that he preferred his own Messerschmitt 109s but was not prepared to allow Goering to get away with the jibe.

Galland's career didn't suffer from this display of chutzpah, which enhanced an image, carefully fostered in the German press, of a swashbuckling, darkly romantic young flier, chomping on a black cheroot while being prepared by his groundcrew for yet another sortie across the English Channel.

He was the last surviving holder of the highest German awards for bravery, the Knight's Cross with Diamonds, Swords and Oakleaves, the reward for a career which included 58 victories by the end of the Battle of Britain, and further "kills" while he was officially one of the chair-bound top brass. The rivalry to become top-scorer which Galland and another pilot, Werner Molders, had engaged in from the fall of France in 1940 reached a climax in the skies over southern England. Molders remarked, "If Galland wishes to become the Luftwaffe's Richthofen, I am content to be its Boelcke" (Manfred von Richthofen's mentor in the First World War). Molders ended the Battle of Britain three kills behind Galland and, like Oswald Boelcke, was killed soon afterwards in a crash.

Adolf Galland was born in 1912, in Westphalia, the son of an estate manager and the descendant of 17th-century Huguenot refugees. Accepted by a commercial aviation school in 1932, he transferred to the infant, and still illegal, Luftwaffe, and had to complete his training undercover in Italy. In 1935, after conducting flying training at a Bavarian fighter pilot school, he was posted to the 1st fighter wing, the Richthofen - only to be relegated to a ground-strafing role in Spain.

He pressed for transfer to fighters and made his mark immediately in the Second World War by destroying three Belgian Hurricanes on the same day, a score he had pushed to 12 by the time of Dunkirk. As commander of Fighter Wing JG26, his reputation soon spread to the operations rooms and dispersals across the Channel, and when two of his opponents, Douglas Bader and Robert Stanford-Tuck, were later brought to his HQ after being shot down, he entertained them in the mess. Bader was allowed to test the controls of an Me109 at dispersal (but photographs show that Galland had a guard posted with his pistol drawn just in case). Galland became a long-standing friend of Stanford-Tuck; they visited each other regularly after the war, rough-shooting and practising acrobatics together.

In June 1941, Galland took to his parachute for the only time in his career, to the surprise of both himself and a young Spitfire pilot who had tried a chance burst. By then, however, he had been picked out by Goering as his Inspector of Fighters, with a brief to conduct fighter operations on all fronts.

Now a major-general - at 30, the youngest in the German forces - he was personally invested by Hitler with the highest decorations, but still had the temerity to urge the Fuhrer to stop the practice of denigrating the RAF over German radio. It led to a typical Hitlerian temper tantrum. Hitler nevertheless selected Galland to provide top cover for the dash by German battle cruisers through the Channel in February 1942, and heeded his warnings to bring more fighters back from other fronts to strengthen home defence.

Galland's straight talking and contempt for diplomatic evasion eventually undermined his standing with the Nazi hierarchy. Goering turned on him, accusing him of defeatism and of not employing correct tactics. This time, in a confrontation between them, the old fighter pilot in Goering lost to the Nazi leader, under pressure to counter the wholesale bombing of the Reich, and Galland was relieved of his command, being placed under house arrest. Only Hitler's direct intervention prevented further harassment - and Galland's suicide.

The ace found himself back as a fighter wing commander, but this time flying the experimental Me262 jets, the Reich's last throw, and leading a select band of 10 Knight's Cross holders. They gave a good account of themselves among the bomber formations but on 8 May 1945, leading his jets against B-26 bombers, Galland was forced down by Mustang fighters, and skidded into a bomb crater, suffering serious injury.

Before his release from prisoner-of-war camp in 1947, Galland was taken to RAF Tangmere, where he lectured on tactics at the RAF Fighter Leader School, composed of men he had fought against in the Battle of Britain. On his release he helped build up the Argentine Air Force, and returning to Germany in 1955 he joined a civil aviation company, Air Lloyd, whose chairman he eventually became. He was still flying light aircraft until the age of 75.

John Crossland

Adolf Galland, air force officer: born Westerholt, Westphalia 19 March 1912; thrice married (one son, one daughter); died Remagen-Oberwinter 9 February 1996.