A brief history of Gunther Rall German fighter pilot ace
By Willie Bodenstein
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Rall is the third most successful fighter ace in history. He achieved a total of 275 victories: 272 on the Eastern Front, of which 241 were against Soviet fighters. He flew a total of 621 combat missions, was shot down 8 times and was wounded 3 times. He scored his victories in the Messerschmitt Bf 109 'Black 13.
After the war and whilst in a prisoner of war camp, Rall was approached by the Americans who were recruiting Luftwaffe pilots who had experience with the Messerschmitt Me 262 fighter.
Rall rejoined the newly established West German military in 1956, after meeting a wartime friend and Luftwaffe pilot who encouraged him to return to flying. He joined the new German Air Force. One of his tasks was to oversee modifications to the F-104 fighter to comply with the requirement of the Bundeswehr, leading to the F-104G version. He insisted on the replacement of the ejection seat due to safety concerns. From 1 January 1971 to 31 March 1974, he held the position of Inspector of the Air Force and from 1 April 1974 to 13 October 1975, he was a military attaché with NATO.
His enforced retirement in 1975 was as a result of a controversial three-week visit to South Africa, where he hosted meetings with South African politicians, of which his Air Force superiors claimed to be unaware. The "private" nature of this visit was later publicised by German weekly magazine Stern. South Africa, despite its policy of apartheid, was seen as strategically important to NATO and, although the visit was thought to be officially sanctioned, the political embarrassment following the concerted press campaign meant Defence Minister Georg Leber was forced to retire Rall in October 1975. By the end of his career, he attained the rank of Generalleutnant.
Rall died at his home in Bad Reichenhall on 4 October 2009, aged 91, after suffering a heart attack two days earlier.