The Second World War: The Fighter Aces

The Second World War: The Fighter Aces

(solemn instrumental music) (triumphant instrumental music) – [Narrator] Germany’s fighter pilots did not create World War
II, but they were caught up from the very first day to the last in its remorseless struggle,
as were many pilots of other nations. Most of the top scoring aces came from the pre-war Luftwaffe as
professional soldiers. But the vast majority of the
aces were not professionals. They were volunteers drawn
to the adventure of flying, as were their predecessors in World War I. Modern war opens the expensive and highly complex aviation
field to these men. Without war, it was a line of work to which they would not have had access. Had the war not intervened, most of them would’ve been school teachers,
bank clerks, managers, lawyers or chemists, to which occupations many returned to after surviving the war. Germany’s fighter aces must
be credited with outstanding and often astonishing
achievements in the air. (engine revving) With the years now past
in our current climate of peacetime and political correctness, history should now recognize
that the German airman was a brave and fair opponent
whose professionalism should be admired by all nationalities and generations of fighter pilots. The damaging bombardment
of wartime propaganda and deliberate misinformation
to incite hatred on all sides only
deserves to be forgotten. Like their Allied counterparts,
Germany’s air aces left behind families, wives and loved ones when they went to war. Like all Germans of their generation, they suffered the same
anguish as the consequences of the Hitler period
consumed their fatherland. In their devotion to
their country and the air, and in their seemingly
unquenchable courage, tenacity and skill in the face of overwhelming Allied
power, Germany’s aces stand equal alongside any other
great warriors in history. They flew against the enemy to the final hour of the final day. Their historical
misfortune was nevertheless to be endlessly blamed
for losing the air war by their very own supreme commander. This was a war they had not conceived, but in the prosecution of which they had held themselves relentlessly to the limits of human endurance. They began the war with
everything in their favor: experience, superior tactics,
an excelled combat leadership, well-tested weapons and a substantial lead in jet fighter development. Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering,
their supreme commander, was convinced they were invincible. This led to overcommitment. Thus the end of the war six years later, heroically but vainly battling a blizzard of Allied aircraft while their fatherland fell into a blazing ruin below. But Luftwaffe produced the most successful and highest scoring individual
fighter pilots of all time, and yet their formations
were driven from the skies. Defeat, terror and suffering swept in on the Reich from the air. (explosions) In a few short years,
the Luftwaffe fighter arm was reduced from dazzling ascendancy to a hunted and desperate
collection of units struggling to get a handful
of machines airborne. Behind this dramatic change of fortune lies an almost incredible
story of courageous airmen repeatedly failed by their High Command and by Germany’s political leaders. The careers of Germany’s greatest aces cannot be outlined
accurately or understood without highlighting this backdrop to the struggle in the skies. The frequent failures of
significant personalities upon whom the fighter pilots depended for the backing of their
efforts were unprecedented at that time in military history. The do or die valor of the
Luftwaffe fighter pilots, and especially the leading aces, never lost its quality right to the end. This is a crown of glory shared by all German fighter pilots alike. The fact that Goering,
no doubt frustrated by his own failure, accused them of cowardice once the early easy victories had passed, should not detract us all
from the historic achievement, for had those flying warriors
been properly backed, the history of this century might’ve very well been different. By far the best known of Germany
World War II fighter pilots and air leaders was lieutenant
general Adolf Galland. He became one of the most remarkable men to reach high rank on either
side during the conflict. And, as a fighter pilot,
he also earned his place as one of the immortal aces. Shrewd, perceptive,
courageous and far sighted, Galland was exposed to the
burdens of high command while still in his early 30s. He was appointed inspector
of the fighter arm before reaching the age of 30. Despite the demands
made on him by this role and also against the orders of Hitler, he continued to fly fighter
combat throughout the war. (chatter) He ended his war career still fighting, in command of a squadron of Me 262 jets. Galland was always the most
realistic of air generals. He would ask his pilots to do nothing that he had not done himself,
and history has verified the accuracy with which he analyzed the major trends of the air war. A brilliant combat pilot,
exceptional marksman and ingenious tactician,
Galland was able to incorporate all of those battle talents
into an inborn strategic sense for the overall picture of air warfare. As a fighter pilot, he scored
103 confirmed victories. Compared to many other aces
who scored a great deal more, and in some cases over
300, Galland’s score may seem insignificant by comparison. But he scored his entire
total against the British and American pilots on the Western Front, something that only a small handful of men lived long enough to achieve. Furthermore, Galland will
be as long remembered for his battles on the
ground as an advocate for fighter pilots as he
will be for his efforts as a fighter pilot in the air. (engine revving) (explosions) Lieutenant general Galland first flew in combat in Spain in 1937. This interview was recorded
in the USA in the early 1980s. – I flew the Heinkel 51 biplane. It was at the time already
an obsolete fighter. Therefore, we used it only for target support, strafing and bombing. – [Narrator] The Spanish Civil War marks the end of the biplane era and the introduction of
a new design in fighters. Cantilever monoplanes with
retractable landing gear and enclosed cockpits. These innovations were not entirely well-received at the time. – A fighter pilot in a closed
cockpit is an impossible thing because you should smell the enemy. You could smell them because
of the oil they were burning. – [Narrator] One of these new fighters was the Messerschmitt Me 109. The impact of these new
aircraft was surprising. – Very surprising, especially
in Messerschmitt 109, even in the first version, were superior to anything that flew in Spain. – [Narrator] Galland was desperate to fly one of these new fighters. During the invasion of
Poland, unable to break free of his involvement with
close support aviation, he was a squadron commander. His squadron was equipped with the obsolescent Henschel
123, the biplane Stuka. For his efforts in this campaign, he was awarded the Iron
Cross second class. It was during the campaign in Belgium that he first flew the new Me 109. On the 12th of May 1940, he
scored his first aerial victory, followed by two more on the same day, all three were British Hurricanes. On the 18th of July, he
was promoted to major and took part in the crucial stages of the Battle of Britain. By September, having already
earned the Knight’s Cross, he had scored 40 aerial victories, making him one of Germany’s leading aces. Later that month, he was awarded
the much coveted oak leaves to go with the Knight’s Cross. He received this decoration
personally from Hitler. After his 50th victory in November, he was promoted once again. This time to lieutenant
colonel and commodore of JG 26. Galland was a chivalrous soldier. He believed passionately in fair play, which governed his actions
towards his foe in the air. When friend and rival air ace
Werner Molders was killed, Galland was given his post. At only 29 years of age, he was promoted to general of the fighter arm, dramatic changes ensued in Galland’s life. He was first and foremost a fighter, yet for the next three
years, he was involved in a running fight against bureaucracy and the misdirection of the Luftwaffe. His finest hour as a general was perhaps Operation Thunderbolt,
when his flawless handling of his fighters contributed
to the amazing breakout of the battleships
Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. Throughout the war, Galland fought hard in the air and on the ground. He loathed the high level stupidity that wasted so many young
fighter pilots’ lives. Through many endless directives, despite overwhelming differences from the German High
Command, he proved himself time and time again not only as an ace, but also as a master
tactician of aerial warfare. The Luftwaffe introduced
a major breakthrough in aircraft design when they put the new jet propelled
Messerschmitt Me 262 into service, the first operational
aircraft of its kind. – The performance and the
flight characteristics were so overwhelming, the
impression of jet flight first in a pilot’s life is
something extraordinary. But when Hitler saw this
aircraft first time presented, he asked Messerschmitt, I
was present at this time, “Is this aircraft able to carry bombs?” And Messerschmitt said,
“Yes,” and Hitler asked, “How many kilos does it? “Perhaps if I found that (mumbles) “for sure a 250 kilo bomb.” And Hitler said, “This
is the blitz bomber,” as he called it, “The dive
bomber, the fighter bomber “which I’m requesting since years. “With this aircraft, I
can fight the invasion, “the coming invasion.” And this was the sentence
to death for this aircraft being used as fighter, as interceptor. But it really was. – [Narrator] Galland was bitterly opposed to using the 262 as a bomber, so much so that Hitler eventually relieved him of his command of the fighter
force and gave him instead command of a handful of
262s to use as fighters. – We have built a total of
about 1,250 of this aircraft. But only 50 were allowed to be used as fighters, as interceptors. And out of this 50, there are never more than 25 operational. If we would have the 262 to our disposal, we could’ve had, in 44, at
least 300 operationally. With this, we would have stopped the American D-Day
offensive, it is for sure. Of course, the outcome of the war would not have been changed. The war was lost perhaps
when it was started. – [Narrator] Those who lived
through those tumultuous days will never forget
Galland’s immortal image. Huge sunglasses and thick black hair under a battered and crushed cap that any ordinary general
would’ve recalled from wearing, and always the big cigar. He came and went like a whirlwind, leaving inspiration in his wake. Forthright, upright and gifted,
he was a man of destiny, and the Luftwaffe would not
have been the same without him. Galland had a rival, Werner Molders. Molders was considered by Hitler to be one of the two best
leaders in the Luftwaffe. He was the first pilot
to score 100 victories in aerial combat. He was appointed general of
the fighters at the age of 28, but on the 22nd of November
1941, before reaching 29, he was killed in an air crash. In the history of the Luftwaffe,
Galland was his only equal. It was possibly just
as well for the Allies that he was removed from the
war, because undoubtedly, he was the most feared and respected fighter pilot and leader in Germany. Molders scored a total of 115 victories, both of the Western and Eastern Fronts, before his untimely death. And he remains, to this days, one of the most famous aces of the war. Although less famous than
either Galland or Molders, a special place among the tutors and leaders of the
Luftwaffe must be accorded to Johannes “Macky” Steinhoff. With a varied and colorful combat career and 176 victories to his credit, he’s the 22nd ranked ace
of Germany and the world. He was on active service as one of the elite first to last
aces from 1939 until 1945, and survived a horrific jet fighter crash at the end of the war. He was one of the brains behind the new postwar
Bundesluftwaffe and went on to become commander in chief
of Germany’s new air force. Steinhoff was a pioneer
of the night fighter and a founding member of NJG 1. He saw active service in all
major theaters of the war, on the Eastern and Western fronts, in the Mediterranean and in North Africa. Steinhoff was one of the old school who believed in chivalry and the fact that an officer’s word was his bond. (gunfire) (explosion) This respect amongst officers
was perhaps epitomized when he shot down an American P-38. He found the pilot and took
him to his own tent to recover. Refusing to have the
American shackled or tied up, he simply accepted the
fellow officer’s word that he would not try to escape. If Hans-Joachim Marseille
had lived on the Earth before the advent of gunpowder, he would’ve certainly found
the romantic era of knights, fair ladies and chivalrous fighting a comfortable environment. Thrust instead into the highly technical fast moving world war as
part of a highly disciplined fighting force, he found
his romantic spirit cramped. Despite the modern structures of warfare, Marseilles rose by old-fashioned valor to earn his place amongst the
immortal knights of the air. Enlisting in the Luftwaffe
at 18 years of age, he was dead at 22 with a multitude of spectacular achievements behind him. He died whilst bailing out
of a stricken aircraft. In the final year of his life, he not only won Germany’s
highest decoration, the diamonds to his Knight’s Cross, but also became one of his
country’s eternal heroes. (gunfire) He was considered to be
the best aerial marksman in the Luftwaffe, and on one day alone, flying three sorties, he scored
no less than 17 victories. He was possibly the most
unmilitary of all Germany’s aces, but he compensated for
his informal attitude by his formal achievements. At the time of his death,
he had scored 158 victories and was the top scoring
ace in North Africa. As a fitting tribute in later years, former members of his
squadron erected a memorial to Marseilles at Sidi Abdel
Rahman near El Alamein. One of the most exclusive
clubs in the world has only two members. Probability is that nobody
else will ever qualify to join. (engine revving) The two exclusive members are Gerhard Barkhorn and Erich Hartmann. The only two fighter pilots in history to down more than a
staggering 300 aircraft in aerial combat. Barkhorn’s 301 victories
were all Soviet-flow aircraft downed on the Eastern Fronts. He did fly in the Battle
of Britain later on the Western Front, but was unable to confirm a victory
against the Western Allies. Erich Hartmann, the world’s
top scoring ace ever, scored 352 confirmed aerial victories, including seven American-flown Mustangs. Hartmann was a great tactician and also a great believer
in quantity of aircraft in combat rather than quality. He once summed up this
theory as too many hounds are the death of the hare. – He said, one dog never catch a rabbit. But if lots of dogs are behind one rabbit, then they got him. – [Narrator] In World
War II, Hartmann flew over 1,400 combat sorties,
had entered battle 825 times. Of his confirmed 352 kills,
260 were enemy fighter planes. All of his victories were
made on the Eastern Fronts and all whilst flying
the Messerschmitt 109. How did he achieve so many victories? – We have no gloves, I have to no gloves, but I had to get in the sun,
start from the sun new attack, through the clouds, then I tried to go downstairs for
that sphere in the sky and through clouds and
tried to get exactly under the airplane then come up with full power, and he cannot see you because he has (engine revving drowns out speaker). It makes that (engine
revving drowns out speaker) and watch for the (engine
revving drowns out speaker) what’s going on to decide
whether or not to go home. (engine revving drowns out speaker) I told to my pilots always,
only if the windshield is filled up as enemies
and pull the trigger. This saves you a lot of ammunition. (gunfire) – [Narrator] On the Eastern Front, new generations of
fighters were being flown, including the American P-47 Thunderbolt and the P-51 Mustang. Hartmann and his men fought
the Mustangs over Romania. – About 15,000 feet, the
Mustang was superiority. But if you get down the
Mustangs below 15,000 feet, then they were (mumbles). Well, it’s better than (mumbles). – [Narrator] The P-51s were
superior, and not only that, they came at the Luftwaffe
in large numbers. It was the Mustang that inspired his analogy of the hare and the hounds. – [Erich] They were more. We had two fighters, four
and eight airplanes against a couple of hundreds. Not too much to do for us. – [Narrator] Hartmann developed
his own method of attack, which he described in four steps. First, you see the enemy,
then you make your decision and choose your position
for the greatest surprise. Then attack, followed by
the last step, reverse, get out quickly. If he spots you before you strike, then break away and wait. Never get into a turning
battle with an opponent who knows you are there. It was this tactical
sequence that Hartmann meticulously followed
throughout his war career, and one which made him the
greatest air ace of all time. Germany’s number one ace and the most successful
fighter pilot of all time was soon awarded his Iron Cross. This was soon followed by
Hitler presenting Hartmann with the oak leaves, the
swords and the diamonds. Erich Hartmann was to
the people of Germany in World War II the equivalent of their national hero
some three decades earlier, when baron Manfred von Richthofen ruled the skies over Europe. A master with the Me
109, Hartmann had no time for twin engine fighters. – I don’t hold too much from twin engines, because if you get hit in
a real combat in one engine and the one engine explodes, then normally the second engine exploded too. – [Narrator] Hartmann was a born pilot with a natural feel for flying. (engine revving) What were the characteristics of a good fighter plane for Erich Hartmann? – An airplane who climbs very high. Highest altitude as possible. Maybe today in the space. Was very maneuverable. And who has a high speed. – [Narrator] The third man in the totals of world aerial victories was a man who not only flew on the Eastern Front where higher scores were perhaps easier, but one who also flew fighters in the invasion of France,
the Battle of Britain, in the Balkans over Crete, and finally, ending the war flying against the Allies on the Western Front. (engine revving) Gunther Rall scored a
total of 275 victories. Rall was one of the fighter pilots who flew during one of the
biggest battles of the war, the Battle of Kursk. (Gunther speaks in German language) There is one thing about
the tank battle in Kursk that I clearly remember, mainly because it was important to me personally. It was my one and only midair collision with a Russian LaG-5. One day over the battle,
the whole battle lasted for eight days, I was
flying with my adjutant to do what we called a fighter sweep. We were flying over enemy territory. I saw two little dots on the horizon which were two fighters in the distance. I saw them against a huge
white cumulous cloud. I couldn’t detect their
color, if they look black and we were flying from west to east. It was later afternoon. I approached them with great speed and I had both aircraft in my sights, so all I had to do was
simply pull on the trigger. However, I saw that the
aircraft had a star engine, and I knew that a
Luftwaffe Focke-Wulf group were being transferred to
my area the previous day. I had never seen one in
the air, only on paper. And as far as I knew, they did not exist in Russia at that time. I wasn’t sure if it was
a Focke-Wulf or not, so I never pulled the trigger. I went up on the side of the aircraft and overtook it at high speed. When I looked down, I could
see the dark green color and the red start, the Russians. Of course, I couldn’t
carry on any further, otherwise I would’ve been chased by them, so I flew into a right
curve and dropped down onto the aircraft, and
as I was very close, pulled the trigger and
released a burst of fire. Because of a high speed storm, my aircraft then dropped onto the LaG-5, we collided and I hit the right side of the aircraft with my propeller. I took his wing clean off. The Russian aircraft hit
my rump with his propeller and fell to the ground and crashed. My aircraft went into a
spin and I had big problems. I managed to recover, but I had a lot of trouble getting down. I thought I’d lose my
aircraft as the engine was vibrating badly, but I managed to land on our own territory. I had to land with great
care as my aircraft was falling apart. (engine revving) It has always been
considered that it was easier to score an aerial victory
on the Eastern Front against the Russians than it was on the Western Front against the Allies. (Gunther speaks in German language) In my opinion, it was always
easier on the Eastern Front. When war broke out, the Russians were not as well trained as us and their weapons were
not as good as ours. Their aircraft were not as
modern as our 101s and 190s. Consequently, in 1941,
the Russians experienced great losses at the beginning, but this changed very quickly. The Russians never lost
their urge for battle, even though they experienced great losses. The real enemy we met in
the Channel, the British, with its Spitfire and Hurricane, England had the best air defense concerning the technology
of their aircraft, the training of their pilots, as well as their ground defense systems. That caused us a lot of
difficulties and we experienced enormous losses there,
but so did the British. (triumphant instrumental music) There were many good fighter
pilots during World War II and some great ones, and
Germany had some of the best. (Gunther speaks in German language) We did not invent the ace, it
was invented by the Americans. An American became an ace when
he shot down five aircraft. We wouldn’t even get mentioned then. In order to shoot down many aircraft, you have to fulfill various conditions. You have to have a target in the air, we always had a target in the air as we had to fight against the majority. There were many Americans
who flew 50 missions over Germany and never
saw an enemy fighter, so they could not shoot one down. So one thing is, you need a target. The second point is that you have to remain at the front of the fighting. That is what we did, as we did not have anywhere near enough fighter pilots. The ones we had had to fly
missions and cannot be released. The Americans flew 50 missions and they were sent back to America, the British flew several missions and returned to Britain for more training and recuperation, we could not afford this as we didn’t have enough fighters. I always say that we had the choice of being awarded a wooden
cross or an iron cross, and in order to fly well,
the good fighter pilot has to have several characteristics. However many psychologists have attempted to typify and identify a fighter pilot, this is very difficult, as there were different kinds of people who
were all good fighter pilots. Marseilles is a typical example. It is said that Marseilles
was like a racing horse. With his temperament and abilities, he was a fighter pilot who
was destined for success. He never got shot down and the only time he had to jump out was
because of an engine failure. Rall flew approximately 800
missions between 1939 and 1945, going into aerial combat over 600 times. He was a talented pilots and marksman, and he always considered that his skill was learnt by hard work. Being at the front for
five and a half years exposed to constant aerial combat was the type of hard work that he meant. Had he not suffered many
injuries which dogged his career, including breaking his
back and losing a thumb, Rall would’ve been much
closer to ending the war as the top scoring ace in the world. Close behind Gunther Rall’s
score of 275 victories was Walter Nowotny with 258. He was one of the few elite airmen that Hitler decorated
with the Knight’s Cross with oak leaves, swords and diamonds. Nowotny was the first ace
to score 250 victories, and like many of the aces,
he’d been transformed into a national hero overnight. Wilhelm Moritz was perhaps
one of the lesser known aces of Germany, but even so,
he scored 44 aerial victories against the Allies in
Europe and was awarded the Knight’s Cross for his valor. Another ace to make his
score on the Western Front against the British and Americans was lieutenant colonel Helmut Lent. Lent scored a total of 113 victories in the Messerschmitt 109
against the heavily defended Allied bomber streams and
their fighter escorts. Not all the fighter aces of the Luftwaffe necessarily scored
multitudes of victories, at least not in the air. Hans-Ulrich Rudel scored
11 aerial victories which, compared to the previously
mentioned scores, seems insignificant by comparison. And yet Rudel was the most
highly decorated German soldier of World War II. The Eagle of the Eastern
Front, as he was known, was the commander of the
Immelmann Stuka squadron and he was the only soldier to receive the highest German decoration for bravery, the golden oak leaves
with swords and diamonds to his Knight’s Cross. With 3,530 combat missions flown
and his total of successes, he remains unbeaten in all
times and in all nations. He stands far in front of all the world’s renowned aerial aces. But his successful victory score wasn’t tallied up on aircraft, for he flew in combat
in a Stuka dive bomber against targets on the ground. In low level attacks, often in the heaviest defensive fire
in his slow cannon bird, he destroyed a staggering
519 Soviet tanks, 17 of them on the same day. In addition to this
list of scored achieved by the Stuka pilot who
became a living legend, we can also add, amongst
others, one battleship, one battle cruiser, one destroyer, 70 landing craft, 11 confirmed aircraft, plus hundreds of motor
vehicles, numerous artillery, anti-tank and anti-aircraft positions, as well as armored convoys and bridges. (explosions) 12 comrades, six Stuka
crews, were saved by him from capture or death. When he tried to rescue
another crash landed crew from Russian territory in
1944, he was taken prisoner. He escaped and fled with
a bullet in his shoulder, covering some 50 kilometers
through Russian defenses to reach the safety of the German lines. (explosions) (gunfire) Shot more than 30 times by ground fire, never once by a fighter
plane, wounded five times, this intrepid fighter
pilot took a direct hit and lost his right leg. Just six weeks later, and
despite orders not to, he was flying again in combat
and remained on active duty until the last day of the war. Field marshal Ferdinand
Schorner once said, “Rudel alone takes the
place of a whole division.” Stalin placed a price of
100,000 rubles on his head. France’s most successful fighter pilot, Pierre Clostermann, bearer of Britain and France’s highest awards
for bravery, said of Rudel, “It was a shame he was not
wearing a French uniform.” (explosion) Rudel had his own motto,
“You are only lost “if you give up on yourself.” His extraordinary unique success
exceeded human dimensions. The cost to the Allied
and Russian war effort caused by this one man can
only be counted in billions. He can only be described
as being literally a strategic factor in the war. Now a legend, Hans-Ulrich Rudel is the outstanding
combat pilot of all time. Walter Krupinski, known as the Count, scored 197 victories, 12 of them in one day alone during
the Battle of Kursk. He recalls his early days before he earned his title of fighter ace. (Walter speaks in German language) The most important thing as a
fighter pilot is to survive. And you have to be aware of the fact that the Americans and British sent their fighter pilots back home after they had done
their tour of missions. I, by comparison, had only shot down two aircraft by my 100th mission, which shows I was perhaps a slow learner. But with experience, I soon learned how to shoot down the enemy. If you survive, then you get
the chance to become an ace. General Steinhoff, who was the commander of the group at the time,
wanted to get rid of me and transfer me to the Stukas,
as I never hit anything. I didn’t even hit anything
when we were trained in the fighter pilot school. This shows that our training was very bad and everything I learnt, I had to learn through my own experience, and soon began to train myself in combat. Later, I trained pilots myself. In fact, I took them with me. And one of my fellow pilots was Hartmann, who came as my wing man. He later became one of
the best pilots we had. I kept on telling him,
“Get closer, get closer,” until he learnt and became a great ace. Experience is very important
for a fighter pilot, and when you are brave
enough to get very close, then even closer still, waiting
until you pull the trigger, you will succeed. This is the reason that
young and inexperienced fighter pilots had problems
shooting aircraft down. But of course, you must also not forget that you have to protect
yourself at the same time. At the beginning, we took
the young pilots with us. Normally, there were two of us,
but sometimes four or eight. The young pilots had to
watch and also to confirm our kills because we needed witnesses to confirm our air victories. There were quite a few
senior fighter pilots who, once they had scored
a number of victories, were too concerned about themselves and shot down everything themselves. I was always concerned
about my junior pilots, but I always gave them the chance to shoot down their first aircraft. I hardly ever shot down a lone aircraft, I always left it for my wing man. This was how to give the young pilots self-confidence in their
flying and in their shooting. This was the case when I trained Hartmann. I had experienced myself early on that a lack of confidence can
be very bad for a young pilot. They have to be confident
in their airplane and in their shooting. The most important thing
for every fighter pilot is to have a better vision than the other and to see him before he sees you. We did not have radar in those times. Today it’s a bit different. And once you had good vision,
take the best position and attack from behind the enemy so that he can only see you at the very last second when it’s too late, and then you have to know how to shoot. I can clearly remember when
one of my fellow pilots shouted for the first time
in Persia, “Spitfire!” We all turned around and
said, “Where are they?” As we were quite afraid of the Spitfire because of the reports we’d heard about the battle in Britain. We thought that perhaps these aircraft were being flown by British pilots. They sent 50 or 60 Spitfires to Persia on their aircraft carrier,
which then came over to Russia. But after about four to five
weeks, they were all shot down. The Russians never got
the hang of flying them. Once I fought almost 15 minutes
against a Russian fighter who was undoubtedly an expert. It was when we retreated in
1943 and I was flying together with another pilot from my squadron. The Russian pilot had seven
or eight other aircraft with him, there may
have been as many as 10. All of a sudden, I lost my wing man. One minute he was there, the next I could not see him anymore
and all of the other Russian aircraft disappeared
as well, one after the other. So I was left alone against
this one Russian fighter and we fought in a dogfight. He knew every trick that I used and, being an experienced fighter pilot who’d shot down 150
aircraft, I knew quite a few. But every trick I tried,
he took defensive action and avoided being shot. And then I decided there was
going to be only one solution. We had to wait until one
of us was low on fuel and had to get home. We kept fighting using
every maneuver we knew, waiting for one of us to return home. Then luckily, his fuel obviously ran low and he had to leave. His airfield was further away than mine, and he had to escape, and
it was then that I hit him. The pilot’s bailed out
and parachuted to safety behind his own lines. Walter Krupinski ended the war flying the Me 262 in Galland’s squadron. (Walter speaks in German language) For anybody that flew
the 109 first in the West and then the 262, it soon became clear that we should’ve had this
aircraft years earlier. With this aircraft, the
air battles would’ve looked a little bit different. It was much faster, and
the faster your aircraft, the easier it is to choose
your position to attack. And this is very decisive
for the fighting pilot, because if he can choose
his attack position, he will be better placed than his enemy. When I went to my first
mission from Munich-Riem, I was singing because I’d never seen anything like it before. This aircraft was unbelievably fast and much better at climbing
than any other aircraft that any fighter pilots had flown before. It was solid in the air, even when it was traveling at high speed. All other airplanes seemed
to be floating in midair like balloons when we flew past them. I was on my first mission
when I heard that Innsbruck had been attacked by the
Americans and their Lightnings, the American plane with two tails. As I was flying the 262, I
thought I should drop by. I went there and spotted them immediately. There were about 12 Lightnings
attacking the ground station. I chose one of the
aircraft and went after it, but when I was just about
to pull the trigger, I had already flown past it,
this is how fast they were. The interesting thing is
that the Americans reported that they had been attacked by a 262, which failed to open fire. They didn’t report that
I didn’t get the chance as I was traveling too fast. It wasn’t only in dogfighting where the ace could earn another victory. Apart from having to take on the fighters, the pilots were also taking
on the bomber formations. This involved completely
different tactics. The bomber formations
were harder to surprise with their guns mounted all around and their air gunners
looking out constantly for the German hunters. (engine revving) (gunfire) Yes, the operation was very different. First, you had to clear the bomber because the bomber would
always have a fighter escort. They were always covered with fighters. The Russians had these as well. They covered their Il-2, and first of all, we would have to get
through those escorts. One of us would take care
of the fighter escort whilst the other would attack the bomber. The mighty Allied bomber streams with their lethal volumes
of protective fire and hoards of escort fighters
were a tough proposition for German fighter pilots
on the Western Front. By 1945, the aces were no
longer fighting a war of attack. For two long years, they’ve
been fighting a war of defense. Defending their homeland
from the ever increasing bomber streams which were
destroying Germany city by city. (gunfire) They knew that they were
fighting a lost cause, in fact, many of them had known this
from an early stage in the war. (Gunther speaks in German language) Quite early and definitely
by the time of Kursk, there was no offensive operations
after Kursk, only retreat. People often ask, “Why did
you carry on fighting?” Well, the Americans arrived
and knocked out our cities, one after the other, and we
tried to do everything we could to prevent them knocking
out the next city. It was hopeless, but we
have known for a long time that it was a lost cause. And this was very difficult for us. We were fighting knowing we had lost, but we tried to do our best possible. But knowing there would
never be a final victory. (Walter speaks in German language) In 1941, I have returned home from Russia. I was born in Eastern Prussia, and my parents still lived there. On my return, I had said,
“We’ve lost the war.” They could not believe it,
and this was already in 1941. I had seen how the Siberian divisions got off the train and nearly
cracked our front in 1941, and that was the first sign for me. On my first mission in the
West in 1944, I cried out. There was an abundance
of targets to shoot, so many enemy planes for us to shoot down. But by my second mission, I
myself had been shot down. I was hanging on my parachute and the sky was full of enemy aircraft. I had never seen so many aircraft at once, and this was the second sign
for me that the war was lost. For when the bombers
were flying underneath and bombing our cities, I knew
for sure that from that time, that the war was lost. With the real life drama of the war now approaching its final curtain, most of the leading
characters of the Luftwaffe had already left the stage
or were about to do so. Adolf Galland lay in hospital, his two fighter pilot brothers were dead. Barkhorn was also seriously injured after a crash landing in an Me 262. Steinhoff lay at death’s door, his face badly disfigured
forever by horrific burns. Hartmann was a prisoner of
war and Rudel had lost a leg. Molders and Marseilles were both dead, joining the countless other aces and thousands of young German pilots who’ve been killed before
achieving even one victory. From the first to their last
fight for the fatherland, the German fighter pilots were heroes, even if they were not accorded
this recognition at the time. Goering had endlessly
blamed the fighter pilots for Germany’s ill fortunes,
using them as scapegoats for his own miscalculations,
errors of judgment and lack of professional leadership. The definition of a hero is one
who acts with great courage, and nobody can deny the aces
of Germany that accolade. (gunfire) (engine revving) (triumphant instrumental music) Testimonies to their
chivalry and fair-mindedness are well-documented from the records of the Allied pilots
who flew against them. Pilots who had been shot down were taken as fellow officers to the Luftwaffe messes where they left their counterparts, many of them becoming
lifelong friends ever since. The soldierly conduct of
German aces in wartime, as the history book
shows, stands untarnished. There was no shame or dishonor, they lost the war but they
never lost their souls. Many of them went on to
help build a better Germany. (engine revving) (Gunther speaks in German language) The war was very hard for us, and I’m sure it had effects on my personality. I went to war at the age of 21. I was a young lieutenant
with no political views and I wanted to support my
fatherland, which was in trouble. Why it was in trouble, I did not know. We were needed as soldiers and officers, and we fought the war to the bitter end. We lost a great many friends, got injured and came into captivity, but
we endured it to the very end. And when we returned
home, there was nothing. We had to digest this,
and it left a mark on us. There was no doubt that our views changed regarding ones conception of the world, and we all became more distant. It was also very difficult for us to come to terms with what
we learned in captivity. We found out there what
happened because of us, the Germans, and we did
not know about it before. Nobody believes us now
that we did not know, but we didn’t, this is what it was like. In captivity, the Americans
threw their newspapers over the fences and I saw pictures of a concentration camp
for the first time. At first, I thought it was propaganda, we just couldn’t believe it. But we had to believe it,
and later, we did believe it. And this threw all of us
into a very deep depression. (Walter speaks in German language) You became a man and grew up. You experienced the war
because you had to handle dangerous situations all of
the time and master them. It was a growing up process. On the other hand, we were so full of life that we tried to cover up the bad things that were happening to us. I found it very difficult to see all these people die in the air. This was the decisive factor for me. Experiencing this marks your whole life, and when I went to the
Bundeswehr as a general, I was determined to make
sure something like this would never happen again. (Gunther speaks in German language) I would like to add that,
when we talk about the war, as we all do as old
comrades, and we don’t want to glorify it, we were there
and it was a pure catastrophe no matter how hard we fought. We lost so many friends,
we are the remains and we are glad that we are still alive. When we meet up, we are
glad that we can share a few memories of what we
experienced and endured, and also of the times we are proud of. No question, as human deed. But we also thank God it is all over, the war is by no means a way
to force political ambitions. (Walter speaks in German language) I hope that my grandchildren
will never have to go through or do what I did. The war was a very bad business. When you’re 77, you have to be thankful that you survived it. (triumphant instrumental music) (solemn instrumental music)

15 thoughts on “The Second World War: The Fighter Aces

  1. An excellent documentary, very well researched. It seems based on "Fighters Aces of the Luftwaffe" by Col. Raymond Toliver USAF. The best book on the subject by far.

  2. If only the German military wasn't being controlled by an absolute madman like Hitler they would have won ww2



  5. @32:26 the narrator talks about Wilhelm Moritz but the person shown Is Oskar "Ossie" Romm, who had a total of 82 aerial victories….both flew with JG3.

  6. @49:25, the guy second from the left is the real Wilhelm Moritz while the guy in the light colored jacket with his back to the camera is Walter Dahl–@49:23 you see Dahl from the front.

  7. Got in to much of a hurry or. They would of won the war there far more superior then any one on earth that's a fact

  8. Galland was right of course, that the 262 would be above first class in an interceptor role foremost. Hitler was not only militarian but also politician. His question for Blitz bomber was of course influenced by the thought of retalliation against British and US- terrorbombing of German cities, by 1943 already at full scale.

    Same applies to the "Aggregaten". The V in V1 and V2 does stand for "Vergeltung" (retalliation) for a reason. While it might have been more sound, to use these aginst the landing in Normandy for example.

  9. german pilot for me they are mainly nazi fanatic assasins, following crazi leader such as Hitler and Goering, sometimes bombing defenseless villages such as Guernica in Vasconia country before WW2 and many cities in Europe, hopefully they were defeated by allied pilot, I don´t agree to present bad kind of people as heroes?

  10. Blind hatred toward the German people, starting at the beginning of the 20th Century, led to two horrible world wars. All Europe still suffers the results.

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