LUFTWAFFE ACE IN THE MELEE
The interesting thing about this May 12 mission was the identity of the pilot who attacked Col. Zemke’s flight and downed his wingman. It was none other than the new commander of the Luftwaffe’s II./JG l, Gunther Rall, who was credited with 275 aerial victories in the Eastern Front. Winner of the Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords,
Rall was one of the most publicized pilots of the Luftwaffe. It happened that Rall was commanding the cover force of 109s, which was to protect the Fw l90s below that were attacking the bombers. He was flying at an altitude of more than
30,000 feet when he sighted the four P-47s below him, let go of his drop tank and immediately attacked.
Rall selected the leader’s wingman and fired. The P-47 immediately flamed and went down; however, Rall suddenly realized that all was not well for him.
A flight of P-47s was on his tail. Their line abreast had boxed him in, and he didn’t have any way to turn. He knew the virtue of the Thunderbolt, but he had no choice. As he readied himself to dive, he was hit by a burst of rounds into his engine and radiator. As he began to put the nose down, there was a hit in the cockpit, and his left hand took a hammer blow.
He dived in pain. Ice formed on the canopy and he had to use his glove to try to get a peephole to judge his altitude. He then yanked with all his might to pull out and zoom to altitude. At last, the aircraft began to recover, and he managed to jettison the canopy. At the apex of his stall, things stilled, and with a desperate struggle, he managed to bail out.
This was Gunther Rall’s last combat mission, and the loss of his left thumb would be a constant reminder.