Notes On My Luftwaffe Service An Interview With Adolf Galland


Location: Galland's home in Remagen, Germany
Date: 1 October 1991
Interviewer: Don Caldwell
Also Present: Josef Buerschgens, a pilot in JG 26 1938-1940


Caldwell: What was your impression of JG 26 upon your arrival from JG 27?

Galland: JG 26 was a good fighter wing - I wouldn't say it was the best fighter wing, but it was a good fighter wing. The units were well trained; it had not been built up too fast, like other formations; it had been based in the west, in Cologne and Duesseldorf. Wing commanders were von Schleich, followed for a short time by Witt, and then Handrick. Handrick's story is a little bit tragic. You see, Goering didn't like him. He was in love with one of Goering's secretaries. His former wife was an aristocrat, a von Treuberg. Goering wasn't much impressed with his sporting abilities - he was the Funfkampfsieger in '36. I was acquainted with Handrick in Spain; he was commander of the fighter unit J/88, and he was an excellent fighter commander. It was not necessary in Spain for the commander of a unit to be airborne every day. It was absolutely unnecessary, because fights took place in small numbers, two, four, or six fighters, no more than one squadron. These did not need to be guided in the air. So Handrick in this situation did an excellent job in Spain, no question about it. It's disappointing to compare this with what he did in JG 26. He didn't fly at all; at the first opportunity, Goering fired him. The very first possibility came when Goering made Moelders and myself the first of the new generation of wing commanders. By the way, I didn't like this. I asked Goering to remain in my position as Gruppenkommandeur, but he refused. Moelders was very enthusiastic about his new position, and told me, "You want to be a new Richthofen - good luck. I prefer to be a Boelke." You know this story. JG 26 was a wing that in my opinion had a stronger foundation than JG 27, but these are personal impressions.

Caldwell: JG 26 seemed to have a very strong ground staff, that carried it all the way through the war - good serviceability records throughout.

Galland: That is absolutely right, and it is good that you mention this. The ground staff, even with officers of the reserve, was very, very strong. Viktor Causin, the Hauptmann beim Stabe, was one.

Buerschgens: Causin died very early - after the war I tried to make contact with him by telephone, but he was so upset, he didn't want to hear anything...

Caldwell: What can you say about Walter Horten, your Technical Officer?

Galland: He was a very curious man. He had his own ideas about displacement shooting. He reputedly had a special ability to do it. Everyone tried it; not all were successful. To do it right one really needed a gyroscopic sight. [demonstration with fixed Revi sight] With the old aircraft you had to go in advance - to lead the target. With a gyroscopic sight, which came in 1944, the entire assembly moved. The only thing you had to do was make this circle, which was expandable, fit exactly the span of the enemy aircraft. Then one had only to keep the sight on the target.

Caldwell: Horten claims that very little deflection shooting was taught in the prewar Luftwaffe. Is that correct?

Galland: This system came only very late in the war, after very many problems.

Caldwell: The gyroscopic sight, yes, but even the Revi could be used for deflection shooting just by estimating the distance within the sight.

Galland: Yes, except for the fact that at large angles the target is completely outside the sight; thus, it couldn't handle big leads. Also, the trajectories of the shells were not straight, and the sight was absolutely misleading. Horten was my TO for a long time. He always had problems with the engine and aircraft; he was flying only theoretically. But he was a good man and a good TO. He's still alive; his brother lives in Argentina. What else?

Caldwell: By the end of the Battle of Britain JG 26 had established a reputation as an "elite" unit, a reputation that it maintained (to Allied intelligence, at least) until the end of the war. How did you bring JG 26 to the head of the pack?

Galland: The original wing commanders and group commanders were excellent officers in peacetime, but were in no way the best leaders in air battles. Replacement of commanders was the necessary first step. From then on, I led every wing strength operation and mission. I knew exactly what was needed and what was possible in the big air battles.

As my next step I established, documented, and carried out a wing system for bomber escort which was well-known and well-liked as the best one possible. And in 1941, when we had to defend our bases and other targets against escorted RAF bomber formations, I developed fighter defense tactics which had the objective of attacking at one time and in the same air space with the largest force of fighters possible.

Caldwell: What was the Galland escort formation?

Galland: JG 26 was known as the most reliable wing for fighter escort, which was one of the most difficult tasks for a fighter wing. It needs a lot of discipline, and I know that all the bomber wings asked to be escorted by 26. So I think you can say that in 1940, at least, 26 was the best wing for escort. I organized this thing myself, because we didn't have any experience or rules to follow. I split up the escort between direct escort, which flies in direct contact with the bombers, mostly at the same speed, which was much too low. This was about one-third of the numbers - one Gruppe. They stayed with the bombers, and defended them - not the best way, but this was the way that the bombers wanted it. Better is the erwiderte escort ["detached" escort], which keeps the bomber stream in sight, but can go to one side, and if it finds the enemy, can go attack. Even so, after the combat, it must try to reestablish contact with the bombers after the fighting. And then we had the freie Jagd, which flew in advance of the bombers. This was many times the most successful escort. Of course, it was not seen by the bombers, and the bomber crews didn't trust it. I have discussed these tactics with the bombers many, many times, without success. They kept complaining to Goering, who listened to them. For more than forty minutes outside his train Goering blamed Moelders and myself:

.........."What do you want?"

.........."I can't even slow down to the bomber speed, without sacrificing all my mobility."

.........."What? You have the best fighter in the world!"

And this was the occasion that, when Goering asked Moelders and myself what he could do to improve the capability of our wings, Moelders wanted his wing equipped with the DB 601N, and I said I wanted a wing of Spitfires. Of course, that was the end of the discussion.

Caldwell: Why, exactly, did you say that?

Galland: Why? He said we had the best fighter in the world. I said that the Spitfire was better able to slow down, because of its lower wing loading. It was also better able to turn at lower speeds. Our advantage was not in turning, but in flying straight ahead, diving, and climbing. Our turns were not tight enough. So when he said, "We have the best fighter in the world! Don't blame me!" I tried to tell him otherwise.

Caldwell: You already had some Messerschmitts with DB 601Ns in 26, didn't you? How many?

Galland: I had many special aircraft, with special armament.

Caldwell: In the Battle of Britain? I thought your special armament came in 1941. Could you describe some of these aircraft? Were they 109Es?

Galland: I don't know if it was the E model. You can see it in the photographs.

Caldwell: That was in 1941, I believe, that you experimented with your armament, since you felt that the firepower of the Bf 109F was too light. I thought that the armament of the E was quite effective - the British certainly thought so.

Buerschgens: The E had a good armament. It had two cannons, which fired shells that exploded when they hit. You could see them.

Caldwell: Did you fly the same aircraft throughout the Battle, once you got the E-4/N with the DB 601N engine?

Galland: It was not the same aircraft - I changed aircraft.

Caldwell: During the course of the Battle of Britain Reichsmarschall Goering lost confidence in the Jagdwaffe - completely and permanently. The conventional explanations for this are well known, but seem inadequate. Could Goering's bitter feelings toward his fighter pilots have been the result of a suspicion that victory claims were being deliberately overstated?

Galland: Your theory is almost correct, but incomplete. I must defend the really overstated claims of the fighters by telling you that there was an enormous difference between the first claims, right after the mission, and finally confirmed victories. Goering and most of his staff, however, calculated and assumed always the worst for the enemy and the most optimistic facts for our side.

Goering overestimated the capabilities and possibilities of the Luftwaffe. He also was incapable of admitting that fundamental mistakes had been made in planning, equipping, and setting it up. The slow medium bombers had very poor self-defense capabilities. The Zerstoerer, which were specialized for bomber escort, failed completely and themselves had to be protected by fighters. Penetration of the bomber formations was therefore limited by the range of the single-engine fighters - without drop tanks. Knowing more-or-less all these insufficiencies, Goering and his staff continued the Battle of Britain, and made the fundamental mistake of leaving Fighter Command and switching targets to London.

Caldwell: What were your feelings when you were named General of the Fighter Arm?

Galland: In December 1941, when I was taken away from my fighter wing, Goering was in Paris, and I could influence him to come over and say a few words. Goering was full of praise for JG 26 on that occasion. I may still have the speech [located and included as Appendix 1].

Caldwell: Did you look after JG 26, once you got to Berlin?

Galland: I had such strong ties to JG 26 that every time I had the occasion I went back to JG 26. I had problems when I left 26. I wasn't prepared; I didn't have a successor. We had problems. I knew Schoepfel was not the right man. He was a nice guy, but not a strong leader. Many people have told me that the break was too sharp. The next one, Priller, was better. He was the aggressive type. So I believe, without polishing my own shoes, that it depends to a great extent on the leader - a great, great extent. If the guy on top is strong, this filters through to the last pilot.

Caldwell: What were the most important functions of the General of the Fighter Arm?

Galland: This is my reconstructed War Diary. I wrote this immediately after the war, as a prisoner of war in England, and it was not taken from me. I used it in my interrogation, which resulted in the so-called Galland Report. Do you know it?

Caldwell: By Squadron Leader Whitten? Is that the one? I have a copy of it! I found it at Maxwell Air Force Base.

Galland: Good! It is very important. It was the basis for my book.

Caldwell: What records did you have with you when you wrote your book?

Galland: None. I got documents when I asked for them, but mainly documents from the other side. It was an excellent situation. I had this very capable and nice man Whitten to check everything, and he did everything possible to keep my work going. I think this is an excellent report; it is also in Freiburg.

Caldwell: Were you able to keep any of your personal documents - your Flugbuecher? Your Abschussberichte?

Galland: No; I had nothing with me except cigars - perhaps 800 cigars. Here is a list of my duties; is it OK if I give it to you in German?

Caldwell: Yes indeed. [See Appendix 2.] Was your office part of the RLM, or the OKL?

Galland: My office, when I took over from Moelders, was in Berlin, Lindenstrasse Nr. 3. This had been the building of the Social Democrat newspaper Vorwaerts! [Forward!] which I think was a good name for the fighter office. So I took this over. Here was located only that staff which could work without immediate contact with the front - writing official instructions, etc. The operational staff was in the train Robinson, which was the headquarters of the Air Force. Here I had a special rail car. Later, when we had too many files, we had in addition to the car, one wooden building, near the train. We didn't move very often; I remember one important move, to Vinnitsa in the Ukraine. Both Goering and Hitler had moved there.

Caldwell: So your office was part of the OKL?

Buerschgens: The OKL was in Berlin.

Caldwell: But if you drew an organizational chart... I decided earlier that I couldn't sort it out, so in my book I just said, "High Command", or "Berlin".

Galland: Only part of it was in Berlin. Of course, the Quartermaster was always in Berlin.

Caldwell: I'd like to ask a few questions about the period of the invasion. How closely did your office follow the operations or the serviceability of the individual Geschwader on the Invasion front? Who decided when to remove them for re-equipment and resting? Was it your office?

Galland: No, I didn't do that.

Caldwell: It's taken a long time to piece the data together, but it appears that nearly every Gruppe on the invasion front suffered so much damage that it had to be withdrawn to Germany for re-equipment - except the First and Third Gruppen of JG 26, which remained on the invasion front from the first day to the last. I was wondering if you knew of this?

Galland: No, the times were too turbulent. However, the majority of the Gruppen had been training for the Big Blow [der grosse Schlag], and were absolutely not trained for any battle such as the invasion - against such a majority, nothing could be done. The Allied High Command was looking for air dominion - not just air superiority, but air dominion. The relation was no less than twenty to one. So we couldn't put any fighters over the invasion front at all, because Allied aircraft were just hanging, hanging over our airfields. Any movement was hit immediately.

Caldwell: Der grosse Schlag was, of course, a product of your office.

Galland: Der grosse Schlag was my own idea, after I was unable to get the 262 for fighter missions. I said, the only opportunity was to bring an immense number of modern aircraft into one area for combat. We were already forced to fly in so-called Gefechtsverbaende, which were formed from three or four wings. Of course, to assemble such a number of fighters takes time, during which the fighters are vulnerable to attack; many times, they were attacked. But we had also the Sturmjaeger, not the Rammjaeger. The Rammjaeger were born out of the wilde Sau, and I rejected this ramming theory completely, by arguing that if you are going to approach a bomber formation to such a close distance, then you can shoot two down, and still have a chance to escape, instead of ramming and being lost.

Buerschgens: You made a good comment, sir, in the latest Jaegerblatt. It is very, very instructive, and just as you said - the difference between Sturm and Ramm. Caldwell should study it. Hajo Herrmann - he was the man that wanted to ram. It came up in the Jaegerblatt again, and the General had to say something against it.

Caldwell: I'll certainly read the article in Jaegerblatt when I get it, and get the benefit of the feelings you express there. [See Appendix 3.] I have one last question: When did you know that Germany had lost the war?

Galland: Very, very early. I had open discussions with Jeschonnek about this, when we were preparing the spring offensive in 1942. Every reserve in Germany was to become active in this offensive. We had to stop our training, by taking out every instructor - fighters, bombers, and especially transports. All were made operational. And Jeschonnek said that since we were destroying our training capabilities, if we did not win this offensive against Russia, then the war is lost.

Caldwell: Jeschonnek said that?

Galland: Jeschonnek said that - officially. Of course, one could do nothing but follow this order, and sacrifice the training organization. Jeschonnek took the consequences and committed suicide. But the war was continued. And the offensive didn't even take place, because the Russians advanced their own. From this time on, I knew that at the least, this war could not be won. But we did fight. We fought because we felt we had to, for better conditions. Unconditional surrender was the very worst thing. I always hoped to split the Russians from the Western Allies. It was our hope in the dark. If the Western Allies had said, "We agree to certain conditions", the war would have been shorter.

Caldwell: Even in the most favorable circumstances for Germany, what effect could the Me 262 have had on the war?

Galland: In the case of the 262, there is no question that many mistakes were made. The design and development of the plane were delayed for a year by an order of Hitler, who wanted to accelerate short-range developments and cancel long-range projects. But this was completely wrong in the case of the 262. Hitler had little understanding of the Air Force at all, and for air combat - none at all. He couldn't think in three dimensions. He was an army man. If everything had been done perfectly, we would have gained 4-5 months development. We would have gained 2-3 months production. We could have had about 600-800 Me 262s ready for combat, on permanent bases, by the end of 1943. This would have delayed the invasion, of course, without question, and would have changed the air dominion of the Allies, but the result would have been that the [Western] Allies would have moved more slowly, and the Russians would have come farther, certainly to the Rhine. There would have been more destruction. And so ultimately, this order of Hitler's that was completely wrong had a good result.

The Big Blow was the replacement for the 262. I finally won Goering's assent and convinced him not to throw every possible fighter against the enemy every day, which was the rule up to the time of the invasion. Every time, we sent this full force up to fight; there was no reserve, no time to recover, no training, and finally I got permission to build up this fighter reserve, which came up to 2000 prop fighters. These forces were not trained to fight on a battlefront, like in France; but they were sent there on order of Hitler immediately, and as you know, they didn't arrive, they missed the airfields, the airfields had been taken over by the enemy. Terrible disorganization; hundreds and hundreds of aircraft were lost every day by accident.

Buerschgens: And at that time, how was the training? How many hours had the average pilot?

Galland: Ah, it was very short, very short. We had plenty of planes; up to 3000 single-engined fighter planes per month. But we didn't have fuel. And we didn't have time. But most important, we didn't have the fuel for training. So we had to bring them into combat with 40 hours total flying time. And our intention was to train them in combat, on the spot, which was difficult at that time. For this work, we especially needed the experienced pilots; we couldn't leave it to the youngsters.

Caldwell: Were some of the problems on the invasion front due to lack of planning or lack of execution on the part of Luftflotte 3? Were the airfields in France ready?

Galland: They were ready; they were ready. There was no lack of airfields; there were many, many prepared and semi-prepared airfields. But they were not known; they were not visible; they were not found. They were under fire, and were controlled by the Allies completely. Completely. Another problem at the time was the bad weather. We didn't have bad weather capabilities. For the same reasons - fuel and time.

Caldwell: After the fighters were pulled back to Germany, and the strength of the units was built back up, you tried again to build your reserve for the Big Blow. But this time, the aircraft were taken away for Bodenplatte, and put under Peltz. Did you know this was going to happen in advance? How did you find out about it?

Galland: I didn't know of this intention until about ten days before the start of the Ardennes offensive. And I was completely against it. I hated the idea of starting an offensive in the West. I thought we should fight with everything we had against the East, and open the West. I told everybody this, and was looking for people of the same opinion. And I was warned that this could bring me jailing or death. Because at this time, speaking against an order of Hitler was the most dangerous thing you could do. You shouldn't even think it. I learned that Peltz was preparing Bodenplatte; it was impossible for me to influence this at all. I saw it, and I was terrified at what they had in mind. But it turned out to be even worse than I had thought, because it was so poorly prepared that the German antiaircraft shot down a lot of our planes whose courses were over the fields of the V-2s. Terrible, terrible. And this was absolutely the end of the Luftwaffe.


1. Reichsmarschall Goering's Speech Upon The Departure Of Kommodore Galland From JG 26, 5.12.45

2. The Most Important Duties Of The General Der Jagdflieger. Written in England 1945/1946.

3. "It Is My Duty To Respond..." Comment On The Theme "Rammjaeger and Self-Sacrifice Missions" by Adolf Galland - Jaegerblatt Vol. XL (2), p.17 91991).

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