Last Ace Standing?

There is a saying that there are old pilots and there are bold pilots, but there are no old bold pilots.

When the great pilots of World War II are listed by number of confirmed kills, one has to go far down the list to find the top scoring American pilot, Richard Bong. Luftwaffe pilots were the ones with triple-digit scores. Between Bong and the next American ace are Polish, Finnish, and French pilots along with those from Japan and England as well as those of other nationalities. Many of the RAF pilots were of foreign ancestry.

There was a reason for this numerical disparity. American pilots who did well in combat were sent stateside as instructors to help train prospective aces. The United States had the resources to train new pilots. German and Japanese aces fought until they were killed.

Günther Rall was an exception. By any method of counting, he was among the top five aces of the war. He had suffered a lot of injuries and was considered unfit for combat flying several times. He was eventually given training duty. At the end of the war, he recognized the inevitable and urged pilots to stress personal survival rather than scoring victories.

His postwar life began as a POW but he worked with the RAF and developed a lot of friendships among his former enemies. Life in Germany was not so easy for Rall and he eventually got a job as a sales representative. When West Germany developed its new Luftwaffe, he returned to military life. He was instrumental in getting an improved F-104 for NATO use. He outlived most of his former comrades and foes.

Among his many decorations are the German Knight’s Cross and the American Legion of Merit

2 Comments

  1. Oh there are no fighter pilots down in Hell
    Oh there are no fighter pilots down in Hell
    The place is full of queers
    Navigators, Bombardiers
    But there are no fighter pilots down in Hell!

  2. The numbers racked up by the German aces seem way out of proportion from reality. Chuck Yeager was arguably one of the best pilots ever, yet he managed to rack up a “mere” 12 1/2 kills, and his friend Bud Anderson got “only” 17. How then could some of the Germans have gotten 300 or more? At that rate, they have shot down the entire Allied air forces!

    I have heard that the Germans counted every plane destroyed, including those on the ground, whereas the rest of the world’s militaries counted only air-to-air kills. That might explain the discrepancy, and those extremely high numbers for the Germans.

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