Aviation History

Legendary German Ace Adolf Galland tells the story of when He nearly Burned to Death after his Messerschmitt Bf 109 was badly damaged by a RAF Spitfire

On Jun. 21, 1941, Galland had blasted a Spitfire out of a formation north-east of Boulogne. He watched the flaming Spit spiraling down, and began following to register accurately the crash. Galland was flying alone — a serious mistake.

By far the best-known of Germany’s World War II fighter pilots and air leaders, Lieutenant General Adolf Galland is a multifaceted personality. He is one of the most remarkable men to reach high rank on either side during the conflict. Galland’s major role in the ebb and flow of Germany’s aerial fortunes makes him an absorbing study subject for air power historians, and he will undoubtedly receive their attention for generations to come. As a fighting pilot, he also earned his place as one of the immortal aces.

As explained by Ray Toliver and Trevor J. Constable in their book Fighter Aces of the Luftwaffe, on Jun. 21, 1941, Galland had blasted a Spitfire out of a formation north-east of Boulogne. He watched the flaming Spit spiraling down, and began following to register accurately the crash. Galland was flying alone — a serious mistake. He was jumped by a lone Spitfire lagging behind the formation.

In his own words:

“Hell broke loose in my crate. Now they’ve got me. Something hard hit my head and arm. My aircraft was in bad shape. The wings were ripped by cannon fire. I was sitting half in the open. The right side of the cockpit had been shot away. Fuel tank and radiator were both leaking heavily.

“Instinctively I banked away to the north. Almost calmly, I noticed that my heavily damaged fighter still flew, and responded tolerably well with the engine cut off. My luck had held once more, I was thinking, and I will try to glide home. My altitude was 18,000 feet.

“My arm and head were bleeding. But I didn’t feel any pain. No time for that. Anyhow, nothing precious was hurt. A sharp detonation tore me out of my reverie. The tank, which up to then had been gurgling away quietly, suddenly exploded. The whole fuselage was immediately aflame. Burning petrol ran into the cockpit. It was uncomfortably hot! Only one thought remained: Get out! Get out! Get out!

Adolf Galland

“The cockpit roof release would not work — must be jammed. Shall I burn alive in here? I tore my belt open. I tried to open the hinged top of the roof. The air pressure on it was too strong. Flames all around me. I must open it! I must not fry to death in here! Terror! Those were the most terrible seconds in my life. With a last effort, I pushed my whole body against the roof. The flap opened and was torn away by the airstream . . . I had already pulled her nose up. The push against the joystick did not throw me entirely clear of the burning coffin, which a few minutes before was my beloved and faithful Bf 109.

“The parachute on which I had been sitting was caught on the fixed part of the cockpit roof. The entire plane was now in flames and dashing down to earth with me. With my arm around the antenna mast I tugged, I pushed against anything I could find with my feet. All in vain! Should I be doomed at the last moment although I was already half-freed? I don’t know how I got free in the end. Suddenly I was falling.

“I turned over several times in the air. Thank God! In my excitement I nearly operated the quick harness release instead of the rip cord handle. At the last moment I noticed that I was releasing the safety catch. Another shock! The parachute and I would have arrived separately . . slowly and softly I floated down to the earth.

“Below me a column of smoke marked the spot where my Messerschmitt had crashed. By rights I should have landed in the forest of Boulogne like a monkey on a tree, but the parachute only brushed a poplar and then folded up. Handed rather luckily in a soft, boggy meadow. Up to now I had been under high tension of nerves and energy. I collapsed. I felt as wretched as a dog. Shot and bleeding profusely from head and arm, with a painfully twisted ankle which started to swell immediately, I could neither walk nor stand up.”

The clanked and bleeding Galland was picked up by car. After attention from Dr. Heim at the naval hospital at Hardingham, and a few jolts of cognac, he was on his way to recovery.

Fighter Aces of the Luftwaffe is published by Schiffer Publishing and is available to order here.

Photo credit: Platinum Fighters and German Federal Archive via Wikipedia 

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. Supermarine Spitfire Mk Vb – W3257 E-FY – 1941
Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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