‘A hail of fire enveloped me. I could hardly hold her in the air. I had only one wish: to get out of this ‘crate’ which now apparently was only good for dying in,’ Adolf Galland.
Adolf Galland was one of the Luftwaffe’s most influential figures during World War II: he flew 705 combat missions, and fought on the Western Front and in the Defence of the Reich. On four occasions, he survived being shot down, and he was credited with 104 aerial victories, all of them against the Western Allies.
In 1943–44 Galland commanded Germany’s fighter squadrons in their unavailing defense against Anglo-American bombing raids. Despite his able and resourceful leadership, he was blamed by Adolf Hitler and Hermann Göring for the gradual collapse of the German air defenses in 1944, and he was relieved of his command in January 1945. Shortly thereafter, he was allowed to form his own Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter squadron, Jagdverband 44.
It was with this unit that Galland would fly his last mission. In fact, as told by Robert Forsyth in his book Me 262 Northwest Europe 1944–45, on Apr. 26, 1945 Galland’s jet was shot up. At 1130 hrs he took off from Riem leading a formation of 12 Me 262s from JV 44 all carrying R4Ms to engage B-26s from the 17th BG that were targeting the recently evacuated jet base at Lechfeld and the ammunition dump at Schrobenhausen. Although five Marauders were claimed shot down, Galland made an error as he approached the bombers when he forgot to flick off the second safety switch for the rockets, probably as a result of the distraction of defensive fire. As his jet progressed among the bombers, it was hit by machine gun fire and began to trail smoke.
Shortly after midday, P-47s of the 27th and 50th FGs came to the aid of the Marauders, diving down from a higher altitude and firing their machine guns as they gave chase to the quickly dispersing jets. Leading ‘Green Flight’ of the 10th FS/50th FG was 1Lt James J. Finnegan. He recalled:
‘I remember it well because it was the first time I saw operational jets. We had been briefed on them because they had been expected and used since October 1944. Yet, like a lot of intelligence we received in those times, nothing ever materialised.’
Finnegan was about to have a rude shock. Seconds earlier he had watched in astonishment as two ‘darts’ streaked through the bomber formation just as two Marauders exploded in flames, at which point the ‘darts’ broke away to the left and right, respectively.
‘Somebody yelled “Jet Bandits!” over the intercom’, Finnegan remembered. ‘There was no doubt in my mind what they were; I had never seen anything move that fast’.
He then spotted what appeared to be a damaged Messerschmitt:
‘I kept the ‘bandit’ that turned left in my sight and watched the bombers from my 11 o’clock position. I told my Flight I was going down after him, turned on my back in a split S manoeuvre and caught him in my gunsight. Although the Me 262 was a great deal faster than the Thunderbolt, nothing could out dive it, and I had the advantage of height. I pulled the big nose up so it obscured the jet, held the trigger for about a 1½–2 second burst, dropped the nose and saw strikes on the right wing root. The ship pulled abruptly left and disappeared in the clouds. I claimed an Me 262 as ‘damaged and probable’ and thought no more of it.’
Galland described how:
‘A hail of fire enveloped me. A sharp rap hit my right knee, the instrument panel with its indispensable instruments was shattered, the right engine was also hit – its metal covering worked loose in the wind and was partly carried away – and now the left engine was hit. I could hardly hold her in the air. I had only one wish: to get out of this ‘crate’ which now apparently was only good for dying in. But then I was paralysed by the terror of being shot while parachuting down. Experience had taught us that we jet fighter pilots had to reckon on this. I soon discovered that after some adjustments my battered Me 262 could be steered again and, after a dive through the layer of cloud, I saw the Autobahn below me. Ahead lay Munich and to the left, Riem. In a few seconds I was over the airfield. Having regained my self confidence, I gave the customary wing wobble and started banking to come in. It was remarkably quiet and dead below. One engine did not react at all to the throttle, and as I could not reduce it, I had to cut both engines just before the edge of the airfield. A long trail of smoke drifted behind me.’
The Me 262 bumped to a halt with a flat tyre as Galland threw open the canopy and clambered out awkwardly, just as Allied fighter bombers had begun a strafing run over Riem. He was about to fall into the ‘shelter’ of a bomb crater when he was welcomed by a timely mechanic riding a semi tracked Kettenkrad tow vehicle. The Generalleutnant limped gratefully over to it and the little vehicle rumbled off to safety with Galland trembling and shocked on the rear seat. It was, effectively, the end of his war, and JV 44 had only a few days of operations left.
Me 262 Northwest Europe 1944–45 is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.