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Dieter Hrabak (deceased)
|Dieter Hrabak was shot down in his first aerial combat during the Polish Campaign. He survived to become one of the Luftwaffes most respected and popular leaders. He scored his first victory in the Battle of France, and got 15 more during the Battle of Britain. By Eagle Day he was in command of II./JG 54, which he led until taking command of JG 52 in 1942. He was the first JG 54 Ace to be awarded the Knights Cross. He ended the war back in command of JG 54, and was credited with 125 victories. |
Dieter Hrabak was born on 19th December 1914 in a small village near Leipzig. Upon graduation from high school, he hoped to become a commercial pilot, but in 1934 Hrabak joined the Reichsmarine. Within 6 months he transferred to the newly formed Luftwaffe for flight training. By April 1939, Hrabak was recognised as an experienced pilot and given command of a squadron in Vienna. On his very first combat mission in September 1939 over Poland, he was shot down - the first of 11 times. Hrabaks first aerial victory came during the Battle of France. Flying an Me109, he claimed five more victories before the armistice. In the summer of 1940, his squadron was incorporated into a newly formed fighting wing, JG54 Green Hearts. Hrabak commanded II./JG54, one of the wings three groups as the Luftwaffe began its assault on England. During the Batttle of Britain he brought his score to 16 Royal Air Force fighters and Field Marshal Goring personally decorated him with the Knights Cross. In the spring of 1941, II./JG54 flew in the short campaign against Yugoslavia. When Operation Barbarosa began in Russia, he flew on the northern sector of the front and fought over Leningrad. In November 1942, Hrabak took command of JG52 on the southern front and fought over Stalingrad. In August 1943, he got his 100th aerial victory and in November, Hitler awarded him Oak Leaves to the Knights Cross. In early 1944, JG52 achieved its 10,000th aerial victory - the most by any Luftwaffe wing. In October 1944, he returned to his old wing, the Green Hearts, as Commander. Flying the Focke Wulf Fw190, he fought until near the end of the war in Kurland. After the war, he worked in the auto and chemical industry. He was a key architect in rebuilding the modern German Air Force. In 1953, Chancellor Adenaur asked him to help form a new German Air Force. Hrabak personally interviewed most of the officers who would form the nucleus. In mid-1955, he came to the United States and trained on modern jets. In the summer of 1956, he returned home to command the Advanced Pilot Training Centre at Furstenfeldbruck AB. By 1960, he commanded all GAF flying training centres. Two years later, he took charge of the air defence sector covering northern Germany and the Netherlands. In 1964, he was named NATOs Chief of Air Defence, Central Europe, until he became special manager for the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter. Finally, as a major general, he commanded the GAFs tactical command, retiring on 1st October 1970. He died on 15th September 1995.
General Gunther Rall (deceased)
|A young pilot with III/JG52 at the outbreak of war. He quickly demonstrated his natural ability and leadership qualities, scoring his first air victory early in the Battle of Britain, and by July 1940 was leading 8/JG52. After transfer to the Eastern Front his air victories mounted at an astonishing rate. A crash hospitalised him but within nine months he was back in the cockpit, and, when commanding III/JG52, gained the Wings 500th victory. Gunther fought throughout the war to become the 3rd highest Ace in history with 275 victories. He was awarded the Knights Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords. Gunther Rall was born on March 10, 1918 in the small Bavarian town of Gaggenau, Baden. Immersing himself in Boy Scout activities during the difficult economic times in Germany following WW 1, Rall finished school in 1936 and joined the German Army. Influenced by a friend, who was a young officer in the Luftwaffe, Rall entered pilots school in 1938. His initial posting was with JG52. He attained his first aerial victory during the Battle of France in May of 1940. During the Battle of Britain JG52 absorbed many casualties, and Rall was promoted to Squadron Commander at the young age of 22. With his fair-hair and smooth complexion the young officer looked even younger than his years. But behind this pleasant exterior was a fierce competitor with the heart of a tiger. Later, Ralls squadron would support the attack on Crete, followed by deployment to the Southern Sector on the Eastern Front. Ralls victory totals began to mount. Following his 37 th victory, GiInther was himself shot down. He was lucky to survive the crash, but with a badly broken back he would spend most of the next year in various hospitals. In Vienna at the University Hospital he would meet his future wife, Hertha. Miraculously, Rall recovered and returned to the Luftwaffe in August of 1942. By November his score exceeded 100 and he was awarded the Oak Leaves to accompany the Knights Cross he was awarded only weeks earlier. As the War progressed against Russia, Rall began to encounter ever more experienced Soviet pilots flying better performing aircraft. Despite this fact, and being shot down several more times himself, Ralls victory tally kept rising. By March of 1944 the ace had attained 273 aerial victories. With the War now going badly for Germany, Rall was transferred to the Western Front. He was able to attain only two more victories against the swarms of Allied bombers and fighter escorts which now pounded Germany every day and night. In May of 1944 Rall was shot down by a P-47. Losing his thumb in the battle he remained out of combat until later in 1944. Ralls final assignments included flying 190Ds as Kornmodore of JG300, and flying the Me-262 jet. Ralls 275 aerial victories (attained on less than 700 combat sorties) make him the third highest scoring ace of all time. If not for the down time suffered as a result of his broken back, Rall might have actually equaled or exceeded Erich Hartmanns alltime record of 352 aerial victories. Rall was not much for socializing during the War. He was a fierce competitor with a businessmans attitude about flying. He was an excellent marksman, and possibly the best deflection shot expert of the War. He continued to fly with the Bundeslufwaffe following the War, serving as its Commander-In Chief in 1970-74. Sadly Gunther Rall died on 4th October 2009.|
Major Gerhard Schopfel (deceased)
|Gerhard Schopfel was Staffelkapitan of 9./JG26 at the outbreak of war, and became Kommandeur of III./JG26 in August 1940. In December 1941 he succeeded Adolf Galland as Kommodore of JG26 until Januray 1943. Later, Kommodore of JG4 and JG6. He flew over 700 combat missions, achieving 40 victories, all in the West. He was awarded the Knight's Cross in 1940. Died 17th May 2003.|
|The Aircraft :|
|Fw190||The Focke-Wulf 190 development project began in 1937. Conceived as a hedge against total dependence on the Messerchmitt 109, the 190 was designed by Kurt Tank utilizing a radial engine. This was against generally accepted design criteria in Germany, and many historians believe that the decision to produce a radial engine fighter was largely due to the limited manufacturing capacity for in-line, water-cooled engines which were widely used on all other Luftwaffe aircraft. Despite these concerns, Tanks design was brilliant, and the 190 would become one of the top fighter aircraft of WWII. The first prototype flew in mid-1939. The aircraft had excellent flying characteristics, a wonderful rate of acceleration, and was heavily armed. By late 1940 the new fighter was ordered into production. Nicknamed the butcher bird, by Luftwaffe pilots, early 190s were quite successful in the bomber interceptor role, but at this stage of the war many Allied bombing raids lacked fighter escort. As the war dragged on, Allied bombers were increasingly accompanied by fighters, including the very effective P-51 Mustang. The Allies learned from experience that the 190s performance fell off sharply at altitudes above 20,000 feet. As a result, most Allied bombing missions were shifted to higher altitudes when fighter opposition was likely. Kurt Tank had recognized this shortcoming and began working on a high-altitude version of the 190 utilizing an in-line, water-cooled engine. Utilizing a Jumo 12-cylinder engine rated at 1770-HP, and capable of 2,240-HP for short bursts with its methanol injection system, the 190D, or Long Nose or Dora as it was called, had a top speed of 426-MPH at 22,000 feet. Armament was improved with two fuselage and two wing mounted 20mm cannon. To accommodate the changes in power plants the Dora had a longer, more streamlined fuselage, with 24 inches added to the nose, and an additional 19 inches added aft of the cockpit to compensate for the altered center of gravity. By mid 1944 the Dora began to reach fighter squadrons in quantity. Although the aircraft had all the right attributes to serve admirably in the high altitude interceptor role, it was not generally focused on such missions. Instead many 190Ds were assigned to protect airfields where Me-262 jet fighters were based. This was due to the latter aircrafts extreme vulnerability to Allied attack during takeoff and landing. The 190Ds also played a major role in Operation Bodenplatte, the New Years Day raid in 1945 which destroyed approximately 500 Allied aircraft on the ground. The High Command was impressed with the 190Ds record on this raid, and ordered most future production of the Doras to be equipped as fighter-bombers. In retrospect this was a strategic error, and this capable aircraft was not fully utilized in the role for which it was intended.|
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