Knight of the Reich by Robert Taylor – JG52
The morning of 15 October, 1943, dawned like many others over the Ukraine. The chill in the air hinted at the prospect of another winter of savage fighting on the Eastern Front. But it wasn’t the forthcoming winter that was on the minds of the fighter pilots of III./JG52, it was their Russian adversaries.
Ever since the battle for Kursk, the Wehrmacht had been on the defensive. The Russians counter attacked, beginning a military offensive that would eventually lead to the gates of Berlin. As the German Army fell back, JG52 was forced back as well, moving from one makeshift base to another.
JG52 still strong
However, JG52 was still feared by the growing numbers of an ever-improving Soviet Air Force. And for good reason, for within its ranks, JG52 held some of the highest scoring fighter Aces in the history of aerial warfare, including Günther Rall, one of the Luftwaffe’s most successful Aces.
Already highly decorated with the Knight’s Cross, Oak Leaves and Swords, the Kommandeur of III./JG52 now led his unit’s Bf109G fighters on their first sweep of the day. After their early morning scramble, they were looking for action and, like most days, it wasn’t long before they found it, spotting a group of Soviet fighters over the city of Zaporozhye.
Before the enemy pilots could react, the Bf109s dived in and Hauptmann Günther Rall quickly downed a Soviet La-5 to claim his 222nd victory, and continue on, shooting down two more within the hour. It was the start of a remarkable month, in which Rall scored a staggering 40 victories and, a few weeks later on 28 November, took his personal tally past 250.
He would end the war with 275 confirmed victories, making this JG52 pilot the third highest scoring Ace in history.