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 as 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 too, moving from one makeshift base to another, but they were 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 and most formidable fighter Aces in the history of aerial warfare. One of those was 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.
Robert Taylor's superb painting Knight of the Reich portrays this mission on 15 October 1943, as a stunning tribute to this legendary Ace: Before the enemy pilots had time to react the Bf109s dived in amongst them and Hauptmann Günther Rall quickly downed a Soviet La-5 to claim his 222nd victory, shooting down two more within an hour. It was the start of a remarkable month in which he scored a staggering 40 victories and, a few weeks later on 28 November, took his personal tally past 250 – at the time only the second Ace to do so after Walter Nowotny. By the time he was posted back to the West he was well on the way to his final score of 275 victories, an achievement that made him the third highest scoring Ace in history. Had he not been wounded in action numerous times and forced to spend months in hospital, he might well have been the highest-scoring Ace of them all.
Robert Taylor's remarkable painting is published as a lasting tribute to one of the most legendary figures in Aviation history. It is of great historical significance that Günther Rall who, through his outstanding skill, decency and leadership, gained huge respect from his comrades and former foes alike, has autographed every print, creating an exceptional collectors piece.
Signatures:Limited EditionGunther RALL
Eastern Front Editions
The Eastern Front Tribute Edition includes all of the above plus:
Walter WOLFRUM (on drawing)
Heinz MARQUARDT (on drawing)
Oskar BOSCH (on drawing)
Hans-Ekkehard BOB (on drawing)
Hugo BROCH (on drawing)
Gunther RALL (on drawing)
Erich HARTMANN (matted)
Gerhard BARKHORN (matted)
Gunther SCHACK (matted)
Rudolf TRENKEL (matted)
Gerhard THYBEN (matted)
Fritz TEGTMEIER (matted)
About the signatories....
Generalleutnant GÜNTHER RALL - Knight’s Cross, Oak Leaves & Swords (275 victories)
The fighter pilot who would become one of the greatest Aces of WWII began as a novice flying Bf109s with III./JG52 at the outbreak of war. He quickly demonstrated his natural flair and combat ability, as well as his leadership qualities, first during the Battle of France in which he claimed his first victory, and then in the Battle of Britain when he was promoted Staffelkapitän of 8./JG52. Then, after a spell in Romania protecting the oil fields, in May 1941 his unit flew in support of the German assault of Crete.
Following the invasion of Russia and transferring to the Eastern Front his victories quickly mounted but on 28 November 1941, after scoring his 36th victory, he was shot down and crashed, breaking his spine in three places. Whilst in hospital he met and later married Doctor Hertha Schön. Despite being told he would never walk again, he defied the odds to return to 8./JG52 in July 1942. He was awarded the Knight’s Cross in September and in October, after his score passed the 100 mark, the Oak Leaves were added.
From April 1943 to March 1944 he was Kommandeur of III./JG52, gaining his 200th victory on 29 August for which he was awarded the Swords, and it was during this period of great success that he became only the second Ace to reach 250 victories.
In April 1944 he returned to the West, taking command II./JG11 during the Defence of the Reich. On 12 May 1944, he engaged a flight of P-47 Thunderbolts from the USAF 56th Fighter Group - the famous 'Wolfpack' led by 'Hub' Zemke. During the dogfight he shot down a P-47s for his 275th and final victory but he was badly wounded and lost his left thumb subsequently spending six months in hospital. After a period at the Fighter Leader School he returned to combat in March 1945 in charge of JG300 flying the Fw190, for the last months of the war. By the end of hostilities he had flown 621 missions had been shot down 8 times and scored 275 victories, making him the third highest-scoring Fighter Ace of all time.
After the war he served with great distinction in the Luftwaffe der Bundeswehr.
Leutnant HUGO BROCH - Knight’s Cross (81 victories)
Joining II./JG54 on the Eastern Front in January 1943 he was assigned to 6./JG54 initially flying Bf109's before transferring to the Fw190. Vital to all fighter units are the pilots who make such superb wingmen that their leaders are loath to part with them. Hugo Broch was one such wingman, flying first with Horst Adameit (166 victories) and later with ‘Bazi’ Sterr (130 victories). However he soon demonstrated his own skills and by the end of 1944 his personal score had risen to 71 victories. From November until the end of the war he flew with 8./JG54 on the Baltic Front. One of JG54’s great Aces – his score included 12 double victories and 3 triple victories. He completed the war having flown 324 combat missions, claiming 81 aerial victories.
Major ERICH RUDORFFER - Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves & Swords (222 victories)
A veteran of the Battle of Britain with II./JG52, in June 1941 he was Staffelkapitän of 6./JG2. In April 1942 he transferred to North Africa with II./JG52, and was later promoted to command the unit. In July 1943 he was transferred to command II./JG54 in Russia where he enhanced a fearsome reputation gained in North Africa as the master of multiple scoring – achieving more multiple victories than any other fighter pilot. This included 8 RAF aircraft in 32 minutes in December 1943, and 7 in 20 minutes a few days later. On his first mission in Russia he scored 5 victories in 4 minutes. In January 1945 he transferred back to the ‘Defence of the Reich’ and became Kommandeur of I./JG7 where he achieved 12 victories flying the Me262. He ended the war having flown 1000 combat missions, was shot down 16 times and scored 222 victories making him the seventh highest scoring Ace in history.
Hauptmann KARL-FRITZ SCHLOSSSTEIN - German Cross in Gold (8 victories)
One of the most versatile pilots of the War, Karl-Fritz Schlossstein initially flew Me110 heavy destroyers with JG5 at the time that the Group first arrived in Norway in 1942 to provide air cover for the convoys supplying the rapidly increasing German garrison in that country. Converting to fly Bf109s in the most northern sector of the Russian front during Operation Barbarossa against the Russians and the RAF Hurricanes of Force Benedict, he then commanded 13(Z)/JG5 from the summer of 1942 to June 1943. Later in Norway he flew the Me410 Hornet with ZG76, but finished the war as an Ace with JG54 Greenhearts flying Fw190s in the ‘Defence of the Reich’ scoring 8 victories.
Oberleutnant WALTER SCHUCK - Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves (206 victories)
The top scoring fighter Ace on the Arctic Front, Walter Schuck flew Bf109s with 5./JG5 on the west coast of Norway and then with 7./JG5 in the far north against the Russians. Following his first victory in May 1942 he had considerable success, notching up 54 victories by April 1943 and in June chalked up his 100th during a day when he shot down 6 aircraft; making him the leading fighter pilot on the Arctic Front. He was promoted to Staffelkapitän of 7./JG5 in May 1944 and on 17 June 1944 he claimed 12 victories in a day. In August he was appointed Staffelkapitän of 10./JG5 and shortly after claimed his 150th victory. In March 1945 he transferred to fly the Me262 jet as Staffelkapitän of 3./JG7, adding a further 8 victories to his score, before he was shot down on 10 April 1945. He finished the war having flown more than 500 combat missions and scored 206 victories to become the 12th highest-scoring Fighter Ace in history.
Oberleutnant WALTER WOLFRUM - Knight’s Cross (137 victories)
Joining the Luftwaffe in 1943 he first saw combat in the Crimea with 5./JG52 and was shot down three times, and wounded twice before scoring his first victory. In May 1944 he was appointed Staffelkapitän of 1./JG52 in Romania, flying Bf109's in defence of the Ploesti oil fields against the USAAF, and over the East and then the West during the Defence of the Reich. Flying 423 missions he achieved 137 victories.
Oberstleutnant HEINZ MARQUARDT - Knight’s Cross (121 victories)
Initially serving in France over the Channel Front, in August 1943 he was posted to 11./JG51 on the Eastern Front until April 1945 when moved to 13./JG51 flying Fw190 D-9's against the RAF and Russians from airfields in northern Germany. Shot down 8 times, his score included 8 victories in a single day on 10 October 1944 and in 320 combat missions he finished the war with 121 victories.
Feldwebel OSKAR BÖSCH - Iron Cross 1st Class (18 victories)
Initially joining Sturmstaffel 1./JG3 in the West in April 1944, he was then assigned to 11./JG3 and 14./JG3 where his 10th victory was over an RAF Spitfire. Moving to on the Eastern Front flying the Fw190, the rest of his victories were over Russian aircraft and at the end of the war he survived a mid-air collision with a Yak-9. He finished the war with 18 victories.
Major HANS-EKKEHARD BOB - Knight’s Cross (60 victories)
A veteran of the Polish campaign and the Battles of France and Britain, in June 1943 he was promoted Kommandeur of IV./JG54 moving to the Eastern Front, before taking charge of II./JG3 during D-Day. In August 1944 he became responsible for training on the Me262 with EJG and at the end of the war joined Galland's JV44. He flew over 700 combat missions and scored 60 victories.
Oberst ERICH HARTMANN - Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords & Diamonds (352 victories)
In October 1942 he joined 7./JG52 on the Eastern Front and in August 1943, a month when he scored 48 victories, was shot down and taken PoW before escaping. In August 1944 he reached 300 victories after downing 11 in one day, taking command of 9./JG52. Promoted to Gruppenkommandeur of I./JG52 he trained on the Me262 before returned to JG52. Flying over 1400 combat missions he was forced to crash land 14 times and achieved 352 victories to become the highest-scoring Ace in history.
Major GERHARD BARKHORN - Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves & Swords (301 victories)
Flying with II./JG52 in 1940 during the Battles of France and Britain, he moved to the Eastern Front in early 1941 becoming Kommandeur of the group in June 1943. His score rose steadily and on 23 January 1944 he became the first fighter Pilot to complete 1000 combat missions and after briefly commanding JG6 in January 1945 he joined Galland’s JV44 flying the Me262. In 1104 combat missions he was shot down 9 times, wounded twice and scored 301 victories making him he second highest-scoring Ace in history.
Hauptmann GÜNTHER SCHACK - Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves (174 victories)
Flying Bf109's over Russia with 7./JG52 he claimed his first victory in July 1941 and after a period instructing returned to the Eastern Front with 9./JG51 flying the Fw190. In December 1944 he became Gruppenkommandeur of I./JG51 and then commanded IV./JG3 from May 1945 to the end of the war. He was shot down 15 times during his 780 combat missions and achieved 174 aerial victories.
Hauptmann RUDOLF TRENKEL - Knight’s Cross (138 victories)
A veteran of the Battle of Britain with JG52, he moved to the Eastern Front flying Bf109's with 7./JG7 in early 1942 before returning to JG52. As his victories mounted he was promoted Staffelkapitän of 2./JG52 in August 1944 shortly after claiming his 100th victory. His war ended when he was shot down by flak in March 1945 having flown over 500 missions and scored 138 victories.
Oberleutnant GERHARD THYBEN - Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves (157 victories)
Joining 6./JG3 on the Eastern Front he scored his first victory in February 1943. After a brief spell in the West, scoring 5 victories, he returned to Russia with 5./JG54 and then to command 7./JG54. On 8 May 1945 flying a Fw190he claimed his last victory downing a Russian Pw2 over the Baltic and finished the war with 385 combat missions and 157 victories.
Leutnant FRITZ TEGTMEIER - Knight’s Cross (146 victories)
After joining 2./JG54 in 1940 he was badly injured in a crash. Returning to combat in Russia he scored his first victory 22 June 1941, the first day of Operation Barbarossa. After a brief period instructing he returned to JG54 and in August 1944 was promoted to Staffelkapitän of 3./JG54 before transferring to JG7 flying the Me262. In 700 combat missions he scored 146 victories.