DEFENDER OF THE REICH WW II as seen by a Luftwaffe Ace
Flight Journal|January - February 2021
Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring was in rare form, his eyes full of fire as he faced one of the better known of Germany’s aces, Oberst Walther Dahl. “Göring’s reply astonished even me,” Dahl remembered. “In the presence of pilots with heads, arms and legs in plaster, he yelled: ‘You cowards! Now I know why your Geschwader holds the record for parachute jumps: you jump so as not to fight.’
J. RICHARD SMITH AND EDDIE J. CREEK

“Göring continued, his face reddened and streaked with protruding veins.

“‘Hold your tongue, you rebel. You and your rotten fighter pilots are at last going to feel my hand. Before the sun sets tonight, I shall have you shot.’ He was raving like a madman. Everyone fell silent as, turning to me once again, he said ominously: ‘I came here today to give you this.’ Momentarily, he opened a leather case in which the Oak Leaves glittered. ‘But now I cannot. Today I must make an example. From this moment, you have lost your command and are degraded. There will be a court-martial, and you will be shot.’ The case snapped shut. Raising his Reichsmarschall’s baton to the attendant officers in a stiff farewell, he climbed into his giant Mercedes and shouted: ‘Away! Drive me out of this sink!’

“To be shot for cowardice—or was it mutiny? It seemed a strange reward for shooting down over 80 enemy aircraft, bailing out 15 times, being wounded three times, and having no leave, except in hospital, since the war began.”

Walther Dahl was claiming born on March 27, 1916, at Lug near Bad Bergzabern, southwest of Landau on the Franco/German border. Dahl’s military career began when he was 19, when he joined Infantry Regiment 119 of the German Army based at Stuttgart. Typical of many pilots who were later to become famous, he quickly transferred to the Luftwaffe, which had only been revealed to the world in 1935. He was soon promoted to Leutnant and eventually became a flight instructor. His cherished ambition of joining an operational unit was not realized until October 1, 1940, when, as an Oberleutnant, he was posted to the Geschwader Stab (headquarters flight) of JG 3 based at Desvres in France. The Battle of Britain was almost over, and Dahl saw little operational flying until the summer of 1941 when JG 3 was transferred to Hostyn- Zamocs airfield on June 18.

Just after midnight on June 22, the Kommodore of JG 3, Maj. Günther Lützow, assembled his Geschwader at the airfield, saying: “Men, at dawn today we begin the war against the Soviet Union.” For the opening assault, JG 3 was attached to the V. Fliegerkorps, which was part of Luftflotte 4 whose task was to cover the movements of Army Group South. At 2:50 a.m., Dahl took off in his Bf 109 F2, an aircraft far in advance of anything the Soviet Air Force possessed, to patrol the front line until first light. At 4 a.m., the first sortie over enemy territory was flown, Dahl escorting a formation of bombers attacking Lemberg airfield. About 30 minutes into the sortie, he shot down his first enemy aircraft, an I-16 Rata, but another Russian fighter had slipped in undetected and scored hits on the engine of his Messerschmitt. Finally, the engine cut, and he was forced to make a deadstick landing miles behind enemy lines. After a forced march of three days, a very unkempt Dahl returned to his unit.

On July 10, Dahl was transferred to Hptm. (captain) Gordon Gollob’s II./JG 3 as adjutant, claiming his second victory, another Rata, on the 16th. Eight days later, he was awarded the Iron Cross, Second Class, his Gruppe flying operations over all the focal points of the southern sector of the Russian front, Korowograd, Uman, Zhytomyr, Kiev, Kremenchug, Tscherkassy, Dnepropetrovsk, Nikolayev and Cherson. On September 14, Dahl claimed his tenth victory, a Polikarpov I-153 biplane, and had already received the Iron Cross First Class. Operations followed over Jochnow, Wjasma, Briansk and Orel, then, on October 3, the Gruppe flew its first mission over Moscow. Heavy flak over the city riddled Dahl’s Messerschmitt, and he was forced to make an emergency landing on Setschinskaia airfield. A little later, II./JG 3 had moved to the Crimean Peninsula, and on October 23, Dahl shot down two MiG-1s and another I-16.

In January 1942, the Gruppe, now under the command of Hptm. Karl-Heinz Krahl, moved to the Mediterranean island of Sicily, operating from Sciaccia and San Pietro against Malta. On April 1, Dahl, now the Staffelkapitän of 4./JG 3, claimed his the main supply airfield for the Stalingrad airlift, Morosovskaja. Here, too, they were threatened with encirclement, and eventually, Russian T-34 tanks broke through the outer defense perimeter onto the airfield. In a daring attack, Dahl was able to destroy one of them by throwing a hand grenade into its turret. After completing 25 sorties in the Stalingrad battle, he was promoted to Hauptmann on March 1, 1943, and by April 17, he had shot down his 51st enemy aircraft, a LaGG-3.

As the last major German offensive in the east, Operation Zitadelle, was proceeding, the commander of III./JG 3, Maj. Wolfgang Ewald, was shot down on July 14 and taken prisoner. Dahl took over soon afterwards, but on August 3, his new Gruppe was relocated from Bessonwka in Russia to Münster-Handorf in Germany.

Dahl’s unit now began intensive operations against the daylight raids being flown by the B-17s and B-24s of the U.S. 8th Air Force. One of the most important of these was against the Schweinfurt/Regensburg raid on August 17. Although this resulted in heavy American losses, III./JG 3 was intercepted by Spitfires of 222 Squadron RAF, and five Bf 109s were shot down. Dahl himself had to make a belly landing when his Bf 109 G-6 suffered engine failure. On September 6, he got his revenge when he shot down two B-17s. Interception of a second U.S. raid against the Schweinfurt ball-bearing factories on October 14 proved more successful for III./JG 3. Dahl led the takeoff of his 25 Bf 109 Gs from Bad Wörishofen near Memmingen with them intercepting the bombers around 2:20 p.m. In the 20-minute action that followed, the Gruppe shot down 25 B-17s including two by Dahl.

Other raids followed and Dahl continued to add to his score. On January 29, 1944, he shot down two B17s; on February 23, two B-24s and a P-38; and the next two days saw four bombers and another P-38 fall to his guns. Previously, on January 1, he had been promoted to major, and on March 11, in recognition of his 66 kills, he was awarded the Knight’s Cross. On April 24, Dahl claimed two more B-17s and a P-51 on April 24, bringing his score to 71.

And then there were four

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