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Classic Wings Magazine WWII Naval Aviation Research Pacific Luftwaffe Resource Center
When Hollywood Ruled The Skies - Volumes 1 through 4 by Bruce Oriss


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PostPosted: Sat Aug 18, 2007 6:55 am 
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I believe the Luftwaffe credit system was a bit more liberal as well. In many cases what Americans would consider a "Probable" would be recorded as a "Kill" by the Germans. I read somewhere that the Luftwaffe sometimes credited pilots with aircraft destroyed on the ground, although I don't know if there's any truth to that.

Also, in Air-to-Air combat the Luftwffe was going up against mass formations of bombers, often shooting down several on one sortie. On the Russian front, the Germans often had easy targets like transports or liason/observation types. Most Allied A2A kills were against fighers or tactical aircraft..much more difficult targets.

But as mentioned before, the overwhelming factor was time. Many of the Luftwaffe "Experten" started their scoreboards in the Spanish Civil War, and were still racking up kills when the Russians overran Berlin.

But that was part of the problem for the Luftwaffe. The Nazis were planning on a short war of only a few months or a year at most..so they never really put together a comprehensive system to replace pilots lost in combat (the Japanese had a similar mindset.) That meant when a pilot was killed, his skill and experience died with him. The Allies, on the other hand, knew it was gonna be a long haul..so they made sure to rotate combat pilots back home to pass on their skills and experience to the next generation. By the end of the war, we had a huge surplus of highly-trained combat pilots, while the Luftwaffe and Japanese were sending 15-year-old kids into combat with just a few hours' instruction. Of course by then they didn't have the fuel for a training program, or enemy-free airspace in which to train.

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PostPosted: Sat Aug 18, 2007 7:41 am 
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well explained steve!!, but it must be remembered that some axis teenaged pilots got the knack & rated ace with little or shoddy training after the true tested were long gone.

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PostPosted: Sat Aug 18, 2007 8:06 am 
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True..you're going to have people with exceptional talents in any given group, who excel in spite of the circumstances..and the Germans were a generally well-disciplined and organized lot to begin with. From what I understand German fighter production peaked in the fall of 1944..less than six months before the end of the war, and after more than two years of aerial bombardment by the RAF and USAAF. If they'd gotten their act together sooner, or waited longer before starting the war, the outcome might have been much different. Fortunately Hitler's impatience and overconfidence worked in our favor.


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PostPosted: Sat Aug 18, 2007 8:58 am 
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From what I've read, there was no little debate among US pilots and the command structure in England over weather or not aircraft destroyed on the ground should be counted as victories. It seems there was some support for this, as ground victories were considered just as dangerous, or greater than, the risks encountered in aerial encounters. This debate probably the result of Doolittle's orders to take the fighters and the fight down to the Lufftwaffe's home grounds. The debate seems to have settled down when the USAAF would not recognize the ground tallies.

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PostPosted: Sat Aug 18, 2007 9:56 am 
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The unconscious chauvinism we all easily suffer from is interesting to spot. ;) Our guys are the best - and must be better than their guys. Look, their guys have scored more than our guys! How? Obviously they cheated... Welll... No.

I'm no expert on aces, but a couple of thoughts.

tom d. friedman's answer in his first post is a good on on the origins of the term. In W.W.I the RFC/RAF refused to recognise the term, and few air forces ever have done 'officially' but it also always makes good stories for the folks back home, particularly for an arm of service that is essentially defensive. (Fighter pilots don't win wars - they stop their side from losing.) Generally five air victories was regarded as 'ace' status. The argument over air to ground kills is a hot one; essentially the most useful 'victory' is where the enemy aircrew are taken out - either killed, injured or captured - as they take time and money to train, whereas aircraft are easier to replace. The RAF was running out of pilots, not fighters in 1940.

The German system is generally held by those that have studied it to be tight and structured, generally held to be a good victory tally process. There were exceptions, some bad claims, and some overclaiming, but no more than any Allied air force.

The 'they cheated' or 'they had an easier system' theories come around with monotonous regularity; AFAIK, there's no evidence for those theories, except they are the natural result of the equally natural incredulity of people hitting these stats for the first time, and finding the last round of discussions to support the new advocates of the view. Myths are hard to kill.

There is no argument that ONLY the Germans got into three digit ace classification, and the highest scoring western aces were in the half century bracket. Effectively, some German aces scored ten times as much as most western Allied aces!

Why?

Well, there's a lot of reasons advanced, some good ones so far. Plus:

First - Bear in mind that the German aces were operating in a 'target rich environment' in many cases from 1936/9 to 1945; sometimes on the offensive, and later defensively, but there were always enemy aircraft to shoot at. As a tactical air force the Luftwaffe rarely maintained air superiority (they lost in on the Eastern front) unlike allied air forces which did on occasion.

Second - they had time (mentioned already) and they 'maintained currency'. They did have periods of leave, but never generally had 'rest tours' or periods as most western forces did. So they were in the front line longer, and stayed good, or were killed. Currency is an often underestimated advantage, and provided fatigue doesn't take over, was often decisive.

Thirdly - tactics and tools - The aces were generally able to specify the a/c they wanted to a degree, and also were able to structure the combat to their (personal or formation) advantage at times. They also always had competitive (more than adequate if not 'the best') aircraft types. We all tend to get hung up on 'was x fighter aircraft better than y' when the difference in performance is almost always less than 10% - a factor much less important that pilot skill, experience, currency and tactical ability.

Fourthy - There were periods when experienced Luftwaffe pilots faced air forces which had not been in battle before. Sometimes, like May 1940 or Barbarossa, they had surprise and lighting advance on their side as well. The Allied air forces rarely if ever faced whole Axis units that were without any combat experience.

The Commonwealth and the US forces developed excellent training regimens for their pilots, and apart from a few critical points (late Battle of Britain, 1941/2 in the Pacific) had ample pilots, allowing the luxury of rotating pilots through the front line. Also the Allies had training bases entirely uninterupted by fuel shortages and enemy action. Canada's contributions were Corvettes, raw materials and the Empire Air Training Scheme - also based in Southern Africa and Australia. Germany had none of these advantages, and so the junior pilots were often killed by their own 109 on take off or landing or in their early combats. (Early combat vulnerability being a perennial issue for all fighter forces.) Thus 'the best' or ' Experten' as they were known had even more thrown on their shoulders - a challenge they by and large, rose to.

All credit should be given to the Luftwaffe for unarguably having the highest scoring fighter pilots in history. However that's a symptom of the services failure as well. A few incredible fighter aces and a mass of vulnerable neophytes plus 'wonder weapons' will not win the war. Adequate equipment in sufficient numbers (the US production achievement) flown by competent pilots who aren't run into the ground will win - or 'God is on the side of the big battalions'.

There's a good 'primer' on aces here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fighter_ace

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PostPosted: Sat Aug 18, 2007 1:27 pm 
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well put james. while the axis pilots got their share of rest & relaxation, it was hardly in a resort or luxury atmosphere!!! & then back to the meat grinder. it should also be noted that many axis pilots just weren't fighter pilots. their were bomber crews, recon pilots, sea plane / flying boat pilots etc..... all who flew to death or the end of the war, which ever came 1st, german, japanese, italian, or other minority contributors as the enemy 60 + years ago.

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tom d. friedman - hey!!! those fokkers were messerschmitts!! * without ammunition, the usaf would be just another flying club!!! * better to have piece of mind than piece of tail!!


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PostPosted: Sat Aug 18, 2007 2:00 pm 
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Steve Nelson wrote:
I believe the Luftwaffe credit system was a bit more liberal as well. In many cases what Americans would consider a "Probable" would be recorded as a "Kill" by the Germans. I read somewhere that the Luftwaffe sometimes credited pilots with aircraft destroyed on the ground, although I don't know if there's any truth to that.


Steve,

Nothing personal, but I cannot imagine where you would have gotten the idea that the Luftwaffe's system was more liberal. Quite the contrary, the Luftwaffe put a great deal of effort into avoiding inflated claims as much as possible, at least until 1944.

A great deal of information exists on the internet concerning the Abschuss system. Here are a couple of quick-read references:

http://members.aol.com/dheitm8612/claims.htm

http://members.aol.com/dheitm8612/score.htm

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