German air superiority in WWII

Idly browsing wiki, I came across this list of WWII air aces:

Wow. The first 108 are all German. The first 122 were Axis pilots.

Wow. I thought that air superiority was supposedly an important factor in WWII? How on earth did Germany lose the war?

  1. Most Allied nations rotated their pilots in and out of combat. The USAAF, for instance, had a set number of combat missions you could fly, and then you were done. Not so with the Luftwaffe.

  2. The Allies achieved air supremacy through truly staggering advantages in numbers. A German pilot had a lot of chances to pile up victories, especially in the early part of the war, especially against second rate opposition, but when it gets to the point that you’re outnumbered fifty to one, getting two guys before they get one of yours doesn’t make a whole lot of difference.

On the flip side, is there a list of pilots with the most losses? What are they called, anti-Aces?

Those German pilots were all on the Eastern Front. The Germans really got the jump on the Soviets during the early days of their invasion of the USSR. The not-unsubstantial-in-numbers Soviet air force was almost entirely wiped out. Of course, eventually the tables were turned. The Germans were never able to achieve the same kind of success against the Western allies.

EDIT: Of course, the Germans were able to inflict significant losses on the allied bomber fleets during the bombing of German cities, especially with their new jet fighters.

I think reason #1 is much more improtant in producing the victory totals on the wikipeida page than reason #2. The Germans actually had superior numbers during many of their aerial defeats – look at the Battle fo Britain and Operation Bodenplatte, for example.

But the Germans left individual aces in combat pretty much for the duration. Americans in particular were rotated out and back to train other pilots. As a result, individual Yanks had lower scores, but the system produced a robust supply of trained pilots that outlasted the individual prowess of the Axis pilots in all theaters of war.

Bear in mind that a significant number of kills by pilots of all nationalities involved jumping an unwary aircraft that never fought back. I’m sure that was a factor on the Eastern Front especially, given the low skill and lower initiative the Russian pilots displayed after purges, commisars, and heavy losses.

Here’s an interesting writeup on this question.


when you counsider that 1 factory was able to up the production of B-24 bombers from one a day to one an hour get some sense of what Germany was up against. Granted this wasn’t the normal production number but when you have a SINGLE factory of of 3.5 million square feet and no chance of being bombed it pretty much dictates who’s going to win.

Killed in action.

And of course, pilots trained by the experienced aces who get rotated back are going to know some of the tricks that come from experience, without having to risk getting their asses shot off to get that experience.

I read (I think in Gerald Astor’s “The Mighty Eighth” that there was a group of German aces who were the best of the best, and had distinctive paint jobs on their planes so everyone would know what they were up against.

The less experienced American pilots who faced these guys had no ideas what the distinctive paint jobs indicated, and just engaged them like they would any other target and shot them down rather than being intimidated into disengaging or hesitating, both of which can decide who wins a dogfight.

I agree-most of the German aces achieved their high kills against the Red Airforce. Against experienced pilots (flying modern fighter aircraft) the gernmans didn’t do so well. Against the US and British bombers, mmany german pilots achieved impressive kill ra tes-but once long-ranger fighter aircraft were deployed, the aces kill rate fell drastically. By the end of the war, german pilots were reduced to ramming bombers.

Also many of those german pilots had been in air combat in Spainsince 1936.

Another factor might be that as the war progressed, the German’s were flying over friendly territory. If they were shot down, they could be put back into circulation. The allied fliers got sent to Stalag Luft…whatever.

I’d like to see a cite for the last part of that statement. My impression was that the Germans never had enough jets in the air to make much of an impression, especially compared to the damage they were able to inflct earlier in the war with conventional aircraft.

If you read the wiki link in the OP, you’ll note that almost all the top aces later went on to pilot ME-262s against the allied bomber fleets with success. I wasn’t suggesting that the jets had a huge effect on the overall war effort.

many of the high figures were clocked up on the Eastern Front.
Post-war research suggested that all claim figures for all air forces (e.g. claimed daily tolls v. actual ‘failed to return’ figures recorded by the other side) were inflated.

:confused: Out of the top forty names listed only five are shown as flying ME-262s. Those five pilots only accounted for 52 kills flying 262s.
So 12% of the top forty pilots flew 262s. I would not call 12% most.

Also remember it was THOUGHT air superiority was key. This has later proved to be false. Simple air power won’t win a war. It can give you all the advantages but outside of the NATO bombing of Serbia/Montenegro it hasn’t produced a surrender.

Remember in the first Iraq war they bombed and bombed but it didn’t produce a surrender till the ground troops went in. It just brought misery. In WWII Germans thought they could bomb London into submission but that didn’t work.

Allies abilty to produce was truly staggering. For example shipping losses were so great in WWII, yet the United States was able to produce goods and ships faster than the Germans could sink them.

Of course none of this applied to nuclear weapons

Of course it’s important to note that the Germans never achieved air superiority during the Battle of Britain. From what I understand, the Brits were even outpacing the Germans in aircraft production throughout the war, and on top of that, were even bombing Germany throughout the campaign. The Germans didn’t even have air supremacy over their own capital, much less the British one.

Your last sentence does not actually support your first two.
In a conventional war, air superiority is key. No army that lacked air superiority has won a war. (This includes both sides at the Russian front. The Russians had somewhat inferior equipment, but by the end of the war, they had pilots every bit as experienced as the Germans and their focus on ground attack played a major role in their ability to destroy German ground forces.)

It is true that a few of the earlier aviation enthusiasts went too far in claiming that wars could be won using air power, alone, while no land can actually be taken or held without “boots on the ground,” but air superiority is still key in allowing the ground troops to succeed.

Or “presidential candidate”?

The Germans just couldn’t replace their pilots in large numbers. Not only did they fly until they died, they flew more often, too, especially on the Eastern front where the enemy was nearby. Two or three sorties per day was typical in the height of the action, and it could go higher. It was pretty much like that for Soviet crews, too…

I’ve seen a study that showed the top-scoring German aces were about as good as the top Allied ones, normalized to kills per sortie. For either side, and for any war for that matter, the first few flights were crucial - survive those, and you were a seasoned veteran with a dramatically higher performance level.