Kill-to-Loss Ratios for World War 2 Fighters?

Curious if there’s any central place that lists the kill loss ratios for various WW2 fighters since apparently googling it it’s actually really hard to find them since they’re all scattered all over the place.

Note, I understand the difference between kills and claimed kills while also understanding some of these figures might be exaggerated but I at the very least want something solid to start with.

Going off both Wikipedia’s pages for specific fighters as well as an official transcript of USN performance in World War 2 I’ve cobbled together the following numbers for popular American aircraft.

P-38 Lightning: 2.6/1
P-47 Thunderbolt: 7.5/1
P-51 Mustang: 11/1
F4F Wildcat: 6.9/1 (5.9 in 1942)
FM-2 Wildcat 32.46/1
F6F Hellcat: 19/1
F4U Corsair: 11/1

Anybody else got stats to add?

I don’t have any stats to add for you but I’ve been told that “The Air War, 1939-1945” is a great book on the subject and so may be of interest to you. Apparently, it is highly factual, well-written and for a scholarly work rather broad. You can get it on Amazon and elsewhere. I’ve not had the chance to read it yet (still on my Kindle), so if you get it and it ends up being terrible I’m sorry.

Overy, R. J. (2005). The air war, 1939-1945. Potomac Books, Inc.

It’s not that they might be exaggerated they absolutely are, as would be the claimed ratio’s of any other country’s WWII fighters. The problem is, the degree of exaggeration is highly variable, even for the same plane used by different air arms or units, places, missions etc. And the nature of the opposition, not only quality of enemy fighters but how many of the opponents were fighters. So unfortunately those numbers are not anything solid, or meaningful IMO, except in very limited circumstances.

To give one example of meaningless, F4F 5.9:1 in 1942. That’s claimed against all opponents. But the natural inference is of some similar degree of success v fighter opponents. The actual kill ratio of the F4F v the Zero in 1942 can be counted fairly accurately, since relatively small scale combats, usually all F4F’s on one side all Zeroes on the other (among fighters), and both side’s records pretty complete for that period. It’s right around 1:1 give or take just a few a/c. That was a very good record by the F4F compared to other Allied fighters which saw significant combat v Zeroes in 1942, they were all distinctly on the short end of the stick. But how is 5.9 anything ‘solid’? (again not all that difference is exaggeration, a big portion of it is also F4F kills of Japanese non-fighters which rarely shot down F4F’s in return).

To give an example of limited usefulness, the USN calculated the kill ratio’s of the F6F and F4U in the period Sept 1944 to the end of the war v Japanese fighter types only, as both around 15:1. Besides exaggeration that included a lot of fighter types operating as kamikaze’s, but in that period it’s likely the proportion of fighter type kamikaze adversaries was also similar between the two US types. So in that case a claimed ratio might be useful to indicate lack of any big difference in F6F and F4U effectiveness v Japanese fighters. But for the whole war the claimed ratio’s of F6F and F4U’s reflect a difference in opposition (more non-fighters for carrier based F6F’s, weaker Japanese fighter units in 1944 than 1943 when F4U saw a lot of action in Solomons from land bases, etc) besides exaggeration, so aren’t comparable.

To a lesser degree such ratio’s also reflect differences and questions about which friendly a/c losses were counted as due to enemy a/c, and which a/c were even counted as lost (say among those returning to base damaged beyond repair, which itself depended in part how many replacement a/c were available).

In that era it was still the case that accidents were about as deadly as was enemy action. So without knowing whether the numbers you’re finding were controlled to separate out the two causes of loss you’re looking at junk or at least incomparable numbers.

As well there was a bunch of creative accounting that went on in those days. If the rules in effect in that command at that time made it beneficial to label an accident as a combat (or at least combat-related) loss, that’s often what happened. Or vice versa.

There is certainly a general trend that the later in the war the better the rates looked for our side. You’re going to be hard pressed to disentangle the effects of:

A) We kept getting newer better improved airplanes while they didn’t. e.g. the early Me-109 outclassed the pitiful Brewster Buffalo. Eight years later the P-51 outclassed the slightly improved late model Me-109.

B) They were running out of good people, ammo, fuel, and everything else. Meanwhile we were getting more of everything every day and more more tomorrow.

C) Relative numbers in any given engagement. e.g. In the early days the Germans went out in great strength against the badly outnumbered English. By the end the English and Americans went out in great strength against the badly outnumbered Germans.

I understand that, from what I can gather the Me-262 had a kill/loss ratio of 6/1, but that was also because it was a bomber destroyer primarily and operated in an incredibly target rich environment.

One good example showing how much the performance of a given fighter depended on what it was up against is Brewster F2A Buffalo. It did great for Finns against Soviets (36 aces) and very badly for UK/USA against the Japanese.

The lopsided ratio for the FM-2 is because it mainly went up against kamikaze, not fighters.

In the 1979 book “The German Jets in Combat” Ethell and Price estimated from each side’s records that Me-262’s shot down around 150 Allied a/c for 100+ air combat losses of their own. More research has appeared since on particular incidents, but not changing the basic picture AFAIK. Me-262’s had a lopsided ratio in their favor against bombers, which rarely downed them with defensive fire (though it was often claimed). But 262’s had a very unfavorable kill ratio against piston fighters, against which they also seemed to over claim more than they did against bombers. The fighter combat wasn’t ‘fair’, because the Allied fighters, 8th AF P-51’s particularly had the numbers and endurance to hang around deep inside Reich territory until they could catch jets at inopportune moments. OTOH the quality of the 44-45 Allied fighter units was generally high, hard to catch them napping, which was usually required for ‘boom and zoom’ attacks to really work, or else hit the slower a/c when it was already taking evasive action, not easy either. So not ‘fair’, but aiming for fair fights in air combat went out the window ca. 1915, if it was ever true at all.

For example on the biggest day of jet combat of the war, April 10, 1945, 27 Me-262’s were lost in the air, not counting a dozen others on the ground. 8th AF P-51’s were credited with 18 destroyed in the air, probably an underclaim since there were numerous additional credits for ‘probable’ and ‘damaged’. Although a few 262’s might have been downed by bombers or lost to operational causes, 9th AF P-47’s engaged some also that day. The 262’s claimed 11 B-17’s, 5 P-51’s and 2 P-47’s. The bomber claims probably represent a fair proportion of the 19 out of 1315 8th AF bombers actually lost to all causes. But no reference I know detailing these combats (like Foreman and Harvey “Me-262 Combat Diary” or Smith and Creek “Me-262 Vol 4”) seem to be able able to pinpoint any P-51 or P-47’s losses as corresponding to the jet claims. The 8th lost 8 P-51’s to all causes out of 905, but the mission involved extensive strafing of airfields where no fewer than 309 German a/c were claimed destroyed on the ground so those were probably mostly flak losses.

Just to note, there was a decided tendency for Allied pilots to identify any Japanese fighter as a Zero, even when it wasn’t. The Ki-43 in particular was visually very similar to the A6M. In the limited circumstances of F4Fs in 1942 where most fights were between carrier based aircraft the Japanese fighters were A6Ms, though F4Fs also operated from Henderson field at Guadalcanal.

The numbers are useless for statistical purposes, but they tell us what a real war between peer competitors is like. Imagine, F6F pilots are credited with shooting down 5000 enemy aircraft of all types. I’d be surprised if there were 5000 combat aircraft in the entire world today.

True, but it’s back to the only way to know actual fighter kill ratio’s is where there are accounts of the combats from both sides, which in this case show that Japanese Army a/c didn’t appear in the Solomons until early 1943. All the land plane fighters F4F’s met flying from Guadalcanal in 1942 were Navy Type 0’s, representing around 2/3’s of F4F victories over Zeroes in 1942, the others by carrier based F4F’s. F4F’s met Navy Type 96 Fighters (‘Claude’) twice in '42, Marshalls Raid in Feb and as part of the carrier Shoho’s fighter contingent at Coral Sea, plus some encounters with Type 2 Float Fighters (aka float Zero, later ‘Rufe’) at Guadalcanal, all of which were one sided in favor of F4F’s but not counted in 1:1 ratio.

The F4F case in 1942 is unusual because there are records from both sides for virtually every combat between F4F’s and Zeroes. Even in other theaters of the Pacific War in 1942 where Japanese Navy fighter unit records are complete, Japanese Army ones aren’t always (we know which units operated where and when, but not always their detailed combat results), even Allied ones aren’t always 100%. But later in the Pacific War Japanese records are much less complete, besides bigger scale combat and just as you mention Allied fighters making wrong identifications, by 1945 there were loads of Japanese radial types which were mistaken for one another. So late in the Pacific War we can only identify real combat results in limited examples. It’s impossible to add up all the ‘real’ kills of 1944-45 US or Japanese fighters. But for 1942 it’s mainly possible, so particularly for that period it’s completely pointless to keep quoting claims made at the time.

Bolding mine. Ki-43s and A6Ms were more or less equivalent. Same general design, same size, same engine, same armament, etc.

Neither one was a license-built variant of the other. But they *almost *were from the POV of somebody fighting one or the other. For the battles where we can’t know which was which, it sorta makes sense to simply combine the stats of each.

Admittedly this is a fine point in the overall fog of war in general and aerial kill claims in particular.

Please check your data on the armament of the Ki-43 Oscar and A6M Zero. The Ki-43 had two machine guns, while the A6M had two machine guns, plus two 20mm cannon. In addition, the Ki-43 has a range of about 952 NM, while the A6M had a range of about 1675 NM. In other respects, these fighters were very similar.

Specifications (A6M2 Type 0 Model 21) vs Specifications (Ki-43-IIb)


As long as resurrecting a (not so old) zombie, I happened to look further into P-51 losses that day, and could find the Missing Aircrew Reports for all 8 a/c where the pilot was initially missing (mostly POW’s). They are all definitely or highly likely to have been due to flak on zero altitude strafing attacks v. German a/f’s.

So that was a day when P-51’s were officially credited with 18 Me-262’s destroyed in the air, actually appear to have shot down several more than that, for very likely zero actual losses of P-51’s to Me-262’s. It’s indicative of how misleading the Me-262’s quoted claimed 6:1 kill ratio is if a) taken at face value and b) assumed to apply to fighter combat. The Me-262 was dangerous to bombers, and to lone recon a/c which could avoid interception by German props but not Me-262’s.