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Air Combat Claims

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Birddog View Drop Down
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    Posted: 05 Nov 2012 at 04:57
Have been recent been listening to Robert Leckie's "Strong Men Armed", a history of the United States Marine Corps and it's campaign against the Japanese during world war 2.

I was particular interested in some of the stories of the Marine fighter pilots and their actions in the South Pacific. Several Marines during the war became 'Aces in a day' meaning they shot down 5 enemy aircraft in one day.

During my adolescence I used to devour stories of fighter pilots of the 1st and 2nd World Wars and it impressed on me that shooting down another aircraft was very a very difficult thing to do, although their we're some exceptional pilots who became very good at it. And I also noticed that Americans seemed to shot down larger numbers of the enemy in dogfights than pilots of other allied nations. (I am talking of multiple claims in one dogfight or day). At first I thought this was overexcited Americans ('we are so gung-ho and are gonna wipe all those Nips from the goddammed skies!' With cigars clutched between their teeth as they zoom down the runway) over-claiming. Now I am wondering about my personal bias. I have a read a bit more about the Americans fighting in the air and know now that in the Second World War the average American pilot had longer and better training that pilots anywhere else in the world.

During World War Two: 5 Germans shot down 5 or more enemy planes in one day. 2 Finn's, 1 Frenchman, 1 Australian also became 'Aces in a Day', and a staggering 63 Americans also achieved this feat.

So, did the Americans have the best trained pilots in the world at that time (on average, I am aware some German pilots scored 100's of kills), or was my first instinct about over excited American on the money?

Edited by Birddog - 05 Nov 2012 at 10:51
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Lao Tse Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 Nov 2012 at 07:28
I think its a combo of US having extremely good pilots, and the fact that they were against nations that although they had very complex and operational technology, the US was too far away for full-scale invasions, and the US was able to mass-produce their weapons, while Italy was reliant on German weapons (which took a while to make, and had limited resources to make them), and Japan was busy conquering territory (all of their technology was very good, but there were too many things that could cause an absolute failure, and they were easily broken). Plus, only the US had the ability to transport an immense amount of troops, and a massive amount of weapons that were durable, that were able to be easily fixed on the battlefield.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Cezar Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 Nov 2012 at 16:00
Quote So, did the Americans have the best trained pilots in the world at that time (on average, I am aware some German pilots scored 100's of kills), or was my first instinct about over excited American on the money?

Both! Or, to be more specific, the former. The second is actually irrelevant in the end. All pilots from all sides were claiming more planes downed than they actually did. But the combat records were based on confirmed kills not fantasy. It seems that the ones that really messed things up were the bomber's gunners but that is another discussion.
The fact is tha the USAS and the USNAF pilots were, at the start of the war less experienced than their enemies. But the training doctrine of the US air forces (and the RAF and USSR though the VVS had a rather slow start) was to send people to fight after many many many hours of training. A luxury that no axis country had, and Japan was plagued by bad doctrine as much as bad aircraft. The Zero was the main bird of the Empire. While it might have been a good fighter it was no match for what the US industry began to pour after 1942.

Outclassed and outgunned, the rookies of the japanese air forces were no match for the well trained cowboys. On the other side of the war things were a little different, but by 1944 the USAF was ruling the skies over Europe, too.

It seems that the worst manoeuver the US fighter jockeys performed was landing. 

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Paradigm of Humanity Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 Nov 2012 at 17:29
Main reason for low kill number of US fighter aces is the promotion. When US a fighter pilot shot down a dozen enemy aircraft, he will be promoted to a non-combat role, most likely will be assigned to training of new pilots.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Al Jassas Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 Nov 2012 at 20:12
Originally posted by Cezar Cezar wrote:

Quote So, did the Americans have the best trained pilots in the world at that time (on average, I am aware some German pilots scored 100's of kills), or was my first instinct about over excited American on the money?

Both! Or, to be more specific, the former. The second is actually irrelevant in the end. All pilots from all sides were claiming more planes downed than they actually did. But the combat records were based on confirmed kills not fantasy. It seems that the ones that really messed things up were the bomber's gunners but that is another discussion.
The fact is tha the USAS and the USNAF pilots were, at the start of the war less experienced than their enemies. But the training doctrine of the US air forces (and the RAF and USSR though the VVS had a rather slow start) was to send people to fight after many many many hours of training. A luxury that no axis country had, and Japan was plagued by bad doctrine as much as bad aircraft. The Zero was the main bird of the Empire. While it might have been a good fighter it was no match for what the US industry began to pour after 1942.

Outclassed and outgunned, the rookies of the japanese air forces were no match for the well trained cowboys. On the other side of the war things were a little different, but by 1944 the USAF was ruling the skies over Europe, too.

It seems that the worst manoeuver the US fighter jockeys performed was landing. 

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While I agree there was some bad training on the Japanese side (although there were several Japanese aces against American pilots) Japanese planes themselves were that bad. In fact several later models were just as good as any in the US arsenal particularly the Ki-84 which was as good as the Mustang.
 
Anyway Paradigm nailed it. Good pilots are retired early and almost never return to service or else we would have definitely seen 100+ aces in allied air forces.
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote lirelou Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06 Nov 2012 at 03:20
I would look at the number of pre-war pilots per nation, and the relative size of their pre-war aviation industries. Take that, and look at how much the air arms of various armies ballooned out into air forces, in some cases in all but name, and you should have a good idea of who the powerhouse in ace production was.

In my father's case, he took his pilot training at Uvalde field in Texas, was trained to fly P-38s. Yet somewhere up the chain, someone decided he wasn't fighter pilot material, and he ended up flying C-47s in the 440th Troop Carrier Wing. Only an air arm with a lot of pilots, and both a formal and informal weeding out program, could have afforded such luxury. And it undoubtedly added to the edge that those who made it into the fighter squadrons enjoyed.

As regards education, I suspect the Germans were the most educated pilots, and the Soviets the least educated. I read once that by 1944, the average Soviet pilot had a sixth grade education. But what counted for pilots was also technical education obtained outside the standard school system and often by tinkering and experience gained at local airfields at a time when flight was still relatively new and captured the imagination of youth..  
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Paradigm of Humanity Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06 Nov 2012 at 04:37
Originally posted by lirelou lirelou wrote:

As regards education, I suspect the Germans were the most educated pilots, and the Soviets the least educated. I read once that by 1944, the average Soviet pilot had a sixth grade education. But what counted for pilots was also technical education obtained outside the standard school system and often by tinkering and experience gained at local airfields at a time when flight was still relatively new and captured the imagination of youth..  

They didn't need to build a new plane, they just needed to shot down enemy planes Tongue Traditional intelligence is not very much related with psychomotor skills and that is only may be improved with training - not education Smile
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote lirelou Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06 Nov 2012 at 14:08
Paradigm:  In re:  "They didn't need to build a new plane, they just needed to shot down enemy planes Tongue Traditional intelligence is not very much related with psychomotor skills and that is only may be improved with training - not education Smile"

It took more than psychomotor skills to arrive in the battle area,  and to successfully return from it. The aircraft of the period, particularly early in the war, did not have the advantages of today's aerial navigation and tracking systems. Pilots had to calculate things like fuel consumption, airspeed, wind conditions, etc. Not being a pilot, nor an aviation historian, I did not appreciate this myself until I read the opening chapters of Hugh Ambrose's "The Pacific", which is the companion book to the HBO miniseries. The television series does not cover the story of Naval aviation in the early war period, as Ambrose does in the book, and he makes clear what skills were required for fighters and fighter-bombers to get to and return from their missions, and I suspect that pilots operating over the far flung theaters of the USSR faced tasks similar to Naval and Marine pilots over the Pacific. 

ps, but yes, I enjoyed your comment and it did bring a smile.


Edited by lirelou - 06 Nov 2012 at 14:10
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06 Nov 2012 at 14:21
I suspect some of the difference is due to the difference between the pattern of aerial warfare in the Pacific area and the European area. Apart from September 1940 there were no Coral Seas in the West. 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote lirelou Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06 Nov 2012 at 14:36
GCLE, But, more to the point: Did the patterns of aerial warfare in the USSR differ from the patterns the Germans were accustomed to in Western Europe? Harking back to the wargame I picked this up from (Strategy and Tactics' "Destruction of Army Group Center"), my impression was that weather, distances, and logistical support were very different from what the Luftwaffe had faced in Poland, France, and the Channel. Not to mention the fact that the prospect of going down over Soviet or Partisan controlled territory had to weigh on the pilots minds as much as the wide Pacific. And again, navigation and tracking aids were still in their infancy, or at the most, their teenage years.  
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Paradigm of Humanity Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06 Nov 2012 at 21:19
@lirelou, I think most pilots just followed wing leader Smile

edit: or squadron commander, whatever it is :P

Edited by Paradigm of Humanity - 06 Nov 2012 at 21:36
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Birddog Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07 Nov 2012 at 06:25
And sometimes the Wing Commanders and Squadron Leaders would get lost to. Three bomber Squadrons who had a hard time finding the Japanese Carriers during the Battle of Midway arrived just in time, with Japanese fighter cover out of position, to sink 3 Japanese carriers. The Squadrons that had arrived earlier had taken very heavy casualties.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Panther Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07 Nov 2012 at 06:57
Birddog, those would be the TBD's that took the brunt of the Japanese defense, with the result, while the Zero's were mopping up what was left of the TBD strike force, the SBD's sneaked in past the fighter screen and caught the Japanese flat tops flat footed. Extraordinary luck.

Edited by Panther - 07 Nov 2012 at 06:57
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Birddog Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07 Nov 2012 at 21:57
No argument. That piece of luck change the course of the battle. I could start a thread on how unplanned situations, accidents, faults of navigation or planning helped to win battles.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote lirelou Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07 Nov 2012 at 22:04
Yes, the battle of midway is cited. There were no radars on the aircraft involved to vector the returning aircraft back to their carriers. All the pilots had was a grid square in the ocean where the carriers were expected to be. Of course, submarine sightings and other events could change that. The Japanese force was near the end of the torpedo-bombers range, so the pilot telling the tale mentioned that he had to force himself to slow down and conserve fuel on the return leg. Two of his wingmates passed him at a higher altitude and neither made it back to the carrier. Both presumably went down into the ocean. One was picked up weeks later in bad condition, and the other was never heard from again.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Nomadic Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 08 Nov 2012 at 23:09
Originally posted by Birddog Birddog wrote:


During World War Two: 5 Germans shot down 5 or more enemy planes in one day. 2 Finn's, 1 Frenchman, 1 Australian also became 'Aces in a Day', and a staggering 63 Americans also achieved this feat.

So, did the Americans have the best trained pilots in the world at that time (on average, I am aware some German pilots scored 100's of kills), or was my first instinct about over excited American on the money?
Also, the type of enemy plane encountered could make a huge difference -a skilled U.S. fighter pilot getting lucky by finding a group of older design enemy Stukas, twin engine fighters, Kate Torpedo bombers etc. with out fighter escort.  Then factor in the "ace in a day possibilities" if the enemy planes were not only unescorted, but also flown by poorly trained pilots....
 
 
Originally posted by Cezar Cezar wrote:

Outclassed and outgunned, the rookies of the japanese air forces were no match for the well trained cowboys. 
Very true, the "Marianas Turkey Shoot" saw highly trained U.S. pilots flying superior aircraft and benefitting from radar vectoring easily shooting down hundreds of inferior Japanese planes flown by pilots with little training.
Originally posted by lirelou lirelou wrote:

 Pilots had to calculate things like fuel consumption, airspeed, wind conditions, etc. Not being a pilot, nor an aviation historian, I did not appreciate this myself until I read the opening chapters of Hugh Ambrose's "The Pacific"
And nobody did that better than the elite naval aviators of the Imperial Japanese Navy.  Unfortunatly for the Japanese, this elite group only numbered about 400 pilots and by late 1943, most of them were dead and had not been replaced.
 
Originally posted by Paradigm of Humanity Paradigm of Humanity wrote:

Main reason for low kill number of US fighter aces is the promotion. When US a fighter pilot shot down a dozen enemy aircraft, he will be promoted to a non-combat role, most likely will be assigned to training of new pilots.
Also, the Germans had a designated shooter tactic where the super aces wingmen's sole mission was to provide cover for the ace and allow him to shoot it down with the most efficiency.  Wingmen were not normally allowed to fire on the target.  In contrast, U.S. tactics allowed for what ever pilot that saw the target first to lead the attack.  This spread kills around.  
 


Edited by Nomadic - 09 Nov 2012 at 01:29
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Cezar Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11 Nov 2012 at 12:59
A detailed list for the aces of WWII :http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_World_War_II_flying_aces
If some alien would look at it it might ask why isn't everyone speaking German. The truth is that indeed the top fighter aces were the Luftwaffe boys. But the best fighter force as a whole was the USAAF and USNAF followed by the RAF and probably the VVS. The results of the pilots are nice to look at and maybe the initial question of the thread is the consequence of the fact that while claiming to be the best air force the US has not the top scorers in all big conflicts.
What made them to be better is not a simple answer. One cannot just claim that the Japanese pilots were badly trained - but it's an adequate statement. Some of them were but a lot of them were pretty good. But as the war went on several facts came into play: lack of fuel, lack of manpower, lack of technical improvements. Yes, the Ki-84 was a great plane but the Japanese did not had the ability to produce te aircraft, deploy it in sufficent numbers, create the logistical support and train the pilots appropriately. Think of the VVS: they started with the I16 and eventually deployed some 10 new types of fighters (a little too much if you ask me). The USAAF was less generous but they had some very advanced fighters already and poured a few new ones into the mix. Also, the most relevant fact was that they used the fighter air force for deep fighter sweeps which IMHO is the most relevant aspect of the air war over Europe and Pacific. 
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US aircrafts were heavier and faster.  Even the lowly f4f could use her weight to outdive then outclimb a zeke.  By mid war is was fully understood that high speed and roll was all that mattered.  Light weight, maneuverable craft were nothing but sitting ducks to heavy, fast, hard-diving crafts. 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote SixthArmy Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06 Dec 2012 at 00:12

I don't see how to edit my posts here.  The zero was faster than f4f level, but the f4f pilot could use the heavy weight of his craft to dive and gain more inertia.  A heavier craft has more potential energy/speed and ppl figured out fairly quickly that the guy who's faster can pass and fire at his disgression.  The guy in the light craft is at disadvantage.  They figured that out pretty quick. 

 
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