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What accounts for the unmatched success of German fighter pilots in WWII?

Originally published on HistoryNet.com. Published Online: July 10, 2012 
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Aviation History Reader Poll

The top-100 aces of all time, including number-two Gerhard Barkhorn (story, P. 22 of the September 2012 issue), all flew for the Luftwaffe. What do you think accounts for the phenomenal success of German fighter pilots in World War II?

Give us your thoughts in the comments box below.


9 Responses to “What accounts for the unmatched success of German fighter pilots in WWII?”


  1. 1
    Jerry Fredrick says:

    By striking fast and early the Germans first encountered obsolete aircrafts or mis-managed Allied forces. As Allied nations started producing newer, better planes and as their aircrews gained experience the German kill rate declined.

  2. 2
    Don Struke says:

    German pilots basically were in for the long haul, no 50 (or whatever) missions and home. Therefore their combat flying time (and aerial engagements) far exceeded most U.S. pilots' combat time. Late in the war when Germany had severe fuel shortages, flight training was cut drastically and Luftwaffe victories dwindled.

  3. 3
    Larry C says:

    The data is seriously skewed by the fact that it includes both Western and Eastern front kills. When the two are separated it become obvious that the German advantage was very much on the Eastern front. Many Russian pilots had less than 50 hours in the plane when they were sent to the front.
    German advantage was little if any on the Western Front. It is true that the original Spitefire was inferior to the Me109. Later models closed the gap. When the P-51 came on the scene the Me-109's were at a serious disadvantage.

    • 3.1
      Barrie says:

      The Bf 109 was not superior to the early Spitfire, both were different and had advantages, but it depended more on the pilots than the difference in the planes themselves, if the 109 had been superior it would have been very difficult for RAF pilots to shoot down large numbers of more experienced Luftwaffe pilots, from the Mk V on the Spitfire had a noticeable advantage over the Bf 109 and once the Mk IX was in service from then on the Spitfire always had the advantage, by the time the P 51 came along Germany was fully committed against Russia and struggling with shortages of trained pilots and fuel

  4. 4
    Colin Heaton says:

    having worked in this area for thirty years, I can agree with all of the assessments above. Being outnumbered, combined with excellent trainign until 1944 (even then the new pilots were led by outstanding veterans), the kill ratios are easy to explain. This is particularly true when fight on a short leash, or defensively. Many Germans were shot down and able to return to theur units, and if uninjured continued flying. Galland and Krupinsky, as two examples, were shot down twice in a day respectively, only to keep going back flyinfg 3,4 or even 5 missions, obtaining kills. The other factor was the rigrous german claiming method, requiring a long list of crietria to confirm a victory. Great teamwork by the Germans also helped rack up the points, including excellent aerial communications gear and ground to air control.

  5. 5
    Barrie says:

    The rigorous German claiming method was not always so rigorous when checking claims, Kurt Welter claimed and was given credit for many Mosquito night fighters when flying Me 262`s, however his claims have proved to be very doubtful since RAF records only show 3 Mosquito`s lost that might fit in with Welter`s claims. It seems it wasn`t only the American pilots who greatly overclaimed.

  6. 6
    don clifford says:

    Easy to answer – because they were not American and could speak and write better English than that of statements and replies here!

  7. 7
    Lyndon says:

    What has not been mentioned is that the German Condor Legion had three years fighting experience in the Spanish Civil War.

    So from 1936 – 1939 , German pilots were honing fighter tactics which gave them that practical experience denied to all the pilots of the Western Allies.

    You guys are off the planet if you didn't realise this.

    I kid you not!!!

  8. 8
    Colin Heaton says:

    Many pilots have the condition suffered by Welter. In our book, The Star of Africa, we noted that Hans-Joachim Marseille (and others) often misidentified the aircraft types when they scored a victory. Flying a night fighter only increased that problem, as well as the fact that witnessing a crash was not always possible. Night fighters rarely flew with wingmen, and even during the Wild Boar period, as in day fighters, more than one pilots damaging or destroying a planes was very possible, and happened.



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