Ace Of Aces

Discussion in 'The War In The Air' started by adamcotton, Oct 27, 2005.

  1. adamcotton

    adamcotton Senior Member

    Hi all,

    We've discussed the "best" fighter and the "best" bomber of WW2, so my thoughts now are: who was the "best" fighter pilot of the conflict?

    It's a difficult one to answer because, not only does one have to overcome natural patriotic bias to achieve a measure of objectivity, but also because one needs to apply differing criterion.

    Sheer numbers of enemy aircraft shot down? In that case, one would unequivocally say Erich Hartmann of the Luftwaffe with 352 confirmed kills. What about the most innovative? That might be US Navy pilot John S. Thatch, inventor of the "Thatch Weave". If we look at who was most successful against superior numbers of the enemy, then we might look at many who fought in the Battle of Britain, or over Greece in 1940/41 - Thomas "Pat" Pattle, for instance, who fought not only against superior numbers, but for much of his career in an obsolete Gladiator biplanes.

    And how does the latter compare, for instance, with George Preddy, the highest scoring Mustang ace of the war....?

    Anyway, I am sure we all have our champions, so I'd be interested to hear who they are and why you rate them the "best"...

    Over to you....
  2. Gnomey

    Gnomey World Travelling Doctor

    Here is a list of the top aces of the war.

    A few stand out, of course there is Erich Hartmann the highest scoring fighter pilot of all time, George "Screwball" Buerling is another one as is Johnny Johnson. However for me the best fighter pilot of the war was Walter "Nowi" Nowotny who achieved 250 kills in 442 missions and had in not been KIA in November 1944 would have increased his score a little as well.
  3. adamcotton

    adamcotton Senior Member


    I agree about Walter Nowotny. He was extremely well respected by the Allies, both as a pilot and as a man. In fact, Pierre Clostermann devotes a whole chapter to him in his book, "The Big Show".

    Beurling was something of an enigma. He achieved almost all his success as a solo act over Malta, but just couldn't adapt to the team fighting that characterized the air war over north-west Europe. I believe "Johnny" Johnson had cause to rebuke him on more than one occasion over his lack of aerial discipline. Fighter pilots are noted for their individuality, and Beurling had it in spades!!
  4. Gnomey

    Gnomey World Travelling Doctor

    Sure did! Here is some more on him. He was devoted to getting it right and on one occasion even managed to down a 109 from 800 yards! He was probably a bit crazy but who cares he was a great pilot.
  5. spidge


    Hi Adam,

    Interesting topic.

    My vote goes to Erich Hartmann.

    While there were many differences in the quality of pilot, plane, pilot length of time on duty and in the air etc etc he was still an extremely good fighter pilot with the pre requisite of excellent eyesight, lightning reflexes, an aggressive spirit, and an ability to stay cool while in combat.

    He did not try to get more than one kill a day which increased his longevity and was known never to have lost a wingman throughout his years of combat. Allied flyers were restricted by length of tours and a multitude of other reasons however a 9 to 1 ratio is difficult to ignore.

    Very difficult to compare apples with apples on these fronts.
  6. adamcotton

    adamcotton Senior Member

    Yes, I think Hartmann is universally acknowledged as the true "aces of aces" - no fighter pilot in any war has ever shot down more enemy aircraft. He only died sometime during the last few years. As you say, he possessed all the pre-requisites of a successful fighter pilot. Still, I find it interesting to speculate how well he would have done had his service been limited to north-west Europe, or North Africa, where the quality of the opposition was several notches higher than that usually encountered on the Eastern Front. I am certain he would still have been highly successful, but it's unlikely his victory tally would have been in the triple hundreds. Even so, I suspect he would have been the highest scoring Luftwaffe pilot on the Channel Front (anyone know who that actually was? Galland? Priller?), and may well have surpassed Marseille in North Africa...

    Gnomey, thanks for the links you have posted: Beurling was an odd fish indeed, but totally devoted to the business of air fighting. His restless spirit was ultimately what killed him, as you probably already know.
  7. Gerard

    Gerard Seelow/Prora

    Well certainly the Luftwaffe pilots had more opprtunity to become Aces than Allied ones and in this regard I would rate Eric Hartmann, Walter Nowotny, Hans Joachim Marseille and Johannes Steinhoff very highly indeed.
  8. adamcotton

    adamcotton Senior Member

    Yes, there's no denying they were at the top of their "game"!

    Gotthard, how would you rate "Paddy" Finucane? Had he lived he might have gone on to become the leading RAF ace on The Channel Front, don't you think? He wasn't defeated in the air, but succumbed to ground fire ground strafing targets in France on July 15th, 1942. He ditched perfectly into the English Channel when his engine quit, but didn't get out before his Spitfire sank, and thus drowned. He was credited with 32 victories at the time, the same as the legendary "Sailor" Malan ( I believe the eventual RAF top scorer on the Channel Front, "Johnnie" Johnson, with 38, had a personal tally of about 8 at this time). He was also, at just 21, the RAF's youngest Wing Commander. How would such a man have fared on the Eastern Front, if it were somehow historically possible for him to have fought against the Russians there?

    And what about men like Francis "Gabby" Gabreski: an ace in two wars?
  9. Gerard

    Gerard Seelow/Prora


    I have no doubt that Paddy finucane would have been an exceptional ace had he lived longer and indeed I would also agree that Gabreski was another fine pilot and in my favourite allied aircraft too the P-47!!

    If it was historically possible for Allied pilots to fight on the Eastern Front or against massed bomber formations then yes I would agree that their scores would be greatly improved. We can also have fun speculating what might have been if the likes of Hartmann et al had access to P-51's or Spitfires! :D
  10. adamcotton

    adamcotton Senior Member

    Oh, these what ifs? Indeed, if Hartman et al got to fly Spits or Mustangs......

    Well, for starters, I think there would have been many more Luftwaffe aces in 1940 if they'd had Mustangs. The Me 109s had fuel enough for only 10 minutes combat over London, but with Mustangs they could have stuck around for hours and the outcome of the battle would have been reversed, I've no doubt. Having said that, the Mustangs would have still been very heavy with unused fuel as they arrived over London from their bases in France, so they would not exactly be the most nimble fighters in the sky...
  11. adrian roberts

    adrian roberts Senior Member

    Very difficult to be objective here; too many variables for sheer numbers to count. Bit like arguing about whether Schumacher or Fangio were the best racing driver - very different cars and rules.

    Hartman was good and seems to have been a nice guy as well as having the highest score; Marseille had 158 by the time of his death in '42 so may have had the highest rate of score.

    Arguing subjectively, Finucane is probably my favourite: a very high rate of score; popular and promising (the RAF's youngest ever Wing Commander); and epitomising the British (Irish?) stiff upper lip with his last words: "So long, Chaps, this is it".

    Pattle was also popular with his men, battling away in his Gladiator over North Africa, never becoming famous in the UK. (OK the Italians were also mainly in biplanes, but a CR42 was at least the equal of a Gladiator). He eventually went to his death in a Hurricane against enormous odds, seriously ill with dysentery.

    Interesting that no-one has mentioned Bader; if nothing else the press icon for lifting British morale in the BofB. Not a nice man at all - especially the way he treated his batman in Colditz. But determined, overcoming a genuine disability, and whatever the merits of Big Wing theory (lets not get into that one! images/smilies/default/excl.gif images/smilies/default/wacko.gif ) he at least thought about tactics and was a great leader, albeit respected rather than loved.

  12. adamcotton

    adamcotton Senior Member

    Good post, Adrian.

    Yes, I suppose it is interesting that no one has mentioned Bader. I actually met him once, when I was a young air cadet. My impression then was of how "forecful" he was; I geuss nowadays I'd describe him as exuding a certain charisma: an impossible man to ignore, but I am not sure I would have liked him, even though it would be difficult not to admire and respect him.

    No one has yet mentioned "Ginger" Lacey or Robert Stanford-Tuck, either. Tuck was - at least according to Larry Forrester's excellent biography of him - a somewhat prickly, superior individual also, who nonetheless was admired, even revered by those who flew with him. As for Lacey, it is often forgotten that he was one of the very few RAF pilots who was operational on the very first day of the war (with Germany) and on the very last day of the war (with Japan) also.

    Here's an interesting statistic: it has been estimated that only 5% of all allied and commonwealth fighter pilots were responsible for 90% of all aerial victories!!

    Oh, one more thing Adrian,

    To the best of my knowledge, Pat Pattle never fought in North Africa - he spent his career fighting over Greece and the Balkans. In 1961, E.C.R. Baker wrote his biography and entitled it "Ace of Aces", because although officially credited with something like 40 victories ( still putting him ahead of James Edgar "Johnnie Johnson, the highest scoring RAF pilot on The Channel Front, with 38), many believe his true score to have been 60 or more, even 70.
  13. spidge


    (adamcotton @ Oct 28 2005, 08:01 PM) [post=40723]Good post, Adrian.

    Oh, one more thing Adrian,

    To the best of my knowledge, Pat Pattle never fought in North Africa - he spent his career fighting over Greece and the Balkans. In 1961, E.C.R. Baker wrote his biography and entitled it "Ace of Aces", because although officially credited with something like 40 victories ( still putting him ahead of James Edgar "Johnnie Johnson, the highest scoring RAF pilot on The Channel Front, with 38), many believe his true score to have been 60 or more, even 70.

    Squadron Leader Marmaduke T St. John 'Pat' Pattle, DFC:

    Born on 3rd July 1914 in Butterworth, Cape Province, South Africa, 'Pat' Pattle joined 80 Squadron in 1937. The Squadron was sent to Egypt in April 1938, and Pattle became a flight commander in 1939. During August 1940 the Squadron moved up to the Libyan border. Whilst escorting a Lysander, Pattle's flight was engaged by a force of Italian fighters. Pattle (claiming 2) was forced to bale out inside Italian territory, but returned to base the next day. The Squadron moved to Greece in November in support of Greek forces on the Albanian border. Pattle was awarded the DFC in February 1941. In March he was awarded a bar to the DFC promoted to Squadron Leader and given command of 33 squadron equipped with Hawker Hurricanes Mk I. By this time he was credited with 23 victories. Due to the chaotic conditions during the British and Greek retreat, records were lost. However, relying on personal records and memories, it appears that his score of victories was 50 (possibly as high as 60), making him the highest scoring RAF pilot of the war. On 20th April 1941, he led the combined remnants of No.s 33 and 80 squadrons from Eleusis airfield. Although suffering from influenza and fatigue and on his third sortie of the day, Pattle led the remaining Hurricanes to intercept a German formation over Eleusis Bay. He was seen to shoot down a Bf110 but two other Bf110's then attacked him. Pattle was hit and he was seen slumped forward in the cockpit of his aircraft as it fell into the Bay.
  14. adamcotton

    adamcotton Senior Member

    Spidge, I stand corrected about Pattle never having fought over North Africa! o_O Apologies Adrian!
  15. Gerard

    Gerard Seelow/Prora

    Thanks for the Bio about Pattle. I never even knew he existed and it just goes to show how a board like this can be so informative! :)
  16. Kitty

    Kitty Very Senior Member

    Why are we looking at just day fighters? I admit Bader coudld have done so much more if he hadn't been shot down, and Jonny Johnson was an asolute star. And I think the Geman aces got such hgih scores because they were shooting down the sittng ducks that were our medium bombers and the Yank contingency. Anyway, that's just my comment to wind up the argument a bit...
    What about Catseye Cunningham? The greatest night fighter pilot we ever had, and based at RAF Coltishall with Bader, Johnson, Sailorboy et al. And one more thing, our beloved government (ha!) has decided that Coltishall is to shut for the last time on February 6th 2006 because they are fazing out the Jaguar fighter which is based there. Does anyone know of any campaign to save the base for the country as a working museum at all? We can't lose the last untoched WW2 base in the country. If anyone knows post it!
  17. adamcotton

    adamcotton Senior Member

    Hi Mosquito:

    An interesting post. The reason the German fighter pilots got such high scores is because 1) They had no fixed operational tours as did their allied counterparts. An RAF or USAAF fighter pilot would usually do about 200 hours operational and then be sent off for a "rest" tour as an instructor, or whatever. Luftwaffe pilots were expected to keep going until killed or wounded to the extent they could no longer fly operations. Their nearest equivalent to a rest tour was to be packed off for a few weeks skiing at some alpine resort, or whatever. 2) Most Luftwaffe fighters spent at least a portion of their careers on the eastern front, where Russian opposition was vastly inferior to that to be encountered in the west - the only exception being the elite Russian Guards units. Consequently, it was far easier to shoot down an opponent. These two factors combined to give Luftwaffe fighter pilots the highest scores of any nation in WW2.

    You are right. We don't have to limit it to a discussion on day fighter pilots, but the numbers involved in night fighting are generally less - not sure how many Cunningham got, but I believe Bob Braham was especially successful?
  18. adamcotton

    adamcotton Senior Member

    Since we've been talking about the air fighting over Greece and Pat pattle, I thought I'd share this poem, written by A.H Clough, and quoted by Winston Churchill in the House of Commons shortly after the evacuation of Greece in May, 1941.

    It's called, "Say Not The Struggle Nought Availeth".

    "For while the tired waves vainly breaking,
    seem here no painful inch to gain,
    Far back, through creeks and inlets making,
    Comes silent, flooding in, the main...

    "And not by eastern windows only,
    When daylight comes, comes in the light,
    In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly,
    But westward, look! The land is bright...."

    I think it's beautiful and poignant.
  19. Gnomey

    Gnomey World Travelling Doctor

    I agree Adam. It is a very nice poem.
  20. adrian roberts

    adrian roberts Senior Member

    </div><div class='quotemain'>And I think the Geman aces got such hgih scores because they were shooting down the sittng ducks that were our medium bombers and the Yank contingency[/b]

    As far as the Yanks go, I don't think something with 10 50s pointing in all directions counted as a sitting duck. I understand the 8th AF bombers shot down more fighters than any one Allied fighter type. True, the Blenheims and Venturas were pretty vulnerable. But so were our Lancasters and other heavies. If there was a night-fighter approaching, the result was down to whether the rear gunner or the night-fighter pilot saw the other first. Hence, I think it was Prince Egmont zu Lippe-whatever who got five Lancs in a night and was KIA by a sixth.

    And as far as Allied night-fighter pilots go, how about Czech RAF pilot Karel Kuttelwascher? Shot down 15 German bombers in 15 night-intruder missions (i.e. at night over enemy territory), flying a Hurricane alone with no radar. Surprisingly he had no success at all later in the war with radar-equipped Mosquitoes. He became a BEA pilot, and died in 1959 at 42 from a heart attack (younger than I am now images/smilies/default/ohmy.gif )


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