US versus German Aces

US aces/German aces: simple reason for the difference, by philip.marlowe

While reading the section about the German aces on this web-site, much to my surprise, I learned that some people seem to have problems to understand the difference between a war and a baseball game: Thus, for them: In war people get killed. After they have been killed, they are dead, D-E-A-D. Take a few minutes and think about the finality that's in this word.

However, the very basic and simple reason, why American aces had not the slightest chance to reach as high numbers of air victories as German fighter pilots was:


On a day with good flying weather in 1944, the western allied air forces flew something between 10,000 and 20,000 missions over western Europe, the Luftwaffe something between 300 and 800 !!! The extreme was the D-Day: Allied missions over Normandy: More than 15,000, Luftwaffe missions: 2 (sic !).

Even though, the German industry could maintain quite a high output of airplanes until the end of the war the Luftwaffe could not get as many into action due to lack of fuel and pilots.

The article here on this web-site likes to disqualify the Russian pilots, and use this as an explanation for the high numbers of air kills reached by German flyers:

A Russian pilot in 1941/42 may really have been bad trained compared to a Luftwaffe pilot, but a Russian pilot of 1943/44/45 had gone through a training which might not have been as good as the one of an American pilot, but which was for sure better than the training of a Luftwaffe pilot in 1944/45 - or the training of the poor Japanese flyers who participated in the "Turkey Shoot".  The AVERAGE Messerschmitt pilot in 1944 was not a guy like Erich Hartmann (who had by the way among his 352 air victories also seven USAAF P-51 Mustang - five April 1944 over Ploesti/Romania, two April 1945 over Czechia. He shot them down using his eastern front aircraft, his eastern front tactics, and his eastern front experience), but a poor and stupid 19 year old boy who had been indoctrinated with Nazi bullshit most of his life, and who had to fly his first mission after 6 month training, comprising about 60 flight hours in total, 20 of which were on the Messerschmitt. For comparison: An American Mustang pilot had about 450 hours in total, 150 of them on his combat plane (and was normally at least 22 or 23 years of age, and thus a lot more mature - a factor readers younger than 22 might neither understand nor believe).

Since the Messerschmitt was known to be a beast, especially while landing (due to it's high wing area load and it's narrow and weak landing gear), it is not very astonishing, that in 1944 the Luftwaffe lost about as many planes and pilots in flight accidents as in air combat.

So: If anybody likes to think that the successes of the Luftwaffe pilots on the Eastern front might have been against unskilled flyers, he should note, that most WW2 successes of American fighter pilots were definitely against unskilled flyers.

Furthermore, the same article stresses the mass factor: the Russians threw a lot of material in the fight and this was the reason why they were finally successful. True, mass was a big factor, but, hey, what did the Americans do? The ratio of fighter planes in the sky over Germany end of 1944/1945 was about hundred to one in favor of the USAAF !!!  Anyway, this is the way it has to be done. If any political or military leader has the chance to sacrifice material instead of lives, it's his duty to do so. If he has the chance to achieve an advantage by gaining numerical superiority, it's again his duty to do so. War is not baseball - see above.  The Americans won the air war over western Europe like any war was won: Not because the US fighter aces were better than the German ones (not saying they were worse), but

1. because the AVERAGE American fighter pilot was a lot better than his AVERAGE German counterpart, and

2. because they had by far higher number of planes and pilots available.

"God is always on the side of the stronger battalions! " (Napoleon Bonaparte)

US versus German aces - by steve

Correct on lack of opportunity. You are also correct about 43-45 Russian pilots. They were good. In fact some German pilots said they were better than Americans. But this is only cause Americans were green when they entered Mediterranean in 43. I remember reading a comment by Heinz Bar. He said Americans were tougher than Brits as they would fight you all the way to the ground. That ought to cause a stir. I have not heard any other German pilots echo his statement.

Much has been made of 109 & ground loops. Some have stated 30 % of 109 losses were due to faulty landing gear. The real number is 5 %. & usually this occurred when tailwheel was not locked. The wheels were actually further apart than Spit wheels. I do agree, though that 109 gear should have been changed. Wide track is better, & would've allowed wing root guns.

I met a Mustang pilot who flew in pacific. He said he only had one enemy contact. He saw a Jack, & it saw him & shot straight up in a climb & the Mustang could not follow. So even pacific theater pilots had a lack of opportunity problem. Especially in latter half of war.

One other reason for high German kills in east was that Russian strategy was that aircraft were to support ground troops, & Russian planes did not have high altitude performance like German planes did. This enabled Germans to use dive & slash tactics to great effect. Barkhorn is an exception to this strategy. He said; the way to beat the enemy was to outturn him. Hartman was opposite. He was a dive & slash man.

Also some have said Germans did well because Russians had poor aircraft. True in early phase of conflict, but not from early 43 on. Lagg 7 was a great plane as was Yak 3 & Yak 9. Yak 3 could outturn & outmaneuver Spitfires.

Last comment. There were some German pilots who scored the same rate in Mediterranean as they did in Russia. Reinert was one of them, Bar another.

US versus German aces - on the RAF, by rushman

Just to further emphasis a point here.....The Americans DID NOT win the air war in western Europe!!!!!!!! The "ALLIES" did. Let's not let patriotism get in the way of fact. 

With regard to German/American kill rates, maybe the fact that the German pilots had also been at war for 2 years before the Americans eventually entered could have some influence on those kill rates also.
Surely pilots hardened after 2 years of air combat would be considered considerably more experienced that those just entering a war scenario?

The Luftwaffe pilots had gained experience against the Russians and the R.A.F and subsequently, the R.A.F had already won the battle of Britain before our pilots had even fired a bullet in anger.
So therefore it surely has to be understood that as the U.S entered the war the best combat ready pilots where flying over Britain, France (thou they weren't French), Europe and the eastern block.
You surely cant be considered "experienced" until you've been shot at with live ammunition.

Kills per Mission - an article, by Twitch

For a long time after WW II the Luftwaffe pilots' claims of huge numbers of enemy aircraft shot down in combat were suspect. The real answer is simpler than we think.

Many publications of past times openly disputed the many 100+ victories claimed by Luftwaffe aces. Since Britain's James "Johnnie" Johnson had scored but 38 victories during the war on the Western Front along with American Richard Bong's 40 in the Pacific Erich Hartmann's 352 was thought to be Nazi propaganda. It was reasoned early on that the 100+ scores included damaged and probables given by a liberal system. Some even went so far as to say that the numbers were points awarded by some Luftwaffe scoring system.

It is puzzling that no one in the 1950s-60s was casting doubt on Japan's aces' scores. Saburo Sakai's 64 and Hiroyoshi Nishizawa's 103 were never questioned. Sakai's book about his combat experiences, Samurai, vividly depicted most of these kills from his war time flight logs. It was reasoned that since aces that survived many years of the war against a numerically superior enemy would have ample opportunity to score. Japan's pilots never rotated out of combat except for brief relaxation periods or hospital stays for wounds received. Of course there were figures claiming that the top 35 Luftwaffe scorers had amassed 6,848 kills where the Japanese aces seem modest by comparison. Partly due to the flammability of Japanese planes, not many aces survived to score more.

Allied pilots almost to a man were taken out of combat and posted to flight schools or given organizational duties after a certain number of missions were flown. Guys like Bong did fudge at times while on training flights in battle areas to shoot down aircraft that "threatened the flight." If he'd been sent to non-combatant areas to train men he would have scored less, of course.

The Japanese and German pilots had no such luxury. Both systems in place in the 1930s aimed at producing a few excellent pilots. By contrast Allied thinking was to produce a lot of very good pilots and give them very good or excellent equipment. By rate of attrition the latter theory would triumph as more men were fed into the training systems. Japan and Germany seemed to count on a finite number of individuals with long, rigorous training bounded by very high goals.

So we know what worked to win the war. On the other hands these very circumstances allowed skilled aces to excel in scoring. Most of the high scorers flew and fought for several years. Sakai's score was cut short when in mid-1942 he was severely wounded. He had over two years of recuperation. In Germany it was the same. Pilots were needed for as long as the war would last.

During WW I Germany's von Richthofen's 80 victories were not later questioned nor were Britain's Billy Bishop's' 72. There were far fewer planes in the air at any time since far fewer even existed. Perhaps the ratio between the top scorers on each side was not relatively lopsided. At any rate the opportunity to encounter enemy aircraft was much lower than WW II.  In WW I a rigorous two-part claim system dictated that the enemy aircraft be found on the ground after destruction and that the kill be witnessed by air or ground personnel. Obviously when ships crashed behind enemy lines confirmation was impossible. During the first three-fourths of the war the Germans were favored by the geography of things. By WW II a witness was still absolutely required for a claim to be awarded. German gun cameras were not widespread.

As we skip back to WW II we note that most Allied pilots flew 100-150 missions generally before being rotated to non-combatant duties. Dick Bong scored his 40 during 146 missions over 400 hours. Thunderbolt ace, Bob Johnson tallied 28 after just 91 missions. German pilots by luck and skill survived many more missions forced by the necessity of their country's survival attempt.

American bomber crews were relegated to 25 missions for their tours before going home. The average plane and crew lasted just 15 missions before being shot down so the odds weren't with them. But a growing number did make their 25 after long-range fighter escort became common.

Germany was fighting on two fronts early on. In the West several pilots excelled in the African desert against British and American enemies. A stand-out was Hans Marseille with 158 victories (151 NA- NorthArfica/7 in Battle of Britain WF- Western front) scored in 382 missions. But since we cannot determine on how many of these missions he or any pilot actually met enemy aircraft we must draw ratios from total missions flown and total victories produced. Before he struck the tail bailing out of his Bf 109G and died in September 1942 he'd been fighting for just two years. When the African campaign closed Marseille's group JG 27 went to the Eastern Front. It stands to reason that he could have doubled the number there if he'd survived. The point is that many did survive.

Now we must confront the meat of the large claims. This was the state of affairs on the Russian Front itself. Most aces that ended up there had begun their scoring in the Battle of Britain, like Marseille, with a few even commencing in the Spanish Civil War. When the Luftwaffe entered the area it was easy pickings. This statement is not meant to diminish any ace's score. Many American aces in Europe figured their counterparts in the Pacific had it easier with so many flammable Japanese planes to shoot at. Too many variables make serious comparison valid. But when German fighters and bombers opened up operations the Red Air Force was a sorry outfit. The quality of pilots and equipment was deplorable. Early Soviet aircraft were outdated, poorly armed and armored and had dubious maneuverability. Couple this with unskilled pilots and we have a formula for disaster. The formula was a windfall for Luftwaffe pilots however. Their onslaught resulted in escalating kill totals for pilots that were just "good" much less excellent.  This was a target rich environment at first until the Red plane's ranks were decimated. While things did not go as well in the long term on the ground the Luftwaffe rarely failed to stay ahead in the aerial kill to loss ratios. Stalin drew in his manufacturing facilities as a squid retracts its wounded tentacles. East of the Ural mountains plants were set up to manufacture weapons for the Soviet forces, which were out of range of Luftwaffe bombers.

With a full bore effort to modernize the Russian aircraft types better planes soon debuted to blunt the German war lance. Were they superior to Bf 109s and FW 190s? This opens an endless debate. Certainly they were produced in vast numbers as the Americans did their planes. Both the USA and USSR had immense natural resources within their national borders and exploited the fact. LaGGs, Yaks, Ilyushins and MiGs were assembled like so many Big Macs at the lunch rush. They swarmed en masse at the fronts to counter the Luftwaffe. But the elements of the big picture were still favoring the German ace. Relative to the time line of the war, the German aces were at the zenith of their strength. They enjoyed sufficient serviceable aircraft and spare parts and possessed the crucial ingredient- experience. It is quite detached to sit over half century hence and state that Luftwaffe aces rapidly escalated their scores. They did, but the intricate details of battles, living conditions and service of planes in the harsh conditions must be recognized. It was not a flight sim experience of safely knocking down several Russian planes a day. Much fighting was over and behind moving battle lines that dictated a sad end if a plane made a forced landing or a bail out was needed. The danger was present from the large numbers of Red fighters and the constant threat of anonymous ground fire.

As stated earlier, the typical American pilot was in a combat arena for usually about a year to make his tour. Missions were long and not scheduled every day so the opportunity to encounter enemies to shoot at were reduced. The defenders, on the other hand, had short defensive missions and often flew several sorties a day for years. In Russia even the offensive missions were of short duration due to the forward location of most combatant airfields in relation to the ground action. So, again, multiple missions could be flown in the span of a day. We can conclude that the Luftwaffe had their cake and ate it too with the best circumstances of encountering targets no matter how the war was going in the East or West.

So we are left with the math. How many kills did a pilot achieve versus the number of missions flown? This does not take into account any marksmanship or rounds expended per kill as most of this is unknown save for rare cases. We can develop a kill ratio by this method keeping in mind the wild card factor of missions flown where no contact was made. This is regrettable but necessary since those figures do not exist. Certain pilots probably have better KRs, Kill Ratios, than stated but we'll never know.

The premier ace Erich Hartmann accumulated 352 K, kills, over a staggering 1,425 M, missions, and made his CD, combat debut, in October 1942 producing a KR of 4.05. All victories were EF, Eastern Front. Note that any ratio less that Hartmann's 4.05 is better.

We divide the number of missions flown by the number of kills credited for our kill ratio. Hartmann got a kill on average every four missions. That's our formula. See how some top, well-known Luftwaffe pilots rank:

Gerhard Barkhorn- 301 K, 1,104 M, CD 8/40, KR 3.67 EF
Gunther Rall- 275 K, 621 M, CD 1940, KR 2.26, 272 EF-3 WF
Otto Kittel- 267 K, 583 M, CD 10/41, KR 2.18, all EF
Walter Nowotny- 258 K, ??M, CD 2/41, KR ??, 255 EF- 3 WF
Wilhelm Batz- 237 K, 445 M, CD 12/42, KR 1.88, 232 EF- 3 WF
Erich Rudorffer- 222 K, 1,000+ M, CD 3/40, KR est. 4.50, 135 EF- 26 NA-60 WF
Heinz Baer- 220 K, 1,000+ M, CD 9/39, KR est. 4.54, 79 EF- 83 WF- 45 NA
Hans-Joachim Marseille- 158 K, 382 M, CD mid 1940, KR 2.42, 7 WF 151 NA
Werner Molders- 115 K, 300+ M, CD 1937, KR est. 2.61, 33 EF- 14 Spain- 68 WF
Adolf Galland- 104 K, 425 M, CD 1937, KR 4.09, WF

Night Fighters:
Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer- 121 K, 164 M, CD 4/42, KR 1.36, WF
Helmet Lent- 110 K (8 day), 300 est. M, CD 9/39, KR est.2.73, WF
Heinrich Prinz zu Sayn-Wittgenstein- 83 K, ?? M, CD 8/41, KR ?? 29 EF-

The total number of victories does not mean the KR was high. Many were actually better than Hartmann. He excelled due to high number of missions flown. Others with the best KRs had fewer kills and missions flown but scored better in the ratio. Here are the best showing kills and kill ratios only:

Gunter Scheel- 71 K, 0.99 KR
Werner Schroer- 114 K, 1.73 KR
Walter Loos- 38 K, 1.74 KR
Wilhelm Batz- 237 K, 1.88 KR
Heinrich Setz- 138 K, 1.99 KR
Wolf Ettel- 124 K, 2.02 KR
Otto Kittel- 267 K, 2.18 KR
Gunther Rall- 275 K, 2.26 KR
Gordon Gollob- 150 K, 2.27 KR
Anton Resch 91 K, 2.31 KR

Relative to kill ratio Marseille at 2.42 KR ranks 17th and Hartmann at 4.05 KR is only 70th with Galland at 4.09 KR being 72nd.

Only a handful of fighter pilots flew 1,000 or more sorties. Hartmann's 1,425 is the highest found recorded. It seems to correlate that more missions equals more total kills with all else on a par. The best baseball players play in more games and have more at-bats to amass high totals. By the same token other players hit the ball in a higher ratio to times at bat but have played in less games so totals are lower. So it was in the Luftwaffe during World War II.

The few superb could not make up for the many average that were rushed through pilot training in Japan and Germany later on. Starting off the war with a "few good men" system never allowed them to balance things out. The few that excelled were highly talented and lucky either by surviving or being immersed in target rich arenas of combat.

The reader can be the judge of whether all these claims are valid. Over 200 aces claim 60 or more. We know that confirmation is not always 100%. All nation's pilots have over estimated kills in heated battles. Some "probables" land and fly again. Some "damaged" crash and burn. The area where most of these victories occurred is Russia and numbers have never been honestly established nor have simple production figures for all aircraft come forth. It is natural that the closed society of Russia in WW II would not publish that they lost so many planes on such and such dates all the while boasting of high production amounts. Basically by not saying much they are actually saying, '" we built a lot of planes but didn't lose that many."

Luftwaffe Major Werner Mölder was the 1st ace to reach 100 victories. Major Gordon Gollob was the 1st to reach the 150 mark. Hermann Graf and Walter Nowotny were 1st to get 200 and 250 respectively. The 1st ace to score 300 was Erich Hartmann. He was the 1st and only to reach 350 and ended up as the world's ace of aces with 352.

The man with the best average per sortie was Leutnant Güther Scheel who scored 71 kills in 70 missions. Emil Lang scored the most in a day with 18. But the distinction of the most on one mission goes to Erich Rudorffer with 13 on November 6, 1942 over Russia. While Erich Hartmann had the greatest score in the Eastern Front Hans-Joachim Marseille got the most against Western enemies with 158.

Due to the high number of missions flown and target rich environments 107 German aces scored 100 or more. At night 23 German aces scored 50 or more with the top night fighter ace being Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer at 121. All were multi-engine planes too.

Official Soviet figures state that over 36,000 IL-2s alone were built. Published figures for Yak, LaGG and others planes would make at least 100,000. Then with all the rest of the types we know of, a great many more aircraft were constructed. Is over 6,000 kills possible amongst the top 35 Luftwaffe aces against the Red Air Force? Absolutely.

combat sortie effectiveness, by R Leonard

There has to be some criteria besides just the gross number of credited victories.

Being in the performance statistics analysis end of government work, however, I would not have used missions per victory, though. I'd reverse it and victories per mission. And I'd take it one step further and use victories per combat or contact mission. That way no one gets penalized for missions spent merely boring holes in the sky.

If you were to look, for example, carrier aviators, sub-species - fighter pilots, one finds that there are a lot of missions/flights of the Combat Air Patrol variety where here's the ace of the base tooling around, loaded for bear, and the bears don't come out of their caves to play. Using just a flown mission as a measuring factor then, penalizes him and inflates the KR rating. Carrier fighter pilots tended to, and still do, fly many a CAP mission where the probability of enemy contact is absolutely Zero (no pun intended) yet the mission must be flown anyway.

In USN service, missions were generically called "Flights" and the subset of Flights, "Action Sorties". A "Flight" meant a given aircraft was loaded up with gas, ammo and stores and sent off into the blue. An "Action Sortie" meant said aircraft, or any aircraft in its type task organization, made contact with enemy forces of any kind during a "Flight." For example, if a four-plane division of fighters escorts some dive bombers and the dive bombers do their work whilst the fighters circle around overhead, then the dive bombers are counted as action sortie, but the fighters are not. If one enemy plane appears as the dive bombers are doing their mischief and one of the fighters shoots it down, then all four fighters get counted for action sorties and the shooter gets credit for the victory, theory being, any of the fighter pilots could have possibly engaged the enemy and even if they hadn't, they were protecting the one who scored. Simply put, just boring holes in the sky doesn't count as an action sortie. Real world, for example, my father flew about 270 of what one could call fighter sorties in WWII, i.e., loaded and ready for action in the air in a combat zone. The vast, vast majority of these were "Flights" with no combat action, mostly CAPs and escort missions. On four occasions, the Japanese happened to make an appearance in the same airspace in which he and his cohorts were operating; thus, out of the 270, he had a total of four air action sorties in which he shot down a total of six enemy aircraft. There were also two other action sorties involving strafing of enemy naval vessels. By your method, then his KR is something like 45.0. Using action sorties as the basis, though, his combat sortie effectiveness (CSE = victories/action sorties) is in the range of 1.0. By comparison with a more well known personage, there's Lt. Cdr. Jimmy Thach, who flew goodness knows how many "flights," and who happens to have flown a total of five sorties that involved contact with the enemy:

20 Feb 1942 - 1st sortie, F4F-3, CAP: credit for 0.5 G4M
20 Feb 1942 - 2nd sortie, F4F-3, CAP: credit for 2.5 G4M
10 Mar 1942 - 1 sortie, F4F-3, Lae-Salamaua Raid: strafing enemy shipping
4 Jun 1942 - 1st sortie, F4F-4, Midway, Strike CAP: credit for 3 A6M
4 Jun 1942 - 2nd sortie, F4F-4, CAP: credit for 1 B5N, plus 1 damaged

Total five action sorties, i.e., those with actual enemy contact, only four of which involved combat with enemy aircraft, total 7 credits His CSE then could be calculated as 1.4. Obviously, with CSE's, the higher the number, the better.

So, looking at Hartmann (and folks who want to correct my numbers please feel free, my specialty is Pacific Naval Aviation so my working knowledge of European flyers and their numbers is somewhat - oh hell, is greatly - lacking), as I understand it, he had some 352 victories. These were in the course of some 1400 flights, of which about 850 or so could be considered action sorties. We can calculate his approximate CSE, then, as 352/850 or 0.4.

Your results may vary.

Please do not mistake me. I am not saying any one pilot is "better" than another. What I am saying is that there must be a way to statistically examine the record and establish bench marks beyond XYZ number of credits. It seems that as soon as folks start talking about gross numbers of victories the conversation rapidly degenerates into something like:

A: "My guy, Otto Hadstehdenbed, shot down 562 Klingons. That was what he was credited with, that's what he got, end of story.

B: "Well, my guy, Sammy Snowflake, shot down 235 Romulans.

A: "No way Snowflake got all those kills. Those Klingons credited victories just for pulling the trigger. Can't hold a candle to Hadstehdenbed . . . he really did shoot down all those Klingons, you know.

B: *eruption* "BS! He did not, no way anyone could have racked up a score like that!!!

A: *bigger eruption* " Did too!!

And so on, and so on. Not a game I'm at all willing to play.

I think that using statistics to level out the operational differences is the way to go, but I suppose there would have to be some agreement as to how to go about it. My position is that the "action sortie" is the key to normalizing the data. The use of a gross number of "flights" or "missions," not taking into account world-wide, service-wide, differences in operational tempos, in my opinion, distorts the final answer. Whether you divide victories by action sorties or divide action sorties by victories is neither here nor there as long as you always do it the same way. I tend toward the latter as the CSE calculation method just as a matter of personal preference.

ammunition expenditure, by Twitch

R Leonard- Certainly the optimum formula would be kills vs. number of missions with enemy contact but it is totally impossible to obtain anything like that other than on a very limited scale basis since one would have to go through every pilot's log book. 

People will always have favorite aces for sure. The guys that got 5 or more in a mission must rank high in some statistical way too. There's just lots of ways to measure the great ones. Hans Marseille could make a case for kills vs. ammo rounds expended as consistently being the best since he used few rounds to bring 'em down. But again, this is not feasible either since we don't have all that info from every combat that took place.  Dave McCampbell averaged 266 rounds per plane when he had his flight of nine. Throughout his career no one knows what his ratio of ammo use per kill was.

There's just too much we don't know besides total number of missions and victories. So the way you mentioned or this way is the only half way good ways there are to gauge things.

Saburo Sakai and Hiroshi Nishizawa, by Al Lowe

According to Henry Sakaida's "Imperial Japanese Navy Aces 1937-45 - Osprey Aircraft of the Aces No. 22," Saburo Sakai never claimed 64 victories. So far, Sakai never claimed any number of victories at the end of the war. The number 64 was a number that author Martin Caiden arrived at by his own method when he, Fred Saito and Saburo Sakai were putting Sakai's book together. Henry Sakaida puts Sakai's score at 60+. Also, Nishizawa did not have 103 Victories, never claimed 103 victories, and according to his last CO, Commander Harutoshi Okamoto, Nishizawa told him his score was 86.

I recommend Sakaida's book for anyone interested in JNAAF aces. It puts some wild stories to rest, including many about Sadaaki Akamatsu. According to what Saburo Sakai told Henry Sakaida, Akamatsu, while a hard drinker, NEVER raced to his fighter from his favorite brothel dressed only in a robe and clogs. In other words, the story about him doing so, in Sakai's book, was the heavy hand of Martin Caiden.

von Richthofen's and Bishop's scores, by Al Lowe

by Twitch

OK what about Akamatsu's boasting when drinking he believed he'd downed about 120 E/A? Is that bogus too? If it was ME being co-written about ([i][/i]Samurai[i][/i])I sure wouldn't have allowed stretching of truths if that is actually the case.

So far as I can find out, the boasting was real. So was the drinking. It was the story of his arrival in a jalopy that Sakai denies.

Regarding von Richthofen's and Bishop's scores. Both scores were questioned after the war. Richthofen's was questioned mostly by RFC/RAF ace Taffy Jones. He avidly hated the Red Baron, and would disparage him in print whenever he got the chance. Bishop's score came into question much later. If you go to, you can find a lot about it there.

Re: Richthofen, by Lucky

Much of the effort to verify or discount Richthofen's claims was that he was heavily used by the Imperial German Government for propaganda purposes. In addition to parading him around they also produced a biography which he dictated but was actually written by a professional. However Richthofen had the rather macabre practice of landing and visiting the wrecks of the planes he downed, cutting off the plane's numerical designation (or writing it down). Afterwards he had a custom silver cup engraved with this number as well as the name (s) of the downed airmen. He displayed all of his cups on a shelf which was moved to his family home after his death. However since his estate was located in present day Poland, after WW2 and the Russian occupation it was confiscated and to my knowledge it's whereabouts or (or whether the collection even still exists) is least as far as I've read. Richthofen was a disciple of Boelcke and as his master taught him, whenever possible dove out of the sun at his victims. Since he also had the habit of hunting in the early morning, the bulk of his kills occurred over German territory and were readily verified.

Another great pilot of the first world war, Raoul Lufbery shared the flying habits of Richthofen but this meant also doing his killing over German-controlled soil, thus his official record of kills is almost certainly vastly understated...something Lufbery was aware of at the time, but didn't fact this was probably the major distinction between Lufbery and Richthofen. Although the western allies had good reasons to attempt to belittle Richthofen's accomplishments, he was well respected by the airmen of both sides. In fact upon learning of Richthofen's death, a British pilot carried a memorial wreath and dropped it over Richthofen's aerodrome. It is also true that whether the final tally of 80 kills is absolutely correct or not, the fact remains that nobody on either side came close to achieving his record, or disputes his honored place in the history of aerial combat.

Taffy Jones and WWI scores, by Al Lowe

Taffy Jones liked to vilify MvR because he just hated him. He seemed to hate just about anyone with a higher score than his late wingmate, Mick Mannock. That's part of the reason he inflated Mannock's score to 73, because he hated Bishop. 

US versus German aces - by MK2

The reason the Luftwaffe scores where higher is because they had more opportunity but not exactly because of more targets (although that is true as well) but rather more missions. 

USAAF Aces were rotated out after 60 (most of the time) Hartmann and Barkhorn flew over 1000 combat sorties. As an example, Robert Johnson had 27 in 60 missions, that puts him at a higher strike rate per mission than let's say Erich Hartmann (I am not for a second suggesting Robert Johnson was a better Ace than Erich Hartmann, simply stating a fact). He simply was not allowed to fly 1000 combat sorties.