Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Luftwaffe Aces...Supermen?

"Luftwaffe Day"
Flying Heritage Collection, Everett WA

If you look up "World War II aces" in Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_World_War_II_flying_aces) you will find something extraordinary.  The first several pages of the list of Aces of World War II is made up entirely of Luftwaffe pilots.

Last summer the Flying Heritage Collection in Everett, WA featured a "Luftwaffe Day" which I attended with my son (see http://americanconservativeinlondon.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/flying-heritage-collection.html).

Erich "Bubi" Hartmann, 1922 - 1993
Ace of Aces
At the top of the list of you will find Erich "Bubi" Hartmann (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erich_Hartmann) who was the top fighter ace of all time having scored an astonishing 352 confirmed victories, mostly on the Eastern front.  This highly-decorated pilot flew with the Luftwaffe from 1940 until May 8, 1945, V-E day, the last day of the war in Europe.

Bubi even shot down five American P-51s while based in Romania (see...http://americanconservativeinlondon.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/tommy-hitchcock-and-p-51-mustang.html).  He was surrendered to American forces in Czechoslovakia at the end of the war and was turned over to the Soviets who imprisoned him on trumped up war crimes for over ten years.  Hartmann was, of course, an extremely fortunate fellow who managed to survive the war and worked for the West German Bundeswehr air arm.

Focke Wolfe
Flying Heritage Collection, Everett, WA
Why is this?  Why is it that German pilots lead the list of World War II pilots?  The raw data compels one to ask an unsettling question, "Were the Germans really Supermen as  Goebbel's propaganda machine claimed?"

Many Germans were excellent pilots; they were not, however, supermen.  Hardly.

Some Luftwaffe pilots gained valuable combat experience flying in the Condor Legion during the Spanish civil war.  German aircraft outclassed all of their opponents, save the RAF, for the first three years of the war.  Luftwaffe aircraft were faster than the planes of the Red Air Force, giving them a significant advantage in air to air combat on the Eastern front.

Storch (type of plane used to rescue Mussolini in 1943)
Flying Heritage Collection, Everett, WA
The reason these pilots are at the top of this list actually points out a fundamental weakness of Hitler's war machine.  Simply put, the Germans were desperate!  Unlike the Allies, they did not allow Luftwaffe pilots to be rotated home to train new pilots, sell war bonds and generate positive home front propaganda.  These men, like Hartmann, were compelled to keep flying until they died, unless a miracle saved them from destruction.  Many other German aces such as Otto Kittel and Walter Nowotony were shot down during the war.  Heinrich Ehler rammed his fighter into an Allied plane on April 4, 1945.

Many Japanese pilots also outscored all Allied pilots.  The Japanese were just as desperate as their Germans allies though their planes were, in general, not as good as those of the Luftwaffe.

Ivan Kozhedub (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ivan_Kozhedub) from the Ukraine was the most successful Allied ace of World War II with 64 credited kills.  He survived the war and even shot down two American P-51s during the Korean war.

Major Richard Bong (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Bong) of the USAAF was the highest rated American ace of the war scoring at least 40 - enemy kills.  He was killed while working for Lockheed as a test pilot on August 8, 1945 -- the same day that the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.

Spitfire, RAF Museum Hendon
Marmaduke Pattle (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marmaduke_Pattle) of South Africa was the highest scoring RAF ace of the war with over 40 kills (see http://americanconservativeinlondon.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/raf-museum-hendon.html).  He was shot down and killed over Athens in 1941.

A handful of Luftwaffe aces, such as Erich Rudorffer and Walter Schuck, are still alive today (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erich_Rudorfferhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Schuck).  Their courage is undeniable though they fought for a morally tainted cause.

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