Monday, May 1, 2006

Were they that good?

Many left comments on the post concerning the German Uber Ace Erich Hartmann, and most people got around to mentioning the Eastern Front vs. Western Front dichotomy, as I like to call it. This works in part, but Hartmann did shoot down 7 American P-51s in his Me-109 (the P-51 was a much superior aircraft) without being (technically) shot down by them (see below), although at one time he was swarmed by 8 P-51s and was forced to evade, working his way over the German lines, until his fuel ran out, he then bailed out. Although none of the 8 P-51s were able to hit Hartmann's aircraft with bullets. Ironically, Hartmann states in one biography, that he expected the American pilots to shoot him in his parachute. The German pilots were told by the German High Command that this was normal American practice. So, whatever you think of the Luftwaffe, he had the skills. But, all in all, I think this is the best short answer:

From: Ace Pilots - Erich Hartmann

"...The top American ace of all time, the U.S. Ace of Aces was Richard Ira Bong. He shot down 40 Japanese planes in the Pacific.

Over the years, there's been a lot of ink spilled about the relative scores of German and American aces. 27 Americans shot down over 20 enemy planes. 15 Germans shot down over 200 planes, and more than 100 Luftwaffe experten downed at least 100 aircraft. Clearly, the German fighter pilots were not ten times better than their American counterparts.

In large part, the differences can be attributed to one man: Joseph Stalin, who approached all Russian military problems with one concept: more! More planes, more pilots, and when they got shot down, even more planes and more pilots. Poorly trained, flying mediocre aircraft, the brave Russian pilots didn't have much of a chance.

Also important is the type of air warfare that the Soviets waged. They focused on ground support, on the tank-killing Il-2 Sturmoviks. And they were very successful. But the Sturmoviks, while deadly against German tanks, were no match for Hartmann and other aces flying Bf 109s and Fw 190s.

During the First World War, the top ace was the German Baron Manfred von Richthofen, with 80 kills; he was the "The Red Baron." The top American was Captain Eddie Rickenbacker with 26 aerial victories..."