LUFTWAFFE EXPERTEN, Fact or Fiction?
By Jeff Kenneday
Updatet version: 12/6/04
All throughout conflict, the claims of damage caused to the enemy
has been far in excess of the actual damage incurred. Partly to
keep morale high, but often in the honest opinion that the damage
had been inflicted upon the enemy.
This discrepancy has been highlighted in the 20th Century where
the claims made by U-Boat & Submarine Commanders, Pilots and
Air Gunners became of great importance to the various propaganda
units and the inflated claims passed on to history.
Ludovic Kennedy, in his book "Pursuit" which covers the
chase for the Bismark and its destruction refers to the attack by
Admiral Vian & his Destroyers;(I have paraphrased this) "Claims
were submitted by the Destroyers for 3, possibly 4 hits on Bismark.
However no hits were made, equally Bismark claimed to have sunk
a Destroyer and damage caused to others. All claims were made in
good faith, the crews after hours at action stations EXPECTED to
make hits, and they saw what they assumed they would see, so any
unusual explosions were assumed to have been hits and were claimed
as such." Similarly for the Fighter Pilots, I have fired at
the enemy; I believe I had hit him, that 'plane going down in smoke
must be mine.
After WW2, the claims by USN Submarine commanders were officially
reviewed and a substantial number of claimed sinkings disallowed,
and in a few cases, increased. The claims made by RAF & USAAF
fighter pilots were discounted (and often ridiculed) after access
was allowed into the records of the Luftwaffe and Japanese Air Forces.
However, despite the awarded victories soaring above 350, the victory
claims of Luftwaffe pilots were considered above reproach, that
the Luftwaffe had a system that was meticulous and carefully researched
The Decoration system of the Luftwaffe was also closely tied to
the Victories awarded, Aircraft types had points allocated to them
and a certain number of points resulted in the award being posted.
Added to this, was the Political situation which could have easily
been used to "coerce" other pilots to confirm claims.
Some Pilots, Marseille for one, seemed to have their claims confirmed
much faster than the system implies, and whose careers were closely
monitored by the Armed Services Press.
Recently however, the information has surfaced which allows us
to compare the "kills" awarded to Luftwaffe Pilots against
the losses incurred by the RAF on a day by day basis. Startling
discrepancies appear between those numbers which were awarded as
kills and the actual losses suffered by the RAF.
The period up to the end of the Battle of Britain, November 1 1940
provides a capsule in time where claims and losses can be compared
and where a good base of data appears. Specific USAAF 8th Air Force
& Bomber Command Raids can also be compared, though while Allied
information shows the total losses, they often do not distinguish
Flak, & "Other" losses from those where the Aircraft
was Shot Down. It is therefore not unlikely that Allied losses can
be greater than the claims made for their destruction.
In this article I will try to compare come of these Days, comparing
the claims approved by the OKL Administration which tally up to
the claims made by the Luftwaffe experten, you can see each of the
Victories awarded to Galland, Marseille, Steinhof, Munchenberg etc,
against the losses suffered by the RAF. Some days, usually when
the numbers involved were highest, the discrepancies where high.
On the quieter days the numbers were closer.
I do not attempt to denigrate the efforts and skills of the Luftwaffe
Experten; they fought a much harder war than the RAF and their chances
to accumulate Victories much higher. Neville Duke, one of the high
scoring RAF pilots with 28 "kills" entered the action
in April 1941, was sent on 2, 6 month rest periods and left combat
about 6 months before wars end, therefore being in action for about
36 months flying about 490 sorties, added to this was the rarity
in which Luftwaffe aircraft were sighted after late 1943. The Luftwaffe
wore their Pilots into the ground, though the number of Allied Aircraft
in the skies made finding their foe much easier. Hartmann did not
get posted to JG52 until August 1942, was consistantly flying up
to 4 missions each day flying over 1400 missions through some of
the worst flying weather on earth. I am unable to compare any figures
for the war in the East, I am unsure that even the Red Air Force
knew the actual size of their losses, and leave this field for someone
else to investigate.
18 DECEMBER 1939 HELIGOLAND BIGHT
On 18 December 1939, the RAF decided to mount a raid on the German
fleet at Wilhelm shaven and orders were drafted for 24 Wellington
Medium bombers to carry out the raid. 9 aircraft from 149 Squadron,
9 from 9 Squadron and 6 from 37 Squadron were selected to "Attack
enemy warships in the Schillig Roads or Wilhelmshaven. Great care
is to be taken to ensure that no bombs fall on shore"
While 24 Wellington's took off, 2 from 149 Sqn returned to base
early leaving 22 to carry on. The bombers managed to successfully
fly over the German Fleet, but their Orders about bombing German
soil caused the abortion of the raid as the leader decided the ships,
tied up in Port where too close to shore to be bombed. It was only
after they turned for home did the German Fighters attack.
The ensuing massacre saw thew shooting down of 10 Wellingtons,
nearly 50% of the attacking force, however the Fighters claimed
to have destroyed 34 Victories, over 150% of the attackers though
OKL pruned this down to 26, still more than the force started with.
What happened to the excellent Luftwaffe system which has been
held above reproach, and stand as the solid base for the amazing
claims by its pilots?
In a frantic, swirling battle, it wasn't hard to ASSUME your shots
had caused the fatal damage, especially to a Bomber which took a
good amount of damage to destroy. You make your run, score solid
hits, flash past at 300mph+, when you turn you see a 'plane fall
out of the sky, It MUST be yours, and your wingman confirms it as
he sees the same thing.
An excuse can be made that the action was over the sea, and destroyed
aircraft could not be investigated.
JULY 1940-OCTOBER 1940 THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN.
The Battle of France was a wild melee, Allied Units continually
falling back and the advancing Germans meant that both sides could
be excused for poor paperwork.
After the collapse of France , the Luftwaffe turned to England
and after some sparring over Convoys, on 10 July began what is known
as The Battle of Britain.
Through out the Battle, which continued to 31 October 1940, the
Luftwaffe Propaganda machine claimed to have destroyed over 3000
RAF aircraft, clearly exceeding the size of the RAF at the time.
OKL officially credited its Pilots with the destruction of about
1955 Spitfires & Hurricanes (I have deducted Defiants, Blenheims
and other aircraft) which compares unfavourably with the RAF losses
of either 932 ("The Narrow Margin" by Wood & Dempster)
or 755 Spitfires & Hurricanes (Fighter Command Losses &
Casualties by Frank) Included in the RAF losses are those which
were shot down by Bombers, and not included in the OKL figures but
not those which "crash landed at an airfield" and were
repaired. It is hard to pick out those shot down by the Bombers
as many final moments are not clear and they are only listed as
In this period, the reputation of many Luftwaffe experten were
built upon, but it appears that their tallies must be inflated.
Marseille, The Star of Africa, was awarded his first kill on 8 September
for a Spitfire, on the same day 4 other Spitfires were claimed though
the RAF only lost 1, was Marseille mistaken and he destroyed a Hurricane,
OKL awarded 8 Hurricane kills but Frank's details only 4 as being
shot down!! Marseille went on to claim 6 other victories over the
Channel, none of which are detailed in any official records but
go to make up his tally of 158 "kills".
Other days with "interesting" results
Date OKL Awards Narrow Margin/Franks
10 July 27 5/1
11 July 2 4/7
29 July 18 3/3
8 August 38 19/15
11 August 55 32/26
15 August 87 34/30
18 August 86 27/29
31 August 97 37/39
6 September 58 23/20
7 September 72 28/23
15 September 69 26/27
27 September 79 28/24
30 September 54 20/14
By the end of the Battle RAF losses were only 47.67% of OKL awards
according to The Narrow Margin or 38.62% according to Franks. (Some
of this difference are the Defiants, Blenheims etc. which I didn't
tally in the Franks figures.)
Added to these figures are the accuracy of aircraft types (a problem
throughout the war to all sides) OKL awarded 712 Hurricane kills
and 1243 Spitfire kills , Franks tallies to 470 Hurricanes and only
285 Spitfires. This would probably be attributed to the "desire"
to shoot down the better aircraft. Claims were also awarded for
some odd types, a continual reference to Hawks or Hawk-75's, a Radial
engined aircraft totally different to any RAF fighter, some Morane's,
a Bloch MB 151, and a Bregeut Bre693(more possible as this was close
to the fall of France)
8th Air Force raids on Schweinfurt in 1943 are interesting, as
are the victories awarded over Dieppe in August 1942
In 1943, the USAAF flew 2 raids on the German Ball Bearing plants
at Schweinfurt, on 17 August, 376 B-17 Flying Fortress's were involved,
USAAF losses were about 60 B-17's plus many which were scrapped
upon landing. This was a loss rate of around 16%.
However, OKL awarded 94 B-17 and 4 P-47 Victories. Given the ability
of the Luftwaffe to investigate the damage on the ground, how do
they explain a 50% over claim.
On 14 October, a second raid was mounted, this was an even greater
disaster in that of the 291 Bombers sent out, another 60 were destroyed
in Combat, nearly 20% losses. But OKL was to excel and awarded 146
B-17 Kills, half of the attacking force, and once again it was within
their ability to examine wreckage.
Both raids were intercepted outside Allied fighter cover, so the
Luftwaffe Interceptors could operate without continual harassment,
so how did they manage to have approved about 250 Kills as against
actual losses of 120
THE WESTERN DESERT
An excellent work, Desert Warriors by Russell Brown covers the
Desert Air Force Tomahawk & Kittyhawk Squadrons.
The Foreword is by Bobby Gibbes, a high scoring Australian pilot
of the North African theatre.
"It was not possible for a Desert Pilot to have a victory confirmed
without a witness. Our aircraft were not equipped with camera-guns,
so we had no photographic record of combats fought. It was so difficult
to get confirmation that on 1 occasion I did not bother to submit
a sortie report even though I confirmed it myself afterwards when
driving from the airfield at Bir Durfan to the area. I found the
wreckage of the bf109 with the body of the dead pilot still inside
After the war I became a friend of Erhard Braune, ex commander
of III/JG27. In a discussion with him on tactics etc, I asked why
the claims of some Luftwaffe pilots appeared unrealistic as they
DIDN'T ADD UP TO OUR KNOWN LOSSES.
He told me that these high claims 'HELPED THE MORALE OF THE GERMAN
15 September 1942
JG27 escorting Stukas intercept the attacking fighters and are awarded
19 Victories. 11 by I Gruppe, 1 by II Gruppe, 7 by III Gruppe
However, the P-40's intercepting this Stuka raid were put up by
239 Wing, 36 Kittyhawks from 250 Sqn , 3 RAAF, 450 RAAF, 112 Sqns
. Only SIX Kittyhawks failed to return, one which was claimed to
be shot down by friendly AA Fire. (2 losses from 250 Sqn, 2 from
3 Sqn, 1 each from 450 & 112 Sqns)
12 Oct 1941
Allied losses, 2 P-40's were shot down, 1 crashed on landing, 1
crashed inside Allied lines.
4 kills were awarded, 2 to Marseille, 1 to Sinner & Franzikest
30 Oct 1941
Allied losses of 2 P-40's and 1 damaged
4 kills awarded, 3 to Schulz, 1 to Schacht
22 May 1942
1 P-40 shot down, 1 missing and 1 crash landed at base.
5 kills awarded.
1 June 1942
1 P-40 shot down, 1 damaged
3 P-40's claimed, 1 Hurricane claimed despite not being present.
3 September 1942
2 P-40's shot down, 1 crash landed at base.
6 kills awarded, 3 to Marseille & 3 to Stahlschmidt (including
a Spitfire, not present)
5 September 1942
2 Spitfires shot down, 1 P-40 shot down and 1 damaged
9 Kills awarded, 4 (All P-40) to Marseille, 2 to Stahlschmidt and
3 to Rodel
15 September 1942
5 P-40 shot down and 1 shot down by own LAA
7 kills for Marseille, 4 to Krainek, 3 to Schroer (incl Spitfire)2
for von Lieres and singles to Homuth, Bornger, Grube & Stuckler.
Russell Brown also states,
The inability of the German Fighter force to support its ground
forces effectively, contrasted sharply with the evolution of the
RAF's tactics and operational procedures as the Desert War progressed.
The tactical use of Medium Bombers, and the highly effective Kittyhawks
which were able to offer direct support to the troops with their
bombing and strafing was never matched by the Luftwaffe. The fact
that many of the fighter pilots ran up big personal scores was irrelevant
to the prosecution of the war and the undue emphasis placed on such
achievements was an indication of the failure by German Commanders
at all levels to understand the principles of Air Power.
(Of his "158 Victories, Marseille only claimed 3 Bombers,
1 Blenheim and 2 Marylands.)
DIEPPE 19 AUGUST 1942
One of the biggest air battles of the war, saw the RAF claim around
120 Kills against Luftwaffe losses of about 40
On the Luftwaffe side , claims awarded were 113, against Allied
losses of about 100. This appears to be close until you look at
the reason for the losses.
The RAF appears to have lost only 48 Aircraft in Air-Air Combat,
with a further 14 Aircraft who failed to Return to Base (7 of these
Mustang Ia on long range recce).
27 losses were said to be due to AA Fire.
Many Aircraft which did return to England were badly damaged and
either destroyed on landing or faced lengthy rebuilds.
Th Luftwaffe claimed 105 Spitfires, but A-A losses were 34 Spitfire
Vb, 2 Spitfire Vc, 2 Spitfire VI & 5 Spitfire IX, a total of
(Not included in Luftwaffe claims was a Typhoon Ia of 266 Sqn shot
down by a Spitfire!)
ps. It is possible that Allied losses should have added to them,
8 Spitfire V's of the USAAF which were lost on this day.
THE LONG OFFENSIVE FRANCE/ENGLAND & THE CHANNEL 1941
During 1941 the RAF began to turn the tide against the Luftwaffe,
many raids were mounted over the French Ports and those Airfields
within range of the RAF Fighters. These tactics saw a continual
drain on RAF numbers, many experienced fighter pilots were lost
for minimal return.
A small force of Luftwaffe fighters kept the RAF busy, scoring
far more effectively than their opposite numbers. However the traditional
Fighter Pilot quality of claiming victories continued.
Records show that the kills awarded to Luftwaffe pilots numbered
nearly 1500. 850 of these for Spitfires, 100 for Hurricane, 161
Blenheim, 149 Wellington and 1 Lancaster??
However, RAF losses in air-air combat or "Failed to Return"
by Fighter Command numbered about 505, Luftwaffe claims against
similar models being 965. Of the 505 lost, 92 were Hurricane I or
II and 412 Spitfire I, II or V.
Just as in the Battle of Britain, the days with few claims would
bear reasonable resemblance, but many of the busier days saw excessive
awarding of kills by a multiple of 3-4 times.
4/7/41 3 Lost, 11 Kills awarded.
7/7/41 2 lost, 11 awarded
23/7/41 10 lost, 37 awarded
12/8/41 7 lost, 23 awarded.
As well as these Air to air losses, the RAF suffered heavy losses
to Flak and "other" operational causes. While heavy, the
losses are bearable, the failure was in the inability to cause any
substantial loss to the Luftwaffe or German Military installations.
OKL reports at www.luftboard.ndo.co.uk
The Narrow Margin by Derek Wood & Derek Dempster
Test Pilot by Neville Duke
Bomber Command by Max Hastings
Horrido by Raymond Toliver & Trevor Constable
The Story of Air Fighting & Full Circle by J.E (Johnnie) Johnson
Fighter Pilots of the RAF 1939-45 by Chas Bowyer
Fighter Command Losses by Norman Franks
Hans Joachim Marseille by Kursowick
Fly for your Life (Stanford-Tuck)
Ace of Aces (Pattle)
Ginger Lacey - Fighter Pilot
The First to the Last - Galland
& too many others to note.
Toliver & Constable in "Horrido- The Fighter Aces of
the Luftwaffe" say:
There was no possibility, as with the RAF or USAAF pilots, of having
a victory credited because the claiming officer was a gentleman
and a man of his word. The German rule was simply. "no witness-no
The rule applied all the way up to the General of the Fighter Arm
himself, Adolf Galland........
The German system was impartial, inflexible, and far less error-prone
than either the British or American procedures. German Fighter pilots
frequently had to wait several months, a year or sometimes even
longer for kill confirmation to reach them from German High Command.
However, the claims made often do not tally with the losses suffered
by the Allied Air Forces.
Luftwaffe Claims Confirmation Procedure
As noted on the Luftwaffe Scoring and Awards System page, "victory
claims" and "points" were two separate issues. Whenever
an Abschuss (Destruction) of an enemy aircraft was claimed a strict
procedure was followed before the claim was allowed.
Following the policy of "one pilot-one kill", the investigating
authorities would determine if the claiming pilot was solely responsible
for the destruction of the enemy plane. Every Abschuss had to be
observed by a witness: either a ground observer or the encounter,
the pilot's wingman, or a Staffelmate. Witnesses were necessary
unless the victor's aircraft had been fitted with a gun-camera and
the destruction of the plane or the vanquished pilot's bailout had
been recorded on film, if the wreckage of the downed pilot or other
crew member had been captured by German forces. In effect: No witness
or tangible evidence - no victory.
Every Abschuss had to be confirmed by the Oberbefehlshaber der Luftwaffe
or Commander in Chief of the Air Force. Jagdwaffe pilots were at
all times required to note their geographical position as well as
the type and number of the aircraft in enemy formations engaged.
Naturally, the victor was required to log the exact time of a kill,
while he maneuvered for a tactical advantage over the remaining
enemy aircraft! In addition, he had to observe other actions in
the air in order to be able to witness victories by his Staffelmates.
Upon landing, the claimant prepared his Abschuss report for review
by the immediate supervisory officer, who either endorsed or rejected
the claim. If endorsed, the pilot's report to the Geschwaderstab,
or Wing Staff, which, in turn, filed its report and sent both to
the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (RLM), or Air Ministry. After checking
all the papers that were submitted, the official confirmation was
prepared and sent to the unit. This very long bureaucratic procedure
sometimes took as long as a year! During 1944, another authority
was created: the Abschusskommission, which received all reports
on crashed aircraft remains found by search units. This commission
checked conflicting claims between antiaircraft batteries and fighter
pilots, and awarded credit for the victory to one claimant or the
other. This system ensured that no more credits would be awarded
than wrecks found.
The German system of confirming aerial victories was very effective
in keeping human errors and weaknesses within limits. Despite this,
the Oberkommando der Luftwaffe, or Luftwaffe High Command, considered
the large victory totals during the early days of the Russian campaign
as incredulous. On many occasions, they accused the Jagdgeschwader
Kommodores of exaggerating the victory scores. In effect Goering
was calling the frontline pilots liars. This was one of the grievances
that brought about the Mutiny of the Fighters, or the Kommodores'
Revolt Conference, in Berlin during January, 1945.
When a German fighter pilot scored a victory, he would call "Horrido"
on the radio. This distinctive announcement of victory alerted his
fellow pilots to watch for a crash or a flamer, as well as notify
ground stations, which helped to confirm many victories.
I only yesterday read this recently, from "Four Aces"
by Lex McAulay.(Page 62)
"The german fighters of JG2 and JG 26 claimed 13 Swordfish,
10 being confirmed by the official Luftwaffe system and a victory
credit given to the relevant pilots. The German ships also were
credited with the destruction of 6 Swordfish. It is acknowledged
by all concerned and accepted by historians and enthusiasts that
almost all victory claims for intense combats were exaggerated,
but to the author of this book there seems to have been a disproportionate
effort at disparaging Allied claims, while Luftwaffe claims have
been accepted, partly due to the thorough verification into each
claim by relevant Luftwaffe authorities, and the issue of a confirmatory
document for an individual claim. These documents appear to have
taken on the halo of irrefutable fact. Events such as the Channel
Dash call into question the accuracy of the Luftwaffe system. only
6 Swordfish took part and Ted Hall of 129 Sqn saw 3 shot down by
ships' fire; but 10 were officially credited to fighter pilots by
the Luftwaffe system.
"Luftwaffe Fighter Aces" by Mike Spick (about 30 books
published) which is an excellent story of the Experten and their
He has an interesting slant on this, almost an apology for the over
He implies the Luftwaffe claims are multiplied by 2 or 3 times the
He says the claims were made in "good faith", and examined
as rigourously "as the circumstances allowed"
He also states "That an aerial Victory occurs when an enemy
is DEFEATED in combat in circumstances where the victor believes
that it will be a total loss.
In another chapter he mentions this phrase but ends with "the
enemy aircraft can no longer take part in the battle"