Confirmation and overclaiming of aerial victories during World War II
In aerial warfare, the term overclaiming describes a combatant (or group) that claims the destruction of more enemy aircraft than actually achieved. The net effect is that the actual losses and claimed victories are unequal.
Honest overclaiming typically occurs in one of two ways: (1) more than one fighter pilot attacks the same target in quick succession and when they see it destroyed each claims a victory in good faith, and (2) a target is hit and appears to go down, but the pilot is able to land the plane. In some instances of combat over friendly territory a damaged aircraft may have been claimed as an aerial victory by its opponent while the aircraft was later salvaged and restored to an operational status. In this situation the loss may not appear in the records while the claim remains confirmed.
Most discussion of overclaiming centers on air combat during World War II, because of the significant amount of air combat relative to conflicts before or since.
German methodology for confirming aerial victories
The Luftwaffe had, at least in theory, a very stringent approval process for the confirmation of aerial victories.
- Without a witness, a Luftwaffe fighter pilot had no chance to have his victory claim confirmed. Such a claim, even if filed, would not pass beyond group level.
- The final destruction or explosion of an enemy aircraft in the air, or bail-out of the pilot, had to be observed either on gun-camera film or by at least one other human witness. The witness could be the German pilot's wingman, another in the squadron, or an observer on the ground.
In practice, however, even in the early stages of the war, overclaiming by the Luftwaffe occurred. As the war entered its final, chaotic phase in 1945, many German aces' claims from late 1944 onward were left unvalidated due to the breakdown in administration within the Luftwaffe, and at times bore little relationship to reality.
In the 1990s, the German archives made available microfilm rolls of wartime records, not seen since January 1945, available to the public. These showed that while in theory the Luftwaffe did not accept a kill without a witness, which was considered only a probable, in practice some units habitually submitted unwitnessed claims and these sometimes made it through the verification process, particularly if they were made by pilots with already established records. In theory the Luftwaffe did not accept shared claims, but it happened. In theory each separate claim should have referred to a particular aircraft, but in practice some victories were awarded to other pilots who had claimed the destruction of the same aircraft. In 1943 the daily OKW communiques of this period habitually overstated American bomber losses by a factor of two or more. Defenders of German fighter pilots have always maintained that these were reduced during the confirmation process. But the microfilms prove this not to be the case. Some 80 - 90 percent of the claims submitted were confirmed or found to be "in order" for confirmation up to the time the system broke down altogether in 1945.
Examples of overclaiming
|18 December 1939||Luftwaffe and Royal Air Force||During the Battle of the Heligoland Bight German fighters claimed 38 Vickers Wellington bombers shot down. Actual British losses were 12 of the 22 bombers on the raid. The bombers gunners claimed 12 German fighters but just three were recorded as shot down.|
|10 July 1940||Luftwaffe||III./ZG 76 claimed 12 Hawker Hurricanes. The RAF lost just one Hurricane that day, in a collision with a Dornier Do 17|
|13 July 1940||Royal Air Force||No. 56 Squadron RAF claimed seven Ju 87s from Sturzkampfgeschwader 1 destroyed over Portland. StG 1 recorded the loss of only two Ju 87s shot down.|
|12 August 1940||Luftwaffe||The Germans claimed 22 British aircraft destroyed, actual British losses were 3. In one engagement Bf 109s from JG 2 claimed six RAF fighters, while bombers from KG 54 claimed 14. Only one fighter was shot down and six damaged.|
|18 August 1940||Luftwaffe||The Germans claimed 147 British aircraft destroyed, actual recorded British losses were 68.|
|15 September 1940||Royal Air Force||On the day termed as "the Battle of Britain Day", the RAF claimed 185 German aircraft shot down. German recorded losses were 60.|
|1940||Luftwaffe||Overall, German claims for British fighters destroyed during the Battle of Britain was 3,058 against recorded losses of 915 - 334% overclaiming, compared with RAF overclaiming of about 155%. This, coupled with underestimation of British production, had severe intelligence repercussions.|
|June 1941 - December 1941||Soviet Air Force||The Soviet Air Forces of the South Western Front claimed 85 Bf 109s. A further 53 were claimed by anti-aircraft units in October and another 54 in November. Only 31 Bf 109s were recorded as lost by the Luftwaffe in this period. VVS claims on the Eastern Front amount to 3,879, anti-aircraft units claimed 752, and a further 3,257 were claimed destroyed on the ground. The Luftwaffe reported the loss of 3,827 aircraft to all causes on the Eastern Front in 1941. The VVS overclaiming more than 100%.|
|June 1941 - December 1941||Royal Air Force||During this period RAF Fighter Command launched a sustained 'fighter offensive' over Northern Europe, designed to tie down Luftwaffe fighter units, and hence indirectly take pressure off the Eastern Front, and to hopefully draw those Luftwaffe units encountered into a war of attrition. Fighting exclusively over enemy territory, and thus usually unable to accurately verify their pilot's combat reports, Fighter Command claimed 711 Luftwaffe fighters shot down, while losing 411 of its own fighters. The loss to JG 2 and JG 26, the principal opponents, were reportedly just 103 fighters.|
|6 April 1942||Soviet Air Force||A Red Air Force unit claimed seven Finnish Brewsters shot down in a single action over Tiiksjärvi-Rukajärvi area and four destroyed on the ground. Not a single Finnish aircraft was confirmed by Finnish records. Soviet pilot V. I. Solomatin claimed to have shot down five Brewster fighters and was later honoured with Hero of the Soviet Union.|
|8 June 1942||Soviet Air Force||6 GIAP/VVS ChF claimed nine German aircraft shot down in a single action. Not a single German aircraft of any type was recorded as lost.|
|4 June 1942||Japanese Imperial Navy||In the attack on Midway Island Japanese Zero pilots claimed more than 40 American fighters shot down and several probably destroyed. The U.S. Marine Corps squadron, VMF-221, had sent up 25 Brewster Buffalos and Grumman F4F Wildcats, losing 15.|
|20 July 1942 - 10 August 1942||Luftwaffe||During this period, Fliegerkorps VIII claimed to have shot down 606 Soviet aircraft while destroying another 107 on the ground. Actual losses of 8 VA were 230 aircraft - 114 fighters, 70 Shturmoviks, 29 Pe-2s, four Su-2s and 13 night bombers.|
|26 July 1942||434 IAP and 512 IAP||These units claimed 18 and 12 kills against Macchi C.200s of the Italian 21 Gruppo Autonomo C.T. during Fall Blau. The Italian unit lost three Macchis.|
|15 September 1942||Luftwaffe
Desert Air Force
|Jagdgeschwader 27 claimed 19-20 aerial victories while Royal Australian Air Force and RAF records report the loss of five aircraft (a further Allied fighter was lost to friendly ground fire). The Allies claimed two destroyed, two probables and three damaged in the same engagement. The Germans lost Lt. Hoffmann of I. Gruppe and Uffz. Prien to a midair collision, killing Prien. No further losses had been reported.|
|15 December 1942||IJAAF||Burma: 50th Sentai pilots submitted claims for six Hawker Hurricanes shot down over Chittagong. Not one Hurricane was even damaged.|
|25 December 1942||United States Army Air Forces||Burma: 16th Fighter Squadron, 23rd Fighter Group pilots submitted claims for ten enemy aircraft shot down, five probable, and one damaged. The 64th Sentai lost one Ki-43 and three Ki-48s from 8th Sentai were damaged.|
|17 April 1943||United States Army Air Forces||During a mission against the Focke Wulf plant near Bremen, the 91st and 306th Bomb Groups claimed 63 German fighters destroyed, plus 15 probable and 17 damaged. Only two were confirmed destroyed, with nine damaged.|
|2 March 1943||No. 54 Squadron RAF & No. 457 Squadron RAAF; 202nd Kōkūtai, Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service||Each side claimed three enemy aircraft destroyed. Neither side suffered any losses.|
|5 July 1943 - 8 July 1943||Soviet Air Force: 2.VA, and 16.VA||During the Battle of Kursk, the Soviet unit 2.VA claimed 487 aircraft from Fliegerkorps VIII shot down. German records show the Luftwaffe lost only 41. According to the Generalquartiemeister der Luftwaffe 58 were lost to all causes. The 16 VA unit claimed 391 against Luftflotte 6. Actual losses were 39. The Soviets claimed a total of 878 German aircraft destroyed. Losses were 97.|
|17 August 1943||United States Army Air Forces, Luftwaffe||After the Schweinfurt-Regensburg mission Gunners on the bombers claimed 288 fighters shot down. Spitfire pilots claimed another 7 German fighters shot down and P-47 pilots claimed 14. Luftwaffe records show 40 aircraft lost. The Luftwaffe claimed 101 bombers and five fighters shot down, however only 60 B-17s and no fighters were reported lost.|
|14 October 1943||United States Army Air Forces, Luftwaffe||After the Second Raid on Schweinfurt Gunners aboard the B-17 bombers claimed to have shot down 138 German fighters. German records state only 38 were lost. German fighters claimed 121 bombers, the actual figure was 60.|
|6 January 1944||United States Army Air Forces||On this date bomber crews claimed 210 German fighters and their escorts claiming 31, for a total of 241 claims. German losses amounted to 39 in total.|
|3 March 1944||United States Army Air Forces, Luftwaffe||On a bombing mission to Berlin the Eighth Air Force dispatched the 1st and 2nd Air Divisions, comprising 95th, 100th and 390th Bomb Groups. The B-17 gunners claimed 97 German fighters on this mission. American fighters claimed a further 82 destroyed. German losses amounted to 66. German claims amounted to 108 bombers and 20 fighters. USAAF losses were 69 bombers and 11 fighters.|
|14 June 1944||United States Army Air Forces||During the Oil Campaign of World War II fifteen P-38 Lightning escorts from 49th Squadron, 14 FG was engaged by 32 Bf 109G-6s from the 101. Honi Légvédelmi Vadászrepülő Osztály, Royal Hungarian Air Force over central Hungary. American fighter pilots reported 13 Bf 109s destroyed, 1 probable destroyed and 5 damaged. In the preliminary report the Hungarian fighter pilots filed claims for twelve probably destroyed P-38s, and ultimately filed claims for seven; five were eventually claimed confirmed.
The actual losses of the day: five P-38s were shot down, with pilots MIA, two were severely damaged while several aircraft were lightly damaged; one Bf 109G was destroyed in air combat (pilot KIA), one Bf 109G destroyed during forced landing as a result of air combat (pilot safe); one Bf 109G damaged during a landing accident.
|18 June 1944||Luftwaffe||The Luftwaffe claimed 39 B-24s and five P-51s shot down over Schleswig-Holstein. Just 13 B-24s and two P-51s were lost.|
|25 July 1944||31st Fighter Group vs Luftwaffe||31st FG HQ/307th Fighter Squadron/308th Fighter Squadron/309th Fighter Squadron vs Hans Rudel's SG.2 and Hungarian Stukas of 102/2. Dive Squadron and I./Stg 77. USAF Claims of 26  to 28 Enemy aircraft. German/Hungarian losses were 8|
|1944–1945||Luftwaffe||Oberleutnant Kurt Welter, claimed perhaps 25 Mosquitoes shot down by night and two further Mosquitoes by day while flying the Me 262, adding to his previous seven Mosquito kills in "hot-rodded" Bf 109G-6/AS or Fw 190 A-8 fighters. As far as can be ascertained, just three of his Me 262 claims over Mosquitoes coincide with RAF records.|
|1 January 1945||Luftwaffe||On this date German pilots overclaimed by between 4 and 3:1 . During Operation Bodenplatte the Luftwaffe claimed 55 destroyed and 11 probably destroyed in air-to-air combat (according to document: Fernschreiben II.JakoIc Nr.140/44 geh.vom 3.1.1945). Other German sources (according to document: Luftwaffenführungsstab Ic, Fremde Luftwaffen West, Nr. 1160/45 g.Kdos.vom 25.2.1945), quote 65 claims and 12 probables. Just 31 Allied aircraft were hit. 15 were shot down in aerial combat, two were destroyed whilst on take-off and seven were damaged by enemy action.|
|24 March 1945||U.S. Army Air Force||The 332nd Fighter Group was awarded a Distinguished Unit Citation (DUC) for a mission flown on 24 March 1945, escorting B-17s to bomb the Daimler-Benz tank factory at Berlin, Germany. The American pilots were credited with destroying three Me-262 jets of the Luftwaffe's all-jet Jagdgeschwader 7, despite the American unit initially claiming 11 Me 262s. Upon examination of JG 7 records, just four Me 262s were lost and all of their pilots survived. The bombers also made substantial claims, making it impossible to tell which units were responsible for those individual four kills.|
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