During WWII, Allied fighter pilots felt a grudging respect and admiration for their German counterparts because of the latter’s high kill rates. But did German aces really deserve their reputation? Absolutely… but with a caveat.
Lieutenant-General Günther Rall was Germany’s third deadliest fighter pilot. He flew 621 combat missions in a Messerschmitt Bf 109 at the Battle of France, the Battle of Britain, the Balkan Campaign, and over Crete. By war’s end, he had scored 275 confirmed victories so if anyone knows anything about the topic, it should be him.
As far as Rall is concerned, the success of German Aces like himself was due to three factors: (1) they never had to look for a target, (2) they were always engaged, and (3) they were indispensable.
To explain the first part, Germany started the war by taking its neighbors by surprise – a tactical advantage it lost by late 1941. Thereafter, they were no longer facing small nations with inferior militaries. They were instead dealing with the combined might and superior numbers of the USSR, the British Empire, and America.
Then Italy surrendered to the Allies in 1943. Germany was now isolated. Its initial advantage, gained from their experiences during the Spanish Civil War, was gone. Furthermore, the Allies could out-produce anything that Germany made, including planes.
So while many Allied pilots never encountered the enemy, the Germans always did – thereby increasing the latter’s chances of a kill. German pilots never had to look for a fight because it always found them. But that also meant that they suffered higher losses.
And because the Allies had so many pilots, they were able to rotate their shifts and enjoy long breaks between flight missions. This healthy practice further reduced their chances of shooting down a German plane.
The outnumbered Germans, by contrast, enjoyed no such luxury. Due to the lack of qualified pilots and a high attrition rate, men like Rall had no choice but to keep flying till they were seriously hurt, captured, or killed.
In other words, German Aces scored higher kills not just because of their skill, but also because they had more opportunities for it.