I was wondering why big german aces shot down the most enemy aircraft while fighting on the eastern front. Is this because the soviet pilots were undertrained, or their flying machines were inferior? Is it something else? You see all these German aces that have shot down 100+ aircraft and most of them fought on the eastern front. Why is that?

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Welcome to the site. It helps to share the stats you found for context. A quick Wikipedia check does not really support the premise: The Soviets lost 46,100 aircraft in combat. According to Soviet claims, the Germans lost 75,700 aircraft on the Eastern front. $\endgroup$ – ymb1 Mar 24 at 16:55
  • $\begingroup$ The Germans flew until they were killed and many were in combat for nearly 4 years straight. Allied pilots flew until their tour was completed. $\endgroup$ – John K Mar 24 at 17:18
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ If we're talking about the scores of individual aces, rather than overall totals, it's probably tactical. The leader would fight purely offensively and rely on his subordinates to protect him, and thus claim nearly all the kills for the squadron. $\endgroup$ – Robin Bennett Mar 25 at 10:11

Several factors. The ones you mentioned, plus the different purpose of most of the Soviet aircraft and the longer flight career of German pilots on the Eastern Front. Beyond that was the fact that, early in the war, the Germans enjoyed near-complete air superiority (reinforced by their superiority in other factors).

As you note, at the beginning, most of the Soviet aircraft were inferior to the German ones; some of them were ten or even fifteen year old designs (or even older -- one squadron, known as the "Night Witches", flew biplanes into 1943), while the Germans flew new designs, either late pre-War or fresh off the drawing board. The newer aircraft were faster, more robust against damage, carried heavier loads and more/larger guns. This aircraft design deficit was reduced and possibly even reversed later in the war, but by then the Germans were on the defensive, being pushed back week by week.

The German pilots, at least early in the war, were far better trained -- theirs was the best air force on Earth in 1940 (though they started to run out of good pilots later in the war, because they had a far smaller population to draw replacements from and were resource limited in building aircraft, both for combat and for training).

Further, the German aircraft that the aces flew were dedicated fighters, designed from the ground up to destroy other aircraft in the air. The BF-109 and Focke-Wulfe 190 were superb airplanes for the day. The Soviets, on the other hand, especially early in the war, had a heavy preponderance of ground attack aircraft, and their primary mission was to destroy German armor, infantry, and supplies. This made them sitting ducks for the German fighters and fighter pilots. Further, there were lots and lots of those differently tasked and outdated Soviet airplanes -- the Soviet Union had more than twice the population of Germany and tens of times the landmass and resources; that gave them the ability to do the air equivalent of "human wave" attacks, which would still succeed even after a "turkey shoot" by the Germans.

Because of the disparity in pilots and aircraft, the German pilots lasted a great deal longer on the Eastern Front, where they weren't flying against the elite of nations larger than their, who hadn't had a decade or more with no powered aircraft and who had P-38s, P-47s, and P-51s, Hurricanes and Spitfires to pit against their aircraft. The Western Front pilots had a strong tendency not to come home, even in the early years of the War, and much more so after the Normandy invasion.

Additionally, especially after the first winter of the Russian invasion, German pilots stayed on the line until they were physically incapable of flying -- either dead, or seriously injured (loss of eyes or limbs, for instance), or shot down behind lines and captured. As noted in comments, also, there was a tactical difference, with German squadron leaders often flying without any thought for defense, trusting their mates to protect them while they simply destroyed as many enemy aircraft as possible, and this worked better against the relatively less experienced pilots in the Soviet forces.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Hi @ZeissIkon: since this is a history question, it would be great to support the answer with references. $\endgroup$ – ymb1 Mar 24 at 16:56
  • $\begingroup$ I agree, @ymb1 but I'm at work and don't have time between tasks to dig up a bunch of quotes and links. $\endgroup$ – Zeiss Ikon Mar 24 at 16:59
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The USSR had nowhere near 100 times the population of Germany. While exact figures are hard to come by, or even to define (do you include Austria's population in Germany, or the recently conquered Baltic republics as part of the USSR?), rough figures are 160-180 million for USSR, 70-80 million for Germany. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Mar 24 at 17:56
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, @jamesqf that one slipped by me as I was typing. Area is close to 100x, but I've change it to "tens of times" and population to "more than double". $\endgroup$ – Zeiss Ikon Mar 24 at 18:20
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It's a big simplification (bordering on incorrectness) with the airplanes. It is more or less applicable early in the war, but by about 1943 there was no shortage of new 'dedicated fighters', some of which (La-5/7, Yak-3) were, at least nominally, quite on a par with contemporary German fighters, and superior to some Allied designs (such as Hurricane), especially at lower altitudes where most of the fights on the Eastern front tended to be. Overall, the result has much more to do with pilot training, as well as with having massive air superiority in the first half of the war. $\endgroup$ – Zeus Mar 24 at 23:53

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.