Over-claiming; who were the biggest culprits and how did they get away with it?

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by CobberKane, Jan 1, 2013.

  1. CobberKane

    CobberKane Banned

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    Over-claiming of enemy kills seems to have been a common factor for all air forces of WWII, Allied and Axis. Undoubtedly this was often due to wishful thinking or honest mistakes, at other times it might have been outright lying. Which Air Forces and individuals told the biggest porkies and how did they get away with it? Conversely, who was the most rigorous in validating claims for enemy aircraft shot down?
    At the top of the wishful thinkers list I’m going to nominate the USAAF VIII air force, 1943, specifically the bomber crews. A situation where dozens of gunners might be firing on the same target when (if) it was destroyed, no cine cameras, no requirement for corroboration and a command desperately clinging to the idea of the self-protecting bomber box and willing to accept any data that supported their views. No reflection on the courage of the airmen, but if they had been inflicting anything like the damage they claimed the P-51 would never have been necessary.
     
  2. Njaco

    Njaco The Pop-Tart Whisperer
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    You have to be careful with this, might lead to discrediting someone's service record.
     
  3. FLYBOYJ

    FLYBOYJ "THE GREAT GAZOO"
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    8AF bomber crews, hands down. The chaos of battle was probably the biggest culprit.
     
  4. FLYBOYJ

    FLYBOYJ "THE GREAT GAZOO"
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    And agree!
     
  5. tyrodtom

    tyrodtom Well-Known Member

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    Those guys behind the guns in the bombers were getting frostbit, dying sometimes from oxygen supply problems, seeing their friends planes go down and very few getting out.
    The last thing the USAAF wanted them to think was that their sacrifice was for nothing. Nobody in the know in the higher echelons took those figures seriously.

    It was just a little propaganda fiction for the general public and the crews going thru a hell most of us could never imagine.
    Was it Churchill that said we had to protect the truth with a bodyguard of lies ?
     
  6. buffnut453

    buffnut453 Well-Known Member

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    While there may be some who artificially inflated their scores (and this, I suspect, occurred on all sides in WWII), the vast majority were simply reporting what they thought they saw, in the heat of the moment when the adrenalin was pumping. Seeing an enemy aircraft roll onto its back with puffs of black smoke emitting from its exhausts could be interpreted as an aircraft that's been hit and is going down...but often it was simply the affect of manoeuvre or a quirk of the aircraft's engine installation. We, with the benefit of hindsight, can sit back and review reports, sometimes from both sides, and make an assessment. Those who were there didn't have that luxury - they were making snap judgements in life-or-death situations. We'd be a pretty heartless bunch if we now went back and condemned them all as liars when most were simply reporting what they thought they saw. I'm also unsure how feasible it would be to identify which specific individuals were deliberately inflating their "scores". Overall, I think this is a non-starter for a discussion...until someone takes the thread in a different direction and we all get sidetracked (that's never happened before on this Forum, now, has it?).
     
  7. meatloaf109

    meatloaf109 Well-Known Member

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    I have often wondered what the true numbers were, never mind anyones tally, just the day to day numbers. Claimed 20, actual losses 2. That sort of thing.
     
  8. CobberKane

    CobberKane Banned

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    #8 CobberKane, Jan 1, 2013
    Last edited: Jan 1, 2013
    True - or inadvertently give the impression you undervalue the contribution of an individual or group, as with the USAAF bomber gunners (definitley not my intention). That said, I'm sure there are plenty of instances where claims from a squadron or individual pilot can be shown to be just plain wrong. I recently read a book about RAAF P-40 squadrons in Africa. Some of those guys are still laughing over Hans Joachim Marseille's multiple kill claims - on days when they never recorded a loss! Likewise, I recall reading of an instance where Saburo Sakai was credited with two USN bombers destroyed on a loss free day. I'd hazard a couple of ideas about how such things could occur:

    1. Guys like Sakai and Marseille were heros - it is easy to see how the debreifing officers might have beein inclined to give them the benifit of the doubt, even if they didn't ask for it.
    2. When you've had medals pinned all over you and the home press are baying for fresh stories of your exploits, anyone might start to believe in their own infallibility.
    3. If standards of validation are lax and the hunger for good news is strong, every shot becomes a hit and every hit becomes a kill.
    4. Almost certainly the least significant factor - there will always be some few pilots happy to lie for their moment of glory

    One other thing - I'd guess the propensity for over-claiming as a national phenomena was very often directly related to the desperation of the time - no government wants to tell the folks at home they are taking a hammering
     
  9. buffnut453

    buffnut453 Well-Known Member

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    I think overclaiming was endemic and largely down to people seeing what they want to see. An aircraft descends trailing smoke and it's obviously been hit...unless its engine just happens to be burning a little more oil than is usual.

    We also need to be careful about how we view the subject of claims. Today, we focus historically on the tallies of individual pilots but that's not why claims were recorded. Claims were collated for intelligence purposes. If you start believing your own over-inflated claims reports, you're going to get into a world of hurt when units that have been "wiped out" according to your records, continue operating and inflicting losses on your side. Now, we still know that it happened - if the movie "The Battle of Britain" is to be believed, the German bombers attacking Scotland got waxed because Luftwaffe intel believed that Fighter Command was on its last legs and "even Spitfires can't be in two places at once". Thus any systemic overclaiming will inevitably skew the intelligence picture which has much wider consequences that the fact that Sakai or Marseille added an extra couple of scores to their tallies.
     
  10. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    I would say this in defence of the aircrews. Certainly overclaiming did occur, but according to "Forsyth" (I think that was his name....Im not at home right now, but im referring to the guy that has now written three books on the daily operations of the RAF in the ETO 1939-43), overclaimiing was about 30% over. That is, for every 3 claimed as shot down only 2 fell out of the sky.

    However, though he does not make the claim directly, it appears that many more aircraft were shot at, hit, but could not be claimed. However these damageed aircraft very ofteen never flew again. Or in the case of the heavies, were heavily damaged, with losses to some crews.

    The actual losses and the claied losses is an extremely blurred line. When is a loss a loss.....
     
  11. CobberKane

    CobberKane Banned

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    It's possible to have your cake and eat too, though. Some protagonists ( I think the germans were good at this) very much went in for creating hero-aces, to the point that the high scorers got first dibs on easy kills. The British and the Americans seem to have valued both individual and group success while the Italians actively discouraged the glamorous ace thing and concertrated on unit success almost entirely. In anycase, we all need our heroes, so tacit acceptance of overclaiming served a purpose, and needn't have affected intelligence so long as the people making the decisions were in on the secret.
     
  12. buffnut453

    buffnut453 Well-Known Member

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    But that's a potentially very large number of people who have to be in on the joke...and surely some of those individuals would crawl out of the woodwork post-war and say "Y'know that ace so-and-so didn't get nearly as many kills as was claimed". Conspiracy theories are great until you actually try to put them into action. You can't have a public hero but, in private, deliberately tinker with the individual's operational performance without somebody noticing or spilling the beans at some point.
     
  13. CobberKane

    CobberKane Banned

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    #13 CobberKane, Jan 1, 2013
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2013
    I wasn't suggesting that some propganda officer was simply pulling mythical kills out of thin air and dishing them out to high profile aces, more that such pilots would have benifited from a system concerned as much satisfying the hunger for good news stories back home. Regarding someone spilling the beans, how far would anyone have got in a wartime environment a trying to publicise the kind of overclaiming we now know to be a fact of the times? We can do it now of course - we are - but in war the first casualty is truth.
    Just another thing that occurs to me. If you were a hurricane pilot in the BOB you might try very hard to bring your stricken aircraft home, knowing fighters were in short supply, and if it could possibly be patched up it would be. But the same pilot flying a Typhoon in 1945 would probably take the safer option of bailing out in the knowlege there would be a shiny new plane waiting for him back at base. When the RAF assessed losses after Bodenplate that apparently described any aircraft that was repairable as 'damaged' - then bulldozed them to the side of the strip because there were so many replacements waiting it wasn't woth the effort!
     
  14. buffnut453

    buffnut453 Well-Known Member

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    Two points:

    1. I did say that someone would crawl out of the woodwork post-war not during the war.
    2. Whether an aircraft is damaged/repairable/written off after returning to base is of no relevance to claims - all would be probable or damaged claims. A kill involves the actual, witnessed loss of the aircraft in combat.

    Now it's time for me to hit the sack.

    Nighty-night
     
  15. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    There have been claims to that effect about both Hartmann and Rudel at various times. I dont buy those stories. To me, both men were exceptional fighting soldiers that destroyed many enemy planes and tanks. They had the opportunity, they had the skills.
     
  16. CobberKane

    CobberKane Banned

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    I agree. Even if Hartman shot down two hundred enemy aircraft rather than three hundred plus, the difference is largely academic. I'm more interested in what circumstances encourage overestimation of enemy losses (propaganda requirements, poor verification processes) and to what degree the authorities of the time created one set of figures for the benefit of the folks at home and another for the servicemen and intelligence analysts. For example, VIII bomber gunners were credited with enough kills to have destroyed the LW a couple of times over, but what did the likes of Monk and Doolitle really think was going on?
     
  17. CobberKane

    CobberKane Banned

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    Sorry, one other thing I feel slightly compelled to say, and I understand others may take issue with. Rudel; an exceptional soldier indeed, but a contemptible individual none the less.
     
  18. SPEKTRE76

    SPEKTRE76 Member

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    I would like to know what the 'real' numbers are for Erich Hartmann. He has 352 'confirmed' kills. I'm wondering about the un-official kills. Maybe he has close too 400?

    Adolf Galland is another man I often wonder about as well. I wonder if he had not be the General der Jagdflieger and allowed to fly more than he was, would he have surpassed Hartmann, Barkhorn or Rall or even have been close?
     
  19. tyrodtom

    tyrodtom Well-Known Member

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    You do understand the concept of propaganda don't you ? It's not put out FOR the Generals, Admirals, Field Marshals and such, it put out BY them.

    It takes a pretty dumb General to believe his own propaganda, some may seem a little dense to us now, but they weren't stupid.
     
  20. buffnut453

    buffnut453 Well-Known Member

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    Depends on how you define propaganda. In the strictest sense, it is "outward facing" communication to the public and/or enemy to paint a better/stronger picture of your abilities/power. However, as noted previously, there are situations where internal reporting gets inflated because someone wants to look good in front of their boss (the "Battle of Britain" movie makes quite a big deal out of this). For this latter scenario, it's not really propaganda but it is entirely feasible that senior officers might be presented with inaccurate or misleading assessments of an enemy's strength (as alluded to in my earlier post). That said, pretty much all generals don't take intelligence assessments at face value, indeed many prefer to be their own intelligence officer.
     
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