What makes an ace?

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by CobberKane, Jan 14, 2013.

  1. CobberKane

    CobberKane Banned

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    According to one estimate only 5% of WWII fighter pilots achieved ace status, yet those 5% accounted for nearly 50% of air to air kills during the war. So what qualities allowed a pilot to destroy multiple enemy aircraft, and survive long enough to do so?. What physical attributes and tactical behaviours distinguished such men (and occasionally, women)?
    I’m going to state the first attribute that no successful fighter pilot could ever do without; luck.
     
  2. GregP

    GregP Well-Known Member

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    I believe that they were generally rural people who grew up in the Great Outdoors, and who hunted for food or for sport, such as rural farmers in the USA and the aristocracy in Europe. That is, they had a grasp of leading a moving target with a rifle or shotgun, were observant of the general conditions and surroundings (situational awareness), and could make a decision to hunt to a successful conclusion or break it off without any pride issues. Usually they had great vision including great perepheral vision. Growing up self-sufficient and being successful at stalking and bagging prey for the table describes a lot of good / great pilots.

    Perhaps not all. There are certainly some who learned the craft during and after pilot training, but inate good shots usually had that skill before learning to fly.

    Knowing when to break off and live for another fight was at LEAST as important is knowing when to attack. Hartmann was most proud of never losing a wingman, and THAT says a lot for Herr Hartmann. He may have been a prolific scorer, but he knew when to save his wingman and come back for another go at it later.
     
  3. CobberKane

    CobberKane Banned

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    I agree that marksmanship - specifically deflection shooting, which very few pilots ever mastered - was vital to the succesful fighter pilot. I also agree that a disinclination to attack unless the odds were in one's favour is another characteristic - like Hartmann, Richard Bong also freqquntly declined to fight if he doubted he could get away. Sure there might have been one or two 'crash through or crash' merchants who ammassed large scores and survived the war (George Buerling springs to mind) but very few, I think. Get in, hit hard and get out seems to have been the best tactic.
     
  4. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    Killer Caldwell would be an exception to this profile. Clive Robertson Caldwell DSO, DFC Bar (28 July 1910 – 5 August 1994) was the leading Australian air ace of World War II. He is officially credited with shooting down 28.5 enemy aircraft in over 300 operational sorties. Caldwell was a city kid, through and through, and had no particular aptitude at marksmanship. He was however, known for his disdain of authority, and his utter cool demeanour under fire. The man had nerves of steel....


    Caldwell was born in Lewisham, a suburb of Sydney and educated at Albion Park School, Sydney Grammar School and Trinity Grammar School. He learned to fly in 1938 with the Aero Club of New South Wales. When World War II broke out, he joined the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), with the intention of becoming a fighter pilot. As he was over the age limit for fighter training, Caldwell persuaded a pharmacist friend to alter the details on his birth certificate. He was accepted by the RAAF and joined the Empire Air Training Scheme (EATS; also known as the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan and similar names).

    On 4 July 1941 Caldwell saw a German pilot shoot and kill a close friend, Pilot Officer Donald Munro, who was descending to the ground in a parachute. This was a controversial practice, but was nevertheless common among German (and later allied) pilots. It appears this particular experience hardened Caldwells attitude toward the German airmen as it may have caused Caldwell's attitude to harden significantly. Months later, press officers and journalists popularised Caldwell's nickname of "Killer", which he disliked. One reason for the nickname was that he had begun to shot enemy airmen like the germans after they parachuted out of aircraft. Caldwell commented many years later: "...there was no blood lust or anything about it like that. It was just a matter of not wanting them back to have another go at us. I never shot any who landed where they could be taken prisoner."

    Caldwell showed no disinclination to engage the enemy, despite the odds. While flying to his base alone, over north west Egypt on 29 August 1941, Caldwell was attacked by two Bf 109s, in a deadly simultaneous approach at right angles. His attackers included one of Germany's most famous Experte (aces), Leutnant Werner Schröer of Jagdgeschwader 27 (JG 27), in a Bf 109E-7. Caldwell sustained three separate wounds from ammunition fragments and/or shrapnel; his Tomahawk was hit by more than 100 7.9 mm bullets and five 20 mm cannon shells, but he shot down Schröer's wingman, and heavily damaged Schröer's "Black 8", causing Schröer to disengage. On 23 November, Caldwell shot down an Experte, Hauptmann Wolfgang Lippert, gruppenkommandeur of II./JG 27, who bailed out. Lippert had struck the tailplane and following capture had his legs amputated but ten days later a gangrene infection set in and he died on 3 December. For this action Caldwell was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

    Caldwell claimed five Junkers Ju 87 (Stuka) dive bombers in a matter of minutes on 5 December. He was decorated with the DSO for this action

    On 24 December, Caldwell was involved in an engagement which mortally wounded another Luftwaffe ace, Hpt. Erbo Graf von Kageneck (69 kills) of III./JG 27. Caldwell only claimed a "damaged" at the time, but postwar sources have attributed him with the kill.

    In January 1942, Caldwell was promoted to Squadron Leader and was given command of No. 112 Squadron RAF, becoming the first EATS graduate to command a British squadron. 112 Sqn at that time included a number of Polish aviators, and this was why Caldwell was later awarded the Polish Krzyż Walecznych ("Cross of Valour").

    Caldwell scored another striking victory in February 1942, while leading a formation of 11 Kittyhawks from 112 Sqn and 3 Sqn. Over Gazala, he sighted a schwarm of Bf 109Fs flying some 2,000 ft higher. Caldwell immediately nosed into a shallow dive, applied maximum power and boost, then pulled his Kittyhawk up into a vertical climb. With his P-40 "hanging from its propeller," he fired a burst at a 109 flown by Leutnant Hans-Arnold Stahlschmidt of I./JG27, who was lagging behind the others. Stahlschmidt's fighter "shuddered like a carpet being whacked with a beater" before spinning out of control. Although the Kittyhawk pilots thought that the 109 had crashed inside Allied lines, Stahlschmidt was able to crash-land in friendly territory.

    When Caldwell left the theatre later that year, the commander of air operations in North Africa and the Middle East, Air Vice Marshal Arthur Tedder described him as: "an excellent leader and a first class shot". Caldwell claimed 22 victories while in North Africa flying P-40s, including ten Bf 109s and two Macchi C.202s. He had flown some 550 hours in over 300 operational sorties.
     
  5. barney

    barney Member

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    One year at Oshkosh my brother and I spotted a Gee Bee type R replica and my brother said , “I wonder if it will fly?” Well, fly it did – wings vertical, up and down the runway several feet off the ground. And, it did about every other stunt a plane is capable of. It flew every day we were there. Well, I thought, this plane can't be as dangerous as I have read., it looks like a ***** cat.

    Then I read about how dangerous this replica plane is – very dangerous. The display pilot was obviously a super pilot. Some people are born with innate ability that the rest of us can only envy and admire and he is one of them.

    So, put a person like this in a combat situation, and if he has the desire and opportunity, he obviously is going to prevail. Good luck with shaking this guy off of your six.
     
  6. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

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    The rural sporting shooter profile doesn't stand up very well for many German or British and Commonwealth aces. I don't know enough about their US counterparts to comment. That's not to discount it as a factor,but it must be one of many.

    My principal factors would be

    Training. Most important,an ability to fly the aircraft well first and foremost and then the ability to fight it which brings us on to number two.

    Experience. All aces have to have survived long enough to gain experience.Without number one they have little chance of survival. This then gives them the ability to fly well in combat,judge range,develop gunnery skills etc.

    Bravery and determination. Impossible to quantify but many aces were the men who didn't open fire whilst at extreme range (or out of range) but,to use an old fashioned phrase,closed with the enemy. Some like Bader or Hartmann also eliminated deflection from their firing solution. Close range and zero deflection gave them the best chance of success. Others,like Marseille,were masters of deflection shooting. I would suggest those like him were a minority.This brings us to the next factor.

    Play to your strengths (and those of your aircraft). Understand the relative strengths and weaknesses of your machine and your opponents. Never get drawn into fighting on their terms.
    If you can't estimate deflection for sh*t then don't. Find another solution.

    Personal attributes often seem to have included immense self confidence (sometimes verging on arrogance). A cool and analytical head. Someone already mentioned the ability to decide when and when not to fight.
    The ability to make these decisions under stressfull conditions is important. WW2 training systems didn't help much with this.

    A lack of imagination. A VC winner once pointed to this attribute when interviewed. He said if you thought about or imagined what the consequences of acting might be you wouldn't act at all. It was he,not me,who suggested that he and other winners of such awards might "lack imagination".

    Less relevant in air fighting where the target can be seen as a machine is the willingness to kill a fellow human being.This is a human problem that all military organisations expend a vast amount of time,effort and training to overcome.

    Last of all I would place what we humans like to see as an innate ability. I don't discount it. It is the way our minds work. A man like Marseille obviously understood deflection and found it easy to estimate almost instinctively,others never got it right.
    Undoubtedly some of us are lucky enough to find something that we are just good at. It might be a footballer,golfer,musician,builder or pilot but to discount the hard work and hours of application that goes into their success (which they themselves often do) would be unwise. David Beckham didn't grow up being able to "bend it like Beckham". He kicked thousands of footballs and spent years perfecting that skill.

    Cheers

    Steve
     
  7. bobbysocks

    bobbysocks Well-Known Member

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    i cant recall talking to any of these guys or reading a book where about the first thing out of their mouths was some story about how they got the hunger to fly. it was something that happened when they were young and a thing they tried to steer their life towards. you could say all the pilots had this desire but they didnt just want to "fly"...go from point A to B...but FLY...take a plane up and see what she could do. the hotter the plane the more excited they would get.

    knowledge of shooting. bud anderson commented on this as have other us aces. they usually had some familarity with shooting moving targets so they had a leg up on someone who never fired a gun in this respect.

    cool under pressure. not that they had nerves of steel...in fact they will tell you they were scared to death a lot of the time. but they never let that fear grip them of cloud their decisions. they would all say "they were just doing their jobs."

    they were very competitive...they had a drive in personal goals and amongst their peers. they wanted to be the next gentile and godfrey or maguire and bong. a lot werent "natural flyers" but continuallu worked at it.

    i would say they were pretty independent. they could play well with others as they had to follow rules and work with their groups but when it got down to brass tacks they prefered to face things one on one or be responsible for thier own fates.

    more of a daring / gambler...but not foolishly. they might press things further than others..push the envelope...more take chances. but they were smart enough to know when they were over their head.

    cocky...yeah probably. but it is amazing how many of them had some sort of an epiphany or faced an event that put that in somewhat in check. look at hartmann's first mission...or how marseille's antics almost got him drummed out of the LW. they were lucky enough to out live their screw ups and smart enough to learn from them.

    faith. they had it in their airplanes, their training, their wingman, their ability...and some their God. they believed they would come out of it all OK.

    a lot of these attributes came out AFTER their first combat missions. i have heard counless stories of the "hot shots" who impressed everyone else in flight school...the "most likely to succeed" boys who when they finally got overseas didnt pan out.
     
  8. Jack_Hill

    Jack_Hill Member

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    All of above. But the perfect Adolf Galland vision can be a real plus it seems...
     
  9. CobberKane

    CobberKane Banned

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    Agreed - it you could pick one physical attribute most important to a fighter pilot surely it would be acute vision. The ability to se the enemy before he sees you and thereby either set up an advantagous situation to attack from, or elect to avoid combat before being sighted yourself, would have to be the single most vital physical ability a fighter could have.
     
  10. michaelmaltby

    michaelmaltby Well-Known Member

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    "... Sure there might have been one or two 'crash through or crash' merchants who ammassed large scores and survived the war (George Buerling springs to mind) but very few"

    George Buerling was a loner, a game shooter from his youth, and endowed with supernatural eyesight. He practiced deflection shot scenarios for recreation .... :)

    MM
     
  11. Jack_Hill

    Jack_Hill Member

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    Hello Cobber, sorry, I was just kidding, Adolf Galland flew his entire WWII half blinded.

    Is your name from
    Coober Pedy ?
     
  12. CobberKane

    CobberKane Banned

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    Even with his extraordinary gifts Buerling's penchant for 'doing a Borgart' almost got him killed a number of times. He wasn't only very good, he used up quite a bit more than his allocation of luck.
     
  13. nuuumannn

    nuuumannn Well-Known Member

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  14. GregP

    GregP Well-Known Member

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    I think the rural sporting shooter DOES stand up. Every pilot needs to learn to fly, but nobody can teach leading a target ... you have to have the ability and the bent to do it. I have shot 25 out of 25 in skeet and am an average Cessna / Piper pilot. With training in flying (which is what pilots get when they become fighter pilots), I could lead any plane with enough experience when shooting the installed armament. I am NOT a combat pilot and do not think I would be an ace, but I could hit a target if I had the experience in the aircraft with the target armament installed in training.

    Of course, I could also get killed on the first mission ... it isn't exactly a script.

    The point is that if you can shoot, then if you can also learn to fly, you can shoot other planes down unless your life is prematurely interrupted by death in some unsuspected manner. Think Hans Joachim Marsellies ... he would have been the ace of aces if he could have bailed out without injury; he hit the tailplane and died. Go figure ...

    I'd probably have died in an engine failure on takeoff ... gimme' a turbine!
     
  15. CobberKane

    CobberKane Banned

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    Well spotted Nuuman. "Cobber" is a somewhat archaic term of freindship, like "Buddy". I believe New Zealand also provided the RAFs higest scoring BoB ace (equal) and highest scoring Pacific Theatre Ace. Never been Coober Pedy - they tell me it's nice, once you get beneath the surface (anyone who doesn't get that rather weak joke can google the place)
     
  16. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

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    I'm not suggesting that a knowledge of shooting a moving target won't be an advantage when engaged in aerial combat. Teaching the estimation of deflection (or more accurately angle off) and range was something that the RAF devoted a lot of time and effort to. Gun camera footage showed early in the war that most pilots weren't very good at estimating either. It's why sights to do the calculations for them were invented :)
    Understanding the concept from past experience might help of course but it can be and was taught.
    Pointing a 300+ mph aeroplane at the point in space where another 300+ mph aeroplane will shortly be resembles conceptually,not physically,pointing a shotgun at the point where a rabbit will shortly be.
    Many successful British pilots had never shot at a moving target of any type before joining the RAF.The vast majority of the British population,unless having served in the forces previously,would never have handled,let alone fired a firearm in their lives. It's from this pool that the vast majority of RAF pilots came albeit with significant numbers from elsewhere,particularly the Commonwealth countries.
    I wonder if someone who was an acknowledged "expert" at the art like Marseille was a sporting shooter before he joined the Luftwaffe?
    Cheers
    Steve
     
  17. CobberKane

    CobberKane Banned

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    Johny Johnson was a keen game bird shooter. But here are other pursuits that involve deflection - pretty much any running ball sport for instance. Saburo Sakai speculated that the USN pilot's aptitude for team work was a result of playing gridiron.
     
  18. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

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    #18 stona, Jan 16, 2013
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2013
    We're getting into cultural influences with that. Undoubtedly also a factor.

    Also a bit of a minefield......ill disciplined Canadians,independent Australians and other unhelpful stereotypes.

    Cheers
    Steve
     
  19. michaelmaltby

    michaelmaltby Well-Known Member

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    "... He wasn't only very good, he used up quite a bit more than his allocation of luck."

    He was quite a devout Christian - in an unorthodox way - so I doubt he would call it "luck".

    ".... ill disciplined Canadians" ......?

    MM
     
  20. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

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    As I said,an unhelpful stereotype :)

    I was thinking particularly of Bomber Command. Given the very large number of Canadians who served in Bomber Command it is a fairly pointless but oft repeated generalisation.

    Anyway,it's not got much to do with fighter aces!

    Cheers

    Steve
     
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