German-Allied loss ratios in aerial combat, Western theaters

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TheMarcksPlan
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German-Allied loss ratios in aerial combat, Western theaters

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 07 Mar 2021 22:07

I've been frustrated by a seeming lack of topline analysis of German-Allied loss ratios in aerial combat. Many sources discuss relative losses as a percentage of own forces, many list figures from which relative loss ratios might be assembled, but I haven't found a handy reference for comparative attrition statistics. To resolve that frustration for me and others, I'm beginning to put together some data from across multiple sources. So far I have decent data for American and German losses, little for British, and need more detail by types of losses.

For German losses, good sources include:
  • Dan Zamanzksy's paper, which unfortunately doesn't go beyond 1943.
  • Murray's Strategy for Defeat
  • Matti Salonen's LW losses database, which unfortunately is not publicly available AFAIK.
For American losses, good sources include: Of course no data set is perfect. The AAF sources, compiled in 1945, are unreliable for German losses due to wartime overclaiming (happened on all sides, please let's avoid that abominably stupid argument). Per Zamansky, Murray's figures differ from his as they include losses from the training schools (Murray's approach may be more accurate in that training schools often went into combat, especially later in the war).

What follows will be an initial attempt to estimate American : German losses in aerial combat. The analysis will use each side's loss figures and try to adjust these figures for certain data problems, including:
  • How many German losses were to the RAF?
  • How many German losses were to AA?
  • For American aerial combat losses, how many were against which types of planes (i.e. single-engine fighters vs. all other types).
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Okay, so let's look at 1943 German single-engine fighters vs. AAF because we have the Zamansky data for that year.

The AAF Statistical Digest helpfully breaks down its losses by cause - aircraft, AA, or "other." I did not find a definition of "other" but it presumably includes at least those planes that landed in neutral countries (79 heavies in June-July '44 alone). So "other" probably includes at least some categories properly attributable to aerial combat.

Here's a spreadsheet based on AAF and Zamansky data:

Image

Row 154 is the ratio of all German single-engine fighter losses (vs. West) compared to AAF's self-reported losses in aerial combat.

Row 155 adjusts Row 154 according to assumptions about:
  • 1. % of German losses on the ground
  • 2. % of German losses inflicted by RAF
  • 3. % of German losses inflicted by AA
  • 4. % of German kills (thus American losses) inflicted by German planes other than single-engine fighters (e.g. Zerstorers or medium bombers defending themselves).
  • 5. % of American aerial losses classified as "other" but properly attributable to aerial combat (e.g. damaged or demoralized bombers interned in Sweden/Switz)
In screenshot above, I posited some guesses about the unknown variables.

Re (1): In 1943, 20% of US claims in MTO and 10% of total U.S. claims were on the ground. But LW also abandoned hundreds of AC in North Africa. Given that RAF probably claimed a similar ground percentage in the MTO and that few LW losses were on the ground in ETO during 1943, 15% seems a ballpark estimate of LW's ground losses in '43.

Re (2): RAF share of German 1E losses owes mainly to combat in the Med. 25% of total LW 1E losses is just a guess. Any advice on obtaining reliable data greatly appreciated.

Re (3): Even 3% may be too high but at least some German fighters were lost to Flak during Med land battles.

Re (4): Another guesstimate. USAAF claimed a lot of German bombers shot down - any data on how many aerial kills these bombers claimed? My sense is they were not very dangerous for US fighters to engage. Zerstorer kill numbers is also a guesstimate based on narratives from individual 1943 air battles.

Re (5): I could really use some data on that "other" category.

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Analysis

Taking either adjusted or unadjusted attrition ratios, the picture looks surprisingly good for the LW: Even the unadjusted ratio reflects a trade of 1.52 German fighters against half a heavy bomber and half a fighter. Because American fighters were ~twice as expensive as German fighters, while heavy bombers were up to 10x more expensive, the attrition ratio of the aerial battles heavily favored Germany. The crew attrition ratios were at least as favorable, as Germany recovered ~half of the downed pilots while America lost 10 men with each heavy bomber.

Based on the linked post, let's calculate the unadjusted 1943 aerial attrition ratio in economic terms:

1.52 Me-109 / Fw-190 at $40k apiece = ~$60k

...balanced against...

0.5 P-38/47 at ~$100k in '43 = ~$50k
0.5 B-17/24 at ~$230k = $115k
Total: ~$165k

Ratio: 2.75 : 1 favoring Germany.

...but that's the unadjusted ratio assuming all German fighter losses were aerial and the RAF inflicted none of them. If we use the above adjusted ratio of 1.08:

Adjusted Ratio: 3.8 : 1 favoring Germany.

By 1943 the LW was outclassed in technical material terms (quality of planes) and in qualitative personnel terms (flight hours training per pilot), making this outcome all the more suprising.

The picture gets worse for the LW in 1944 but still favors it (in pure aerial economic/personnel attrition terms) until LW performance falls off a cliff around the middle of that year (when pilot training was further cut back and by when most of the veterans were dead). I'll present further spreadsheets down the line.

The takeaway is that even a qualitatively inferior air force can render a daylight strategic bombing campaign economically inefficient - unless the total resources ratio is so disparate that the attacker can afford disproportionate losses. That was, of course, the historical case with the AAF's bombing campaign: possessing an economy ~3x larger than Germany's and facing only a fraction of Germany's economic potential (which was largely committed in the East), America could afford to be inefficient and still win its war.

In terms of attritional warfare, however, the American effort might have been no more efficient than was the Red Army's. Per Zetterling's article "Loss Rates on the Eastern Front in World War II" in the JSMS, RKKA lost 3.1x as many men as Ostheer in the second half of 1943 with similar ratios for equipment. Depending on how we adjust the AAF/Zamansky data for AAF:LW loss ratios, AAF may have done worse than RKKA in terms of both men and equipment.

-----------------------------------------

Of course in the background of this aerial combat were many other factors, including thousands of Germans crashing their own planes due to poor training. Even with a 50-70% delta to German losses for non-combat causes, however, the economic attrition ratio for 1943 is still far from even.
https://medium.com/counterfactualww2
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Re: German-Allied loss ratios in aerial combat, Western theaters

Post by Gooner1 » 08 Mar 2021 11:54

TheMarcksPlan wrote:
07 Mar 2021 22:07
The takeaway is that even a qualitatively inferior air force can render a daylight strategic bombing campaign economically inefficient - unless the total resources ratio is so disparate that the attacker can afford disproportionate losses.
And if you assign a zero value to economic damage caused by the strategic bombing.

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Re: German-Allied loss ratios in aerial combat, Western theaters

Post by Politician01 » 08 Mar 2021 17:52

TheMarcksPlan wrote:
07 Mar 2021 22:07
In terms of attritional warfare, however, the American effort might have been no more efficient than was the Red Army's. Per Zetterling's article "Loss Rates on the Eastern Front in World War II" in the JSMS, RKKA lost 3.1x as many men as Ostheer in the second half of 1943 with similar ratios for equipment. Depending on how we adjust the AAF/Zamansky data for AAF:LW loss ratios, AAF may have done worse than RKKA in terms of both men and equipment.
According to Krivosheev (very unreliable) the RA lost some 25 000 aircraft in 1943 - rougly half of them in combat.
According to Murray (pretty reliable) the LW lost some 4000 aircraft in 1943 (Eastern Front) - it is unclear if these are just combat losses.

Considered that the Germans had on average some 2000 to 2500 operational aircraft in the East in 43 - of which around 800 or so were fighters, while the RA had some 8 000 to 10 000 operational aircraft of which some 3500 were fighters, this would mean that allthough outnumbered 4:1 in aircraft/fighters the Germans inflicted 3-4x their own casualties . This would make the LW in the East around 12 to 16x more efficent than the RA in 1943. I doubt that the Americans were this much outclassed, especially considered the numbers we have:

German Losses in the Med/Italy were some 4000 in 1943, over the Reich some 5000 (Murray). According to my data, the Americans lost 676 aircraft shot down by fighters, allthough this does not specify if these numbers are for Germany/Europe only or include losses in NA. Considered that the Germans had around 3000 aircraft in Germany/Western Europe/the Med while the Americans had around 6000, this leaves us with a big ? because we do not know how much aircraft were destroyed by the RAF. Most likely the vast majority, because in 1943 it was still the RAF doing most of the heavy lifting.

If one assumes that 3/4 were destroyed by the RAF, this leaves some 2200 aircraft destroyed by the Americans for some 700 US losses. So the Germans were outnumbered 3:1 and inflicted 1/3 of their casualties, giving them a 1:1 ratio.

These calculations are very unprecise though, because the RAF did fight during the day in the MED and because it omits the cost of the aircraft lost. Nevertheless, at worst American losses were 3:1 in Germanys favour in 1943, making the USAAF far more efficent than the Red Air Force.

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Re: German-Allied loss ratios in aerial combat, Western theaters

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 08 Mar 2021 18:55

Politician01 wrote:According to my data, the Americans lost 676 aircraft shot down by fighters
What's your source? Please share. Mine, as stated, is the AAF Statistical Digest for losses in aerial combat - 977 ftrs in 1943. I would be surprised if German bombers shot down 300 American fighters but please share your source.
Politician01 wrote: allthough this does not specify if these numbers are for Germany/Europe only or include losses in NA.
What's wrong with the AAF data? Why not use it?
Politician01 wrote:This would make the LW in the East around 12 to 16x more efficent than the RA in 1943. I doubt that the Americans were this much outclassed, especially considered the numbers we have:
Note that I said RKKA specifically, not VVS or SU generally.

I've got this response before when making this point - basically it's "How can you compare an army to an air force?"

It requires moving to a higher level of analysis. States have goals; they choose means - including military - to effect these goals. In WW2, Allied states shared the goal of beating Germany. SU chose the means (primarily) of a massive army; USA chose the means (primarily) of a massive air force. In judging how efficiently each of these states accomplished their goal (beating Germany), one mode of analysis is to look at the battlefield attrition ratios of the resources mobilized by each state in pursuit of its goals.

On this mode of analysis, American resources mobilized into the AAF were about as efficiently used as Soviet resources mobilized into the RKKA.

That is, of course, not the only mode of analysis. Another is to consider temporal measures - how quickly did a state's resource commitments accomplish its goals? Under this mode, American/British performance was disastrous. Taking the failure of Barbarossa as a given, the Allied coalition had ~3.5x the economic resources yet 80% of these resources largely sat on the sidelines while a madman massacred millions. The counterfactual of a different resource allocation neatly makes this point: Had America built a meaningful army by 1942 instead of concentrating on air/sea warfare, it could have (should have) invaded France in 1942 and killed Hitler by mid-'43. That would have saved millions of innocent lives and probably would have cost no more than what America lost in the longer war.

...which points up another mode of analysis that refracts on policy/political goals. American goals in WW2 weren't necessarily to defeat fascism - though that ended up being a subsidiary goal. The primary goal was to protect American interests, primarily in commerce - discussed well in Tomorrow, the World by Wertheim. Under this different mode of analysis, we can see that America never intended to win the war most efficiently (in terms of American money spent) or to prevent evil (in terms of innocents slaughtered by Hitler).

America's strategy was inefficient from the perspective of "How to beat Hitler" but entirely rational when we realize that beating Hitler was never the primary concern.
https://medium.com/counterfactualww2
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Re: German-Allied loss ratios in aerial combat, Western theaters

Post by Politician01 » 08 Mar 2021 19:22

TheMarcksPlan wrote:
08 Mar 2021 18:55
Politician01 wrote:According to my data, the Americans lost 676 aircraft shot down by fighters
What's your source? Please share. Mine, as stated, is the AAF Statistical Digest for losses in aerial combat - 977 ftrs in 1943. I would be surprised if German bombers shot down 300 American fighters but please share your source.
General Wilhelm Otto von Renz - Deutsche Luftabwehr im 20. Jahrhundert

He states "according to American sources x aircraft were lost" unfortunately he does not specify what these sources were:

1942 August - December - 5 US aircraft shot down by flak/26 US aircraft shot down by fighters
1943 233 by flak/ 676 by fighters
1944 January - June - 665 by flak/ 980 by fighters

It is unclear if these are just US Bombers or all US types of aircraft, because on the next page he gives the numbers of damaged aircraft by flak/fighters, he states that these do include only bombers though.
TheMarcksPlan wrote:
08 Mar 2021 18:55
America's strategy was inefficient from the perspective of "How to beat Hitler" but entirely rational when we realize that beating Hitler was never the primary concern.
Oh Roosevelt wanted to beat Hilter allright, he just wanted the European powers to devour one another as long as possible so that the US would remain as the strongest, unopposed power. Thats why he dragged the US into the war and why he demanded unconditional surrender without consulting his Allies. The longer the war took and the more casualties everyone else sustained, the better for the US

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Re: German-Allied loss ratios in aerial combat, Western theaters

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 08 Mar 2021 19:35

Politician01 wrote:General Wilhelm Otto von Renz - Deutsche Luftabwehr im 20. Jahrhundert

He states "according to American sources x aircraft were lost" unfortunately he does not specify what these sources were:
Why credit a German general's second-hand recollection of unspecified American sources when we have access to the definitive American sources?
https://medium.com/counterfactualww2
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Re: German-Allied loss ratios in aerial combat, Western theaters

Post by Politician01 » 08 Mar 2021 20:11

TheMarcksPlan wrote:
08 Mar 2021 19:35
Politician01 wrote:General Wilhelm Otto von Renz - Deutsche Luftabwehr im 20. Jahrhundert

He states "according to American sources x aircraft were lost" unfortunately he does not specify what these sources were:
Why credit a German general's second-hand recollection of unspecified American sources when we have access to the definitive American sources?
Because the data is contradictory no matter where you look. The USSBS claims that 57 000 German aircraft were destroyed by the Wallies during the war, the Americans claimed to have destroyed 36 000 of these.

The Spaatz Air war in Europe book you linked states that the Americans destroyed just 30 000 German aircraft, leaving a discrepancy of some 6000 aircraft.

And despite my best efforts outside of the Renz book I simply could not find detailed statistics for damaged US aircraft with a breakdown between flak/fighters.

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Re: German-Allied loss ratios in aerial combat, Western theaters

Post by Tom from Cornwall » 08 Mar 2021 20:59

TheMarcksPlan wrote:
08 Mar 2021 18:55
The counterfactual of a different resource allocation neatly makes this point: Had America built a meaningful army by 1942 instead of concentrating on air/sea warfare, it could have (should have) invaded France in 1942 and killed Hitler by mid-'43. That would have saved millions of innocent lives and probably would have cost no more than what America lost in the longer war.
Isn't that analysis based on hindsight though? How long do you suppose it would take for America to build a "meaningful army"? 2 or 3 years? So, I guess what you are saying is that say on 1 September 1939 when Hitler invades Poland, America responds by launching an immediate and immense rearmament drive and mobilises its population and industrial resources for war. Not sure that the US population would have supported that would it?

Of course, that would leave a "meaningful" US Army stuck in America, unless there was sufficient air/sea warfare resources to get it to the UK. Oh, and then it would have been stuck there, unless someone built immense numbers of landing craft to do that "invasion" which you seem to have regarded as a walk-over.

Sadly, of course, many (the majority?) of the victims of the Holocaust would have already been murdered by mid-1943 and of course, a failed major attempt by the western Allies to reinvade "France" in 1942 may well have put back the end of the war. We would need hindsight to know for sure obviously! :wink:

Regards

Tom

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Re: German-Allied loss ratios in aerial combat, Western theaters

Post by Sid Guttridge » 08 Mar 2021 21:54

Hi TMP,

Surely, the economic calculation has to include the damage inflicted on the ground by the bombers?

They weren't over Germany hunting German fighters.

Cheers,

Sid.

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Re: German-Allied loss ratios in aerial combat, Western theaters

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 08 Mar 2021 22:42

Sid Guttridge wrote:
08 Mar 2021 21:54
Surely, the economic calculation has to include the damage inflicted on the ground by the bombers?
Gooner1 wrote:
08 Mar 2021 11:54
And if you assign a zero value to economic damage caused by the strategic bombing.
There is a reason I said "aerial attrition ratio": I meant aerial attrition ratio.

Is that the whole story? No, of course not. That why I said aerial attrition ratio.

The next analytical step should be to consider whether a specific attrition ratio is sustainable or wise, given respective resource endowments and the strategic considerations in whose context the attrition takes place.

How does that analysis look?

Well we might first consider the magnitude of attrition in addition to ratio. Sometimes horrific attrition ratios are acceptable if the magnitude of losses is justified by some strategic gain. Had Germany suffered 3 losses for each Dutchman during its invasion of the Netherlands, that's not ideal but, given the magnitude of fighting there, would still have been justified on strategic grounds.

Apply that to American daylight bombing: AAF lost ~900 heavies and ~900 fighters against German fighters in '43; it may be true that the damage inflicted (the strategic goal) exceeded the delta between American and German aerial attrition. Now amplify the magnitude at constant attrition ratio: at some point on the magnitude curve the attrition delta exceeds the damage inflicted.

But there's another turn of the analytical screw: magnitude of attrition determines the damage inflicted because, all else being equal, higher bomber losses means shorter bomber/crew lifespans, fewer missions to Germany, and therefore less damage inflicted.

Those additional steps are relevant to an ATL in which Germany can amplify the magnitude of aerial attrition - you all know where such topics are being discussed.

For the purposes of this thread and post, however, I said aerial attrition ratio because I meant aerial attrition ratio.
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Re: German-Allied loss ratios in aerial combat, Western theaters

Post by Sid Guttridge » 08 Mar 2021 22:56

Hi TMP,

It still seems an artificial cut off.

What is the rationale for considering German-Allied loss ratios in aerial combat in splendid isolation?

Another factor is that aircraft losses alone do not fully reflect attrition. Almost all downed Allied aircrew not killed were captured, never to fight again. By contrast, most German aircrew not killed survived, often to fly again. The issue is wider than airframes and aeroengines.

Cheers,

Sid.

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Re: German-Allied loss ratios in aerial combat, Western theaters

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 09 Mar 2021 05:25

Does anybody have monthly data for German fighter losses for the first half of 1944?

It's frustrating that Murray obviously had the data but his book gives only monthly percentage losses and absolute data for 6-month periods covering all types:

Image

Image

I spent a few years tutoring for the Law School Admissions Test; common logical errors are one of our big focuses and the failure to distinguish percentage trends from absolute trends is a very big one. Frustrating to see it undercut this discussion.

It appears that Matti Salonen has been recently active online, but in a forum for which I can't register. Maybe some folks at AHF have seen his topline numbers for 1944 losses?
Sid Guttridge wrote:What is the rationale for considering German-Allied loss ratios in aerial combat in splendid isolation?
What is the rationale of a forum about long-gone events with other weirdos who care about such arcana? Feel free not to comment in the thread if you find it uninteresting.
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Re: German-Allied loss ratios in aerial combat, Western theaters

Post by Politician01 » 09 Mar 2021 10:45

TheMarcksPlan wrote:
09 Mar 2021 05:25
Does anybody have monthly data for German fighter losses for the first half of 1944?
If it helps I have quarterly losses for all Fronts From General Adolf Gallands Luftwaffe page 256 - However these numbers include all losses from more than 10% damaged up to total losses.

1.7. 42 - 31.12. 42 - 2782 fighters of all kind
1.1. 43- 1.7 43 - 4470 fighters of all kind
1.7. 43 - 31.12. 43 - 6191 fighters of all kind
1.1. 44 - 31.3. 44 - 3900 fighters of all kind
1.4.44 - 30.5. 44 - 3092 fighters of all kind
1.6. 44 - 31.8.44 - 7855 fighters of all kind
1.9. 44 - 31.12 44 - 7704 fighters of all kind

According to Murray 4800 fighters were lost from January 43 to November 43 or roughly 5200 for the entire year compared to the 7300 claimed
by Galland. Murray lists total losses only though, which means that around 30% of losses reported by Galland are damaged aircraft that can be repaired. If we use the same metric for 44 one could speculate that out of the 3900 fighters claimed as losses in the first quarter of 1944, some 2800 were total losses. Since by this time 3/4 of all LW losses were sustained against the Wallies, this would mean that the LW lost around 2100 fighters as total losses against the Wallies. Its not perfect - but it is a resonable estimate.

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Re: German-Allied loss ratios in aerial combat, Western theaters

Post by histan » 12 Mar 2021 04:19

TMP
The loss of every single Bomber Command aircraft has been documented in a series of books by Bill Chorley

The statistics can also be obtained from a series of books by Chris Ward covering each of the Bomber Command Groups on a squadron by squadron basis

Then there is the book Bomber Command War Diary
Daily number of losses and summaries over the various phases of the bombing campaign.


Fighter Command and Coastal Command losses are documented in a similar series of books to those produced by Chorley.

The Air War in North Africa and Italy is covered in four books by a team coordinated by Christopher Shores
These contain day by day details of British, German, and Italian claims and losses.
American claims and losses, including those of the US Navy are also included along with French claims and losses.
A significant amount of effort was undertaken by this team to look at all documentation available for all the countries involved.

Worth noting that analytical and modelling work has been done looking at The Battle of Britain, The war in the Pacific, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.
Conclusion seems to be that
To believe that air combat is square-law and symmetric is precisely wrong:
air combat is approximately linear-law, and asymmetric.
To the extent to which there is some advantage in numbers, this is true only for the attacker.
In contrast the defender’s optimal tactics are of cover, concealment, dispersal, denial, disruption,force preservation.

and
The principle of economy achieved by Keith Park in the Battle of Britain was manifested by the North Vietnamese in countering the most powerful air arm in history.
The advantage apparently regained by the offensive during the Gulf War was effectively another example of the application of overwhelming force, in which the systemic mathematical advantage of the defence did not come close to offsetting the material advantage of the attacking force.

Basically, in air warfare the defence has an advantage which the offence overcomes by sheer weight of numbers.

Regards

John

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Re: German-Allied loss ratios in aerial combat, Western theaters

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 12 Mar 2021 07:17

histan wrote:
12 Mar 2021 04:19
TMP
The loss of every single Bomber Command aircraft has been documented in a series of books by Bill Chorley

Regards

John
Thanks, John. That looks to be a really helpful reading list.
histan wrote:Conclusion seems to be that
To believe that air combat is square-law and symmetric is precisely wrong:
Lanchestrian model definitely doesn't apply straightforwardly to aerial combat. In their article, "Safety in Numbers: Ideas of Concentration in Royal Air Force Fighter Defence from Lanchester to the Battle of Britain," authors MacKay and Price write:
If one fits the generalized model to data from the Battle of Britain, one
finds that Lanchester’s insight is essentially correct for British (Blue)
losses, with dB/dt ~ -gG^1.2. However, German (Green) losses dG/dt ~
-bG^0.9, not at all as expected in the aimed-fire model, while the Green
exponent g ~ 1.3 and the Blue exponent b ~ 0.8.
...that's basically in line with your characterization of the broad view of attacker's advantage with large numbers.
Interestingly, prewar British doctrine appears to have imbibed Lanchestrian thinking and found confirmation in (false) contemporaneous kill claims.

The above insights have different implications for different analytical scenarios:

In the case of a defender with a discrete campaign-wide quantum of fighters, it implies that Lanchestrian concentration in battle won't provide Lanchestrian benefits.

In the case of a defender who might vary his campaign-wide quantum of aerial defenders, however, (say someone analyzing an earlier shift to fighter production by Germany) it implies that the attacker's advantage would erode with higher absolute attrition rates inflicted by non-Lanchestrian attrition.
https://medium.com/counterfactualww2
"The whole question of whether we win or lose the war depends on the Russians." - FDR, June 1942

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