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.
- AAF's statistical digest.
- The appendices in Carl A. Spaatz and the Air War in Europe neatly present the Digest's figures.
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).
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:
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)
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.
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
0.5 P-38/47 at ~$100k in '43 = ~$50k
0.5 B-17/24 at ~$230k = $115k
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.