Top 10 Non-US Fighter Pilot Aces
Here are the top 10 non-US fighter pilot aces of World War II—a list populated by legends who survived and thrived in some of the most lethal skies in history. The dogfights of World War II produced some of the most extraordinary feats of aerial combat ever witnessed. The men behind the stick were often equally remarkable, each with his unique combination of skill, daring, and situational awareness.
The US aircraft that suffered the most losses in World War II was the B-17 Flying Fortress, a heavy bomber. The B-17s participated in strategic bombing campaigns in Europe, particularly targeting German industrial and military infrastructure. Due to their extensive use and the dangerous nature of their missions, the B-17s experienced significant losses during the war.
During World War II, a total of 4,735 B-17 Flying Fortress bombers were produced by the United States. Approximately 1,000 were lost in combat operations, either shot down by enemy aircraft or destroyed in other ways.
Definition of a Fighter Pilot Ace
Fighter Pilot Ace is an exceptionally skilled fighter pilot with many air combat victories. The term “ace” originated during World War I and refers to a pilot who had shot down five or more enemy aircraft. A fighter pilot with this designation is typically revered for their outstanding flying skills, tactical prowess, and ability to outmaneuver and defeat enemy aircraft in combat. These individuals are often decorated with military honors and highly respected within military aviation circles.
1. Erich Hartmann – Germany: 352 Victories
Known as the “Black Devil,” Erich Hartmann is the highest-scoring ace ever. Flying primarily the Messerschmitt Bf 109, Hartmann achieved 352 aerial victories. Despite being captured by Soviet forces and spending ten years in a labor camp, he survived the war and became a West German Air Force colonel.
2. Gerhard Barkhorn – Germany: 301 Victories
Gerhard “Gerd” Barkhorn was a German fighter pilot during World War II. He was born on March 20, 1919, in Königsberg, Germany (now Kaliningrad, Russia), and joined the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) in 1937. Barkhorn became one of the highest-scoring fighter aces of the war, with 301 confirmed victories, making him the second-highest scoring ace in history, behind Erich Hartmann.
Following World War II, he became a high-ranking officer in the German Air Force of the Federal Republic of Germany.
3. Günther Rall – Germany: 275 Victories
With 275 confirmed victories, Günther Rall is third on the list. Rall served on the Eastern and Western Fronts and was known for his tactical brilliance. He also had the distinction of being one of the most highly decorated Luftwaffe pilots.
4. Otto Kittel – Germany: 267 Victories
Otto Kittel was one of the Luftwaffe’s most effective pilots, amassing 267 victories. He flew the Fw 190 and was exceptionally skilled at ground-attack missions. Unfortunately, he was killed in action in February 1945.
5. Walter Nowotny – Austria/Germany: 258 Victories
Austrian-born Walter Nowotny accumulated 258 aerial victories, primarily on the Eastern Front. Flying both the Bf 109 and the Fw 190, he became one of the youngest captain’s in the Luftwaffe before being killed in combat in 1944 while testing a Me 262 jet fighter.
6. Wilhelm Batz – Germany: 237 Victories
Wilhelm Batz, another Luftwaffe pilot, accrued 237 victories. He was known for his precision and audacity in combat. Batz survived the war but did not continue his military career afterward.
7. Heinz Bär – Germany: 220 Victories
Heinz Bär participated in multiple fronts, including the Eastern Front, the Western Front, and the Mediterranean. With 220 victories, Bär flew various aircraft, including the Messerschmitt Bf 109, the Fw 190, and even the Me 262 jet.
8. Hermann Graf – Germany: 212 Victories
Hermann Graf earned 212 confirmed victories during his time in World War II. His tactical acumen was only paralleled by his skills as a marksman. After the war, he was held as a prisoner of war by both the Americans and the French but was eventually released.
9. Hans-Joachim Marseille – Germany: 158 Victories
Known as the “Star of Africa,” Hans-Joachim Marseille was a prolific ace who primarily fought in North Africa. With 158 victories, he was noted for his chivalry and respect towards enemy pilots. He died in a flying accident in 1942.
10. Hiroyoshi Nishizawa – Japan: 87 Victories
The only non-German pilot on this list, Hiroyoshi Nishizawa, was Japan’s leading ace with an estimated 87 confirmed victories. Flying the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, he was renowned for his fearlessness and extraordinary skill. Nishizawa was killed in 1944 during a transport mission.
Russian Fighter Pilot Aces in World War II
- Ivan Kozhedub was the highest-scoring Allied fighter ace of World War II, with 62 confirmed victories. He flew in the Soviet Air Forces and was awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union three times.
- Aleksandr Pokryshkin is one of the best fighter pilots in Soviet history, with 59 confirmed victories. He was also awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union three times.
- Grigory Rechkalov: He had 56 confirmed victories during World War II and was awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union twice.
- Nikolay Golodnikov: He had 52 confirmed victories and was awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union twice.
- Boris Safonov: He had 48 confirmed victories and was awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union twice.
These are just a few examples, and many more Soviet fighter pilots achieved many aerial victories during World War II.
Japanese Fight Pilot Aces During World War II
- Saburo Sakai: He is regarded as one of Japan’s most famous and skilled fighter pilots. Sakai shot down 64 enemy aircraft, including American, British, and Australian planes. Despite suffering severe injuries during the war, he survived and wrote about his experiences in his autobiography, “Samurai!”
- Hiroyoshi Nishizawa: Nishizawa is another highly regarded Japanese fighter pilot. He is credited with shooting down 87 enemy aircraft during the war, making him one of the highest-scoring aces of the Japanese Empire. Nishizawa’s combat skills earned him the nickname “Devil of Rabaul.”
- Tetsuzo Iwamoto: With 80 confirmed victories, Iwamoto was one of Japan’s top-ranking aces during World War II. He displayed exceptional skills in combat, often flying in the A6M Zero fighter aircraft. Iwamoto survived the war but lost an eye in a training accident.
- Shoichi Sugita: Sugita achieved ace by shooting down 38 enemy planes during the war. He primarily flew the Mitsubishi A6M Zero and participated in numerous campaigns, including the Battle of Midway and the Solomon Islands campaign.
- Yasuhiko Kuroe: Kuroe was a highly successful Japanese fighter pilot, shooting down 39 enemy aircraft during the war. He participated in various battles, including the Battle of Midway, where he earned commendations for his actions. Like many other Japanese pilots, Kuroe flew the Mitsubishi A6M Zero.
These pilots and others played critical roles in the Japanese war effort, engaging in dogfights and aerial combat throughout the Pacific theater. Their exceptional skills and combat prowess enabled them to earn the status of ace and contribute to Japan’s war efforts during World War II.
World War II fighter aces were exceptional individuals operating under extreme circumstances. While their actions took place in a devastating global conflict, their feats of skill, bravery, and tactical brilliance are unparalleled in the annals of military aviation.