The annals of World War II are filled with extraordinary tales of heroism, particularly in aerial combat. American fighter pilots played a crucial role in achieving victory for the Allies, often facing incredibly dangerous odds to take control of the skies. Here, we look at the top 10 United States fighter pilot aces of World War II, men whose skill, valor, and determination set them apart as some of the most remarkable combatants in military history.
1. Richard Bong – 40 Victories
Major Richard Bong was a highly decorated fighter pilot in the United States Army Air Forces during World War II. He was born on September 24, 1920, in Superior, Wisconsin, and became America’s highest-scoring fighter pilot aces of the war, with 40 confirmed enemy aircraft shot down.
Bong flew a P-38 Lightning, a twin-engine fighter aircraft, primarily in the Pacific theaters of war. He was awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest military decoration in the United States, for his exceptional skill and bravery. However, tragically, Bong died in 1945 during a test flight of a new jet aircraft, cutting short his promising career.
2. Thomas McGuire – 38 Victories
Thomas McGuire was an American and a fighter pilot ace during World War II. He was born on August 1, 1920, in Ridgewood, New Jersey, and grew up near North Arlington. McGuire joined the United States Army Air Corps in 1941 and trained as a fighter pilot.
During the war, McGuire served in the Pacific Theater of Operations as a pilot in the 431st Fighter Squadron, 475th Fighter Group. He gained significant recognition for his exceptional combat skills and was credited with downing 16 enemy aircraft.
McGuire’s most notable achievement came on January 7, 1945, when he shot down seven Japanese aircraft in a single mission, becoming the second-highest-scoring American ace. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during this mission.
Sadly, on January 7, 1945, during a subsequent mission, McGuire’s P-38 Lightning aircraft experienced mechanical issues and crashed near the island of Negros in the Philippines. Despite heroic efforts to escape the wreckage, McGuire could not detach himself from the aircraft and died in the crash.
Thomas McGuire’s bravery, skill, and contributions during World War II have cemented his place as one of the most respected and celebrated American flying aces.
3. David McCampbell – 34 Victories
Commander David McCampbell was a highly decorated naval aviator who served during World War II. He was born on January 16, 1910, in Bessemer, Alabama, and grew up in California. McCampbell joined the United States Navy in 1933 and began his aviation career as a cadet.
During his service in the Pacific theater of World War II, McCampbell became the Navy’s “Ace of Aces” by shooting down 34 enemy aircraft in 42 days. He achieved this remarkable feat as the commander of Air Group 15 aboard the aircraft carrier USS Essex. McCampbell’s courage, leadership, and aerial skills earned him the Medal of Honor, which he received from President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944.
4. Joseph Foss – 26 Victories
Joseph Foss, born on April 17, 1915, and passed away on January 1, 2003, was an American aviator, politician, and business executive. He is best known for his service as a fighter pilot during World War II and his impressive combat record as a Marine Corps pilot. Foss was credited with shooting down 26 enemy aircraft, making him one of the leading aces of World War II.
Marine Corps aviator Joseph Foss was another outstanding pilot, scoring 26 victories in the Pacific Theater while flying the F4F Wildcat. Foss would later serve as the Governor of South Dakota and receive the Medal of Honor for his heroism.
5. Robert Johnson – 27 Victories
During World War II, Robert S. Johnson was an American fighter pilot and flying ace. He was born on February 21, 1920, in Lawton, Oklahoma, and grew up in West Virginia. Johnson joined the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1941 and became a P-47 Thunderbolt pilot. He flew combat missions in the European theater and became widely known for his exceptional skills and combat record. Operating in the European Theater, Robert S. Johnson flew the P-47 Thunderbolt and notched 27 kills. Johnson’s achievements are all the more remarkable, considering he was nearly shot down early in his combat career but managed to evade capture and return to flying.
6. Edward “Butch” O’Hare – 26 Victories
Edward “Butch” O’Hare was an American naval aviator who served during World War II. He was born on March 13, 1914, in St. Louis, Missouri, and grew up in a prominent family. O’Hare joined the U.S. Navy in 1939 and trained as a fighter pilot.
In 1942, O’Hare became the Navy’s first flying ace of World War II for his heroic actions during the Battle of the Coral Sea. While defending the USS Lexington aircraft carrier from a group of attacking Japanese bombers, O’Hare shot down five enemy aircraft in a single engagement. His actions earned him the Medal of Honor, becoming the Navy’s first recipient in World War II.
Edward O’Hare’s bravery and skill made him a national hero, and he became known as “Butch” due to his rugged personality. Unfortunately, his life was cut short when his aircraft disappeared during a night combat mission in 1943 in the Pacific theater. Despite his untimely death, Edward O’Hare left a lasting legacy as a courageous and decorated naval aviator.
7. Gerald R. Johnson – 22 Victories
Gerald Richard Johnson (June 23, 1920 – October 7, 1945) was a World War II flying ace who flew for the United States Army Air Forces. Johnson commanded the 9th Fighter Squadron and 49th Fighter Group and became the fourth-ranking fighter ace in the Pacific during World War II. He ended his war career with 22 kills.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerald_R._Johnson
8. Robert Hanson – 25 Victories
Robert Murray Hanson (February 4, 1920 – February 3, 1944) was a United States Marine Corps flying ace who shot down 25 Japanese planes during World War II. He flew the Vought F4U-1 Corsair in the South Pacific. He was shot down and crashed into the ocean on February 3, 1944. His Medal of Honor was presented to his mother in Boston, Massachusetts, on August 19, 1944.
9. Walker “Bud” Mahurin – 24.75 Victories
Walker “Bud” Mahurin was among the few American aces to serve in the European and Pacific Theaters. Flying the P-47 Thunderbolt and the P-51 Mustang, Mahurin achieved 24.75 confirmed kills before being captured by the enemy. He survived captivity and returned to the U.S. after the war.
Walker “Bud” Mahurin, born on December 5, 1918, and died on May 11, 2010, was a highly decorated fighter pilot from the United States. He served in the United States Army Air Forces and later the United States Air Force. Mahurin was known for his incredible combat skills and bravery during World War II and the Korean War.
During World War II, Mahurin flew 56 combat missions and achieved 20 aerial victories, making him an “ace” (a fighter pilot credited with shooting down five or more enemy aircraft). He piloted both the P-47 Thunderbolt and P-51 Mustang fighters during the war.
In addition to his achievements during World War II, Mahurin also served in the Korean War. He commanded the 4th Fighter-Interceptor Wing and flew the F-86 Sabre. Mahurin was again successful in shooting down enemy aircraft and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest military medal for valor in combat.
Overall, Walker “Bud” Mahurin is recognized as one of the most successful American fighter pilots of World War II and the Korean War, with 24.25 confirmed aerial victories. He retired from the military in 1956 and later worked in the aerospace industry.
10. Charles MacDonald – 27 Victories
Colonel Charles Henry “Mac” MacDonald was a highly decorated officer and fighter ace in the United States Air Force during World War II. Born November 23, 1914, MacDonald served as the 475th Fighter Group commander for 20 months. He flew the P-38 Lightning aircraft named “Putt Putt Maru” during his tenure.
MacDonald’s exceptional skills and bravery as a pilot earned him the status of the third highest-ranking fighter ace in the Pacific theater during World War II. As an ace, he distinguished himself by shooting down many enemy aircraft in aerial combat, making him a formidable force.
MacDonald’s leadership and combat experience made him highly respected among his fellow pilots and the military community. He played a vital role in the success of the 475th Fighter Group, which participated in various missions and operations during the war.
Colonel Charles Henry “Mac” MacDonald continued to serve in the military for many years after the war. He eventually retired from the Air Force and passed away on March 3, 2002. His contributions and achievements as a fighter ace remain a significant part of his legacy in the history of the United States Air Force.