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Fighter Pilots 1939-1945


The achievements of German fighter pilots during World War Two surpassed those of any other nation. Even allowing for the normal over-claiming of victories common in all air forces, the Jadgflieger of the Luftwaffe achieved some astonishing totals: The top-ranking fighter pilot in the Luftwaffe, Erich Hartmann, scored 352 victories in 1152 sorties. Second was Gerhard Barkhorn with 301 in 1104 sorties. (The Luftwaffe did not use the designation "ace", instead favoring Experte. No set number was required to achieve Experte status; rather, it was conferred as a mark of proficiency in combat over an extended period. Under the Allied standard of five victories making an "ace", the Luftwaffe produced over 2500 "aces"!)

There were various factors for these totals. First, and perhaps most notable, was that unlike their British and American counterparts, German fighter pilots were not "rotated out" for a rest-they were kept in action as long as possible, and those that did not die became expert at their craft. Second, of course, was that German pilots only enjoyed a numerical superiority early in the war-they often fought outnumbered, and, perversely, had more opportunities to score victories. This was particularly true during the opening phase of Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union-the Jadgflieger slaughtered the inexperienced Russian pilots wholesale.

The third reason was the superior tactics employed by the Luftwaffe early in the war. While Allied air forces still used the three-aircraft "Vic" formation until later in the war, the "finger-four" formations of the German fighters allowed for more flexibility operationally. (This tactic was discovered almost by accident by the pilots of the Kondor Legion which flew in the Spanish Civil War. Having few aircraft initially, they developed tactics which made the most use of their resources. Their successful tactics later became standard operational doctrine throughout the Luftwaffe.) The "finger-four" formation was later adopted by the Allies, and is now the standard flight formation throughout the world's air forces.

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The leutnant's (flying branch) operational flight clasp is clearly seen above his left pocket. "frontflugspange für kampf- und sturzkampfflugzeuge"     (wartime pic) The wrist compass is attached to the mouthpiece of the lifevest's inflation tube. This pilot wears a summer flighthelmet and flightgoggles. (wartime pic)

The Field Blue Uniform

The Fliegerbluse was introduced in 1935 to all members of the Luftwaffe and when the fallschirmjäger were incorporated into the Luftwaffe from the Wehrmacht, its personnel were also issued with this piece of uniform. The officer's Fliegerbluse remained unaltered throughout the course of the war with only the addition of flaps to the side pocket (changing the appearance slightly). The collar was piped in silver. The NCO and ranks Fliegerbluse was modified slightly in 1940 with the addition of side pockets and in October 1940 the Luftwaffe eagle was ordered to be displayed on the right breast of the jacket. Up until that point it had not been worn.

Made from field blue cloth the Fliegerbluse had a fly front covering the five plastic buttons that fastened the front of the jacket. The side pockets were covered by a flap which was secured by a single "pebbled" button. Some models had two wire belt ramps attached to them on the waist. Worn opened necked and without a shirt and tie for service dress and open over a pale blue shirt and black tie for walking out. A small hook and eye were fitted to the collar for when it was worn closed at the neck. The sleeves could also be gathered by a sewn in strap passing through a slit and buttoning on the outside. Rank was denoted by collar patches with the collars edged in braid for NCOs. Shoulder straps were also worn and edged in waffenfarbe for the appropriate arm of service. The Luftwaffe eagle was worn on the right side of the tunic with any decorations being worn on the left side.It proved an extremely popular item of clothing among Fallschirmjäger and was worn under the jump smock or on its own both off duty and in combat. (for pictures see "Hermann Göring division")


The field blue uniform tunic

The uniform tunic was issued to all officers of the Luftwaffe including Fallschirmjäger. It was made from good quality field blue cloth with four pleated pockets, each secured by a single button. These four single buttons on the pockets and the five buttons fastening the front of the tunic are of silver coloured grained metal (higher ranking officers had gold buttons in some cases). The sleeves had turn-ups on them to which were adorned (on the left sleeve) any cuff titles the wearer was entitled to display.

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This leutnant wears a tuchrock with breeches and riding boots. He has a small sidearm (Walther PP). On his left arm he wears the Krimm shield.
(wartime pic)
This tuchrock is worn in combination with a lifevest, pilot helmet and flight boots.
(wartime pic)

As with the Fliegerbluse, rank was denoted by collar patches (with the collars edged in twist piping) and shoulder straps of the appropriate rank. The Luftwaffe eagle was worn over the left breast above the pocket. This tunic was worn with a white shirt and black tie and with matching field blue trousers.


Leather flight clothing
flieger leder jacke

Development of protective flight uniforms and equipment began with the advent of military aircraft in WWI and continued on into the Weimar and the Third Reich eras, resulting in three distinct one-piece combination pattern flight suits being approved before WWII and worn for the duration of the war. Regulations of April 24TH 1941 introduced two piece protective flight suits for fighter pilots designed to increase the wearers mobility and not be as restrictive in the close confines of a cockpit. A variety of flight clothing was available to Luftwaffe fighter pilots. However, given the tight confines of a fighter cockpit, garments that were close-fitting and hard-wearing were preferred–and if they were in keeping with the "dashing" image of a fighter pilot, all the better! As a result, very little in the way of protective flight clothing was worn early on in the war.

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This officer pilot wears a leather flight jacket with canal trousers and flight boots. He has a small sidearm.
(wartime pic) (pic2)
This leather jacket is worn in combination with a lifevest
(wartime pic)

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Throughout the war, fighter pilots favored flight jerkins or wind-cheaters when weather conditions permitted. Officially sanctioned in mid-1940, they were to be worn at the discretion of the pilot. They were generally privately made and purchased, and varied widely in style, fabric and coloring. Some were manufactured from leather or hard-wearing drill, some were fleece-lined, and varied in color from creamy white through blue-grey to brown and black leather. These were generally worn over either the Tuchrock or Fliegerbluse while on patrol. Later, as more extreme climatic conditions (such as a Russian winter) were encountered, a wider variety of protective clothing was worn. At the beginning of the war, fighter pilots had three other types of flight clothing to choose from. How widely used they were is difficult to say, though it is likely the winter clothing was worn more often than the lighter-weight summer clothing. In addition, an electrically-heated suit was also available to wear under the flight clothing, but was not popular and subsequently was not widely worn. In 1943, the two-piece "Kanal" Flying Suit came into service, and saw widespread use by both fighter pilots and bomber crews. Produced in Luftwaffe blue-grey, the tunic had a concealed, zippered front and a wollen knitted wastband. There was a single external pocket with a simple slit-opening high on the left side of the chest, and an internal pocket on the left side. Shoulder insignia and the Luftwaffe eagle were worn, but not the collar patches. The tunic does not appear to have been widely worn by fighter pilots, who favored the flight jerkin.

The trousers, colloquially known as "Kanalhose" or "Channel Trousers", a reference to service over the English Channel, were also made of blue-grey cloth (summer version was tan colored), their most noticeable feature were two large bellows pockets on the front of each leg, with broad pocket flaps each secured by two press-studs. The trouser were front-opening, with a prominent metal zip running from waist to crotch. The trousers were tapered so they could be worn inside flying boots, but also had external zips on the inside leg that ran from knee to hem to allow them to be worn over top. On the lower part of the right outer thigh was a specially-shaped pocket designed to take a pistol (or flare gun). The trousers had built-in cloth suspenders which adjusted in front. As well, a two-piece suit in white fleece also appears to have become available later in the war, likely after 1943.(Photos, however, show that the suit rarely stayed white.) Both jacket and trousers appear to have a fly front. In addition, the jacket appears to have had an elasticated waistband with two small front buttons. The jacket appears to have been a more popular garment than the trousers, and was often worn with the Kanalhose.

Gloves made of black or dark brown calf leather were often worn, and came in either the gauntlet type or with a shortened wrist. Fleece-lined versions were also available.


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