Luftwaffe Aircraft Losses By Theatre September 1943 - October 1944

Introduction to the Loss Table

The table below helps to put the contributions and sacrifices of JG 26 into historical perspective, and is worth careful study. For three years, from mid-1941 to mid-1944, JG 26 and JG 2 were the only Luftwaffe day fighter units defending German-occupied France. For the first two of those years, JG 1 was the only day fighter unit defending the Reich. In mid-1943 the buildup of the American 8th Air Force in England forced the Luftwaffe to strengthen its Western defenses, primarily at the expense of the Eastern Front. Western historians agree that by early 1944 the Luftwaffe had lost the air war over all of Europe except the Eastern Front. Allied air supremacy facilitated the invasion of France and permitted the systematic destruction of the Axis petroleum industry and transportation system. Eastern historians argue that the back of the Luftwaffe had already been broken in the fight against the Soviet Union. What are the facts? Where was the battle for air superiority fought and lost?

The data needed to answer the question are operational strength, losses, and sortie rates. (A sortie is one combat mission by one airplane.) Luftwaffe research has always been hampered by a lack of data. The existing records are fragmented and inconsistent. In the 1970s Prof. Olaf Groehler, a prominent East German military historian, was allowed to travel to the West German archives and gather data that he combined with his own to produce a major journal article. The article contains 23 data tables, but unfortunately these are in wildly inconsistent formats and categories. We have re-worked Groehler's data into a single table, and present it here.

Two categories of aircraft are shown: "day fighters", which includes single-engine and twin-engine day fighters, and "total a/c", which includes all combat types. The table covers only the period Sept 43-Oct 44; Groehler's data for the rest of the war are either incompatible or incomplete. This is the period during which the Luftwaffe lost the air war, according to Western historians, and excludes the late-war period, when the fuel shortage took full effect and grounded much of the Luftwaffe. Unfortunately, Groehler obtained his "losses" by combining operational and non-operational "total losses" and "damaged" - a very strange thing to do, unless this helped him prove his thesis. According to other data in the original article, the "losses" in this table are about twice the "operational losses", but there are not enough data in the latter category to tabulate. There are other peculiarities - Groehler put the Balkans in the west, and we had to follow suit - but we take what we can get. Assuming that all his loss numbers are off by roughly the same proportion, conclusions based on comparisons should be valid, but to emphasize Groehler's dubious practice we'll put quotes around his "losses".

It is clear from his text that Groehler's objectives were: (1) to show that the German-Soviet front was the most significant source of the Luftwaffe losses that ultimately led to Allied air supremacy, and (2) that the Luftwaffe could not afford to weaken its forces in the East, even when pushed hard by the USAAF strategic offensive and the Normandy invasion. Groehler did make these claims, to the undoubted pleasure of his Soviet masters, but his data, when examined carefully, don't back him up. Most Luftwaffe losses between mid-1941 and mid-1943 were, of course, incurred on the Eastern Front - that's where most of the fighting was! But starting in late 1943 the number of losses in the West increased sharply. Half of these losses were day fighters, the single weapon most responsible for the maintenance or loss of air superiority.

Please examine the table and draw your own conclusions, but here are some highlights


During the period in question, a constant 21-24% of the Luftwaffe's day fighters were based in the East - but only 12-14% of the Luftwaffe day fighter "losses" occurred in this theater.


During this period, a constant 75-78% of the day fighters were based in the West. The turnover was enormous: 14,720 aircraft were "lost", while operational strength averaged 1364.


During this period, 2294 day fighters were "lost" in the East; the ratio of western "losses" to eastern "losses" was thus 14,720/2294 = 6.4 to one.


During this period, a constant 43-46% of all of the Luftwaffe's operational aircraft were based in the East. It should be noted that these included entire categories (for example, battlefield recce, battle planes, dive bombers) that were used exclusively in the East, because they couldn't survive in the West..


During this period, a total of 8600 operational aircraft were "lost" in the East, while 27,060 were "lost" in the West; the ratio of western "losses" to eastern "losses" was thus 27,060/8600 = 3.41 to one.

* "losses" are defined in this compilation as "total losses" + "damaged"

Source: O. Gröhler, "Stärke, Verteilung und Verluste der deutschen Luftwaffe im zweiten Weltkrieg", Militärgeschichte 17, pp. 316-336 (1978).

Groehler's article did not include data on sortie rates. If it had done so, the odds of survival faced by the pilots of JG 26 and the other units in the West would have appeared even lower. One table giving 1944 sortie and loss totals for all combat aircraft has been found in the US archives. Its loss numbers are only about one-third of Groehler's, and probably include only total losses and writeoffs resulting from combat, a more common definition of the term. The data:

1944 - All Combat Types

Total West

Eastern Front














4.06 times as many aircraft were lost in combat in the West than were lost in the East, a ratio reasonably close to Groehler's 3.41 for all "losses". The most chilling statistic for the JG 26 pilots appears in the sortie data. An airplane flying a combat mission in the West was 7.66 times more likely to be destroyed than one on a similar mission in the East. It is clear that the burden of sacrifice was borne by the Luftwaffe aircrew on the Western Front and over the Reich, not on the Eastern Front.

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