" ..I have read your latest post dealing with the Luftwaffe’s policy of 'acedom' and over-claiming. This is of course an intricate topic that cannot possibly be dealt with in-depth in the blog format.Yet there are several statements that I would strongly object to. I have dealt with this in the unit history of JG 1/11, Vol. 1, p 621 pp, which still stands to this day. There are actually two issues – one is the Luftwaffe’s policy to elevate successful pilots to leading positions in the fighter units, making the number of claims the most important factor, and the other the question of the accuracy of the number of claims and the phenomenon of over-claiming. Both topics are of course related to each other. I can only touch the various aspects here in a very short way as a comprehensive comment would result in a book of its own.
The phenomenon of over-claiming is inevitable given the particular circumstances of aerial battles; it is less pronounced when the number of a/c involved in aerial combat is small, but it will be substantial when great numbers of a/c are involved in combat. This is clearly born out by the claims made by the Luftwaffe Sturmgruppen over the Reich in 1944, when the claims filed – and confirmed - far exceeded the actual US losses. However the majority of the claims were made in good faith – when a Gruppe of 30 or more Fw 190s opened fire on a B-17 or B-24 box simultaneously and the pilots saw comparatively large numbers of bombers explode or go down in flames it was only natural that many or most of the pilots thought that they had actually downed one of the bombers. This obviously resulted in substantial - albeit unintentional - over-claiming. There was a time – way back in the sixties/seventies of the last century – when the general attitude in German Luftwaffe history publications, fueled by experts like Toliver / Constable and the like, had it that the German system of claims verification and confirmation was perfect and the claims confirmed proven beyond doubt, whereas the USAAF and the RAF claims were confirmed independent of facts and vastly exaggerated, this being epitomized by the truly ridiculous 185 claims made by the RAF on 15 September 1940 and the constantly vastly inflated claims by the US bomber units. You can see this nonsense even today in some publications.
In fact Luftwaffe fighter claims were always prone to over-claiming. This was not pronounced during the Phoney War and the Western Campaign, but it was very much the case during the Battle of Britain when the fighting took place mostly over enemy territory or over the sea where the Claims Commission could not touch and count the wrecks. This applied in particular to the ZG claims but also to those of several fighter units. In 1941 and 1942 the claims made by JG 2 were greatly exaggerated with a high proportion of them made over the sea. If you want to tackle the issue of over-claiming you will find that this was not a phenomenon to be found in a consistent form in the fighter units; to the contrary the issue has to be addressed individually for every single unit. There were JGs that were prone to allow over-claiming whereas others tried to be as correct as possible with the claims they filed. Notorious over-claimers were for instance JGs 2 and 5 as well as all Sturmgruppen.
In your blog post you portray JG 53 as a unit with particularly high numbers of claims in the 1941 Campaign in the East. However the numbers of claims made by the Gruppen of this Geschwader between 22 June and 30 September 1941 do not stand out in any way compared with those of the other JGs deployed in the East – those claims in said period were as follows;
I./JG 3 – 273, II./JG 3 – 411, III./JG 3 – 367
I./JG 51 – 252, II./JG 51 – 321, III./JG 51 – 308, IV./JG 51 – 468
II./JG 52 – 248, III./JG 52 – 216
I./JG 54 – 212, II./JG 54 – 395, III./JG 54 – 223
II./JG 77 – 211 and III./JG 77 – 374..
Therefore it is simply not the case that the achievements of III./JG 53 have "become legendary" or that the claims made by III./JG 53 were the result of "a benevolent attitude of the higher echelons" nor was JG 53 the home of a particular bunch of "daredevils". The statement that HGr. Mitte had "abdicated its authority to adjudicate in the claims confirmation process" is wholly inaccurate as the Army Command organisation HGr. Mitte had nothing to do with the confirmation of Luftwaffe fighter claims. This was exclusively a Luftwaffe issue. By the same token there is little 'hard' evidence for the various general allegations that over-claiming was enhanced by the Luftwaffe hierarchy and propaganda services and to which false claims this should apply. As for the actual losses of the Russian Air Force – I have yet to see anything like a comprehensive presentation based on complete official documents that would reflect the true losses incurred in the fight against the Luftwaffe. I therefore refrain from commenting on this issue. However I can see no basis at all for reducing the claims of the Luftwaffe fighters to anything like 20 %. You can see from my publications – in particular Vol. 10 and 13 – that I explicitly point at the discrepancies between Luftwaffe claims and allied losses where possible; both in the aerial battles over the Reich and in France the Luftwaffe constantly over-claimed. Another question is to what extent over-claiming was made intentionally. There can be no dobt that this happened, as is evidenced by the often quoted Experten-Schwarm of 4./JG 27. There were certainly many other examples, a wide field....
...A few more remarks concerning JG 53 as they relate to your blog post: Herbert Kaminski was not shot down in aerial combat on 24 July 1942 but was severely injured in a landing accident owing to engine failure; he was by the way a Gruppenkommandeur not appointed by virtue of the number of his claims – 5 by the time he became GrKdr. of I./JG 53 – but for other exploits. This was not uncommon in JG 53 – for instance Lt. Alfred Hammer from 6./JG 53 was awarded the EK I without a single claim in the summer of 1942 only because of his successful escort sorties for air transport units to and from North Africa. (see below) Günther von Maltzahn made it a point that the successful execution of a task was more important than filing a claim for an e/ac shot down. I./JG 53 was quite active over Stalingrad in August and September 1942. The three pilots mentioned in your blog post – Peissert, Hagedorn and Zellot – all met their death in the fighting over Stalingrad in early September 1942 and not at some later point in time in the East. As for the claims made by I./JG 53 in Russia in the summer of 1942 – one thing would be to reliably name the true number of Russian losses to compare them with German claims, which so far has not been achieved, and the other would be to prove and show tangible facts that the German verification system was sloppy and eager to produce 'heroes' for the Propaganda. None of this has been presented so far, instead there is only the unfounded assertion that as little as 20 % of German claims were justified to come near the actual results. The magnanimous comment that the claims made must not necessarily have been the result of wilful falsification doesn’t make it any better – why over-claim on a 5 : 1 ratio in good faith ? To conclude - an opinion piece certainly, but I would respectfully suggest that you refrain from this sort of omniscient loud-speaker comment made from the safe distance of over 75 years and based on sources that are still far from complete...."
At an altitude of 8,000m they intercepted 20 to 25 P-38 Lightnings. In the ensuing combat, which drifted south and ended at low-level over northern Yugoslavia, II./JG 53 claimed 15 P-38s shot down, including one by Hammer as his 10th victory. On 24 February, Hammer was wounded by defensive fire from USAAF four-engine bombers raiding the Steyr works at Linz. He was forced to land at Linz due to blood loss from his wounds and was hospitalised at Wels. Hammer was again wounded on 13 June 1944, operating over the Invasion front, in aerial combat with USAAF B-24 four-engine bombers and their P-51 fighter escort near Vannes in France. He baled out near Gail.
In late 1944 Hammer was promoted to Hauptmann and was appointed Gruppenkommandeur of IV./JG 53 based at Echterdingen. He led the unit until the end of the war, flying his last sortie on 20 April 1945, for a total of 463 sorties and 26 confirmed victories. He was decorated with the Frontflugspange in Gold, the Ehrenpokal and the Deutsches Kreuz in Gold. Postwar he returned to Karlsruhe and trained as a teacher and administrator, entering local government as a civil servant in 1957 (Landesbildstelle Baden in Karlsruhe). He retired in 1984 and passed away on 23 December 1997.
(additional information via Jägerblatt 1/1998)