The ringmaster’s Grand Finale: Legendary German Ace Adolf Galland tells the exciting story of his last combat mission

The Experten: Analyzing Survival rates for Aces

By William Cobb
Apr 26 2022
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From the earliest days of Air Combat through Vietnam, situational awareness played a key role, and we contend such is what separates Aces from Ace Fodder.

These statistics are compiled using lists on both Wikipedia and There are some discrepancies especially among Imperial Japanese figures, and we are going with the AcesofWW2 list as Japanese Ace figures can be notoriously controversial. Wiki and Aces do agree on the Luftwaffe lists hence we are keeping the Wiki Link.


  • The 100 Club: 100 Plus Victories 90 Aces with 100+ victories 48 KIA (46.5 Percent Survival)
  • The 200 Club: 200 Plus Victories 13 Aces with 200+ Victories, 5 KIA (61.5 percent survival)
  • The 300 Club: 300 Plus Victories Gerhard Barkhorn and Erich Hartmann both survived: 100 percent survival rate.


  • 3 Aces with 50+ Victories, 100 percent survival rate (Juutlainen, Wind, and Luukkanen all survived War.)
  • 11 Aces with 30+ Victories, 1 KIA (90.91 Percent Survival)
  • 19 Aces with 20+ Victories, 4 KIA (78.95 Survival)
Adolf Galland
Adolf Galland

Imperial Japan

  • 12 Aces with 50+ Victories 7 KIA(Note, Nishizawa shot down while aboard Unarmed Transport. 41.66 survival, 50 Percent not counting Nishizawa)
  • 33 Aces with 30+ Victories 16 KIA . (51.51 percent Survival)


  • 5 Aces with 20+ victories, 2 KIA (60 percent Survival)
  • 46 Aces with 10+ victories, 12 KIA (73.91 percent Survival)


  • 30 Aces with 10+ victories. 5 KIA (83.33 percent Survival)


  • 19 Aces with 10+ Victories, 2 KIA (89.47 percent Survival)
The Experten: Analyzing Survival rates for Aces
Erich Hartmann, top scoring fighter ace of all time with 352 victories. Hartmann would survive the War, a Decade of Soviet Imprisonment and 12 years in the Postwar West German Luftwaffe before passing away from a heart attack in 1993.


  • 12 Aces with 10+ victories. 2 KIA (83.33 percent Survival)


  • 6 Aces 20+ victories, 1 KIA (83.33 percent Survival)


  • 10 Aces 10+ Victories, 2 KIA (80 percent Survival)


  • 4 Aces 10+ Victories, 1 KIA (80 percent Survival)

Soviet Union

  • 7 Aces 50+ Victories, 0 KIA (100 percent Survival)
  • 66 Aces 20+ Victories, 6 KIA (90.90 percent Survival)
The Experten: Analyzing Survival rates for Aces
Marmaduke St. John Pattle, unofficially the top scoring British Empire ace with an estimated 50 victories, Pattle would be killed defending Greece in April 1941.

British Empire (+Aus/S. Africa #1 aces.)

  • 2 Aces with 35+ Victories (Pattle-KIA and Johnson, 50 percent Survival)
  • 3 Aces with 30+ Victories 1 KIA ( 66 percent Survival)
  • 25 Aces with 20+ Victories, 5 KIA (80 percent Survival)


  • 24 with 10+ victories, 6 KIA (80 percent Survival)


  • 33 Aces with 10+ Victories, 6 KIA (81.81 percent Survival)

New Zealand:

  • 22 with 10+ victories, 2 KIA (90.90 percent survival)

Southern Africa: South Africa; Rhodesia;

  • 10 with 10+ victories, 4 KIA/MIA (60 percent survival)
  • 3 with 10+ victories, 0 KIA (100 percent survival) (69.23 Percent Combined Survival.)
The Experten: Analyzing Survival rates for Aces
Major Richard Bong, USAAF, top scoring American Ace of WW2, but dead August 6, 1945 after his XP-80 Shooting Star crashed in a parking lot in Burbank California. Ironically, this crash occurred on the same day the first Atomic Bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Another wild card in Ace Survival is surviving flying accidents. As Bong illustrates, it is possible to survive multiple combat tours and still be killed in a flying accident, something which has claimed a substantial number of Aces as well.


  • 2 Aces with 35+ Victories, 1 KIA (50 Percent Survival)
  • 4 Aces with 30+ Victories, 1 KIA (75 Percent Survival.
  • 27 Aces with 20+ Victories, 5 KIA (81.48 Percent Survival)

Note, it is fairly obvious that with the Luftwaffe anyway, the survival rate for aces increases with overall score. Given a Fighter Pilot’s primary role in air combat is to shoot down enemy aircraft such should not be a surprise. The same holds true for Finland. Imperial Japan on the other hand actually had a higher survival rate for their 30+ victory tier of aces, while their top scorers suffered a higher percentage losses, perhaps a reflection on the Death Cult that was Imperial Japan’s military.

Meanwhile the other big death cult of WW2, the Soviet Union, actually had a 100 percent survival rate for their aces with 50 plus victories, while among their aces with 30 plus victories, their ace survival rate exceeded 90 percent, a higher survival rate than US Aces AND British Empire Aces with 20 plus victories. France has some interesting stats as the survival rate for their 10+ aces is better than that of their 20+.

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One of the most fascinating anomalies in this list of stats is how the survival rate of Axis Aces for Italy, Hungary and Romania are all 83.33 percent, a unique reflection that when flying and obtaining victories these oft outnumbered Aviators had a higher survival rate than even top tier Allied pilots. Croatia leads the minor Axis pack with a 90 percent survival rate. However even among smaller Allied Air Forces, the survival rate for all but South African 10+ victory Aces appears to be roughly 80 percent. South Africa is the anomaly with only a 60 percent survival rate. When combined with Rhodesia’s 100 percent survival rate the Average for Southern Africa is on the low end at 69.23 percent. What this clearly illustrates is that Ace Aviators possess a hunter instinct which makes them less likely to be killed in combat, no matter what nation they fly for.

Great Britain has an interesting anomaly regarding its top scorers, as does the U.S. 50 Percent of Britain’s top aces in the 35+ tier were killed in combat (Pat Pattle.) Meanwhile BOTH America’s Top Aces would be killed by the end of the War, with McGuire falling due to a stall while trying to gain victory no.39 in January, and Bong being killed flying an XP-80 in August. Still, in combat that loss rate also translates to a 50 percent combat loss rate for America’s top 2 aces and an identical loss rate for the 30+ club. Meanwhile, American Aces with 20+ victories also appear to have the standard 80 percent survival rate, proof that spreading the combat burden via rotation was a more sustainable and survivable strategy which was similar to British Empire practice and reflected in the survival statistics for both Allies, and other Aces worldwide.

Keep in mind this is just a simple straw poll analysis of numbers, but we do find them illuminating in their own way. As Luftwaffe Fighter Chief Galland once said, to fly and fight the enemy is all that matters, all else is rubbish. Aces can be seen as modern-day berserkers, and typically the top percentile of Aviators will obtain a higher share of both victories, and survival in combat. It is not for nothing that Germans dubbed their fighter pilots Jagdfliegers, a literal translation of which may be translated as Hunter Flyers.

The Experten: Analyzing Survival rates for Aces
Hawker Siddeley XV-6A Kestrel prototype. While being evaluated by a NATO test flying team former WW2 Luftwaffe Ace Gerhard Barkhorn crashed during a hover and upon exiting the aircraft the veteran Luftwaffe experten with 301 kills was said to have commented, “Drei hundert und zwei!” as he was helped from the jet. As the early Harrier was known as the Widow Maker in USMC Service, this really was Barkhorn’s final victory.

A final addendum. As late as the Vietnam War, the following statistic was noted;

Postwar analysis showed that 81 percent of all US aircraft lost in combat were either unaware of an attack or became aware too late to defend themselves. The primary reason for the unsatisfactory kill ratios was clear: Excellent North Vietnamese tactics exploited the Air Force’s lack of radar warning. While more and better training is always desirable, it is difficult to understand how it would have overcome that disadvantage.

In other words, from the earliest days of Air Combat through Vietnam, situational awareness played a key role, and we contend such is what separates Aces from Ace Fodder, except in cases where exceptional Aviators are vastly outnumbered. Given the 80 percent survival ratio for most WW2 Aces, we may confidently assert that those who tend to survive air combat are among the more likely to engage and NOT be surprised by an attack. This is a timeless air combat lesson which should not be ignored.

Be sure to check out William Cobb’s Facebook Page Pensacola Aerospace Museum for awesome aviation’s photos and stories.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force, Crown Copyright, Luftwaffe and Noop1958 via Wikipedia

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William Cobb

William Cobb

Mr. William Cobb is a licensed Instrument Flight Instructor in Single and Multi Engine Airplanes who is the founder and director of the Pensacola Aerospace Museum. Mr. Cobb spent from 2008 to 2015 instructing for the U.S. Navy's Initial Flight Screening program. After 8 years of full time Flight Instruction, Mr. Cobb started his own Commercial Drone Business, obtaining the first FAA Part 107 certification in his FAA region. Subsequent Drone work led to his becoming involved in Film Production work, and his establishing the Pensacola Aerospace Museum, an entity dedicated to honoring the memory of all those who ever gave their lives to flight.
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