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"Luftwaffe losses by cause in the Battle of Britain" Topic


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4th Cuirassier14 Aug 2023 4:07 a.m. PST

I'm trying to find authoritative figures on the above subject – German losses during the Battle of Britain and how caused. That is, of the total of 1,800 (or whatever), how many were lost to flak, how many to fighters, and within the latter, how many to what type of fighter.

Separately, does anyone know of a source that lists the aircraft operated by each squadron throughout this period? It is straightforward enough to find high-level data, e.g. on Wikipedia. But it commonly includes information such as 247 Squadron operating Gloster Gladiators and 263 operating Whirlwinds. These can be correct for only some of the period.

The reason I'm asking is that you often hear the claim that Hurricanes caused more than half of all Luftwaffe losses in the Battle. Someone must at some time have compiled these numbers in order to assert this. While this claim might be true, I suspect it could be a bit of an abuse of statistics. If Hurricanes caused 50% of the losses but were 75% of the fighters, or were also 67% of the losses or whatever, then they don't look so good for the Hurricane after all. One could in fact infer what the Luftwaffe losses would have been had all the defenders been Hurricanes.

When you Google for this you tend to get repeated reiterations of the > 50% claim, but you never get to the actual source.

advocate14 Aug 2023 4:18 a.m. PST

You probably need to consider accidental loss as well – it could be a significant number.

Londonplod14 Aug 2023 6:20 a.m. PST

This would not be easy to come by, many pilots claimed probable kills and the aircraft made it back, many aircraft had multiple claims, hence 'shared' kills and the fact is that, in the heat of combat, many pilots were too busy trying to stay alive to worry about who they had just shot at.

Col Durnford Supporting Member of TMP14 Aug 2023 8:09 a.m. PST

Include pilots that get a kill and, in turn, do not make it back.

The best source may well be the owning nation of the shot down planes and not the nation claiming the kill. They will know how many planes were sent out and how many returned.

4th Cuirassier14 Aug 2023 8:54 a.m. PST

The above explains why it's hard to be sure of losses, but not the origin of the claim that Hurricanes shot down more than half the total Luftwaffe loss. I just struggle with how it's possible to know this and I'd like to trace the claim to its origin or at least see the data it may be based on.

On the basis that the Luftwaffe lost about 1,800 aircraft, 34 squadrons of Hurricanes therefore destroyed 900. Let's guess that 5% was to ground fire and 5% to landing wipeouts – call it 200. Hence 19 squadrons of Spitfires destroyed the remaining 700 aircraft.

That means the average Hurricane squadron accounted for 26.5 enemy aircraft; the average Spitfire squadron for 36.8.

On that basis, can one infer that had there been no Spitfires, 53 squadrons of Hurricanes would have destroyed 1,402 aircraft – so that total Luftwaffe losses would have been 1,600-odd, rather than 1,800?

BattlerBritain14 Aug 2023 11:16 a.m. PST

Yeah breaking down the losses by type could take a bit of digging.

The IWM website gives this for the Hurricane:
Despite its shortcomings, the Hurricane accounted for 656 German aircraft during the Battle of Britain – more than the Spitfire. Between 30 July and 16 September, 404 Hurricanes were destroyed.

I'll keep digging, see what I can find.

Martin Rapier14 Aug 2023 11:57 a.m. PST

"On that basis, can one infer that had there been no Spitfires, 53 squadrons of Hurricanes would have destroyed 1,402 aircraft"

No, because both aircraft were tasked with engaging different types of target. Hurricanes prioritised bombers, Spitfires prioritised fighters. Were bombers harder targets than fighters? What was the exact mix of Hurricanes and Spitfires vs Stukas, BF 109s, Me 110s, Heinkels, Dorniers and Ju 88s? They all have very different engagement profiles.

However, it is an interesting start on comparing the relative effectiveness of the two types.

Mark 1 Supporting Member of TMP14 Aug 2023 11:58 a.m. PST

The IWM website gives this for the Hurricane:
Despite its shortcomings, the Hurricane accounted for 656 German aircraft during the Battle of Britain – more than the Spitfire. Between 30 July and 16 September, 404 Hurricanes were destroyed.

Good find. Right on target to the info that is being sought.
Any sourcing behind that? (ie: credited kills by RAF, or attributed to losses reported by Luftwaffe squadrons, or …?)


Hence 19 squadrons of Spitfires destroyed the remaining 700 aircraft.

Be careful about jumping to that conclusion. There is no obvious reason to claim that any Luftwaffe planes not shot down by Hurricaines were therefore shot down by Spitfires. There were also Defiants, Gladiators, perhaps some Skuas (land-based RN formations) and even Blenheim Mk1F and MkIVFs flying about looking for things to shoot at. And there were German fighters and even some bombers shot down by gunners in bomber command and coastal command bombers.

Just saying were more than two models of plane in British service during the BoB. So total kills – hurricane kills = spitfire kills is not going to give an accurate result.

-Mark
(aka: Mk 1)

BattlerBritain14 Aug 2023 12:08 p.m. PST

If you haven't seen these books before I'd highly recommend them as the give the breakdown for every single combat during the Battle:

Battle of Britain Combat Archive:
link

So I'm thinking you might have to go through all of them and total up losses by cause?

Might be a good job for when retired 😊

BattlerBritain14 Aug 2023 12:15 p.m. PST

Mark1: that was from IWM website with no supporting info.

Likewise they quote for the Spitfire :
Spitfires shot down a total of 529 enemy aircraft, for a loss of 230 of their own.

link

BattlerBritain14 Aug 2023 12:19 p.m. PST

If you want the answer to a question raised in Parliament in 1947 on Luftwaffe losses during the BofB then this might be a start:
link

BattlerBritain14 Aug 2023 12:40 p.m. PST

A response on Quora with some context on Luftwaffe losses, including a lot of non-combat losses:

Luftwaffe losses: officially 2,069 frontline aircraft that did not return or were written off as total losses in July-October, of which 1,385 caused by enemy action. Bergström (author of a recent and authoritative history of the BoB, p. 280) believes the latter number is slightly too low and calculates 1,411 combat losses, which still means that about 650, or 30%, were lost through collisions, engine failure, empty fuel tanks, and other mishaps.

Combat losses according to Bergström:

July 186 (144 from 10 July when the BoB officially started according to the British), including 45 fighters (10 repairable with less than 60% damage), plus 65 fighters non-combat losses, of which 44 repairable.

August 585, including 197 fighters, of which about 20 repairable. 94 fighters non-combat losses, of which 47 repairable. 120 Bf 110 lost on operations (?)

September 446, including 236 fighters (23 repairable), plus 90 fighters non-combat losses, of which 51 repairable. 83 Bf 110 lost on operations (?)

October 194, including 138 fighters (15 repairable), plus 91 fighters non-combat losses, of which 51 repairable.

Martin Rapier14 Aug 2023 11:50 p.m. PST

The non combat losses are…. astonishing.

4th Cuirassier15 Aug 2023 4:46 a.m. PST

I agree with all the points and comments above. Thanks for the discussion everyone.

I do have some basic stats around composition.

The actual breakdown of squadrons, and what they held by way of fighter types, is not easy even if you're only trying to find out what they're equipped with, i.e. even you're not delving into numbers of actually available aircraft on strength. My noodling around on this suggests that the breakdown was:

Type / Fighter Command Squadrons / %age of FCmd Sqdns
Hawker Hurricane / 34 / 55
Supermarine Spitfire / 19 / 31
Bristol Blenheim / 4 / 6
Bristol Beaufighter / 1 / 2
Boulton Paul Defiant / 4 / 6
Gloster Gladiator / 1 / 2
Westland Whirlwind / 1 / 2

The five squadrons that operated Blenheims and Beaufighters were designated and organised as night fighters. Losses to these should be included, but are likely immaterial.

The four Defiant squadrons had all been withdrawn by the end of August, having lost 50% of the aircraft delivered. So we can say they weren't around for September or October. Moreover, if 50% losses is about 25 aircraft, they had likely inflicted fewer than that on the Luftwaffe, so they make up at most 1% of the Luftwaffe loss.

The sole Gladiator squadron was based in Devon, and made only one, inconclusive, interception, which was in October. There was a further Gladiator squadron, of the FAA, not included above, but it was based in defence of Scapa Flow and played no part.

The only Whirlwind Squadron was 263, which started to receive these aircraft in July but was not declared operational on the type until December. The first kill by a Whirlwind wasn't until 1941 (an Arado 196; both aircraft were lost).

Soooooo…in terms of fighter action, it was substantially a Spitfire / Hurricane show. Some good points have been made above about losses to bomber tail gunners etc. that would mean not all losses in the air were to either of these.

All this does leave you wondering where the original "> 50%" claim for the Hurricane originated and how it was substantiated. If you google it, you do indeed get the kind of Hansard link that Battler Britain has posted, but one wonders about the completeness of contemporary information. This is the case whichever side we're talking about. The Luftwaffe may have kept accurate records of what they lost, but they were not in a position to know whether a missing aircraft was lost to a Hurricane, to a Spitfire, or to flak. RAF records would tell what squadrons intercepted what raid, but claims were unreliable and if several squadrons intercepted the same raid successively, it becomes hard to reconcile to German numbers.

One very interesting data point I have come across is that one of the 'Big Wing' interceptions claimed 60 Germans shot down or 'probables'. German records showed the actual number lost that day was six. As Len Deighton observed 50 years ago, claims were in proportion to the number of friendly aircraft present. 12 fighters would have claimed 12 kills, so 60 of them of them claimed 60, but whether 12 intercepted or 60 did, the likely result was still around 6 shot down.

Stoppage15 Aug 2023 4:51 a.m. PST

I had an uncle who was an aircraft fitter on an aircraft maintenance carrier:

Wiki – HMS Perseus

He said most of the planes he had to maintain were barely airworthy. (He always had a massive smile when remembering pushing the planes into the sea at the end of lend-lease.)

I had another uncle who flew hurricanes during battle of britain – I think he had to ditch at one point from engine failure and was shot down another. He was very short and one day his fitter pointed out a bullet hole in the armour plate just high enough to clear his head.

BattlerBritain15 Aug 2023 8:19 a.m. PST

The non-combat losses I can sort of believe.

If they take, say, 109s that ditched at or near the coast due to shortage of fuel, because the 109 had spent too long over England, then there were probably quite a few of those. Put those in the category of non-combat losses and that would amount to quite a few.

Also just operating aircraft of that era, well they had lots of accidents.

I do remember reading, in a book Me-109 by Martin Caidin(?) years ago, that the 109 was so hard to land they lost 33,000 pilots in landing accidents during the war.

Just think about that number and wonder if the Allies even needed to shoot any down? Just let them fly and crash themselves.

The RAF also had horrendous casualties from just normal operations.

Martin Rapier15 Aug 2023 11:38 a.m. PST

"The RAF also had horrendous casualties from just normal operations."

Yes. My dad was in the RAF, and he has endless stories of flying accidents. The worst was when they lost almost an entire squadron of Hunters in bad weather on a low fuel exercise.

Personal logo Mserafin Supporting Member of TMP15 Aug 2023 2:04 p.m. PST

the 109 was so hard to land they lost 33,000 pilots in landing accidents during the war.

One wonders how much fun it would have been to land one on a pitching aircraft carrier deck in the North Atlantic, had they ever gotten the Graf Zeppelin fully commissioned. It had similar landing gear to the Spitfire, which was famously not a successful carrier aircraft. My uncle was a Seafire rigger, he said they kept him plenty busy with crashes when they tried to land on-board.

Personal logo Mserafin Supporting Member of TMP15 Aug 2023 2:05 p.m. PST

the 109 was so hard to land they lost 33,000 pilots in landing accidents during the war.

One wonders how much fun it would have been to land one on a pitching aircraft carrier deck in the North Atlantic, had they ever gotten the Graf Zeppelin fully commissioned. It had similar landing gear to the Spitfire, which was famously not a successful carrier aircraft. My uncle was a Seafire rigger, he said they kept him plenty busy with crashes when they landed.

Blutarski16 Aug 2023 9:14 a.m. PST

STRATEGY FOR DEFEAT, THE LUFTWAFFE 1933-1945
by Williamson Murray

Good reference source.

Go here – PDF link

B

Mark 1 Supporting Member of TMP16 Aug 2023 1:36 p.m. PST

One wonders how much fun it would have been to land one on a pitching aircraft carrier deck in the North Atlantic, had they ever gotten the Graf Zeppelin fully commissioned.

This is a point I frequently make when discussions about GZ's potential are raised.

It had similar landing gear to the Spitfire…

Yes … and no.

Both had relatively narrow track gear that retracted outward / deployed inward. So similar.

But …


Spitifire's gear struts were essentially at a 90 degree angle to the ground (0 degrees from the vertical, when seen from the direction of travel), when fully down and locked.


Me-109 (or more correctly Bf-109)'s gear struts were at an angle, canted from vertical, when fully down and locked.

That made it MUCH harder to control a 109 if only one wheel was in contact with the ground, even for an instant. One wheel, no matter which wheel, was angled away from forward travel if it hit the ground alone. It took contact with BOTH wheels to keep the aircraft's directly of travel as forward, rather than turning.

The 109 was notoriously difficult to handle on the ground, because of it's tendency to spin left or right (almost always right, IIRC, because motor torque usually drove the left wing to drop, and one canted wheel touching would turn the plane to the opposite side). The high rate of recovery/return-to-service of 109s after non-combat losses was likely due in large part to many of those losses being ground handling (take-off, landing, or taxiing) accidents on the airfields. Do a 180 and slap your wing on a grass runway and the plane is back in service in a few hours. Do that on a carrier deck and the plane and pilot are lost over the side, along with one or two chopped-up deck handlers and ship-side AA gun crewmen.

… the Spitfire, which was famously not a successful carrier aircraft.

The narrow track of the gear did read against the Spit for carrier operations. But the bigger issue AIUI was the short range. They were only useful for fleet defense. They could not reach out for strike missions, because of their short range. And even standing CAP was a dubious proposition, as shorter CAP patrols (due to the need to land and refuel) interfered with coverage and task force travel rates.

And … if you only get to carry a limited number of planes aboard, having some which can only do one mission makes them a dubious choice vs. others that are multi-mission capable.

But even if the two had been equal in land-handling difficulty, any assessment of the 109's potential on the GZ should also include deck handling experience. The RN had a full 20 years of experience in carrier flight operations BEFORE they put a persnickety beast like the Spit on a pitching deck. The Kriegsmarine had exactly 0 years of experience in carrier flight ops. And they had no safe waters to shake down their new toys, develop their doctrine, and train their crews, before sailing off to face combat. So early test-flights and practice runs would mostly have been combat sorties.

Bit of a wander into the weeds, I know. But the data of 109 non-combat losses, as presented, does contain the seeds of insight that can apply other places…

-Mark
(aka: Mk 1)

4th Cuirassier17 Aug 2023 2:05 a.m. PST

The undercarriage issue with the 109 was somewhat improved from the -G(?) series onwards, when they angled the wheels (not the struts) to be at 0 degrees from the vertical when lowered. Previously they lay flat against the legs. This mod entailed putting a bulge into the wing as the gear would not fully retract otherwise.

The FW190 would have been a far better choice as it had a wider landing track and it could have carried out all four required carrier missions (fleet defence, strike escort, dive bomber, torpedo bomber). AIUI the intention was to use Bf109Ts, Stukas and Fi167s, but the ship could only have embarked 30 to 40 in total of all three. This would mean she hadn't enough fighters to defend the ship and accompany outbound strikes, and that's even before the 109s start breaking on landing. The GZs were constructive CVLs, not CVs, from an air group size perspective.

Back on topic – Wikipedia even claims "the Hurricane inflicted 60% of the losses sustained by the Luftwaffe in the campaign" – not merely "more than half", but 60% – so about 1,200 aircraft. No cite given of course…

Steve Wilcox17 Aug 2023 2:48 a.m. PST

Me-109 (or more correctly Bf-109)

Or even more correctly, Bf 109. :)

4th Cuirassier17 Aug 2023 3:08 a.m. PST

AIUI the German designation was by manufacturer. The Messerschmitt 109 was initially manufactured by Bayerische Flugzeugwerke and was hence the Bf 109, but later there was production at Messerschmitt's plant – so those aircraft were the Me 109. Rolls-Royce Merlin, Packard Merlin – same thing, and it was the Supermarine Spitfire, not the Mitchell Spitfire.

Meanwhile, the pilots referred to all of them throughout as the may hundert neun.

Steve Wilcox17 Aug 2023 5:08 a.m. PST

but later there was production at Messerschmitt's plant – so those aircraft were the Me 109.

"The RLM assigned this 'new' aircraft firm the designation prefix of Me. The first aircraft to benefit from the change was the Me 210. Nevertheless, the three production contract aircraft designs from the earlier Bayerische Flugzeugwerke firm in Germany, the Bf 108, Bf 109 and Bf 110 officially kept their "Bf" prefix, due to their pre-July 1938 origins, until the end."

link

4th Cuirassier17 Aug 2023 6:10 a.m. PST

Those little German scamps! They did it on purpose!

DBS30324 Aug 2023 3:54 a.m. PST

The reason No.247 Squadron was still flying Gladiators at Roborough near Plymouth was very deliberate. Roborough was a very small field, unsuitable for enlargement, and could not accommodate Hurricane and Spitfire take-off runs. Because Devonport, as a major Royal Navy base, was a very obvious target, and the next nearest RAF field was St Eval, some distance away, a flight of 247 with Gladiators was stationed at Roborough to provide point defence of the dockyards, since the Gladiators could fly from there much more safely than their monoplane successors.

In similar fashion, the Staffel assigned to Helgoland flew the Bf 109T as its modification for carrier operations meant it was the only fighter able to cope with the small airfield on the island.

It is wrong to say that the Defiant squadrons had been withdrawn from the battle by August, but rather that 141 and 264 Squadrons had been reassigned to night-fighter duties after the mauling 141 had received in one unfortunate encounter, and the other squadrons that were in the process of forming up (the first one being No.307 (Polish)) went straight into the night role, where they were actually quite successful.

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