So did Kozhedub shoot down 62, 64 or 66 planes?

Ivan Kozhedub was the highest scoring allied ace of World War II, having been credited with 62 or 64 victories. Hard to nail down the exact number. Most sources say 62, including Wikipedia. Many sources also credit him with also shooting down two U.S. P-51s. The Wikipedia article then lists his victories based upon the book Stalin’s Falcons by Mikhail Bykov. That listing records 64 planes, but no P-52s. The Wikipedia article also has a section of the “Alleged shooting down of two USAAF P-51 fighters.” That write up does not appear to accept the story.

A number of other sources also credit him with 64 claimed kills, or 64 claimed kills and two P-51s. Sort of mystified why this is an issue. I assume there are records of his claims somewhere.

So….what do we have out there:

……………………….Claimed Kills

Source…………….62…….62+2……..64……..64+2………63…….and 29 group kills
Wikipedia………….Y……….?…………..Y………..?
Seidl…………………………..Y
Polak……………….Y
Bykov……………………………………….Y………..?
Hardesty……………………………………Y

Red Falcons……….Y…………………….Y……….Y…………Y………..Y

 

Seidl is Stalin’s Eagles by Hans D. Seidl’s, Polak is Stalin’s Falcons by Tomas Polak with Christopher Shores, Bykov is Soviet Aces 1941-1945: The Victories of Stalin’s Falcons by Mikhail Bykov, Hardesty is Red Phoenix Rising by Von Hardesty and Ilya Grinberg, and Red Falcons is the Red Falcons website here: http://airaces.narod.ru/all1/kojedub.htm. Maybe the title of this post should have been “bird droppings.”

It is, of course, a different issue than the validity of those 62+ claims, which can be justifiably challenged. I will post about that later.

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Christopher A. Lawrence
Christopher A. Lawrence

Christopher A. Lawrence is a professional historian and military analyst. He is the Executive Director and President of The Dupuy Institute, an organization dedicated to scholarly research and objective analysis of historical data related to armed conflict and the resolution of armed conflict. The Dupuy Institute provides independent, historically-based analyses of lessons learned from modern military experience.
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Mr. Lawrence was the program manager for the Ardennes Campaign Simulation Data Base, the Kursk Data Base, the Modern Insurgency Spread Sheets and for a number of other smaller combat data bases. He has participated in casualty estimation studies (including estimates for Bosnia and Iraq) and studies of air campaign modeling, enemy prisoner of war capture rates, medium weight armor, urban warfare, situational awareness, counterinsurgency and other subjects for the U.S. Army, the Defense Department, the Joint Staff and the U.S. Air Force. He has also directed a number of studies related to the military impact of banning antipersonnel mines for the Joint Staff, Los Alamos National Laboratories and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation.
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His published works include papers and monographs for the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation, in addition to over 40 articles written for limited-distribution newsletters and over 60 analytical reports prepared for the Defense Department. He is the author of Kursk: The Battle of Prokhorovka (Aberdeen Books, Sheridan, CO., 2015), America’s Modern Wars: Understanding Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam (Casemate Publishers, Philadelphia & Oxford, 2015), War by Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat (Potomac Books, Lincoln, NE., 2017) , The Battle of Prokhorovka (Stackpole Books, Guilford, CT., 2019), The Battle for Kyiv (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2023), Aces at Kursk (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024), Hunting Falcon: The Story of WWI German Ace Hans-Joachim Buddecke (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024) and The Siege of Mariupol (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2024).
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Mr. Lawrence lives in northern Virginia, near Washington, D.C., with his wife and son.

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18 Comments

  1. The claims can be refuted by a solid air combat model, by observing average kill probabilities to frontline exposure. I quickly realized that all these claims must be of propagandistic nature, even if we assume that the lethality of such “aces” might have been in the 95th Percentile. The same applies to individuals like Häyhä, Pavlichenko or Hartmann.

      • Every nation in times of war needs and breeds a hero I guess, but many who have questioned these individual claims transposed this over to the macro level and assumed that the exchange rates must have been mainly a result of exaggerations as well and not the product of the interactions of two forces on the battlefield. I have encountered this recently.

    • The degree of exaggeration does vary by air force. Some exaggerate more than others and some are more rigorous and fairly precise. I will address this in further posts over the next week or two. It is also addressed in my Kursk book pages 839 – 844 (or my Prokhorovka book pages 285-290). There has also been some useful work done on this subject for World War I.

      • The OKL mistrusted their own pilots, this is evident from internal reports on downed aircraft. Correction modifiers were applied to the overall figures and individual claims were often ignored.

        • “The OKL mistrusted their own pilots”

          Yes, but you still miss the point:

          For western Europe we have the numbers of German claims and the numbers of allied losses. What is the difference between these two?

          • Indeed, but it is overall losses versus individual casualty infliction. Good luck with recreating all battles and tracing each individuals career and (geodata) position. Then determine wether the opponent was downed or had an accident or in case of ground warfare, e.g. the AFV was just damaged and not destroyed, or perhaps if their respective crews fired on a burned out wreck on the horizon, claiming it as a victory (sometimes by different units, multiple times a day).

          • Sorry, we have good numbers for claims in 1940-1943 in western Europe and good numbers for losses.

            The issue of overclaiming can be quanitfied quite easily.

            Hint: The German claims are usually not higher than the actual losses provided by the enemy. The same cannot be said for UK and US claims.

            The German claims are still too high as some of the losses actually happened from other sources (accidents, AA guns…).

            However, the major losses on some of the ToWs are caused by very few pilots, therefore, it is not posssible to have large scale overclaims by expert pilots and still plausible overall numbers

      • Where are there figures on losses/claims for the western front from the German side. The USAF published figures for planes, crews on hand losses, etc. by “Theaters v Germany” and “enemy aircraft destroyed”-actually claims, for example they give 6,098 destroyed by heavy bombers in the air and zero on the ground. Both figures are clearly absurd. During the Battle of Britain the RAF overclaimed about 2:1 and the Luftwaffe about 3:1. These seem reasonable for a defensive fighters v escort fighters for with two well organized air forces. Bombers v fighters is much more problematic. The big Boeing’s could survive a lot of punishment, had a long way to fly before they got back to base and shot back at attacking fighters.

    • “The claims can be refuted by a solid air combat model, by observing average kill probabilities to frontline exposure.”

      The airfields were near the fron lines and the air combat occured in low altitudes.

      1) Pilots flew in summer 4-5 sorties per day.

      2) How many sorties did Hartmann and others flew in total?

      3) How many sorties led to contact with enemy?

      4) How many contacts led to claimed kills?

      Are the east front numbers really that wrong?

      • That is exactly the issue. Each fighter pilot, S/E fighter unit will have a hit and kill probability. It will be exposed to the front and thus the enemy. If you look at even the best pilots performances, pH/pK in respect to enemy losses by non AA fire (or downed aircraft by mean munition expenditure), you will quickly realize that it would have been impossible to achieve counts of these proportions (in dogfights, not necessarily in the total number of engaged targets).

        “Are the east front numbers really that wrong?”

        The overall figures no, the individual claims frequently so (and that for all fronts).

        • “The overall figures no, the individual claims frequently so (and that for all fronts).”

          If the overall claims are within a 10% error margin (France 1940-43) for the German side and more than 50% of the inflicted losses in the east came from quite few pilots, your arguments runs into trouble.

          The advantage of German claims is, that they were at least physically possible overall, i.e. were usually lower than the losses listed by allied units.

          • That might be the case, but you need to be able to demonstrate that the claims of these aces are (approx.) correct and not that overall German losses are close to enemy casualties. We are not talking about the overall statistics, but the individual careers, or are you trying to imply that a single German pilot shot down the entire enemy S/E fighter park?

  2. My research results concerning the air war over North-Eastern Estonia (Narva area) in February 1944:

    German day-time fighter claims: 22 fighters, 14 Il-2, 3 Pe-2
    Can be considered as true: 9 fighters, 12 Il-2, 3 Pe-2
    May be true: 4 fighters, 1 Il-2
    Can be considered as not true: 9 fighters, 1 Il-2
    Overclaim: 26-38%.

    Soviet day-time fighter claims: 44 fighters, 27 Ju87, 12 reconnaissance planes, 2 transport planes
    Can be considered as true: 1 fighter, 3 reconnaissance planes, 1 transport plane.
    May be true: 4 fighters, 1 Ju-87
    Can be considered as not true: 39 fighters, 26 Ju-87, 9 reconnaissance planes, 1 transport plane.
    Overclaim: 88-94%

    • Reigo,

      Very interesting! The Soviet overclaiming percentage was roughly the same over Courland between August 1944 and May 1945. It is curious that everyone is quick to criticise Erich Hartmann for his overclaiming, but no-one is looking at what was being claimed by the other side …

  3. It’s not easy job to check Soviet losses of certain aviation operations. They had system to take few aircraft from each perhaps tens of fighter, ground-attack and bomber regiments. This was because they didn’t want some unit take such a bad beating loosing most of its aircraft like happened in 1941.

    Official compile reports of Air Armies had hidden most of losses. One just have to dig deep and scanned all units. That 30% rule mentioned by Colonel Sverdlov is actually pretty interesting and useful method to estimate their true losses. (“the enemy always suffers 30% more losses than you.”)

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