Remains - A Story of the Flying Tigers


Chris Shores on AVG combat claims

[First there was a heated discussion on the AVG veterans' message board about what the British aviation historian Christopher Shores wrote about over-claiming in the Battle of Burma. Soon the argument spread to the Twelve O'clock High forum. In the end, Mr. Shores added his tuppence worth, which appears below. -- Daniel Ford]

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Firstly, those who seek to attack what I have written on the subject should be made aware that I found AVG claims no more or less unreliable than those of most other air forces I have researched. Always the circumstances of each engagement needs to be looked at carefully. In fighter-v-fighter combats the claim:loss ratio always seems to climb rapidly, multiplied by the numbers of aircraft/units involved. In Burma the AVG were often fighting over jungle and attacked in steep dives before climbing back for altitude. Good tactics, but fraught with opportunities for double claiming - or triple claiming for that matter.

When I wrote ' Fighters over the Desert' way back in the 1960s, I could not understand why I kept finding claims that I could not verify when I seemed to have all the available records to hand. It was only years later, and after I had been attacked by apologists for just about every air force in the world, that I found in the official British war histories published in the early/mid 1950s a clear warning that claim totals were likelty to be inflated and could not be relied upon - and that was admitted within ten years of the end of WWII!

Indeed, overclaiming, albeit in the best of good faith in most cases, certainly seems to have been endemic in aerial combat. It happened on every front and with every air force. Some (though not all) Luftwaffe units and Finnish units were considerably more accurate than most, most of the time. Fighter pilots by and large were young, aggressive and optimistic men who knew what they should be seeing and wanted to see. Even now, some still get very upset when it is pointed out that something they were quite certain had happened (and wanted to have happened) had not in fact occurred just as they recalled it. Others are much more pragmatic and realistic - and strangely, it is usually the latter whose claims prove to be easier to verify as having been accurate (or at least reaonably so).

I always remind myself of the little verse Barrett Tillman recited once -- "You can tell a bomber pilot by the spread across his rear[;] and by the ring around his eye, you can tell a bombadier; you can tell a navigator by his maps and charts and such[;] and you can tell a fighter pilot - but you can't tell him much!"

Just for the record, I love it when I can find a loss that fits a claim so that I can properly confirm what actually happened at the time. It gives me no joy at all to have to point out that there was not a loss for a particular claim. I love the world of fighter pilots and have spent more than 40 years of my life researching and recording their exploits. But in doing so if one is to retain credibility as a historian, one must look at the full picture, not just one side.

In ' Bill; a Pilot's Story' by Brooklyn Harris, the author records how day after day Japanese formations kept returning to targets in the Solomons despite the losses apparently being inflicted on them by the 13th Air Force. It never once occurred to the author that perhaps the reason for the apparently inexhaustible supply of aircraft the Japanese seemed to have available to them - something to which he specifically referred - might have indicated that at least in part the losses they were actually suffering were not as severe as those being claimed.

To research matters from as wide a perspective as possible and to report the results as accurately as one can, should reflect no shame on those participating except in the occasional and thankfully rare occasions when some individual is deliberately falsifying their contribution. (The latter did happen now and again, but fortunetly [sic] not often). From my own researches I can certainly state that the vast majority of fighter pilots (and aircrew generally) of all nations did their duty in an exemplary fashion. If anyone has done them a disservice I would suggest that it was more likely to be those who wrote about them carelessly for sensational and propaganda purposes - not those who have tried to be objective and honest in recording history to the best of their abilities. Personally, I am always pleased to be able to update and correct any statement I have recorded in the past where further or more reliable evidence becomes available.

If you should feel it appropriate to include these words on the Forum I would be grateful. If you feel it is too long, then fine.

Kind regards,

Question? Comment? Newsletter? Send me an email. Blue skies! — Daniel Ford

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