World War 2 & Aviation History:
Sources, Links, Notes, and Bibliography
By Stephen Sherman, Sept. 1999. Updated June 28, 2011.
Originally much of the information included on these web pages came from other aviation history web sites. I hope that I have added some value, in bringing it together, adding some missing pieces, and putting it together in a consistent fashion. I have also written many of the pages/articles based on WW2 aviation books. Obviously, this is a simple site, without many photos or fancy graphics. There are a lot of those on the web, and I don't have much to add in those areas. Here are some links to other interesting WWII aviation pages:
Web Sources and Links
1. Source Links - some web sites that provided source material.
- National Aviation Hall of Fame - which has a lot of history on many American aviation notables (astronauts, designers, aces, flying pioneers, etc.)
- Pacifica Military History - featuring excerpts from military and aviation history books by Eric Hammel et al, see their "Free Samples" section
2. General WWII Aviation History Links
Here are a few of the best, most comprehensive "link"sites:
- Army Air Force in WWII Links - the best organized and most comprehensive link site on the topic. Also see his related page of WWII Navy Links, which has a section on Marine and Naval Aviation History
- United States Army Air Force Legends - a nice (commercial) site that also features short histories and photos of the pilots & planes
3. WWII and Aviation Sites that I like:
- World War 2 in Color - a great collection of World War II photographs, some of the most dramatic photos taken during the war.
- Military History Online - a webzine of community-submitted articles
- HistoryNet.com - the world's largest history magazine publisher
- USAF Aerial Victory Credits - from WWI through Gulf War, tables of every single aerial victory credit - showing pilot, his rank & serial number, unit, theater, date, etc. Includes USAF and predecessor USAAF (unfortunately does not cover US Navy or Marine Corps pilots). A fantastic resource, maintained by Air Force Historical Research Agency at Maxwell AFB
- American Military Aircraft by Joe Baugher. This is one of my favorite kind of sites - lots of content not found on lots of other sites, and totally comprehensive in its own subject. If you want to know everything (prototypes, specifications, production, sub-types, serial numbers, users, etc) about the P-47 Thunderbolt, for example, this is the place. He has a related site of U.S. military aircraft serial numbers (by range, not each number) from the early 1900's to the present - equally awesome in its own subject.
- www.fourthfightergroup.com - The History of the Fourth Fighter Group. Everything - pilots, aircraft, victories, ground crew, including an entire BOOK about the 4th (one chapter per web page)
- WWII ACE STORIES - site dedicated to (mostly) international ace stories, including many from Germany, Russia, Finland, and Poland. Can be a little slow-loading
- Air Aces Homepage - A compilation of fighter aces from the various conflicts that featured air warfare. The conflicts range from aerial dogfighting in WWI to the high tech missile kills of the Persian Gulf War. The U.S. WWII section consists of an alphabetical list of all 1200+ aces, which includes the service and group(s) that each ace served with.
- Cactus Air Force: - Air war for Guadalcanal - The History, Men, Aircraft, and a Photo Gallery, a wonderful site
- Naval Air War in the Pacific - another great aviation history site by David Hanson, creator of the Cactus Air Force site noted above
- 357th Fighter Group - good memories of Leiston and the Yoxford Boys
- Stone & Stone Second World War Books - really comprehensive
in the Sky: The Air War in the South Pacific, by Eric
The best source for understanding the sweeping background of
the air war in the Pacific: the geography of the island bases, the men,
the equipment, the organizations. A readable, but detailed history (750
pages worth). The author covers much of the logistical background to
the war. It's an excellent complement to the information presented on
this web site, because it omits all the "...and then he chandelled
sharply up to left, caught the enemy in his sights and squeezed the
Buy 'Fire in the Sky: The Air War in the South Pacific' at Amazon.com
Finding Information on World War Two VeteransActually, I'm not very qualified to write about this topic, because I haven't done any primary research. I've found everything on my website in published sources: books and other websites.
But since I've had a number of e-mails asking for help on this task, here are a few links which should help:
- The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy, by Sandra H. Luebking - including sources of military records, addresses of regional Federal Archives, and a new chapter on 20th Century research
- Dad's War - This website has all the links about this type of research. Best place to start.
- Navy Service and Medical Records
- National Archives - Military Personnel Records - St. Louis location
- National Archives - Access to Military Service and Pension Records
- Veterans Administration Site - "How do I see my records or records of another veteran?"
One thing I do know is that the better you can identify your relative, the better chance the administrators can find something. Name, rank, serial number, branch of service, unit, dates of service, date of birth, etc. are all very helpful.
Best Wishes on your searches
Please e-mail me (Webmaster) any additional, useful links or general advice on this topic, and I'll try to incorporate it.
Notes and Comments:
MH - Medal of Honor, the country's highest military decoration. The Medal of Honor page on my site lists 15 WWII fighter pilots who earned the honor.
DSC - Distinguished Service Cross, 2nd highest - for Army Air Force fliers
NC - Navy Cross, 2nd highest - for Navy & Marine fliers
SS - Silver Star, next highest decoration
DFC - Distinguished Flying Cross, awarded for heroic flying missions. The Eighth Air Force awarded over 41,000 DFCs! While the other air forces were more conservative in their awards, it's safe to say that virtually all aces were awarded a DFC. In fact, Tommy Blackburn felt insulted when awarded a second DFC, instead of a higher distinction. As he related in The Jolly Rogers, he actually turned down the second DFC.
Many aces received multiple decorations. Other were awarded
Oak Leaf Clusters for comparable acts of gallantry after the first
This site does not present the full details of the aces' medals, just
sense of the "highest" medal awarded.
The tables also show the number of "kills." Perhaps this is an unfortunate choice of words. (The fighter pilot's basic goal was to destroy the enemy aircraft, not necessarily the pilot. In Europe, if not in the Pacific, there was at least an unwritten rule against shooting at fliers who had bailed out and were in parachutes, a rule that both Axis and Allied pilots seemed to adhere to.) Generally, the words 'kill', 'win', 'victory', and 'enemy aircraft destroyed' are used interchangeably. Occasionally the sources offer different numbers for the same pilot. I made no attempt to verify or correct these discrepancies. Where I found them, I just noted the alternative number in parentheses.
Another oddity results from the U.S. recognition of partial kills, whereby a pilot could be awarded half a kill, a third, or even a quarter. While that policy resulted in scores of .5 kills, .33 kills, and .25 kills; combinations of these could result in even odder fractions. The ace Philip C. De Long ended up with 11.166 kills. The odd fractions resulted from his shared credit when three planes scored two kills (0.666 to each pilot), then he scored another half kill (0.5). Also, I just showed everything to the nearest tenth, so De Long (with 11.166) shows as '11.2' (In contrast, the German Luftwaffe did not recognize partial victories.)
All the victories shown here are 'air-to-air' victories, which makes them comparable with other countries and with other wars. The US Eighth Air Force officially, but separately recognized 'ground' kills as well, due to the hazardous nature of that activity. Nonetheless most post-war discussions and rankings of aces use the 'air-to-air' numbers, as I do here.
Most important to realize, that all air forces from all countries in all theaters, over-counted their kills. Post-war researchers have compared total American claims to total losses recorded by the Japanese, and determined that we over-claimed by about 50 to 100 percent. For every 100 planes the Japanese records showed as destroyed, it seems the Americans counted about 150 to 200. This is a very approximate statistic, and the Japanese over-count of their victories is believed to be even worse. On an individual basis, there's no way to account for it (revise each pilot's claim by some arbitrary percentage?), but in total, it's important to keep in mind. As one source noted, all victory claims were made in good faith under extremely stressful conditions.
The planes shown for each ace in the table are the type
of plan in which he scored the most victories. Some pilots, like Levi
scored in three types of planes; in his case P-40, P-47, and P-51.
How to talk like an aviation history expert about WWII fighter planes (the one minute version):
Recognize radial engine fighters (round & stubby nose) from in-line engine fighters (sleeker, longer nose). Unmistakable once you look at it. Radial engines had the cylinder arranged in a circle around the crankshaft, typically two rows. They were also air-cooled, meaning no radiator and coolant systems. In-line engines, with cylinders usually arranged in a VEE, like modern automobiles, were liquid(water)-cooled, and had vulnerable coolant systems. But, at least in part due to lots of aviation R&D in the Thirties with racers, the water-cooled engines offered some performance advantages.
The radial vs. in-line engine debate is a WWII aviation hobbyist favorite. Be prepared to take a position! To really sound like an old pro, one may refer to any U.S. fighter radial engine as a "Pratt & Whitney".
bf 109 not Me 109
Refer to 'Bf 109', not 'Me 109'. The 'Bf' is an abbreviation for 'Bayerische Flugzeuwerke', the original name of the Messerschmitt company. The Luftwaffe used the 'Bf 109' designation throughout the war. Note that contemporary American pilot accounts referred to 'Me-109s'.
Fighter Plane Weapons
Be familiar with the three main fighter plane weapons:
- - 7.62/7.9mm (30-caliber) machine guns
- - 12.7mm (50-caliber) machine guns
- - 20mm cannon
And understand the huge difference represented by these sizes. Because these measures are diameters and the weight/impact of a projectile is a function of its volume, the relationship between the different weapons depends on the CUBE of the diameter. What that means, approximately, is that a 50-caliber machine gun delivers a bullet that is THREE TIMES heavier than a 30-caliber. And a 20mm cannon shell is also about THREE TIMES heavier than a 50-caliber.
Thus, when Robert Johnson escaped from the FW-190 on his famous mission of June 26, 1943, he was very lucky that the German 20mm cannon wasn't working. While the FW-190's 7.9mm machine guns were firing, they were comparative pin-pricks to the seven-ton Thunderbolt.
Firing Rates. The U.S. Browning 50-caliber machine gun (one of the best machine guns in history) fired about 750 rounds per minute. This was comparable to other machine guns on both sides, of larger or smaller caliber. However most 20mm cannon used in Axis airplanes had a significantly slower rate of fire.
Aviation History Bibliography
Tom Blackburn and Eric Hammel, The Jolly Rogers, Pocket Books, 1989
Gregory Boyington, Baa Baa Black Sheep, Putnam, 1958
Max Brand, Fighter Squadron at Guadalcanal, Pocket Books, 1996 - but written in 1943, a good example of contemporary history
Burke Davis, Get Yamamoto, Random House, 1969
Steve Ewing, John B. Lundstrom (Contributor), Fateful Rendezvous: The Life of Butch O'Hare, United States Naval Inst. Press, 1997
Pat Frank and Joseph Harrington, Rendezvous at Midway: USS Yorktown..., John Day Co., 1967
Francis S. Gabreski and Carl Molesworth, Gabby: A Fighter Pilot's Life, Schiffer, 1998
Bruce Gamble, Black Sheep One: The Life of Gregory "Pappy" Boyington, Presidio Press, 2000
Bruce Gamble, The Black Sheep: The Definitive Account of Marine Fighting Squadron 214 in World War II, Presidio Press, 1998
James Goodson, Tumult in the Clouds, St. Martin's Press, 1983