In the Battle of Britain, victory depended not only on surviving but inflicting damage on the enemy: in other words "kills" counted. But the institutional culture around aerial victories was markedly different in the RAF and the Luftwaffe.
Fighter Command could have reduced RAF losses simply by withdrawing beyond the range of the German fighters, but that would not have defeated the purpose of Fighter Command. The military objective was to cause enough damage to the Luftwaffe to make it either unable or unwilling to provide the necessary air cover for an invasion. If the Luftwaffe hadn’t been losing aircraft and aircrew that Hitler wanted for his aggressive plans elsewhere, he might have very well opted for the invasion.
Kills, however, came predominantly from a limited number (approximately 5%) of the pilots — on both sides. What is striking is the difference in ethos behind those kills.
The German tactics, formations, promotions and public relations all encouraged individual leaders to run up large scores. The Luftwaffe enabled and encouraged individual fighter pilots to become “aces.” If a German pilot was an “ace,” he was not only lionized by the press and praised by his peers and superiors – all the way to Hitler himself, but he was given a wingman and then an entire “Schwarm” to protect him so he could concentrate on killing. Moelders, Galland and Wick had more than fifty kills (56 for Galland and Wick each) before the end of 1940; by the end of the war, many German pilots had 100s of kills.
In the RAF, in contrast, the highest scoring English pilot "Pat" Pattle was credited with just 51 victories including many against the Italian Air Force, while the highest scoring ace in the Western theater, "Johnny" Johnson had 38 victories in the course of the entire war. On the one hand, the continuous rotation of squadrons and pilots in and out of combat areas resulted in far lower individual scores in the RAF generally. On the other hand, the ethos was different. RAF pilots brought with them a notion of “team spirit” and viewed bragging as “bad form.” The RAF did not really encourage the creation of “aces” and even medals were awarded for exceptional bravery or outstanding flying, assistance to one’s comrades and the like, rather than merely for “kills.”
Yet the RAF inflicted losses at a rate of almost 2 to 1 — and morale did not break. Given the losses and the sheer physical demands placed upon the RAF pilots at the time, it was their ability not only to keep flying but to keep drinking and laughing that awed their countrymen, their leaders and their enemies — when they found out.
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