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13 Staggering Facts From Air Battles Over War Torn Europe

May 8th was the 70th anniversary of VE Day, Victory in Europe Day, a day dedicated to celebrating the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany's armed forced on May 8th, 1945. Some pretty incredible things happened in the skies over Europe during the course of the war.

1) In the first few days of Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union, in June 1941, the Luftwaffe destroyed 2000 Soviet aircraft, most of them on the ground, at a loss of only 35 aircraft.


2) The Ilyushin Il-2 Shturmovik ground assault aircraft became the single most produced military aircraft of all time, with 36,183 built during the war.

3) In early 1943, Allied strategic bombers were directed against U-boat pens, which were easy to reach and represented a major strategic threat to Allied logistics. However, the pens were solidly built; it took 7,000 flying hours to destroy one sub there, about the same effort that it took to destroy one-third of Cologne, Germany.


4) Bomber crew members dealt with very cold flights in their unpressurized cabins, with temperature gauges in the cockpit frequently reading -40 degrees Fahrenheit. Crews stayed warm in fleece-lined uniforms.

LIFE Magazine

5) During a devastating Luftwaffe raid on the American port at Bari, Italy in December 1943, only 30 out of 100 bombers got through. But one hit an ammunition ship which was secretly carrying a stock of mustard gas for retaliatory use should the Germans initiate the use of gas. Clouds of American mustard gas caused over 2,000 Allied and civilian casualties.


6) By the end of the war, Germany's severe shortage of aviation fuel sharply cut the training of new pilots, and most of the instructors had themselves been sent into battle. Rookie pilots were rushed into combat after only 160 flying hours in training compared to 400 hours for the United States' Army Air Forces (AAF) and 360 for the United Kingdom's Royal Air Force (RAF).

John Barrie

7) This B-17 sustained a mid-air collision with a German BF-109, yet managed to fly home and land in this condition without major injuries to any of the crew members. With its strength and reliability, it's no wonder that this iconic airplane gained the nickname "The Flying Fortress."


8) The Luftwaffe reached maximum size of 1.9 million airmen in 1942. But in February, 1944, the Luftwaffe lost 33% of its frontline fighters and 18% of its pilots; the next month it lost 56% of its fighters and 22% of the pilots. April was just as bad, 43% and 20%, and May, 1944 was worst of all, at 50% and 25%.


9) During the summer of 1944, P-47 Thunderbolts alone dropped 120,000 tons of bombs and thousands of tanks of napalm, fired 135 million bullets and 60,000 rockets, and claimed 3,916 enemy planes destroyed.

Jim Raeder

10) The AAF dropped over 8 million bombs (1.6 million tons) against Germany. The RAF expended about the same tonnage against Germany, making a total of roughly 3.2 million tons of bombs dropped - that's roughly 6.4 billion pounds.


11) Surrounded by the Soviets and trapped in Berlin, Hans Baur, Adolph Hitler's personal pilot, devised a plan to allow Hitler to escape onboard a Fieseler Fi-156 Storch. The airplane was hidden near an improvised airstrip in the Tiergarten, near the Brandenburg Gate. However, Hitler refused to leave Berlin. Baur stayed by Hitler's side until his suicide a few days later.


12) On the evening of April 28th, 1945, Hanna Reitsch (Germany's only woman test pilot) flew Colonel-General Robert Ritter von Greim (the new leader of the Luftwaffe after Hermann Goering's dismissal) out of Berlin in an Arado Ar-96. Barely taking off with 1,200 feet of usable road on the makeshift runway, Hanna dodged Soviet crossfire and escaped Berlin by flying to Plon, in Northern Germany, where she later surrendered to the Americans.


13) By May 8th, 1945, the 8th, 9th and 15th Air Force's P-51 pilots claimed 4,950 enemy aircraft shot down. That was about half of all USAAF claims in the European theater, the most claimed by any Allied fighter in air-to-air combat.

Swayne Martin

Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, certified flight instructor, and an Embraer 145 First Officer for a regional airline. He graduated as an aviation major from the University of North Dakota in 2018, holds a PIC Type Rating for Cessna Citation Jets (CE-525), and is a former pilot for Mokulele Airlines. He's the author of articles, quizzes and lists on Boldmethod every week. You can reach Swayne at, and follow his flying adventures on his YouTube Channel.

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