From what I understand, Germany and the Soviet Union used their air "aces" differently than say, Americans. After surviving 25 missions, an American ace would be pulled out of the skies and sent home to train new pilots, meaning that their scores typically "topped" out in the 35-40 range.

On the other hand, the Germans and Soviets kept their aces in action until the end of the war. As a result, Germany's Erich Hartmann tallied 352 kills, and the Soviets' Alexander Pokryshkin scored 59 kills.

My understanding is that they could do this was because each flew with large accompanying "protective" screens. That is, they had others protecting them while they fired away against "random" enemy pilots that showed up on their windscreens. In naval terms, it would be as if "battleships" traveled with large protective screens of "destroyers," and their job was to shoot enemy "destroyers" (I'm using ships to describe the pilots' relative ability levels).

Were documented instances of opposing aces fighting each other rather than "small fry"? Better yet, were there any instances of an ace setting out to "get" an enemy ace and succeeding? (A land example would be when Soviet sniper Valery Zaitsev supposedly hunted his German counterpart, Erwin Koenig. This story is disputed, but illustrative of my question.)

  • Generally, it would be difficult to identify an opponent in an air battle beyond perceived skill level. The more skilled/experienced pilots would not put themselves in an exposed situation. Likely an ace on ace confrontation would be random and unrecognized
    – TomO
    Sep 29, 2017 at 20:35

1 Answer 1


One example was a duel between Saburō Sakai, IJN fighter ace with 28 official aerial victories, and Pug Southerland, USN fighter ace with 5 victories. At the time Southerland was not an ace yet, however.

One common formation in fighter combat is the finger four; in this formation the more experienced pilots have offensive roles, and their less experienced wingmen acted defensively. This would help lead to good pilots getting more and more kills. However, in a chaotic dogfight, anything can happen, and wingmen can take on offensive actions too, for example in the Thach Weave. When Sakai shot down Southerland, the kill was shared among 3 Japanese pilots.


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