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Old 9th January 2021, 17:49
rof120 rof120 is offline
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Messerschmitt 109 losses in May-June 1940 : W. Murray’s and J. Prien’s figures

Some months ago several persons remarked (or suggested) that my figure of approximately 162 Me 109s shot down by French fighters in May-June 1940 was hardly possible. Here is a typical, sceptical albeit friendly and polite reaction:

Reply # 1 to Stig (19 October 2019)
Stig : « With total Lw losses of 1129 aircraft due to enemy action May-June 1940, there might be scope for your suggested over 800 total victories, though not leaving an awful lot to the British, Dutch and Belgians.

However, your number of 162 Me 109's would seem a bit too close to the 169 reported lost to enemy action. I would expect RAF fighters to have accounted for more than 7 Me 109's and maybe the smaller airforces claimed some as well?"

Obviously Stig’s reply lacked indications on his sources but you can recognize Williamson Murray’s book easily, especially table III. I replied myself, showing that Murray’s figures on Me 109 losses cannot be right.
Today in January 2021 I’d like to add that 169 Me 109s lost “to Enemy Action” and 66 more “Not Due to Enemy Action” (Murray, table III) is quite incredible. More on this a bit lower here.

24.10.2019 : I posted a new text quoting the general (allround) German weekly « Der Spiegel” (The Mirror), which usually is well-informed in such matters: 1,471 total German losses to all causes including 535 Me 109s (W. Murray in table 3: 257, less than one half). This is much more like it and I explained why: all-out German attack with very intensive use of the German fighters against all categories of Allied planes including single-engined French fighters (about 1,000), British ones (about 100 except 250 for 9 days at Dunkerque), Dutch (a few dozen, twin-engined too) and Belgian (a few ones); losses caused by defensive fire of Allied bombers and recce AC cannot be neglected either (probably several dozens). Add relatively heavy losses to all Allied AA defences, not only AAA (artillery), including when flying low and attacking airfields, army units, railways, stations and columns on roads. No doubt tens of thousands of Allied infantry and other machine-guns, even a few million infantry rifles caused some losses too to German aircraft not flying all too high (I’d say 0-1,000 meters above ground). You’ll find some examples in the excellent history of KG 27 (Heinkel 111s) written by Walter Waiss, a very interesting book in German, very good, on a typical German bomber unit flying a typical variety of missions including deep over French territory, sometimes about 1,000 km - 620 miles – inside: running this gauntlet was not really funny for German aircrew hit by French fighters, then French AAA, then fighters again (sometimes these were some "Hurricanes") . They rarely flew any missions without being attacked by fighters, of which about 90 % were French. Add AAA of course.

Now be ready for the final blow: Jochen Prien. Have a look at his book “Die Jagdfliegerverbände der deutschen Luftwaffe…“, volume 3, pages 50-68. These pages contain a great quantity of very interesting texts, figures and statistical tables. It is not possible to quote all this here so I’ll only mention part of the table on page 66: on 11 May 1940 all German fighter units (this excludes Me 110s) had a real complement (in German: Ist = Real, Actual) of 1,348 Me 109s, I presume including those (about 300 AC) based far from the front, protecting some important areas. Please note that this figure does not take losses suffered on May 10 into account: I counted 11 destroyed plus 11 damaged in Peter Cornwell’s giant book TBOFTN (or BFTN).

On 22 June 1940 the same figure was 828, which is 520 less. Production in May and June 1940 was 615 Me 109s according to Prien (other authors concur), page 61, footnote 84. I feel everybody is able to draw his own conclusions: at the end of the French Campaign the German fighter units were weaker by 520 Me 109s in spite of a record production of 615.

Why production of Me 109s was comparatively so strong precisely in May and June 1940 I don’t know. Even already 1939-40 (today it’s worse) aircraft production needed at least two years to come into full swing so it had to be planned carefully several years in advance [this is precisely the main point underlying the philosophy of W. Murray in this book “Luftwaffe – Strategy for Defeat 1933-45; I mention this book repeatedly in this text], which was the case in the United Kingdom and in France, hence the very strong rise of Bloch 152 and Dewoitine 520 numbers especially in June, just a few weeks too late (a total of over 430 D.520s had been produced). On the contrary Me 109 production was quite slow 1940 except precisely in May and June; on average it was between 140 and 150 a month – according to various sources, let’s say ABOUT 145 monthly and this includes both strong months of May and June so the average for the 10 other months of 1940 was about 110 only. Both the British and French single-engine fighter productions were far ahead of this already, which is one of several reasons why the Luftwaffe clearly lost the Battle of Britain, which DID take place (Mr. Jochen Prien disputes that there was a “Battle of Britain” at all – may I add: so Germany couldn’t lose, which was quite convenient).

I am still wondering how it was possible that the production of 109s by Mt and other firms rose so strongly precisely during both these crucial months. It can hardly have been pure chance. A theory – just a theory – could be that, when the date of the all-out German offensive was decided once and for all (there were numerous postponements from November to May), Göring ordered to raise production by all means, for example using the existing stockpiles of aircraft parts and engines, even raw materials like rubber, as quickly as possible, ignoring the usual, low production rate, and demanding strong involvement of all the manpower, mainly factory workers.
On Prien’s page 68 we find the two last statistical tables on German fighter losses to all causes (in detail). According to this in May and June 1940 alone 269 Me 109s were destroyed (with 60-100 % damage), 209 more were damaged 1-59 %. The Prien total “destroyed or damaged 1-59 %” for May-June 1940 is 478.

For September 1939 through June 22, 1940, it is 1,082.

Of course I realize that 1 % damage did not destroy the German fighter arm but I guess that most fighters (Me 109) which suffered less than 60 % damage were rather in the 10-58 % range. Slight damage occurred when an enemy fire-burst hit the wing tips or empty parts of the fuselage aft of the cockpit including the tail assembly (sometimes the latter was destroyed and had to be replaced). This happened relatively often (the victim doing his best to evade fire), obviously it was the same on the Allied side. Nevertheless we should not overestimate the numerical significance of such slight damage.

To sum up and get back to where we started: no the Luftwaffe did NOT lose only 169 fighter to enemy action, as W. Murray told us erroneously in his book (because of a translation error or possibly of a wrongly read table, possibly hard to decipher, or even because of a stupid typo, see next paragraph).

Jochen Prien’s figure is 269 Me 109s destroyed (all causes) not 169. (I had to add his figures for May and June.) This includes 99 “not due to enemy action”, which I – sorry – consider not credible. Almost 100 Me 109s destroyed “not due to enemy action”, leaving almost exactly 169 DUE TO enemy action is simply not possible. Or, if it is, it means that German fighter pilots – apart from the good old ones, the old hands (alte Hasen) – were very poor pilots indeed, which I do not believe either (not to such an extent; some of them were very poor indeed; just an example is firing at a French fighter, missing and overtaking it: the French die-hards rarely missed such a good opportunity to fill the 109 with deadly lead and steel). Is there a typo in Murray’s book giving 169 instead of 269? This is quite possible. On table V it says that Me 109 pilot casualties were… 169. Such a coincidence is not possible for, as far as I know, “only” one in three fighter pilots shot down was killed (any correction of this 1/3 is welcome in advance). 100 % killed pilots for those whose fighters were destroyed “due to enemy action”, or nearly 100 % (there were fatalities in accidents too), is quite simply impossible so Murray’s figures (not the book’s philosophy) should be handled with care.
I am not claiming to have discovered “THE” truth on this interesting point of history, I am only gathering facts discovered or reported by various authors. Nonetheless I feel that usually 1940 German fighter losses were, and are, strongly underestimated. New thoughts and information are very welcome any time.

I’d like to add this: approximately 100 RAF "Hurricane" pilots claimed 700 victories in 12 days of May 1940 (this was one of the worst overclaiming rates ever): see book “Twelve Days in May”, aka TDIM, by Brian Cull. This author reduced the total by 400, finding about 300. Nevertheless, an average of 3 victories for 100 RAF fighter pilots in but 12 days is something quite flabbergasting. It is not quite 3 per pilot for many of them – they fought bravely - were killed or badly wounded and had to be replaced so possibly 150 RAF pilots shared 300 victories (according to Brian Cull). At such a rate they would have reached about 300 x 3 = 900 victory claims during the same time as the whole duration of the French Campaign (38 days were really active in the air). Obviously all these figures are very rough figures. It would be a little more than 900 but let us not be so mean. French fighter units for their part claimed a total of about 900 “victoires sûres” and “victoires probables” too (without the “Phoney War”) for their 1,000 fighter pilots (including Czechs and Poles, both being really good) – in 38 days, about 3 times TDIM. So – according to these figures – one RAF fighter pilot flying a "Hurricane" in May 1940 was as good as 6.66, let’s say 6.67, French fighter pilots flying Morane 406s, Curtiss H-75s (these were really good), Bloch 152s or about 100-150 superlative fighters of the type Dewoitine 520, depending on the period (36 D.520s on May 13, 140-160 in first-line units on June 15 or so: GC I/3, II/3, II/7 and – last - III/6 facing Italy). Losses of D.520s were replaced without any problem. One French GC equipped with D.520s had a complement of 36 fighters, which is 4 more than 2 RAF fighter squadrons in May-June 1940 (RAF sqns were raised to 20 AC each during the BoB).

It is not easy to compare "Hurricanes" with the whole of the French fighter force, the latter using hundreds (or at least 120, 150 in June) in the case of Curtiss H-75s, similar to USAAF’s P-36s) of models of 4 different types (single-engined only). The MS 406 was perfectly fair 1939 but clearly obsolescent (not useless, not at all) by May 1940: the "Hurricane" was clearly better. I’d say that taking all factors into account, in particular armament, which is a factor of great significance, the 3 other French fighter types, on average, were about as good as "Hurricanes", the D.520s being clearly better and in the same class as Spitfires and Me 109 E-3 and 4s.

All this, and more, shows that we ought to be very careful when using and publishing figures on 1940 air fighting. For example, French fighter pilots were highly-trained PROFESSIONALS who knew their stuff. (No “Sunday flyers” like in the RAF: good friends who flew a little during week-ends.) Their German counterparts had the benefit of combat experience in Spain (including, at the end, flying Me 109s) and in Poland but this experience was mainly personal and difficult to pass on to rookies; nevertheless it gave German fighter pilots an advantage, as did he German “Schwarm” (finger four) tactics created in Spain by Mölders and others (?). As a whole French fighter pilots were better than German pilots, who were younger and had less experience but better tactics evolved in Spain. French fighter tactics were fairly good, not hopeless at all; RAF tactics were but this is off topic here.

The average 1940 RAF fighter pilot being 6.67 times better than his French-Czech-Polish counterpart (even taking aircraft types into account) can’t be true. It looks like a joke. The Luftwaffe DID lose about 1,470 aircraft during the French Campaign, not counting hundreds more which were heavily damaged. Even subtracting approximately 200 (mainly Ju 52s) slaughtered by Dutch forces about 1,300 losses remain. What was the Luftwaffe’s main enemy in May-June 1940? Quite obviously it was the French fighter arm with a total of about 1,000 modern fighters (their production had got priority), of which “even” hundreds of Morane 406s were not at all useless but destroyed hundreds of German planes, and they were replaced by better types as fast as possible (at the end 5 “Groupes” were left instead of 11 on May 10). Their main asset was the formidable French cannon Hispano-Suiza HS 404 (some were still HS 9s, not bad either but 404s were even better), the best fighter cannon in the world according to the RAF, which had selected it several years before WW II, was very satisfied and never changed this choice, not even after the war. During WW II this French cannon was produced by no less than six (6) British factories. Only the appearance of the new 30 mm cannon (arming Hawker “Hunters”) resulted in the phasing out of the HS 404 20 mm cannon, which armed Spitfires, Typhoons, Tempests, Whirlwinds, Mosquitoes (except bombers), Beaufighters and more; I think many Hurricanes too. Not to mention several US types from P-38 and F-4 to B-29.

1940 other Allied forces including the RAF fought fiercely and often effectively but with much lower numbers, for much shorter a time and with lesser fighter armament except Dutch fighters. Let us not forget anti-aircraft forces of all kinds from all countries including ordinary infantry machine-guns and British Bren guns. Most aviation enthusiasts don’t really like to be remembered of ground forces which downed numerous enemy aircraft but this is a fact of History among others.

Allow me to get back to the losses of Me 109 units. I think that only 169 combat losses in May-June 1940 is simply not possible: it’s much too low a figure. Obviously Williamson Murray and Jochen Prien published the same figure stemming from the same source but it is time to look at this again (see above).

Last edited by rof120; 13th January 2021 at 19:41.
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Old 9th January 2021, 18:06
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Re: Messerschmitt 109 losses in May-June 1940 : W. Murray’s and J. Prien’s figures

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Originally Posted by rof120 View Post
it is time to look at this again.
Perhaps a good place to start would be the daily Lageberichte for the period which you can find here. All the ones that I have looked at include a tabulation of German losses broken down by type. Do let us know what you find.
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Old 10th January 2021, 13:12
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Re: Messerschmitt 109 losses in May-June 1940 : W. Murray’s and J. Prien’s figures

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Originally Posted by Nick Beale View Post
Perhaps a good place to start would be the daily Lageberichte for the period which you can find here. All the ones that I have looked at include a tabulation of German losses broken down by type. Do let us know what you find.
- I had a look yesterday. Really impressive but it seems that searching for some pecise piece of information can become quite hard and time-consuming even though the publication on the Internet (in Moscow) seems to be the result of a well-done job. Thanks God this site is not in Russian only but in German too, which makes me very grateful. A very useful asset is the SEARCH function. Otherwise - in a very short time - I got the impression that all these important German files were somehow shuffled and what you see on your screen is the result of chance not of classification. WYSIWYG so to speak. I don't know this site well enough to have an opinion on this, though. Very useful it is in any case.

Jochen Prien's JFV part 3 (campaigns in Norway and France-Benelux): Prien seems to have relied too much on Farris Kirkland (see footnotes mentioning him) but this was 2000-2001 and Kirkland's frequent lack of reliability possibly was not known yet. Prien relied heavily, too, on French author Raymond Cartier. Cartier was a journalist, mainly with the FRENCH weekly Paris-Match (Paris' Match, in German Das Streichholz von Paris, sic). He was absolutely pro-American and admired everything blindly if only it was American. He was an extremely convinced supporter of European unity as USE, E being Europe. He wrote a lot in Paris-Match and he published a big book with the title "Histoire de la deuxième guerre mondiale" (WW II), which Prien quotes all too often for Cartier, whom I read and heard (on the radio) very eagerly at the time (I was a still naive teen-ager), was not really an historian. This didn't make him unable to find some gems nor to make some good remarks, though. Some long articles on the Fr. Campaign in his weekly, including a very hot discussion with 1940 French Prime Minister Paul Reynaud, could contain some interesting elements.
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Old 10th January 2021, 15:14
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Killed pilots: Messerschmitt 109 and French losses in May-June 1940

As I mentioned from all fighter pilots shot down roughly 1/3 were killed, the others being unhurt or wounded.

I made a quick calculation on French losses; German losses are similar (not quite the same):

French losses of single-engined fighters May 10-June 24, 1940

Morane-Saulnier MS 406....138 including 27 to Flak, 49 pilots killed (35.5 %)

Bloch 151-152..................100 including 5 to Flak, 35 pilots killed (35 %)

Curtiss H-75..................... 62 including 2 to Flak, 22 pilots killed (35.5 %)

Dewoitine 520................... 50 including 4 to Flak, 14 pilots killed (28 %)

TOTAL 350 fighters lost with 120 pilots killed (34.3 %).

The magnitude of these losses (we have to add numerous fighters which were damaged, often very heavily) gives an idea of the French fighter arm's numerical strength. It would be very foolish to think that all French fighters, or most of them, were destroyed in combat: this is simply not true and their numerical strength of about 1,000 was more or less kept at the same level, or higher (in spite of all legends to the contrary), thanks to the production of new fighters in factories, which had strongly raised at last except for Moranes (they were being phased out). Lost fighters were replaced, Moranes too in the 5 remaining Morane units. Production of Bloch 152s and Dewoitine 520s had reached a high level with totals well over 400 each, and American production of Curtiss H-75s (assembled at Bourges close to the central point of France), which were very expensive, was so high that a 5th Groupe de chasse (GC), GC III/2, was re-equipped with this type around June 1st, sending their Moranes to other units or to the rear.

Why those pilots flying D.520s and shot down had a clearly better chance of surviving I don't know. We can only speculate on this fighter's qualities because it was the most recent design, the most up-to-date one, possibly with better pilot armour based on actual combat experience.

MS 406s had a much higher loss rate to Flak. My explanation is that they often were sent to low-level strafing attacks on German road traffic including tanks. Flak was perfectly ready and waited for them. But why precisely Moranes? French HQ possibly thought that they had to choose a fighter type anyway and the Moranes were clearly obsolescent and dispensable. If so this was a shocking error because Morane pilots were as good as any and had a lot of air combat experience: it was foolish to accept their loss in futile attacks whereas they were immensely useful in the sky, destroying the real bad guys: mainly German bombers. If such attacks were necessary, which I doubt (destroying German bombers was far more important and far less costly), every French expert agrees that Bloch 152s were much better suited with their air-cooled radial engine (much less of a liability than the liquid-cooled engine of Moranes in front of Flak) and much more sturdy, often surviving heavy punishment.

These French fighter losses include numerous victims of German air-gunners, who were well-trained and knew their stuff. I guess dozens of French fighters were shot down or heavily damaged by German gunners, possibly as many as 100. So they were not all victims of Me 109s/110s.

Among German fighter pilots who were shot down the percentage of those who were killed is most probably higher, possibly about 40 %. It would be too time-consuming and off topic to elaborate on this.

Last edited by rof120; 16th January 2021 at 14:49.
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Old 10th January 2021, 22:24
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Re: Messerschmitt 109 losses in May-June 1940 : W. Murray’s and J. Prien’s figures

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searching for some pecise piece of information can become quite hard and time-consuming
When researching the Luftwaffe, that's usually what it takes,
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Old 11th January 2021, 12:52
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Researching the Luftwaffe..

Hmmm, yes, I guess you're perfectly right (big sighhhh). Other air forces are often quite difficult and time-consuming too (like the Armée de l'Air), not to mention the Soviet air force, for which I somehow suspect that you need an excellent command of the Russian language. Here I prefer to give up at once for I'm not THAT courageous...
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Old 16th January 2021, 15:36
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Correction about Messerschmitt 109 loss percentages in May-June 1940 : W. Murray’s and J. Prien’s figures

CORRECTION : Me 109 loss percentages

Here (next paragraphs) is the relevant part of my preceding post on Me 109 losses. The reduction of all 1,348 existing AC of this type was not about 50 % but about 38.58 % (see below). It was over 50 % for those 1,016 which took part in combat operations over the main battle area Netherlands-Belgium-France. Please note: according to W. Murray in Table III there were - on May 5 - 1,369 Me 109s (21 more), no matter where (including in test facilities, used in pilot training etc.). A technical bug in my PC when erasing a few words mixed up both mentioned loss percentages (38.58 and 50 %) and I failed to notice it, sorry. My apologies for this (and the culprit – my PC – will be punished).

“…part of the table on page 66 (J. Prien’s JFV, volume 3): on 11 May 1940 all German fighter units (this excludes Me 110s) had a real complement (in German: Ist = Real, Actual) of 1,348 Me 109s, I presume including those (about 300 AC) based far from the front, protecting some important areas. Please note that this figure does not take losses suffered on May 10 into account: I counted 11 destroyed plus 11 damaged in Peter Cornwell’s giant book TBOFTN (or BFTN).

On 22 June 1940 the same figure was 828, which is 520 less (a reduction by over 38.58 % in but 38 days; the reduction was over 50 % for those units which were actually engaged on the front with a total of 1,016 Me 109s). Production in May and June 1940 was 615 Me 109s according to Prien, page 61, footnote 84 (other authors concur like Vajda et al). I feel everybody is able to draw his own conclusions: at the end of the French Campaign the German fighter units were weaker by 520 Me 109s in spite of a record production of 615.

Last edited by rof120; 19th January 2021 at 14:22.
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