World War I Aerial Victory Credits

In the first few months after the United States entered World War I, British and French organizations exercised tactical control over many American units and confirmed and recorded aerial victory credits earned by their members. Air Service pilots attached individually to French or British organizations also received credit for victories in aerial combat. The Air Service, American Expeditionary Forces, subsequently established its own victory credit system after U.S. aero squadrons began operating under American control.

The Air Service awarded credit to members of American air units who destroyed enemy aircraft in flight or forced them down in Allied territory. "Enemy aircraft" included both airplanes and balloons. The destruction of a balloon on the ground was counted if the balloon was inflated, but airplanes destroyed on the ground were excluded. Each victory claim had to be confirmed by a witness before it was officially counted as a credit. Confirmed claims became official credits through the issuance of general orders. The U.S. Army Air Service also recognized and counted victory credits awarded to its members by French and British organizations, but it did not count credits which Allied air forces awarded to Americans who were not members of the Air Service, American Expeditionary Forces, at the time of their victories. Consequently, the actual number of victory credits for some individuals is greater than the number appearing on this list, because some of those credits were earned in foreign service. For example, an American pilot who served first with the French Armee de l'Air before joining the Air Service of the United States might have been an ace, but the American list would not credit him with all five aircraft if some had been destroyed while he was in the service of France.

During World War I the French Armee de l'Air awarded a whole victory credit to each person who contributed to the aerial destruction of an enemy aircraft. For example, if two French aircraft, each carrying a pilot and observer, shot down one German aircraft, all four men each received one credit. In a few instances, as many as sixteen men (eight pilots and their observers) received one credit each for destroying a single enemy airplane. The British Royal Flying Corps, on the other hand, divided one whole credit equally among the crew members who shot down an enemy aircraft. If four men contributed to a single victory, each received one-fourth of a credit (.25), the sum therefore matching more closely the actual number of aircraft destroyed.

When the Air Service, American Expeditionary Forces, began independent military operations on the Western Front, it adopted the more generous French system of apportioning credit. Thus, in World War I, a U.S. Army military aviator earned a whole victory credit for destruction of an enemy airplane, even if he was only one of two or more flyers who brought it down.

Air Force historians who prepared Historical Study 133 in 1969 converted the whole credits awarded those who contributed to a victory into fractions to show which credits were shared and to calculate the number of enemy aircraft actually covered by the credits. This was more in line with the British system and with the criteria the Americans applied in World War II, but it did not reflect the actual credits awarded. Confusion resulted, because researchers using Historical Study 133 would sometimes add the fractions of flyers to get their aerial victory credit totals. This current list shows the credits earned by Air Service members according to the World War I criteria. The reader should not attempt to determine the actual number of enemy aircraft brought down by Air Service pilots by adding up the numbers of aerial victory credits earned, because several whole credits were sometimes awarded for the destruction of a single enemy airplane.

The World War I aerial victory credits list contains the following information per line: name, rank, service, squadron, crew position, number of credits, type of credit, and date. Abbreviations for these categories are:

Rank: SGT, Sergeant; 2LT, Second Lieutenant; 1LT, First Lieutenant; CPT, Captain; MAJ, Major.

Service: US, United States; BR, Britain; FR, France; IT, Italy.

Squadron: BMR, Bombardment; OBS, Observation; PUR, Pursuit (squadron abbreviations do not appear for Air Service members attached to foreign units).

Crew position: P, pilot; O, observer; G, gunner.

Type of aircraft destroyed: A, airplane; B, balloon.