Individual fighter pilots in single-seat aircraft earned almost all of the World War II aerial victory credits that were awarded during World War II. When two or more of its fighter pilots shared an aerial victory, the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) usually divided credit among them in accordance with the British system in World War I. For example, if two fighter pilots destroyed an enemy aircraft, each of them earned half a credit (.50). There was an exception. Each member of a night fighter crew earned one full credit for each enemy aircraft his crew destroyed. Thus, two or three credits were sometimes recorded for the destruction of a single enemy airplane, and an accurate number of aircraft destroyed cannot be obtained by simply adding victory credits.
Gunners on bombers such as B-17 Flying Fortresses and B-24 Liberators destroyed enormous numbers of enemy aircraft, but the Army Air Forces quickly abandoned the attempt to systematically award aerial victory credits to them. The average bomber had ten machine guns and six gunnery positions, and the average bomber formation contained many aircraft. If a formation shot down an enemy airplane, witnesses could not determine exactly which bomber, much less which gunner, destroyed the airplane.
Because no single list of USAAF victory credits could be prepared during or at the end of World War II, many different lists, each compiled according to rules adopted in a theater or by a numbered air force, remained after the fighting ended. Air Force historians later integrated these victory records into a single list following a carefully prepared set of criteria. The United States Air Force (USAF) counted World War II aerial victory credits only for USAAF flyers, or Allied aviators who belonged to USAAF units. The action had to occur between December 7, 1941 and September 2, 1945. Only fighter pilots or members of night fighter crews were eligible. The enemy aircraft had to be airborne, heavier than air, manned, and armed. Destruction involved shooting an enemy aircraft down, causing the pilot to bail out, intentionally ramming the airplane to make it crash, or maneuvering it into the ground or water. If the enemy airplane landed, despite its degree of damage, it was not counted as destroyed.
An eyewitness in another aircraft or gun camera film confirmed aerial victory credit claims. USAAF officials then awarded credit, usually through the issuance of numbered air force general orders. An aerial victory credit board, of which there were several during the war, also documented credits. In 1957, the Department of the Air Force assigned responsibility for verifying aerial victory credits, including those of World War II, to the USAF Historical Division, predecessor of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.
During compilation of the World War II listing, historians prepared data cards for each aerial victory. Each card identified the individual who contributed to the victory, his serial number, his unit, the theater, the credit fraction or number, and the date of the credit. The cards listed documentary sources and sometimes the names of the other pilots who shared the victory. From these cards, the historians produced a series of computer printouts, and checked them against other sources, such as files from the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis.
A few victory credits board reports are lost. For example, XIX Tactical Air Command Victory Credits Board Report Numbers 71, 79, 80, and 81 have not been located, although references to them exist. Discovery of these missing reports might confirm some claims that by established standards could not be counted in this listing.
Each line of the World War II list contains the following information: name, rank, serial number, service, unit, theater, number of credits, and date. Abbreviations for the categories are:
Rank: FO, flight officer; 2LT, second lieutenant; 1LT, first lieutenant; CPT, captain; MAJ, major; LTC, lieutenant colonel; COL, colonel.
Service: AAF, Army Air Forces; PHIL, Philippine Air Force; RCAF, Royal Canadian Air Force; CAF, Chinese Air Force; POL, Polish Air Force.
Unit: AF, Air Force; AIR DV, Air Division; BMR DV, Bombardment Division; BMR SQ, Bombardment Squadron; CDO SQ, Commando Squadron; CDO GP, Commando Group; FPR SQ, Fighter Squadron (Provisional); FTR CM, Fighter Command; FTR GP, Fighter Group; FTR SQ, Fighter Squadron; FTR WG, Fighter Wing; NFR SQ, Night Fighter Squadron; PRN SQ, Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron; PRV GP, Provisional Group; PRV SQ, Provisional Squadron; PUR SQ, Pursuit Squadron; RCN SQ, Reconnaissance Squadron; TRN SQ, Training Squadron; WRN SQ, Weather Reconnaissance Squadron. On May 15, 1942, the Army Air Forces redesignated virtually all of its pursuit units as fighter units. In this list, all pursuit squadrons are listed as fighter squadrons with the exception of the 3d Pursuit Squadron, which for a time coexisted with the 3d Fighter Squadron.
Theater: AL, Alaska; CBI, China-Burma-India; CP, Central Pacific; ETO, European Theater of Operations; ICE, Iceland; MTO, Mediterranean Theater of Operations; SWP, Southwest Pacific.
All Seventh Air Force credits are designated as "Central Pacific" theater although some Seventh Air Force activities took place in the Western Pacific. All Fifth and Thirteenth Air Force credits are designated as "Southwest Pacific" theater, although some of the operations of these air forces took place in the South Pacific.
The Army Air Forces awarded close to 15,800 aerial victory credits during World War II. Approximately 690 American pilots scored at least 5 aerial victory credits during the war.