Multiple Kills
By Jim "Twitch" Tittle

Article Type: Military History
Article Date: February 10, 2003

It wasn’t that multiple kills in a mission were unique in WWII; they weren’t as such. There were a lot more planes and pilots engaged than before or since so statistically there were relatively more multiples. Some pilots had fortune and skills enabling them to do it. Both before and after fighter pilots in biplanes and jets would get multiples. Even one kill was a big deal, but when the opportunity presented itself pilots took advantage of the situation.

Late War Combat
By 1918 large formations of aircraft battled more in the fashion that many skirmishes unfolded during WWII. With twenty-eight victories British Captain L.H. Rochford ended the war well down in the rankings but was still an excellent combat pilot. In Rochford’s No. 203 Squadron was Raymond Collishaw, who ended the war with sixty victories in third place for RAF pilots.

In April 1918 the 203rd launched two flights—"A Flight" with five planes and "B Flight" with six led by Rochford. As in any aerial combat height was paramount and the fighters climbed before they ducked across the lines. The Sopwith Camels formed a Vee and at 8,000 feet climbing at 80 MPH a pair of the new Fokker D.VIIs were seen attacking an Armstrong-Whitworth two-seater 3,000 feet below.

Screaming down at 200 MPH Rochford lined up the other Fokker, which was not firing at the RAF plane while the A-W rear gunner streamed rounds at the leader. He waited until he was very close and triggered the twin .303 Vickers machine guns. Simultaneously the D.VIIs fell out of control. The D.VII was a potent plane and he was happy to have gotten that one.

B Flight climbed to 10,000 and saw distant specks higher than the Camels. He maneuvered his planes so the sun was behind them as the groups closed. He made the now visible specks as more D.VIIs—green on top with blue undersides.

Capt. L.H. Rochford

The Camel F.1 had 150 HP Bentley rotary engines with nine cylinders. 110 HP Le Rhones and 130 HP Clergets were used too. The plane was matched for speed with the D.VII and at very low altitude could out climb it but at altitude the German fighter was reported to be able to climb better.

Rochford’s flight was now at 14,000 feet, above the Fokkers and in good position for a bounce. Though he firmly believed maneuverability was the most important factor in WWI he always began a fight with a height advantage if he could.

The Bentley bellowed and the Camel dived. Rochford pulled out behind a trailing enemy plane and closed from 6 o’clock level using his dive momentum to get to 20-30 yards distance before opening fire. The D.VII staggered and fell out of control to the earth below. Four of the five Camel pilots scored this way using the classic attack pass.

By the late stages of WWI fighters were much more sophisticated as fighting machines than in 1914. Development through combat experience made some lethal late war fighters. The Sopwith Camel was a tricky plane to fly. Pilots either learned its idiosyncrasies or died learning.

It was based on the earlier Pup and had a typical wooden frame with wire-braced wings all cover with fabric save for the forward section with metal alloy panels and plywood to the back of the cockpit. The first of 5,490 Camels began arriving for service during May 1917. They became responsible for more kills than any Allied aircraft of the War with 1,281 German planes destroyed.

Performance was solid. The Bentley B.R.1 gave the machine a top speed of 122 MPH at 10,000 ft. where the 130 HP Clerget gave about 114 MPH at 6,500 ft. Service ceiling was about 18,000 ft. and climb to 10,000 feet took 11.5 minutes. From ground level it could hit 6,500 ft. in 6.0 minutes. Endurance was 2.5 hours.

It weighed 1,530 lbs. loaded with the Bentley. Its wingspan was 28.0’ and length was 18.75’. The synchronized .303 Vickers were mounted in a partially enclosed fairing bump that quickly gave it the popular name “Camel.”

It is interesting to note that in the 1918 Armistice Treaty only the D.VII was specifically mentioned to be surrendered “in good condition.” Everyone wanted to get their hands on the great fighter for evaluation.

Its 22.75’ long fuselage was entirely plywood covered while its 29.1’ wing was covered with fabric like the tail. At 2,006 lbs. loaded it was not light but could maneuver extremely well. The 150 HP Mercedes D III 6-cylinder liquid-cooled inline engine gave it a top speed of 116 MPH at 3,280 ft. It could climb well with 3,280 feet seen in 5.5 minutes but what was more important was that it could climb at high angle of attack at slow speeds where its enemies would stall. Climb rates at higher altitudes were generally better too. Ceiling was 19,000 ft. A pair of LMG 08/15 7.92 mm machine guns nestled in the fuselage in front of the pilot.

Spit Vs. 109 Encounters
When the Spitfire 1A debuted in May 1940 Alan Deere of New Zealand flew it in the first encounter with Me 109s (pilots called it the “Me” 109 not knowing of the “Bf” designation at the time). A squadron leader had been forced down in Calais and the group had the idea of flying a Miles Master trainer over, with Spitfire escorts, to collect him.

Alan Deere

The Master made it in and took off with its passenger but 109s soon arrived. These were Bf 109Es. The Master was a swell target and a 109 fired at it. Deere came in and fired more of a warning shot than aimed fire and the 109, which pulled up and away. Deere racked the Spit as tightly as it would turn and clung to his tail.

The 109 pilot turned right but the Spitfire easily stayed with him and closed. At 300 yards Deere fired. The eight .303s were set for 450-yard convergence he found too late. The Messerschmitt pulled up vertically and Deere hammered him. Strikes were evident immediately. He poured it on and the Daimler-Benz began to smoke. The 109 dived and hit the beach. He was the first German to learn that you can’t turn with a Spitfire.

From 2,000 feet he climbed to assist the Master once more. The constant speed Rotol prop got him up to 5,000 feet and he passed through the scud to find a pair of 109s directly in front of him. He pulled in behind the second ship and the duo attempted to evade by a skidding turn. Deere stayed with them.

At 100 yards the eight Brownings spat .303s out once more and the 109 rolled on his back and fell from the sky, obviously done for, then hit the ground.

The other 109 dived to ground level but Deere caught up. The German flung his plane about in every way possible to loosen the grasp the Spitfire had on it. Even in a sustained climb he could not open any distance. Deere gave him his last burst from his 300 RPGs and the 109 headed east. The Spit pulled up in a loop and rolled out to head home victorious in the historic encounter.

These were Alan Deere’s first aerial victories. He lengthened his list greatly during the Battle of Britain and finished the war with 22. He was shot down nine times during his numerous combats.

Just a bit later in WWII, in June 1941, Kurt Buehligen was flying with Jagdsgeschwader 2 (Richtofen) in France. Just after lunch the group was apprised of many British planes assembling south of London. German strength was not great due to the fact that many units had been pulled out for the forthcoming attack on Russia.

The Staffel’s Bf 109Fs climbed to intercept. With two 7.9 mm MGs and one 20 mm cannon the F was not well suited for bomber busting. At 15,000 feet there were seen some 100 Spitfires escorting the forty-odd Blenheims. The gaggle was just crossing the coast near Boulogne but the 109s had height advantage.

He and his Kommander, Heini Greisert, dived down and each chose a Spit. It grew in the sight ring and he opened up at close range. The Brit twisted and turned but Buehligen stayed with him. Pieces began to fly off and smoke poured from the Merlin. There was no chute.

He watched Greisert close too fast on one and overshoot. When he pulled above to the left the Spit followed. Buehligen curved in behind the fighter intent on the other 109. As the Spit turned his 109 gained on him, such was his position. He fired and immediately saw telltale white coolant smoke plumes. Buehligen kept firing and the whole tail assembly came off of the Spitfire. Again, no chute.

He joined on his Kommander to his right as the radio buzzed with “Achtung! Hurris!” A pair of Hurricanes was straight ahead and below them. Greiserts guns jammed at this inopportune moment and Buehligen fired singly on the left plane. More white coolant smoke billowed out of this one too and he fired till his ammo was expended. The Hurri plunged to the ground.

Buehligen would later take down two B-17s and a B-24 in a multi-cannoned Bf 109G during one mission in 1944. He ended his scoring with 112 kills, all in the West, putting him 3rd in Western Front aces. Only Hans Marseille and Heinz Bär surpassed him.

By July 1943, with unescorted American bombers droning to Germany by day and British heavies slipping in at night, German air defense was focused on bringing down as many of these big planes as possible.

Thumping Heavies
A master at four-engine bomber attack, George-Peter Eder with JG 26 based at Evreux, describes a pilot’s dream mission against them. Egon Mayer was in another JG 26 Gruppe and was quite adept at attacking heavies too.

George-Peter Eder

When the final alert came that bombers protected by many fighters were at 18,000 feet and closing the 109s took off and climbed to 21,000 feet. Eder led a Schwarm of four fighters. Flicking in the Revi gun sight three yellow rings and a cross appeared. He was now “ready for business.”

“We were doing about 280 MPH coming down slightly, aiming for the noses of the B-17s. The 109G6 had three 20 mm cannon and two 30 mm cannon, each of the latter with seventy shells per gun, so we were heavily armed” Eder explained.

As we know many field modifications of armament took place beyond the official factory setups. While this configuration is not listed in the books, it is a well-known fact that Luftwaffe armourers devised many layouts to add extra guns. This would be somewhere between the G-6/R2 with 3-30 mms and the R4 with 3-20 mms. It would mean that the under-wing 20 mm gondolas had similar 30 mm ones beside them! These planes were not maneuverable.

“There were about 200 of us going for 200 bombers but the escorts were above them. When we made our move the P-47s dived and it was race to get to the bombers. I was about 600 feet above coming straight on; I opened fire with the twenties at 500 yards. At 300 yards I opened up with the thirties. It was a short burst, maybe ten shells from each cannon, but I saw the bomber explode and burn. I flashed over him at about fifty feet and did a Chandelle ending up about 1,000 feet above and behind them.

“Straight in front of me was a Thunderbolt. As I completed my turn I opened up immediately. My fire was so heavy his left wing came off at once. By now only my other three fighters of my Schwarm were with me.”

As they got sorted out and prepared another assault on the bombers Eder warned “Indianer über uns!” Indianer was the German slang for the enemy fighters above them.

“They came in behind us and we banked hard left. There were ten P-47s. We were all turning as hard as we could, as in a Lufberry. I was able to turn tighter and was gaining. I pulled to within eighty yards of a P-47 and opened fire. I hit him quickly and two of the others each got one. One of my men was shot down.”

With unfavorable odds Eder called for the normal escape maneuver, the split-S, and dived at full throttle using the MW 50 emergency boost that injected methanol and water into the Benz’s twelve cylinders. Eder pondered that the “…P-47s couldn’t follow or stayed with the bombers.” We know the latter to be true at this time in the war. Later, when unleashed, P-47s would be reeling in 109s, 110s and 190s alike in dives that no plane could match.

As the trio pulled out they saw twelve B-17 bombers obviously on a return run from Paris below and made a head on pass with not too much speed. “He was smoking and started down. We turned back and opened fire from 300 yards and the straggler burst into flames. But he was firing all ten guns and just before his wing went up and he flopped over I heard thumps and my engine and cabins was hit hard. The engine began to knock loudly and I put the prop to fine pitch. I went into a long dive and looked for a place to put down. There ahead was Le Bourget.

“I didn’t have any power. I pulled the electric landing gear control and nothing happened. I reached for the hand lever and got the wheels down in time at 110 MPH and landed on the grass.”

The Geschwader lost seven or eight planes but twenty enemy planes were tallied up, most of them bombers. Egon Mayer was KIA in early 1944 with 102 victories while Eder ended the war with 76 (34 were 4-engine bombers) and 18 probables.

Several At A Time
Firepower and number of rounds would show its importance one day in February 1943 when 222-victory ace Erich Rudorffer got multiples flying an Fw 190A-4/Trop in Africa. He said,” The Fw 190 was good up to 24,000 feet and the 109 was better above that.”

Rudorffer Flew In East & West

His tactic was the same as most aces—one diving pass to shoot down the opponent quickly. He preferred to open fire at 150 feet.

On February 9th, in a 190 as Kommander of II Gruppe JG 2 at Kairouan, they got word that a large group of fighters and bombers was on the way. Once airborne and assembled they saw “dicke Autos und Indianers.” Dicke Auto was their slang for bombers, literally meaning “fat cars.”

“They were coming in from the west, about twenty-four B-17s, eighteen P-40s, twenty P-38s, and some twenty Spits and Hurricanes. We were at 21,500 feet with the bomber below us and the P-40s above. When we started for the bomber the Curtiss fighters came down and the dogfight began. They soon went into a Lufberry circle and I began to slip in from high and low to shoot them down with deflection from close range. From 13:59 to 14:06 I got six P-40s. Everyone was scattered by then.

“Then I saw some P-38s strafing below and with four 190s we went down. I got one from above and another after climbing again. That gave me eight for the day.”

Rudorffer repeated his multiple with seven more on the 15th of February. He is credited with eleven on two occasions in Russia in 1944. The second batch on November 6, 1944 may have actually been thirteen—six Yak 9s and seven Yak 7s but two were probables.

Jabby’s Double
Above the Yalu MiG 15s and F-86s duked it out in the first jet-to-jet combat. Captain James Jabara got 1.5 kills in WWII flying the P-51 in Europe but came into his own during Korea ultimately scoring fifteen kills for second place in that conflict.

James Jabara

By May 1951 his tour was ending and he had four confirmed but on May 20th fifty MiGs jumped him and thirteen comrades in F-86s over Sinuiju.

“I tacked on to three MiGs at 35,000 feet and picked the last one boring straight in. My first two bursts ripped up his fuselage and left wing. At about 10,000 feet the pilot bailed out before the MiG disintegrated.

Then I climbed back to 20,000 feet to get back into the battle. I bounced six more MiGs from behind. I closed in and got off two bursts into one of them, scoring heavily both times. He began to smoke.

My next burst caught him square in the middle and he burst into flames and fell into an uncontrolled spin.”

McConnell’s ‘Beautious Butch’

McConnell’s ‘Beautious Butch’ Jabara went home but returned for another tour in 1953 where he scored nine more times. He had four “probables” and seven “damaged’ also! He was killed in a car accident in 1966 in which his then sixteen-year-old daughter was driving. Joseph McConnell led the Korean scoring with sixteen and got a triple on the 18th of May 1953. These were his last and he was sent home. His detailed narrative is lost to history since he was killed test flying an F-86H in 1954.

First Ace In ‘Nam?
Since no one had guns to speak of other than early F8 Crusaders in Viet Nam, with none getting multiple kills, we will look at Robin Olds’ tally of enemy planes taken with missiles.

Painting By Author

His F-4 named “Scat XXVII” had enabled him to get two MiG 21s on two occasions. He was no stranger to multiple victories in single missions. In August 1944 he became an ace with three 109s downed flying his P-38J “Scat.” One of the first sorties in the Mustangs his group transitioned to yielded him two Me 109s and an Fw 190. He finished WWII with thirteen confirmed. Though he was not in Korea he returned to combat in 1967. On May 20 he had an “interesting combat,” as he put it.

Olds In Viet Nam

“We were hitting marshalling yards about forty miles northeast of Hanoi—twenty-eight F-105s and F-4s. The yards were just north of an air base and flak was heavy. About twenty miles out I saw twelve to sixteen MiG 17s and MiG 21s. They came on fast from above and soon we were being bounced. We couldn’t hope to match turns with them. We slashed in at them and fired missiles and then back out again and each time three or four were shooting cannon at me as I took a shot. But I put a missile in one and he went down and two of the others (F-4s) got one.

“Meanwhile, down below the 105s hit the yards. We started home and just then I noticed a MiG 21 down on the deck doing figure eights. I couldn’t pass that up. I went fifteen miles out, got down on the rice paddies and started back in for him flying at about fifteen feet. He saw me coming and turned but I got behind him. I think he was heading for his base. He stayed low knowing if he pulled up I’d put a missile in him.” The radar-guided missiles of the time could not pick a plane out of ground clutter.

“He stayed low as long as he could but had to go up over a ridge. I was only a few feet off the ground when he popped up and I put a missile into him. I gambled fuel and won but had only 800 pounds left when I found the tanker. I never had a tougher dogfight in WWII than the one that day with those MiGs.”

Though Olds was never acknowledged with ace status in Viet Nam with his fifth MiG. This author knows that he was the first ace in Viet Nam pre-dating the Air Force’s Steve Ritchie and the Navy’s Duke Cunningham who both fought in 1972.

When I asked Olds if he ever had the chance to get a fifth MiG and how he felt about being so close he replied, “You know a missile has no conscience once it’s fired.” Puzzled, I pressed for a definition of that and he looked me in the eye and answered, “ If I‘d have claimed that fifth MiG the fun would have been over; they’d have sent me home and I wanted to stay and fly in combat. It’s easy to look the other way once it’s off the rails.”

So Olds never officially achieved ace status in ‘Nam but I believe he was America’s first ace there.

In 1991 during Desert Storm, ten separate doubles were scored, all by F-15Cs using missiles. There were no aces, three being the most kills for any pilot. Tom Dietz and Bob Hehemann of the USAF both got three.

Giora Aven of the Israeli Defense Force has as many as seventeen kills over the years from 1967 to at least 1982 flying Mirage IIIs and F-4Es. How many were gun kills is not known.

Join a discussion about this article.


  • Boyce, Col. Ward J.
    American Fighter Aces Album
    American Fighter Aces, AZ. 1996

  • Childers, James Saxon
    War Eagles
    D. Appleton-Century Co., NY-London, 1943

  • Green, Wm.
    The Complete Book of Fighters
    Smithmark Publishers, NY, 1994

  • Green, William
    Fighters Vols. 1, 2
    Doubleday & Co., 1960-61

  • Gurney, Gene
    Five Down And Glory
    G.P. Putnam's Sons, NY 1958

  • Sims, Edward
    Fighter Tactics & Strategy 1914-1970
    Harper & Row Publishing, NY, 1972

  • Plus author interviews