World War 2 was the bloodiest war of all time, involving tens of millions of soldiers from militaries across the world. It was also the birth of the modern fighter plane, aircraft that were armed to the teeth, and were in constant battles for dominance of the skies.
This also meant that an entirely new breed of pilot was created, one that relied on powerful new technologies and weapons that allowed them to battle against one another both for victory and survival.
James Howard did not receive the most aerial wins during the course of the war, but he was nevertheless an incredibly skilled pilot that saw some incredible victories. On the 11th of January in 1994, Howard was escorting a number of B-17s over Europe.
All of a sudden, 30 German planes were on his tail, looking to destroy him and the bombers. Howard was quick to jump into active, quickly shooting down 5 Germans. By the time he ran out of ammunition, he had scared off the rest of the fighters, while only taking a single bullet to his P-51. His skills and victories in the sky made him the only pilot to receive a Medal of Honor in the European Theatre.
Often called the Samurai of the Sky, this Japanese fighter pilot became feared due to the 64 victories that he earned during his time fighting for Japan’s military. He’s widely considered the most famous Japanese pilot of all time because of devotion to aerial combat, a trend that began when he was only 16 and managed to graduate at the top of his class while in flight school.
He’s well-known for overcoming impossible odds, including taking on 28 Hellcats for 20 minutes, and was able to return to base without being hit a single time. One of his most famous missions saw Sakai being hit by bullets that left him blind in one eye as well as paralysed, but the pilot was still able to make it back to base; the kind of luck that most of us wish we had when playing the lottery or FIFA World Cup bets.
Anyone with any interest in World War 2 will almost certainly have heard of Erich Hartmann, who is regarded as the best pilot of all time. This is because, over the course of the Second World War, Hartmann claimed a total of 352 victories as a pilot. There were few other pilots that were able to face Hartmann while he was engaging in his Messerschmitt BF 109, which was the most advanced and deadly fighter plane ever used during the war.
Hartmann was a force to be reckoned with, and there are more than a few stories of inexperienced pilots immediately turning back after hearing that the German hero was in the vicinity.
He would fly more than 1400 combat missions and continued the fight even as the Russian had breached Berlin at the end of the war. He was known for his tactic of flying as close as possible to his opponents before opening up, allowing him a high kill ratio while also conserving ammunition.