Air to air combat has played a decisive role in war since the beginning of the 20th century. While battles are increasingly played out behind computers and advanced technology, dogfights are one of the remaining aspects of war where individual skill is essential. Here are the 11 greatest air battles in military history.
11. ME-262 Vs. Allied Bombers (WWII), 1945
As WWII came to its final years, the German ME-262 was produced and would have a profound effect on air to air combat. It was the world’s first operational jet fighter which could reach a speed of 540 mph. Its four 30mm cannons were a deadly weapon. This fighter was introduced in battle on March 18, 1945. Outnumbered almost 50:1, 37 new ME-262s attacked a group of more than 1800 Allied fighters and shot down 13 of them while suffering only 3 losses.
Despite the promise shown, only a few of these impressive jets could be operated during the remainder due to supply shortages in Nazi Germany.
10. Ofira Air Battle (Yom Kippur War), 1973
The Israeli military’s superiority in air to air combat was proven during the Yom Kippur War. With twenty MiG-17s and eight newer MiG-21s, the Egypt carried out a bombing raid on October 6, 1973 on Ofira Air Base. The Israelis were taken by surprise and sent out two F-4 Phantom pilots to engage them. Despite being heavily outnumbered, the Phantoms defeated the more agile MiGs in a close and confined battle.
They managed to shoot down seven Egyptian planes and successfully returned to base with no losses.
9. Adlertag Operation (WWII), 1940
Much of Europe belonged to Nazi Germany in August 1940. Hitler planned to destroy the Royal Air Force next in order to allow the invasion of Britain. Hundreds of German bomber and escorts began attacks on the British airfields of South West England on August 13th. However they were hindered by poor weather and were met by radar-targeted Hurricanes and Spitfires.
Germany suffered the loss of around 48 aircraft while the RAF lost a total of just 24 aircrew (though 47 RAF aircraft were destroyed while still on the ground).
8. Battle of El Mansoura (Yom Kippur War), 1973
The Mansoura air battle between the Israeli and Egyptian air forces was one of the most controversial events in the Yom Kippur War. Approximately 120 Israeli fighters attacked over 60 Egyptian MiGs over the Mansoura air base. The battle went on for some 53 minutes making it one of the longest jet battles in history. The exact number of casualties is unknown, with both sides keen to skew the numbers in their favour. Egyptian forces claimed they destroyed 17 Israeli planes and suffered only 3 losses while the Israeli Air Force alleged only two losses.
7. Second Raid on Schweinfurt (WWII), 1943
Nicknamed ‘Black Thursday’ by the US Air Force, the 1943 attack by the Allied Bomber Command on Schweinfurt’s ball bearing factories saw many losses. Without escorts, a group of 291 B-17 Flying Fortresses fought off German fighters in all directions. The heavy 80mm cannon flak caused huge damage to the USA’s air force. 77 B-17s were destroyed while 121 were heavily damaged. What’s more some 600 crewmembers were killed. Although they suffered heavy losses, many bombers did successfully hit their targets.
6. Black Thursday (MIG ALLEY, Korean War), 1951
In 1950, the US Air Force had destroyed any aerial opposition over North Korea. The B-29 Superfortresses were then free to bomb the country in strategic locations. However the Chinese entered the war and deployed MiG-15s against US forces. These comfortably outclassed the American fighters. In April 1951, 30 MiG-15s attacked 36 B-29s and as many as 100 jet escorts. The Soviet force destroyed 12 bombers without suffering any losses. Following this defeat the B-29 was scaled back to night raids only.
5. MIG-29 Vs. Two F-15s (Gulf War), 1991
Iraq suffered during the majority of air to air combat in the Gulf War. One exception was on January 19 when two MiG-29s went up against a pair of F-15s and an RAF Tornado. An Iraqi pilot called Jameel Sayhood is alleged to have got one of the few Iraqi aerial kills during the war. He shot down the Tornado with a missile before tailing the two F-15s after his wingman was destroyed. During the battle he crashed to the ground but managed to eject from his aircraft.
4. Air Battle over NIS (WWII), 1944
On November 7, 1944, Russian infantry were advancing on Belgrade to help launch the offensive in Serbia. American P-38 Lightning fighters had gone off course and attacked them, mistaking them for Germans. The Russians called for air support and a dogfight between the Lightnings and 9 Yak-3 fighters ensued. The number of casualties is unknown and both sides predictably claimed a higher number of casualties suffered by their enemy. The American government later apologised for the incident.
3. Great Marianas Turkey Shoot (WWII), 1944
The US had been on the back foot in the Pacific War, faced with Imperial Japan’s well prepared and large number of powerful carriers. However the tide soon turned as elite Japanese pilots were replaced by inexperienced, poorly trained substitutes. The 1944 Battle of the Philippine Sea saw aircraft from 7 US carriers went up against numerous waves of 450 Japanese aircraft and managed to inflict hundreds of casualties while sustaining only minor damage themselves. 90% of the US pilots returned safely and the majority of the pilots they did lose were those who had run out of fuel and crash landed.
2. Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot, 1982
This dogfight between 96 Israeli fighters and a squadron of UAVs versus 100 Syrian fighters and 19 surface to air missile launchers was one of the biggest jet battles of all time. On June 9, 1982, 17 of the 19 missile batteries were destroyed by the Israeli Air Force without their suffering any losses. The Syrians sent up their fighters in retaliation and the more advanced Israeli aircraft destroyed 29 Syrian fighters. The IAF returned the next day in order to destroy the two remaining missile batteries. The Syrian air force met them and again suffered huge losses – this time 35 aircraft while the Israelis had no losses in a stunning victory.
1. St. Mihiel Air Battle (WWI) 1918
It was one of the first and largest air to air battles of all time. The Allies gathered some 1,500 planes to face 500 on the German side Allied planes were made up of some 40% American and the rest British, French and Italian. The Allies breaking through the salient was certainly in part due to the air power provided. Air superiority became a major factor in war for the first time and would be developed further throughout the 20th century. The vast number of planes involved has not been matched since.