Ten Avi­a­tion Myths of World War II

Facts ver­sus Fic­tion

Flight Journal - - CONTENTS - By Bar­rett Till­man

Seventy years later, the Sec­ond World War re­mains the defin­ing event of the 20th cen­tury and for the gen­er­a­tions who ex­pe­ri­enced it. It led to the half-cen­tury Cold War and still shapes the geopo­lit­i­cal map to­day. Decades of lies and le­gends still swirl around the cru­cial events of mankind’s great­est con­flict, and many of them die hard. Here­with, we se­lect 10 of the most sig­nif­i­cant avi­a­tion myths and briefly ex­am­ine them, of­fer­ing read­ers the op­por­tu­nity to ac­cept, mod­ify, or re­ject our find­ings.

Facts, Fic­tion, and Myths

Our list fo­cuses on broad top­ics rather than in­di­vid­u­als.

For in­stance, “ev­ery­body knows” that En­sign Ge­orge Gay was the “sole sur­vivor” of Tor­pedo Squadron Eight at the Bat­tle of Mid­way. Gay re­peated that claim for the rest of his life, yet two mem­bers of VT-8’s Mid­way-based TBF Avenger de­tach­ment also sur­vived. Both were present when Gay again made the as­ser­tion at the 50th-an­niver­sary event.

Sim­i­larly, “ev­ery­body knows” that Maj. Gre­gory Boy­ing­ton was the lead­ing Ma­rine Corps ace. In fact, he was third be­hind Capt. Joe Foss (26) and Lt. Robert Han­son (25). Boy­ing­ton’s self-pro­claimed tally of 28 in­cluded six with the Amer­i­can Vol­un­teer Group (AVG) in China and Burma, but AVG records clearly show only two aerial cred­its. His to­tal, rec­og­nized by the Amer­i­can Fighter Aces As­so­ci­a­tion, is 24, in­clud­ing 22 cred­ited in Ma­rine ser­vice—the last two be­ing un­ob­served.

Though it’s prior to WW II, the ori­gin of the four-plane fighter flight com­posed of two pairs cer­tainly is rel­e­vant. Con­ven­tional wis­dom holds that then-Ltn. Werner Mold­ers con­ceived the Sch­warm while fly­ing Bf 109s in Spain dur­ing 1938. But Con­dor Le­gion sources show that Mold­ers prob­a­bly learned of the con­cept in a doc­u­ment writ­ten by fu­ture stand­out Gun­ther Lut­zow, an­other Le­gion ace. Mold­ers, how­ever, cer­tainly ad­vo­cated the “fight­ing pair” and ap­par­ently em­ployed it be­fore most oth­ers.

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