Two months after World War I began, French pilot Sgt. Joseph Frantz and his gunner, Louis Quénault, shot down a German plane near Reims, recording what is considered to be the first official aerial combat victory. Soon the term “dogfight” entered the military lexicon and engagements between German and Allied pilots were viewed by soldiers on both sides mired in trench warfare.
The popular notion of the experiences of military pilots flying over the Western Front in the early months of the war is of chivalrous exchanges between the flyers, most of whom came from the aristocratic ranks of their respective countries. This “knights of the air” illusion soon gave way to the reality of a new deadly front in the war and a prelude to history’s greatest air battles. (Air power is still a major factor in military superiority. Here are 30 combat aircraft being built for the U.S. military.)
In order to find the largest air battles in military history, 24/7 Tempo reviewed research on Norwich University, War History Online, Military History Matters, and Second World War History. Many of these air initiatives extended over many weeks, so we focused on particularly intense engagements within those campaigns. (In the air and otherwise, these are the most devastating battles in recent history.)
Most of the air battles on this list occurred during World War II, and some were part of the land and sea engagements that were pivotal to the victories of the Western Allies and the Soviet Union during history’s most horrific conflict.
Cold War confrontations in Korea and Vietnam were proxy fights between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, with American air superiority severely tested in each war. Major aerial battles have also occurred between Israel and its Arab enemies since the founding of the Jewish state in 1948.
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