World War II still fascinates many people today. It was the bloodiest and most devastating war the world has ever seen. War tends to bring out the worst in mankind, and it also brings out the best. The best in terms of the people, and sometimes, the best in terms of ingenuity and necessity. Most American planes at the beginning of the war were not as good in many ways as the planes of Germany and Japan. By the middle and end of the war, however, that changed dramatically. This list represents that change. These are the top five American fighter planes of World War II with the most kills.

It’s very easy to romanticize conflict and war, especially World War II. For aircraft, especially fighter planes, romanticism is high. Gorgeous, sleek machines flying through the skies in modern-day duels to the death are the stuff of dreams and legends. Dogfights were the ultimate 1-one-1 test of skills, finesse, and wits.

The reality is that most air-to-air kills during the war were not from dogfights, especially in the European Theater of Operations (ETO). After the Battle of Britain, most Allied and Axis fighter pilots tried to avoid dogfights and preferred to use other tactics and techniques to score their victories.

After the Americans entered the war, and as the American fighter planes got better, the control of the skies changed hands. Allied countries achieved air superiority, and this significantly enabled the ground and naval forces to make progress and ultimately secure victory.

The Criteria for the Best Fighter Planes

To determine “the best” planes of World War II, or any war, we must consider multiple things. To determine the best thing for anything, it is important to weigh all factors and circumstances, as well as the tactical and strategic impacts. In other words, to determine “the best,” the positive impact, as well as the challenges and costs, must be evaluated to objectively rate success or failure.
In this case, this list does not evaluate the overall “best” planes based on multiple factors: tactical and strategic success, kill-to-loss ratio, or anything else. This is simply a list based on only one category: total air-to-air victories.

The U.S. military usually keeps very good records of these numbers. However, there is also room for human error. In addition, the historical records we see today do not always present the same numbers, and the data does not always align. Different sources sometimes cite different numbers, so it can be difficult to find the exact, most accurate tallies.

In reverse order, here are the top five fighter planes flown by the U.S. Armed Forces of World War II, ranked by the most kills. These numbers are for those planes flown by American pilots.

5. Curtiss P-40 Warhawk

Curtiss P-40 Warhawk
P-40 Warhawk (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

The P-40 Warhawk was one of the most gorgeous aircraft of World War II. It was a pre-war design and was the workhouse for the U.S. Army Air Corps at the beginning of the war. Several other nations also flew the P-40, including Great Britain, The Soviet Union, Australia, Canada, and China. The Warhawk was also heavily produced: by November of 1944, when production ended, 13,738 P-40s were built. Behind the P-51 and the P-47, the P-40 was the third-most produced American fighter of the war.