Is Captain Eddie Rickenbacker Overrated?

Published: 8 June 2024

By Roger Thompson
via the Real Clear Defense website

Rickenbacker AC_

I have mentioned the famous American fighter pilot Captain Eddie Rickenbacker in my writings from time to time over the years, and I always wanted to write an article specifically about him because it is quite common for American militarists to boast of his fighting record in World War I.

Indeed, Rickenbacker’s friend Colonel Hans Christian Adamson says that the man did receive great recognition: “On October 30 [1918], Captain Rickenbacker landed after downing a Fokker and a balloon, within five minutes, shortly before sunset. These turned out to be his last victories in the war. When the Armistice was signed on November 11, the 94th [Squadron] had a total of sixty-nine [Germans] to its credit, twenty-nine more than the famous Lafayette Escadrille had downed in some three years of fighting. Captain Rickenbacker’s score was twenty-six victories in seven months. His tunic bore such brave ribbons as the Cross of the Legion of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross with nine Oak Leaves, the Croix de Guerre with four Palms. A decade later, he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.” (p. 306).

All these accolades, combined with the widespread belief in American Exceptionalism, have given Rickenbacker a large following in the U.S. and created the belief that he was not just on par with, but better than allied fighter pilots. The Military Industrial Complex, Hollywood, and the tendency of many Americans to exaggerate their country’s prowess on the battlefield have made Rickenbacker seem almost superhuman as a pilot. Furthermore, some American writers, bloggers and editors like to put Rickenbacker right next to The Red Baron, the top ace of the war, implying they were equals.

However, the eminent British military historian Denis Winter, in his excellent book The First of The Few: Fighter Pilots of The First World War, has a very different view. He says there were allied pilots who achieved significantly more victories than Rickenbacker did:  “By the end of the war Canadian pilots had the lion’s share of killings: Bishop 72, Collishaw 60, Barker 59, Maclaren 54, McEvoy 46, Claxton 39, McCall 37, Quigley 34, Carter 31, McKeever 30 – without such scores the RAF list would have been thin gruel, and such precocity was noted even during the war. In June 1918, the Secretary of State remarked on the ‘very high standards of the semi-trained Canadians’ as ‘a most striking feature.’ Like the performance of the Australian Corps on the ground, superior Dominion [Canadian] achievement is not easily accounted for.” (p. 22).

Read the entire article on the Real Clear Defense website here:

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