During its period of service with the German armed forces, about 270 German Starfighters were lost in accidents, just under 30 percent of the total force. About 110 pilots were killed. However, the attrition rate in German service was not all that much greater than that of the F-104 in service with several other air forces, including the United States Air Force. Canada had the unenviable record of losing over 50 percent of its 200 single-seat CF-104s in flying accidents. The loss rate of Luftwaffe Starfighters was not all that extraordinary, since the Luftwaffe had suffered a 36 percent attrition rate with the Republic F-84F Thunderstreak, the Starfighter's immediate predecessor. There was nothing intrinsically dangerous about the Starfighter, since the Royal Norwegian Air Force operating identical F-104Gs suffered only six losses in 56,000 flying hours, and the Spanish Air Force lost not a single one of its Starfighters to accidents.
Nevertheless, some of the Luftwaffe crashes could indeed be traced to technical problems with the F-104G itself. Engine problems, including difficulties with the J79's variable afterburner nozzle, and contamination of the Starfighter's liquid oxygen system causing loss of consciousness of the pilot were listed as contributing factors in some of the accidents. There were also problems with the automatic pitch-up limiter during high-speed low-altitude flying and in tight turns, resulting in its temporary removal, with accompanying restrictions on the maneuverability.
However, the high rate of crashes while in Luftwaffe service could be blamed more on the hazards of flying low-altitude missions at high speeds in the bad weather of Northern Europe than on any intrinsic flaw with the F-104G. Human error was probably the major cause of the majority of the accidents. The Starfighter required 38-45 hours of maintenance for every hour in the air, and many of the Luftwaffe ground crew personnel were conscripts who were probably too hastily trained. In addition, German Starfighter pilots were only flying 13-15 hours a month, compared with the NATO average of about 20 hours. Another factor may have been the fact that the initial training of Luftwaffe aircrews took place in the USA rather than in Germany. The reason given for training Luftwaffe pilots in the USA rather than in Germany was that the clear air and good flying weather in the American Southwest was much more conducive to pilot training than was the often lousy weather of Northern Europe. However, one might fairly point out that were war to break out, the actual fighting would be done in the nasty weather of Europe rather than in the clear desert air of the American West. The sudden transition from the clear desert skies of Arizona to the winter skies of northern Europe may have been another factor in the rash of crashes.
At the height of the Starfighter political crisis in mid-1966, the Luftwaffe chief, General Wernher Panitzki, was forced to resign after he had criticized the FRG's Starfighter procurement program as being politically-motivated. His successor was the World War 2 ace Lieutenant General Johannes Steinhoff, who had flown Me 262 jets during the war. Steinhoff had not initially been a Starfighter booster, and he had complained about the Bonn Defence Ministry's failure to implement the recommendations of his 1964 report on F-104G survival measures. One of Steinhoff's first moves was to review the F-104G's ejection system to enhance the probability of a successful escape by a pilot at low level. The Lockheed C-2 ejection seat initially fitted to the F-104G had been fitted with a more powerful Talley Corp 10100 rocket booster by November 1966 to give it true zero-zero capability. However, it was found that the Talley rockets had a destabilizing effect after ejection, and had to be removed. After the German Starfighter had to be grounded once again for fixes to the C-2 seats in December of 1966, it was decided to switch over to Martin-Baker Mk GQ7A zero-zero ejection seats. A contract was signed on March 8, 1967 to re-equip the entire German F-104G force with the Martin-Baker seats. This took about a year to get done. The first successful use of a GQ7 seat to escape from a German F-104G took place during a ground-level overshoot at Ramstein on September 24, 1968.
Another part of the program to reduce the Starfighter accident rate was the revision of the training techniques and procedures. It soon began to pay off. The Starfighter accident rate dropped by about half in 1968. However, this was only temporary, and between 15 and 20 Starfighters crashed very year between 1968 and 1972. Crashes continued at a rate of 9 to 11 aircraft per year until the early 1980s, when all German F-104Gs began to be replaced by Tornados.