| Continued from above… Air Force in all operational areas during World War II and with the air forces of several other nations. It proved to be rugged and capable of adaptation to suit the needs of the day. |
The P-40 design originated in July 1937 as a variant of the P-36 modified to have the then-new Allison V-1710-19 liquid-cooled in-line engine, supercharged for combat at medium altitudes. Since the airframe was already developed, the P-40 was quickly available (first flight was made in October 1938). So, although its performance fell just short of that specified by the USAAC in a specification issued on 25 January 1939, the P-40 was ordered into large-scale production on the 27 April 1939.
History of the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk:
The P-40 earned undying fame as the "Flying Tiger" of World War II when flown by General Claire Chennault's Volunteer Group fighting the Japanese in China and Burma. It also saw much service in the Middle East where it was used by Britain's R.A.F. and nicknamed the Tomahawk and Kittyhawk. When World War 2 broke out, the P-40 was the only fighter available in quantity to the U.S.A.A.F., it being the first American single-seat plane to be manufactured in the U.S. on a mass production basis. By the end of the war, over 14,000 planes had been delivered to fighting theatres. It was amenable to adaptation and it was available when most sorely needed.
The belief in the "ascendancy of bombardment over pursuit" was rife in 1937 when the Curtiss P-40 was first envisaged, and it is a sobering thought that, with the Bell P-39 Airacobra this product of such a school of thought constituted more than half the strength of all USAAF fighters until July 1943. Prior to September of that year the P-39 and P-40 also comprised more than half the USAAF fighters committed overseas. However, by July 1945 only one P-40 group remained operational.
The prototype P-40 took to the air in the autumn of 1938, and production was initiated in the following year. Performance of the first version of this single-seat fighter had not really come up to expectations, but as several air forces were desperate for new aircraft, the type was welcomed into service. The US had delayed modernizing its Army Air Service until the last minute, so P-40s made up a large part of their equipment during the first years of war. Britain and France also ordered P-40s to contend with the German Luftwaffe, but in the case of France, deliveries came too late and their P-40s were diverted to the Royal Air Force - to be known as Tomahawks. Similarly, the Soviet Union's outdated air force had fared badly at the hands of the Germans, and P-40s were also sent there.
The P-40 was initially designed around the Allison V-1710 liquid-cooled inline engine which offered better streamlining, more power per unit of frontal area, and better specific fuel consumption than did air-cooled radials of comparable power. Unfortunately, the rated altitude of the Allison engine was only some 12,000 feet, rendering combat above 15,000 feet a completely impracticable proposition. The P-40's ancestry dated back as far as 1924; the famed Curtiss Hawk fighters being in the forefront of all US warplanes. But its development was hindered from the start. The overall limitations of its design were such that the addition of multi-speed superchargers was considered inadvisable in view of the pending production of superior fighter designs. The achievements of the P-40 were therefore all the more creditable.
The P-40 was a relatively clean design, and was unusual for its time in having a fully retractable tail wheel. The Curtiss P-40 served during most of the Second World War with one air force or another, and under several different names including Tomahawk and Kittyhawk in Britain and carried two .303 in. Browning machine-guns in place of the 0.30in.-calibre guns fitted in USAAF machines. It retained the standard synchronized armament of two 0.5 in.-caliber machine-guns in the top nose decking.
The Curtiss P-40 Warhawk is one of the best-liked airplanes of World War II, even though its performance was not quite up to that of its opponents. Its strong construction, heavy firepower, and ability to dive enabled it to compete with enemy fighters.
One of the most rugged fighters ever built, the Curtiss P-40 was the Army Air Forces' front-line fighter at the start of World War II. The P-40 is among the top five aircraft in US history in terms of number of aircraft produced and was eventually flown by 28 countries.
| The Flying Tigers |
Many US volunteer pilots flew on behalf of Britain, the Soviet Union and China before the United States entered the war. A group of them, equipped with P-40s, went to help the Chinese in their struggle against the Japanese in 1942, where they became known as the 'Flying Tigers' because of their uniquely painted aircraft. This group later became part of the USAAF proper, and P-40s were thereafter used widely in the Pacific.
In the middle of 1941 General Claire Chennault began recruiting for his Volunteer Group--better known as the Flying Tigers--to fight the Japanese from China, for which 100 P40s were ordered for purchase through a loan from the US Government. Ninety aircraft, mostly P-40Bs, were actually delivered, sufficient for three squadrons, plus a few spares. At the time of the USA's entry into the war there were eighty American pilots in the Volunteer Group, and shortly after arriving at Kunming the P-40s drew first blood, six out of ten attacking Japanese bombers being destroyed by two of the AVG squadrons on December 20. There were no American casualties on this occasion, but the third squadron, left behind at Mingaladon, Burma, was less fortunate, and lost two pilots on their first interception, on December 23,1941. The American pilots had underestimated the maneuverability of the lightly built Japanese Zero fighters, and failed to utilize their superior speed and diving ability to advantage. It was soon the cardinal rule that a P-40 should always avoid mixing it individually with a Japanese fighter, owing to the Curtiss machine's inferior climb rate and maneuverability, but the P-40 substantiated a reputation for ruggedness that it was already acquiring with the RAF in the Middle East, and its armor protection saved many AVG pilots in subsequent combat.
Joel Paris was a P-40 ace with the 49th Fighter Group in the Southwest Pacific, he relates his opinion of the P-40:
I never felt that I was a second-class citizen in a P-40. In many ways I thought the P-40 was better than the more modern fighters. I had a hell of a lot of time in a P-40, probably close to a thousand hours. I could make it sit up and talk. It was an unforgiving airplane. It had vicious stall characteristics. ...
If you knew what you were doing, you could fight a Jap on even terms, but you had to make him fight your way. He could outturn you at slow speed. You could outturn him at high speed. When you got into a turning fight with him, you dropped your nose down so you kept your airspeed up, you could outturn him. At low speed he could outroll you because of those big ailerons. They looked like barn doors on the Zero. If your speed was up over 275, you could outroll it. His big ailerons didn't have the strength to make high speed rolls ...
You could push things, too. Because you knew one thing: If you decided to go home, you could go home. He couldn't because you could outrun him. He couldn't leave the fight because you were faster. That left you in control of the fight. Mind you: The P-40 was a fine combat airplane.
| Some indication of the Curtiss P-40's capabilities in resolute hands is given by the fact that from its inception in December 1941 until July 4, 1942, when it was absorbed by the USAAF, the AVG was officially credited with the destruction of 286 Japanese aircraft for the loss of eight pilots killed in action, two pilots and one crew chief killed during ground attack, and four pilots missing. The top-scoring AVG pilot, Robert H. Neale, was credited with the destruction of sixteen enemy aircraft while flying the P-40, and eight other pilots claimed ten or more victories. |
By March 1942, when some thirty P-40Es were ferried to China by air from Accra, in Africa. The improved performance offered by these more potent P-40s was found to be extremely valuable against the Mitsubishi A6M Zero-Sen fighters which, first introduced in the Chinese theatre in 1940, were becoming increasingly numerous. The ground-attack potential of the P-40E was also much superior. The AVG pilots had resorted to carrying 30-lb. incendiary and fragmentation bombs in the flare chutes of their P-40Bs, but it was questionable whether this was not more hazardous to the attackers than to the attacked.
| Fact File: |
Curtiss P-40 Hawk
Tomahawk, Kittyhawk, Warhawk
The Curtiss P-40 served with the USAAF and other Allied air forces in every operational theatre of World War II; it was built in considerable numbers and proved to be highly adaptable to a variety of tasks. The P-40 Hawk was built to operate at low altitudes, to support ground action, and to attack enemy rear columns and depots. An order for 140 P-40 aircraft for the French government was in 1940 diverted to the RAF, who named the machine Tomahawk I. Most of these Tomahawks, as well as the IIA version, later received, were sent to the Middle East or to Army Co-operation units. During this period prior to Pearl Harbor, Curtiss supplied one hundred P-40Bs to Chennault's American Volunteer Group in China.
In the dogfights in the Middle East and in the early months of the Pacific War, when the P-40 fared badly against the more maneuverable Messerschmitt and Zeros, Chennault in China championed the machine. He taught his pilots to fly the shark-nosed P-40s in elements of two, wing to wing, pouncing with guns blazing on Zero squadrons, immediately withdrawing to avoid a fight. Two more wing guns, making six guns in all, characterized the P-40C (Tomahawk IIB). The first substantial redesign appeared in the P-40D of 1941, which had an Allison V-l 710-39 engine. The four wing guns were raised to 0.50 inch in caliber, and provision existed for bombs to be carried beneath the fuselage and wings.
In the Pacific the P-40D (Kittyhawk) bombed enemy bases and then engaged their fighters. Named Kittyhawk I by the RAF, the aircraft was used for similar purposes against Rommel's supply lines. Several new versions of the P-40 were developed but it was the last of the series, the Warhawk, that was the most famous. Its armament included six or more .50-inch caliber machine-guns mounted on the wings outside the propeller arc. The Allison engine was replaced by the Rolls-Royce Merlin, which increased the aircraft's speed to 375 mph (603 kph). The Warhawk, especially when flying in pairs, was a great success against both Japanese and Germans, the RAF preserving the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk's identity as the Kittyhawk.