Interesting Facts About The Best Fighter Of WW2
Francis Gabreski and P-47 Thunderbolt
September 1939 marked the beginning of World War II. Following up on the success of its fighter aircraft in the Spanish Civil War, Germany simply rolled through the majority of Europe. The Germans were extremely successful in sweeping the skies clear with the vaunted Bf 109. The German fighter came prepared for battle armed with two 7.62-mm machine guns in the cowling along with two wing-mounted cannon firing 20-mm exploding shells. The French and Polish Air Forces offered very little resistance against the German Luftwaffe. The limited use of Great Britain’s Air Force in the skies over France prevented a total rout. Germany faced several hurdles in completing their conquest – crossing the sometimes-turbulent English Chanel and gain control of the skies over England. Here is where the see the titanic struggle in the air when the vaunted Bf 109 would now face-off against another legendary fighter aircraft, the Supermarine Spitfire created by brilliant designer R.J. Mitchell. In the conflict known as the, Battle of Britain the British Spitfire and Hawker Hurricane were able to turn back Hitler and Goehring’s onslaught.
Meanwhile across the globe in the Pacific, war broke out when the Japanese attacked the U.S. at its Hawaiian base on December 7, 1941. Tensions between the two had deteriorated for months because of the havoc the Japanese were causing in their invasion of mainland China and Southeast Asia. It was here that we see a superb Japanese fighter aircraft sweep the Pacific skies, the Mitsubishi A6M Zero carrier-based fighter. The deadly Zero was designed by Horikoshi Jiro. In December the U.S. had very little in its inventory to combat the Zero. Its carrier-based fighter at that the time was the F4f Wildcat. A sturdy little fighter, however, was outclassed by the Zero in several key categories. If not for the training and creativity of pilots the early outcome would have been far worse. In addition, the U.S. had an adequate supply of Curtiss P-40 Warhawks. The Warhawk through the American Voluntary Group (AVG) in China had tangled with Japanese with mixed results. In its favor, the U.S. had several very promising designs on the drawing board namely the superb Lockheed P-38 and rugged Republic P-47 Thunderbolt.
With the outbreak of World War II we beg9n to see several fighters rise to the top in what fighter aircraft were designed to accomplish in aerial warfare. Those with essential assets of speed, range, altitude, and firepower soon separated the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. With that in mind, warfare has proved to be a catalyst in developing new fighter aircraft to either stay ahead or counteract an opponent’s latest configuration. Case-in-point, the German’s introduction of the FW 190 (People’s Fighter). The FW 190 quickly eclipsed the Bf-109 as the premier German fighter. When the two found that the Fw 190A was markedly superior to the Spitfire Mk V in several aspects. Most notably, the dive, climb and rate of roll, most importantly, the German fighter was faster at all heights by between 25-35 mph, a distinct advantage
As we noted earlier the U.S. geared up to flex its considerable mass production muscle with the introduction of several outstanding fighter aircraft. Lockheed’s engineer Kelly Johnson’s, P-38 Lightning a single seat, twin engine fighter was in a class by itself. In its outing in North Africa during operation Torch, the P-38 showed its versatility. As the story goes, a lone hysterical German pilot surrendered to soldiers at an Allied camp near Tunisia, pointing up to the sky and repeating one phrase—“der Gableschwanz Teufl”—over and over. In translation, the German phrase meant the P-38 had been given a new nickname: the fork-tailed devil. Fortunes in the Pacific were about to changes for the better for the Allies. The U.S. was consistently deciphering the Japanese Naval code, and in another piece of good fortune, they captured a nearly intact A6M Zero, known as the Aukutan Zero. As a diversion tactic to their planned Midway attack, the Japanese attacked Dutch Harbor. After minor repairs the U.S. was able to test-fly the Zero and discover it weaknesses and pass this information along to pilots in the Pacific and to aircraft manufacturers at home.
Lockheed P- 38 Lightning
The manufacturer of the F4F, Grumman, by 1941 had its replacement on the drawing board – The carrier-based F6F. Like the P-38 Lightning the Hellcat would prove to be a superb fighter plane. The U.S. blessed with an abundance of riches was about to introduce another fabulous fighter, the Chance Vought F4U Corsair. With its gull wing design that allowed for a larger than normal propeller, the Corsair could easily hit 400 mph in level flight. The introduction of the three new fighters essentially ended the dominance of the Zero in the Pacific battle Another development in aviation was also about to bear fruit. Germany and Great Britain had been in a quiet race to develop jet engine technology. The German version took flight on August 27, 1939, in the form of the Heinkel HE 178, the British version took to the skies on May 15, 1941, in the form of the Gloster E.28/39. In the case of the Germans, Messerschmidt would produce the game changing ME 262 Swallow that would become the first operational fighter that ushered in a new age. The British would soon follow with the twin engine Gloster Meteor. The British would share with the U.S. their technology which would lead to their first jet at the end of the war.
Any Allied pilot who was unfortunate enough to confront the Japanese A6M Zero early in the Pacific War was in for a rude awakening. Officially known as the Rei Shiki Sento Ki (Type 0 Fighter), type 0 was a reference to the year of the emperor’s reign when production of Zero fighters began in 2600 on the imperial calendar (Julian calendar year 1940). The design of the Zero began in 1937 under the leadership of Mitsubishi chief designer Jiro Horikoshia. The goal in mind was to create a new fighter for the Imperial Japanese Navy that would make the aircraft as maneuverable as possible and to provide it with enough range to escort Japanese bombers all the way to distant targets in China and back.
Mitsubishi A6M Zero
When war broke out with the Allies in the Pacific, the Japanese had a fighter aircraft more than capable of covering the long distances in carrier warfare. Horikoshia and his team worked very hard to keep the weight of this fighter aircraft to the bear minimum to achieve their goals. One example of this was that in several areas they used plywood instead of aluminum or steel as backing to reinforce the metal canopy frame and to reinforce the false spar that supported the ailerons and flaps in the wings. The construction of other parts followed a similar pattern for heavier solid parts of the airframe. In the early 1930’s the Japanese developed a new alloy – extra super duralumin, a product of Sumitomo Metal Company. This technology consisted of alloying zinc with aluminum, metallurgists made a strong lightweight metal that resisted fatigue. Horikoshi used it to build solid pieces such as the two main wing spars that brace the wing much like the keel braces a ship. U.S. aluminum company, Alcoa.
The advantages the Japanese had begun to evaporate once U.S. pilots had the opportunity to observe the Zeroes up close and personally. And the discovery of the Akutan Zero revealed other deficiencies – lack of armor and no self-sealing fuel tanks. Commander James Thach developed his tactic, the Thach weave where pilots flew in pairs. When a Zero would the latch onto their tail they would turn into their partner giving a clear shot at the Zero. Once the F6F Hellcat and F4U Corsair appeared they held a distinct advantage in speed and firepower. After late 1943 the Zero was routinely swept from the skies.
In late 1942 the Soviet Union unveiled the Yakovlev Yak-9 a single-engine single-seat multipurpose fighter aircraft. It was designed by Alexander Sergeevich Yakovlev. It was the latest development in a long list of Yakovlev fighter aircraft. The Yak-9 a major role in retaking air superiority from the Luftwaffe’s new Focke-190 and Messerschmitt Bf 109G fighters during the Colossal Battle of Kursk in summer 1943. Key to the Yak-9’s success was a cut down rear fuselage with an all-around vision canopy and Its lighter metal structure allowed for an increased fuel load and armament over previous models built from wood.
The Yak-9 was maneuverable at high-speed at low and medium altitudes and easy to control, which made it one of most produced Soviet fighters of World War II. Several variants of this outstanding fighter were the Yak-9T with the 37 mm cannon and the "large-caliber" Yak-9K with a 45 mm cannon firing through propeller hub to be used against tanks and aircraft, the fighter-bomber Yak-9B with an internal bomb bay behind cockpit for up to 880 lbs bombs, the long-range Yak-9D and the Yak-9DD with additional wing fuel tanks to escort bombers over Eastern Europe, and the Yak-9U with a more powerful engine and improved aerodynamics. The Yak-9 remained in production from 1942 to 1948, with 14,579 during the war.
Soviet pilots regarded the Yak-9's performance as being equal to or better than the Bf 109G and Fw 190A-3/A-4 However, at the beginning of the German invasion of the Soviet Union Yak-9's performed poorly against the Luftwaffe due to a lack of training, although by the Battle of Stalingrad there was a marked improvement. After the Battle of Smolensk in the second half of 1943, the Free French Normandie-Niemen unit took to the skies in Yak-9’s in support of their Soviet Allies. The first unit to use the Yak-9U, between 25 October and 25 December 1944, was 163.IAP. Pilots were ordered not to use the engine at combat speed since this reduced its life to two or three flights only. Nevertheless, during 398 sorties, the unit claimed 27 Focke-Wulf Fw 190’s and one Bf 109G-2, for the loss of two Yaks in dogfights. The Yak-9U contributed greatly toward the Soviets gaining air superiority, and the Germans learned to avoid the Yaks “without antenna mast”.
The Yak-9 proved its metal in the exploits of First Lieutenant A.I. Vybornov. Flying a type-T he scored 19 air victories, along with nine shared Vybornov awarded the Gold Star Medal of the Hero of the Soviet Union in June 1945. Another very skilled pilot Lieutenant L.I. Sivko from 812th IAP achieved notable victory in a propeller vs jet encounter when he shot down a Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter, but he was killed soon afterward by another Me 262, thought to be piloted by bye German ace Franz Schall. Powered by a Klimov VK-107A V-12 liquid-cooled piston engine, that generated 1,500 hp. The versatile Yak-9 could reach speeds of over 420 mph, putting it on par with the best fighters of the war.
There is very little disagreement that the Supermarine Spitfire was one of the best fire aircraft of the war. Life began for the Spitfire in 1935 under the direction of R.J. Mitchell. Arguably the top British fighter of the war it was certainly on par with the Allies and Axis powers. The Spitfire first came to fame in the titanic air battle known as the Battle of Britain which occurred in 1940–41. Along with the Hawker Hurricane, served in every theatre of the war and was produced in more variants than any other British aircraft.
Super Marine Spitfire
The Spitfire was an off shoot of several floatplanes designed by Mitchell to compete for the coveted Schneider Trophy in the 1920s. One of these racers, the S.6, set a world speed record of 357 miles per hour in 1929. Designed around a 1,000-horsepower, 12-cylinder, liquid-cooled Rolls-Royce PV-12 engine which would become the war winning the Merlin engine. The Royal Air Force (RAF) squadrons eagerly took charge of this new phenom in the summer of 1938. Very different from Hurricane, the Spitfire had a stressed-skin aluminum structure and a graceful elliptical wing like no other, along with a thin airfoil that, in combination with the Merlin’s efficient two-stage supercharger, gave it exceptional performance at high altitudes.
The Spitfire had a wingspan of 36 feet 10 inches, was 29 feet 11 inches long, and reached a maximum speed of 360 miles per hour and a ceiling of 34,000 feet.The Spitfire proved to be faster than its formidable German opponent the Bf 109 at altitudes above 15,000 feet and just as maneuverable. The RAF command worked out a strategy during the Battle of Britain where Spitfires were sent to engage German fighters while the slower Hurricanes attacked the bombers, as they pushed back the all-out Luftwaffe attack.
Throughout the war, Supermarine was developing more-capable versions of the Spitfire driven by progressively more-powerful Merlin engines. The eight 0.303-inch machine guns gave way to four 0.8-inch automatic cannons, and by war’s end the Spitfire had been produced in an astounding 20 fighter versions alone, powered by Merlins which produced up to 1,760 horsepower. Though outperformed by the German Fw 190 When the 190 was first introduced in 1941, the Spitfire fought to restore parity the following year and eventually overcame the Fw 190’s. By late 1943 Spitfires powered by the new engines developing as much as 2,050 horsepower came into service. Reaching of top speeds of 440 miles per hour and ceilings of 40,000 feet these were used to shoot down V – 1 “buzz bombs.”
German intentions were to take a leap forward in the follow-up to the venerable Bf-109 when they rolled out the Focke-Wulf 190. A low-wing monoplane ordered by the Luftwaffe in 1937. The first prototype took to the skies in mid-1939, however, the aircraft went through several stages of redesigned to incorporate the new and more powerful BMW engine Experts deemed the 190 the most advanced radial engine fighter in World War II. The British, thinking that had gained the upper hand against the Germans in the Battle of Britain, the appearance of the 190 in the fall of 1941 was a rude and shocking awakening to the RAF. The new German plane proved to be an ideal dogfighter—fast, light, armed with tremendous fire power and small. It quickly wrestled control of the skies from the contemporary versions of the British Spitfire. The Focke-Wulf 190 showed its versatility in the ability to fly in ground attack roles as well.
The Fw 190A-2, the first version to roll off the production line could easily reach a top speed of over 400 miles per hour and a ceiling of 35,000 feet. The 190’s devastating cannon armament made it a lethal destroyer, and it played a major role in turning back the U.S. Army Air Force’s B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator unescorted daylight bombardment offensive in the summer and autumn of 1943. The Fw 190’s fortunes began to change when they were confronted by large numbers of drop-tank -equipped P-38 Lightnings and P-47 Thunderbolts in late 1943, and the Focke-Wulf could not match the performance of these turbo-supercharged U.S. fighters above 30,000 feet. Things got even worse when the superb P-51 Mustang in large numbers put the Fw 190 at a permanent disadvantage.
Super Marine Spitfire
Returning to the design board designer of the Fw 190, Kurt Tank, improved the fighter’s performance deficiencies by fitting his fighter with a powerful Junkers Jumo 213 in-line liquid-cooled engine. The result was the Fw 190D, which entered service in the winter of 1943–44 improved the speed to a top speed of about 440 miles per hour and an armament of two cowling-mounted machine guns and a pair of 20-mm cannons in the wing roots. In principle, the Fw 190D was a match for its Allied opponents, but not enough were produced to make a difference, and few surviving German pilots had the skill needed to take advantage of its performance.
The Fw 190 took on the additional role of night fighter during the autumn and early winter of 1943–44, deploying conventional daylight methods to attack RAF’s heavy bombers after they had been illuminated by searchlights and the ghastly burning cities. These Wildesau (“wild boar”) tactics were successful at first, but required a high level of piloting skill, and the difficulty of returning safely to base in adverse winter weather forced their abandonment. As Germany’s fortunes began to sink further after the Allies landed in the west, and the Soviets were rolling through the east, the hand writing was on the wall, so to speak. And since the U.S. Army Air Force had begun hitting aircraft assembly plants and later oil refineries, the fighter force steadily lost effectiveness against daylight bombing raids. By the time JG-6 received 150 D-9s in April 1945, the bombing campaign had so restricted fuel supplies that only four aircraft could fly at a time. One can only imagine what the outcome may have been had Hitler heeded the advice of his commanders and focused more production on the 190’s and ME 262’s.
During World War II the cost of a P-51 Mustang was approximately $50,000.00. Today that very same aircraft value starts at an astounding $4.5 million today! Its little wonder that the Mustang has proven to be the finest of a multitude of great World War II fighter aircraft.
What is the story of this world-class aircraft? Facing dire circumstances with the Germans knocking on the door, in early 1940, the British Purchasing Commission turned to North American Aviation to build Curtiss P-40 Warhawks because they desperately needed planes to defend their assets around the world. In one of the shrewdest moves of the war, instead of P-40s, Dutch Kindleberger, leader of North American offered to design a new fighter which became the P-51 Mustang. The P-51 prototype was ready on September 9, 1940, and it first flew October 26, 1940. It was an astonishing accomplishment for North American: they had delivered a brand new, prototype aircraft in a mere 102 days and flew it weeks later. The British accepted the plane into service and gave it its immortal “Mustang” nickname.
North American P-51 Mustang
At the time of delivery the Mustang was not the success it would later become. The single greatest issue was the American- built Allison engine was fine at lower altitudes, it suffered a drastic drop-off in performance at higher ones. After these disappointing results the British assigned the Mustang to non-combat roles. However, it would take another U.S. and British collaboration to transform the Mustang into what it would become. British test pilot Ronnie Harker was asked to fly the plane before the decision would be made to scrap the order. In the process, he measured the engine compartment and discovered it was an exact match for the Rolls Royce Merlin power plant, which was the mainstay for the Spitfire, Hurricane, Mosquito and most British bombers. Wind tunnel tests proved Harker’s prediction right that the Mustang, when matched up with the Merlin, would be superior in performance at any altitude over any other fighter then flying. And with wing tanks coming, it could protect the B-24s, B-17s and Lancasters to Berlin and back. With the British Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, the results were unbelievable. The Mustang’s top speed leapt to well over 400 miles per hour, and it no longer suffered from performance drop-off at higher altitudes.
The last phase of this collaboration was to license U.S. firm Packard to manufacturer the incredible merlin engine since Rolls Royce was maxed out supplying British aircraft. With its problems solved the P-51B went into production, with the U.S. Army ordering 400 and Britain more than a thousand, of which just 25 were in due course delivered to the RAF as the Mustang III. North American, which had never previously built a fighter, was now pressed to the limit in producing the P-51. The company’s Dallas, Texas, plant was chosen as a second outlet to build Mustangs identical to the P-51B, which, in the Lone Star State, were designated P-51C. With a change to a bubble canopy, the Merlin-powered P-51D became the ultimate Mustang. Another notable invention was the laminar flow wings which produced a higher speed and greater range when the thickest part of the wing was pushed to the middle of the wing creating higher lift.
Much can be said of the great fighters of the war that fought from the beginning to the end. The Spitfire and Bf 109 certainly deserved consideration. They and several others were excellent short haul interceptors. However, in the grand scheme of the war it was the ability to control the skies of yours, and that of the adversary. Although the P-51 began to arrive in force mid-1943, its impact was immediate and profound. Its ability to cover the round-trip distance between England and Germany, set it apart from other fighters. Thus, allowing heavy Allied bombers to routinely plaster German home-front industries. And to add insult to injury, the Allies had enough P-51’s that allowed them to swarm ahead of bomber missions to attack the Luftwaffe in the air and on the ground. Thus paving the way to final victory in Europe and Asia.
If you enjoyed this informative article, please feel to join my Facebook Group - Evolution Of WW2 Fighter Aircraft
You can now view our store apparel at our Apparel Store