Curtis P-3- 5 hawk - History

Curtis P-3- 5 hawk - History

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Curtiss P-40 Warhawk: One of WW II’s Most Famous Fighters

The AVG (American Volunteer Group) “Flying Tigers” flew shark-mouthed P-40s against the Japanese over Burma and China, helping give the Warhawk its iconic reputation.

If the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk was not the best fighter in the arsenal of the U.S. Army Air Corps (USAAC) when the United States entered the conflict, it was the most numerous type available. The Lockheed P-38 Lightning could outperform the P-40, especially at high altitude, but the P-40 was less expensive, easier to build and maintain, and — most important — it was in large-scale production at a critical period in the nation’s history when fighter planes were needed in large numbers.

A total of 11,998 P-40s were built before production was finally terminated in 1944. Warhawks constituted the principal armament of the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) fighter squadrons throughout 1942 and 1943. Even after the appearance of newer types of fighter aircraft in the USAAF rendered the P-40 obsolete, it continued to contribute to victory in a variety of Allied air forces.

The P-40 was the product of a long development process that began when the USAAC invited various aircraft companies to submit designs for its 1935 fighter competition. Curtiss and Boeing had dominated the U.S. Army and Navy fighter plane business since the end of World War I. In 1933, however, Boeing had beaten Curtiss in competition for a lucrative Army fighter contract with its innovative P-26 Peashooter. The P-26 was a monoplane of all-aluminum, stressed skin construction. Ralph Damon, the head of Curtiss, was determined that his company’s next fighter should have the benefits of the latest design and construction technology. In 1934, he hired Donovan R. Berlin as Curtiss’ new chief engineer. Berlin had previously worked at Douglas and Northrop, two firms that had been at the cutting edge of aircraft design.

The four rival designs for the 1935 fighter competition, from Curtiss-Wright, Seversky, Vought and Consolidated, were the first really modern fighters to be evaluated by the Army. All four were low-wing monoplanes of all-metal, stressed-skin construction with retractable landing gear and enclosed cockpits.

Curtiss designated its entry the Model 75. Since all Curtiss fighter aircraft had been called ‘Hawks’ since the mid-1920s, the new fighter became known as the ‘Hawk 75.’ Powered by a 900-hp Wright air-cooled radial engine, the Hawk 75 was first flown in May 1935 and demonstrated good maneuverability and flying characteristics. Initially, however, the USAAC rejected the Hawk 75 in favor of the Seversky P-35. It subsequently reversed that decision, however, and in 1937 it ordered 210 of the Curtiss fighters — the Air Corps’ largest order of a single type of fighter aircraft since the end of World War I. Fitted with a more powerful Pratt and Whitney R-1830 Twin-Wasp radial engine, the new fighter was designated the P-36A.

The French air force purchased more than 700 Curtiss Hawk 75 fighters prior to the start of the war in Europe. (National Archives)

Significant as the USAAC order was, it was small compared to the total number of Hawk 75s sold overseas. Curtiss had been selling large numbers of Hawk biplane fighters to various nations in Europe, Asia and Latin America since the 1920s. With war clouds gathering throughout the world in the late 1930s, Curtiss had little difficulty finding foreign buyers for its new monoplane.

By far the largest customer for the Curtiss fighters was France. At the time of the 1938 Munich crisis, the French aircraft industry was having difficulty meeting its air force’s demands for modern fighters. The French government decided that the most expedient solution to the problem was to order 730 Hawk 75s from Curtiss, in the neutral United States. H-75As, as the French called them, were the most numerous fighters in the Armée de l’Air’s inventory when WWII began, and they shot down more German planes than any other French fighter aircraft. The Hawk 75s that had not yet been delivered to France before the country surrendered to Germany in June 1940 were transferred to Britain’s Royal Air Force (RAF), which called them Mohawks.

Some of the French H-75As were seized by the Germans after France’s collapse and sold to the Finns for use against the Soviet Union. Others, still in French hands, were transferred to North Africa, where they continued to operate under the control of the Vichy French government. On at least one occasion, during the Allied landings in Morocco in November 1942, Vichy French H-75As tangled unsuccessfully with U.S. Navy Grumman F4F Wildcats.

Since the end of World War I, domination of the world’s aviation engines had been alternating between liquid-cooled in-line engines and air-cooled radial engines. The liquid-cooled engines were generally more powerful, but they were also heavier, more complex and vulnerable to damage if the coolant leaked out. The radial engines were lighter and more compact, but their larger frontal area created aerodynamic drag. As it happened, the Hawk 75 was developed at a time when the liquid-cooled V-12 engine was just beginning to come back into vogue, both in Europe and the United States. The principal reason was the introduction of high-temperature cooling utilizing Glycol rather than water, a development that made it possible to reduce weight and drag by decreasing the size of the cooling radiator by as much as 75 percent.

In February 1937, while the USAAC was still evaluating the P-36 for production, it contracted with Curtiss to re-engineer the fighter to test the potential of a highly promising new liquid-cooled V-12 engine, the turbosupercharged General Motors Allison V-1710. To save money, the factory rebuilt the original Hawk 75 prototype to create the new prototype. First flown in 1937, the XP-37, as the new fighter was called, was not an unqualified success. Although its 1,150-hp Allison engine and aerodynamic lines gave it far better performance than the P-36, it had a number of serious drawbacks as a combat plane. The General Electric turbosupercharger boosted the engine’s critical operating altitude — i.e., the altitude at which the supercharger would operate at peak efficiency — to 20,000 feet, but it proved unreliable and likely to catch fire. In addition, the cockpit had to be moved aft to balance the heavy engine and its bulky turbosupercharger, which reduced pilot visibility.

Despite the promising performance of the turbosupercharged Allison engine, the problems encountered with the XP-37 were rapidly reducing the likelihood that the airplane ever would be placed in production. Therefore, Don Berlin decided to take a different approach to a P-36 derivative equipped with an Allison engine. On March 3, 1938, Curtiss submitted a proposal to the Air Corps to modify a P-36 airframe to accept an Allison engine fitted with a mechanically driven supercharger. The modifications to the airframe were less extreme than those required for the XP-37, as they did not require moving the cockpit aft. The engine also proved to be more reliable than the turbosupercharged Allison used in the XP-37, although its critical operating altitude was reduced to 10,000 feet, with performance falling off at higher altitudes up to its service ceiling of 32,750 feet. At Curtiss the new fighter design was known as the Model 81, but the Air Corps called it the XP-40.

The prototype XP-40 was first flown on October 14, 1938, only two weeks after the settlement of the Munich crisis bought the world a one-year reprieve from war. It was modified from the 10th production P-36A airframe. The XP-40’s sharply pointed nose was longer than that of the P-36, though not so long as that of the XP-37. Since the cockpit was not displaced aft, the pilot’s view was better than in the XP-37. The radiator, which had been buried in the fuselage between the engine and cockpit of the XP-37, was now installed under the fuselage, aft of the wings.

Although Curtiss had guaranteed that the XP-40 would achieve 360 mph, the prototype was not immediately able to do so. After a series of modifications that took several more months, however, the fighter demonstrated a top speed of 366 mph at 15,000 feet. The most conspicuous change was the relocation of the radiator to a new position under the nose, giving the P-40 its most characteristic feature.

The XP-40 won the Army’s 1939 fighter competition against the Lockheed XP-38 Lightning, Bell XP-39 Airacobra, Republic AP-4, and Curtiss’ own XP-37 and Hawk 75R, the latter a turbosupercharged version of the radial-engine P-36. The XP-38 outperformed the XP-40, especially at high altitudes, and was more heavily armed, but the XP-40 had the advantage of being based on an existing fighter design that was already on the production line. That meant that Curtiss could put the P-40 into production with a minimum of delay, and at the highly competitive price of $24,566.60 apiece. On April 26, 1939, Curtiss was awarded a contract for 524 P-40s — once again, the largest order for fighter planes placed by the Army since 1918.

The P-40 prototype was armed with one .50- and one .30-caliber machine gun — the standard USAAC fighter armament during the 1930s — but the production model was armed with two .50-caliber machine guns. In keeping with President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s policy of making the latest American military hardware available to the Allies, 140 of the original batch of P-40s were diverted to France. They were armed with one .50-caliber machine gun in the fuselage and four 7.5mm guns in the wings. None of those P-40s were delivered by the time France capitulated, however. Instead, the export P-40s were delivered to the RAF and became known as Tomahawk Mk.Is.

The British were grateful for all the combat aircraft they could get in 1940, but they did not regard the Tomahawk Mk.I as suitable for combat. Many of the Tomahawk Mk.Is still had metric instruments and other French equipment that were not compatible with RAF service, and their French throttle control levers worked in reverse of the way British or American ones did. More important, they lacked self-sealing fuel tanks and had neither armor nor bulletproof windscreens to protect their pilots. Consequently, the Tomahawk Mk.Is were relegated to tactical reconnaissance duties.

As a result of European combat experience, Curtiss installed armor in the P-40 and increased its armament, adding a .30-caliber machine gun in each wing. The improved fighters were called P-40Bs by the Americans and Tomahawk Mk.IIs by the British. The next model, known as the P-40C, also had self-sealing fuel tanks and yet another .30-caliber machine gun in each wing. The USAAC ordered a total of 324 P-40Bs and P-40Cs during 1941. At the same time, the British ordered 930 P-40Cs. Those with British radio equipment were called Tomahawk Mk.IIas, while the ones delivered to the RAF with American radios were designated Tomahawk Mk.IIbs.

First flown in April 1941, the P-40C was considered the first truly combat-ready version of the P-40 line. A price had been paid for the necessary improvements, however. The aircraft’s gross weight had increased from 7,215 to 8,058 pounds, an increase of 843 pounds or approximately 11 percent, with no increase in engine power. The P-40C’s rate of climb suffered, it was less maneuverable, and its maximum speed fell to 340 mph. By comparison, the Messerschmitt Me-109E used by the Luftwaffe in 1941 weighed only 6,100 pounds and had a top speed of 360 mph. Air Chief Marshal Sir Kenneth Cross, who served in the RAF’s Desert Air Force, recalled that ‘the Tomahawk was beautifully built, but…short on performance compared to the (Messerschmitt) 109F and G.’

By the end of 1941 the USAAC had deployed P-40s overseas. Thirty were flown to Iceland from the aircraft carrier Wasp, and 99 of them were stationed in Hawaii. In addition, four squadrons of P-40s were deployed in the Philippines. It was with the British that the Tomahawk Mk.IIs first saw action, however, flying reconnaissance sorties and fighter sweeps across the English Channel with the RAF and Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) in 1941. By May 1941 Tomahawks were also operating in the Middle East, eventually serving in that theater with Australian and South African fighter squadrons as well as the RAF. In addition, the British sent 195 Tomahawks to the Soviet Union after the Germans invaded that country on June 22, 1941.

The Soviets welcomed the heavily armed P-40. Senior Lieutenant N.F. Kuznetsov is congratulated after his 27th victory, his "Lend-Lease" P-40K in the background. (National Archives)

The first serious use of the P-40 as a fighter occurred when Iraqi forces led by Rashid Ali El-Ghailani rose against the British in Iraq on May 2, 1941. When the Germans and Italians sent aircraft to assist the revolt, staging from Vichy French bases in Lebanon and Syria, the British sent three Bristol Blenheims to bomb the air base at Palmyra on May 14, escorted by two Tomahawks of No. 250 Squadron, RAF, flown by Flying Officers G.A. Wolsey and F.J.S. Aldridge. The Iraqi revolt was crushed by May 30, but the British decided that Vichy France’s violation of neutrality justified the invasion and occupation of Lebanon and Syria. Tomahawks of No. 3 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), took part in the first attack on June 8, helping to destroy a Dewoitine D.520 fighter and damage three others at Rayak airfield. Elsewhere on that same day, two of No. 250 Squadron’s Tomahawks drew first blood for the P-40 in the air when they shot down an Italian Cant Z.1007bis reconnaissance plane five miles northwest of Alexandria, Egypt. The Vichy French put up a spirited fight before finally signing an armistice on July 14, but the Tomahawks of No. 3 Squadron RAAF also acquitted themselves well, holding their own against France’s top-of-the-line D.520s and shooting down two out of eight German Junkers Ju-88As of II Gruppe, Lehrgeschwader 1, operating from Crete, that tried to interfere with British landings on the Levantine coast on June 12.

During the summer of 1941, No. 112 Squadron RAF, which had lost all its Gloster Gladiators in Greece the previous spring, was re-equipped with Tomahawks. Its pilots took one look at their sleek new mounts and decided that the P-40’s cowling would make an ideal place to paint the squadron badge, a black cat. The results, however, looked more fishlike than feline, and soon a variety of shark mouths were being applied to the Tomahawks and, later, to the deeper-jowled Kittyhawks. For some reason, British authorities did not discourage No. 112 Squadron’s flamboyant liveries. The P-40 shark mouth would soon be adopted in other units and other air forces.

David B. Brown, who flew Kittyhawks in No. 112 in 1942 and later Supermarine Spitfires, recalled: ‘The Kittyhawk, while offering a more roomy and comfortable cockpit than the Spitfire, with a bonus of improved visibility, was more sluggish on controls and inferior in performance when compared with the Spitfire V. Furthermore, even though we could cope with moderate aerobatics and mock dogfights, there was still a feeling of ‘touchiness’ about the P-40 so that you wanted plenty of altitude before you could relax….’

Me-109F aces such as Hans-Joachim Marseille took a grisly toll of P-40s, but some of the more talented Commonwealth pilots rang up their own fair tallies of Axis planes while flying the Curtiss fighters. Australian ace of aces Clive R. Caldwell, flying Tomahawks in No. 250 Squadron and later Kittyhawks as commander of No. 112 Squadron, was credited with 18 German and Italian aircraft, plus two to four shared, six probables and 15 damaged over the Western Desert, later adding seven Japanese planes to his score while flying Spitfires over the South Pacific.

American P-40s first saw action at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Of the 99 P-40Bs stationed in Hawaii that day, only seven managed to get airborne during the attack. They shot down five Japanese planes, including four — two Nakajima B5N2 torpedo bombers, a Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero fighter and an Aichi D3A1 dive bomber — by 2nd Lt. George S. Welch of the 47th Squadron, 15th Pursuit Group. By the end of the day, however, only 25 P-40s remained operational. Three had been shot down, and the rest were destroyed on the ground.

In the Philippines, as in Hawaii, attrition was high — 26 P-40s were destroyed on December 8, 1941, mostly because they were caught on the ground. Although initially shocked by the startling performance of the Zero fighters that faced them, the four squadrons of P-40s put up a gallant struggle against the Japanese invaders.

The first USAAC ace of World War II was 1st Lt. Boyd D. Wagner, a P-40E pilot of the 17th Squadron, 24th Pursuit Group, in the Philippines. During a surprise attack on the Japanese army’s 50th Sentai, newly arrived at Aparri airfield on December 12, Wagner was attacked by four Nakajima Ki.27 fighters. He evaded two, then suddenly cut his throttle to make the other two overshoot him and shot down both. After strafing five to seven Japanese planes on the ground, Wagner was attacked by three more Ki.27s but managed to shoot down two of them and then escaped. He was subsequently awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, as was 1st Lt. Russell M. Church, Jr., who was shot down in flames and killed by anti-aircraft fire in the course of the raid. Wagner repeated his performance at Vigan field on December 16, hitting eight enemy planes on the ground and shooting down a Ki.27 that managed to take off, for his fifth victory in as many days. By then, however, there were too few of the Curtiss fighters available to do more than delay the inevitable. Lacking spare parts and replacement aircraft, the Americans were overwhelmed by May 1942.

Thomas L. Hayes, who flew P-40Es with the 35th Pursuit Group, was originally supposed to go to Mindanao, but when his squadron was unable to reach the Philippines it was diverted to Java in mid-January 1942. ‘The water-cooled Allison…moved the center of gravity forward,’ Hayes recalled. ‘The P-40 was much heavier than the P-36, and visibility was somewhat restricted with that extended nose. The P-40 also had more difficult landing characteristics than the P-36 — its greater weight, combined with the narrow landing gear and long nose, gave it a greater tendency to ground loop.’

This P-40E is ready for takeoff from Dobodura, New Guinea, in May 1943. "Poopy II" was flown by five-victory ace 1st Lt. A.T. House, Jr. from the 49th Fighter Group. (National Archives)

‘The most serious deficiency in my training was gunnery,’ he added. ‘The only time I had squeezed the trigger was strafing an oil slick dropped in the Pacific. Tactics were a close second. We were indebted to our veterans, who told us, ‘You’re not going to turn and fight with a Zero — you won’t live to tell about it.’ Tactics were hit and run — if one had the altitude on a Zero, one could dive and get him. But engagements usually began with the Japanese above the P-40s — they threw the first punch.’

Hayes was shot down and wounded by a Zero on February 20, 1942, crash-landing his P-40E in a rubber plantation. After escaping from the Dutch East Indies, he went on to fly P-39s over New Guinea, and North American P-51s over Europe with the 357th Fighter Group, Eighth Air Force, finishing the war with credit for destroying 8 1/2 German aircraft.

By far the most renowned of all Curtiss fighters were the 100 dispatched to China for use by the American Volunteer Group (AVG), or ‘Flying Tigers.’ Usually referred to as P-40s, they were technically Tomahawk Mk.IIbs that had originally been built for the British. The Flying Tigers got the idea for their famous shark mouth marking from magazine photographs of No. 112 Squadron’s colorful Tomahawks. The AVG’s exploits made the shark mouth so famous, however, that P-40 units all over the world began copying it from them.

The AVG never had more than three squadrons of 18 P-40s at any time. Flying their first combat mission on December 20, 1941, the Flying Tigers operated under extremely difficult conditions at the end of the world’s longest supply line — and with the war’s lowest supply priority. Nevertheless, by the time the group disbanded six months later, its pilots had shot down 286 Japanese aircraft. During a period in the war when everybody else in the Far East was being soundly defeated by the Japanese, their achievements were truly phenomenal.

The AVG owed its success to the tactical doctrines developed by its leader, Colonel Claire Lee Chennault. A former USAAC fighter pilot who had carefully observed Japanese aircraft over China, Chennault understood the strengths and weaknesses of both the Japanese and American fighters. Using that knowledge, he established an advance warning system, which involved Chinese observers relaying information to AVG air bases, giving his pilots prior intelligence on what Japanese forces were coming and when they would arrive. He also drilled three fundamental rules into his pilots. First, never ever try to turn with a Japanese fighter in a dogfight, since it could maneuver its way onto a P-40’s tail within two turns instead, use the P-40’s superior diving speed to escape, then climb and re-engage. Second, Chennault advocated head-on passes, because the Curtiss, with its two .50- and four .30-caliber machine guns, could outgun its Japanese army counterparts, which were still armed with only two 7.7mm weapons. The third rule was to harass the Japanese planes after they retired — since they lacked self-sealing fuel tanks, a few holes in their tanks would probably cause them to run out of fuel before they reached their home bases. These rules were the secrets of the Flying Tigers’ success.

Technically, the AVG personnel were U.S. civilians employed by the Nationalist Chinese government. Because of that, their P-40s were painted with Chinese insignia. Their success, highly publicized in the United States, was actually something of an embarrassment to the USAAC and its successor, the USAAF. The AVG was disbanded when an agreement was reached with the Chinese government to induct the Flying Tigers and their P-40s into the USAAF on July 4, 1942.

Curtiss-Wright was well aware of the P-40C’s shortcomings. In 1940 it developed a replacement fighter, mounting 10 machine guns and powered by an improved version of the Allison engine. Known as the XP-46, the new fighter did not enter production because Maj. Gen. H.H. Arnold, the Army Air Corps chief of staff, insisted that P-40 production should not be interrupted. Instead, Curtiss-Wright developed a new version of the P-40 incorporating the same 1,150-hp Allison V-1710-39 engine intended for the XP-46. The new P-40’s nose was considerably altered because the new engine was shorter and had a higher thrust line, and the radiator air intake was enlarged. The armament was changed to four .50-caliber guns in the wings. First flown in May 1941, the improved fighter was called the P-40D Warhawk by the USAAC and Kittyhawk Mk.I by the British. In April 1941, Curtiss built the first of 2,320 P-40Es, or Kittyhawk Mk.Ias, armed with six .50-caliber wing guns.

In an attempt to improve the P-40’s performance above 15,000 feet, Curtiss installed a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine in a P-40D to produce the XP-40F. The British were concerned that Rolls-Royce might not be able to supply enough Merlin engines for their own and the Americans’ needs, and at the same time, General Arnold was concerned that Allison could not supply sufficient liquid-cooled engines to fulfill the Army Air Corps’ requirements. As a result, on September 13, 1940, the British contracted Packard to build 6,000 Merlins for the RAF and 3,000 for the USAAC. The production P-40F Warhawk, or Kittyhawk Mk.II, became the first American fighter to use the 1,300-hp Packard Merlin and first flew in October 1941. With a top speed of 364 mph, the P-40F was 10 mph faster than the P-40E. The only external difference between the P-40E and F was the absence of the air scoop on top of the P-40F’s cowling, due to the Merlin’s updraft carburetor. A total of 1,311 P-40Fs were built, as well as 700 similar but lighter-weight P-40Ls. When the supply of P-40F and L airframes outstripped the supply of Packard Merlins early in 1943, 600 of them were completed with Allison engines and designated P-40Rs.

Between 1942 and 1943 the P-40Es were superseded by 1,300 improved aircraft with 1,325-hp Allison V-1710-73 engines, called P-40Ks. The P-40M was a similar, but lighter version of the P-40K with a carburetor air bypass grille on the cowling just forward of the exhausts. The aircraft’s tail was also slightly lengthened to improve directional stability. Both models were designated Kittyhawk M.IIIs by the RAF.

In order to further improve the P-40’s performance, Curtiss introduced additional weight-saving measures, including reducing the amount of fuel and eliminating two of the wing-mounted .50-caliber guns. At the same time, the designers improved rear visibility by increasing the glazing behind the cockpit. Called the Kittyhawk Mk.IV by the British, the lightweight P-40N Warhawk was the most-produced P-40 variant. With a top speed of 378 mph, the P-40N also had the best performance of the production-model P-40s. The 5,219th and last P-40N was completed on November 30, 1944. In addition to the USAAF, P-40Ns were used by the Dutch, Australians and New Zealanders in Europe and the South Pacific, and many were supplied to the Soviet Union.

In 1944, Curtiss-Wright made a final attempt to improve the P-40 by installing an enhanced 1,425-hp Allison V-1710-121 engine equipped with a two-stage supercharger in a P-40K. A new-style radiator was also built into the wing center section. The XP-40K was rebuilt three times. In its final form, with a shallow chin air scoop, clipped wings and a bubble canopy, the Curtiss fighter’s appearance was somewhat reminiscent of a P-51D Mustang. The XP-40Q, as the new version was redesignated, was the fastest of the Warhawks, with a top speed of 422 mph at 20,000 feet. Unfortunately, by the time the XP-40Q was built, the more capable P-51D was already available in large numbers. Only three were built, and only one was evaluated — and rejected — by the USAAF.

XP-40Q-2A ready for the 1947 Thompson Trophy Race. With little more than weapons and national insignia removed, the Curtiss seemed a contender. The last of the line, this P-40 would never make it past lap 13. (HistoryNet Archives)

One XP-40Q turned up in Cleveland, Ohio, for the Thompson Trophy Race on September 1, 1947. Flown by Joe Ziegler, the Warhawk was excluded from the race because it qualified 13th, and only 12 planes were supposed to be allowed to compete. Ziegler started the race anyway, but on the 13th lap the XP-40Q’s engine stopped. Ziegler was forced to bail out, breaking one of his legs, and a woman spectator was injured by the jettisoned canopy. Thus ended the career of the ultimate P-40.

The P-40’s performance was always regarded as inferior to its German contemporaries, the Me-109 and Focke Wulf Fw-190, especially at altitudes above 15,000 feet. It could also be outmaneuvered and outclimbed by the Japanese Mitsubishi Zero. The availability of better fighters, such as the P-38 Lightning, P-47 Thunderbolt and P-51 Mustang, rendered the Warhawk obsolete by 1944. Nevertheless, many continued to be used in the South Pacific and China-Burma-India theaters right up until the end of World War II. Some P-40Ns were retained after the war by the Dutch East Indies Air Force and the Nationalist Chinese Air Force. The last known instance of P-40Ns’ being used in action was by the Dutch against Indonesian insurgents in 1948.

The P-40N was not only the last production model of the Warhawk family but also the last production fighter from Curtiss-Wright. Curtiss produced several fighter prototypes in an effort to supersede the P-40, but none were accepted for production due to the availability of more suitable existing models, such as the North American P-51. The last Curtiss fighter was the XP-87 Blackhawk, a postwar four-engine jet night fighter that was rejected by the U.S. Air Force in favor of Northrop’s F-89 Scorpion. The company still had several important military aircraft in production after the P-40 program was terminated, including the C-46 Commando transport, the SB2C Helldiver dive bomber and the SC-1 Navy scout seaplane. However, Curtiss-Wright’s dominance of the American fighter business, which had lasted since the early 1920s, ended with the P-40.

Although the P-40 was not the best fighter plane of its era, it was among the most ubiquitous. Few aircraft have seen combat in as many theaters, under as wide a variety of climactic conditions, or with as many different air arms as the Warhawk. P-40s were in action from the Arctic to the tropics, from the desert to the jungle, and from sea level to the Himalayas. In addition to the U.S. Army Air Forces, Warhawks were used by British, Australian, New Zealand, South African, Canadian, Dutch, Free French, Soviet, Chinese, Egyptian and Turkish fighter units. Whether it was known as the P-40, the Tomahawk, the Kittyhawk or the Warhawk, Curtiss-Wright’s fighter was one of the truly classic combat aircraft of World War II.

This article was written by Robert Guttman and originally published in the November 2000 issue of Aviation History Magazine. For more great articles subscribe to Aviation History Magazine today!

Curtiss P-3 Hawk

The Curtiss P-3 Hawk was a version of the Hawk fighter powered by the Pratt & Whitney Wasp radial engine. Only six were produced and the Army stuck with inline engines, but the navy adopted the radial engine for its Hawks.

The first XP-3 was the final P-1A (25-300). Originally it was to be completed with the Curtiss R-1454 air-cooled radial, but this engine was a failure and so the aircraft was built with a Pratt & Whitney Wasp radial with the designation XP-3A. Tests on the XP-3A began in April 1928. This aircraft later became one of two XP-21s.

In December 1927 the Army ordered five production versions of the XP-3A, as the P-3A. Deliveries began in September 1928 and these aircraft were used for service tests of the new Wasp radial engine in a fighter airframe. They were operated by the 94th Pursuit Squadron.

The first of the five production aircraft later became a second XP-3A and was used in the development of the NACA Cowling. This aircraft, with a tight cowling and large spinner, took part in the 1929 National Air Races. Both XP-3As were late given Wasp Jr engines with the designation XP-21. It came second in the Free-for-All race with an average speed of 186mph. This was the last time the Army took part in a race against civilian aircraft. This aircraft (28-189) went on to become a second XP-21 before finally becoming a P-1F.

The Wasp engine performed better at high altitude than the standard Curtiss D-12 and Conqueror engines. The Navy responded by installing the Wasp engine in their F6C-4 fighters, but the Army persisted with the inline engines, combining them with turbo-superchargers in an attempt to improve their high-altitude performance.

Engine: 410hp
Power: Pratt & Whitney R-1390-3
Crew: 1
Span: 31ft 7in
Length: 22ft 11n
Height: 8ft 9in
Empty weight: 2,024lb
Loaded weight: 2,730lb
Max speed: 153mph at sea level, 148mph at 10,000ft
Cruising speed: 137mph
Climb Rate: 1,742ft/ min
Service ceiling: 23,000ft
Range: 342 miles
Armament: Two .3in machine guns

Curtiss P-5 Superhawk

The Curtiss P-5 Superhawk was a version of the P-1 Hawk fitted with turbo-supercharged engines. On 14 May 1927 the USAAC issued a contract for the production of five aircraft similar to the P-1A, but with turbo-supercharged Curtiss V-1150-4 (D-12F) engines.

The first of these aircraft was delivered in January 1928 as the XP-5, not because it was a prototype but because it was used for tests. The remaining four arrived by June 1928. The P-5 had a side mounted turbo-supercharge which added nearly 500lb to their weight. They also had cockpit heating, providing by running warm air from the exhaust into the canopy. The heat was kept in by a cape that snapped around the cockpit rim and fitted around the pilot.

The turbo-supercharger raised the service ceiling of the aircraft to 31,000ft, nearly ten thousand feet above the absolute ceiling of the standard P-1! Speed at sea level was reduced to 142mph, but at 25,000ft the P-5 could reach 166mph. Two of the P-5s were lost in accidents soon after being delivered, but the remaining two served with the 94th Pursuit Squadron until April 1932.

The P-5 proved that a turbo-supercharger could be effective on the Hawk airframe, but by the time it entered service its D-12 engine was obsolete, and had been replaced in new service aircraft by the Curtiss V-1570 Conqueror engine.

Engine: Curtiss V-1150-4 (D-12F) 12-cylinder water-cooled engine with turbo-supercharger
Power: 435p
Crew: 1
Span: 31ft 6in
Length: 23ft 1in
Height: 9ft 0in
Empty weight: 2,520lb
Loaded weight: 3,349lb
Max speed: 146mph at sea level, 173mph at 25,000ft
Climb Rate: 8.4 mins to 10,000ft
Service ceiling: 31,000ft
Range: 310 miles
Armament: Two .3in machine guns

Curtiss Conqueror V-1570, V-12 Engine

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Curtiss Conqueror V-1570, V-12 Engine, CURTISS XF6C-6 HAWK, 1930 THOMPSON TROPHY RACE

Type: Reciprocating, V-type, 12 cylinders, Liquid-cooled Power Rating: 500 kW (670 hp) at 2,405 rpm Displacement: 25.7 L (1,570 cu in.) Bore and Stroke: 130 mm (5.1 in) x 159 mm (6.2 in) Weight: 493.5 kg (1,088 lb)

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Curtiss Conqueror V-1570, V-12 Engine, CURTISS XF6C-6 HAWK, 1930 THOMPSON TROPHY RACE

Type: Reciprocating, V-type, 12 cylinders, Liquid-cooled Power Rating: 500 kW (670 hp) at 2,405 rpm Displacement: 25.7 L (1,570 cu in.) Bore and Stroke: 130 mm (5.1 in) x 159 mm (6.2 in) Weight: 493.5 kg (1,088 lb)

Usage Conditions Apply

There are restrictions for re-using this media. For more information, visit the Smithsonian's Terms of Use page.

IIIF provides researchers rich metadata and image viewing options for comparison of works across cultural heritage collections. More -

Curtiss Conqueror V-1570, V-12 Engine, CURTISS XF6C-6 HAWK, 1930 THOMPSON TROPHY RACE

Type: Reciprocating, V-type, 12 cylinders, Liquid-cooled Power Rating: 500 kW (670 hp) at 2,405 rpm Displacement: 25.7 L (1,570 cu in.) Bore and Stroke: 130 mm (5.1 in) x 159 mm (6.2 in) Weight: 493.5 kg (1,088 lb)

Usage Conditions Apply

There are restrictions for re-using this media. For more information, visit the Smithsonian's Terms of Use page.

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Curtiss Conqueror V-1570, V-12 Engine, CURTISS XF6C-6 HAWK, 1930 THOMPSON TROPHY RACE

Type: Reciprocating, V-type, 12 cylinders, Liquid-cooled Power Rating: 500 kW (670 hp) at 2,405 rpm Displacement: 25.7 L (1,570 cu in.) Bore and Stroke: 130 mm (5.1 in) x 159 mm (6.2 in) Weight: 493.5 kg (1,088 lb)

Usage Conditions Apply

There are restrictions for re-using this media. For more information, visit the Smithsonian's Terms of Use page.

IIIF provides researchers rich metadata and image viewing options for comparison of works across cultural heritage collections. More -

Curtiss Conqueror V-1570, V-12 Engine, CURTISS XF6C-6 HAWK, 1930 THOMPSON TROPHY RACE

Type: Reciprocating, V-type, 12 cylinders, Liquid-cooled Power Rating: 500 kW (670 hp) at 2,405 rpm Displacement: 25.7 L (1,570 cu in.) Bore and Stroke: 130 mm (5.1 in) x 159 mm (6.2 in) Weight: 493.5 kg (1,088 lb)

Usage Conditions Apply

There are restrictions for re-using this media. For more information, visit the Smithsonian's Terms of Use page.

IIIF provides researchers rich metadata and image viewing options for comparison of works across cultural heritage collections. More -

Curtiss Conqueror V-1570, V-12 Engine, CURTISS XF6C-6 HAWK, 1930 THOMPSON TROPHY RACE

Type: Reciprocating, V-type, 12 cylinders, Liquid-cooled Power Rating: 500 kW (670 hp) at 2,405 rpm Displacement: 25.7 L (1,570 cu in.) Bore and Stroke: 130 mm (5.1 in) x 159 mm (6.2 in) Weight: 493.5 kg (1,088 lb)

The Conqueror developed from a history of Curtiss engines beginning in the early twentieth century. It was the last of Curtiss liquid cooled engines. The U.S. Navy purchased this engine in 1930 and installed it in the Curtiss XF6C-6 Hawk, a biplane converted to a monoplane racer. On September 1, 1930, U.S. Marine Corps pilot Capt. Arthur H. Page Jr., flew the aircraft in the Thompson Trophy Air Race in Chicago. While leading the field, the aircraft lost power, and Page died during the resulting forced landing.

To determine what happened, the Navy's Aeronautical Engine Laboratory disassembled and inspected the engine. They determined that the magneto drive shaft bushing and housing failed, which most likely retarded the magneto timing enough to cause a loss of power and engine failure. While historians have speculated that Page was overcome by fumes and crashed, the official Navy report indicated otherwise.

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National Air and Space Museum Collection

Inventory Number

Physical Description

Type: Reciprocating, V-type, 12 cylinders, Liquid-cooled

Power Rating: 500 kW (670 hp) at 2,405 rpm

Displacement: 25.7 L (1,570 cu in.)

Bore and Stroke: 130 mm (5.1 in) x 159 mm (6.2 in)

Credit Line

Transferred from the U.S. Navy


Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company

Country of Origin


Aluminum, Steel, Rubber, Stainless Steel, Magnesium


3-D (on stand): 165.1 × 96.5 × 116.8cm, 493.5kg (5 ft. 5 in. × 3 ft. 2 in. × 3 ft. 10 in., 1088lb.)

3-D (without stand): 144.8 × 83.8 × 96.5cm (4 ft. 9 in. × 2 ft. 9 in. × 3 ft. 2 in.)

Curtiss P-36 Hawk

The Curtiss P-36 Hawk was designed as part of a competition to replace the P-26 Peashooter. In that competition the P-36 actually lost out to the Seversky P-35, but was nevertheless ordered in limited quantities as insurance against a failure of the P-35 project. In the end the P-36 was actually ordered in greater numbers than the P-35.

The P-36 was one of a wave of modern, all-metal monoplane fighters that appeared in the mid-1930s. It featured fully retractable landing gear (a feature deleted from some export models like the Hawk 75M). It had a powerful R-1830 engine that delivered over 1,000hp, giving the ‘Hawk’ a top speed of 300mph. Armament was rather weak for the time, with one .30cal and one .50cal machine gun, although this was increased with the addition of another pair of .30cals in the P-36C.

The P-36 saw the most action in its various export guises, equipping Chinese, Thai, British and French squadrons. In US service a handful of P-36s got airborne during the attack on Pearl Harbor, where they shot down several Japanese aircraft. That was the sole combat action of the Hawk in American hands, as the replacement P-40 took up most of burden during the next 12 months of the war.

Curtiss P-36G

The Curtiss P-36G was the designation given to thirty Hawk H75A-8s ordered by Norway just before the German invasion of 1940. These aircraft were powered by 1,200hp R-1820-G205A Cyclone engines, and armed with two 12.7mm nose guns and two 7.9mm wing guns. None could be delivered before the German invasion. Six were given to the Free Norwegian Forces in Canada in February 1941, but the remaining thirty were taken over by the US Army as the P-36G.

These aircraft were of little use to the US Army Air Corps, partly because the P-36 was already seen as virtually obsolete, and partly because they used Wright Cyclone engines instead of the Pratt & Whitney engines of the P-36A and P-36C. In 1943 twenty-eight of the P-36Gs were given to Peru under lend-lease, and one of these aircraft survived at least until 1977 when it was in the Peruvian Air Force Museum.

Engine: Wright R-1820-G205A Cyclone
Power: 1,200hp
Crew: 1
Wing span: 37ft 0in
Length: 28ft 6in
Height: 9ft 3in
Empty Weight: 4,675lb
Gross Weight: 5,880lb
Max Speed: 322mph at 15,200ft
Cruising Speed: 261mph
Service Ceiling: 32,350ft
Range: 650 miles
Armament: Four 0.30in and two 0.50in machine guns

Curtiss P-36/ Hawk 75: Development, Overview and US Service

The Hawk 75 was the first modern monoplane fighter to be designed by Curtiss, coming after a long series of successful Hawk biplanes. It entered American service as the P-36, the first modern monoplane fighter to be used in large numbers by the Army Air Corps, but it earned most fame with the French Armée de l'Air, where as the Hawk 75 it was the most successful fighter during the Battle of France. It would later evolve into the P-40 Warhawk, which remained in use throughout the Second World War.

The Curtiss Model 75 was developed by Donovan A. Berlin, a former Northrop designer, and had more in common with earlier Northrop aircraft than with any previous Curtiss design. It was an all-metal low-wing monoplane, with a fully retractable undercarriage - all three wheels retracted, with the main wheels rotating through ninety degrees on their axis and then folding back into the rear of the wing. The aircraft was powered by a radial engine, starting with an experimental Wright engine.

The Model 75 was designed for an Army Pursuit competition scheduled for May 1935. At this point it was powered by the new Wright R-1670 twin-row 14 cylinder radial engine, rated at 900hp. This version of the aircraft was ready for the May 1935 deadline, but its competitors were not, and so the contest was postponed to August 1935. By August it was clear that more work was needed, and the contest post postponed again, this time to April 1936.

The Model 75 was competing against designs from Seversky, Chance Vought and Consolidated. The Seversky design, which eventually won the contest, was a fighter version of their Amphibian of 1933. Chance Vought produced an improved version of the Northrop 3A and Consolidated a single-seat version of their two-seat PB-2A fighter.

One of the main problems with the Hawk 75 was its engine. The original Wright engine was temporarily replaced with a 700hp Pratt & Whitney R-1535, and then by a 675hp Wright R-1820F Cyclone. This version of the aircraft was given the designation Model 75B, and was entered in the April 1936 contest.

In April 1936 Curtiss lost out to Seversky, who won a contract to build 77 of their aircraft as the P-35. A few months later Curtiss also received a production contract, for three Y1P-36 pre-production aircraft (Curtiss Model H75E), to be powered by the 1,050hp Pratt & Whitney R-1830-13 engine. The first of these aircraft was delivered in March 1937, and they won that year's fighter competition. Curtiss was rewarded with an order for 210 P-36As, the biggest American military aircraft order since the First World War.

Curtiss Model Letters

H75A: Export version with a retractable undercarriage

75B: The 850hp Wright Cyclone powered prototype of the April 1936 contest.

75D: A retrospective designation given to the prototype in its first configuration.

74E: The Y1P-36 pre-production aircraft

75H: Simplified version with a non-retractable undercarriage, for the export market

75I: Curtiss designation for the P-37

75J: A Model 75A demonstrator, NX-22028 c/n 12931 when given an external supercharger.

75K: A study for a version to be powered by a 910hp Pratt & Whitney Twin Hornet engine

75M: Fixed undercarriage aircraft built in China.

H75N: Export version sold to Thailand

H75O: Export version sold to Argentina

75P: Re-engined to become the XP-40, prototype for the P-40 Warhawk

75Q: Two fixed undercarriage demonstrators

H75R: The 75J with a different supercharger

75S: Curtiss designation for the XP-42

US Army Designations

Y1P-36: Three pre-production machines, Pratt & Whitney engines and two machine guns in the nose, one 0.30in and one 0.50in

P-36A: Main production version, similar to Y1P-36

P-36B: One aircraft used to test supercharger gearing

P-36C: The final thirty machines, built with two extra 0.30in machine guns in the wings

XP-36D: One aircraft with standard nose armament and four 0.30in wing guns

XP-36E: One aircraft with six 0.30in wing guns

XP-36F: One aircraft with two 23mm Madsen cannon carried under the wings

P-36G: Thirty H75A-8s taken over from Norway

US Service Career

The P-36 served with ten Pursuit Groups and one Composite Group of the Army Air Corps. The 1st, 8th and 20th Pursuit Groups all used it in the United States, but had replaced it with more modern aircraft before December 1941, as had the 18th Pursuit Group on Hawaii. The 16th and 32nd Pursuit Groups both operated the P-36 in the Panama Canal Zone. The 16th replaced in it 1941, but the 32nd may have kept some into 1943 when it was disbanded. The 35th and 36th Pursuit Groups operated the P-36 while they were training up after being formed, but both replaced it before moving overseas - the 35th to the Philippines and the 36th to Puetro Rico.

The P-36 was the standard Air Corps fighter of 1939. It, the A-17 and the B-18 accounted for 700 of the 800 first line aircraft in the corps. Even by 1939 it was obsolescent, with a lower service ceiling, top speed and weaker armament than the Spitfire of Bf 109. Worse, the P-36 was at the peak of its development while both the British and German fighter had plenty of scope for further improvements.

Only two groups were operating the P-36 on 7 December 1941. The 28th Composite Group, in Alaska, was equipped with twelve B-18As and twenty P-36s. The 15th Pursuit Group, on Hawaii, was equipped with a number of P-36s, alongside more modern P-39s and P-40s. All of these modern aircraft had only recently arrived on Hawaii. Thirty-one P-36s with their pilots and crew chiefs had departed for Hawaii on the carrier Enterprise in February 1941, soon followed by the P-40s.

Very few American fighter aircraft were able to get into the air during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Thirty-five minutes after the initial attack two P-36s and four P-40s were able to take off from Wheeler Field, and at 08.50 another four P-36s of the 46th Pursuit Squadron were able to get into the air. They attacked a Japanese formation near Bellows Field, shooting down two Japanese aircraft for the loss of one P-36. The 47th Pursuit Squadron at Haleiwa airfield was the most successful unit on the day. Their base wasn't subject to the same heavy attacks as Wheeler Field, and between 08.15 and 10.00 a small number of pilots were able to fly repeated sorties, often alternating between the P-36 and P-40. After the attack was over the surviving P-36s took part in the unsuccessful attempts to locate the Japanese fleet. After Pearl Harbor the P-36 rapidly went out of service. By the summer of 1942 VII Fighter Command on Hawaii had 28 P-26s, of which 22 were serviceable, but had five times more P-40s, with 101 serviceable out of a total of 134.

Curtiss Model 75 (First prototype in first configuration)

Engine: Wright SCR-1670-G5
Power: 900hp
Crew: 1
Wing span: 37ft 0in
Length: 28ft 3.5in
Height: 9ft 1in
Empty Weight: 3,760lb
Gross Weight: 4,843lb
Max Speed: 281mph at 10,000ft
Cruising Speed: 250mph
Service Ceiling: 30,000ft
Range: 537 miles
Armament: Two machine guns

Curtiss Y1P-36

Engine: Pratt & Whitney R-1830-13
Power: 1,050hp
Crew: 1
Wing span: 36ft 3.5in
Length: 28ft 10in
Height: 9ft 0in
Empty Weight: 4,267lb
Gross Weight: 5,414lb
Max Speed: 293mph at 10,000ft
Cruising Speed: 261mph
Service Ceiling: 31,500ft
Range: 790 miles
Armament: One 0.50in and one 0.30in machine gun

Curtiss P-36A

Engine: Pratt & Whitney R-1830-13 or 17
Power: 1,050hp at 10,000ft
Crew: 1
Wing span: 37ft 4in
Length: 28ft 6in
Empty Weight: 4,567lb
Gross Weight: 5,470lb
Max Speed: 313mph at 10,000ft
Service Ceiling: 33,000ft
Range: 825 miles at 270mph at 10,000ft
Armament: One .50in and one .30in machine guns in nose
Bomb-load: None

Curtiss P-40 Warhawk

Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 04/01/2021 | Content © | The following text is exclusive to this site.

The Curtiss P-40 "Warhawk" series of fighter aircraft was a further development of the Curtiss P-36 "Hawk" line (detailed elsewhere on this site). The Warhawk became a legendary aircraft of the famous American Volunteer Group (AVG) fighting in China against the Japanese, earning themselves the nickname of "The Flying Tigers". Over the course of the war, the P-40 would be generally replaced by incoming improved types but she nonetheless remained one of the more important Allied fighters early in the World War 2 - used by the desperate Americans, British and Soviets alike. It was a pair of P-40s, piloted by American airmen George Welch and Ken Taylor, who were able to get airborne during the December 7th, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor while Soviet pilots Nikolai Fyodorovich Kuznetsov, Petr Pokryshev and Stephan Novichkov all became aces flying their Lend-Lease P-40s. The P-40 was a good. solid gunnery platform for its time, limited to an extent by production numbers and demand of the wartime economy. Eventually technological developments found in incoming fighter lines like the Grumman F6F Hellcat and Vought F4U Corsair pushed the P-40 past its usefulness and strengths.

Some 13,738 P-40s were produced from 1939 into 1944. Operators included Australia, Brazil, Canada, China (Taiwan), Egypt, Finland, France, Indonesia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, South Africa, the Soviet Union, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States. Some fell to Imperial Japanese forces and were reconstituted to fight for their new owners.

Not an overly exceptional aircraft in any one category, the P-40 Warhawk could be a deadly fighting machine in trained hands. She fielded a formidable armament of 4 x 0.50 caliber Browning M2 heavy machine guns (with up to 200 to 235 rounds per gun) in her nose and wings. This would later be complemented by the airframe's ability to carry a modest bombload in an attempt to increase the workhorse's workload in war. Warhawks were fitted with a liquid-cooled in-line piston engine at the head of their design, a departure from the more popular air-cooled radials seen in many fighter types of the period (including the P-36 Hawk). The engine consisted of an Allison V12 providing over 1,000 horsepower.

Though the French Air Force had placed orders for the P-40 at the outset of the war, the eventual Fall of France forced the order to be diverted to Britain where it was promptly redesignated as the "Tomahawk". British versions installed the readily-available .303 machine gun in place of the 0.50 caliber types. Some Tomahawk models would eventually end up in the hands of the American Volunteer Group in China which, in turn, offered up an increasing amount of aerial victories against marauding Japanese fighters and bombers. Initial P-40 models included te P-40B and P-40C as well as the Tomahawk I, Tomahawk IIA and Tomahawk IIB. These served from 1941 into 1943 and primarily over North Africa, China/Burma/India, the Philippines and Pearl Harbor. Soviet units operated over the East Front as well as over Finland during the "Continuation War". P-40B models introduced some cockpit and fuel tank armoring while the C-model had an all-armored fuel system which reduced its speed.

Further improvements to the P-40 line produced the "D" model which raised performance specifications of the Allison piston engine. By this time, armament had increased to 6 x 12.7mm machine guns and the addition of an optional undercarriage bomb rack that allowed for the provision of a single 500lb bomb adding to the versatility of the aircraft. The engine cowling was revised some. On top of the diverted French Warhawks/Tomahawks, the British also ordered their own P-40D models and assigned the name of "Kittyhawk" to these. The notable follow-up marks, therefore, included the P-40D, P-40E, Kittyhawk Mk 1 and Kittyhawk Mk Ia. These served from 1942 into 1943 and fought over New Guinea, Guadalcanal, Kokoda, Milne Bay, Darwin, North Africa and over China.

From 1942 to 1942, the P-40K, P-40M and Kittyhawk Mk III all made their appearance in the war. The K-model had a revised, larger-area tail fin while M-models saw lengthened tail units altogether. These served over Guadalcanal, Kokoda, Milne Bay and Darwin.

The P-40F, P-40L, Kittyhawk Mk II and Kittyhawk Mk IIa introduced the Packard-Merlin engine and lost their top-mounted engine intakes. Armament varied some across the new marks and some featured lengthened fuselages. These airframes operated over North Africa, the Mediterranean Sea and across the Pacific Theater during 1943 with American and Free French air forces.

The P-40N, Kittyhawk Mk IV and Warhawk lines appeared from 1943 to 1944 over the Mediterranean and South West Pacific theaters of war. These featured a revised rear cockpit section promising improved situational awareness. A lengthened fuselage promoted more internal volume as well as stability. Some versions lacked the wing guns to save weight.

By this in the war, the Warhawk line was increasingly out-classed by newer generation enemy fighters. Regardless, the Warhawk - in all its varied forms, continued to find success wherever it was fielded up to the closing weeks of the conflict, solidifying her place as one of the classic American fighters of World War 2.

The Hawk during the Second World War [ edit | edit source ]

Still, the P-36 saw some action at the beginning of the Second World War. The first P-36's that saw action was already during the outbreak of the war in Europe. During Fall Gelb, the French air-force defend the French sky with the so called Curtiss H75-C1. The H75-C1 variant, a French composition, saw little operational use due to its late delivery and reliability problems with the Wright radial engine. A total of 316 H75s were delivered to France before the German occupation. On September 20, Sergeant André-Armand Legrand, pilot of a H75-C1, was credited of the first Allied air victory of World War II on the Western front with shooting down one German Bf-109E over Oberhern. During 1939–1940, French H75 pilots claimed 230 air-to-air kills and 81 probable victories in H75's against only 29 aircraft lost in aerial combat. While only 12.6% of the French Air Force single-seater fighter force the H75 accounted for almost a third of air-to-air kills during the 1940 Battle of France. Of the 11 French aces of the early part of the war, seven flew H75s. The leading ace of the time was Lieutenant Edmond Marin la Meslée with 15 confirmed and five probable victories in the type. H75-equipped squadrons were evacuated to French North Africa before the Armistice to avoid capture by the Germans. While under the Vichy government, these units clashed with British aircraft over Mers el-Kébir and Dakar. During Operation Torch in North Africa, French H75s fought against U.S. Navy Wildcats, losing 15 aircraft while shooting down seven American aircraft. From late 1942 on, the Allies started re-equipping the formerly Vichy-controlled French H75 units with Warhawks and Airacobra fighters.

The first and last American battle in the war with the P-36, was during the attack of Pearl-Harbor. During the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th 1941, the only american aerial opposition came from a handful of P-36 Hawks, P-40 "Warhawks" fighters and some SBD "Dauntless" dive bombers stationed in the carrier USS Enterprise. Five P-36's could take off the Enterprise and were credited with shooting down two Japanese Zeros for the loss of one P-36.

Watch the video: Into the Tigers Mouth: The Evolution of the Curtiss P-40