The effects of the P-51 Mustang in World War II P-51 Mustang w/ WWII The effects of the P-51 Mustang in World War II The Effect of the North American P-51 Mustang On the Air War in Europe by David Buckingham IBH 20th Century History Mr. Peloquin George Mason High School Falls Church, Virginia March 27, 1995 [Unfortunately, we don’t have a digitized image of this photo.] [Photo caption] Harry R. Ankeny, Jr., the author’s grandfather, with his P-51, “Betsy,” (named for the author’s grandmother) at the end of his combat tour on August 16, 1944. Abstract This paper deals with the contributions of the P-51 Mustang to the eventual victory of the Allies in Europe during World War II. It describes the war scene in Europe before the P-51 was introduced, traces the development of the fighter, its advantages, and the abilities it was able to contribute to the Allies’ arsenal. It concludes with the effect that the P-51 had on German air superiority, and how it led the destruction of the Luftwaffe.
The thesis is that: it was not until the advent of the North American P-51 Mustang fighter, and all of the improvements, benefits, and side effects that it brought with it, that the Allies were able to achieve air superiority over the Germans. This paper was inspired largely by my grandfather, who flew the P-51 out of Leiston, England, during WW II and contributed to the eventual Allied success that is traced in this paper. He flew over seventy missions between February and August 1944, and scored three kills against German fighters. Table of Contents Introduction Reasons for the Pre-P-51 Air Situation The Pre-P-51 Situation The Allied Purpose in the Air War The Battle at Schweinfurt The Development of the P-51 The Installation of the Merlin Engines Features, Advantages, and Benefits of the P-51 The P-51’s Battle Performance The Change in Policy on Escort Fighter Function P-51’s Disrupt Luftwaffe Fighter Tactics P-51’s Give Bombers Better Support Conclusion Works Cited Introduction On September 1, 1939, the German military forces invaded Poland to begin World War II. This invasion was very successful because of its use of a new military strategic theory — blitzkrieg.
Blitzkrieg, literally “lightning war,” involved the fast and deadly coordination of two distinct forces, the Wermacht and the Luftwaffe. The Wermacht advanced on the ground, while the Luftwaffe destroyed the enemy air force, attacked enemy ground forces, and disrupted enemy communication and transportation systems. This setup was responsible for the successful invasions of Poland, Norway, Western Europe, the Balkans and the initial success of the Russian invasion. For many years after the first of September, the air war in Europe was dominated by the Luftwaffe. No other nation involved in the war had the experience, technology, or numbers to challenge the Luftwaffe’s superiority. It was not until the United States joined the war effort that any great harm was done to Germany and even then, German air superiority remained unscathed.
It was not until the advent of the North American P-51 Mustang fighter, and all of the improvements, benefits, and side effects that it brought with it, that the Allies were able to achieve air superiority over the Germans. Reasons for the Pre-P-51 Air Situation The continued domination of the European skies by the Luftwaffe was caused by two factors, the first of which was the difference in military theory between the Luftwaffe and the Royal Air Force. The theories concerning the purpose and function of the Luftwaffe and RAF were exactly opposite and were a result of their experiences in World War I. During WW I, Germany attempted a strategic bombing effort directed against England using Gothas (biplane bombers) and Zeppelins (slow-moving hot-air balloons) which did not give much of a result. This, plus the fact that German military theory at the beginning of WW II was based much more on fast quick results (Blitzkrieg), meant that Germany decided not to develop a strategic air force.
The Luftwaffe had experienced great success when they used tactical ground-attack aircraft in Spain (i.e. at Guernica), and so they figured that their air force should mainly consist of this kind of planes. So Germany made the Luftwaffe a ground support force that was essentially an extension of the army and functioned as a long- range, aerial artillery. The RAF, on the other hand, had experimented with ground-attack fighters during WW I, and had suffered grievous casualty rates. This, combined with the fact that the British had been deeply enraged and offended by the German Gotha and Zeppelin attacks on their home soil, made them determined to develop a strategic air force that would be capable of bombing German soil in the next war.
Thus, at the beginning of WW II, the RAF was mostly a strategic force that consisted of heavy bombers and backup fighters, and lacked any tactical dive- bombers or ground-attack fighters. (Boyne 21) The Pre-P-51 Situation Because of these fundamental differences, the situation that resulted after the air war began was: bombers in enemy territory vs. attack planes. The “in enemy territory” was the second reason for the domination of the Luftwaffe. At the beginning of WW II, and for many years afterward, the Allies had no long-range escort fighters, which meant that the bombers were forced to fly most of their long journeys alone. (Perret 104) Before the P-51 was brought into combat, the main Allied fighters were the American P-47 Thunderbolt and the British Spitfire, neither of which had a very long range. The rule-of-thumb for fighter ranges was that they could go as far as Aachen, which was about 250 miles from the Allied fighters’ home bases in England, before they had to turn around. Unfortunately, most of the bombers’ targets were between 400 and 700 miles from England.
(Bailey 2-3) This meant that bombers could only be escorted into the Benelux countries, northern France, and the very western fringe of Germany. When these unescorted, ungainly, slow, unmaneuverable bombers flew over Germany, they were practically sitting ducks for the fast German fighters. On the other hand, the bombers were equipped with several machine guns and were able to consistently shoot down some of their attackers. Because of this, “U.S. strategists were not yet convinced of the need for long-range fighters; they continued to cling to the belief that their big bomber formations could defend themselves over Germany.” (Bailey 153) The Allied Purpose in the Air War The Allies knew that they had to drive German industry into the ground in order to win the war. Since the factories, refineries, assembly-lines, and other industry-related structures were all inland, the only way to destroy them was by sending in bombers.
The only way that the bombers could achieve real success was by gaining air superiority, which meant that nearly all of the bombers would be able to drop their bombs without being harassed by fighters, and return home to fight another day. The problem with this sequence was that the Allies did not have this superiority, (Bailey 28) because their bombers were consistently getting shot down in fairly large numbers, by the German fighters that kept coming. The Allies soon realized that in order to gain this superiority, they would have to destroy more German fighters. In order to destroy the fighters, they would have to be forced into the air in greater numbers. In order to get more German fighters into the air, the more sensitive German industries would have to be attacked with more aggression. Following this logic, the Allies began a intensified bombing effort that resulted in the famous bombings of Hamburg (July 24-28, 1943) and Ploesti (August 1, 1943), among others.
And, indeed, this did cause more fighters to come up to meet and engage the bombers. Unfortunately, the bombers were overwhelmed by the German opposition, and their losses soon began to increase. (Copp 359) The Allied air forces had, in effect, pushed a stick into a hornets’ nest, hoping to kill the hornets when they came out, and been stung by the ferocity of their response. The Battle at Schweinfurt The culminating point of this backfiring plan was the second bombing raid on Schweinfurt, which occurred on October 14, 1943. Schweinfurt was the location of huge ball-bearing factories that supplied most of the ball-bearings for the entire German military. The U.S.
Eighth Air Force had staged a fairly successful raid on the same city two months earlier, but the second time around, the Germans were ready for them. The official report afterwards said that the Luftwaffe “turned in a performance unprecedented in its magnitude, in the cleverness with which it was planned, and in the severity with which it was executed.” Of the 229 bombers that actually made it all the way to Schweinfurt, 60 were shot down, and 17 more made it home, but were damaged beyond repair. This was a 26.5% battle loss rate for the Americans, while the Germans only lost 38 airplanes the whole day, from all causes. (Boyne 327) This battle was one of the key battles of the war, and undeniably proved to the Allies that the bomber offensive could not continue without a long-range fighter escort. (Copp 444) Even before October of ’43, some had begun to realize the need for this kind of fighter.
In June, the Commanding General of the Army Air Forces, General Hap Arnold, wrote a memo to his Chief of Staff, Major General Barney Giles, which said: This brings to my mind the absolute necessity for building a fighter airplane that can go in and out with the bombers. Moreover, this fighter has got to go into Germany. . . .
Whether you use an existing type or have to start from scratch is your problem. Get to work on this right away because by January ’44, I want a fighter escort for all our bombers from the U.K. into Germany. (Copp 413-414) The Development of the P-51 In April of 1940, “Dutch” Kindleberger, president of North American Aviation, visited Sir Henry Self, the head of the aircraft division of the British Purchasing Commission, asking if Britain would like to buy some of his B-25 bombers. Self was not interested in buying any more bombers, but was interested in buying a good fighter.
He directed Kindleberger to the Curtiss company, who had a new fighter design, but were too busy building P-40’s to do anything with it. Kindleberger went to Curtiss and bought their design for $56,000. He promised Self to have the planes ready by September of 1941. The prototype of the NA-73, as it was called, was ready to fly in October of 1940 and proved to have an excellent design. The NA-73 had a revolutionary wing design that allowed it to fly at high speeds without adverse compression effects.
In other planes, as they approached a certain speed, usually around 450 mph, the air would be flowing around the wing at nearly the speed of sound, putting huge amounts of pressure on the wings, which were unable to deal with the stress. The NA-73 did not have this problem, which meant it could fly safely at much higher speeds. Another revolutionary idea in the plane was the way heated air from the radiator was dealt with. The NA-73’s engineers designed it to expel this air and boost the planes speed by 15 or 25 mph. The engineers also worked especially hard on making the plane as aerodynamic as possible, and so they positioned the radiator in a new place, made the fuselage as narrow as possible, and set the cockpit low in the fuselage.
(Perret 118-119) It was at this point that an error was made that made the Mustang useless as a long-range offensive fighter. When the NA-73 was mass produced as the P-51, it was powered by a 1550 horsepower air-cooled Allison engine, which did not have a supercharger and lost performance above 11,800 ft. At high altitudes air pressure goes down, and so there is less oxygen in a given amount of air, which means that engines do not burn as cleanly, and so lose power. Superchargers compress air before it is pumped into the engine cylinders so that there is enough oxygen for the engine to function well. The early Allison-engined planes did not have the supercharger, and so were limited to low-altitude operations. Even without a high- altitude capability, the Mustang was an impressive plane and was bought in quantity by the RAF.
It flew its first mission on May 10, 1942, against Berck-sur-Mer on the French coast. (Grant 17-18) The Installation of the Merlin Engines So, for the next eighteen months, the P-51A’s continued to fly with the RAF, doing their unexceptional jobs well. After the plane began to go into combat, some people began looking into the idea of fitting the Mustang with a more powerful engine. As the RAF said, it was “a bloody good airplane, only it needs a bit more poke.” (Grant 22) One day, an RAF test pilot was flying a P-51A and the thought occurred to him that the plane could be fitted with a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, which had about 300 more horsepower and included a supercharger. He suggested it to Rolls-Royce’s Chief Aerodynamic Engineer and “both men realized that the combination of this sort of performance with the aerodynamically efficient airframe of the Mustang would revolutionize its potential.” (Grant 22) This plan was duly carried out and in November 1943, the first group of P-51B’s arrived in England. Features, Advantages, and …