A Flying Tiger – The Curtis P-40 Warhawk in Photos

3rd Squadron Hell's Angels, Flying P-40 Tigers over China

The P-40 was among the most abundant American fighter aircraft of the Second World War, owing to its low production cost. It was only superseded in numbers by the P-51 Mustang and the P-47 Thunderbolt.

The origin of the P-40 Warhawk as a single-engine, single-seat, completely metal attack bomber came from modifications of the X-p40 prototype which was the 10th Curtis P-36 Hawk in production by the Curtis-Wright Corporation.

Curtiss P-40E
Curtiss P-40E

Following a test flight of the X-P40 by Lt. Benjamin S. Kelsey in late 1938, it was decided that the performance of the X-P40 left much to be desired, thus there was need for improvements in the speed, and other relevant aerodynamic qualities of the aircraft, leading to the subsequent production of the P-40 Warhawk at the main Curtis factory in Buffalo, New York.

About 524 P-40 fighters were ordered in April 1939 by the U.S. Army Air Corps, the highest order the USAAC has ever made.

Curtiss XP-40 “11” used for test purposes by the Materiel Division of the U.S. Army Air Corps.
Curtiss XP-40 “11” used for test purposes by the Materiel Division of the U.S. Army Air Corps.

The P-40 was propelled by an Allison V-1710 V12 engine which dissipated 1,040 horsepower. It weighed about 8,300 pounds on full load and, with a max speed of 360 mph, it possessed a range of 1,100 km. Its climb rate was at 2,100ft/min.

Between the first production in 1939 and the last in November 1944, about 13,738 Warhawks were built, with up to 16 variants, making it the third most-produced American fighter.

Allison V-1710 V12 engine
Allison V-1710 V12 engine

Several Allied nations adopted the P-40 into their military service following its commissioning, with equivalent models of the P-40B and C getting the designation Tomahawk from the British Commonwealth and Soviet forces. The P-40D and subsequent versions were labeled Kittyhawks.

The max speed of the earliest variants was average, and its engine was quite inferior to those of other modern fighters. The earliest P-40s had a good degree of sturdiness, but their lack of armor and self-sealing tanks left them poorly protected. Later models employed these lacking features and were significantly improved.

British P-40s in formation 1941.
British P-40s in formation 1941.

The monoplane had a considerable level of agility and influence at low and medium altitudes with its tight-turning ability, but it was a complete flop at high altitudes, making them highly inferior to the Messerschmitt Bf 109, the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 and other fighters used by the Luftwaffe at high altitudes, and thus unfit for the Eastern European theater.

However, during the Second World War, the P-40s were crucial in the North African, Southwest Pacific, and Chinese theaters.

The U.S. Army Air Forces Curtiss P-40L Warhawk flown by 1st Lt. (later Maj.) Charles B. Hall of Brazil, Indiana (USA), 99th Fighter Squadron, 33rd Fighter Group, in North Africa. On Friday, 2 July 1943, Hall became the first USAAF pilot of African-Amcerican descent to shoot down an enemy plane, a German Focke-Wulf Fw 190.
The U.S. Army Air Forces Curtiss P-40L Warhawk flown by 1st Lt. (later Maj.) Charles B. Hall of Brazil, Indiana (USA), 99th Fighter Squadron, 33rd Fighter Group, in North Africa. On Friday, 2 July 1943, Hall became the first USAAF pilot of African-Amcerican descent to shoot down an enemy plane, a German Focke-Wulf Fw 190.

Generally, in June 1941, during the North African Campaign, the British Commonwealth squadrons of the Western Desert Air Force became the first to use the P-40s in combat. The No. 112 Squadron Royal Air Force was the first allied unit to adopt the shark mouth logo.

The P-40s were a handful for German and Italian fighters at low and medium altitudes during the campaign in North Africa and were used for air superiority, a role which they played effectively.

curtiss p-40c
curtiss p-40c

American P-40s were engaged in their first combat in December 1941 in the Southwest Pacific. During an attack at Pearl Harbor, they gunned down several Japanese planes after a few P-40s managed to get airborne. However, the P-40s suffered heavy losses on the ground. Out of the 99 P-40s based in Hawaii during the event, only 25 survived.

The P-40s also performed in South East Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Italy, and Alaska.

American P-40s in formation
American P-40s in formation

Throughout their years in service, the P-40s were famed for producing over 200 aces from seven different Allied nations.

North Africa, c. 1943. A P-40 “Kittybomber” of No. 450 Squadron RAAF, loaded with six 250 lb (110 kg) bombs
North Africa, c. 1943. A P-40 “Kittybomber” of No. 450 Squadron RAAF, loaded with six 250 lb (110 kg) bombs

 

A Kittyhawk Mk III of No. 112 Squadron RAF, taxiing at Medenine, Tunisia, in 1943. A ground crewman on the wing is directing the pilot, whose view ahead is hindered by the aircraft’s nose.
A Kittyhawk Mk III of No. 112 Squadron RAF, taxiing at Medenine, Tunisia, in 1943. A ground crewman on the wing is directing the pilot, whose view ahead is hindered by the aircraft’s nose.

 

By mid-1943, the USAAF was phasing out the P-40F (pictured); the two nearest aircraft, “White 116” and “White 111” were flown by the aces 1Lt Henry E. Matson and 1Lt Jack Bade, 44th FS, at the time part of AirSols, on Guadalcanal.
By mid-1943, the USAAF was phasing out the P-40F (pictured); the two nearest aircraft, “White 116” and “White 111” were flown by the aces 1Lt Henry E. Matson and 1Lt Jack Bade, 44th FS, at the time part of AirSols, on Guadalcanal.

 

Military Aviation Museum P-40 Warhawk on the ramp of Dekalb Peachtree City Airport for the 2015 Atlanta Warbird Weekend. Photo by Tony Granata Photography.
Military Aviation Museum P-40 Warhawk on the ramp of Dekalb Peachtree City Airport for the 2015 Atlanta Warbird Weekend. Photo by Tony Granata Photography.

 

George Iles (third from left), circled, with fellow Tuskegee Airmen and a CurtissP-40 Warhawk.
George Iles (third from left), circled, with fellow Tuskegee Airmen and a Curtiss
P-40 Warhawk.

 

A three-quarter view of a P-40B, X-804 (s/n 39-184) in flight. This aircraft served with an advanced training unit at Luke Field, Arizona.
A three-quarter view of a P-40B, X-804 (s/n 39-184) in flight. This aircraft served with an advanced training unit at Luke Field, Arizona.

 

P-40B G-CDWH at Duxford 2011. It is the only airworthy P-40B in the world and the only survivor from the Pearl Harbor attack. By Tony Hisgett CC BY 2.0
P-40B G-CDWH at Duxford 2011. It is the only airworthy P-40B in the world and the only survivor from the Pearl Harbor attack. By Tony Hisgett CC BY 2.0

 

By mid-1943, the USAAF was superseding the P-40F (pictured); the two nearest aircraft, “White 116” and “White 111” were flown by the aces 1Lt Henry E. Matson and 1Lt Jack Bade, 44th FS
By mid-1943, the USAAF was superseding the P-40F (pictured); the two nearest aircraft, “White 116” and “White 111” were flown by the aces 1Lt Henry E. Matson and 1Lt Jack Bade, 44th FS

 

Top to Bottom: P-40 F/L, P-40K Warhawk.
Top to Bottom: P-40 F/L, P-40K Warhawk.

 

A P-40E-1 piloted by the ace Keith “Bluey” Truscott, commander of No. 76 Squadron RAAF, taxis along Marsden Matting at Milne Bay, New Guinea in September 1942.
A P-40E-1 piloted by the ace Keith “Bluey” Truscott, commander of No. 76 Squadron RAAF, taxis along Marsden Matting at Milne Bay, New Guinea in September 1942.

 

A USAAF Curtiss P-40K-10-CU, serial number 42-9985, c. 1943.
A USAAF Curtiss P-40K-10-CU, serial number 42-9985, c. 1943.

 

In the vicinity of Moore Field, Texas. The lead ship in a formation of P-40s is peeling off for the “attack” in a practice flight at the US Army Air Forces advanced flying school.
In the vicinity of Moore Field, Texas. The lead ship in a formation of P-40s is peeling off for the “attack” in a practice flight at the US Army Air Forces advanced flying school.

 

P-40N 44-7369.
P-40N 44-7369.

 

The only Finnish Warhawk in 1944. This aircraft was a former Soviet P-40M (known as Silver 23).
The only Finnish Warhawk in 1944. This aircraft was a former Soviet P-40M (known as Silver 23).

 

Soviet Warhawk in 1942.
Soviet Warhawk in 1942.

 

Curtiss P-40N Warhawk “Little Jeanne” in flight. By Rror CC BY-SA 3.0
Curtiss P-40N Warhawk “Little Jeanne” in flight. By Rror CC BY-SA 3.0

 

Hawk 81A-3/Tomahawk IIb AK255, at the U.S. National Museum of Naval Aviation, is shown in the colors of the Flying Tigers, but never actually served with them; it began life with the RAF and was later transferred to the Soviet Union. By Jasdulan CC BY-SA 3.0
Hawk 81A-3/Tomahawk IIb AK255, at the U.S. National Museum of Naval Aviation, is shown in the colors of the Flying Tigers, but never actually served with them; it began life with the RAF and was later transferred to the Soviet Union. By Jasdulan CC BY-SA 3.0

 

P-40K 42-10256 in Aleutian “Tiger” markings.By SmiertSpionem CC BY-SA 3.0
P-40K 42-10256 in Aleutian “Tiger” markings.
By SmiertSpionem CC BY-SA 3.0

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Armourers working on a Tomahawk Mk.II from No. 3 Squadron RAAF in North Africa, 23 December 1941.
Armourers working on a Tomahawk Mk.II from No. 3 Squadron RAAF in North Africa, 23 December 1941.