‘The best second-best fighter of the war,’ the Curtiss P-40 was praised by one of America’s top P-40 aces Gen. Robert Lee Scott Jr as, “Damned by words but flown into glory“. USAAF’s front-line fighter of 1941, P-40s were outperformed by European designs with high-altitude engines, and by Japanese fighters with maximum weighs being less than a P-40 weighed empty. The P-40 (sequentially named Tomahawk, Kittyhawk and Warhawk by the British) was not a bad fighter. Actually it was an excellent airframe that performed as designed, but hobbled by a low-altitude air combat concept overtaken by the high-altitude revolution of WW2.
Thus the P-40 got a bad reputation from the first day of the war on. Bad deployment and plain bad luck saw P-40s destroyed en masse on the ground, while bad employment found surprised and outnumbered P-40s savaged in the air. Still, the few that did engage gave a good accounting of themselves against the experienced combat pilots of Imperial Japan, arguably the world’s best fighter pilots flying the world’s best air superiority fighters.
Despite its obsolescence, when employing proper tactics capitalizing on its strengths and avoiding those of its opponents (like any competent fighter pilot would), P-40s were very dangerous to any opponent. The P-40 with its Allison engine was a tough bird to kill, and many outfought pilots survived to fight again; their learning curve was sharp during the hard lessons. P-40 pilots fought over the Pacific Theater of Operations (PTO) into 1945. Their machine guns shot 655 Japanese aircraft from the sky, creating thirty-two pure P-40 aces. Their airfields were hacked from steaming pestilent jungles, scrapped across barren coral specks in the world’s biggest ocean, and buffeted by the treacherous Northern Pacific weather on desolate volcanic islands; the bare necessities of life were frequently scarce. While not at the end of the finite supply line like their Warhawk brethren in the CBI (China, India, Burma), supply problems hounded them.
In the December 1941 Philippine skies a handful of survivors carried out a guerrilla war for months, and there 1Lt Boyd “Buzz” Wagner became America’s first ace. While planeless P-40 pilots in the Philippines were fighting as infantry, the USAAF 17th Pursuit Sqd (Provisional) began figuring out how to fight the P-40 over Java. That P-40 force developed an early warning system; unable to catch them on the ground, the Japanese shot down seventeen of the P-40s but lost forty-nine of their own (confirmed).
Java ultimately was lost to the Japanese, but the P-40 force had learned to fight effectively. They next held the Japanese over Darwin, Australia, where the famed 49th Fighter Group was formed. P-40s then helped stop the Japanese drive across New Guinea, thence transition to offensive operations in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. Over the Solomons a USAAF P-40 unit (equipped with Merlin powered P-40Fs), the 44th FS became the highest scoring unit in the USAAF during the summer and autumn of 1943, running up a string of victories comparable to the famed F4U Corsair equipped Black Sheep of the Marine Corps.
Rarely did 7th AF’s unique sand colored-P-40 pilots find air combat over the central Pacific, but plenty of overwater flights seasoned them for long range P-51 escort duties to Japan. Their one big air battle severely trounced IJN Zero pilots.
P-40 pilots also fought a war against nature to battle the Japanese in the Aleutian Islands. No aces were made in what is considered by many as the harshest operating theater for any air force.
Authored by Carl Molesworth, 25-year fighter-writer with several previous titles for Osprey, P-40 Warhawk Aces of the Pacific is packed with engaging descriptions, contemplative facts, and interesting details in 96 pages. Combat reports and personal narratives fill the book. Pilots’ accounts bring their war to life. Almost every page features at least one photograph, many revealing fascinating detail for the modeler and historian. PTO P-40s sported a plethora of camouflage and markings: complex white stripe patterns, solid white tails, leading edge bands and the full range of national insignia. Contours of the big nose was a perfect canvas for impressive nose art, including the stunning Aleutian Tiger design.
Osprey’s signature format is followed within. Color profiles of 41 aircraft are the usual exceptional artwork by Jim Laurier. Line art provides a four-view of the P-40E and six profiles of the major P-40 models. An appendices includes a list of aces who flew the P-40, and a list of victories by each P-40 unit. Five chapters, an introduction and the appendices guide you through the story:
Chapter 1, OPENING SHOTS
Chapter 2, BACKS AGAINST THE WALL
Chapter 3, THE NEW GUINEA CAMPAIGN
Chapter 4, AT WAR IN THE ISLANDS
Chapter 5, THE FORGOTTEN FRONT
Appendices, Pilot and unit scores
Pilots flying the last of Curtiss’ famous line of fighters held the line in the darkest days of the Pacific war. Their mount was inferior in performance in most envelopes to the opposition’s Zeros, Hayabushas, Heins and Shokis. Learning and adapting, applying lessons quickly learned, P-40s helped shoot Imperial Japan’s air forces from the sky, creating many aces and accounting for a significant portion of USAAF’s PTO kills.
Highs: Excellent illustrations, plentiful photographs, brief historical overviews, pilot interviews and statements, interesting lists of data.Lows: No maps with which to orient oneself. I would appreciate a chart comparing the P-40's performance with that of its enemies.Verdict: This is yet another excellent offering from Osprey. Fans of the P-40 and PTO air operations need to add this work to their libraries. Recommended.I thank the wonderful people at Osprey Publishing for assisting me with this book to review.
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About Frederick Boucher (JPTRR) FROM: TENNESSEE, UNITED STATES
I'm a professional pilot with a degree in art.
My first model was an AMT semi dump truck. Then Monogram's Lunar Lander right after the lunar landing. Next, Revell's 1/32 Bf-109G...cried havoc and released the dogs of modeling!
My interests--if built before 1900, or after 1955, then I proba...