History Friday: Deconstructing the P-51 Mustang Historical Narrative

One of the things that pops up again and again in researching World War 2 (WW2) is how certain “narratives” get established in the historical record. Narratives that often are no where near the ground truth found in primary source documents of the time, but serves the bureaucratic “powers that be” in post-war budget battles. These narrative are repeated over and over again by historians without validating these narrative against either that theater’s original wartime documents or those of other military theaters. That is why I said the following:

“Reality lives in the details. You have to know enough of the details to know what is vital and to be able to use good judgement as to which histories are worthwhile and which are regurgitated pap.

Today’s column will take that “Reality lives in the details” methodology, modify it slightly, as I did in my 12 July 2013 column “History Friday — MacArthur’s Fighter Drop Tanks,” and use it for “Deconstructing the P-51 Mustang Historical Narrative” that emerged from the American strategic bombing campaign in World War 2.

The narrative of the P-51 is how it won the air war over Europe through the accidental combination of private venture American airframe technology and the Merlin engine of the British Spitfire, which was championed by a Anglo-American guerrilla clique of fighter pilots, government bureaucrats and politicians over the anti-British, not invented here, USAAF procurement bureaucracy. Figure one below is the official historical narrative for the P-51 Mustang in a range/performance map.

(NOTE: Left clicking on each figure three times will cause the original image of each figure to appear on your monitor.)

FIGHTER RANGE MAP -- Paul Kennedy's "Engineers of Victory"
Figure 1: FIGHTER RANGE MAP — from Paul Kennedy’s “Engineers of Victory”

This P-51 versus other fighter range/performance graph comes from page 128 of a chapter titled “How to Win Command The Air” in Paul Kennedy’s recent book “Engineers of Victory.” It from the official victory narrative of the US Army Air Force Heavy Bomber Clique, the so-called “Bomber Mafia.” which was the leadership faction of bomber pilots that controlled the USAAF, lead the fight over Europe and the founded the US Air Force as a separate military service.

You see versions of that chart through out post war institutional histories like Wesley Frank Craven and James Lea Cate’s, six volume “The Army Air Force in World War II,” and more recent works like the 1992 Richard G. Davis biography, “Carl A. Spaatz and the Air War in Europe” (See figure 2 below the fold).

It also happens that, when you drill down to the wartime source documents, the “P-51 narrative” that map represents is a very good example of selectively telling the truth to create a complete fabrication. A fabrication meant to hide those same bomber pilot generals from political accountability for their leadership failures. Roughly 2/3 of all battle deaths the USAAF suffered in WW2 were in Europe during the strategic bombing campaign. It was a statistically true statement to say a U.S. Army combat infantryman in North Africa, Sicily and Italy, from late 1942-to-winter 1944 had a greater chance of surviving combat than a B-17 crewman of the 8th Air Force.

Most of those deaths were demonstrably unnecessary.

The Battle of Britain in 1940 made clear that killing enemy fighter pilots faster than well trained replacements can arrive is how one achieves air superiority. The key innovation that created air superiority over Europe wasn’t the technical and organization triumph that Kennedy describes with the introduction of the P-51 into combat. It was a _doctrinal change_ that allowed the use of existing fighters with droppable auxiliary fuel tanks. Fighters with drop tanks were used in three shifts to cover the bomber formations during a. Penetration of enemy air space, b. At the target area and c. During withdrawal, too which the long range P-51 was added. The three shift fighter escort doctrine allowed USAAF fighters to drop fuel tanks and dog fight for 30 minutes with full engine power with German fighters, while still protecting the bombers. Enemy fighters that attacked American fighters were not attacking US bombers, and enemy pilots dying in such fights did not come back to kill anything.

Recognition of the need for this doctrinal change was only possible after the Bomber Mafia’s Air Corps Tactical School (ACTS) approved self-escorting heavy bomber doctrine failed the test of combat during the 14 Oct 1943 Schweinfurt–Regensburg mission over Southern Germany.

FIGHTER RANGE CHART 10 -- "Carl A. Spaatz and the Air War in Europe"
Figure 2: FIGHTER RANGE Map 10 — Source “Carl A. Spaatz and the Air War in Europe

Historical and Institutional Background
The interwar Bomber Mafia was a very effective bureaucratic clique in the US Army. It was ruthless in defeating bureaucratic opponents, competent within its technical field, willing to lie for a “higher purpose” and unified in it’s drive for that higher purpose, creating an independent air force based upon the heavy bomber. It did have a glaring organizational weakness in that it did not acknowledge that air-power was as much a combined-arms form of combat as ground or naval warfare and this blinded them to the threat from Axis fighters to their heavy bombers.

General Elwood “Pete” Quesada, an American fighter pilot who ultimately became the commander of the Ninth Fighter Command said the following about USAAF — and by extension the Bomber Mafia’s — WW2 bombing doctrine:

“There was almost an ignorant disregard of the requirement of air superiority. It was generally felt, without a hell of a lot of thought being given to it, that if there should occur an air combat …it would occur at the target.”

(By the way, this institutional weakness regards a combined-arms approach to air-power is duplicated by the current USAF fighter pilot general successors to the “Bomber Mafia” in dealing with things like surface to air missiles, close air support of ground forces, long range infrared seeking missiles as a threat to stealth fighters and the need for electronic warfare in general.)

During the interwar period the “Bomber Mafia” was consolidating control inside the Army Air Service, pouring most of the limited development funds into bombers and the B-17 in particular. This lead to a number of decisions by USAAF Chief of Staff H. H. “Hap” Arnold to suppress the capability of “Pursuit” (AKA fighter aircraft) to reduce budget competition with bombers. In February 1939 Arnold forbid the development of a 52 gallon drop tank for the P-36 fighter because of “safety reasons”…and because a fuel tank rack that had a 52 gallon fuel tank could carry a 300lb bomb. (See Boylan and Eslinger excerpts in Notes & Source section)

“Reality lives in the detail” Methodology Applied
While early versions of the P-38, P-39, P-40, and P-47 — like the P-36 — were all proscribed from having auxiliary fuel drop tanks “because they might be used inappropriately”. These drop tanks were still offered to other customers by American aircraft manufacturers. According to Benjamin Kelsey (eventually a USAF general and a major player in WW2 USAAF Fighter development) in his book “THE DRAGON’S TEETH? — The Creation of United States Airpower in World War II,” the US Navy insisted their aircraft all have that capability. Point in fact the 165 gallon standard P-38 drop tank pictured in Figure 3 below was developed for the Lockheed PV-1, called the Hudson by the British, which was the US Navy version of the Lockheed Ventura twin engine commercial transport. On February 20, 1942 General Arnold reversed himself and ordered the development and use of drop tanks on fighters, according to Kelsey, for the purpose of ferrying them to the U.K. This is why successful drop tank designs were available when the USAAF Bomber Clique Generals finally discovered how desperately they were needed after the Schweinfurt–Regensburg mission.

The 165 Gallon Lockheed Drop Tank in Front of a P-38 Lightning Fighter dated Nov 1943
Figure 3: A 165 Gallon Lockheed Drop Tank in front of a P-38 Lightning Fighter

In looking in detail at the fighter range maps from Kennedy, Davis, Craven and Crates for the fighter range extension from the Lockheed 165 gal. tank, which was used in 1943 on both the Battle of the Bismark Sea and on the Yamamoto Assassination Raid in the Pacific, you just don’t see them in Europe.

When you trace back to the original source document “EIGHTH AIR FORCE TACTICAL DEVELOPMENT AUGUST 1942-MAY 1945” on page 97, you see figure 4 below:


The text and the charts on page 97 talk about 75 gallon, 108 gallon (both paper and metal) and 150 gallon drop tanks. Nowhere do you see the 165 gallon Lockheed drop tank on the wing stations of either the P-38 or the P-47. Nowhere do you see the 200 gallon US and 210 Gallon UK belly tanks used in combat by the P-47. You also don’t see any wing tank plus belly tank combinations for the P-47. Nor do you see the 310 gallon ferry tank used by the 13th Air Force P-38’s in _April 1943_ to shoot down Admiral Yamamoto. (See Rex T. Barber link in notes).

That the Bomber Mafia was hiding the full range capabilities of both the P-38 and P-47, compared to the post-war P-51 narrative, is easily demonstrated in terms of wartime photographic evidence.

P-47 200-gal Ferry Tank
Figure 5: The P-47 200 gallon, belly mounted, ferry tank like those used used in the first August 1944 Schweinfurt mission. They were only filled with 100 gallons of fuel operationally. — Source page 15 “P-47 Thunderbolt in Action” Aircraft Number 67, Squadron/signal Publications
P-47 ETO Belly & Wing Tanks
Figure 6: Three 345th FS, 350th FG, P-47D-27 Thunderbolts with two wing mounted 110 gallon and one belly mounted 75 gallon drop tanks — Source “THUNDERBOLT: a documentary history of the Republic P-47”
P-47 w-UK 215 Gal metal drop tank
Figure 7: UK 210 gallon flat belly tank mounted on the wing pylons of a 50th FG P-47 — Source “THUNDERBOLT: a documentary history of the Republic P-47”
Figure 8: A 1943 ferry flight of a P-47D in Iceland with the early 150-Gallon version of the Lockheed drop tank, later uprated to 165 Gallons. — Page 16 “P-47 Thunderbolt in Action” Aircraft Number 67, Squadron/signal Publications”

And with post-WW2 P-47 aviation modeling hobbyist books that detail some of the profiles of drop tanks used by the P-47’s in Europe:

Drop Tanks for P-47
Figure 9: Side profiles of five belly and wing drop tanks for the P-47 Thunderbolt — Source “P-47 Thunderbolt in Action” Aircraft Number 67, Squadron/Signal Publications

Next, lets make an “apples to apples” comparison of European Strategic Bombing campaign fighter operations to the much smaller Far Eastern Air Forces (FEAF) Fall 1944 strategic bombing campaign against the Balikpapan oil refinery in Borneo. The P-38’s and P-47’s in MacArthur’s Southwest Pacific Area (SWPA) were using the “Yamamoto raid” P-38 wing tank combination and the P-47 used a both wing plus belly tank combination in long range strategic bombing operations out to 720 miles radius of action. The following is from Major John G. Bunnell’s “Knockout Blow? The Army Air Force’s Operations Against Ploesti and Balikpapan,” on fighter drop tank modifications for the FEAF’s 10 October 1944 Balikpapan oil refinery mission

page 76

This, however, was still not enough; the straight-line distance from the allied closest forward strip, Morotai, was 720 nautical miles.297 The answer came from Far East Service Command. Directed to extend the range of fighters even farther, they proposed equipping the P-38s with a novel drop tank configuration. Rather than fly with the standard load of two 165-gallon tanks, the P-38’s carried one 165-gallon tank and one 310-gallon ferry tank. while two 310-gallon tanks would have unacceptably overloaded the aircraft, the asymmetrical tank configuration provided acceptable flight characteristics and the necessary range. The P-38 pilots drained the 310-gallon tank first, then dropped it to increase speed and fuel efficiency. The P-38s could retain the small 165-gallon tank during combat operations or could drop it if they needed to maneuver aggressively.298
FEAF applied similar concepts to its P-47s. Luckily, the AAF had recently equipped the 35thH Fighter Group with new P-47D-28 aircraft. The design of these bubble-canopy P-47s increased internal fuel capacity from 305 TO 370 gallons.299 to this internal fuel, the 35th added one 165-gallon external drop tank to each wing and a 75-gallon tank to the belly. Even though he was not qualified in the P-47, Lindbergh visited the 35th Fighter Group at Nadzab, New Guinea, giving the pilots a “highly technical” talk on how to extend their range.300 Although the P-47 did not offer the same loiter time as the P-38, the Thunderbolts could still fly to Balikpapan, spend twenty-five minutes over the target, and return. This flight profile enabled the 35th Fighter Group to accomplish pre-strike fighter sweeps over Borneo.301

Finally, if you dig deeply into the Appendix B “MAJOR MODIFICATIONS TO AIRCRAFT AND EQUIPMENT” of “EIGHTH AIR FORCE TACTICAL DEVELOPMENT AUGUST 1942-MAY 1945” you will see Figure 5 below:


Which has the following passage from page 10-B:

The standard Lockheed 165 gallon belly tank was the equipment for P-38s in operations in this theater.

The fact that the text on page 97 mentioned, and shows only P-38 range with 108 gallon wing drop tanks, while the appendix on fighter modifications states that the P-38 used nothing but the Lockheed 150/165 gallon drop tanks can only be called malicious deceit. A deceit meant to cover up wartime mistakes of Bomber Mafia generals from post-war public accountability.

Defining Deceit & Post War Motivations
To understand how maliciously deceitful the Bomber Mafia was in writing that passage requires a copy of a 31 Oct 1944 US Army Air Force document titled “A HISTORY OF THE VIII U.S.A.A.F. FIGHTER COMMAND,” which was written by the “A-2” or intelligence officer of the 66th Fighter Wing. “Chapter VIII Belly Tanks” of the report on pages 210 thru 239 is a blow by blow development history of fighter drop tanks in Britain drawn from 8th Air Force weekly reports and commander conference minutes that names the senior Bomber Mafia Generals and their wartime thinking and priorities. It also provides line and bar graph plates detailing fighter performance under two mission profiles, escort during penetration/withdrawal and escort at the target. Plate No. XII from “History of the 8th Fighter Command, 31 Oct 1944” (See Fig. 10 below) is highly instructive on wartime drop tank use in the 8th Air Force:

Figure 10: Plate No. XII Fighter Escort Mission Profiles– Source “History of the 8th Fighter Command” 31 Oct 1944

This line-range figure shows that;

1. A P-38J with a pair of 150 gallon fuel tanks out ranged the P-51B with two 75 gallon fuel tanks
2. That the 150 gallon fuel tank was the only drop tank for P-38H or P-38J, and
3. That the P-47 used a pair of them very often.

Even worse, as far as Bomber Mafia deceit is concerned, are two Bomber General names that stand out on pages 222 – 224 drawn from a 14 June 1943 commander’s conference minutes.

First, a General Newton Longfellow is paraphrased as saying the following regards the need for long range fighter escort:

“…bombers could get to the target without protection but would need long range escorts for the withdrawal!”

Longfellow may well have been the poster boy for General Quesada’s “…almost an ignorant disregard of the requirement of air superiority.” comment. The author of “History of the 8th Fighter Command” was even more acid about Longfellow’s comment with bomber loss and target abort numbers to back it up.

Second, the commanding general of 8th Air Force, General Ira Clarence Eaker, stated the command priorities of were to be as follows:

1. Bomber Objectives (regardless of cost),
2. Employment of Tactical Air Force,
3. Support of build up of aircraft, replacement and maintenance, and
4. Auxiliary fuel tanks for P-47

Third, on page 225, a Washington DC USAAF Headquarters message suggests to General Eaker that using B-26 Marauder Medium Bombers as long range fighter escorts for 8th Air Force heavy bombers was a good option.

So, in the summer of 1943 long range fighter escorts _were not_ a top priority for the USAAF Bomber Mafia. They thought that the bombers would get through with few losses to German fighters and that long range escort fighter coverage was only needed to cover cripples from anti-aircraft gunfire — “Flak” — on the way home from the target. And that someone in General H. H. “Hap” Arnold’s headquarters, perhaps even Arnold himself, was seriously unclear on the concept of long range FIGHTER escort.

As I have clearly demonstrated above, the Bomber Mafia had a lot good “anatomy covering” reasons to push the “P-51 Narrative” at the expense of the reputation of both the P-38 and the P-47. I highly recommend Dr Carlo Kopp’s “Der Gabelschwanz Teufel – Assessing the Lockheed P-38 Lightning,” Technical Report APA-TR-2010-1201 for further issues with the “Bomber Mafia’s” leadership decisions and doctrinal problems. The impact of the Bomber General’s insistence on repeating Goering’s mistaken 1940 “stick with the bombers” close escort tactics with the P-38 is detailed by Dr. Kopp in the sources and notes excerpt below.

There were also two additional budget related high command issues in the “P-51 Narrative” that are often overlooked by modern historians.

First, the P-51 cost a lot less than either the P-38 or P-47. It was cheaper to buy, cheaper to operate, cheaper to maintain, and being easy to fly, it was cheaper to train pilots on. A rough order of magnitude cost comparison was for every three P-38s or P-47s, you could buy five P-51 Mustangs for the same price with a much deeper stock of spare parts per plane, with an easier to maintain aircraft.

Second, the Ultra code breaking that announced arrival of German fighter jets to squadron service in late 1943 meant that every propeller aircraft in the world was obsolete, including the P-51. Propeller planes would be replaced by jets after the war. If propeller planes were going to be 2nd line aviation post-war, the cheaper to operate, the better. That made the “P-51 narrative” budget friendly, as well as career friendly, for a heavy (jet) bomber dominated independent air force after the war.

So now you know why “Reality lives in the details.” You have to know enough of the details to know which are vital, so you can use your good judgement to determine which histories are worthwhile.

Sources and Notes:
1) American missions against Balikpapan and Balikpapan Harbor
February 3, 1942 – July 11, 1945
http://www.pacificwrecks.com/airfields/indonesia/manggar/missions-balikpapan.html Accessed 9/21/2013

2) APPENDIX B “MAJOR MODIFICATIONS TO AIRCRAFT AND EQUIPMENT” of “EIGHTH AIR FORCE TACTICAL DEVELOPMENT AUGUST 1942-MAY 1945” Prepared by Eighth Air Force and Army Air Forces Evaluation Board (European Theater of Operations) page 10 B

3) Rex T. Barber, Hero of the Yamamoto Mission, 18th Fighter Wing Association
http://web.archive.org/web/20100113104542/http://www.18thfwa.org/statusReports/srpt25/page3.html Accessed 12 July 2013

4) Bernard Lawrence Boylan, “The Development of the American Long Range Escort Fighter” (Ph.D. diss., University of Missouri, 1955) later published as USAF Historical Study No. 136. USAF Historical Division, Research Studies Institute, Air University, September 1955
Page 46

In February, 1939, Curtiss-Wright suggested to the Air Corps that it might be interested in testing a 52-gallon tank which could be mounted on the bomb rack of a P-36C. The company offered to build such a tank for experimental purposes and to provide the connection with the main tank. The Materiel Command accepted the offer in March, but in April OCAC (Note – Officer Commanding, Air Corps) questioned use of an external tank because of the fire hazard. The plea of Materiel command that the tank was only experimental was not overruled at first, but in May the Chief of the Air Corps directed that no tactical plane be equipped with a droppable fuel tank.

5) MAJOR JOHN G. BUNNELL “Knockout Blow? The Army Air Force’s Operations Against Ploesti and Balikpapan,” June 2005 Air University,School of Advanced Air and Space Studies,325 Chennault Circle,Maxwell AFB,AL,36112, Approved for public release; distribution unlimited www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?AD=ADA477018

6) Richard G. Davis, “Carl A. Spaatz and the air war in Europe” C 1992 ISBN 0-912799-75-7 (casebound).–ISBN 0-912799-77-3 (perfect bound) Superintendent of Documents, US. Government Printing Office, Washington. D.C. 20402, Chart 10 www.afhso.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-101012-035.pdf‎

7) “EIGHTH AIR FORCE TACTICAL DEVELOPMENT AUGUST 1942-MAY 1945” Prepared by Eighth Air Force and Army Air Forces Evaluation Board (European Theater of Operations) http://archive.org/details/EighthAirForce00 page 97

8) Robert A. Eslinger , “THE NEGLECT OF LONG–RANGE ESCORT DEVELOPMENT DURING THE INTERWAR YEARS (1918–1943)”, 1997 (E-book) and 2012 (Paper) ISBN-13: 978-1249415558, http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a393237.pdf

Drop Tanks
Adding external fuel tanks to existing pursuit aircraft seemed like a logical solution to extending pursuit range. Making the tanks dropable in flight preserved maneuverability and performance when required for combat. Experiments with dropable fuel tanks had been conducted throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s. The greatest concern about drop tanks was the hazard of fire. In February 1939, Curtiss–Wright wanted to test a 52–gallon tank mounted on the bomb rack of a P–36C, but the “Chief of the Air Corps directed that no tactical plane be equipped with a dropable fuel tank” because of the potential for fires.18″

9) Roger Freeman, “THUNDERBOLT: a documentary history of the Republic P-47,” C 1978, Charles Scribner’s Sons ISBN: 0-648-16331-4

10) Thomas E. Griffith, “MacArthur’s Airman: General George C. Kenney and the Air War in the Southwest Pacific Theater in World War II,” November 1998, Univ Press of Kansas, ISBN-13: 978-0700609093, page 280 http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?Location=U2&doc=GetTRDoc.pdf&AD=ADA311551

When the P-47s finally arrived in Australia they did not have droppable external fuel tanks to extend their range. Without those they could not fly far enough to accomplish any missions in the theater. According to Kenney, “this airplane must have extra gas to go anywhere.16 Although a drop tank had been developed in the United States, Kenney thought it “junk” and ordered a prototype 200 gallon tank constructed locally and then contracted with Ford of Australia for mass production. 17 Kenney also suggested that the radio equipment be moved from behind the pilot and the compartment then converted into a forty-gallon fuel tank. 18

11) LT. COL. WALDO H. HEINRICHS, A.C., A.U.S.,, INTELLIGENCE OFFICER (A-2) 66TH FIGHTER WING “A HISTORY OF THE VIII U.S.A.A.F. FIGHTER COMMAND,” WITH A FOREWORD BY MAJOR-GENERAL WILLIAM E. KEPNER, COMMANDING GENERAL, dtd 31 OCT 1944, link: http://cgsc.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/compoundobject/collection/p4013coll8/id/317/rec/116 Accessed 9/21/2013

12) Benjamin S. Kelsey, “THE DRAGON’S TEETH? — The Creation of United States Airpower in World War II,” C 1980 Smithsonian Institute Press, Washington D.C. ISBN 0-87474-574-8

13) Paul Kennedy, “Engineers of Victory — The Problem Solvers Who turned The Tide in The Second World War,” C 2013, Random House, New York, ISBN 978-1-4000-6761-9. page 128

14) George C. Kenney, “General Kenney Reports: A Personal History of the Pacific War (USAF Warrior Studies),” C January 1, 1987 2nd edition, ISBN-13: 978-0912799445

page 66
August-September 1942

I know what he meant. He was right. We were not going to make hits until we could keep those bullets out of the bombardier’s cockpit. That new vitamin he wanted was fighter cover. We didn’t guess very well when we designed our fighters with insufficient range to do the job in the Pacific where distance was the main commodity. As soon as I could get those P-38s with their extra range and maybe add some more with droppable tanks hung under the wings, that kid and the rest of them would get their new vitamins.

Page 73
August-September 1942

Twenty-five P-38s, the first of the fifty promised me by General Arnold, arrived by boat at Brisbane. I sent word to Connell to come north from Melbourne, take charge of setting them up, and work twenty-four hours a day on the job. Also to give the Australian sheet-metal industry a contract to make about 10,000 150-gallon droppable gas tanks to hang under the wings so that we could extend the range.

Page 264
June-August, 1943

I then went out to Eagle Farms, where the erection was to be done, and found that no droppable fuel tanks had come with the P-47s. Without the extra gas carried in these tanks, the P-47 did not have enough range to get into the war. I wired Arnold to send me some right away, by air if possible. About a week later we received two samples. Neither held enough fuel, they both required too many alterations to install, and they both were difficult to release in an emergency. We designed and built one of our own in two days. It tested satisfactorily from every angle and could be installed in a matter of minutes without making any changes in the airplane. I put the Ford Company of Australia to work making them. We had solved that problem but it would be another month before we could use the P-47s in combat.

15) Dr Carlo Kopp, AFAIAA, SMIEEE, PEng, “Der Gabelschwanz Teufel – Assessing the Lockheed P-38 Lightning,” Technical Report APA-TR-2010-1201. December, 2010, Updated April, 2012 http://www.ausairpower.net/P-38-Analysis.html Accessed 12 May 2013

This passage is from the Kopp link above —

Capt. Heiden makes some further interesting observations.
“The P-51 was a new airplane and we were eager to fly it and were happy with it. It was so easy and comfortable to fly. The P-38 had kept us on our toes and constantly busy–far more critical to fly. You never could relax with it. We were disappointed with the 51′s rate of climb and concerned with the reverse stick, especially if fuel was in the fuselage tank, the rash of rough engines from fouled plugs, and cracked heads which dumped the coolant. With the 38 you could be at altitude before landfall over the continent, but with the 51 you still had a lot of climbing yet to do. The 38 was an interceptor and if both engines (were healthy), you could outclimb any other airplane, and that’s what wins dog fights. When you are in a dog fight below tree tops, it is way more comfortable in a 38 with its power and stall characteristics and, for that matter at any altitude.”
To summarize the performance of the P-38 in the 8th AF, Capt Heiden notes:
“Aug 43, 8thAF has retrieved some Bomber Gps and has several original Spitfire/P-47 FGs. Two P-38 FGs, 1-P-51 FG that will not be operational till late Oct and have to workout tactics and maintenance problems, which all are severe. Highly inadequate supply of A/C.”
“Nov. 43, P-38Hs and P-51Bs beginning ops, find themselves in a climate environment none had experienced before and a superior opponent with 10 times the numbers. Forced to take the bombers to, over and withdraw them. Lucky to get half of what they had to the target after aborts/early returns. Sometimes as few as four fighters made it to target under attack continuously going and coming. Five minutes of METO power was planned into the profile. Meaning that if you fought over five minutes you wouldn’t make it home. Remember, you were being bounced continuously.”
“Feb 11, 44, 357thFG goes on Ops (P-51). 4thFG converts to P-51s. 2-weeks later and other groups are converting by end of Feb. Now fighter groups don’t have to go the whole to, over, and from target. The escort is now Penetration, Target, and Withdrawal, each leg is assigned to only one FG. and many operational problems are being resolved. Internal fuel on P-38s has been greatly increased with Wing and Leading edge tanks. P-47s are starting to get external fuel tanks.”
“The last half of 43 brought horrendous losses, had forced German manufacturing underground and had forced Germany to go to synthetic oil. This had increased the cost of war exponentially to the Germans.”
“Feb 44 we went back to Schwienfurt with acceptable loses. March 3rd the 20th & 55thFGs went to Berlin–Bombers were recalled. March, April, and May brought vicious battles, often with heavy loses. However, Germany were throwing their valuable flight instructors and 100hr students in to the battle. The Luftwaffe was at last starting to die.”
“The 8th was, at last, being flooded with Mustangs and well trained pilots. The Mustang was a delight to fly, easier to maintain cheaper to build and train pilots for, and had long legs. In those respects you can rightfully call it better, but it could not do anything better than a P-38J-25 or L. Just remember who took the war to the enemy and held on under inconceivable odds. Enough of the crap.”

16) Stephen Peter Rosen, “Winning the Next War: Innovation and the Modern Military,” C 1991 by Cornell University, ISBN 0-8014-2556-5
page 170:

The crucial innovation for the development of the long-range escort fighter, the introduction of the drop fuel tank, was initially blocked by the reasonable expectation that simple countermeasures could render the drop tanks useless.

17) Trent J. Telenko, “History Friday — MacArthur’s Fighter Drop Tanks,” 12 July 2013, https://chicagoboyz.net/archives/37362.html

30 thoughts on “History Friday: Deconstructing the P-51 Mustang Historical Narrative”

  1. Trent, the theme that comes through in all of these is the shameless falsification of the historical record by the military services to serve the bureaucratic ends of who ever was dominating the service at the time. The idea of an objective treatment of the war for the purpose of saving lives or achieving victory in the future was not an issue. The brutality of the American military in the services of bureaucratic goals, with no regard to human lives lost, is one of the most troubling aspects of all this. And the more you dig the more of it you find.

  2. Lex,

    The only real war for US flag ranks is the budget wars between shooting wars. It is what they are best adapted too because it occupies most of their careers.

    The defense budget war after WW2 was the most vicious in the history of the Republic due to the emergence of the a-bomb equipped US Air Force, it’s eclipse of the US Navy, and the move by the Truman Administration to abolish the USMC and fold it into the US Army.

    This is why the “narrative falsification” of the period was so extensive.

    Expect to similar things with the history of drones in the war on terror over the next few years.

  3. The P 38 had serious problems with flutter in the tail but once that was solved, the J model was at least the equal of the P 51. The twin engine configuration was better on long missions, like the Pacific. My cousin, who was a B 17 bombardier in North Africa, told me their escorts were “ME 109s and P 38s”.

  4. The book review and the discussions were very good and I plan to book mark them. Arthur Miller wrote a play called “All my sons,” which was about an industrialist who made a lot of money building poor plane engines. It’s been years since I saw it performed but I wonder if he had the Allison engine in mind when he wrote it.

  5. That was always a source of curiosity to me – the Spitfire – with a similar Merlin engine, had a combat radius of about 300 miles. I know the Mustang had a tank behind the pilot that cause a lot of CG problems until the fuel was burned.

    That plane was a flying gas tank until over Germany…

  6. This is General Eaker’s priority list:

    1. Bomber Objectives (regardless of cost),
    2. Employment of Tactical Air Force,
    3. Support of build up of aircraft, replacement and maintenance, and
    4. Auxiliary fuel tanks for P-47

    To play Devil’s advocate here, and because it’s possible you attribute a sort of willful ignorance on his part to this list, is it possible you don’t understand Eaker’s or Han Arnold’s outlook?

    From Eaker’s (and Arnold’s) point of view, every fuel dump we hit, or railroad junction we destroyed, or every factory we bombed, was that much less food or ammunition or fuel or materiel getting distributed to Axis troops and sustaining the Reich, not to mention killing American and Allied soldiers. He was, in essence, sacrificing those bombers and crews, no doubt. I surmise that in his mind he was trading those men and planes for the effects they achieved.

    I agree he was probably wrong, in that long range escorts allowed those bombers and crews to fight another day. But possibly he felt the escorts wouldn’t make a lot of difference in losses, and that keeping those bombers in spare parts and replaced was the most effective thing he could do to bring down Germany.

    Just trying to look at this from a different angle here.

  7. “But possibly he felt the escorts wouldn’t make a lot of difference in losses,”

    But he was wrong and there was evidence by 1943 that he was wrong. The “bomber generals” fought the transportation plan before Normandy.

    The submarine service and the USAAC had the highest numbers of killed, per thousand, and both were handicapped well into the war by near criminal mistakes by their services. The torpedo problem wasn’t solved until almost 1944. Ditto for the fighter escort matter.

    VXXC may have a point although LeMay solved the bombing problem in the Pacific by going low and using incendiaries. Of course, the Navy had shot the Japanese pilots out of the air. Japan’s pilot training system contributed. All that was left were Kamikazes. They took a toll on ships but had no effect on B 29s.

    The number of fighter aircraft and anti-aircraft guns assigned to defensive duties in the home islands was inadequate, and most of these aircraft and guns had difficulty reaching the high altitudes B-29s often operated at. Fuel shortages, inadequate pilot training and a lack of coordination between units also constrained the effectiveness of the fighter force.

    Even when the bombers came in low, they were almost immune from fighters.

  8. Your posts are just fantastic and I want you to know that your research is greatly appreciated. I always think I know a reasonable amount about a subject such as drop tanks and then it turns out I only know the conventional narrative which is often not 100% (or even close to that) correct.

  9. Michael Hiteshew.

    I wrote the following in my post:

    Third, on page 225, a Washington DC USAAF Headquarters message suggests to General Eaker that using B-26 Marauder Medium Bombers as long range fighter escorts for 8th Air Force heavy bombers was a good option.

    The seriousness with which that insane proposal was considered in June 1943,compared to P-47 drop tanks, can only be understood in context of the YB-40 — a B-17 “escort gunship” — being flown and failing in its assigned mission of protecting B-17s from German fighters from 29 May through 29 July 1943.

    There was no way that a YB-40 could possibly keep up with a unlaiden B-17 short of dropping its extra gun armament the same time that the bomber stream dropped its bombs.

    Even a cursory engineering analysis of bomber mission profiles would have show that before pencil was put to paper for the YB-40 modification drawings.

    Yet Eaker and the rest of the “Bomber Mafia” spent several precious months getting the YB-40 program going and deployed.

    Compare that act of “doctrinal desperation,” to get the self-escorting heavy bomber to work, compared to the official reason drop tanks were not used on escort fighters in combat from the start…that the Germans would hassle the fighter escorts with their own fighters and leave our bombers unescorted. (See Rosen excerpt in Sources and Notes above)

    This is another example of Queada’s comment about the Bomber Mafia’s thoughtless and ignorant disregard of air superiority. Fighter hassling fighters is called combat. And fighter combat means the fighters involved are not killing American bombers.

  10. I just went back and activated all the links in my Sources and Notes section so you all can read the source documents for yourself.

  11. Trivial (not to be a grammar nazi) :
    Historical and Institutional Background
    The interwar Bomber Mafia was a very effective bureaucratic clique in the US Army. It was ruthless in defeating bureaucratic opponents, competent within it’s technical field.

    “its” ;-)

  12. Tom,

    I went and read through those threads and they are pretty good ones in understanding WW2 fighter combat in support of the Strategic bombing campaign, if you exclude

    1. Logistics,
    2. Training,
    3. Doctrine, and
    4. Rules of engagement.

    In rough order, first, there was little on drop tanks and none of drop tank development issues. There was some mention of parts as related to superchargers versus turbochargers.

    Second, there was no mention of the fact that the P-38 was a multi-engine aircraft whose 8th Air Force pilots were thrown directly into combat on it without a multi-engine, tricycle landing gear, transition trainer.

    This also happened to the Martin B-26 pilots, after the first two groups were deployed, because multi-engine trainers were reserved strictly for 4-engine bombers from 1941 through late 1943. This was the big reason the B-26 was considered a “Widow-maker” as single engine “tail-dragger” trainers like the AT-6 Texan just were not adequate transition for a multi-engine tricycle gear plane.

    The P-38 had the ability to differentiate thrust between engines to get a much tighter turn, but you had to have multi-engine experience and time to practice the tactic before combat. The 8th Air Force P-38 groups never got that. The P-38 groups in the SWPA did.

    A P-38 using thrust differentiation in a climbing or diving right hand turn could not be followed by any single engine fighter in WW2. The single engine fighter planes had a gyroscopic effect from their turning propeller. The more power they used, the larger the force. The P-38 had counter rotating props so the more power it used, the more discretionary power it had in a right turn. It lost some of that discretionary power playing engine thrust games, but it was a much smaller percentage of its total energy budget.

    Third, the P-38 and P-47 suffered from the Eaker-Goering “close escort all the way to target and back” doctrine prior to Operation Pointblank. The P-38H only had 5-minutes of Military Emergency Power for the entire “Goering” mission profile. The change to a three shift escort doctrine allowed 25-minutes of military emergency power plus five minutes of War Emergency Power with water injection. When the P-38 was flying the target area support profile — as opposed to a penetration/withdrawal bomber support profile — it could fly lower to the target area then climb up to meet the bombers. This was true of all the fighters used in the ETO, but the P-38 benefited more from it with its touchy Allison/Turbocharger engines.

    Last, the rules of engagement change from being with the bombers to “kill German fighters where ever they are found” meant that there was no longer any sanctuary where German fighters, particularly the twin-engine rocket carrying Me-110, could build up large formations to overwhelm a bomber stream combat box through fighter escorts. American fighter could use the UK “Y-Service” radio intercept system to throw squadrons of fighters at German assembly areas. It also meant there was no safe training areas for German novice pilots starting in the late Spring of 1944 just as the American oil campaign was getting into full swing.

    That combination of no sanctuary, no fuel to train, and the onslaught of 250-to-300 hour training program Mustang pilots is what cause the “Lancaster Square collapse” of Luftwaffe fighter defenses by April-May 1944.

  13. Trent,

    You missed several things. North American Aviation and Rolls-Royce had PASSION about their products. Allison was dominated by GM’s bean-counter mentality and Lockheed’s corporate culture was adequate but not passionate. People meant far more here than you think. To some extent the USAAF favored companies with superior institutional cultures.

    The official numbers of P-38’s serving as long-range escorts in the 8th Air Force was very inaccurate due to the mechanical and operational issues Captain Heiden noted. It appears less than 10% of the P-38’s actually assigned to LR escort actually made it to the target area through March of 1944. I.e., P-51’s may have been launched in smaller numbers than P-38’s but composed the great majority of LR escorts in the target areas.

    This vast mechanical failure disparity between the number of LR escort sorties flown by P-38’s, and and the number which actually covered bombers over target areas, also means that facile comparisons of the number of sorties flown by LR escorts is a very misleading comparison of fighter type effectiveness.

    GM’s political veto of second-sourcing the P-38 so it could use Packard-built Merlins in the European theater was far more important in the P-38’s war record than most suspect.

  14. When I was a kid, there was a war movie called “Fighter Squadron” starring Edmund O’Brien and Robert Stack that was about the drop tank story with P 47s. I think it was the only movie my father went to that I can remember.

  15. Tom,

    The most important figure in the production of aircraft in the US during WW2 was in fact a long time General Motors senior executive.

    William Knudsen was the only man in US history to be appointed a lieutenant general in the US Army without ever having served previously in the military. He was a long time executive of General Motors, for which Allison was a division of and Packard was a direct competitor and Knudsen played a role in vetoing the change of the P-38 from an Allison engine to Packard-Merlins.

    Knudsen was President of Chevrolet from 1923 to 1937 and President of General Motors from 1937 to 1940. He joined the Roosevelt Administration in January 1941 as the Director General of the Office of Production Management. He was commissioned a lieutenant general in January 1942 and became the Director of the War Department’s Office of Production. He continued in the Office of Production Management, serving on its policy board, which went through a few iterations before it became the War Production Board.

    Knudsen’s first task as the Director General of OPM was to find locations to build Roosevelt’s planned 10,000-plane air force. He naturally looked to the assembly lines of the auto manufacturers.

    In 1944, in addition to being the Director of the War Department’s Office of Production and still serving on the War Production Board (as the Lieutenant General in charge of War Department Production), he assumed command of the Air Material Command in the Army Air Forces.

    The 1944 retention of the Allison powered P-39/P-63 production line, and keeping P-38 Allison powered, as the P-40 was finally phased out of production in favor of the non-Alllison powered P-51 and P-47, makes much more sense from the politics of the WPB interests than anything else I have been able to piece together.

    Check out what happened to Allison in April 1945 when the V-E Day cancellations arrived.


  16. Tom H said:

    >>This vast mechanical failure disparity between the number of LR escort sorties
    >>flown by P-38′s, and the number which actually covered bombers over target areas,
    >>also means that facile comparisons of the number of sorties flown by LR escorts is
    >>a very misleading comparison of fighter type effectiveness.

    Training played a bigger role in those P-38 aborts and engine failures than equipment issues.

    The following is from Koop’s “Der Gabelschwanz Teufel – Assessing the Lockheed P-38 Lightning,” Technical Report APA-TR-2010-1201. —


    In summary a valuable pool of tactical experience and engine handling experience for the Merlin equipped P-51B existed in the 4th FG, and this experience could be directly applied to the P-51B. No such experience existed for the turbocharged Allison powered twin engined P-38 in theatre. The valuable tactical and handling experience of the SWPA FGs was a theatre away. Only a limited number of MTO pilots were made available for the 20th and 55th, and both units had taken heavy losses during the early escort missions, impacting both morale and the rate at which experience could be accumulated in these FGs. Many of the P-38 handling techniques developed in the SWPA to counter the highly manoeuvrable and skilled Japanese opposition, such as differential throttle and rudder assisted roll entries, were never practiced widely in the ETO.


    Perhaps the best critique of the ETO record of the P-38 is that by former 20th FG Capt. Arthur Heiden, who flew the P-38 during the Spring of 1944, in the company of better known pilots such as Jack Ilfrey, and Ernest Fiebelkorn, later instructed on the P-38 and P-51, and after the war went on to log in excess of 25,000 hrs of flying time:

    “The quality of multi-engine training during World War II bordered on the ridiculous. I am convinced that with training methods now in use we could take most of civilian private pilots who might be about to fly the Aztec or Cessna 310, and in ten hours, have a more confident pilot than the ones who flew off to war in the P-38. A P-38 pilot usually got his training in two ways. The first way, of course, was twin-engine advanced training in Curtiss AT-9s, which had the unhappy feature of having propellers you couldn’t feather. After sixty hours of this, the student received ten hours of AT-6 gunnery, although he might get his gunnery training in the AT-9, since AT-6s were in short supply.”

    “At this point he had his chance to fly the RP-322 for another twenty hours. The 322, as you know, was the British version of the airplane, and they came with assorted equipment and things on them that nobody could predict. Upon graduation from the RP-322 he was assigned to a P-38 Replacement Training Unit (RTU) or an Operational Training Unit (OTU) for 100 hours or more of fighter training. A second way to get into the P-38 was to transition from single engine fighters. In this event, someone probably took him up in a multi-engine transport or bomber and demonstrated engine shutdown a couple of times after skimming the tech order, a blindfold check, and then Ignoring the check list (not for real fighter pilots!), he blasted off. More than one neophyte has described his first “launch” in a P-38 as being hit in the ass with a snow shovel.”

    “Either method of training, probably, made little difference as neither guy knew that much about multi-engine operations and procedures. True, he had been warned about the magic number of 120 miles per hour his Vme (editor:Vmca) or single-engine control speed. He had swam in glue during a couple of prop featherings while in formation with his instructor. He was, also, warned never to turn into a dead engine, never put down the gear until he had made the field, and never to go around with one caged. That was about it until shortly thereafter the old Allison time bomb blew up, and he was in business the hard way. Right on takeoff. “Some people lucked out if the runway was long enough. Some overshot or undershot and they bent the whole thing. Some tried a single-engine go-around anyway, usually with horrible results. Such happenings would make a son of a bitch out of any saint.”

    “Tony Levier’s spectacular demonstrations were an attempt to rectify all these problems, but the damage had been done. The Air Corps, as far as I knew, never did change its pilot training.”

    “For perspective, it must also be remembered that two other significant events had taken place in training (in England). Theater indoctrination at Goxhill in England had received the same overhaul that had occurred in the States. The most important of all may have been the training units set up by the combat organizations themselves. Here it was possible to up-date training to the latest information and for individual commanders to put their special stamp on things and develop new tactics. “But and this is giant towering BUT this was all for the P-51 pilots.”

    “What would have happened if the P-38 pilots and their units could have been blessed with the same wonderful opportunity?”

    This, IMO, was no accident.

    If the “Bomber Mafia” had a training scandal with twin engine transition trainers directly attributed to many deaths in P-38 and B-26, blaming those planes for your own screw up is the easy way out.

    Especially is you can weight the scales with your training regime.

  17. Trent, ease of training with a particular aircraft has a lot to do with its combat effectiveness. The Spitfire was a very easy plane to learn to fly, and to fly reasonably well, but was not really suitable to boom & zoom energy-based tactics. The Me-109 was not easy to learn but was very well suited to boom & zoom, and was deadly once a pilot learned how to use its best characteristics.

    The P-38 was a difficult plane to learn to fly, and to learn to fly well. The P-51 was easy to learn, easy to master and well suited to boom & zoom. Plus the P-38 was expensive to build, and expensive and difficult to maintain, while the P-51 was cheap to build and maintain, and easy to maintain.

    Training P-51 pilots to fight well was easier, faster and less expensive than teaching P-38 pilots to fight well. This goes with the P-51 being a more recent design than the P-51.

  18. Tom,

    You are going P-51 fanboy on me.

    You are blaming pilots and aircraft designs for a Bomber Mafia doctrinal myopia and a piss poor USAAF fighter training regime — a training regime that did not prepare USAAF fighter pilots for 20,000 feet (+) hours long escort missions, nor design fighters for same.

    The USAAF brass took steps to make the P-51 work in the 8th Air force that they did not for the P-38. and it hid the ranges of fully modified P-38s and P-47 from the historical record afterwards.

    This is called weighting the scales. It was and remains today a standard USAF bureaucratic power play.

    As for the rest, the American production of the P-51B was started in early 1943. There was a second new P-51C plant that was added in Dallas, Texas by the summer 1943.

    The second P-38 production plant was added in the _summer_of _1945_.

    The Schweinfurt–Regensburg mission over Southern Germany was 14 Oct 1943.

    The decision to start escorting heavy bombers all the way to target happened in November 1943.

    It wasn’t a Lockheed corporate culture issue that made it less responsive with the P-38. It was an industrial infrastructure issue. The decision for the second P-51 plant in late 1942-early 1943 was determinative as far as the ability of North American to be more responsive to the 8th Air Force vice Lockheed.

    Lockheed was forbidden to make changes to the P-38 that would slow production at the sole P-38 plant.
    North American had a brand new production plant that was just spooling up as the demand for quick modifications of the P-51 came in from Dec. 1943 through early spring 1944. NAA could phase in new changes faster than Lockheed for the simple reason that NAA could use up older design parts in one plant while phasing in newer aircraft design modifications in the other.

    Lockheed had to completely use up old parts designs before phasing in new ones at its sole production plant. The best it could do was send range extension kits to the UK by air…which were on a C-54 transport shot down by RAF Fighter Command!

    The P-51 also benefitted from the British Merlin production plants and aircraft test facilities in the UK, as the British could turn around aircraft/engine test fixes far faster for the NAA folks in the UK than Lockheed/Allison reps had to do going to Ohio (Wright-Patterson field) and California.

    This second Dallas Texas P-51 plant was also the major reason for the lower cost of the P-51 vice the P-38.

  19. Tom,

    I have the following drop tank maximum range/mission profiles for P-38, P-47 & P-51 fighters from several official USAAF test reports. The first is a Oct 1944 report for a P-38L (or late model P-38J) in the “escort a B-17 or B-24 formation to Germany” flight regime.

    The March & June 1945 reports are for the “Escort a B-29 formation within 300-miles of Japan flight” flight regime. This was the 20th Air Force equivalent of the 8th Air Force “Target support profile.” This regime escorted B-29 1/2 hour both to the target and leaving, w/20-min full military power in this “magic hour”.

    The B-29 flight regime incorporates 400 or more miles at optimum fuel conserving power setting below 20,000 ft, AKA the “Fuel lean, low engine RPM, low Prop RPM” settings Charles Lindberg pioneered for the 5th Air Force P-38’s in early 1944. This “long of lean” flight regime benefits the P-38 the most, and P-47 to a lesser degree.

    It also shortens the service life of engines using the “Lindberg settings”.

    The 1946 report for the P-51H shows further how the USAAF was “bending the narrative” in its post war reports.

    Please note the ranges of the P-38J-25, P-38L and P-47D-25, the last of which was used by the FEAF during the 10 October 1944 Balikpapan raid and was available to the 8th Air Force in the winter of 1943-1944.

    The Report of the Army Air Forces Board,

    PROJECT No. 3703C452.1
    Date: 4 October 1944,
    DTIC Accession Number: AD-B190368

    Pages 16 & 17 of 22

    P-38J-25 & P-38L
    825 mile combat radius at 25,000 feet
    1635 total air miles
    1650 ground miles
    425 Gal internal fuel
    330 Gal External fuel (2×165 Gal tank)
    Fuel Consumed 705 Gal
    fuel Reserve 50 Gal (45 Min)

    Page 8 of 22

    “(1) Boost Aileron.–All test pilots agreed that the boost
    control is a great improvement over the standard
    ailerons. On initial flights, there is a marked
    tendency to over-control, but with familiarization
    this difficulty disappears. Formation flying is very
    easy and is not as tiring as with the standard ailerons.
    In roll comparison flights, the P-38L was superior to
    the P-38J, and equal to the P-51D and the P-47D-25.
    all comparison flights were made at 10,000 and 20,000
    feet at air speeds from 370 to 410 mph. At higher
    speeds, the superiority of the P-38L is pronounced.
    With rudder trim and aileron boost, the plane handles
    well on single engine operation. It is not tiring to
    hold the plane level using boost. When the ailerons
    are in a neutral position, a small noticeable dead
    spot is present with the boost “off.” This feature
    was not too objectionable.

    (2) Dive Recovery Flaps.–Dive recovery flaps were satisfactory
    and adequate in all flights up to 35,000 feet.
    With dive recovery flaps, the P-38L was equal to the
    P-47D-25 and the P-51D in pull-outs. The P-38L, recovered
    much faster than the P-38J, but was inferior in zoom.
    The P-38J regained more altitude than the P-38L with dive
    flaps in the down position; but when flaps were retracted
    on pull-out, the zooms were approximtely the same.
    In pull-outs from high-speed dives, use of recovery
    flaps will black-out the pilot unless considerable
    forward pressure is maintained on the stick. Attempts
    to use the dive recovery flps as dive brakes resulted
    in about 40 mph reduced air speed at pull-out. Similar
    altitude power settings and dive angles were used.

    S/N 4-44-34
    No. of pgs 6
    page no. 3


    The Report of the Army Air Forces Board,
    PROJECT No. 3786C373.13
    Date: 12 Mar 1945
    DTIC Accession Number: AD9427118

    page 5 and 8 of 26


    800-mile radius of action
    Full internal fuel
    150 Gal External fuel (2×75 gal drop tanks)


    Attempted maneuvers at 30,000 feet with a full fuselage
    tank proved that the P-51D aircraft is unstable
    with more than twenty-eight (28) gallons in that
    tank. During maneuvers, with more than twenty-eight
    (28) gallons in the fuselage tack, the pilot may
    encounter stick reversal resulting in possible structural
    damage to the aircraft.

    page 5 and 9 of 26


    800-mile radius of action
    Full internal full
    330 Gal external fuel (2×165 gal drop tanks)

    page 5 and 9 of 26

    1100-mile radius of action
    Full internal fuel
    630 Gal external fuel (2×310 gal drop tanks overloaded by 5-gal ea.)

    page 5 and 9 of 26

    P-38J-5 & P-38L

    840-mile radius of action
    Full Internal Fuel
    330 Gal External fuel (2×165 gal tank)

    950-mile radius of action (w/165 gal tank retained over target)
    Full Internal Fuel
    465 Gal External Fuel (one 165 gal and one 310 gal external tank w/10
    gal low on 310 gal tank)
    Mission time 7:55 hours


    The Report of the Army Air Forces Board,
    PROJECT No. 4302C452.1
    Date: 5 June 1945
    DTIC Accession Number: ADB220502

    Pages 9 & 10 of 42

    900-mile radius of action
    Full Internal Fuel
    330 Gal External fuel (2×165 gal external tank)

    1050-mile radius of action
    Full Internal Fuel
    440 Gal External fuel (2×165 gal and one 110 Gal external tank)


    The Report of the Air Proving Ground Command, Eglin field, Florida
    Subject: Service Test of the P-51H Airplane
    Project No. E4699 6-45-2-4
    Date: 4 October 1946
    DTIC Accession Number: ADB217347

    pages 13-15 of 43

    P-51H-1 or P-51H-5

    945-mile radius of action (B-29 escort profile)
    Full internal fuel (255 Gal)
    220 Gal External fuel (2×110 gal drop tanks)
    Full .50 Cal load
    Reserve 40 Gal (1 hr)

    925-mile radius of action (10k feet altitude strike profile)
    Full internal fuel (255 Gal)
    220 Gal External fuel (2×110 gal drop tanks)
    Full .50 Cal load, 6×5.0″ HVAR rockets on rails
    Reserve 40 Gal (1 hr)

    365-mile radius of action (10k feet altitude Fighter-Bomber profile)
    Full internal fuel (255 Gal)
    Full .50 Cal load, 6×5.0″ HVAR rockets on rails, 2x500lb bombs
    Reserve 40 Gal (1 hr)

    page 11 of 43

    Max P-51H load out Full .50 Cal load, 6×5.0″ HVAR rockets on rails, 2x1000lb bombs

    Note 1 — P-51D was limited to 500lb bomb on either wing.

    Note 2 — P-51D Only used the 110 gal metal drop tanks for ferry missons. The 100 gallon tank was a 750 lb class load (110 X 6.5 lbs a gallon = 710 lbs plus metal tank).

    Note 3 — P-51D is 6 mpg faster than a P-51H below 8,000 feet when both are held to 67″ Hg manifold pressure and 3,000rpm

    Note 4 — P-51H is one min faster to 30,000 ft than a P-51D when both are held to 67″ Hg manifold pressure and 3,000rpm

    Note 5 — P-51H is general a better performer than a P-51D over 21,000ft when both are held to 67″ Hg and 3,000rpm

    Note 5 — P-51H is a better performer than a P-51D at all altitudes when at 80″ Hg or 90″ manifold pressure with water injection and 3,000rpm

    Note 6 — P-51H is a better gun platform and dive bomber than a P-51D and was directionally stable with full internal fuel.

    Note 7 — Note the P-51H tested with a V-1650-9 Packard Merlin engine had major, as in engine
    destroying, reliability issues over 67″ Hg manifold pressure with Water methanol injection.

    Note: 8: A 165 gallon wing tank was a 1000lb load, so the P-51H could fly a combat as opposed to a ferry flight with them. The P-51D was incapable of combat with a 165 gallon drop tank as it’s wing hard points were stressed only for a 500lb load. The USAAF in this 1946 report was engaged in “narrative adjustment” here to justify keeping the P-51D in lieu of the P-51H due to the latter’s reliability issues and the arrival of the P-80 Shooting star.

  20. Trent, I resent your name calling.

    The P-38 cost more than the P-51 to build and maintain (way more to maintain actually). The P-51 being easier to learn to fly at all, easier to learn to fly well, and less tiring to fly than the P-38 meant it cost the Air Force significantly less to train P-51 pilots than to train P-38 pilots given comparable proficiency.

    As a wild-assed guess, the Air Force could equip, train and maintain (in the European theater) three P-51 fighter groups for every two P-38 groups. The P-38’s greater over-water twin-engine surviveability made it superior as a fighter to the P-51 for the Pacific theater.

  21. Too much BS and false comparisons in this tome.

    First the model that went to ETO 22 months before Balikapan, Beginning Dec/Jan 1943 with 56th FG was the C-2 with four point attach for Republic 200 gal composite tank which was not capable of pressurization past 22K. Operationally the 8th FC filled to only 100gal.

    Second, no P-47C/D delivered to 8th FC through August 1943 (After Schweinfurt-Regensburg) came equipped with B-7 centerline bomb rack capable of carrying the 75 or 108gal tanks until the beginning of September 1943. It was also in September that the factory B-7 equipped P-47D-5 began arriving in ETO.

    The longest mission that the 56th FG engaged in w/108 gal tank – in which victory credits were scored – was E.Bremen 309mi from Halesworth on 11-13-43; with 150 gal, Brunswick 381mi on 3-29-44; with 2x108gal Halberstadt 401mi on 5-19-44.

    All short of Schweinfurt combat radius.

    The 56fg started receiving the P-47D-25 with 370gal internal fuel in May 1944 butdid not have enough for a complete mission until Spetember 1944. By that time the 9th AF due to attrition was getting most of the new ships.

    In summary, the P-47 needed a.) B-7 centerline rack, b.) two wing pylon B-10 racks, c.) increase in internal fuel frm 305 to 370gal in orde to execute Balikpapan mission in October 1944. Second factor for SWP is that 99% of fighter ops were over long stretches of water with no threat of flak or fighter interception until target was reached – enabling low RPM/low MP cruise at 10000 feet. In ETO if the 8th AF P-47 FG used same techniques, there would have been 100% attrition in a short timeframe.

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