James Perry Stevenson and Pierre Sprey recently (Dec 2, 2016) wrote a column over on the War Is Boring media blog titled “Arrogant U.S. Generals Made the P-51 Mustang a Necessity — With better leadership, the iconic fighter plane might’ve been unnecessary” that used my September 2013 Chicagoboyz blog post “History Friday: Deconstructing the P-51 Mustang Historical Narrative” as a basis for a lot of their article with a link back to my Chicagoboyz post with a comment to the effect that it was a “detailed post.” Given who those two men are, that is the military history good housekeeping seal or approval. ***
Yeah Me!! — Glyph of a middle age fat man doing a happy dance!
Go over and check it out at this link:
A 150/165 Gallon Lockheed Drop Tank in front of a P-38 Lightning Fighter. Production of the tank increased from 300 in September 1943 to 22,000 in December 1943.
That said, it turns out their closing paragraph,
“Arnold’s mindset, which caused him to forbid drop tank development in 1939, doomed thousands of unescorted bomber crews throughout all of 1943 to death and dismemberment. This needless slaughter remained unrelieved until the belated deliveries in 1944 of adequate quantities of drop tanks — and of long ranged P-51B’s.
….and my Sept 2013 blog post are going to need a rewrite thanks to my research partner Ryan Crierie’s latest find, a September 1943 fighter range chart from the Gen. Hap Arnold Microfilms Reel 122.
The “truth in the details” is that the tragically poor decision General Hap Arnold made in 1939 to halt the use drop tanks in the US Army Air Force that made the disaster the 2nd Schweinfurt–Regensburg mission inevitable was also the decision that made the P-51B technically possible.
The 2nd order effects of that procurement decision on the USAAF’s “technological development tree” gave Wright Field fighter development engineers the “design chops” to place in the P-51B the additional 85 gallon internal fuel tank that Mustangs used to reach Berlin in early 1944, when it was needed in late 1943.
HIGH TECH WARFARE & THE P-51B
High technology warfare, whether of the 1940s or the early 21st century is a three legged stool made up of technology, doctrine, training with a logistical support structure capable holding the three legs stable and properly balanced. This is why the German Panzer Divisions with pop-gun 37mm gun armed tanks could overwhelm large numbers of the Soviet Union’s T-34 and KV-1 tanks in Operation Barbarossa (German: Unternehmen Barbarossa). The Soviet tanks lacked the proper balance of doctrine, training and logistics to take advantage of their superior tank technology.
Similarly, the Eight Air Force’s October 14, 1943 Schweinfurt–Regensburg mission was where the USAAF’s adequately trained, logistically well supported bomber force, flying the superbly designed B-17 bomber and using the flawed self-escorting heavy bomber doctrine met a Luftwaffe that had put together the complete aerial combined arms team, a high tech “three legged stool” of radar controlled heavy rocket fighters (ME-110) and lighter Me-109/FW190 fighters with a doctrine of choreographed large formation attacks. The results — 60 lost heavy bombers — speak for themselves. The Luftwaffe demonstrated that it could destroy any unescorted Eight Air Force heavy bomber combat box formation, no matter the size, that lacked fighter escorts through out the entire mission.
The Luftwaffe’s Heavy twin and light single engine combined arms fighter force trumped an American single arm heavy bomber force. To quote the Australian Airpower Expert Carlo Dr Carlo Kopp, Associate Fellow AIAA, Senior Member IEEE, PEng and Co-founder, Air Power Australia: http://www.ausairpower.net/
The heavy bombers did inflict the critical attrition on the production base and POL. But they did so only once they were properly supported by escorts. Air power performs best when operated as an integrated whole. The ideologues tend not to accept this. Yes the historical record is unambiguous.
It took months after the 2nd Schweinfurt–Regensburg for the Eight Air Force to deploy its own “three legged stool” of fighter drop tanks, training in “Long of lean” fuel management techniques, and 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
- Penetration of enemy air space,
- At the target area and
- During withdrawal,
…too which the long range P-51 was added.
The three shift fighter escort doctrine allowed USAAF fighters to drop external 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.
Drop tanks were the technological glue that allowed a USAAF offensive aerial combined arms team to develop. Only large numbers of American daylight heavy bombers could deliver the payload to damage oil and aircraft production plant targets badly enough to make Luftwaffe fighters come up and fight. Only American fighter escorts could break up Luftwaffe fighter formations before they could organize a combined arms attack large enough to break bomber “combat box” formations.
The fighter penetration missions — organized in shifts — to cover the bomber formations required long range radar, VHF band frequency crystal modulated radio and radio intercept stations to track both our own aircraft and enemy fighter reaction to get the penetrating fighters to shield the bomber streams. (The best resource I’ve found that explains the development of this doctrine is Stephan McFarland and Wesley Phillip Newton’s “TO COMMAND THE SKY – The Battle for Air Superiority over Germany, 1942-1944” from the Smithsonian History of Aviation Series.)
However, the P-51B would still not have been able to play a role in this team – even with drop tanks – without the second order effects of Gen. Hap Arnold’s 1939 decision.
For which, see Ryan Crierie’s slide below:
THE ROLE OF THE USAAF TEMPORARY INTERNAL FUEL TANK
The September 1943 slide above shows that both the P-51B and P-38Js fighters needed internal fuel tank kits to function as long range escorts. And that new production P-47Ds could, with two 150 gallon Lockheed external tanks, escort B-17s the distance. General Arnold acted swiftly after seeing that slide. Between September 1943 and December 1943 the 150 gallon Lockheed external tank production went from 300 a month to 22,000!!! And hundreds of internal tank fuel kits were airlifted to England.
These internal tanks were added to P-51Bs in English fighter depots and shipment processing centers in the fall/winter of 1943-1944. These were the planes that made the P-51 legend.
(The P-38J, on the other hand, was snake bit. Its C-54, carrying all the available internal fuel tank kits for several months production, was shot down by the RAF in a friendly fire incident in the late fall of 1943.)
The story behind those kits comes from General Benjamin S. Kelsey in “THE DRAGON’S TEETH? — The Creation of United States Airpower in World War II,” and General Mark Bradely’s story “Bradley Vs. the P-75” in Penn Leary’s (editor) “TEST FLYING AT OLD WRIGHT FIELD – By The “Wright Stuff” Pilots and Engineers.”
General Kelsey explained in his book that while external drop tanks were outlawed, the operational requirement to move short ranged fighter’s long distances inside America remained. To take up the slack of the now outlawed external tanks. Wright field engineers developed a series of temporary internal fuel tank kits replacing guns, ammo and just plain empty internal spaces for long range ferry flights.
This was a pain to do and finally Kelsey got General Arnold to reverse his safety policy by dint of pointing out the wartime requirement for shipping fighters to Europe versus the lack of shipping tonnage for same. Arnold approved the use of Lockheed external fuel tanks for P-38 and P-47 ferry flights to Europe in 1943.
General Mark Bradley’s tale is the story of his involvement with getting the 85 gallon fuel tank the P-51B, after the experience of test flying the General Motors XP-75 Eagle. The “Eagle” was as misnamed a fighter design as could be imagined, it was built around a 24 cylinder Allison R2600-20 engine that was supposed to deliver 3,000 horsepower, but barely made 2,300 HP. Its air frame had the wings of a P-40, the center section of a Vought design for the Navy and the tail of a Navy SBD dive bomber. It was big, clumsy, unstable in flight and its six bladed counter rotating prop was too heavy. Even if it could get the range needed for a long range escort, it could not defend itself when it got to a German target.
Bradley’s P-75 experience saw him become part of the P-51 mafia and he saw to it that the 85 gallon internal tank was added to the P-51B and tested at Wright Field.
Wright field engineers, without the 1939 to 1943 experience with internal fuel tank kits caused by General Hap Arnold’s 1939 decision, would not have been in the position to rapidly make the P-51 into the long range escort fighter it eventually became.
And now you know why James Perry Stevenson and Pierre Sprey and I need to do article rewrites.
*** James Perry Stevenson is the former editor of the Topgun Journal and the author of The $5 Billion Misunderstanding and The Pentagon Paradox.
Pierre M. Sprey is a co-designer of the F-16 fighter jet, was technical director of the U.S. Air Force’s A-10 concept design team, served as weapons analyst for the Office of the Secretary of Defense for 15 years and has been an active member of the military reform underground for the last 35 years.
Sources and Notes
Mark Bradely “Bradley Vs. the P-75” pages 23 – 26 in Penn Leary’s (editor) “TEST FLYING AT OLD WRIGHT FIELD – By The “Wright Stuff” Pilots and Engineers,” Wpasb Educational Fund; 2nd edition (May 1995), ISBN-13: 978-0961791728
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
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 1920s and 1930s. 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–39C, 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″
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
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
Stephan McFarland and Wesley Phillip Newton’s “TO COMMAND THE SKY – The Battle for Air Superiority over Germany, 1942-1944” Smithsonian History of Aviation and Spaceflight (Paperback) (Book 45879), University Alabama Press (March 6, 2006), ISN-13: 978-0817353469
Trent J. Telenko, “History Friday — MacArthur’s Fighter Drop Tanks,” 12 July 2013, https://chicagoboyz.net/archives/37392.html
Trent J. Telenko, “History Friday: Deconstructing the P-51 Mustang Historical Narrative, September 27th, 2013, https://chicagoboyz.net/archives/38801.html