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Effects of the p51 mustang in wwii

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 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 Benefits of the P-51 This final Mustang design was superior to

anything else that flew at the time. The P-51B had a huge internal gasoline tank capacity (around 425 gallons) and its

engine was very economical, using about half the gasoline of other American fighters. This meant its range was 1080 miles

and could be extended to 2600 miles when extra drop-tanks were attached to the wings. This made its range far more

than any Allied or German fighter's. As far as performance went, it was superior to all others as well. Neither of the other

two main American fighters could compete; the P-47 was too heavy and the P-38 had too many technical problems. The

British fighters, the Spitfire and the Hurricane did not have the range, speed, or power. But most important was its

superiority over the German fighters, the most important of which were the FW-190 and the Me-109. The Mustang was

50 mph faster than the Germans up to 28,000 ft beyond which it was much faster than the FW-190 and still substantially

faster than the Me-109. The Mustang had between 3000 and 4000 lbs more weight, and so was able to outdive either

German plane. The tightness of its turns was much better than the Me-109 and slightly better than the FW-190. (Grant

31, Boyne 389-390, Bailey 153) The result of all of this was that the Allies now had a plane that could go with the

bombers all the way to and from their targets, fight and defeat the bombers' German attackers, and not run out of fuel.

The P-51's Battle Performance So, at the end of 1943 and the beginning of 1944, the new American P-51B's began

arriving in England in force. (Dupuy 34) For the first few months of the year, the Mustangs were settling in and having

their systems perfected. But by March, the Mustangs had decisively taken control. The arrival and subsequent heavy use

of the P-51's had several effects. The first effect that the Mustangs had was in the running air battles over Europe. Before

the beginning of 1944, the bombers had been alone as they approached their faraway targets. But the P-51 changed this,

and quickly made an impression on all concerned, enemy and ally alike. For example, on January 11, 1944, the Eighth

Air Force launched its first deep penetration of Germany with P-51 coverage. The bombers' targets were the cities of

Oschersleben and Halberstadt, where many German planes were being constructed. When they arrived, there were 49

Mustangs covering a force of around 220 bombers. Even though the bombers suffered heavy casualties, they were able

to inflict substantial damage on their target factories. But the most significant thing about the battle was the shining

performance of the P-51's. Since the bombers were attacking two different cities, the Mustang force had to divide into

two groups, to support the different attacks. Because of the sensitive nature of the bombers' targets, the Luftwaffe came

out in force to defend their factories. During the ensuing melee, the 49 P-51's shot down 15 enemy planes without

suffering a single loss. Major Howard, the group's leader, was credited with four kills within minutes. (Bailey 155) In the

grand scheme of things, this battle was insignificant, but it goes to show how much of advantage the P-51's had over their

German counterparts. Considering that these were essentially first-time pilots in the Mustangs' first big battle, this is very

impressive. The Change in Policy on Escort Fighter Function Another thing happened at the same time as the arrival of

the P-51 that greatly aided the Allies and fully utilized the great capabilities of the Mustang. Before the beginning of 1944,

the bomber escort's primary function was to fly alongside the bombers, repel any attacks made on the bombers, and

generally make sure the bombers stayed safe. Indeed, the motto of the Eighth Air Force Fighter Command was "Our

Mission is to Bring the Bombers Back Alive." One day at the beginning of the year, Jimmy Doolittle, who was the

commander of the Eighth Air Force, saw a plaque on the wall with this motto on it and said, "That's not so. Your mission

is to destroy the German Air Force. . .Take that damned thing down." (Copp 456) And just days before, in his New

Year's Day address to the Eighth Air Force command, General Arnold had said, "My personal message to you-this is a

MUST- is to destroy the enemy air force wherever you find them, in the air, on the ground and in the factories." (Copp

456) What this meant was that the escort fighters were not tied to the bombers anymore, and were free to roam over the

countryside and through the towns and cities, destroying at will. The sweeping Mustangs were released to ravage German

convoys, trains, antiaircraft gun emplacements, warehouses, airfields, factories, radar installations, and other important

things that would be impractical to be attacked by bombers. The fighters were also able to attack German fighters when

they were least prepared for it, like when they were taking off or forming up in the air. What made this possible was the

increase in the number of American planes present in Europe. This increase in the number of Allied planes compared to

the number of German planes continued to the point that, on D-Day, the Allies used 12,873 aircraft while the Germans

were only able to muster a mere 300. (Overy 77) By using this overwhelming numerical advantage, the Allied fighters

were able to swamp their opponents in an unstoppable flood of planes. P-51's Disrupt Luftwaffe Fighter Tactics This

increase in the number of fighters plus the change in fighter philosophy allowed the escorts to cover the bombers while

simultaneously ranging far from the bomber stream and destroying all that they could find. This caused the disruption of

several effective German fighter tactics that had been used successfully in the past. One of these tactics was the

deployment of slow, ungainly German planes that would fly around the bomber formations, out of gun range, and report

back on where the bombers were and where their weak spots were. The free-ranging P-51's soon wiped out these

planes. Another popular tactic was to mount rocket launchers on the wings of some of these slower craft, have them

linger just out of range of the bombers' guns, and send rockets flying into the bomber formations. These rocket attacks

were terrifying to the bomber crews, and often broke up formations, sending some planes to the ground. Obviously, these

attacks also came to a halt. Most importantly, the fast German fighters had to change their attack tactics. Beforehand,

they would fly alongside the formations and wait for the right moment to swoop in and attack a bomber. Now, they were

forced to group together several miles away from the bombers, and then turn and made a mad rush at the bombers,

hoping to inflict sufficient damage on one pass to shoot down some number of enemy bombers. They could not afford to

stay with the bombers for very long for fear of being attacked by the Mustangs. (Perret 293) Indeed, soon after the

P-51's entered onto the scene, Hermann Goering, the commander of the Luftwaffe, recommended that the German

defensive fighters avoid combat with the P-51, and only attack bomber formations when there were no fighters around.

The result of all of this is that the American fighters, led by the P-51's, soon began to gain air superiority. Not long after

Goering's recommendation, a sarcastic Luftwaffe officer commented that the safest flying in the world was to be an

American fighter over Germany. (Dupuy 35-36) It is obvious that the P-51, once it was supplied to the Eighth Air Force

in great quantities, and unleashed by Doolittle and Arnold's new fighter policies, soon took a heavy toll on German air

superiority. P-51's Give Bombers Better Support Another profound effect that the increased fighter coverage had was on

the most important people, the bombers. After the entrance of the P-51, and the virtual elimination of the German fighter

threat, the bombers were in much less danger from German fighters. The result of the decreased danger to the bombers is

subtle, but obvious when thought about. Imagine a bomber crew sitting in their cramped plane, unable to move around or

evade attack during their bombing run while numerous German fighters speed past their plane firing at them. Second

lieutenant William Brick, the bombardier of a B-17 bomber, tells about the day he flew to Linz, Austria on a bombing run: . . . The

remainder of the run must be perfectly straight and level, without the slightest deviation, or our five- thousand-pound bomb load will fall

wide of the target. No evasive action is possible. . . Then comes the sickening rattle of machine-gun bullets and cannon fire hitting our ship;

ignoring the flak from the antiaircraft batteries, German fighter planes zoom in so close that it seems they will ram us. . . Even at the

sub-zero temperatures of this altitude, salty sweat pours down my face and burns my eyeballs. Cursing and praying, I am gripped by the

same brand of helpless fear that fliers experience during every bomb run. I feel the terror in my hands, in my stomach, even in my feet.

Long after returning from the mission, its effects will remain etched indelibly on my face. . . . (Brick 61) This kind of terror experienced by

the entire crew of the bombers was sure to affect their concentration and their carefulness. Indeed, "it is an undeniable, if unquantifiable,

fact that it is easier to bomb precisely when you know you will probably not be shot out of the sky." (Boyne 341) Conclusion In the end,

the way that the Allied air forces gained air superiority was by destroying its opposition. The ways in which the fighters were able to

destroy German fighters were diverse. The fighters utilized their high speed and maneuverability to fly low-level strafing missions that

ranged over large expanses of territory and destroyed many Luftwaffe craft on the ground. This tactic was responsible for the destruction

of many dozens of fighters that were unable to go on and fight in the air. Another way that the Allied fighters destroyed their opposition,

and the most important way, was by luring them into the air. Going back to the hornets' nest analogy, the Allies stopped pushing the stick

and decided to bide their time until the moment was right. When they did start pushing the stick into the nest again, they were armed with a

metaphoric insecticide. In real life, this "insecticide" was the P-51. Beforehand, the Allies had nothing that could stop the "hornets" and so

were helpless to stop their attack. But after they had developed an "insecticide" capable of killing the "hornets," they proceeded to lure the

hornets into the open where they could be destroyed. In real life, the bombers were the lure that brought the Luftwaffe into the air. Using

the long-range Mustangs, the Allies were able to make their bombing raids more effective and more deadly to Germany. The approaching

end of the Third Reich was enough to get the German fighters into the air to try to stop the bombers from wrecking their war effort. "Air

superiority had been won not by bombing the enemy's factories into oblivion; instead, it was won by the long-range fighter, using the

bomber formations as bait to entice the Luftwaffe to fight." (Boyne 338) With the advent of great numbers of the highly superior P-51

Mustang, the German fighters that came up to attack the bombers quickly met their match and were easily repelled by the Mustangs.

Works Cited Bailey, Ronald H. The Air War in Europe. Alexandria, Virginia: Time-Life Books, 1979. A simple, straight-forward book that includes much

background on the development of military aviation, and includes many pictures that chronicle the air war. Boyne, Walter J. Clash of Wings: World War II in the Air.

New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994. A very informative and user- friendly book that dealt with the air aspect of all fronts and theaters of WWII. It includes much

data on numerous planes in its appendices. Brick, William. "Bombardier." American History, April 1995, pp. 60-65. A short magazine article following the story of

how a U.S. airman was shot down over Austria, and his subsequent imprisonment by the Nazis. Copp, DeWitt S. Forged in Fire: Strategy and Decisions in the

Airwar over Europe, 1940-1945. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, 1982. A book dealing mostly with the U.S. involvement in the War, with

particular emphasis on the politics of the military officials, and how the major strategic decisions were made. Dupuy, Trevor Nevitt. The Air War in the West: June

1941 to April 1945. New York: Franklin Watts, Inc., 1963. A short, very basic book that did not go into depth, but did cover its material well. Grant, William

Newby. P-51 Mustang. London: Bison Books Limited, 1980. A relatively short book, but one that dealt solely with the P-51, and went into considerable depth

concerning its construction and use during WWII and in later conflicts. Overy, R.J. The Air War: 1939-1945. New York: Stein and Day Publishers, 1980. A fairly

dry book that dealt mostly with the economics and generalities of the air war, without dealing too much with the actual fighting. Perret, Geoffrey. Winged Victory:

The Army Air Forces in World War II. New York: Random House, 1993. A good book that covered its topic well, although in-depth discussion of the

contributions of the other allies' forces is not dealt with.

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