One of the most iconic and wide-serving USAAF fighters of WWII is undoubtedly the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk - the American designed single-engined, single-seat, all-metal fighter and ground-attack aircraft which first flew in 1938 and served with most Allied powers during World War II.
Known as the P-40 Warhawk by the United States Army Air Corps, the British and Soviet airforces used the name Tomahawk and Kittyhawk for later variants. By November 1944, when production of the P-40 ceased, 13,738 Warhawks had been built.
The P-40s first saw combat with the British squadrons of the Desert Air Force in the Middle East and North African campaigns, during June 1941. No.112 Squadron Royal Air Force, was among the first to operate Tomahawks in North Africa and the unit was the first Allied military aviation unit to feature the "shark mouth” logo.
Although the P40 was seldom used in combat in Northwest Europe due to its lack of a two-speed supercharger which rendered it far inferior to many Luftwaffe fighters such as the Messerschmitt Bf 109 or the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 in high-altitude combat, it did play a critical role across all Allied forces in North Africa, the Southwest Pacific and China.
In theatres of war such as the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, Alaska and Italy, performance at high altitudes was less important than its significant role as a bomber escort and low level fighter/bomber. By the end of WWII over 200 Allied fighter pilots had become Air Aces flying the P-40 with 20 double Aces in North Africa, the Pacific and Russian theatres. An uncomplicated design, rugged and easily serviced, the P-40’s low cost kept it in production as a ground attack aircraft long after it became obsolete as a fighter.
The gradual replacement of Hurricanes by the Tomahawks and Kittyhawks led to the Luftwaffe accelerating retirement of the Bf 109E and introducing the newer Bf 109F.
Flown by the veteran pilots of elite Luftwaffe units, the Messerschmidt Bf109F could easily out manoeuvre the P-40 at high altitudes but suffered in low level performance in both horizontal and dive speeds. With most air combat in North Africa taking place below 16,000ft the P-40 proved a very stable gun platform and its rugged construction enabled it to operate from extremely rough frontline airstrips.
The P-40 Kittyhawk became the main fighter used by the RAAF in World War II - in far greater numbers than the Spitfire. Two RAAF squadrons serving with the Desert Air Force, No. 3 and No. 450 Squadrons, were the first Australian units to be assigned P-40s and many RAAF pilots achieved high scores in this reliable and sturdy fighter.
Whilst the heaviest fighting in North Africa was taking place, the Pacific War was still in its early stages and RAAF units in Australia found themselves completely lacking in suitable fighter aircraft to meet the Japanese expansion to the north.
Spitfire production was being absorbed by the war in Europe; P-38s were trialled, but were difficult to obtain; Mustangs had not yet reached squadrons anywhere, and Australia's small and inexperienced aircraft industry was geared towards larger aircraft.
USAAF P-40s and their pilots originally intended for the U.S. Far East Air Force in the Philippines, were diverted to Australia as a result of growing Japanese naval activity and became the first suitable fighter aircraft to arrive in substantial numbers. By mid-1942, the RAAF was able to obtain more USAAF replacement shipments and the P-40 was given the RAAF designation A-29.
Operating as frontline fighters and fighter/bombers, RAAF Kittyhawks played a crucial role in the South West Pacific theatre. Their durability and bomb-carrying abilities (1,000 lb/454 kg) of the P-40 also made it ideal for the ground attack role and the RAAF P-40 played a critical role during the Battle of Milne Bay fending off Japanese aircraft and providing effective close air support for Australian infantry, negating the initial Japanese advantage in light tanks and sea power.
In late 1945, RAAF fighter squadrons in the South West Pacific began converting to P-51Ds. However, Kittyhawks were in use with the RAAF until the end of the war - mainly in Borneo. The P-40 was retired by the RAAF in 1947.
All P-40 Warhawk Instruments listed below come complete with detailed Scale Model, Mango Wood Stand & Plaque plus Printed Fact Sheet featuring photo of instrument in aircraft cockpit.
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