P-38 Lightning in Battle of Britain?

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by Lucky13, Sep 10, 2014.

  1. Lucky13

    Lucky13 Forum Mascot

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    From the Wiki.... In March 1940, the French and the British, through the Anglo-French Purchasing Committee, ordered a total of 667 P-38s for US$100M, designated Model 322F for the French and Model 322B for the British. The aircraft would be a variant of the P-38E. The overseas Allies wished for complete commonality of Allison engines with the large numbers of Curtiss P-40 Tomahawks both nations had on order, and thus ordered the Model 322 twin right-handed engines instead of counter-rotating ones, and without turbo-superchargers. Performance was supposed to be 400*mph at 16,900 feet. After the fall of France in June 1940, the British took over the entire order and gave the aircraft the service name "Lightning".

    Not a what if per se, just wondering what impact the P-38 would have had, had the RAF had a number of Squadrons of them...
     
  2. Balljoint

    Balljoint Member

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    BoB, RAF needed squadrons of pilots rather than low-altitude interceptors. That aside, perhaps the Lightnings would have been effective harassing the LW over France against originating sorties, and returning LW bombers.
     
  3. tomo pauk

    tomo pauk Creator of Interesting Threads

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    For the needs of 1940, BoB included, the 'Lightning I' was not a low altitude interceptor.
     
  4. rochie

    rochie Well-Known Member

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    if it got amongst the bombers it may have done some damage with the '50's and 20mm !
     
  5. Airframes

    Airframes Benevolens Magister

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    Yes, if it got there. As the RAF rejected it, I have a feeling, and it's only a feeling, that it might have been as effective as the Me110 at the time - good if it got there, but vulnerable to the single-engined opponents, and perhaps not suitable for the defensive role.
    And that's before the logistical and servicing/operational problems are considered, in a time of pressure.
     
  6. GrauGeist

    GrauGeist Well-Known Member

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    I suspect the P-38 would have been more capable of defending itself than the Bf110, however, the BoB was a learning curve for fighter pilots and the early deployment of the P-38 in those conditions would have seen the Lightning pilots at a slight disadvantage in many respects.

    This is not to say that the P-38 wouldn't have brought a good fight to the Luftwaffe, but it would have been an expensive one.
     
  7. tomo pauk

    tomo pauk Creator of Interesting Threads

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    RAF rejected an expensive 350-something MPH fighter in 1942 - two P-40s can be bought for the price of one Lightning I? Purchasing deal was signed long before LL started. The Lightning II (with turbos) was also axed - RAF did not needed it as much as USAF for hi-alt tasks, and it was an even more expensive thing than Lightning I.
    USAF was more than happy to take over what ever fighters Lockheed was able to produce, whether with or without turbos (for advanced trainers role).
     
  8. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

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    Rush P-38 into mass production that quickly and you will likely encounter so many technical problems that aircraft would be worthless. Rather like equally rushed He-162 during April 1945.
     
  9. wuzak

    wuzak Well-Known Member

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    Exactly - maybe one or two get delivered in time for the BoB.

    The first YP-38 pre-production prototype flew in September 1940.
    The first Lightning I arrived in the UK in March 1942.

    The Lightning was no chance of fighting in the BoB.
     
  10. Shortround6

    Shortround6 Well-Known Member

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    Unfortunately the P-38s ordered in the spring of 1940 were not delivered until the late winter of 1941, pretty much after Pearl Harbor which makes them a bit late for the BoB. This was not actually too bad considering it took over a year for the U.S. to get the P-40s it ordered in the Spring of 1939 and they used a good bit of the P-36 tooling. French ordered 140 Hawk 81-A1s on May 10th 1939 but first wasn't flown until June 1940. British took over the order when France surrendered but the only way they got any number of planes delivered starting in Sept was to accept planes with metric instruments and French lettering AND for the U.S. to relinquish a number of slots in the manufacturing que. U.S. took deliver of later model planes at a later date.
    For England to get P-38s for the BoB would be order them in 1938 :)
     
  11. bobbysocks

    bobbysocks Well-Known Member

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    even without the rush to mass production and years later wasnt the 38 plagued with problems when it first came out?
     
  12. Jabberwocky

    Jabberwocky Active Member

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    The P-38, as it stood in the summer of 1940, was not a combat capable aircraft. It was little more than an experimental aircraft, fit for testing and service trails but not for the rigors of air combat.

    The first YP-38s were only delivered in September 1940. The aircraft lacked armour or self sealing tanks, had an inadequate oxygen system and the cannon armament, both in 23 mm and 37 mm flavours, wasn’t satisfactory in terms of reliability or ammunition capacity.

    The first passably combat capable P-38 was the P-38D, and that wasn’t in service until August 1941.
     
  13. Jabberwocky

    Jabberwocky Active Member

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    Enough with the history lesson, onto the what-if

    Suppose that a properly combat capable Lightning – the P-38D or even better the P-38E – was in service, in squadron strength, in the summer of 1940.

    What you have is a 375-395 mph capable single seat fighter with the capability to get to 20,000 ft in 7.5 to 8 minutes.

    It has very long loiter time – around 4 hours – and good range of 750-800 miles.

    It has a heavy armament of 4 .50 cals and 1 x 20 mm, although the US made Hispano was not particularly reliable at this point of the war. It is also a very good gun platform, being stable and benefiting from its contra-rotating props. Guns would also jam during heavy maneuvering.

    It is easy to fly for an experienced pilot, but is a highly complex fighter that is difficult to learn and difficult to master for an inexperienced pilot. The cockpit arrangements were less than ideal – even the British though they were sub-standard – and the cockpit heating was poor and the canopy had a tendency to fog badly.

    Its a maintenance hog. With two engines and two turbos, it was the most maintenance intensive single-seat fighter in the US inventory.

    Its not really suitable for combat above 25,000 ft. The early P-38s had problems with carburettors, intercoolers and turbo-chargers above 25,000 ft. There were also some problems with lateral instability above 20,000 ft. The aircraft was also limited in its dive speeds due to compressibility.

    Even though it’s a tricycle landing gear aircraft, it was not particularly suited to landing on the soft and bumpy Fighter Command emergency grass strips.


    What this adds up to for me is this: The P-38 offered definite combat advantages over the Spitfire and Hurricane – better speed, heavier armament, longer range and loiter time.

    However, these are not enough to offset its strategic disadvantages. As a complex and heavy twin engine fighter, it required much more learning time and skill from a novice pilot that a single-engine fighter.

    The RAF’s chief problem was getting pilots trained and into the air. Having an aircraft that required more training than a single-engine fighter (the USAAF recommended a minimum of 30 hours in S/E fighters and then a number of transition flights in lower performance twin-engine aircraft before transitioning to the P-38) means that the RAF will be able to get less fighters into the air.

    The aircraft was maintenance heavy, taking significantly more man-hours than a single seat fighter to service and to get back into the air.

    The aircraft still had teething problems that would have proved particularly aggravating for the RAF in the Battle of Britain. Those intercooler and turbo issues to a long time to sort and aren’t the sort of thing you want to be dealing with while your airfields are getting bombed and strafed.

    With its poor soft field performance and high maintenance requirements, it would have to be deployed well back from the coast, at airfield with concrete runways. So it would have been less useful than the Spitfire or Hurricane as a pure interceptor, despite its roughly comparable or even slightly better time to climb performance.

    The aircraft’s problems at altitude would have also made it much less suitable to the final stages of the Battle of Britain, much of which was fought at very high altitudes. The Hurricane, even the Mk II, really struggled in this phase as well.


    If you could accelerate the development of the P-38 by three or so years, putting it into service with the RAF in mid 1939, then I can see it being a success. With a sorted high speed aircraft with 2 or 3 times the firepower of a Spitfire or Hurricane, the P-38 would have been a terror to German bomber crews.

    Three or four squadrons, with experienced pilots and good ground crews, could have been a very useful for certain roles.

    With its long loiter times, the aircraft would have been excellent for medium altitude combat patrols along the English coast. You could put up 4 ship or 8 ship formations and have them run intercepts while the Spitfires and Hurricanes climb and gather.

    The P-38 also could have been very useful for long-range intercepts in the North. If a raid is detected out to sea, the could have scrambled and gotten to the bombers off the coast, possibly blunting a raid before it had ever gone feet dry.
     
  14. Balljoint

    Balljoint Member

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    In Europe and early on, the P-38 would likely have the Bf-110 disease vs. single engine fighters. With the compression problem negating the vertical potential, and with the LW fighters just being better than IJ fighters in the vertical, the P-38 would need a quick hit and run, preferable in the presence of Spits to distract pursuit.

    It’s my impression that even later in the war the USAAF put its P-38s in Italy or tasked it with missions that didn’t contemplate LW fighter opposition.
     
  15. tomo pauk

    tomo pauk Creator of Interesting Threads

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    The 'Bf-110 disease' have had much more in common with the tactics employed, rather than particular shortcoming of the aircraft. Close escort, done while flying at 'bomber speeds' (200 mph?), rather than 'freijagd' (250+ mph?) made sure that Bf-110 was, even for a Hurricane squadron nearby, cold meat on the table.

    RAF would not fly close escort during BoB, or any other escort, but will rather try and kill some LW planes. The Lightning I was smaller and lighter than Bf-110, and the V-1710 C-15 was making similar power as the DB-601A, bar at low altitude.
     
  16. Koopernic

    Koopernic Active Member

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    Post War analysis shows that the Bf 110 in the BoB probably had a slightly favourable exchange ratio when compared to both the Spitfire and the Hurricane though barely so. Nevertheless sacrificing two crew men and two engines for each Hurricane or Spitfire shot down is not a winning proposition.

    There is a book in German "Die Rehabilierung eines Flutzeugs" by Michael Ziefle that I hope gets translated one day. (The Rehabilitation of an Aircraft). More combat reports than hard data though.

    In 1940 there was only the Bf 110, there were no Beaufighters, P-38's or Mosquito's. The latter two were 2 years away.

    The Beaufighter could have been a disaster if misused the way the Me 110 was, say as a daylight Bomber escort. However the RAF used it extremely competently: exploiting its strengths but seldom exposing its weaknesses.

    Goering told Spatz that the reason they used Bf 110 and Bf 109 as close escorts within the bomber formation is that Luftwaffe bombers had at the time weak frontal armament and the fighters needed to bolster it.

    Doesn't sound that it justifies the hamstringing of German fighters tactical options but that is what he said at his post war interrogation.

    Throughout the war the DB601/605 offered about 20% less power than the equivalent Merlin though one can argue that the smoother power v altitude curve narrowed the gap at many altitudes a little. Take out that power disadvantage I think the Me 109 might be the better aircraft; faster on the same power. I would say the Bf 110 would also not have developed its bad reputation and we might be talking about in glowing terms used for the P-38. Power is crucial to manoeuvrability.

    Bf 110 did fly as single seaters, the aircraft was flown without an observer with a fuel tank in his place. I makes me wonder how it would have performed with s clear view more streamlined bubble canopy and the slightly reduced weight of that configuration.

    Bf 110 was foremost a ground attack aircraft, a bomber interceptor and most of all a 'bad weather fighter'. It had blind landing equipment to safely land the aircraft in a fog at night while the observer would navigate the aircraft at night by triangulating radio beacon readings, operate the radio while the pilot flew the aircraft on instruments.

    Long range escort was not a primary role envisaged for it.

    I'm not even sure that the early pre combat P-38s even had a good range.
     
  17. Shortround6

    Shortround6 Well-Known Member

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    A non-turbo P-38 may have been a bit between some of these positions.

    The P-38 needing concrete runways is certainly pessimistic given that not only did the manuals give take and landing distances for paved, sod-turf and soft runways but P-38s were operated from Henderson field and runways in the Aleution Islands and North Africa without the benefit of concrete, metal matting perhaps but no concrete. British sod fields were NOT the same as swampy farmers fields. Many 1930s sod fields were constructed with attention to drainage.

    YP-38 with 230 gallons of fuel (13500lbs gross?) could take-off and clear 50 obstacle in under 1700ft and land in the same distance.

    The castrated P-38s wouldn't have any maintenance problems with the turbos.

    Problems with the 20mm cannon may be a none problem do to several factors. 1, the P-38 installation was the most trouble free American use of the 20mm due partly to the heavy, rigid mounting used. 2, early 20mm would use the 60 round drum and not a belt feed. 3, for a few hundred planes the British could use British built guns or British barrels. This last is much more likely as I doubt there was much, if any American production of 20mm guns in 1940.
    First 29 P-38s used 37mm guns? as did the YP-38s.

    The castrate P-38s would have been a bit lighter (B series turbo was around 120-130lbs each and you can loose some ducting) than a P-38D.
    They were smaller and around a 1/2 ton lighter than a Bf 110C using engines of very similar performance.
    Bf 109Es had much lower performance than the 109Fs the P-38s would meet in North Africa.

    The British were quite disappointed with the P-322s performance when delivered in March of 1942. Not only had the British been using Spitfire Vs for almost a year at this point but a test Spitfire using a two stage Merlin had been flying for a number of months and the fist converted MK V to MK IX standard would fly in about one month after the P-322 first flew in England. Given the problems the RAF was having with Fw 190s in the Fall/Winter of 1941 it understandable that they considered the performance of the P-322 lacking, however they sure weren't using any Spitfire I's in combat squadrons either at that time.
     
  18. Timppa

    Timppa Active Member

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    Only US fighters that could have been realistically available by summer 1940 were:

    Curtiss P-36
    Brewster F2A1
    Curtiss CW-20
    Seversky P-35
     
  19. wuzak

    wuzak Well-Known Member

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    I was goingto say that the question is almost like what if they had the Spitfire IX for the BoB.
     
  20. GrauGeist

    GrauGeist Well-Known Member

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    Don't forget the P-26! :lol:
     
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