P-40 vs. Zero

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Airman 1st Class
Nov 8, 2005
I just read an interesting article about the P-40, and some of it was written by a 14th. Air Force pilot who said a few things I had not heard before. The standard diving attack was mentioned, and was said to be effective, as the Flying Tigers proved earlier. This pilot said maintaining an airspeed of over 250 m.p.h. was the best way to even up the fight between a 40 and a Zero or Oscar. The Zero's agility of course was legendary at low speeds, but above 250 those large ailerons became a liability, and a roll at high speeds was extremely difficult due to the stick forces. A 40 would out-roll a Zero at high speeds, and a good 40 pilot could use this to great effect if the Zero pilot fell for it. Another factor mentioned was that for every successive Zero model, the contemporary 40 version was faster. A6M2 vs. P-40C, A6M3 vs. P-40E and F, A6M5 vs. P-40N. In each case, the pilot said the 40 had at least a 30 m.p.h. speed advantage. So, the 40 pilot could always break the engagement off. The P-40 of course had an even greater advantage in diving speeds, with well over 400 m.p.h. attainable with no risk of damage to the robust airframe. Early Zero's couldn't hit 350 without the risk of damage. The 14th. Air Force pilot also indicated that himself and many of his fellow pilots preferred the 40 to the P-51, as the high altitude capabilities of the 51 were not a factor in their theater. Seems like the more I read about the old P-40, the more I find out that it truly was by no means a second rate fighter. Most Japanese pilots had a great deal of respect for a competent pilot in a 40, but I have wondered what opinion the Luftwaffe pilots had of the Tomahawk.
Why did the 14th pilots like the P-40 over the P-51? More rugged? Even though high altitude performance may not be a factor, aircraft range is always a factor. Big difference between the two, and that would be a big factor to me.

As far as the Luftwaffe, I heard that the P-40 could out turn their planes. As a fighter I don't think they feared them but probably hated them as a fighter-bomber.
It was more like 300 MPH when aileron response got heavy and slowed on the Zeros. But P-40 pilots used the strong points of their crates and avoided the weak points like good pilots should. The main thing was that they kept in the energy fighter thinking and chose their combats when they had the advantage. Often they would simply dive on their prey and make one firing pass and keep going whether they could confirm a kill or not.

I don't believe the Luftwaffe was overly scared of P-40Bs Cs aka Tomahawks or Kittyhawks P-40Ds Es in North Afrika. F3s and F4 Trops had good performance compared to P-40s plus Spits Vs and Hurricane IIs of the theater at the time.

From all I know I would say that the Spit was the toughest customer the men of JG 27 faced from the dialogues they've left.
Even though the P-40 may have been a charm, the P-51 had longer range, better high altitude performance, and, more importantly, a far greater maximum speed.

Remember, the Zero (and probably other Japanese fighters) had poor performance at high speed, whilst the P-51 was just fine. Remember the 'zoom and boom' attacks? Speed kills, and that's a fact.

Of course, in regards to the zoom and boom tactics, I guess the P-47 would have been better for those for obvious reasons...
The Flying Tigers never fought against the Zero. By the time they were operational the Navy had moved out of China and the JAAF had taken over for the remainder of the war. Against the Ki-27's and Ki-43's the P-40 did reasonably well. Later in the war when face with the Ki-44 and Ki-84 in didn't peform so well.

Over New Guinea there were only a few scraps with the Zero's - and the P-40 struggled to keep it's head above water. Partly due to the superior quality of the Japanese Navy pilots and partly due to the relative inexperience of the Americans' and Australians. And of course the P-40's suffered badly against the Zero's over the Philippines.

The only battlefront where the P-40's held their own against the Zero was over Darwin in 1942. With the advantage of radar and ealry warning lookouts in te Timor Sea the 49th FG usuallu managed to get airborne in time to gain an altitude advantage against the attacking G4M's and Zero's. But even with that they only managed a 1:1 victory rate against the fighters. They did much better against the bombers.

The P-40 had three clear advantages aginst the A6M Zero. One was it's ruggedness - which saved many an Allied pilot. Another was straight line speed - although this was not always evident in a dogfight and had to be worked at. The third, and most important, was it's dive speed; which would often be the last resort for pilot. But this was more a defensive advantage than offensive. Once a pilot dived away he would rarely be able to climb back up and rejoin the fight - it would have moved on out of reach.
Pips hit it on the head - I've posted earlier about USAAF units in late summer 42' were P-39s and P-40 had about a 1.5 to 1 kill ratio over New Guinea and escalated that kill ratio when the P-38 entered the scene in Dec. 42.
Just about any plane that flew against the Zero could out-dive it to disengage....

Zeros were mistaken for other aircraft approx 60% of the time... Many pilots didn't know the difference.... The Blacksheep went through similar problem throughout their 2 tours, with pilots misidentifying Zekes and Haps all the time, not to mention shooting down numerous Ki-44's when infact the werent any in theatre at the time....
Luftwaffe in North Africa rated the P-40 as a more dangerous opponent than the Hurricane but not as dangerous as the P-38 or Spitfire IIRC, not sure about the Eastern front.
From an old post...

"In Italy the 325 Fighter Group, commonly know as "The Checker-Tailed Clan" amassed one of the best kill to loss ratios of any fighter group in the European Theater. With a yellow and black checkerboard adorning the tail of their P-40s (and later P-47s and P-51s), they flew many sorties against more numerous German forces, and won most of the time. In 1943 the 325th won two major engagements. On July 1, 22 checker-tailed P-40s were making a fighter sweep over southern Italy when they were jumped by 40 Bf-109s. After an intense air battle, the result was half of the German aircraft shot down for the loss of a single P-40. There was a similar situation on the 30th of July, again over Italy, when 35 Bf-109s ambushed 20 P-40s. On this occasion, 21 German fighters were shot down, again for the loss of a single P-40. Because the pilots of the 325th were trained to maximize the P-40's strengths and minimize its weaknesses, it became a lethal opponent for the German fighters. The final record of "The Checker-Tailed Clan's" P-40s was 135 Axis planes shot down (96 were Bf-109s), for only 17 P-40s lost in combat."
I hadn't heard of that, flyboy. I always saw the luftwaffe ace's kill counts- sorry, i'm awful with names- more than one shot down at least 40 warhawks. it seemed like the p40 was effective only against the japanese.
i think Aggie's right, the P-40's fine for the pacific and Africa but over Western Europe the incredible rate of development left the P-40 behind, she didn't do too badly against the LW in Africa though much to her credit.......
the lancaster kicks *** said:
i think Aggie's right, the P-40's fine for the pacific and Africa but over Western Europe the incredible rate of development left the P-40 behind, she didn't do too badly against the LW in Africa though much to her credit.......
Yep - you'll find later in the war the P-40 was used a bit in Italy and was flown by the Tuskeege Airmen.
I'm a little queasy about saying that the P-40 was effective in the Pacific. The success of the AVG in the CBI theater was pretty unique over all. When facing the Japanese Army it may have barely survived and even held its own to some extent but against the Navy it was meat on the table like the Buffalo and Airacobra.
The P40 was flown with great effect in the SW Pacific after the pilots completey understood not to dogfight Japanese aircraft and to use the diving and zoon charachteristics of the plane to its advantage.

If anything, the IJA "Oscar" frequently found over New Guinie was the plane that was "meat on the table"
Twitch said:
I'm a little queasy about saying that the P-40 was effective in the Pacific. The success of the AVG in the CBI theater was pretty unique over all. When facing the Japanese Army it may have barely survived and even held its own to some extent but against the Navy it was meat on the table like the Buffalo and Airacobra.

The stats don't show that. This is from an earlier post

"For the entire 1942 combat year the FEAF lost 148 fighter aircraft in air-to-air combat while destroying 212 fighter aircraft = 1.43 to 1 FEAR vs Japan. You could slice numbers and do more research and attempt to insert Japanese aircraft by type, but considering the most numerous aircraft were the Zero and Oscar, these numbers do not represent great success by the IJN or JAAF. That's history!!!

And also consider the USN had a similar record after Midway while flying the F4F...

P-38s were entering the scene in late December 1942 so these numbers mainly come from P-39s, P-400s and P-40. We could throw in the fact that the best of the Japanese pilots were on scene during this period but the bottom line the IJN and JAAF did not do as well against US forces as history leads us to believe despite touting the Nishizawas, Iwamotos and Sakais (nothing against them). The US were beating back the IJN and JAAF with P-40s P-39s and P-400s (F4Fs for the USN) and the numbers prove it. Now one could challenge the accuracy of FEAF kill confirmation processes and try to compare them with Japanese losses, but I guess that's for another thread....

Consider the aircraft, pilot skill and the way history actually played out...."

Here the site I got my numbers from...http://www.usaaf.net/digest/operations.htm
The P-40 did its share in the PTO, it wasn't the best aircraft, But it was available when it was needed the most and helped hold the line. For instance,75 sqdn RAAF was formed and equipped with P-40's in early March 1942. The squadron had just 9 days to train on their new aircraft after which they were deployed to Port Morsby on the 21st of March to try and stop the Japanese. The unit went into action immediatley after arriving, and despite being the only fighter squadron in New Guinea at the time and greatly out numbered, they held out for 44 days before being relieved by USAAC P-39's. The squadron flew back to Australia with 1 Kittyhawk intact. 75 sqn lost 12 pilots KIA and lost 22 aircraft but had shot down 17 enemy a/c, probably destroyed 4 more and damaged a furthur 29.
The P-40's also played a major role in the defeat of the Japanese at the Battle Of Milne Bay. The Zero might have been superior but they certainly didn't have it all their way. On top of this the P-40's also had considerable success defending Darwin from Japanese fighters and bombers in 1942.
Did they really have success in Darwin? Most of what I have read seems to say they didn't do squat, though I haven't looked at it with any detail.

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