The best fighter of the 1930s

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INTX7568

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Aug 19, 2023
One of the more interesting and often overlooked aspects of the air war is the generation of aircraft that directly preceded those that we know from the war. I'm speaking of those introduced during the 30s, a time where aircraft design advanced so quickly that those that were excellent designs in the late 30s were considered obsolete by the time the war broke out. Some of these continued to have illustrious careers despite being considered dated such as the F4F and Hurricane, but most have been relegated to mediocrity and irrelevance in the pages of history. Personally, I'm quite interested in this era, as this really set the stage for what we would see mass produced only a few years later. What do you think was the best fighter design of the 1930s, and why? I would say the peak of 1930s fighter design would consist of the Soviet I-16, Dutch D.XXI, British Hurricane and Gladiator, German 109B and D, American F2A, F4F, P-35 and P-36, and French M.S. 406. Personally, I choose the P-36, as it was exceptionally good handling and reasonably durable (lacking SS tanks but that was standard for the time).
 
One of the more interesting and often overlooked aspects of the air war is the generation of aircraft that directly preceded those that we know from the war. I'm speaking of those introduced during the 30s, a time where aircraft design advanced so quickly that those that were excellent designs in the late 30s were considered obsolete by the time the war broke out. Some of these continued to have illustrious careers despite being considered dated such as the F4F and Hurricane, but most have been relegated to mediocrity and irrelevance in the pages of history. Personally, I'm quite interested in this era, as this really set the stage for what we would see mass produced only a few years later. What do you think was the best fighter design of the 1930s, and why? I would say the peak of 1930s fighter design would consist of the Soviet I-16, Dutch D.XXI, British Hurricane and Gladiator, German 109B and D, American F2A, F4F, P-35 and P-36, and French M.S. 406. Personally, I choose the P-36, as it was exceptionally good handling and reasonably durable (lacking SS tanks but that was standard for the time).
Hi
If you have the P-36 (first deliveries to USAAC April 1938), F2A (first delivered June 1939) and F4F (first delivered Feb 1940) then you will have to include the Spitfire Mk. I that entered service with 19 Sqn. in August 1938 (first deliveries to RAF in May 1938). Also the Bf.109E-1 that started to be delivered in the Spring of 1939. Both the latter probably 'better' than the others. Even the Fokker D.XXI prototype flew over two weeks after the Spitfire on 27 March 1936 compared with 5 March 1936 for the Spitfire. Deliveries of MS.406 started in mid-1938.

Mike
 
One of the more interesting and often overlooked aspects of the air war is the generation of aircraft that directly preceded those that we know from the war. I'm speaking of those introduced during the 30s, a time where aircraft design advanced so quickly that those that were excellent designs in the late 30s were considered obsolete by the time the war broke out. Some of these continued to have illustrious careers despite being considered dated such as the F4F and Hurricane, but most have been relegated to mediocrity and irrelevance in the pages of history. Personally, I'm quite interested in this era, as this really set the stage for what we would see mass produced only a few years later. What do you think was the best fighter design of the 1930s, and why? I would say the peak of 1930s fighter design would consist of the Soviet I-16, Dutch D.XXI, British Hurricane and Gladiator, German 109B and D, American F2A, F4F, P-35 and P-36, and French M.S. 406. Personally, I choose the P-36, as it was exceptionally good handling and reasonably durable (lacking SS tanks but that was standard for the time).
I like the Hawk 75/P-36 too, but rather than just guess or promote our favorites, does anyone have statistics showing which 1930s fighter shot down the most AC before 1 Jan 40?
 
There's your answer, Spit and Me-109 were the best of the 30s designs. F4F wasn't operational in the 30s. Hurri was damned good for its time. Zero isn't in the time-frame. MS-406 ... meh.
Isn't P-39 with 1st flight of 6/Apr/'38, the best of the 30s designs; and everything else a distant 2nd? :D

I'll get my coat.

p.s. Given Bf.109 was involved in both Spanish civil war and Invasion of Poland, you'd have to think it would have shot down most a/c before 1/Jan/'40.
 
I believe the I-16 fought in the Spanish Civil War, in China, and also against the Japanese during the Soviet Japanese border conflict in 1939. Perhaps that model had the most victories scored before 1/Jan/40.

Eagledad
Now we're getting somewhere. How about the Italian Fiat CR.32? According the all-knowing Wiki, it seemed to be 2-Winged Death to it's opponents in Spain
 
Not sure were we are going with this.
Spanish civil war
17 July 1936 – 1 April 1939

Anything from 1936-37 was stale toast in 1939.
the I-16 that went to Spain first was the type 5 with a 715hp engine and two 7.62 guns (one in each wing)
The type 18 of late 1939 used an engine with a two speed supercharger that gave 800hp at 4200meters (1000hp for take-off) and had four 7.62mm guns.

Some planes showed similar changes, others didn't.
 
Considering aircraft that were operational for the majority of the decade, the P-26 has my vote! Deliveries started in 1933.
 

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I believe the I-16 fought in the Spanish Civil War, in China, and also against the Japanese during the Soviet Japanese border conflict in 1939. Perhaps that model had the most victories scored before 1/Jan/40.

Eagledad
Hello,

I-16 was definitely not the best fighter of the 1930ies. It was outperformed by Ki.27 in the Nomonhan conflict (or the Battles of Khalkhin Gol) - at least all the M-25 powered modifications, although Nate had serious problems with continuous diving and robustness. The modifications equipped with the M-62/-63 engines demonstrated a better performance - mostly due to the plywood wing skin, but they appeared too late and did not solve the performance problems radically. Polikarpov was rather interested in developing new constructions than perfecting existing ones. I-16 had extremely unsuccessful nosing - even if powered with a >900HP engine it could not exceed 500 km/h speed limit in serial production. I-180 - a further development of I-16 with the similar technology but numerous design improvements, powered with a new M-87 engine - was much better, unfortunately the development was cancelled due to irrational factors. Aerodynamically, P-35 was significantly better than I-16 as well. I-16 was adequate in 1936-1938, however its potential was not exhausted in the latter variants due to complicated relationships between the design office, production and the ministry ("people's commissariat").

bf
 
Basically if we are looking for the best fighter of 1930s and not a favorite we are looking at fighters that went into service in 1938-39.
Such is the way of progress.
I can't think of anybody that introduced a fighter (went into production) in 1938-39 that was inferior to what the same country had been producing in 1934-37 let alone earlier.
And going back to 1933 and before 🙄

Now we might be able to argue about if country A's 1938 fighter was not as good as country B's 1937 fighter but that is about as far as it goes.

Assumes
equal pilots
equal support (parts/maintenance/supplies)
equal missions (roughly)
 
According the all-knowing Wiki, it seemed to be 2-Winged Death to it's opponents in Spain
I guess, Republicans losses are drastically overclaimed by Italian authors. Thus, Francoists claimed 485 I-16 shot down, whereas the Republican AF confirm only 187 I-16 of all types lost during the whole period of war. Indeed, both the Soviet pilots and technical specialists were not impressed of FIATs despite of certain advantages of the latter.
 
If your critiera is the design with the best growth potential, the P-35 wins, hands down. P-35-P-43-P-47 is a direct lineage. No other 1930's fighter can match that. Compare the 1945 P-47N to the other designs derived from 1930's fighters and no other even comes close. The P-47 was better at everything that was important, capable of longer range, better altitude capability and was even superb at ground attack. In contrast, the P-36-P-40 and Hurricane pretty much ran out of steam by 1942, the Spitfire would have been relegated to training had Sir Hooker not come up with the 60 Series Merlin, and the BF-109 "The Bulge" had so much stuffed under the hood that it was all but unmanageable except by very experienced pilots, who still managed to crash on landing with disturbing frequency. As for ground attack, none of the others were nearly as good as the P-47, the P-40 and Hurricane serving long that role only because there were not enough 'Bolts available. The RAF apparently did not even give a moment's thought to sending Typhoons to Burma and instead trashed the Hurricanes and went to P-47's. Most Tiffie pilots in the ETO probably would have preferred Jugs if given the choice.

The USAAC competition that led to procurement of both the P-36 and P-35 was a remarkable acquisition effort. Having two "winners" provided the best USAAF fighters in the short term, equally vital to the Allies, as well as leading to a lineage that was vital in the longer term. The closest equivalent to those 1930's programs was the LWF competion that led to the F-16-F-17-F-18.
 
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