Three reasons why the P-40 was a better fighter in the PTO than the Spitfire

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by CobberKane, Nov 24, 2013.

  1. CobberKane

    CobberKane Banned

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    Great things were expected of the Spitfire when it arrived in Darwin. Already a legend due to its role in the Battle of Britain the Spit, it was hoped, would be the fighter that really showed those pesky Zeros and Oscars what's what. It it never really happened, but today the Spitfire is still a legend whereas the Curtis P-40, which did far more to halt the Japanese air forces, has largely slipped from common memory. I would go so far to suggest that the P-40 was a better fighter in the PTO than the Spitfire could ever be for the following reasons.

    1. It was tougher. The P-40 might have been the toughest liquid cooled single engine fighter of the war, in terms of it's capacity for withstanding battle damage. For all its virtues, no one would ever say that of the Spitfire.
    2. With the exception of flat out speed, whatever the Spitfire could do better than the Zero or Oscar the P-40 could do better again. The weakness of the Japanese fighters was always their sluggish high speed handling, particularly in a dive. The The P-40 could out-dive and out-roll the Spitfire at speed, giving it a greater degree of superiority in these respects. The Spitfire could of course turn tighter and out-accelerate the P-40, but as the Zero was easily better than either of them these performance parameters were of limited use.
    3. The P-40 was the better frontline fighter. It was more simply built and more able to be operated and serviced under the conditions that were typical of the PTO

    The Spitfire was a Ferrari to the P-40s pick-up truck. But even today, people in Northern Australia, Papua New Guinea and Burma don't drive many Ferraris. Any thoughts?
     
  2. N4521U

    N4521U Well-Known Member

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    A Ferrari would look silly with a sharks mouth painted on its snout!
     
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  3. VBF-13

    VBF-13 Well-Known Member

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    I'll agree with everything you said, pretty much. However, I'll observe, that had the Japanese been taking on these Spitfires over Britain, we might have seen a different outcome.
     
  4. glennasher

    glennasher Member

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    Ruggedness, can't argue the point at all.

    I'm thinking another maybe more salient point might be the supply chain, though, since the US had so many aircraft using Allisons, that maybe the supply situation might have been better in the South Pacific due to the "relative" abundance of spare parts compared to the Merlins. Yes, I know that supply was always a problem in the early years of the Pacific war, though I'd think that it might be easier to find Allison parts than Merlin bits.
     
  5. MikeGazdik

    MikeGazdik Member

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    CobberKane, great post! This is something that has always been hard for me to understand. But some thinking of this had me wondering if: The Spitfire was a defensive fighter supreme. No questions asked. But even in Europe it's offensive ability was not the best due to range and lack of ordinance carrying ability.

    Could it be that because when and if the P-40 was used offensively it was a little better than the Spitfire, coupled with the attributes that made the Spitfire great in Europe, turning and climbing, was nullified by the Japanese fighters? Whereas the P-40 could not climb or turn as well as the Spitfire, but because of the way it was used forced the enemy to fight in a way it was not best, made the P-40 better?

    These thoughts are more questions than answers or statements because it still is odd to me, and I LOVE the P-40.

    A second thought is the robustness as you pointed out. Including I would think that just by the layout of the landing gear and how low slung the Spitfire is, that the P-40 would be more tolerant of crappy airfields.
    ?
     
  6. N4521U

    N4521U Well-Known Member

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    But then................................................................................... it wasn't!
     
  7. VBF-13

    VBF-13 Well-Known Member

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    A boy can observe, can't he? :lol:

    Really, I think they got a bum break, and for much the reasons Mike said.
     
  8. wuzak

    wuzak Well-Known Member

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    I would say that the Spitfire V could outclimb the Zero quite handily, and totally destroy the P-40 in that regard.

    The Spitfire couldn't turn with a zero - at low speeds. As speeds went up the Spitfire could match, then out-turn the zero.

    The Spitfire's roll-performance could be vastly improved by the simple expedient of bolting on different wing tips.

    The P-40 was not, and never was, a better front-line fighter than the Spitfire. The P-40 being relegated to second line (eg fighter-bomber) duties before the Spitfire was.

    The only real reason the P-40 could be considered a better fighter for the PTO was range. It had some, the Spitfire had very little.
     
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  9. nuuumannn

    nuuumannn Well-Known Member

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    #9 nuuumannn, Nov 24, 2013
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2013
    A couple of points woirth mentioning about your post Cobber, whilst I agree with some of your conclusions, I don't with all of them. Firstly, the P-40 was not a better fighter in the PTO than the Spitfire. Yes, it was more important to the RAAF and yes, it was more suited to the PTO environment, but the Spitfire F.VC could outperform the P-40E in terms of rate of climb, altitude, level speed and manoeuvrability. Once the Spitfire VIII appeared the P-40 was definitely not in the same class.

    It is also worth reminding ourselves that the Spitfire was used by the RAAF in the role it was designed for; as a short ranged interceptor. It's first role was defence of the north of Australia and despite difficulties with serviceability, lack of supply of spare parts, lack of numbers of aircraft, lack of sufficient early warning and poor tactics, somehow the RAAF Spitfire squadrons did manage to gain air superiority over the Japanese. It is worth making a comparison with the situation in North Africa; the P-40, or Tomahawk and Kittyhawk were available as fighters and fared well enough against the Luftwaffe, also their ruggedness and ease of maintenance of their Allison engines made them more suited to the harsh environment, it was the appearance of the Spitfire in numbers that turned the tables on the Luftwaffe in the North African air war, however.

    The fact was, the Spitfire and the P-40 occupied different roles in the RAAF; the Spit was a short ranged interceptor and the P-40 a long range fighter bomber. The Spit was there for defence and the P-40 for attack; once the Japanese threat over Australia itself had been nullified and their forces driven further north, the P-40 came into its own. Despite this however, the Spitfire VIII was considered for manufacture by Australian firms alongside the P-51, to which it lost owing to the latter's superior range and other factors. The P-40 was not considered. The Latter was arguably stronger structurally than the Spitfire, but the Spitfire was not weak and this was never an issue with it in any theatre. It can be said that the P-40 was stronger than most, which made it more surviveable. Its Allison engine could take considerable more punishment than the Merlin; it had fewer parts and could be fixed by any trained mechanic, whereas the Merlin required specialist Roll-Royce trained technicians for overhaul.

    The P-40 could carry a heavier load across a greater distance than the Spitfire and proved an excellent ground attack fighter, but perhaps the biggest virtue of the P-40 over the Spitfire in the Pacific was its availability and supply train in support of it. These two factors hampered the RAAF's operations with the Spitfire, but not the P-40. Both the RAAF, the USAAF and RNZAF all operated the P-40 in theatre; not so the Spitfire, which was far more urgently required in Europe, where its virtues could and would be better appreciated.
     
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  10. OldSkeptic

    OldSkeptic Active Member

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    4. It was far better at being shot down by 109s...... so I suppose it all depends on what you mean by 'better', the 109 boys in North Africa loved the P-40s. They thought they were much better ... targets ... than Spitfires.
    Shame they never used them in Malta, the amount of Nights Crosses it would have earned the Luftwaffe fighter boys would have been humungous.

    Note the heavy irony here.

    Trouble with your Ferrari/truck analogy is that the other side had them .. and they were all at a race track where they were trying to kill each other.
     
  11. Wildcat

    Wildcat Well-Known Member

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    Whilst I believe the P-40 was the RAAF's most important fighter, the spitfire was still crucial in the point defence role as stated by Nuuumannn and both had a spot in the wartime RAAF. It's also worth mentioning that before the arrival of the MkVc's nothing could catch and shoot down the high flying Ki-46 recce planes encountered over Darwin.
     
  12. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

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    You saved me a lot of typing with that post nuuumannnn as that was essentially what I was about to write :)

    Cheers

    Steve
     
  13. rednev

    rednev New Member

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    lucky no one told boys like clive caldwell or john waddy that
     
  14. stona

    stona Well-Known Member

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    And Caldwell was happy to trade in his Tomahawk/Kittyhawk for a Spitfire when he returned to Australia. It's a question of having the right tool for the job. I'm not sure that a Spitfire was ideal for his side line as a bootlegger :)
    Cheers
    Steve
     
  15. CobberKane

    CobberKane Banned

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    Nuuumann, I wouldn't for a moment disagree that the Spitfire could out-climb, out-turn and out run the P-40. But bear in mind that the assertion was that the P-40 was a better fighter IN THE PACIFIC (sorry to shout, can't do italics). The ability of the Spitfire to out-manoeuver a P-40 was immaterial - the fighter it needed to out-manoeuver was the Zero, and it couldn't.
    Wuzak, your claim that the Spit V could out-climb the Zero handily is at odds with the conclusions of the RAAF, at least if we are speaking of the A6M5. They tested one against a Spitfire and found that while the Spitfire was some what faster and had an advantage in RoC, neither attribute was enough to allow the Spit to disengage safely. In fact the overall conclusion was that the Spitfire was outclassed below 20,000ft. Spitfire or P-40, the only safe way to tackle a Zero was to dive on it, fire and keep going. The only reliable way of escaping one was to dive. In both these exercises the P-40 was at least as capable as the Spitfire, probably more so ( with the caveat that the Spitfires better RoC would make it more capably of gaining a height advantage if time was short.)
    If I was three thousand feet above a Zero and about to commence a diving attack I would rather be in the P-40; better diving characteristics, plenty of ammo. Likewise if I had a Zero on my tail and my only good option was to put the nose down and firewall it, I would take the P-40; better roll to initiate the dive (or the option of shoving the stick forward without losing power) and better ability to take the hits until I'm out of range. And it I was in charge of procurement I think I'd say thank but no thanks to the Spit; more expensive to buy, harder to keep in service, less ability in secondary roles like ground attack and no more able to take on the Zero at it's own game than the humble P-40.
     
  16. wuzak

    wuzak Well-Known Member

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    Here is a piece from teh aforementioned Clive Cadwell....

    http://www.wwiiaircraftperformance.org/japan/spitfire-v-zero-caldwell.jpg

    And another comparison:

    http://www.wwiiaircraftperformance.org/japan/spit-v-zero-wawn.jpg
     
  17. Neil Stirling

    Neil Stirling Member

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    The Merlin 46 Spit V as used by the RAAF was limited, IRC to +12lbs boost and had a Vokes intake filter. Probably the worst performing Mk V variant.

    Neil.
     
  18. CobberKane

    CobberKane Banned

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    Which Zero was Caldwell speaking of? Regarding the A6M5:

    "These differing technical characteristics determined the pattern of relative performance between the two machines, as shown by the tactical trials conducted by two experienced RAAF fighter pilots in flying trials conducted over three flying days[2]. Flight Lieutenant ‘Bardie’ Wawn DFC and Squadron Leader Les Jackson DFC flew against one another in both aircraft, and what they found was not encouraging.

    They found that the Zero had a lower rated altitude than the Spitfire, 16 000 feet against 21 000 feet, which delivered the Spitfire a good speed advantage at height – it was 20 knots faster at 26 000 feet. However, as had already been noted by RAF Fighter Command in Europe, the Spitfire had relatively slow acceleration, and thus the Zero was able to stay behind the Spitfire within gun range while the Spitfire gradually accelerated away out of range. Even in a dive the Spitfire still accelerated too slowly to avoid the Zero’s gunfire. Climbing away was also not an option, as the Spitfire’s climb superiority was too slight (not to mention the slow acceleration problem once again)."

    "The Zero developed its maximum speed of 291 knots at its rated altitude of 16 000 feet. The Spitfire produced 290 knots at 15 000 feet, confirming that below 20 000 feet the two types were more evenly matched in speed performance. Given the Zero’s much superior acceleration, in practice this meant that the advantage tipped more heavily in favour of the Zero at these lower altitudes. In comparative tests at 17 000 feet, the Spitfire was again unable to safely draw away from the Zero. The unanimous conclusion of Wawn and Jackson was that ‘the Spitfire is outclassed by the Hap at all heights up to 20,000 feet’."

    Full Text here:
    Spitfire vs Zero | Darwin Spitfires, the real battle for Australia - Spitfire fighter pilots height tactical advantage superior
     
  19. wuzak

    wuzak Well-Known Member

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    What do you classify as "better diving characteristics"?

    America's Hundred Thousand:
    As for being above:
    http://www.wwiiaircraftperformance.org/japan/spit-v-zero-wawn.jpg
     
  20. wuzak

    wuzak Well-Known Member

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    Interesting that you argue for the P-40 as being a better fighter in the PTO because it had mor ability as a fighter-bomber.

    Also, the account you linked is by the same guy regarding the same trials as the second of my links. With different results.

    And, from your link:

    Which would, I presume, make your P-40s toast?
     
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