The Contributions of the P-51 Mustang to the Victory of the Allies

The Contributions of the P-51 Mustang to the Victory of the Allies

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The Contributions of the P-51 Mustang to the Victory of the Allies

This paper deals with the contributions of the P-51 Mustang to the
victory of the Allies in Europe during World War II. It describes the
scene in Europe before the P-51 was introduced, traces the development
the fighter, its advantages, and the abilities it was able to contribute
the Allies' arsenal. It concludes with the effect that the P-51 had on
German air superiority, and how it led the destruction of the Luftwaffe.
The thesis is that: it was not until the advent of the North American
Mustang fighter, and all of the improvements, benefits, and side effects
that it brought with it, that the Allies were able to achieve air
superiority over the Germans.

This paper was inspired largely by my grandfather, who flew the P-51 out
Leiston, England, during WW II and contributed to the eventual Allied
success that is traced in this paper. He flew over seventy missions
February and August 1944, and scored three kills against German

Table of Contents

Reasons for the Pre-P-51 Air Situation
The Pre-P-51 Situation
The Allied Purpose in the Air War
The Battle at Schweinfurt
The Development of the P-51
The Installation of the Merlin Engines
Features, Advantages, and Benefits of the P-51
The P-51's Battle Performance
The Change in Policy on Escort Fighter Function
P-51's Disrupt Luftwaffe Fighter Tactics
P-51's Give Bombers Better Support
Works Cited


On September 1, 1939, the German military forces invaded Poland to begin
World War II. This invasion was very successful because of its use of a
military strategic theory -- blitzkrieg. Blitzkrieg, literally
war," involved the fast and deadly coordination of two distinct forces,
Wermacht and the Luftwaffe. The Wermacht advanced on the ground, while
Luftwaffe destroyed the enemy air force, attacked enemy ground forces,
disrupted enemy communication and transportation systems. This setup was
responsible for the successful invasions of Poland, Norway, Western
the Balkans and the initial success of the Russian invasion. For many
after the first of September, the air war in Europe was dominated by the
Luftwaffe. No other nation involved in the war had the experience,
technology, or numbers to challenge the Luftwaffe's superiority. It was
until the United States joined the war effort that any great harm was
to Germany and even then, German air superiority remained unscathed. It
not until the advent of the North American P-51 Mustang fighter, and all
the improvements, benefits, and side effects that it brought with it,
the Allies were able to achieve air superiority over the Germans.

Reasons for the Pre-P-51 Air Situation

The continued domination of the European skies by the Luftwaffe was
by two factors, the first of which was the difference in military theory

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between the Luftwaffe and the Royal Air Force. The theories concerning
purpose and function of the Luftwaffe and RAF were exactly opposite and
were a result of their experiences in World War I. During WW I, Germany
attempted a strategic bombing effort directed against England using
(biplane bombers) and Zeppelins (slow-moving hot-air balloons) which did
not give much of a result. This, plus the fact that German military
at the beginning of WW II was based much more on fast quick results
(Blitzkrieg), meant that Germany decided not to develop a strategic air
force. The Luftwaffe had experienced great success when they used
ground-attack aircraft in Spain (i.e. at Guernica), and so they figured
that their air force should mainly consist of this kind of planes. So
Germany made the Luftwaffe a ground support force that was essentially
extension of the army and functioned as a long- range, aerial artillery.
The RAF, on the other hand, had experimented with ground-attack fighters
during WW I, and had suffered grievous casualty rates. This, combined
the fact that the British had been deeply enraged and offended by the
German Gotha and Zeppelin attacks on their home soil, made them
to develop a strategic air force that would be capable of bombing German
soil in the next war. Thus, at the beginning of WW II, the RAF was
mostly a
strategic force that consisted of heavy bombers and backup fighters, and
lacked any tactical dive- bombers or ground-attack fighters. (Boyne 21)

The Pre-P-51 Situation

Because of these fundamental differences, the situation that resulted
the air war began was: bombers in enemy territory vs. attack planes. The
"in enemy territory" was the second reason for the domination of the
Luftwaffe. At the beginning of WW II, and for many years afterward, the
Allies had no long-range escort fighters, which meant that the bombers
forced to fly most of their long journeys alone. (Perret 104) Before the
P-51 was brought into combat, the main Allied fighters were the American
P-47 Thunderbolt and the British Spitfire, neither of which had a very
range. The rule-of-thumb for fighter ranges was that they could go as
as Aachen, which was about 250 miles from the Allied fighters' home
in England, before they had to turn around. Unfortunately, most of the
bombers' targets were between 400 and 700 miles from England. (Bailey
This meant that bombers could only be escorted into the Benelux
northern France, and the very western fringe of Germany. When these
unescorted, ungainly, slow, unmaneuverable bombers flew over Germany,
were practically sitting ducks for the fast German fighters. On the
hand, the bombers were equipped with several machine guns and were able
consistently shoot down some of their attackers. Because of this, "U.S.
strategists were not yet convinced of the need for long-range fighters;
they continued to cling to the belief that their big bomber formations
could defend themselves over Germany." (Bailey 153)

The Allied Purpose in the Air War

The Allies knew that they had to drive German industry into the ground
order to win the war. Since the factories, refineries, assembly-lines,
other industry-related structures were all inland, the only way to
them was by sending in bombers. The only way that the bombers could
real success was by gaining air superiority, which meant that nearly all
the bombers would be able to drop their bombs without being harassed by
fighters, and return home to fight another day. The problem with this
sequence was that the Allies did not have this superiority, (Bailey 28)
because their bombers were consistently getting shot down in fairly
numbers, by the German fighters that kept coming. The Allies soon
that in order to gain this superiority, they would have to destroy more
German fighters. In order to destroy the fighters, they would have to be
forced into the air in greater numbers. In order to get more German
fighters into the air, the more sensitive German industries would have
be attacked with more aggression. Following this logic, the Allies began
intensified bombing effort that resulted in the famous bombings of
(July 24-28, 1943) and Ploesti (August 1, 1943), among others. And,
this did cause more fighters to come up to meet and engage the bombers.
Unfortunately, the bombers were overwhelmed by the German opposition,
their losses soon began to increase. (Copp 359) The Allied air forces
in effect, pushed a stick into a hornets' nest, hoping to kill the
when they came out, and been stung by the ferocity of their response.

The Battle at Schweinfurt

The culminating point of this backfiring plan was the second bombing
on Schweinfurt, which occurred on October 14, 1943. Schweinfurt was the
location of huge ball-bearing factories that supplied most of the
ball-bearings for the entire German military. The U.S. Eighth Air Force
staged a fairly successful raid on the same city two months earlier, but
the second time around, the Germans were ready for them. The official
report afterwards said that the Luftwaffe "turned in a performance
unprecedented in its magnitude, in the cleverness with which it was
planned, and in the severity with which it was executed." Of the 229
bombers that actually made it all the way to Schweinfurt, 60 were shot
down, and 17 more made it home, but were damaged beyond repair. This was
26.5% battle loss rate for the Americans, while the Germans only lost 38
airplanes the whole day, from all causes. (Boyne 327) This battle was
of the key battles of the war, and undeniably proved to the Allies that
bomber offensive could not continue without a long-range fighter escort.
(Copp 444) Even before October of '43, some had begun to realize the
for this kind of fighter. In June, the Commanding General of the Army
Forces, General Hap Arnold, wrote a memo to his Chief of Staff, Major
General Barney Giles, which said:

This brings to my mind the absolute necessity for building a
fighter airplane that can go in and out with the bombers.
Moreover, this fighter has got to go into Germany. . . . Whether
you use an existing type or have to start from scratch is your
problem. Get to work on this right away because by January '44, I
want a fighter escort for all our bombers from the U.K. into
Germany. (Copp 413-414)

The Development of the P-51

In April of 1940, "Dutch" Kindleberger, president of North American
Aviation, visited Sir Henry Self, the head of the aircraft division of
British Purchasing Commission, asking if Britain would like to buy some
his B-25 bombers. Self was not interested in buying any more bombers,
was interested in buying a good fighter. He directed Kindleberger to the
Curtiss company, who had a new fighter design, but were too busy
P-40's to do anything with it. Kindleberger went to Curtiss and bought
their design for $56,000. He promised Self to have the planes ready by
September of 1941. The prototype of the NA-73, as it was called, was
to fly in October of 1940 and proved to have an excellent design. The
had a revolutionary wing design that allowed it to fly at high speeds
without adverse compression effects. In other planes, as they approached
certain speed, usually around 450 mph, the air would be flowing around
wing at nearly the speed of sound, putting huge amounts of pressure on
wings, which were unable to deal with the stress. The NA-73 did not have
this problem, which meant it could fly safely at much higher speeds.
Another revolutionary idea in the plane was the way heated air from the
radiator was dealt with. The NA-73's engineers designed it to expel this
air and boost the planes speed by 15 or 25 mph. The engineers also
especially hard on making the plane as aerodynamic as possible, and so
positioned the radiator in a new place, made the fuselage as narrow as
possible, and set the cockpit low in the fuselage. (Perret 118-119) It
at this point that an error was made that made the Mustang useless as a
long-range offensive fighter. When the NA-73 was mass produced as the
it was powered by a 1550 horsepower air-cooled Allison engine, which did
not have a supercharger and lost performance above 11,800 ft. At high
altitudes air pressure goes down, and so there is less oxygen in a given
amount of air, which means that engines do not burn as cleanly, and so
power. Superchargers compress air before it is pumped into the engine
cylinders so that there is enough oxygen for the engine to function
The early Allison-engined planes did not have the supercharger, and so
limited to low-altitude operations. Even without a high- altitude
capability, the Mustang was an impressive plane and was bought in
by the RAF. It flew its first mission on May 10, 1942, against
Berck-sur-Mer on the French coast. (Grant 17-18)

The Installation of the Merlin Engines

So, for the next eighteen months, the P-51A's continued to fly with the
RAF, doing their unexceptional jobs well. After the plane began to go
combat, some people began looking into the idea of fitting the Mustang
a more powerful engine. As the RAF said, it was "a bloody good airplane,
only it needs a bit more poke." (Grant 22) One day, an RAF test pilot
flying a P-51A and the thought occurred to him that the plane could be
fitted with a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, which had about 300 more
horsepower and included a supercharger. He suggested it to Rolls-Royce's
Chief Aerodynamic Engineer and "both men realized that the combination
this sort of performance with the aerodynamically efficient airframe of
Mustang would revolutionize its potential." (Grant 22) This plan was
carried out and in November 1943, the first group of P-51B's arrived in

Features, Advantages, and Benefits of the P-51

This final Mustang design was superior to anything else that flew at the
time. The P-51B had a huge internal gasoline tank capacity (around 425
gallons) and its engine was very economical, using about half the
of other American fighters. This meant its range was 1080 miles and
be extended to 2600 miles when extra drop-tanks were attached to the
This made its range far more than any Allied or German fighter's. As far
performance went, it was superior to all others as well. Neither of the
other two main American fighters could compete; the P-47 was too heavy
the P-38 had too many technical problems. The British fighters, the
Spitfire and the Hurricane did not have the range, speed, or power. But
most important was its superiority over the German fighters, the most
important of which were the FW-190 and the Me-109. The Mustang was 50
faster than the Germans up to 28,000 ft beyond which it was much faster
than the FW-190 and still substantially faster than the Me-109. The
had between 3000 and 4000 lbs more weight, and so was able to outdive
either German plane. The tightness of its turns was much better than the
Me-109 and slightly better than the FW-190. (Grant 31, Boyne 389-390,
Bailey 153) The result of all of this was that the Allies now had a
that could go with the bombers all the way to and from their targets,
and defeat the bombers' German attackers, and not run out of fuel.

The P-51's Battle Performance

So, at the end of 1943 and the beginning of 1944, the new American
began arriving in England in force. (Dupuy 34) For the first few months
the year, the Mustangs were settling in and having their systems
But by March, the Mustangs had decisively taken control. The arrival and
subsequent heavy use of the P-51's had several effects.

The first effect that the Mustangs had was in the running air battles
Europe. Before the beginning of 1944, the bombers had been alone as they
approached their faraway targets. But the P-51 changed this, and quickly
made an impression on all concerned, enemy and ally alike. For example,
January 11, 1944, the Eighth Air Force launched its first deep
of Germany with P-51 coverage. The bombers' targets were the cities of
Oschersleben and Halberstadt, where many German planes were being
constructed. When they arrived, there were 49 Mustangs covering a force
around 220 bombers. Even though the bombers suffered heavy casualties,
were able to inflict substantial damage on their target factories. But
most significant thing about the battle was the shining performance of
P-51's. Since the bombers were attacking two different cities, the
force had to divide into two groups, to support the different attacks.
Because of the sensitive nature of the bombers' targets, the Luftwaffe
out in force to defend their factories. During the ensuing melee, the 49
P-51's shot down 15 enemy planes without suffering a single loss. Major
Howard, the group's leader, was credited with four kills within minutes.
(Bailey 155) In the grand scheme of things, this battle was
but it goes to show how much of advantage the P-51's had over their
counterparts. Considering that these were essentially first-time pilots
the Mustangs' first big battle, this is very impressive.

The Change in Policy on Escort Fighter Function

Another thing happened at the same time as the arrival of the P-51 that
greatly aided the Allies and fully utilized the great capabilities of
Mustang. Before the beginning of 1944, the bomber escort's primary
was to fly alongside the bombers, repel any attacks made on the bombers,
and generally make sure the bombers stayed safe. Indeed, the motto of
Eighth Air Force Fighter Command was "Our Mission is to Bring the
Back Alive." One day at the beginning of the year, Jimmy Doolittle, who
the commander of the Eighth Air Force, saw a plaque on the wall with
motto on it and said, "That's not so. Your mission is to destroy the
Air Force. . .Take that damned thing down." (Copp 456) And just days
before, in his New Year's Day address to the Eighth Air Force command,
General Arnold had said, "My personal message to you-this is a MUST- is
destroy the enemy air force wherever you find them, in the air, on the
ground and in the factories." (Copp 456) What this meant was that the
escort fighters were not tied to the bombers anymore, and were free to
over the countryside and through the towns and cities, destroying at
The sweeping Mustangs were released to ravage German convoys, trains,
antiaircraft gun emplacements, warehouses, airfields, factories, radar
installations, and other important things that would be impractical to
attacked by bombers. The fighters were also able to attack German
when they were least prepared for it, like when they were taking off or
forming up in the air. What made this possible was the increase in the
number of American planes present in Europe. This increase in the number
Allied planes compared to the number of German planes continued to the
point that, on D-Day, the Allies used 12,873 aircraft while the Germans
were only able to muster a mere 300. (Overy 77) By using this
numerical advantage, the Allied fighters were able to swamp their
in an unstoppable flood of planes.

P-51's Disrupt Luftwaffe Fighter Tactics

This increase in the number of fighters plus the change in fighter
philosophy allowed the escorts to cover the bombers while simultaneously
ranging far from the bomber stream and destroying all that they could
This caused the disruption of several effective German fighter tactics
had been used successfully in the past. One of these tactics was the
deployment of slow, ungainly German planes that would fly around the
formations, out of gun range, and report back on where the bombers were
where their weak spots were. The free-ranging P-51's soon wiped out
planes. Another popular tactic was to mount rocket launchers on the
of some of these slower craft, have them linger just out of range of the
bombers' guns, and send rockets flying into the bomber formations. These
rocket attacks were terrifying to the bomber crews, and often broke up
formations, sending some planes to the ground. Obviously, these attacks
also came to a halt. Most importantly, the fast German fighters had to
change their attack tactics. Beforehand, they would fly alongside the
formations and wait for the right moment to swoop in and attack a
Now, they were forced to group together several miles away from the
bombers, and then turn and made a mad rush at the bombers, hoping to
inflict sufficient damage on one pass to shoot down some number of enemy
bombers. They could not afford to stay with the bombers for very long
fear of being attacked by the Mustangs. (Perret 293) Indeed, soon after
P-51's entered onto the scene, Hermann Goering, the commander of the
Luftwaffe, recommended that the German defensive fighters avoid combat
the P-51, and only attack bomber formations when there were no fighters
around. The result of all of this is that the American fighters, led by
P-51's, soon began to gain air superiority. Not long after Goering's
recommendation, a sarcastic Luftwaffe officer commented that the safest
flying in the world was to be an American fighter over Germany. (Dupuy
35-36) It is obvious that the P-51, once it was supplied to the Eighth
Force in great quantities, and unleashed by Doolittle and Arnold's new
fighter policies, soon took a heavy toll on German air superiority.

P-51's Give Bombers Better Support

Another profound effect that the increased fighter coverage had was on
most important people, the bombers. After the entrance of the P-51, and
virtual elimination of the German fighter threat, the bombers were in
less danger from German fighters. The result of the decreased danger to
bombers is subtle, but obvious when thought about. Imagine a bomber crew
sitting in their cramped plane, unable to move around or evade attack
during their bombing run while numerous German fighters speed past their
plane firing at them. Second lieutenant William Brick, the bombardier of
B-17 bomber, tells about the day he flew to Linz, Austria on a bombing

. . . The remainder of the run must be perfectly straight and
level, without the slightest deviation, or our five-
thousand-pound bomb load will fall wide of the target. No evasive
action is possible. . . Then comes the sickening rattle of
machine-gun bullets and cannon fire hitting our ship; ignoring
the flak from the antiaircraft batteries, German fighter planes
zoom in so close that it seems they will ram us. . . Even at the
sub-zero temperatures of this altitude, salty sweat pours down my
face and burns my eyeballs. Cursing and praying, I am gripped by
the same brand of helpless fear that fliers experience during
every bomb run. I feel the terror in my hands, in my stomach,
even in my feet. Long after returning from the mission, its
effects will remain etched indelibly on my face. . . . (Brick 61)

This kind of terror experienced by the entire crew of the bombers was
to affect their concentration and their carefulness. Indeed, "it is an
undeniable, if unquantifiable, fact that it is easier to bomb precisely
when you know you will probably not be shot out of the sky." (Boyne 341)


In the end, the way that the Allied air forces gained air superiority
by destroying its opposition. The ways in which the fighters were able
destroy German fighters were diverse. The fighters utilized their high
speed and maneuverability to fly low-level strafing missions that ranged
over large expanses of territory and destroyed many Luftwaffe craft on
ground. This tactic was responsible for the destruction of many dozens
fighters that were unable to go on and fight in the air. Another way
the Allied fighters destroyed their opposition, and the most important
was by luring them into the air. Going back to the hornets' nest
the Allies stopped pushing the stick and decided to bide their time
the moment was right. When they did start pushing the stick into the
again, they were armed with a metaphoric insecticide. In real life, this
"insecticide" was the P-51. Beforehand, the Allies had nothing that
stop the "hornets" and so were helpless to stop their attack. But after
they had developed an "insecticide" capable of killing the "hornets,"
proceeded to lure the hornets into the open where they could be
In real life, the bombers were the lure that brought the Luftwaffe into
air. Using the long-range Mustangs, the Allies were able to make their
bombing raids more effective and more deadly to Germany. The approaching
end of the Third Reich was enough to get the German fighters into the
to try to stop the bombers from wrecking their war effort. "Air
had been won not by bombing the enemy's factories into oblivion;
it was won by the long-range fighter, using the bomber formations as
to entice the Luftwaffe to fight." (Boyne 338) With the advent of great
numbers of the highly superior P-51 Mustang, the German fighters that
up to attack the bombers quickly met their match and were easily
by the Mustangs.

Works Cited

Bailey, Ronald H. The Air War in Europe. Alexandria, Virginia: Time-Life
Books, 1979. A simple, straight-forward book that includes much
on the development of military aviation, and includes many pictures that
chronicle the air war.

Boyne, Walter J. Clash of Wings: World War II in the Air. New York:
Simon &
Schuster, 1994. A very informative and user- friendly book that dealt
the air aspect of all fronts and theaters of WWII. It includes much data
numerous planes in its appendices.

Brick, William. "Bombardier." American History, April 1995, pp. 60-65. A
short magazine article following the story of how a U.S. airman was shot
down over Austria, and his subsequent imprisonment by the Nazis.

Copp, DeWitt S. Forged in Fire: Strategy and Decisions in the Airwar
Europe, 1940-1945. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, 1982. A
dealing mostly with the U.S. involvement in the War, with particular
emphasis on the politics of the military officials, and how the major
strategic decisions were made.

Dupuy, Trevor Nevitt. The Air War in the West: June 1941 to April 1945.
York: Franklin Watts, Inc., 1963. A short, very basic book that did not
into depth, but did cover its material well.

Grant, William Newby. P-51 Mustang. London: Bison Books Limited, 1980. A
relatively short book, but one that dealt solely with the P-51, and went
into considerable depth concerning its construction and use during WWII
in later conflicts.

Overy, R.J. The Air War: 1939-1945. New York: Stein and Day Publishers,
1980. A fairly dry book that dealt mostly with the economics and
generalities of the air war, without dealing too much with the actual

Perret, Geoffrey. Winged Victory: The Army Air Forces in World War II.
York: Random House, 1993. A good book that covered its topic well,
in-depth discussion of the contributions of the other allies' forces is
dealt with.
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