Curtiss P-40 Warhawk (Tomahawk/Kittyhawk)

During the first weeks AVG fought in defense of Rangoon, the capital of Burma (then a British colony). Steadily pushed to the north, it retreated to its base at Kunming in China, where it continued to fight off Japanese air raids. In spring 1942 the three squadrons of the AVG intensified offensive operations, moving part of their force to eastern China to attack Japanese airbases and seaports on the coast of South China Sea, especially Canton and Hong Kong. In July 1942 the unit was disbanded and replaced by a regular USAAF fighter group – 23rd FG – which took over some veterans and equipment of the ‘Flying Tigers’. The AVG pilots were credited with 296 Japanese aircraft destroyed in the air and on the ground. As many as 18 ‘Flying Tigers’ became aces with five or more victories to their credit (the top-scorer was Robert Neal with 13). The 23rd FG continued to harass the Japanese in China. General Claire Chennault, the father of the ‘Flying Tigers’ and later the commander of the US 14th Army Air Force (constituted in March 1943), successively bolstered his forces with Warhawk squadrons of 51st FG brought from India.
Late 1943 saw combat debut of Chinese-American Composite Wing (CACW), partially equipped with Warhawks. At the same time first P-51 Mustangs began to arrive in China. However, they were so few that P-40s continued to serve with fighter squadrons of 14th AF for another year or so. In late June 1944 the strength of 23rd FG was bolstered by the arrival of 118th TRS, a tactical reconnaissance squadron equipped with P-40Ns, which had earlier served in India. Not all Warhawks of the US 10th Army Air Force went to China. The Tenth retained 80th FG, which arrived in India at the turn of 1943/44. This group mainly operated over the Japanese-occupied Burma (hence its nickname ‘Burma Banshees’).
P-40 saw as much combat in the vast expanses of the Pacific, from the Aleutians to Australia. In Pearl Harbor, on 7th December 1941, there were two Pursuit Groups (15th and 18th1) equipped with some 100 P-40B/Cs in all. Nearly all of them were either destroyed or damaged on the ground. Only a handful of pilots managed to get airborne. Two of them (both of 47th PS) made the name for themselves – 2/Lt. George Welch shot down four Japanese aircraft, and 2/Lt. Kenneth Taylor two. Also in the Philippines about 100 Warhawks (of 24th and 35th PGs), most of them the latest P-40Es, were stationed when the war in the Pacific broke out. Here the result of the first clash with the Japanese was very much the same as in Pearl Harbor. This first air battle for the Philippines also had its hero – on 12th December 1941 Lt. Boyd ‘Buzz’ Wagner of 24th PG shot down four Japanese fighters in a skirmish over Aparri airfield. Four days later he got another and became the first ace of the US Army Air Corps. In February 1942 Warhawk pilots, grouped in an improvised squadron called 17th PS (Provisional), fought a desperate battle for the island of Java, tallying 40 victories but losing 17 aircraft. The top-ranking pilot of the squadron was 2/Lt. William Hennon, who shot down five Japanese aircraft.
The veterans of the Philippines and Java joined 49th PG, which arrived in Australia from the USA in February 1942. In the following months the group countered Japanese air raids on Darwin. In September 1942, when RAAF units took over the air defense of Australia, the group (which by that time changed designation to 49th FG) moved to New Guinea, the main operational area of the US 5th Army Air Force.

P-40L Warhawk (s/n 42-10841) named Nona II, flown by 2/Lt. Alva Temple of 99th FS; Madna, Italy, November 1943. The 99th was the first USAAF fighter squadron manned by African Americans. It was successively attached to 33rd, 79th and 324th FGs, before it was finally absorbed by 332nd FG. [Painting Janusz Światłoń]


The first P-40s fighting for New Guinea were Australian Kittyhawks of 75 and 76 Squadrons RAAF, from March and July 1942 respectively. A third squadron, 77 Sqn RAAF, joined them in February 1943. By the end of 1943 the Australians equipped five more fighter squadrons (78, 80, 82, 84 and 86) with Kittyhawks. The RAAF also fielded a Dutch squadron of Kittyhawks, 120 Sqn NEI. In May 1944 it set up shop at Merauke on New Guinea, and operated over the area of Netherlands East Indies until the end of the war, carrying out coast patrols and occasionally strafing isolated Japanese positions in the area of Vogelkop Peninsula.
Meanwhile the Americans were successively phasing out their P-40s in favor of the long-ranged P-38 Lightnings. In January 1943 one of the three component squadrons of 49th FG converted to P-38s. Since Warhawks were no longer in short supply, in June 35th FS of 8th FG exchanged the unpopular P-39 Airacobras for P-40s, and operated them until it too converted to Lightnings in February 1944. The 35th scored several spectacular successes on Warhawks (P-40Ns). On 16th January 1944 over Saidor on New Guinea, during the squadron’s last engagement before conversion, it tallied a record 19 victories. The two remaining squadrons of 49th FG still operating Warhawks didn’t convert to P-38s until late 1944. In November their combat-weary P-40s were issued to 110th TRS ‘Musketeers’, a tactical reconnaissance squadron. It was a pilot from this unit, 2/Lt. Robert Hammond, who scored the last P-40 victory in the Pacific – on 29th January 1945 he shot down a ‘Zeke’ over Philippines. The following month the squadron converted to F-6 Mustangs.
Concurrently with the prolonged battle for New Guinea, the Americans and their allies fought a campaign in the Solomons, which started with the invasion of Guadalcanal in August 1942. The fighter units of the US 13th Army Air Force stationed there fielded two Warhawk squadrons: 68th FS (of 347th FG) and 44th FS ‘Vampires’ (of 18th FG). The former operated Warhawks until mid-1943, and the latter until November. Also the New Zealanders were heavily involved in the battle for the Solomons, and later in the aerial assault against Rabaul, the Japanese stronghold on New Britain. They operated Kittyhawks until rearming with F4U Corsairs around mid-1944. Overall, nine Kittyhawk squadrons (14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21 and 22 Sqns RNZAF) were engaged in the Pacific.
Of the US 7th Army Air Force fighter units stationed in central Pacific, Warhawks were operated by 15th FG, at the turn of 1943/44. Only one squadron – 45th FS – found an opportunity to mix it up with the Japanese before the group converted to Mustangs. On 26th January 1944 it clashed with some Zeros over Maloelap Atoll, scoring 10 victories for no losses of its own.

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SMI Lib 10 P-40

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