Tuesday, September 6, 2011

P-40 Warhawk vs Bf 109 - MTO 1942-44

When I was a hoy growing up in the 1950s, someone told me a tale - perhaps even true - that I have come to see as a fitting metaphor to explain the story of the travails of the pilots who flew the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk against the Messerschmitt Bf 109 during World War II. It seems that an American metallurgist developed a drill hit roughly the diameter of a human hair that he believed was the smallest in the world. Proud of his accomplishment, the American sent his drill hit to a colleague in Germany to show it off. A few weeks later, the American metallurgist received a package in the mail from his German friend. When he opened it, he found only his drill hit. Curious, the metallurgist examined his drill hit under a microscope and found a hole drilled through it. Such was the plight of Allied pilots who introduced the P-40 in combat against the Luftwaffes best in North Africa during 1941-42. Although flying the frontline American fighter of the day, they were thoroughly outclassed in air-to-air combat by the Bf 109s they opposed. The Messerschmitt fighters were faster, had a better rate-of-climb and could fly higher than their Curtiss opponents. Further, the tactics employed by the Luftwaffe pilots took full advantage of the Bf 109 s capabilities.