Kittyhawk 1A [Curtiss P-40E] (41-25158) 

Kittyhawk 1A [Curtiss P-40E] (41-25158)  [@ RAF Duxford]

The P-40 originated as a development of the radial-engined Curtiss P.36A Hawk.  In July 1937 the USAAC ordered the prototype of a possible variant, designated XP-40 and powered by the new liquid-cooled Allison V-1710 12-cylinder Vee-type engine.  The tenth production P-36A was fitted with the new power plant on the assembly line and this aircraft the P-40 flew for the first time in October 1938.

41-25158 was initially allocated to the 68th Fighter Squadron based at Tongatabu Airfield on the Tonga Islands.  However, after the Pearl Harbour Attack 41-25158 was reallocated to the RAF under the Lend-Lease agreement as a Kittyhawk IA (ET482).  Transferred to the Royal New Zealand Air Force in April 1942 41-25158 went on to serve 14 Squadron, 17 Squadron and 2 OUT.  Sold as scrap after the war 41-25158 was rescued from the scrap yard in 1959.  Restored to a static display condition using the parts from a number of airframes 41-25158 was then loaned to the Museum of Transport & Technology, Auckland, from 1964 to 1994 for display.  Acquired by the Old Flying Machine Company, RAF Duxford, in the early 1990s 41-25158 was eventually restored to a flying condition and again took to the air in December 1997.  Upon final completion of the work 41-25158 was shipped to the UK in early 1999. 

France’s Armée de 1’Air, which during the “phoney war” period of 1939/40 was already operating the nimble Curtiss Hawk 75A (P-36A), placed an order for 140 P-40s, these being given the export designation Hawk 81 A-1.  Before the first Hawk 81 A-1 could be delivered France fell and the full order was taken over by the British Purchasing Commission on behalf of the RAF.  Although considered unsuitable for operational use by Fighter Command, the P-40s were fitted with four wing-mounted Browning 7.7mm (0.303in) machine guns and allocated to Army Co-operation Command as the Tomahawk I, for use in the tactical reconnaissance role.  They served until 1942, when they were replaced the North American Mustang I.

Kittyhawk III [Curtiss P-40M] (43-5802) 

Kittyhawk III [Curtiss P-40M] (43-5802)  [@ RAF Duxford]

With the inclusion of an armoured windscreen and armour plating for the pilot, designated P-40B, 110 of these aircraft went to the RAF as the Tomahawk IIA.  The next variant was the P-40C, which was fitted with larger, self-sealing fuel tanks and two more wing guns, with 930 going to the RAF as the Tomahawk IIB.  The RAF’s Tomahawk IIBs was different to the American version in that it had the fuselage-mounted armament deleted and was fitted with four wing guns instead of six.

43-5802 was first flown in October 1943 and assigned to the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF).   Retired from RCAF service in 1950 after serving with a number of squadrons, 43-5802 was acquired by the Oregon State University as an instructional airframe from 1951 to 1954.  Placed into long term storage at Troutdale Airport, Oregon, 43-5802 was eventually restored to a flying condition in the early 1980s.  In 1985 43-5802 was acquired by the Fighter Collection, RAF Duxford, and shipped to the UK.  In May 2009 43-5802 was flown to a former Soviet military airfield near Prague and was used in the filming of the movie “Red Tails” – a fictional story of the Tuskegee Airmen who were the first African-American pilots to fly in a combat squadron during WW2.

Kittyhawk II [Curtiss P-40F] (41-114112)Kittyhawk II [Curtiss P-40F] (41-114112)

 Kittyhawk II [Curtiss P-40F] (41-114112)  [@ Royal Australian Air Force Museum]

The P-40D was substantially redesigned, its four wing guns being upgraded to 12.7mm (0.50in) calibre and the nose armament removed.  The power-plant was upgraded to the Allison V-1710-39 engine.  Provision was also made for the carriage of bombs under the wings or fuselage.  Only 22 P-4ODs went to the USAAF as the Hawk 87A Warhawk, but 560 were allocated to the RAF under the Lend-Lease agreement and the RAF gave them the new name Kittyhawk I.  P-40 Warhawk was the name the United States Army Air Corps and after June 1941, USAAF adopted the name for all models thus making it the official name in the US for all P-40s.  The RAF received 20 Kittyhawk Is before requesting an increase in firepower and this resulted in the Kittyhawk IA.  This variant was used by the RAF and several Commonwealth air forces.  The USAAF preferred the P-40E, with six 0.50 calibre wing guns; it ordered 820 of this model (P-40E) and another 1500 (P-40E-1) became Kittyhawk 1As.

Built as the 513th by Curtiss in Buffalo, New York, during 1941 and delivered to the USAAC as 41-14112 powered by a Rolls Royce Merlin XX engine.  Disassembled and shipped to the New Hebrides in the South Pacific Ocean and reassembled. 41-14112 was assigned to the 44th Fighter Squadron of the 18th Fighter Group based at Efaté Island.  Following a forced landing in a clearing atop Mount Santop on Erromango Island, in the Vanuatu archipelago, on the 20th December 1942, 41-14112 was stripped of useful parts and abandoned.  The landing involved three other P-40Fs and was due to the aircraft running out of fuel when they uncounted severe weather.  All four pilots were unhurt; two belly-landed, while the other two, 41-14112 and 41-14205, went over an embankment and were badly damaged.  Salvaged along with 41-14205 during November 1989 and shipped to Australia for restoration.  Together they are the only known Merlin powered P-40s ever to be found.  Restoration began in 1990 with the first flight of 41-14112 finally taking place on 22nd April 2009.  41-14205 was the 606th P-40F to roll off the Curtiss production line.  During 1996 41-14205 shipped to the RNZAF Museum in exchange for a F4U-5N Corsair and converted into an Allison V-1710 powered P-40E variant as operated by Royal New Zealand Air Force.  This static display is painted to represent a generic RNZAF P-40 Kittyhawk in Pacific theatre colours and has been given the display identity of NZ3000 (never issued).  The Kittyhawk, variants E, K, M and N, were the backbone of RNZAF fighter squadrons from 1942 to the middle of 1944 when they were replaced by Corsairs.  RNZAF Kittyhawks accounted for 99 Japanese aircraft destroyed in air combat, with a further 14 probables. [The photographs of 42-104687 are by the kind permission of Alf Batchelder of the RAAF Museum]

Kittyhawk IV [Curtiss P-40N] (42-106101)  Kittyhawk IV [Curtiss P-40N] (42-106101)  Kittyhawk IV [Curtiss P-40N] (42-106101)

Kittyhawk IV [Curtiss P-40N] (42-106101)  [@ RAF Hendon]

Built by Curtiss in Buffalo, New York, and assigned to the US Army on the 24th August 1943 with the serial number 42-106101.  Transferred to the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) on the 31st August 1943 and shipped to Australia.  Arriving at 3 Aircraft Depot based at RAAF Station Amberley, Queensland, on the 23rd October 1943 and then allocated to 80 Squadron RAAF on the 30th March 1944 as A29-556.  80 Squadron RAAF were operating from the airstrip at Cape Gloucester, New Britain, and flying convoy protection patrols and armed reconnaissance missions.  On the 29th April 1944 A29-556 moved with 80 Squadron to Tadji, Aitape, to cover the allied landing at Hollandia.  Unfortunately, on the 14th May 1944 A29-556 was severely damaged by an impact with an aircraft landing at Tadji Airfield and subsequently transferred on the 15th June to 12 Repair and Salvage Unit (RSU) only to be reclassified on the 3rd October as unsuitable for repair.  Consequently, A29-556 was only used for spares.  The remains of A29-556 were salvaged during 1975 and transported to the USA and stored at Chino Airport for later restoration.  Finally restored by January 1992 to a static display condition from a number of P-40 parts, the composite aircraft arrived by sea to the UK on the 25th May 1992.  Donated by the Ministry of Defence to the RAF museum on the 3rd August 1998, 42-106101 finally went on display at RAF Hendon in March 2003.  In the photographs “A29-556” is displayed in the livery of a 112 “Shark” Squadron Kittyhawk IV which operated in Italy between 3rd and 22nd June 1944.  On the 22nd June 112 Squadron re-equipped with the Mustang and FX760 was transferred to 3 Squadron RAAF on the 26th June 1944.  On the 6th August 1944 FX760 was damaged by AA fire near Pesaro and was destroyed by 20 mm AA fire in the same area in a dive attack on gun positions on the 21st August 1944.

Installation of the much superior Packard-Merlin XX [photograph below] engine produced the P-40F which significantly increased the high altitude performance.  About 250 (699 built) of this variant were allocated to the RAF but in the event none of them reached RAF service, instead they were allocated to the Russians and Free French.

Merlin XX

A number of P-40Ls (Merlin engined) were allocated to the RAF, which was also called the Kittyhawk II by the RAF, but this variant did not enter service in significant numbers.  The RAF also received 21 P-4OKs, powered by the Allison V-1710-73 engine, and 595 Allison V-1710-81 powered P-4OMs.  Both variants were given the Kittyhawk III designation by the RAF.

Probably the best Kittyhawk variant to enter RAF service was the P-4ON as the Kittyhawk IV.   With a top speed of 378 mph the variant still could not compete with the most modern German aircraft but it proved to be useful as a ground attack aircraft and RAF received 586.

Lacking a two-stage supercharger made the type inferior to Luftwaffe fighters, such as the Messerschmitt Bf 109 or the Focke-Wulf Fw 190, in high-altitude combat and so was rarely used in operations in Europe.  Between 1941 and 1944, however, the P-40 played a critical role with Allied air forces in three major theatres of operation: North Africa, the Southwest Pacific and China.  The Kittyhawk was the RAF’s main fighter of the British Commonwealth squadrons of the Desert Air Force (DAF) during the first half of 1942 (until the arrival of "tropicalized" Supermarine Spitfires) and although the type was a match for most Axis aircraft present in North Africa at the time the type was badly outclassed by the Bf 109F.  Although many of the Kittyhawk squadrons used in North Africa reequipped with Spitfires and Mustangs for the invasion of Italy the type did serve in the campaign, mainly in the ground attack role.

Overall 18 RAF squadrons and 9 Commonwealth squadrons used P-40s but by the end of the war only two RAF squadrons had retained their Kittyhawks.

Kittyhawk IV [Curtiss P-40N] (42-104687)  Kittyhawk IV [Curtiss P-40N] (42-104687)

 Kittyhawk IV [Curtiss P-40N] (42-104687)  [@ Royal Australian Air Force Museum]

Built in 1943 by Curtiss in Buffalo, New York, and assigned to the US Army with the serial number 42-104687.  Disassembled and then shipped to New Zealand for reassembly at 1 Aircraft Depot at Hobsonville Airfield, Auckland.  Brought on Charge at Hobsonville on the 25th June 1943 as NZ3125 and assigned to 2 Operational Training Unit (OTU) at Ohakea Airfield.  Hobsonville was used by the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) for the assembly of crated aircraft arriving from the US and for pilot training (4 OTU) while Ohakea was the main RNZAF training base for pilots and air crews operating fighters, navigators for medium bombers and aerial gunners.  After the war NZ3125 was sent for disposal at Rukuhia, Hamilton. NZ3125 was purchased on the 2nd March 1948 as a wreck and stored for future restoration.  After a number of different owners NZ3125 was eventually restored to a flying condition in 2006.  In the photographs NZ3125 is in the livery of RAF Kittyhawk III (FR309) which served with 112 “Shark” Squadron as GA-Q of the Desert Air Force against Rommel before moving on to Sicily and Italy.  FR309 (42-45899) had entered RAF service during July 1942 and was Struck Off Charge on the 14th March 1946.  In December 1941 the Tomahawks of 112 Squadron were replaced by the P-40 Kittyhawk, and were often used as fighter bombers until being replaced on 22nd June 1944 by the North American Mustang.  During this period the Squadron had many personnel from the air forces of Poland, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.  [The photographs of 42-104687 are by the kind permission of Alf Batchelder of the RAAF Museum]

Powered by the Allison V-1710-121 engine the XP-40Q was the final prototype P-40.  With a top speed of 422 mph and a ceiling of 20,000ft the variant was a significant improvement on any earlier P-40.  However, the later variants of the Spitfire and Mustang offered much better performance and so the P-40Q was not developed any further.  Production finally ended in December 1944 after 13,738 aircraft had been built.