Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Overrated, and Underrated, WW2 Fighters

Some controversial positions about fighter aircraft of WW2. 

The P51 mustang is amazingly great... And yet is still amazingly overrated compared to almost every other major fighter of WW2.

The P38 is rated about right... Great but significant issues. The early model variants are a bit overrated, the later vsriants a bit underrated, overall that balances out.

The ME109/BF109 is also generally rated about right compared to allied fighters... Pretty good but with significant flaws. Better than the hurricane, not as good as the spitfire, but with much more range and staying power. Totally outclassed by the P38, p47, and P51, somewhat better than the P39 and P40, but only because it had a great engine. 

HOWEVER... the ME109/BF109 is MASSIVELY overrated when compared to what may be the most underrated fighter of the war, the FW190... Especially the later versionsthe FW190 was the best fighter of the war, period. Yes, better than the P51... 

The problem was the German lack of high quality high octane fuel. When given the same fuel and with it's engines and induction operated to the limits of that fuel, the FW190 absolutely TROUNCES the Mustang. Add in the nitromethane and nitrous systems, and water injection system, that were fitted to some late war FW190s, and you get the fastest prop fighter of the war... Even against the sea fury, bearcat etc... The very late war superprop fighters that never saw much if any action.

The P47 is also vastly underrated... Again, the late war variants, with the big tanks and big drop tanks, and with the turbo systems operated to their limit as they did in the late pacific war, and the '47 was also a mustang beater... Longer range, just as fast, and with more firepower. 

In terms of naval fighters... The F4U Corsair is also amazingly great... And yet still amazingly overrated, just like the Mustang is... In largely the same ways, and for the same reasons of mystique and mythology. 

It was a GREAT aircraft, but it had a lot of issues, it was a maintenance hog, it was EXTREMELY EXPENSIVE, and it was incredibly unforgiving to fly, with a deserved reputation as a killer of inexperienced pilots. 

Both the F4F wildcat and F6F hellcat are vastly underrated... not because they're amazing, but. Because they have an undeservedly bad reputation. 

The F4F is largely regarded as hopelessly outclassed by the zero, which it wasn't... Once the pilots figured out the best way to fight the zero, the wildcat was only moderately outclassed, and the hellcat was basically at parity with the zero... It was better in some ways, worse in others, but overall the quality of American pilots gave it an edge, unless it was caught in a badly disadvantaged position. 

However... It's entirely possible that the Bell P39 Airacobra/P63 King Cobra, and the Curtis P40 Warhawk/Tomahawk/Kittyhawk, are the most underrated fighters of the war. 

Again, not because they were better than ANY of the other aircraft mentioned in this post, because they're not (except maybe the Wildcat)... But they're widely considered to be utter crap...while in reality, they are both VERY GOOD aircraft. 

In fact, as operated by the Brits/ANZAC/Commonwealth, Russians, and Chinese, they performed AMAZINGLY well; and are among the most admired and beloved aircraft of the war, by said ANZACs, Russians and Chinese. 

Both were let down by their engines... they used the same basic engine model, but the P39 used a special variant to allow for the cannon firing through the prop hub... Specifically their forced induction systems/lack thereof, and secondarily, their oxygen systems. 

This gave them poor high altitude performance, which was critical over western Europe... thus the bad reputation (which by the way, was the same reputation of the early mustangs, for the same reasons). However for medium and low altitude use, both aircraft were excellent... And most of the air combat in the Russian and Chinese theaters was at medium or low altitude... Thus, the Brit (who did most of their Pacific flying in China), Russians, and Chinese LOVE them. 

They were incredibly tough, generally very reliable outside of problems with the early variants  (except in the humid Pacific island theater, and the frozen Siberian theater... NOTHING was reliable in those environments), had good firepower (especially on their cannon armed variants... The P39/P63s had BIG medicine in their main 37mm cannon, which the Soviets loved especially, and many of the P40 variants had 20mm cannons, which vastly outperformed the ganged .50 cals common to most of the other fighters mentioned here).

Critically, especially in the P40s case, they were MUCH MUCH CHEAPER than the P38, P47, P51, and the three major naval fighters, the F4F wildcat/F6F hellcat, or the F4U Corsair... Which meant the British/ANZACs, the Russians, and the Chinese could actually afford them in HUGE numbers. 

... And then Allison upgraded the C series engines in both aircraft (and in the early P38s and early model.mustangs) to the F series, with MUCH higher power and much improved forced induction (though they still didn't go to compound or turbo compound induction, which meant they still performed best at 15,000 feet and below)...

At which point, the P39/P63 and P40 became almost entirely new, and much improved aircraft (as did the P38 once they made the L series counterrotating versions for it... At which point the P38 stopped being slightly overrated, and became slightly underrated). 

In fact that was the single biggest improvement that separated the P39 from the P63... They're almost the same aircraft, but with many small improvements, a slight increase in size in all dimensions, and the MAJOR powerplant improvement; making the P63 the near equal, or even the equal, of almost anything in the sky; if operated properly, to it's strengths. 

The early P40s certainly had major issues, but the P40 ended up the third most produced allied fighter of the war (behind the P51 and P47) almost all of them going to the British/ANZACs, the Russians, and the Chinese, and almost all of them the later, higher powered variant, with the better induction and oxygen systems... Many of them armed with 2x and some even 4x 20mm cannon. 

...and they performed MAGNIFICENTLY.... 

First, they absolutely wrecked both the Germans and the Japanese in their respective African, Russian, Chinese, and south pacific/ANZAC/malay theaters, with some Soviet or Chinese pilots racking up kills in the high double digits or possibly even low triple digits (depending on who you believe).

But just as important, both the P40 and the P39/P63 were OUTSTANDING ground attack aircraft. They did more damage to the Germans and Japanese on the ground, than any other allied fighters. The Soviets especially LOVED the giant freaking cannon on the P39/P63.

And again... CHEAP and TOUGH... Which means LOTS AND LOTS OF THEM. 

They made a hell of a lot of difference in the war, as exceptionally effective weapons systems... They just weren't good high altitude fighters, which is how the bomber types judged the utility and quality of a fighter aircraft.... How were they as bomber escorts. Just because they were not good bomber escorts, does not mean they were bad fighters, or bad aircraft. 

... Thus, the most underrated fighters of the war...