deHavilland Mosquito B-MK-IV “Mossie”

“It could be argued that no airplane amassed as remarkable a combat record in so short a time as did the Mosquito.”

— Stephan Wilkinson,

Aviation History Magazine.

 

Strengths:

Speed  – Once it gets to altitude, the Mosquito can outrun most contemporary fighters, particularly after dropping its bombs.

Agility  – The Mosquito handles and performs so well, it is easy to forget you are flying a bomber.

 

Weaknesses:

Defense  – Without defensive guns, the Mosquito must rely on its speed to evade enemy planes.

 

 

The idea of having a bomber that was fast enough to outrun fighter opposition was not a new one and in most cases was not a successful idea. The lone except to this rule in WWII was the deHavilland Mosquito “Mossie”, a plane that is revered for both its aesthetic lines and its war record.

The Mosquito’s genesis can be traced back to a 1936 Air Ministry specification calling for a bomber with a range of 3,000 miles, a payload of 4,000 lbs. and a cruise speed of 275 mph. Of course, aircraft engines weren’t powerful enough then to fulfill this requirement and deHavilland’s entry fell short by 15 mph.

By September 1939 the Air Ministry and deHavilland compromised on a specification calling for a reconnaissance/bomber weighing less than 20,000 lbs with a ceiling of 32,100 feet and a top speed of 397 mph. Work on the design for the DH 98, as the model was called, began in earnest. However, with the fall of France in 1940, all efforts were geared towards defense of the home islands and the Mosquito was shelved.

However, being made primarily of wood and thus not having an impact on production of existing plane designs, the company was allowed to continue development of the air frame. Finally, on November 25, 1940, the first prototype, bearing a bright yellow paint job, made its maiden flight.

Despite being designed as a bomber, the prototype was tested for the reconnaissance role.  The plane’s agility and performance sparked interest in using the Mosquito as a heavy fighter. The original production order for fifty bombers was thus amended to be ten Mosquito I photo-recon planes, thirty Mosquito II night fighters and ten Mosquito IV bombers. The Mosquito III designation was reserved for a dual-control training version to be produced sometime in the future.

One problem that was discovered during the initial production run was excessive tail buffeting caused by disturbed airflow over the engine nacelles. Therefore, in the subsequent production runs, the nacelles were lengthened so that they extended beyond the trailing edge of the wing. The ten Mk.IV bombers produced under the original production run were thus designated as “Series I”, while subsequent Mk.IVs were designated “Series II” aircraft.

Originally designed to carry four 250 lb. bombs, it was found that four 500 lb bombs could be fit into the bomb bay if they had their stabilizing fins shortened. The first Mosquito raid took place on May 31, 1942, when four Mk.IVs made an attack on Cologne the day after the first “thousand bomber” raid. The Mosquito soon gained a reputation for making high-speed, precision attacks on high-value targets.

 

Sources:
Green, William; Famous Bombers of the Second World War; Doubleday and Company, Garden City, NY; 1958.
Scutts, Jerry; Tempest/Mosquito In Action Part I; Squadron/Signal Publications; Carrollton,  TX; 1992.

Hawker Tempest F Mk.V Series II

Tempest_MKV01

“I kept on reminding my pilots to keep their speed above 300 m.p.h., for ‘109’s’ could turn better than we could at low speed… The best technique was to do a spiral dive, work up to a speed of 450 m.p.h., do a straight climb and then start all over again. The ‘109’s’ on the other hand, knowing that we dived faster than they did, tried to get us up to 16,000 feet, where our Tempests were heavy and our engines sluggish.”

— Pierre Clostermann, Wing Commander, No. 122 Wing RAF 

 

Strengths:

Speed  – Capable of more than 400 mph on the deck the Tempest was one of the few planes fast enough to catch the German V-1 flying bombs.

Firepower  – The four 20mm Hispano cannons come with an ample supply of ammunition and pack are equally effective against planes and tanks.

Energy Retention  – Despite the large chin radiator, the Tempest retains energy quite well.

Climb Rate  – The powerful Napier engine gives the Tempest an excellent climb rate up to 18,000 feet.

 

Weaknesses:

Handling  – The Tempest shares similar low-speed handling problems with its sister plane, the Typhoon.


High Level Performance  – Above 20,000 feet, the Tempest is totally outclassed by most of its contemporaries
.

 

During testing of the Typhoon,  it was found that the large, thick wing it used was susceptible to compressibility as speeds started to approach 500 mph. To compensate for this problem a thinner wing was designed.

Being so thin the new wing could no longer hold fuel tanks as the thicker wing could. So a new fuel compartment was designed into the fuselage, which resulted in it being extended by twenty-one inches in length. To compensate for changes in lateral stability, the horizontal stabilizer and fin were also increased in size.

Originally designated the Typhoon II, the name of the plane was soon changed to the Tempest V, the Tempest II being a version powered by an eighteen-cylinder Bristol Centaurus engine. The Tempest V Series I was fitted with Hispano Mk.II cannon, which protruded slightly from the wing. But the Series II was fitted with the shorter Hispano Mk.V cannon, which fit entirely within the wings.

Being the fastest plane in the RAF inventory at low altitudes, the Tempest was drafted into service to help defend England from the V-1 flying bombs. By war’s end, Tempests had destroyed over 800 “doodle-bugs” with about fifty-five pilots being able to claim to be “Diver” aces.

Sources:
Green, William; Famous Fighters of the Second World War; Hannover House, Garden City, NY; 1960.
Scutts, Jerry; Tempest/Typhoon In Action; Squadron/Signal Publications; Carrollton,  TX; 1990.

Supermarine Spitfire F Mk.IXC

Spitfire_F_MklXc03

“If you treated a Spitfire properly, it treated you properly. Treat it roughly or be careless with it and you were in trouble, in that it would do all sorts of things such as ground looping. It also had a very fragile undercarriage and could collapse.”

— Hank Costain, Wing Commander, Spitfire pilot 

 

Strengths:

Speed  – With a top speed of over 400 mph, the Spitfire Mk.IXc is among the fastest planes available in 1942.

Firepower  – Its four 20mm Hispano cannon can deal with tanks and planes with equal efficiency.

Weaknesses:

Durability  – The Spitfire was a small machine and not capable of absorbing a great amount of damage.

In late 1941 the Focke-Wulf FW-190 started showing up in service with the Channel Coast Jagdgruppen and suddenly the Spitfire Mk.V was again outclassed by the competition. Something needed to be done fast to rectify the situation.

Making drastic changes to the Mk.V would take too long, so the solution was to simply install a more powerful version of the Rolls-Royce Merlin, the Merlin 61 rated for 1,565 hp at sea level, in the Mk.V airframe. The resulting Mk.IX would be considered by many to be the finest Spitfire “Mark” produced during the war.

The first versions of the Mk.IX were fitted with the “C” wing, equipped with four 20mm Hispano cannon, though often times this was reduced to two cannon to save weight. Additionally, this version was able to carry a 500 lb. bomb under the fuselage and a pair of 250 lb. bombs under the wings for ground attack duties. Although it was considered an interim or “stop-gap” type, the Mk.IX was produced in quantities second only to the Mk.V, with total production reaching 5,609 machines.

 

 

Sources:

Green, William; Famous Fighters of the Second World War; Hannover House, Garden City, NY; 1960.
Scutts, Jerry; Spitfire In Action; Squadron/Signal Publications; Carrollton,  TX; 1980.

Supermarine Spitfire LF Mk.IXE

Spitfire_LF_MkIXe01

“If you treated a Spitfire properly, it treated you properly. Treat it roughly or be careless with it and you were in trouble, in that it would do all sorts of things such as ground looping. It also had a very fragile undercarriage and could collapse.”

— Hank Costain, Wing Commander, Spitfire pilot 

 

Strengths:


Speed – With a top speed of over 400 mph, the Spitfire Mk.IX is among the fastest planes available in 1942.

Weaknesses:


Durability – The Spitfire was a small machine and not capable of absorbing a great amount of damage.

In late 1941 the Focke-Wulf FW-190 started showing up in service with the Channel Coast Jagdgruppen.  Suddenly the Spitfire Mk.V was again outclassed by the competition. Something needed to be done fast to rectify the situation.

Making drastic changes to the Mk.V would take too long, so the solution was to simply install a more powerful version of the Rolls-Royce Merlin, the Merlin 61 rated for 1,565 hp at sea level, in the Mk.V airframe. The resulting Mk.IX would be considered by many to be the finest Spitfire “Mark” produced during the war.

The first versions of the Mk.IX were fitted with the “C” wing, while later versions employed the “Universal” or “E” wing, which held a pair of 20mm Hispano cannons and a pair of .50 caliber Browning machine guns. Additionally, the Mk.IXe could carry a 500 lb. bomb under the fuselage and a pair of 250 lb. bombs under the wings for ground attack duties. Although it was considered an interim or “stop-gap” type, the Mk.IX was produced in quantities second only to the Mk.V, with total production reaching 5,609 machines.

 

 

Sources:

Green, William; Famous Fighters of the Second World War; Hannover House, Garden City, NY; 1960.
Scutts, Jerry; Spitfire In Action; Squadron/Signal Publications; Carrollton,  TX; 1980.

Hawker Hurricane Mk.IIB

HurcIIb-Left-Side-Gear

“I was diving vertically while the Me 110 was climbing up at the same angle. At the crucial moment he stalled right across my bows and I squirted a good burst into his belly from such point blank range that the bullets could be seen striking and buckling the plating of its wings and fuselage.

“A flash of flame and a puff of smoke and I jammed the stick forward just in time to avoid colliding with him. I did not have to look for another target because straight ahead came another Me 110 firing as he came.

“He did not hit me but holding fire to the last minute as we flashed past each other less than 50 ft apart I caught a glimpse of a puff of white – and there was the 110 on its back with a parachute opened behind it.”

— Roland “Bee” Beaumont, 

Pilot, 87 Squadron

 

Strengths:

Guns  – The two 20mm and two 12.7mm guns give the Hurricane IIB a heavier armament than most native fighters and as good as that of the late-war Spitfires.

Weaknesses:

Performance  – By the time it got to  Russia the Hurricane was easily outclassed by the newer Messerschmitt and the Focke-Wulf fighters.

In August 1941, No. 81 and No. 134 Squadrons of the RAF were combined to form the 151 Fighter Wing. They and their planes, 12-gun Hurri-Bombers, were packed onto ships and were shipped to Vaenga, near Murmansk in northern Russia. Their task was to provide operational training to help convert Soviet pilots to the Hurricane.

After several months of training, including taking part in several bomber escort missions, the Wing packed their things and went back to England, leaving their Hurricanes for the Soviets. These were the first of about 3,000 Hurricanes (over 20% of the production line) that would be shipped to the Soviet Union under ìlend-leaseî.

While the planes were certainly welcome, the .303 armament was fairly useless when trying to shoot down bombers, even with twelve guns. To solve this problem, most of these Hurricanes were retro-fitted with a pair of 20mm ShVAK cannon with 100 rpg and a pair of 12.7mm Beresin machine guns with 250 rpg in place of the twelve Browning .303s. Additionally, rails were fitted under the wings to allow carriage of six RS-82 rockets, which combined with the two 250 kg. bombs to provide a good ground attack capability.

 

 

Sources:
Scutts, Jerry; Hurricane In Action; Squadron/Signal Publications, Carrollton, TX;1986.
Bowyer, Chaz; Hurricane At War; Ian Allen Ltd., London; 1974.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/1362951/Wing-Commander-Roland-Bee-Beamont.html.

Hawker Typhoon Mk.IB

Typhoon_Mklb01

” If you didn’t get off in the first 2-300 yards, you had to thunder down the hill, go up the other side and launch yourself into the bright blue yonder. It was rather hazardous and one or two of us [caught our propellers on the ground]… But I can confirm that a Typhoon can fly around the circuit with all four tips of its four propeller blades bent inwards and still manage to land again!”

— Jimmy G. Simpson, Pilot Officer, No. 193 Squadron RAF

 

Strengths:


Speed – A top speed in excess of 400 mph is quite impressive for late 1941.
Ground Attack – The Tiffie was a legendary ground attack plane, capable of carrying either 2,000 lbs. of bombs or eight 3″ rocket projectiles.
Firepower – The four 20mm Hispano cannons come with an ample supply of ammunition and pack a good punch against both planes and tanks.

 

Weaknesses:


Handling – At slow speeds the Typhoon is quite a handful and a stall can flip the plane over on its back.

Sources:

Green, William; Famous Fighters of the Second World War; Hannover House, Garden City, NY; 1960. 

Scutts, Jerry; Tempest/Typhoon In Action; Squadron/Signal Publications; Carrollton,  TX; 1990.

 

Even before the production Hurricane had taken its maiden flight, the brilliant Sydney Camm was hard at work on his next design. Having heard about the new 24-cylinder power-plants that were being developed, Camm decided to focus his new design around one of these humongous engines.

Two months after the first Hurricanes were delivered, the Air Ministry issued specification F.18/37, which called for exactly the type of plane that Camm was designing, using either the Napier Sabre H-block engine or Rolls-Royce’s Vulture, of X-block design. The Vulture engine was the first to be delivered and the resulting airframe was dubbed the “Tornado”. The Tornado featured a ventral radiator beneath the wings, however flight tests revealed that the design caused buffeting and compressibility at speeds in excess of 400 mph and so the radiator was moved to the “chin” position under the engine.

The Napier engine was finally delivered on December 30, 1939 and the first Typhoon took to the air on February 24, 1940. However, due to wartime production needs, development of the Typhoon was delayed while the factories concentrated on churning out Hurricanes. This proved to be a boon for the fighter because of the teething problems of the new Sabre engine.

Finally in October 1940, interest in the project resumed and production was scheduled for the following year. The first production Typhoon IA was flown on May 26, 1941 with its standard armament of twelve Browning .303 machine guns. However, production of this version was very limited and it was mainly used for training and as a test bed for new equipment.

The Typhoon IB was fitted with four 20mm Hispano cannon in place of the .303s and Squadron delivery commenced in September 1941. Unfortunately, the Napier engine was still having reliability problems and combined with a tail assembly that tended to come off in high-speed power dives, it received a reputation as a plane as dangerous to its pilot as it was to the enemy. Its poor low-speed handling characteristics only helped cement this reputation.

Despite these problems, operations continued and as the Napier become more reliable, operational losses dropped back down to that of a “normal” fighter plane. With the addition of underwing bomb racks and rocket rails, the Tiffie as she was dubbed by her pilots, finally came into her own. By D-Day, the RAF was fielding twenty-six squadrons of Typhoons, being particularly useful in disposing of at least 137 tanks around the Avranches area during the Battle of Normandy.

 

 

Supermarine Spitfire F Mk.XIVe

Spitfire_FMXIVe01

“[T]he best thing about the Spitfire Mk XIV was that there were so few of them.”

— Adolf Galland, German Luftwaffe General, JV 44

 

Strengths:


Speed – With a top speed of almost 450 mph, the Spitfire Mk.XIVe is as fast as any other prop plane in the game.
Acceleration – With one of the best power-to-weight ratios of any plane in the game, the Spitfire 14 can get to speed in a hurry.
Energy Retention – The sleek racing lines of the Spitfire allow it to retain its energy well.

Weaknesses:


Durability – The light-weight Spitfire was unable to absorb any significant amount of damage.
Range – Even with drop tanks, the Spitfire runs out of fuel in a hurry and pilots should keep an eye on their fuel gauge.

With the success of the Mk.IX, the development of the Spitfire was able to take more radical turns. One such change was the replacement of the famous Merlin engine with the much more powerful Rolls-Royce Griffon fitted with the five-bladed Rotol propeller.

The Mk.XIVe was the first Griffon-based Spitfire to be produced in large numbers, with a total of 957 being built. Early versions used the “C” wing, though the “E” wing became the later standard. Similarly, the first production fighter versions had the standard stepped canopy design, while the photo recon versions used a bubble canopy, which was used on later model fighter variants.

To improve range. a 13-gallon fuel tank was installed in the leading edge of each wing. More importantly, the Mk.XIV was stressed to allow up to 1000 lbs. of bombs to be carried on wing and fuselage bomb mounts. The wing armament of two .50 caliber machine guns and two 20mm cannon was more than sufficient to bring down the fighters and medium bombers the plane was expected to face.

 

 

Sources:

Green, William; Famous Fighters of the Second World War; Hannover House, Garden City, NY; 1960.
Scutts, Jerry; Spitfire In Action; Squadron/Signal Publications; Carrollton,  TX; 1980.

Hawker Hurricane Mk.IIC

HurcIIC-Right-Side-Gear

“It was a delightful aeroplane – not as agile as a Spitfire, but it had a very good gun platform. It was very steady and took a tremendous amount of battle damage without appearing to worry too much.”

— R G A Barclay, Squadron leader, No. 238 Squadron RAF

 

Strengths:


Firepower – The four 20mm Hispano cannons give the Hurricane an excellent air-to-ground and air-to-air capability.


Ground Attack – With both good anti-tank cannons and a brace of eight rockets, the Hurricane IIC can do some serious hurt to ground targets.

Weaknesses:


Speed – By mid-war, the Hurricane was outclassed by the German fighters it was facing.

Looking for a way to improve both the performance and the firepower of the Hurricane, Hawker engineers started work in January 1940 on a version to be powered by the new Merlin XX engine featuring a brace of twelve Browning .303 machine guns. The first stage of this development culminated in the introduction of the Hurricane Mk.IIA, which was fitted with the new engine but retained the eight-gun armament of the Mk.IA.

The second stage resulted in the development of two different wings, each of which was stressed to carry a pair of 500 lb. bombs. The first wing was fitted with the originally intended twelve machine guns, however the second wing was designed around an armament of four 20mm Hispano cannon.

The Mk.IIC, as the cannon-armed version was known, proved to be the most useful and widely used variant of the Hurricane, with 4,711 units being produced. Additionally, most IIA and IIB machines were retrofitted with the IIC wing and were thus redesignated as IIC models. In 1943 the IICs were themselves retrofitted with four rocket rails under each wing, allowing the plane to carry eight air-to-ground 3″ rockets.

Sources:

Green, William; Famous Fighters of the Second World War; Hannover House, Garden City, NY; 1960.
Scutts, Jerry; Hurricane In Action; Squadron/Signal Publications; Carrollton,  TX; 1986.

Supermarine Seafire F Mk.IIIB

Seafire_MkIII01

“During this time [October/November 1944] the UK had sent out a Supermarine Seafire for the [US Naval] Patuxent Test Centre, and others, to fly. I had the job of test flying it after assembly and also briefing a number of pilots to fly it. Without exception all were amazed at the small size of this fighter, which had been the backbone of the Battle of Britain. They all loved its flying characteristics, but wondered if it was beefy enough in its operations. Its performance over the years and many theatres of war, spoke for itself.”

— Peter Twiss, Lieutenant Commander, Officer of the Order of the British Empire

 

Strengths:


Maneuverability – Despite the additional weight of the folding wing and arrestor hook, the Seafire retains a maneuverability edge over contemporary fighters.

Weaknesses:


Durability – Not a strong plane to begin with, the addition of the folding wing reduces the Seafire’s strength even further.

At the start of the war the Fleet Air Arm was mainly equipped with Gladiator and Swordfish biplanes, which were hardly capable of meeting the Luftwaffe or any other modern air force on an equal basis. Lacking any purpose-built planes that could fill the air defense role, they elected to try converting the RAF’s two stablemates to shipboard duty.

Because of its greater structural strength, the Hurricane was the first to be converted. It proved to be successful, so the Spitfire was next in line for conversion. Tests made by installing an A-frame arrestor hook to a standard Spitfire Mk.Vb proved that the Spitfire airframe could withstand the stress. Another 166 were ordered to be converted. Initially dubbed the “hooked Spitfire”, they were subsequently officially named the Type 340 Seafire.

While all Seafire Mk.IBs were conversions, 372 Seafire Mk.IICs were built at the factory using the “C” wing with its variable armament loads. The Mk.IIC saw combat during the landings at Sicily; however their lack of folding wings meant that they couldn’t be deployed below decks on Royal Navy carriers.

The solution to this problem arrived in the form of a new folding wing, which increased weight by only 125 lbs. while only suffering a 10% reduction in structural strength. This new wing was the centerpiece of the new Type 358 Seafire Mk.III and quantity production commenced, resulting in a total of about 1,220 machines being delivered.

 

 

Sources:

Green, William; War Planes of the Second World War: Fighters Volume Two; MacDonald & Company,  London; 1961.
Scutts, Jerry; Spitfire In Action; Squadron/Signal Publications; Carrollton,  TX; 1980.

Curtiss Tomahawk Mk.IIB

Tomahawk01

“In the hands of a skilled pilot, the P-40 could exceed its limitations and could out-maneuver and out-fight anything in the sky.”

—David L “Tex” Hill, Brigadier General, Flying Tigers 

 

Strengths:

Durability – The Tomahawk can absorb considerable battle damage and still bring its pilot back home.

 

Weaknesses:

Guns  – Four .30 caliber and two .50 caliber guns are insufficient to deal much damage to enemy planes, particularly bombers.

High Altitude Performance – While it is nimble and agile at low altitudes, the lack of a decent supercharger makes the Tomahawk is a sluggish performer above 10,000 feet.

 

During production of the Hawk 75 fighter for the US Army in 1937, Curtiss modified the original radial engine design to accommodate the new Allison V-1710 inline, liquid-cooled engine. The new design benefited from both streamlining and increased engine power, and was flown for the first time in October 1938 as the XP-40. Performance was so impressive that the Army ordered 524 production machines, which was at that time the largest-ever single production order for a US fighter.

The first production P-40s began to appear in May 1940, and the US Army elected to defer delivery of the new fighter to allow production and delivery of the export version (known as the Hawk 81A) to France. However, the initial production version was hardly combat ready, lacking armor protection and self-sealing fuel tanks, and deliveries weren’t able to be made until September 1940. By then France had fallen and the RAF had taken over the production order from the French Air Force.

The British replaced the two .30 caliber Browning machine guns in the wings with guns chambered for the .303 round, but retained the two .50 caliber machine guns in the nose. With some armor protection and self-sealing fuel tanks, the new machine was designated the “Tomahawk IIA” for RAF service, and was virtually identical to the USAAF’s P-40B, which began to reach service units in early 1941.

For the next variant, the P-40C model (Tomahawk IIB to the RAF), improvements were made to the self-sealing fuel tanks and an additional .30 caliber machine gun was added to each wing, which increased gross weight and reduced the maximum speed. By the time the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the Army had 62 P-40Bs and 11 P-40Cs, the majority of which were destroyed on the ground. However, several survived the initial attack and were able to score the AAF’s first “kills” of the war. Two weeks later, on December 20, 1941, the American Volunteer Group, aka the “Flying Tigers”, took to the skies in their P-40Cs and destroyed six of ten Japanese bombers attacking Kunming.

 

Sources:
Green, William; War Planes Of The Second World War: Fighters Volume Four; Macdonald & Co.,  London; 1961.
Davis, Larry; Curtiss Army Hawks In Action, Aircraft Number 128; Squadron/Signal Publications,  Carrollton, Texas; 1992.
McDowell, Ernest R.; Curtiss P-40 In Action, Aircraft No. 26; Squadron/Signal Publications, Carrollton, Texas; 1976.