Curtiss P-40 Warhawk

The Curtiss P-40 Warhawk is an American single-engined, single-seat, all-metal fighter and ground-attack aircraft that first flew in 1938. 

The P-40 design was a modification of the previous Curtiss P-36 Hawk which reduced development time and enabled a rapid entry into production and operational service. 

The Warhawk was used by most Allied powers during World War II, and remained in frontline service until the end of the war. 

It was the third most-produced American fighter of World War II, after the P-51 and P-47; by November 1944, when production of the P-40 ceased, 13,738 had been built, all at Curtiss-Wright Corporation‘s main production facilities at Buffalo, New York.

P-40 Warhawk was the name the United States Army Air Corps gave the plane, and after June 1941, the USAAF adopted the name for all models, making it the official name in the U.S. for all P-40s. 

The British Commonwealth and Soviet air forces used the name Tomahawk for models equivalent to the original P-40, P-40B, and P-40C, while the name Kittyhawk for models equivalent to the P-40D and all later variants.

P-40s first saw combat with the British Commonwealth squadrons of the Desert Air Force in the Middle East and North African campaigns, during June 1941. 

No. 112 Squadron Royal Air Force, was among the first to operate Tomahawks in North Africa and the unit was the first Allied military aviation unit to feature the “shark mouth” logo, copying similar markings on some Luftwaffe Messerschmitt Bf 110 twin-engine fighters.

The P-40’s lack of a two-speed supercharger made it inferior to Luftwaffe fighters such as the Messerschmitt Bf 109 or the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 in high-altitude combat and it was rarely used in operations in Northwest Europe

However, between 1941 and 1944, the P-40 played a critical role with Allied air forces in three major theaters: North Africa, the Southwest Pacific, and China. It also had a significant role in the Middle EastSoutheast AsiaEastern EuropeAlaska and Italy

The P-40’s performance at high altitudes was not as important in those theaters, where it served as an air superiority fighter, bomber escort and fighter-bomber

Although it gained a postwar reputation as a mediocre design, suitable only for close air support, more recent research including scrutiny of the records of individual Allied squadrons indicates that this was not the case: the P-40 performed surprisingly well as an air superiority fighter, at times suffering severe losses, but also inflicting a very heavy toll on enemy aircraft. 

Based on war-time victory claims, over 200 Allied fighter pilots – from the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, the US and the Soviet Union – became aces flying the P-40. 

These included at least 20 double aces, mostly over North Africa, China, Burma and India, the South West Pacific and Eastern Europe

The P-40 offered the additional advantages of low cost and durability, which kept it in production as a ground-attack aircraft long after it was obsolete as a fighter.


Kamikaze Suicide Bomber

Kamikaze (神風, [kamiꜜkaze]; “divine wind” or “spirit wind”), officially Kamikaze/Shinpū Tokubetsu Kōgekitai (神風特別攻撃隊, “Divine Wind Special Attack Unit”), were a part of the Japanese Special Attack Units of military aviators who flew suicide attacks for the Empire of Japan against Allied naval vessels in the closing stages of the Pacific campaign of World War II, intending to destroy warships more effectively than with conventional air attacks. About 3,800 kamikaze pilots died during the war, and more than 7,000 naval personnel were killed by kamikaze attacks.

Kamikaze aircraft were essentially pilot-guided explosive missiles, purpose-built or converted from conventional aircraft. Pilots would attempt to crash their aircraft into enemy ships in what was called a “body attack” (tai-atari) in planes loaded with bombs, torpedoes or other explosives. 

About 19% of kamikaze attacks were successful.

Kamikaze attacks were more accurate than conventional attacks, and often caused more damage. Some kamikazes were able to hit their targets even after their aircraft were crippled.

The Japanese considered the goal of damaging or sinking large numbers of Allied ships to be a just reason for suicide attacks.

The attacks began in October 1944, at a time when the war was looking increasingly bleak for the Japanese. 

They had lost several important battles, many of their best pilots had been killed, their aircraft were becoming outdated, and they had lost command of the air. 

Japan was losing pilots faster than it could train their replacements, and the nation’s industrial capacity was diminishing relative to that of the Allies. 

These factors, along with Japan’s unwillingness to surrender, led to the use of kamikaze tactics as Allied forces advanced towards the Japanese home islands.

The tradition of death instead of defeat, capture and shame was deeply entrenched in Japanese military culture; one of the primary values in the samurai life and the Bushido code was loyalty and honor until death. 

In addition to kamikazes, the Japanese military also used or made plans for non-aerial Japanese Special Attack Units, including those involving Kairyu (submarines), Kaiten human torpedoes, Shinyo speedboats and Fukuryu divers.

 

The Battle of Midway

The Battle of Midway was a major naval battle in the Pacific Theater of World War II that took place on 4–7 June 1942, six months after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor and one month after the Battle of the Coral Sea. 

The U.S. Navy under Admirals Chester W. Nimitz, Frank J. Fletcher, and Raymond A. Spruance defeated an attacking fleet of the Imperial Japanese Navy under Admirals Isoroku Yamamoto, Chūichi Nagumo, and Nobutake Kondō near Midway Atoll, inflicting devastating damage on the Japanese fleet that rendered their aircraft carriers irreparable. Military historian John Keegan called it “the most stunning and decisive blow in the history of naval warfare”, while naval historian Craig Symonds called it “one of the most consequential naval engagements in world history, ranking alongside Salamis, Trafalgar, and Tsushima Strait, as both tactically decisive and strategically influential”.

The Japanese operation, like the earlier attack on Pearl Harbor, sought to eliminate the United States as a strategic power in the Pacific, thereby giving Japan a free hand in establishing its Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. 

The Japanese hoped another demoralizing defeat would force the U.S. to capitulate in the Pacific War and thus ensure Japanese dominance in the Pacific. 

Luring the American aircraft carriers into a trap and occupying Midway was part of an overall “barrier” strategy to extend Japan’s defensive perimeter, in response to the Doolittle air raid on Tokyo. 

This operation was also considered preparatory for further attacks against Fiji, Samoa, and Hawaii itself.

The plan was handicapped by faulty Japanese assumptions of the American reaction and poor initial dispositions. 

Most significantly, American cryptographers were able to determine the date and location of the planned attack, enabling the forewarned U.S. Navy to prepare its own ambush. Four Japanese and three American aircraft carriers participated in the battle. 

The four Japanese fleet carriers—Akagi, Kaga, Sōryū and Hiryū, part of the six-carrier force that had attacked Pearl Harbor six months earlier—were sunk, as was the heavy cruiser Mikuma. The U.S. lost the carrier Yorktown and the destroyer Hammann.

After Midway and the exhausting attrition of the Solomon Islands campaign, Japan’s capacity to replace its losses in materiel (particularly aircraft carriers) and men (especially well-trained pilots and maintenance crewmen) rapidly became insufficient to cope with mounting casualties, while the United States’ massive industrial and training capabilities made losses far easier to replace. 

The Battle of Midway, along with the Guadalcanal campaign, is widely considered a turning point in the Pacific War

Battle of the Buldge

The Battle of the Bulge, also known as the Ardennes Counteroffensive, was a major German offensive campaign on the Western Front during World War II, and took place from 16 December 1944 to 25 January 1945.

It was launched through the densely forested Ardennes region in Belgium and Luxembourg towards the end of the war in Europe.

The offensive was intended to stop Allied use of the Belgian port of Antwerp and to split the Allied lines, allowing the Germans to encircle and destroy four Allied armies and force the Western Allies to negotiate a peace treaty in the Axis powers’ favor.

The Germans achieved a total surprise attack on the morning of 16 December 1944, due to a combination of Allied overconfidence, preoccupation with Allied offensive plans, and poor aerial reconnaissance due to bad weather.

American forces bore the brunt of the attack and incurred their highest casualties of any operation during the war.

The battle also severely depleted Germany’s armored forces, and they were largely unable to replace them. German personnel and, later, Luftwaffe aircraft (in the concluding stages of the engagement) also sustained heavy losses.

The Germans had attacked a weakly defended section of the Allied line, taking advantage of heavily overcast weather conditions that grounded the Allies’ overwhelmingly superior air forces. Fierce resistance on the northern shoulder of the offensive, around Elsenborn Ridge, and in the south, around Bastogne, blocked German access to key roads to the northwest and west that they counted on for success.

Columns of armor and infantry that were supposed to advance along parallel routes found themselves on the same roads.

This, and terrain that favored the defenders, threw the German advance behind schedule and allowed the Allies to reinforce the thinly placed troops.

The farthest west the offensive reached was the village of Foy-Nôtre-Dame, south east of Dinant, being stopped by the U.S. 2nd Armored Division on 24 December 1944.

Improved weather conditions from around 24 December permitted air attacks on German forces and supply lines, which sealed the failure of the offensive. On 26 December the lead element of Patton’s U.S. Third Army reached Bastogne from the south, ending the siege. 

Although the offensive was effectively broken by 27 December, when the trapped units of 2nd Panzer Division made two break-out attempts with only partial success, the battle continued for another month before the front line was effectively restored to its position prior to the attack. 

In the wake of the defeat, many experienced German units were left severely depleted of men and equipment, as survivors retreated to the defenses of the Siegfried Line.

The Germans’ initial attack involved 410,000 men; just over 1,400 tanks, tank destroyers, and assault guns; 2,600 artillery pieces; 1,600 anti-tank guns; and over 1,000 combat aircraft, as well as large numbers of other armored fighting vehicles (AFVs). 

These were reinforced a couple of weeks later, bringing the offensive’s total strength to around 450,000 troops, and 1,500 tanks and assault guns. 

Between 63,222 and 98,000 of these men were killed, missing, wounded in action, or captured. 

For the Americans, out of a peak of 610,000 troops, 89,000 became casualties out of which some 19,000 were killed. 

The “Bulge” was the largest and bloodiest single battle fought by the United States in World War II and the third-deadliest campaign in American history.

HMS Vanguard

HMS Vanguard was a British fast battleship built during the Second World War and commissioned afterwards.

She was the biggest and fastest of the Royal Navy‘s battleships, the only ship of her class, and the last battleship to be built.

The Royal Navy anticipated being outnumbered by the combined German and Japanese battleships in the early 1940s, and had therefore started building the Lion-class battleships. However, the time-consuming construction of the triple-16-inch turrets for the Lion-class would delay their completion until 1943 at the earliest.

The British had enough 15-inch (381 mm) guns and turrets in storage to allow one ship of a modified Lion-class design with four twin-15-inch turrets to be completed faster than the Lion-class vessels that had already been laid down.

Work on Vanguard was started and stopped several times during the war, and her design was revised several times during her construction to reflect war experience.

These stoppages and changes prevented her from being completed before the end of the war.

Vanguards first task after completing her sea trial at the end of 1946 was, early the next year, to convey King George VI and his family on the first Royal Tour of South Africa by a reigning monarch. 

While refitting after her return, she was selected for another Royal Tour of Australia and New Zealand in 1948.

This was cancelled due to King George’s declining health and Vanguard briefly became flagship of the Mediterranean Fleet in early 1949.

After her return home in mid-1949, she became flagship of the Home Fleet Training Squadron. Throughout her career, the battleship usually served as the flagship of any unit to which she was assigned. During the early 1950s, Vanguard was involved in a number of training exercises with NATO forces.

In 1953 she participated in Queen Elizabeth II‘s Coronation Review. While she was refitting in 1955, the Admiralty announced that the ship was going to be put into reserve upon completion of the work. Vanguard was sold for scrap and was broken up beginning in 1960.

German Junkers Ju 87 Stuka Dive Bomber

The Junkers Ju 87 or Stuka (from Sturzkampfflugzeug, “dive bomber“) was a German dive bomber and ground-attack aircraft. Designed by Hermann Pohlmann, it first flew in 1935. 

The Ju 87 made its combat debut in 1937 with the Luftwaffe‘s Condor Legion during the Spanish Civil War and served the Axis forces in World War II.

The aircraft is easily recognisable by its inverted gull wings and fixed spatted undercarriage. Upon the leading edges of its faired main gear legs were mounted the Jericho-Trompete (Jericho trumpet) wailing sirens, becoming the propaganda symbol of German air power and the so-called Blitzkrieg victories of 1939–1942. 

The Stuka’s design included several innovations, including automatic pull-up dive brakes under both wings to ensure that the aircraft recovered from its attack dive even if the pilot blacked out from the high g-forces.

The Ju 87 operated with considerable success in close air support and anti-shipping at the outbreak of World War II. 

It led air assaults in the invasion of Poland in September 1939. 

Stukas were critical to the rapid conquest of Norway, the NetherlandsBelgium and France in 1940. 

Though sturdy, accurate, and very effective against ground targets, the Stuka was, like many other dive bombers of the period, vulnerable to fighter aircraft. 

During the Battle of Britain, its lack of manoeuvrability, speed and defensive armament meant that it required a heavy fighter escort to operate effectively.

After the Battle of Britain, the Stuka was used in the Balkans Campaign, the African and Mediterranean theatres and the early stages of the Eastern Front, where it was used for general ground support, as an effective specialised anti-tank aircraft and in an anti-shipping role. 

Once the Luftwaffe lost air superiority, the Stuka became an easy target for enemy fighter aircraft. 

It was produced until 1944 for lack of a better replacement. 

By 1945 ground-attack versions of the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 had largely replaced the Ju 87, but it remained in service until the end of the war.

An estimated 6,500 Ju 87s of all versions were built between 1936 and August 1944.

Oberst Hans-Ulrich Rudel was the most successful Stuka pilot and the most highly decorated German serviceman of the Second World War.


Messerschmitt Bf 109

The Messerschmitt Bf 109 is a German World War II fighter aircraft that was, along with the Focke-Wulf Fw 190, the backbone of the Luftwaffe‘s fighter force. 

The Bf 109 first saw operational service in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War and was still in service at the dawn of the jet age at the end of World War II in 1945. 

It was one of the most advanced fighters when it first appeared, with an all-metal monocoque construction, a closed canopy, and retractable landing gear. It was powered by a liquid-cooled, inverted-V12 aero engine

From the end of 1941, the Bf 109 was steadily supplanted by the Focke-Wulf Fw 190

It was called the Me 109 by Allied aircrew and some German aces, even though this was not the official German designation.

It was designed by Willy Messerschmitt and Robert Lusser who worked at Bayerische Flugzeugwerke during the early to mid-1930s. 

It was conceived as an interceptor, although later models were developed to fulfill multiple tasks, serving as bomber escortfighter-bomberday-, night-, all-weather fighterground-attack aircraft, and reconnaissance aircraft

It was supplied to several states during World War II, and served with several countries for many years after the war. 

The Bf 109 is the most produced fighter aircraft in history, with a total of 33,984 airframes produced from 1936 to April 1945. 

Some of the Bf 109 production took place in Nazi concentration camps through slave labor.

The Bf 109 was flown by the three top-scoring fighter aces of all time, who claimed 928 victories among them while flying with Jagdgeschwader 52, mainly on the Eastern Front

The highest-scoring, Erich Hartmann, was credited with 352 victories. The aircraft was also flown by Hans-Joachim Marseille, the highest-scoring ace in the North African Campaign who shot down 158 enemy aircraft (in about a third of the time). 

It was also flown by many aces from other Axis nations, notably the Finn Ilmari Juutilainen, the highest-scoring non-German ace. 

Pilots from Italy, Romania, Croatia, Bulgaria, and Hungary also flew the Bf 109. Through constant development, the Bf 109 remained competitive with the latest Allied fighter aircraft until the end of the war.

Hawker Hurricane

The Hawker Hurricane

The Hawker Hurricane is a British single-seat fighter aircraft of the 1930s–40s that was designed and predominantly built by Hawker Aircraft Ltd. for service with the Royal Air Force (RAF).

It was overshadowed in the public consciousness by the Supermarine Spitfire’s role during Battle of Britain in 1940, but the Hurricane inflicted 60 percent of the losses sustained by the Luftwaffe in the engagement, and fought in all the major theatres of the Second World War.

The Hurricane originated from discussions between RAF officials and aircraft designer Sir Sydney Camm about a proposed monoplane derivative of the Hawker Fury biplane in the early 1930s.

Despite an institutional preference for biplanes and lack of interest from the Air Ministry, Hawker refined their monoplane proposal, incorporating several innovations which became critical to wartime fighter aircraft, including retractable landing gear and the more powerful Rolls-Royce Merlin engine.

The Air Ministry ordered Hawker’s Interceptor Monoplane in late 1934, and the prototype Hurricane K5083 performed its maiden flight on 6 November 1935.

In June 1936, the Hurricane went into production for the Air Ministry; it entered squadron service on 25 December 1937.

Its manufacture and maintenance was eased by using conventional construction methods so that squadrons could perform many major repairs without external support.

The Hurricane was rapidly procured prior to the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, when the RAF had 18 Hurricane-equipped squadrons in service.

The aircraft was relied on to defend against German aircraft operated by the Luftwaffe, including dogfighting with Messerschmitt Bf 109s in multiple theatres of action.

The Hurricane was developed through several versions, into bomber-interceptors, fighter-bombers, and ground support aircraft as well as fighters.

Versions designed for the Royal Navy known as the Sea Hurricane had modifications enabling operation from ships. Some were converted as catapult-launched convoy escorts.

By the end of production in July 1944, 14,487 Hurricanes had been completed in Britain, Canada, Belgium and Yugoslavia.

Avro Lancaster Bomber

The Avro Lancaster is a British Second World War heavy bomber.

It was designed and manufactured by Avro as a contemporary of the Handley Page Halifax, both bombers having been developed to the same specification, as well as the Short Stirling, all three aircraft being four-engined heavy bombers adopted by the Royal Air Force (RAF) during the same wartime era.

The Lancaster has its origins in the twin-engine Avro Manchester which had been developed during the late 1930s in response to the Air Ministry Specification P.13/36 for a capable medium bomber for “world-wide use”.

Originally developed as an evolution of the Manchester (which had proved troublesome in service and was retired in 1942), the Lancaster was designed by Roy Chadwick and powered by four Rolls-Royce Merlins and in one version, Bristol Hercules engines.

It first saw service with RAF Bomber Command in 1942 and as the strategic bombing offensive over Europe gathered momentum, it was the main aircraft for the night-time bombing campaigns that followed.

As increasing numbers of the type were produced, it became the principal heavy bomber used by the RAF, the RCAF and squadrons from other Commonwealth and European countries serving within the RAF, overshadowing the Halifax and Stirling.

A long, unobstructed bomb bay meant that the Lancaster could take the largest bombs used by the RAF, including the 4,000 lb (1,800 kg), 8,000 lb (3,600 kg) and 12,000 lb (5,400 kg) blockbusters, loads often supplemented with smaller bombs or incendiaries.

The “Lanc”, as it was known colloquially became one of the most heavily used of the Second World War night bombers, “delivering 608,612 long tons of bombs in 156,000 sorties”.

The versatility of the Lancaster was such that it was chosen to equip 617 Squadron and was modified to carry the Upkeep “Bouncing bomb” designed by Barnes Wallis for Operation Chastise, the attack on German Ruhr valley dams.

Although the Lancaster was primarily a night bomber, it excelled in many other roles, including daylight precision bombing, for which some Lancasters were adapted to carry the 12,000 lb (5,400 kg)

Tallboy and then the 22,000 lb (10,000 kg) Grand Slam earthquake bombs (also designed by Wallis). This was the largest payload of any bomber in the war.

In 1943, a Lancaster was converted to become an engine test bed for the Metropolitan-Vickers F.2 turbojet.

Lancasters were later used to test other engines, including the Armstrong Siddeley Mamba and Rolls-Royce Dart turboprops and the Avro Canada Orenda and STAL Dovern turbojets.

Postwar, the Lancaster was supplanted as the main strategic bomber of the RAF by the Avro Lincoln, a larger version of the Lancaster.

The Lancaster took on the role of long range anti-submarine patrol aircraft (later supplanted by the Avro Shackleton) and air-sea rescue.

It was also used for photo-reconnaissance and aerial mapping, as a flying tanker for aerial refuelling and as the Avro Lancastrian, a long-range, high-speed, transatlantic passenger and postal delivery airliner.

In March 1946, a Lancastrian of BSAA flew the first scheduled flight from the new London Heathrow Airport.

The Spitfire

The British Spitfire

The Supermarine Spitfire is a British single-seat fighter aircraft that was used by the Royal Air Force and other Allied countries before, during, and after World War II.

Many variants of the Spitfire were built, using several wing configurations, and it was produced in greater numbers than any other British aircraft.

It was also the only British fighter produced continuously throughout the war. The Spitfire continues to be popular among enthusiasts; nearly 60 remain airworthy, and many more are static exhibits in aviation museums throughout the world.

The Spitfire was designed as a short-range, high-performance interceptor aircraft by R. J. Mitchell, chief designer at Supermarine Aviation Works, which operated as a subsidiary of Vickers-Armstrong from 1928. Mitchell pushed the Spitfire’s distinctive elliptical wing with cutting-edge sunken rivets (designed by Beverley Shenstone) to have the thinnest possible cross-section, helping give the aircraft a higher top speed than several contemporary fighters, including the Hawker Hurricane.

Mitchell continued to refine the design until his death in 1937, whereupon his colleague Joseph Smith took over as chief designer, overseeing the Spitfire’s development through its multitude of variants. 

During the Battle of Britain, from July to October 1940, the public perceived the Spitfire to be the main RAF fighter, though the more numerous Hurricane shouldered a greater proportion of the burden against Nazi Germany’s air force, the Luftwaffe. However, Spitfire units had a lower attrition rate and a higher victory-to-loss ratio than those flying Hurricanes because of the Spitfire’s higher performance. 

During the battle, Spitfires were generally tasked with engaging Luftwaffe fighters—mainly Messerschmitt Bf 109E-series aircraft, which were a close match for them. After the Battle of Britain, the Spitfire superseded the Hurricane to become the backbone of RAF Fighter Command, and saw action in the European, Mediterranean, Pacific, and South-East Asian theatres.

Much loved by its pilots, the Spitfire served in several roles, including interceptor, photo-reconnaissance, fighter-bomber, and trainer, and it continued to serve in these roles until the 1950s.

The Seafire was a carrier-based adaptation of the Spitfire that served in the Fleet Air Arm from 1942 through to the mid-1950s. 

Although the original airframe was designed to be powered by a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine producing 1,030 hp (768 kW), it was strong enough and adaptable enough to use increasingly powerful Merlins and, in later marks, Rolls-Royce Griffon engines producing up to 2,340 hp (1,745 kW). As a result, the Spitfire’s performance and capabilities improved over the course of  its service.