Curtiss P-40 – Long-nosed Tomahawks
Series & No.: Air Vanguard 8
Author: Carl Molesworth
Illustrators: Richard Chasemore, Adam Tooby
Format: Softcover; PDF; eBook
IntroductionCurtiss P-40 – Long-nosed Tomahawks
is Osprey's 8th title in their new Air Vanguard series. Long-nosed Tomahawks
is the first of two P-40 books and explores the early P-40 variants from the P-36 through the P-40C of the legendary Flying Tigers.
Curtiss was one of the preeminent fighter builders between the world wars. Their Hawk series of fighters served all military branches of the United States and found their way into dozens of countries world-wide. In 1934 the Army issued requirements for a new fighter to replace their biplanes and Curtiss submitted what became the excellent Curtiss H-75, the P-36. The fighter was designed by Donovan R. Berlin who recognized that while fighters increased in weight over their life, more advanced powerplants would be forthcoming, and designed what is today referred to as "stretch" into the P-36. Those characteristics would be recognized when the inevitable more powerful engines arrived in the future.
With war clouds darkening Europe and swift liquid-cooled engine fighters squaring off in Europe, the War Department demanded a liquid-cooled fighter. Curtiss created the H-81 by attaching an Allison V-1710 engine to the P-36 and the P-40 was born.
"Damned by words but flown into glory" was how Col. Robert Scott described the P-40; another famous fighter pilot assessed it as, "The best second-best fighter in the world." While the P-40 was a good design competitive with the early Spitfire and Messerschmidt Bf 109, it was hobbled by Army Air Corps doctrine that focused on low altitude operations, plus lack of a suitable two-speed two-stage supercharger. P-40 was the heaviest of all frontline fighters with the same class of engine output in 1941.
When U.S. Army Air Corps took their first P-40s the type was not a viable combat aircraft. Improvements of armor and more firepower created a warplane and Britain and France ordered hundreds. France fell before their delivery (Although not before a handful of French H-75 Hawks accounted for approximately 25% of all French air-to-air kills.) and England took possession. Tomahawk
, as the RAF christened the long-nosed P-40, was not able to fight in the high sky over Europe yet proved its mettle over North Africa and the Middle East. Many Allied pilots judged it superior to RAF's Hawker Hurricane and down low it could hold its own against the Bf 109E. After Russia changed allegiance Tomahawks fought over the frozen steppes. Long-nosed P-40s shot down Japanese at Pearl Harbor and over the Philippines. And over China and Southeast Asia the P-40 won everlasting fame with the Flying Tigers.
ContentCurtiss P-40 Long-nosed Tomahawks
is brought to us through 64 pages in six chapters and an index:
- Design and Development
* Birth of the Curtiss Hawk
* The Biplane Hawks
* Model 75
* Model 81
- Technical Specifications
* Personal Perspectives
- Operational History
* At War in the Middle East
* Action in the Pacific
* The American Volunteer Group
- Bibliography and Further Reading
Author Carl Molesworth has written several P-40 titles and his wealth of P-40 knowledge is harnessed to explain the intricacies of the early P-40 models. He explains the march of progress from the first Curtiss Hawk biplanes of the Curtiss-Wright Company through the H-75/P-36 series to the H-81, models P-40 - P-40C. Experiments with turbo-supercharging and engine improvements to improve the breed are discussed. He presents engineering and production detail not commonly known, such as the role of the longitudinal fairing that ran along the middle bottom of the wing and fuselage from the cowling to the trailing edge. Donovan Berlin and other Curtiss engineers are briefly profiled.
Successes and failures of redesigning the all-metal monoplane Hawk family are discussed, as is the Army criteria that inspired the work. Additionally, Mr. Molesworth includes company and government designations for the many H-75 and H-81 models and variants. These details may not help you build a better model, however it will enlighten the reader to a erudite understanding of the P-40 family. Detailed excerpts from an interview with Don Berlin and official documents shed light on the sound design.
Several tables deliver essential and interesting metrical data on the many Hawk types.
The remaining 20 pages are devoted to the operational history of the aircraft. Starting with the RAF experience with the Tomahawk over England, the story continues with RAF use over the Middle East. P-40s fought against other American supplied aircraft flown by Vichy French forces. Pilot logs, unit histories and personal quotes add numerous accounts which enrich this title. Indeed, one of the best features of this book are 8 pages of combat pilot experiences by P-40 notables:
- Bruce K. Holloway, 23rd FG, 13 kills in the P-40
- Clive R. "Killer" Caldwell, 112 and 250 Sqn, 20.5 kills in the P-40
- Sidney W. Brewer, 324th FG
- Emmett "Cyclone" Davis, 45th PS (Pearl Harbor attack)
- George Welch, 47th PS, 4 kills, Pearl Harbor
- Ken Taylor, 47th PS, 2 kills, Pearl Harbor
- William Reed, AVG ace
- Charlie Bond, AVG ace
The Tomahawks were the best the RAF had in the Middle East and I was glad to be flying them, liked their flush-riveted clean lines and the aircraft itself. They were wanting in performance but the Allison engine was honest, hard-working and reliable. ... The aeroplane handled and turned well, gave a fair warning of the approaching stall, recovered from a spin without fuss, and in general had little vice.
In service they proved strong and rugged and would stand up to a lot of punishment from opposing fire as well as from violent aerobatics. They picked up speed quickly in a dive, but at steep angles of dive at high speed, considerable strength of arm and leg and/or a lot of activity with the trim gear was needed to keep control. While inferior in performance, particularly at altitude, to the Bf 109 and the elegant MC 202 Folgore, which latter aircraft appeared in the desert toward the end of 1941 and excited my admiration if not my approval, the Tomahawk seemed to hang on to them well in a steep or vertical dive and, operating within its own altitude limitations, performed creditably in a dogfight. The Tomahawk's lack of comparable performance left the initiative mainly with the opposition and it was usual to accept their initial attack in order to engage at our best height.
Mr. Molesworth examines why the early P-40 is considered by so many to be a failure based on their performance against the Japanese at Pearl Harbor and the Philippines. He presents compelling evidence against that perception. Finally, the performance of the P-40 with the Flying Tigers and subsequent 23rd Fighter Group is presented in reasonable detail.
Graphics, photographs, artwork
In the design and development part of the book many of the supporting images are pre-war factory photos. Wartime chronicles are supported by images of the P-40 in the field. All photographs are black-and-white, a shame as there are many Kodachrome photographs of long-nosed Hawks available. Regardless, the images used support the text.
Artwork by Richard Chasemore and Adam Tooby is a feast for the reader: in-action scenes; camouflage and markings; insignia; profiles and planforms. Two exceptionally well done digital “in action” illustrations show P-40s delivering tomahawk chops enhance the book. These dynamic full color pictures are a signature of Osprey’s titles. They are:
Early RAAF Tomahawk Combat, June 28, 1941.
Allied Tomahawks engaging Vichy French Martin M-167F bombers over Syria in American-built verse American-built.
AVG Raid on Moulmein, March 18, 1942.
William Reed and Kenneth Jernstedt strafing Japanese aircraft at Moudon.
Further color artwork includes:
A. P-40 Long Nose Engine Contours
: four-view of 112 Squadron's iconic shark face!
B. Early Hawks
1. Curtiss Hawk 75 prototype, April 1935
2. XP-37, the first attempt to mate the P-36 with an Allison V-1710.
3. XP-42, a P-36 with a streamlined radial engine cowling.
4. XP-40, March 1938.
C. UK-based Tomahawk, 1941-42
: 3-view of Tomahawk II, No.403 Sqn RCAF, May 1941.
D. Prewar USAAC P-40
: 3-view of 33rd PS, Iceland, August 1941.
E. Curtiss P-40B
cutaway with 17 keyed components.
Conveying textual description to comparative data are 26 tables (17 pages!) of specific model specifications:
a. H-75 (P-36): Hawk prototype through USAAC P-36G plus export variants to France, Great Britain, Norway, Dutch East Indies, China, Thailand, Argentina.
b. H-81 (P-40): Hawk XP-40 through P-40C-CU plus export variants to France, Great Britain, China.
The Fighters of 1941: P-40 compared to the top 9 fighters of Britain, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia by range, service ceiling, top speed and weight.
As an unashamed P-40 enthusiast I was thrilled when I learned that Air Vanguard would issue two separate P-40 books. The amount of information presented in an easily read but not dumbed-down format is impressive and appreciated. The author does an impressive job of explaining the how and why of P-40 design and development. Quotes and excerpts from important P-40 participants lends great credence to the text.
Artwork and photographic support is excellent. Graphics are extensive and exceptional.
I regret that the author ignores the P-40 service record with the Red Air Force against the Nazis. Perhaps 64 pages is just to small a format?
I find this to be a great resource for modelers and historians of the original P-40 and heartily recommend it!
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