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What If #4: P-51 Mustang, "the Cadillac of the skies"

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  • Member since
    January, 2009
Posted by F-8fanatic on Friday, April 19, 2013 2:16 PM

I looked at a few sources, and the notable difference I saw was the availablility of the different types of drop tanks. The standard drop tank, according to what I found, was the 75 gallon tank.  This was most commonly used prior to early 1944, when the 107 gallon tank became available.  Kelly Johnson had designed a tank of either 150 or 165 gallon capacity, depending on which source you look at, but this tank was often unavailable.  With the 107 gallon tanks, the -38 was able to fly 1925 miles.

it also needs to be said that the -38 was a fantastic plane for the Pacific, and in North Africa.  But over Europe, the cockpit heater was totally inadequate.  Imagine having to fly those 6+hour long missions, uncomfortable enough already, and then be freezing while youre doing it.  

  • Member since
    March, 2009
  • From: Yorkville, IL
Posted by wolfhammer1 on Wednesday, April 17, 2013 4:43 PM

F-8fanatic, where did you get the information about the range of the P-38 vs. the P-51?  My sources indicate they had similar ranges, maxing out at just under 2000 miles with drop tanks.  I am comparing the P-38F, which is what was available in Europe at the beginning of the bomber campaign and the P-51D.  

  • Member since
    January, 2009
Posted by F-8fanatic on Wednesday, April 17, 2013 1:09 AM

I would have to disagree about the planes being used if we had them.  Lets not forget that the 109F was in service prior to the end of the Battle of Britain.  so, even supposing that we could have launched the bombing raids from 1941, the reason why we switched to escorted missions was still present in the skies above Germany.  Whether they wanted to use escort fighters or not, the losses proved to be too costly, and they would still have proven to be too costly had we begun bombing operations earlier in the war.  The -F was plenty good enough to cause huge losses in our bomber fleet when we did begin the bombing--so why wouldnt they have been in these what-if examples?  

Also, while the P-38 had long range, its range was over 300 miles shorter than the -51D had.  

  • Member since
    May, 2005
Posted by pyrman64 on Tuesday, April 16, 2013 8:58 PM

What if no one cared?

Greg H

"There is many a boy here today who looks on war as all glory, but, boys, it is all hell." Gen. Wm T. Sherman (11 April 1880, Columbus, Ohio)

  • Member since
    December, 2008
  • From: Goffstown, NH
Posted by New Hampshire on Tuesday, April 16, 2013 7:37 PM

wolfhammer1

The bottom line is that 8th Air Force did not want fighter escorts, they did not think they needed it.  It may not have mattered if the P-51 was available or not, the leadership  would not have used them anyway.  

You know, as I read this I think you may be right.  I don't think it was anything malicious on the part of the higher command, just that the technology was moving so fast in the interwar years the "old school" was having trouble adapting.  I mean, we started the war mostly using the same basic rifle as World War 1 (though we did have the Garand in the pipeline and it was just a matter of waiting for production to catch up.)  Artillery technology was still fairly unchanged.  Tanks were another technology that the higher ups had trouble figuring out how to use.  And now we have the airplane which, in the span when a lot of tools of war didn't really change a whole lot, went from wooden frame, fabric covered 1, 2 and 3 winged craft moving at snails pace to stressed metal monoplanes, some approaching the speed of sound in a power dive, but on average tripling the speed of those old WWI birds.  Add to the fact it looks like the interwar years were devoted to the concept of the great bomber it is not a stretch to think that the Army commanders at the time just didn't know how to use the technology they had at hand.  If there is one thing I will hand the Germans, it was that once they placed the proper commanders in charge of these new, high tech weapons, the rules of how wars were conducted changed dramatically from the trench warfare of World War I.

  • Member since
    March, 2009
  • From: Yorkville, IL
Posted by wolfhammer1 on Sunday, April 14, 2013 3:10 PM

I think the thing that is missed here is that we had workable, long range aircraft available at the start of the bomber campaign.  The P-38 had the range, and the German's called it der Gabelschwanz Teufal (the fork-tailed devil) for a reason.  The biggest issue with it in Europe was the bad gas in England. (this according to In Detail and Scale) that caused supercharger issues.   The P-47 was fast to becoming able to stretch its range to support shorter raids as well.  The bottom line is that 8th Air Force did not want fighter escorts, they did not think they needed it.  It may not have mattered if the P-51 was available or not, the leadership  would not have used them anyway.  

  • Member since
    January, 2009
Posted by F-8fanatic on Saturday, April 13, 2013 6:48 PM

Honestly, if we had such advanced firepower by 1941, I think the Japanese would not have attacked us at all.....think about it--their entire goal was to strategically knock us out of being able to respond.  If we had such long range superiority, they would have had to consider it heavily in their plans--it would have made us less reliant on carriers in the Pacific from the outset.

Now, on to Europe...

1--could go one of two ways....if Hitler saw the conditions for what they were, he would push for weapons like the 262 to be built as more of a priority than he really did....and the 262 in larger numbers could have overwhelmed the Mustang advantage.  Remember, the 262 only really showed up once we had air superiority already.  Imagine if it showed up earlier.  The war would have come down to a race--our 51s securing the air vs getting enough 262s built to become more of a factor.  Our losses would have been significantly less, which means a lot of things.  We would not have had to build as many heavies to handle attrition, so even more production could have gone to fighters or even other weapons.

Or, it could have all been wrapped up two years earlier than what took place.  Hitler had success only where the 109 was good enough to rule the air.....cut that off, and everything else falls too.  The 109E was nowhere near good enough to handle the Merlin Mustang.  With 51's controlling the air, the strategic bombing would have been more effective, sooner, which takes away the opportunities for Hitler to bring out new weapons like the 262 or 163.  But more than that, tactical bombing would have been more effective as well.  There would have been no Bodenplatte, because tactical air would have denied Hitler the tanks and equipment needed to stage a large offensive.  Hitler hated being on the defensive, and when he was, his pride and anger caused him to make lots of strategic flaws, and I suspect he would have committed even more of these.  

2--The P-40 was a good match for most of what was available in 1940, but not much more.  If Curtiss could have made enough, there would have been no P-51, plain and simple.  NAA was only approached by the Brits because Curtiss couldnt fill the orders.  If they could have, the Brits would have simply bought them.  Remember now, there were literally dozens of Us fighter aircraft designs that were in progress throughout the war.  If anything, the 51 would have become just another contender.  Many of the designs even showed promise but were not pursued as much due to the production lines being needed for currently available aircraft.  Remember, by the time that the 51 was started, others like the 38 and 47 were already ahead of it.  

  • Member since
    January, 2012
  • From: Barrie, Ontario
Posted by Cdn Colin on Friday, April 12, 2013 8:10 PM

I think the P-51 was designed on the back of a napkin by North American designers in response to a British request for them to build P-40's for them.  Curtis couldn't produce enough.  The NA designers proposed that they could build something similar with a different wing, but the same armament and Allison engine as the P-40.  The legend was born when someone replaced the Allison with a Merlin.

What if Curtis could have made enough P-40's to fill the RAF's order?

I build 1/48 scale WW2 fighters.

Have fun.

  • Member since
    December, 2008
  • From: Goffstown, NH
What If #4: P-51 Mustang, "the Cadillac of the skies"
Posted by New Hampshire on Friday, April 12, 2013 7:02 PM

This is a 2 part what if:

In the years between the wars many countries struggled with how airpower was going to fit into future conflicts.  At the time, an Italian by the name of Giulio Douhet became a pseudo prophet by claiming future wars would be determined by large bombers mercilessly dropping bombs from the skies and pummeling cities and countries into submission.  This led to many leading authorities in various countries to become obsessed with the bomber.....almost to a fault.  In America this kind of thinking led to super armed bombers like the Superfortress and Liberator, which bristled with a slew of guns.  The thinking being formations flying tight and close would produce an impenetrable wall of firepower that would overwhelm attacking fighters.  When America finally got into the European theater and started daylight operations it became obvious this thinking was seriously flawed, and led to high casualty rates.  The British fixed this problem by switching to night bombing (itself not free of problems), but America stuck steadfast to daylight bombing, and the big bombers against the nimble German fighters proved to be a calamity.  Alas up to this point no one had considered what value the long range fighter/escort could prove to be.  It wasn't until late 1943 that long range capable P-51's started flowing into the theater.  In early 1944, General Doolittle then switched long range fighter/escort tactics by no longer tying the fighters to the bombers, instead sending them ahead of the bombers in "fighter sweeps", which struck German fighters as they were forming up for their attacks on American Bombers.  This proved to be a deadly efficient tactic for the Americans.  So now the "What if:

What If:

What if America had gotten on the ball BEFORE war broke out and had the long range capable P-51 ready at the outbreak of war?  How would this have effected bomber losses?  The bomber campaign in general? 

Part 2:

What if Doolittle's tactic of fighter sweeps had been instituted from the beginning?  What might have happened to the European war with a German airforce virtually wiped out several months earlier than it was?

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