The P51 Mustang was one of the most effective planes of World War Two. The P51 Mustang gave the bombers of US 8th Air Force the fighter cover it so desperately needed over occupied Europe and, therefore, greatly assisted the bombing campaign against Nazi Germany in World War Two.
The P51 was originally ordered in April 1940 by the British Air Purchasing Commission. There was a realisation in Britain that its bomber squadrons were open to attack during bombing raids and that Fighter Command did not have the aircraft available to give Bomber Command sufficient protection. It was to become obvious during the Battle of Britain that one of the main weaknesses against which the Luftwaffe had no answer, was its inability to protect its bombers for any length of time over southern Britain. The Messerschmitt 109’s were formidable opponents for the Spitfires and Hurricanes of Fighter Command, but their time over Southern England was limited by the amount of fuel they could carry. Therefore, the Luftwaffe’s bombers were left exposed to attack when their fighters had to withdraw. Looked at in reverse, if Bomber Command was to attack Germany, it would be in the same situation as both the Spitfire and Hurricane had a limited range and British bombers would be left exposed once their fighter cover had been withdrawn. This left Bomber Command with two choices – attack during the day with the dangers that would bring or attack at night and trust that bomb aiming would be accurate and anti-aircraft fire inaccurate. Bomber Command selected the latter.
In December 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour, bringing the United States in on the side of the Allies. Any military research and development in America would benefit the British as now the most powerful military nation in the world was an ally. The American air force was also to participate in the bombing of Germany with dangerous daylight raids.
The first flight of the P51 Mustang was in September 1942. The aerodynamics of the Mustang were excellent but initially it was underpowered. Fitted with an Allison engine, it was used primarily for photo reconnaissance. However, this all changed when it was fitted with a powerful V-1650 Merlin engine. This engine gave the Mustang sufficient power to enable its streamline shape to be used to its full advantage.
The P51 B was first used in December 1943 and in May 1944, the P51-D was introduced. This plane was fitted with fuel drop tanks that gave it far greater mileage in the air. When these tanks were empty, they could be dropped so that the plane had the full use of its aerodynamics. This extra fuel gave the Mustang an ability to escort the US 8th Air Force bomber formations to just about any target in Western Europe. Such cover was vital to the Americans as they were participating in daylight raids primarily over Germany and were thus exposed to attacks by the Luftwaffe. Before the Mustang, American bombers flew in a box formation and relied on the fire power of the many guns carried by Flying Fortresses to protect a formation. Now the B17’s had a fighter escort to enhance this fire power. The Mustangs speed and manoeuvrability in the air made it a severe test for the Luftwaffe’s fighter pilots.
As well as escorting bombers, the Mustang attacked the Luftwaffe on the ground, destroying many aircraft. As World War Two neared its end, many German fighter planes remained on the ground due to lack of spare parts and fuel. They were an inviting target for Mustang pilots.
The P51 Mustang had an astonishing success rate. Its ratio for kills to losses was said to have been 19 kills for every 1 Mustang lost. The P51 Mustang is credited with the destruction of 4,950 German planes – more than any other Allied fighter – and some of these kills included the jet powered Me 262.
Such was the success of the Mustang, that the Senate War Investigating Committee set up by Harry Truman in 1944, called it “the most aerodynamically perfect pursuit plane in existence.”
Such was the success of the Mustang, and the positive comments made by those who flew it, that 55 countries bought versions after World War Two had ended.
|Maximum speed||437 mph
490 mph for the P 51H
|Cruising speed||275 mph|
1300 miles with drop tanks
|Service ceiling||41,900 feet|
|Armaments||6 x 0.50 machine guns
10 x zero rail rockets or
2 x 1000 lbs bombs
- Bomber Command moved to its new headquarters near High Wycombe early in 1940. Its commander-in-chief, Sir Edgar Ludlow-Hewitt, moved into a centre that had direct…