RAF in WW2: PR and the historical record

littlejim said:
. Crete, on the other hand, would probably have been held, but that's pure speculation on my part.
AIUI, ULTRA decrypts told us that Crete was going to be invaded; if the island had been reinforced, the Axis powers would have realised that ENIGMA was compromised.

As it was the British were shown up as a bunch of chota-peg swilling, pith helmeted prats with the technological prowess of Bulgaria. .
Your loathing of things British undermines your credibility.
baboon6 said:
WaltOnTheMildSide said:
Magic_Mushroom said:
... You mention Portal’s refusal to believe that a credible long range fighter could be designed. ... You mention the success of the P-51. Would this be the same aircraft which was of limited utility until a British Merlin engine was substituted for the Allison? Would this be the same aircraft that, when modified by the RAF, the Vice CAS lobbied hard for the USAAF to trial? Was this the same aircraft which the RAF presented 2 Merlin engined variants to the USAAF in Europe to prove their point?
Pushing the point a bit further: wasn't the Mustang originally designed and built by the US for us, to our specification and at our request?
Indeed it was. The British Purchasing Commission originally wanted North American Aviation to licence-build P-40s. The boys at NAA reckoned they could do better and came up with the original (Allison-engined) Mustang in record time. It entered service with the RAF in the tactical reconnaissance/army co-operation role in 1942.
As Baboon states, the Mustang was developed by North American to a British Purchasing Commission requirement. However, it was an American design which owed much of its success to a National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA – the precursor to NASA) laminar flow wing. The early Allison engined variants were effective at low level but performed poorly at higher altitudes. The RAF and USAAF used these early variants for Army Cooperation and recce duties. Only when the Merlin engine was trialled by Rolls Royce and the RAF was the true potential of the Mustang realised as a long range, escort fighter with superlative performance at high altitude.

The rest as they say, is history!

If I might just contribute a couple of thoughts to this...

1 Dizzy Allen is not a particularly creditable source. Saying that doesn't take away from the fact that he was a particularly brave and skilled pilot. Thought provoking, yes, but there is enough on Dowding out there and in the records to suggest that some of his attack is wrong. The 'totally inadequate' armament charge is one Allen repeated in several other books, but he conflated his critique of the Spitfire being armed with 20mm cannon rather thanwith 4 or 6 x .5-inch MGs with his contention that 8 x .303 were not enough; for the Battle of Britain, they did the job. There was no viable alternative with which to arm the Spit and Hurricane in 1936; and we didn't have the licence for the .5-in in 1940 (we were trying to get it), and the 20mm was unreliable. So to blame Dowding alone for being stuck with the Spit and Hurri is pushing it. By the by, he didn't score 10 kills (see his entry in Shores and Williams, Aces High, second edition)

2. Allen commanded one fighter squadron (66) during the war, taking over . Apart from a spell as a supernumary with 131Sqn, he saw no further action during the war. He was thus less experience as a fighter squadron commander on ops than a certain Arthur Harris, who commanded 3 fighter squadrons (admittedly 45 Sqn only briefly) during WW1. Allen commanded 1 and 43 Sqns after the war - he was also given command of 20, but it was disbanded before he got to take up the post.

The implication that his command of more fighter squadrons than anyone else somehow gives his criticims of Dowding extra credibility doesn't wash, I'm afraid. If he was so good, how come he was never given a wing to command? Look at Al Deere - two squadron commands (on ops; 602 and 403) and then two wing commands (again on ops - Biggin Hill and 145 Wings), three wings if you include his tenure as OC Polish Wing (Mustangs) at Andrews Field at the end of hostilities

3. If citing Bader, and inferring that he was a sad loss to the RAF when shot down and captured, it is worth noting that if he'd had his way, the RAF would've stuck with machine guns as the armament for Spitfires and Hurricanes long after the armouring of German aircraft made the .303 ineffective.

4. If your statment about Portal is correct, LJ:

Of course by then the Americans had long since come to realise that knowing something about aircraft was not a necessary qualification to become a senior officer in the RAF.
How is it that the Americans from George Marshall down, rated him as the most impressive of the Chiefs of Staff? And the answer is not because they thought that Brooke, Pound and Cunningham were hopeless, before you attempt to pull that one. There are, again, a variety of sources to support his, such as Chester Wilmot and most recently Andrew Roberts' Masters and Commanders.

You also state:

He was still telling them that when USAAF P-51 single engined fighters were escorting American bombers to Berlin and back.
The Appendix you cite from Terraine suggests otherwise. Interestingly, Terraine doesn't quite a line from volume II the Official History of the Strategic Air Offensive by Webster and Frankland, p.41:
To achieve the necessary range [a long range fighter] would have to carry much more fuel ... yet if it was large enough and heavy enough to do this, it was difficult to see how it was to outpace and outmanoeuvre its short-rnage opponent. This was the problem which Sir Charles Portal had always believed to be insuperable and his belief was supported both by evidence and probability. [emphasis added]
In any event, the Merlin-engined Mustang flew its first escort operations in December 1943, and after it became clear that it could do the job (i.e. early 1944), the argument was largely moot. We intended to re-equip several Spitfire squadrons with Mustangs, but the demand from the USAAF for them militated against this.

5. The Skua - a 'wonderful asset'? If you've been studying military history for 50 years, it's incredible that you've never come across any of the works which say that the Skua was less than wonderful, including articles by the doyenne of British wartime test flying, Eric 'Winkle' Brown, who was not exactly enamoured with the aircraft. It had one moment of glory (albeit at heavy cost) and that was about it.

6. On Slatter's observation about Dive Bombers - you conveniently omit the fact that Terraine's quote in full says:

Finally, like many others, Slatter wanted dive bombers. They were essential, he said, for attacks on pin-point targets - and, of course, he was right, as Mosquitos [sic - they didn't do much dive bombing in fact] Mustangs and others [e.g. Spitfires] would show in due course. But in mentioning those famous aircraft we have to concede that the Air Staff was aslo right not to be stampeded into the hasty production of dive-bombers per se.
All Burma proved was the RAF was totally dependent on the US aircraft if it had any ambitions to operate outside Europe.
Er... How do you explain the preponderance of Hurricane and Spitfire units in the RAF units in the Burma theatre of operations, then? We didn't use the P-40 out there (the RAAF and RNZAF did), or the P-39, or the P-38, or the P-51, while the P-47 arrived late in the war. Norman Franks' Spitfires Over the Arakan and the The Air Battle of Imphal, as well as Henry Probert's The Forgotten Air Force paint a somewhat different picture to your contention, LJ. Likewise, there were more Hurricane and Spitfire units than there were P-40 squadrons in the Middle East.

8. As Bad CO is aware (may as well name drop), I might just be in the position to be the Arrser who can comment on MM's performance in his Masters degree.

Indeed, I am.

All I will say (at the risk of embarassing him) is that MM is being extremely modest about just how good an historian he is. And the head of the Air Historical Branch would support me on that.
Hi, guys,

First of all, chaps, big disappointment. I'm as British as any of you are. I was born in the UK, of UK parents, educated -- such as I am -- in the UK, and served seven years in the British Army. My father fought with the 8th Army and I could tell f-d-j quite a bit about the ack-ack guns that tried to stop the V1s. My mother was working the fire control predictor on one of those batteries. Although it is true that if I ever had to re-establish myself as a Briton I'd probably fail because of a total lack of interest in soccer -- football in Australia is played with those pointy ended type bouncy things.

And let's be clear that I have not and never would question the courage of the men and women who fought in the actions I talk about. Yes, there where times when morale faltered, usually because of unexpected circumstances. Yes, the good and the bad need to be looked at, but that's the job of even an amateur historian. Which is why I always try to provide source references, especially for the unpalatable bits. My facts are in the history books. You can't prove them wrong so you choose to cast slurs on my personality instead. Go right on doing it, I'm really enjoying the fight. Please look upon me as your own private David Irving.

I know it's unpleasant to be told that a lot of your national myths are built on sand, but the more you strip away the bulldust and Action Comics nonsense that surrounds so much of what passes for war history, the more you come to respect the people who soldiered on through terrible times which have been largely forgotten. That's my attitude anyway. There's also the fascination of spending so many years studying and knowing that I've still barely scratched the surface of what there is to be learnt about WWII. It's not what I know about the subject that keeps me fascinated, it's what I don't know

What set my teeth on edge right from the beginning of this little stoush was the flagrant bad manners displayed by MM to what was an off the cuff posting I made. He was the one who chose to make a huge song and dance out of it in which he virtually accused me of lying. Which is the point where I suffered a severe lack of humour failure and still do. I may or may not be an idiot but I don't make things up. Again, I make the point that I always refer to my source material. I've always understood that was the practice at a university when submitting written intellectual arguments. If we keep going perhaps MM will honour us with some of his sources.

I certainly make no secret of the fact that I regard MM as an RAF spin doctor. A pretty good one too. Here's one example: "Spitfires gradually assumed the AD of the Island from March 1941."

No, I'm not quibbling about the date. We all make typos. What I'm saying is that quote makes the whole deal sound like the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. Anybody who wasn't familiar with the period would imagine a squadron of Spits landing on a sunny Mediterranean island and the old buffer station commander with his dog and stick wandering over to meet the squadron leader: "Hello, old boy, hope you have some good hunting against the Jerries here. Come over to the mess for a pint, haw, haw."

A far more accurate description of the event was that the Spitfires arrived in Malta and promptly got slaughtered. What else could anybody have expected? The Luftwaffe had over 250 aircraft based only eighty miles away. There was no way they were going to let the Spits find a comfortable roost. Of the first 14 Spits flown in, 11 were destroyed in 3 days. ("THEY GAVE ME A SEAFIRE", Commander R. Crosley, Airlife Publishing, 1986, ISBN 0 0906393 56 6). On April 20th, 1942 the USS 'WASP' flew in 47 Spits. By the evening of the 23rd only six were still operational ("RIGHT OF THE LINE", as previously quoted). It was the old, old cry: 'too little, too late'.

If Spitfires really had been sent to Malta in 1941 they would have been able to play themselves in against much lighter opposition and made the Luftwaffe's attacks much more costly. Which brings us back to where this argument started. Eighty one Hurricanes were flown off carriers and into Malta in 1941. Nobody has yet put forward even a shred of an argument that taking eighty Spitfires from Fighter Command in 1941 would have caused any problems in defending the UK. Nobody has suggested any way in which the 400 fighters and pilots lost over Northern France in 1941 did anything of any great advantage to the British war effort. The idea that it was important to British morale to see British fighters flying out over the channel is about as far down to the bottom of the barrel as you can go in scraping together an argument. Let's just hope that the great British public didn't count them all out and those that came back!

Singapore was and remains the worst and most humiliating defeat in British history. I'm not surprised that a blunt description of its after effects doesn't go down well, even after all this time. The essential point though is that we can both look back now and say it was certain that Singapore would have been lost whatever the British did. But nobody could have said so before the Japanese war started. Very few people understood how formidable the Japanese were and nobody knew the US Navy wasn't going to be around. What everybody did know was that Malaya wasn't just a patch of jungle. It was a major supplier of raw materials such as rubber and tin which were vital for the war effort and huge dollar earners at a time when Britain needed every dollar it could get. If there was, as everybody agreed, a chance that Japanese might try to occupy Malaya then it was worth defending with whatever could be spared. Not much could be spared, true, but with Spitfires pouring off the production line and plenty of pilots becoming available for them some could have been sent to the East, even if they were only Mark I's. It might mean having to abandon some flag waving on the other side of the Channel but Malaya was more important than that. Which, of course, was exactly the reason the Repulse and the Prince of Wales were sent to Singapore. My argument again is that fifty Spitfires arriving in Singapore in 1941 would have been a sensible move under the conditions as they were understood then. And I repeat my argument that an honourable defeat is one thing, a debacle is something else. A hundred years of Asian admiration for British achievements was totally wiped out in seventy three days of absolute disaster. The era of naturally assumed European superiority was gone for ever, as the French and Dutch soon found out as well when they tried to reclaim their colonies.

It would have been nice to have had something to set against the whole bloody mess, something to be proud of, even if was only a handful of Spitfires carrying on the fight alongside the AVG (American Volunteer Group, otherwise known as the Flying Tigers). That at least would have done something for public opinion where it really mattered to Britain, in the US.

Anyway, my original assertion was that Fighter Command went to sleep after the Battle of Britain after 1940. It should have been given a good shaking, told that the war was still on and it was time to start packing the kitbags. Instead, the Spitfires were held back for a vital year in the UK when many of them should have long since been sent overseas. To argue that it didn't matter about such a massive cockup because everything turned out all right in the end is to say that idiots ruled, OK. Which is exactly my point, except that it wasn't OK. It's a pity that we can't get any posting on this thread from the RAF pilots who died trying to fight Bf 109's in Hurricanes and Gladiators. Nor from the sailors and soldiers who died from bombs dropped from German bombers which Spifires could have destroyed and Hurricanes couldn't catch. It certainly didn't turn out all right for them.

As for the rest of MM's posting, Bomber Command is where I'm trying to get to next. Perhaps next week. At the moment I'm too tired. It's midnight, the temperature is 35c and I'm going down to the beach for a swim. I'm sure you'll be glad to hear it's quite a dangerous place. There's not many sharks there but a whole fee of lawyers at drunken beach parties.
The RAF was a comparatively tightly organised, high tech force, by and large with more modern equipment and operational command techniques than the Navy, and more so the Army. One consequence was that they were able to collate and distill information fast for their own purposes. The upshot was that they had more up to date PR to hand on a regular basis. Journalists are by and large lazy slobs who rely on easy to deal with handouts. The Navy and Army stuff was all a lot more complicated than they liked to handle, except when it came to the "big stories". Even within the RAF there were notable distortions. My mate Jack, who flew Spitfires in the Pacific sector claims that nobody believed what he said he did, because he was operating out of India, and was a Sergeant Pilot. Even in the RAF stuff there were notable gaps. The home and Europe sectors where places the RAF could get the stories they used from the event into the media very quickly. As for the BBC and films, well the high profile, upmarket, home counties close to London RAF end was much more interesting than the slog and sweat of the infantry or the tankies, or for that matter the long wearing patrolling and time away of the Navy. Of course in this modern media age of the 21st Century, it is all very different. If only because not only do we have few planes, the ones we have are mostly grounded waiting for just in time deliveries of spare parts. Or so I am told.

You make a very reasonable case that the War Department should have been more pro-active with the deployment of Spitfires around the world to help protect vital strategic points. However, I agree with MM that you have reached this conclusion only with liberal application of hindsight.

As you know, between the fall of France in May 1940 and Operation Barbarossa in June 1941 Britain stood alone against Germany. The most acute threat to our national survival was the possibility of invasion by the Germans, which Fighter Command prevented from happening in the summer of 1940. However, it would have been a tremendous gamble to allow the UK air defences to be denuded on the basis that the Germans would not try again in the summer of 1941. Even after Barbarossa was launched it would have seemed very likely that the Germans would achieve victory in the east before re-focussing on an invasion of the UK, possibly in 1942. I believe that, without hindsight, your argument only starts to look plausible after the chances of a German invasion of Britain were defeated on the battlefields of Russia as Barbarossa ground to halt in the Winter of 1941/42.

You have accused Fighter Command of 'going to sleep', but the evidence of the Circus and Rhubarb operations suggest that it was taking the fight to the enemy as vigorously as possible. These operations cost valuable resources and the lives of combat-experienced pilots and, if anything, could be criticised for being unnecessarily aggressive - something that is not really consistent with 'going to sleep'. Had Dowding remained in post, fighter-sweep operations may have been less prevalent but his attitude to husbanding resources also suggests that he would not have agreed to the reduction of home defences to support the deployments that you have advocated.

Whenever we review decisions taken in WW2 we must bear in mind that the attritional nature of the conflict does not always seem to make to sense those schooled to think with a modern manoeuvre-warfare viewpoint.
AlfieNoakes said:

You make a very reasonable case that the War Department should have been more pro-active with the deployment of Spitfires around the world to help protect vital strategic points. However, I agree with MM that you have reached this conclusion only with liberal application of hindsight.

On the one hand, LJ very reasonably points out that we'd hugely underestimated the Japanese. He then says we should have sent air power to the Far east; but given that we'd underestimated Japan it would not have been deemed necessary.
And don't forget that the cabinet was recieving advice in early 1941 from the Chiefs of Staff that the Germans would be likely to make a second attempt (see Alanbrooke's diary, for instance, for Feb 1941). This meant that the chances of Spits being released for ops elsewhere were very, very slim.

When the Germans invaded Russia, it looked at the start as though they might well get the job done quickly, and there was a fear that Battle of Britain (Round II) might have to be fought, but against aircraft which the Hurricane couldn't comfortably handle any more. And this siutation pertained throughout the rest of '41, as Churchill and the war cabinet worried that the Russians would be knocked out of the war (remember Op Typhoon only started to go the Soviets' way right at the end of the year).

As Roberts highlights in Masters and Commanders (he's not the only one, but as I have it to hand...) the prospect of another German attack dominated Churchill's thoughts. It is quite clear that once the US was in the war, Churchill's main concern was to get US troops into the UK so that they could help defend against a German attack. This, however, requried considerable political manoeuvring, because the Americans wanted to launch a cross-channel invasion in 1942.

This had two effects;

1. The British government still feared that there was a risk of invasion. Therefore, there was little chance of releasing a meaningful number of Spitfires for operations overseas.

2. If the Americans were to get their way, this would mean fighting the Luftwaffe in 1942, and as Fighter Command had discovered, the Luftwaffe's aircraft had improved; the Hurricane was not a credible opponent to the Bf109F and even less so for the Fw190 when that entered service in mid/late 1941. The Hurricane could, though, deal comfortably with Italian fighters of the time, with the possible exception of the Macchi 202, and it was thought (building on Bravo_Bravo's point) that the Japanese weren't up to much - hence the fact that the Brewster Buffalo went out to Singapore and Malaya first, to be followed by Hurricanes and American P-40s).

A further obstacle to sending Spifires overseas came, ironically, as the result of the USAAF being deployed to the UK, the lack of suitable aircraft for tangling with the Luftwaffe led to them being equipped with a number of Spitfire squadrons...

While LJ's argument looks very plausible and indeed sensible, it is made without sewing together the context in which the decision not to send Spitfires was made - that of not deploying the best fighter aircraft overseas until the security of the home base appeared to be on a sounder footing. And until the Soviets starting kicking back against Barbarossa (November 1941) and the US came into the fray and - importantly decided upon 'Germany First' - then sending meaningful number of Spitfires overseas with properly trained pilots wasn't going to happen.

1941 was, therefore, a non-starter for any overseas deployment of the Spitfire, no matter how much we might now say 'if only...'
Dear Archimedes,

I find your style of debate far more agreeable than MM's, so I will try to reply in the same manner.

I happily accept that your knowledge of Dizzy Allen may be better than mine. The personal details about Allen I took from his books, "WHO WON THE BATTLE FOR BRITAIN?" and "BATTLE FOR BRITAIN". The comment about commanding more squadrons than anybody else was inferred from a conversation quoted in one of them. As for his record, it seemed to me -- and still does -- that anybody who fought through the BOB and was given a squadron command afterwards at the age of 21 must be treated as a valid source. No more valid than many others, I concede, but certainly a valid source.

As for the criticisms about fighter command reflecting on Dowding, well no. Most of the items Allen mentioned were below Dowding's pay grade. It would be like blaming Nelson for some damp cartridge cases aboard the 'VICTORY' at Trafalgar. I think there was a certain Group Commander that Dowding would have been well advised to sack but that's another issue. God knows what would have happened if anybody else had been given the job of preparing Fighter Command for the war

What I can say is that I found Allen's arguments convincing when I read his book and still do. As for the comments about the armament of RAF fighters in the Battle of Britain, I know that it's one of those perennial arguments which will never be resolved. Where I disagree with you is the contention that the British had no choice but to go with the eight .303's. If the Belgians could arm their Hurricanes with four .5 Brownings why couldn't we? (AIR INTERNATIONAL/JULY 1987, PAGE 34).

I must admit that I wasn't aware that the British were even trying to get a licence to manufacture .5's. And I do know, of course, that the .5's the Belgians used were manufactured in Belgium by Fabrique Nationale. Even so, did we really forego the chance to use .5's against the Luftwaffe because of a piece of paper? Did anybody ever ask the Belgians why they made the choice they did? Especially since the .303 Browning the RAF used was actually a licenced version designed by FN in the first place:-


Your comment about Portal and the long range fighter is no doubt accurate. My contention is that even when they were given a potential LRF the RAF totally failed to appreciate its potential. I can't prove that this failure was due to Portal's blind spot, but I strongly suspect it. After all, Portal wasn't just a senior officer, he was the senior officer in the RAF and a pretty prickly customer too from all accounts. When the top man in an organisation rules that something is impossible there aren't many juniors who are prepared to go into his office and give him a lecture on the bleeding obvious. I hope my point will become clearer further along in the thread when I discuss the history of the Mustang a little more.

I'm aware that the Skua was far from universally popular. However, if you go to the URL below you'll find a page written by S/Ldr. D.H. Clarke, DFC, AFC. In the section headed "SHUNNED SKUA", he gives his opinion that the Skua, whatever else it might have been, was a superb dive bomber. The following is a one line quote taken from the article which gives a taste of this RAF pilot's verdict on the Skua:

"The Fleet Air Arm hated the Skua; it was one of the six best aircraft I have flown. I imply intentionally that the FAA didn't know what it was talking about and I do so vehemently. They didn't!"

Actually, I read the original article in 1961, when I wore a much younger man's clothes.

The web site is devoted to the Skua and makes another point which I think is worth considering. We all know that the end of the thirties saw a revolution in military aviation technology. Monoplanes replacing biplanes, retractable undercarriages, stressed skin construction, etc. It was difficult enough for air forces to retrain their pilots to handle this onrush of innovation. How much more difficult then for the Fleet Air Arm to make the -- sorry about the cliche -- quantum jump to a whole new world of aviation within the traditional difficulties involved in carrier flying? Especially so since the first production Skua didn't even fly until August 1938. To introduce such a radical new aircraft into the Navy would have been a daunting challenge at any time. To do it at the rush at the same time as the Navy was preparing for war made the job even more difficult. Perhaps the Skua would have ended up with a better reputation if its crews had been afforded more time to get used to it.

I'm quite willing to concede that the Skua was not a satisfactory carrier plane, if you know it for a fact. I've been looking for something written by ex-Skua pilots for years and never come across one word. Yet even if it was a bad carrier aircraft that doesn't mean it couldn't have been very useful ashore. After all, I think we can both name one very well known Blackburn aircraft which started out with the FAA but did most of its highly satisfactory service in RAF colours. You'll also have noticed, I'm sure, that I'm constantly being checked for considering historical matters out of context. Let me suggest therefore that our recently discussed subject, Air Commodore Slatter, would have considered the arrival of a squadron of Skuas in the Sudan in 1940 as a 'wonderful' gift. In the context of the aircraft that he actually had to use in that time and place the Skuas would have certainly justified the epitaph.


About Slatter's comments on dive bombers, I think what we're really having is a dive-bomber/fighter-bomber, which was the best type discussion. MM has already listed the reasons why he thinks the fighter-bomber was best. Actually, I think the term fighter-bomber to be almost a contradiction in terms. In my book a 'bomber' is an aircraft which has at least some thought in its design towards dropping bombs accurately. There is one aircraft I know of which could reasonably be called a fighter-bomber but I would prefer 'dive-bomber/fighter' as a more accurate description of its primary and secondary roles. Well, OK, two types if you count the Skua. All the others, the Hurricane, the Thunderbolt, the Bf 109, et al, I would describe as 'fighter/bomb-carriers'. When used to deliver conventional bombs both the limitations of aircraft design and the laws of physics were against them.

Before I go any further I must admit that I'm quoting from a book whose title I'm not exactly sure of. I believe it was something like "Aircraft Development in the Second World War." It's still in my local library if anybody wants a more detailed description from me. As to how I can quote from a book without being sure of the title, the answer is that whenever I find a library book with some interesting pages I photograph them and download them onto my computer -- it's a lot cheaper than photo copying.

In this case the pages on file report a test drop the RAF did in which fighter-bombers moving at 300 mph in level flight released 250lb bombs at a height of 60 feet. Later examination of film taken at the time proved that some of the bombs had bounced to a height twice that of the attacking aircraft and subsequently stayed in -- as the report apparently worded it -- 'disconcertingly' close formation with some of them. For ten seconds after release the bombs continued tumbling end over end. The distance they covered depended very much on the type of surface they were dropped on. In some cases the bombs came to rest more than half a mile away from the initial point of impact. The text of the book comments on the importance of fitting delayed action fuses to bombs dropped at low level and I think we can all empathise with that. Of course this was all long before retarded bombs were available.

The book then goes on to say that the only reasonably accurate way that fighters could drop bombs was in a diving attack. However the accuracy of such attacks would always be poor compared to a purpose designed dive-bomber. Without dive brakes, even in a relatively shallow dive of 60 degrees the fighters quickly built up speed, often exceeding 450 mph. Because of their high diving speed and because their airframes were not stressed for tight pull outs, fighters usually released their bombs from above 4,000 feet. The book goes on to point out that none of this means that many effective dive-bombing attacks were not carried out by fighters using normal bombs, but it required many more aircraft and many more bombs than if suitable dive-bombers were used. The book then moves on to discuss the specialised weapons each nation designed to make the fighter/bomb-carrier more effective. Fascinating, but I think we've gone far enough down that road for this posting.

As for comments about Burma, surely the point in view of the original statement was not how many Spitfire or Hurricane squadrons were there? The point was how could those squadrons have been supplied in jungle bases without Dakotas? If the Daks hadn't been there, and no British transports to take their place, how many important people would have started asking whether scattering the wreckage of Lancasters and Halifaxes over the fields of Germany was really the best use of the British aviation industry? Much more importantly, who would have wanted to explain to the British people that they could no longer drink tea because Assam had been overrun by the Japanese? Even Sir Humphrey would have baulked at that one.

OK, there seems to be the usual misconceptions floating around in the posts about the Mustang. Basically, that it was a wonderful system that the British were mostly responsible for and that we gave to the Americans as a -- dare I use the word -- 'wonderful' gift.

The real truth is that the RAF went to America hoping to find somebody who would build Spits for them. Since that wasn't possible they chose the Mustang as the next best thing. The important point to pick up on straight away is that there's no evidence at all that the RAF representatives realised what a jewel of an aircraft North American had designed for them, a fighter with twice the internal fuel capacity of the Spitfire. Had they understood what the potential range offered in terms of operational flexibility the RAF would surely have asked for drop tank shackles and fuel lines to be fitted right from the beginning of Mustang I production. With two 284 litre drop tanks a Mark I could fly 1,250 miles, not much less than the 1460 miles of a Blenheim IV. (I don't normally use metric terms in descriptions of historical aircraft from English speaking countries, but in this case it avoids any question of confusion between US and Imperial gallons).

I'm aware that the Mustang I never was actually fitted with drop tanks, but the USAAF' s Allison powered equivalent, the P-51A was. Details from 'AIR INTERNATIONAL', September 1983, page 135.

The second question which needs to be sorted out is the impression that many people have that the Allison was some kind of a lawn mower engine and the Mustangs fitted with it were quite useless. This was not so. The Allison was just as happy at producing its rated power as a Merlin was -- below about 12,000 feet. At anything below that height a Mustang and a Spitfire of comparable time periods had little to choose between them. The reason the RAF moved so quickly in trying to persuade the Americans to adopt a Merlin powered Mustang was because they were still hungering for a Spitfire clone. There was nothing wrong with that and the Merlin powered Mustang went aloft to fight at heights the Allison could never have reached. Yet the RAF's decision simply to pass the Allison Mustangs to Army Co-operation Command baffles me. Even the very first Mustang I, fitted with drop tanks, would have been a supreme hunter. A strike-fighter/fighter might best describe it.

What I'm thinking about are the tactics that Mustangs began to adopt in April 1944. As long as enough escorts were left to protect the bombers, General Kepner allowed the surplus Mustangs to go down to deck and attack any targets of opportunity they could find, especially on airfields. Yes, I'm aware that was how Mustang I's were used in penny packet patrols over France. I simply invite the thought of all the available Mustang I's fitted with drop tanks, formed up into a single strike wing and transferred to the Middle East. Based at Alexandria such a wing could have raided at will along 400 miles of Rommel's supply road between Tobruk and El Alamein from either the sea or desert flanks. Which would have at least given the Luftwaffe fighters a much tougher defensive task. In fact it would have made life very difficult for all the German forces given the almost uncanny resemblance between the early Mustangs and the Bf 109.

But, again, there is no evidence that the RAF were interested in anything like that. The only person in the entire RAF who seemed intent on pushing the envelope on the Mustang's range was Flight Lieutenant J. Lewkowitz, a Polish pilot flying Mustangs with 809 Squadron. Lewkowitz was a graduate engineer who -- in his spare time -- carefully calculated minimum fuel consumption of the Mustang in relation to RPM and boost pressure. His calculations showed that the Mustang was capable of flying from Scotland to Norway and returning. He repeatedly asked his HQ for a chance to prove his point but nobody bothered to answer. In the end he did it off his own bat, strafed installations in Stavanger and returned. ('P-51: BOMBER ESCORT, Pan-Ballatine History of World War II, 1971).

But apart from that individual flash of brilliance, I'm afraid that the idea that the Merlin/Mustang was some kind of British intellectual gift to the Americans just doesn't hold water. What made the Mustang such an advance on the Spitfire was its huge radius of action, and every official action that was taken to capitalise and improve on the Mustang's range was carried out by the USAAF. Of course the engineers at Rolls Royce deserve all credit for producing the Merlin in the first place but it was the USAAF who turned the Mustang into a real world beater.

And we can't let the subject go without acknowledging that the very first type of Allison Mustang the USAAF acquired was that very same 'dive-bomber/fighter' I mentioned earlier. Specifically, the A-36A Invader. An Allison Mustang fitted with dive brakes, capable of carrying and dropping two 500lb bombs with dive bomber accuracy, then reverting to a 360 mph fighter. Began operational life during the invasion of Sicily, June 1943. Soldiered on until April, 1944. Dropped over 8,000 tons of bombs, claimed 17 enemy aircraft destroyed on the ground and 84 in the air for the loss of 117 Invaders. ('P-51: BOMBER ESCORT)

Again, I've always had my eye open for any books supplying further details about Invader operations but never struck lucky.

And I have to say that if I'd been on the RAF Purchasing Mission to the US in 1940 the P-51 would not have been my first choice as a fighter for the RAF. Whether that would have been a right or a wrong decision might justify a thread at some time.

I am glad to see the comments on this thread returning to a style which more befits the obvious intelligence and knowledge of the contributors.

The re-equipment of Fighter Command with Hurricane/Spitfire and the integration of these platforms with Chain Home radar system was an enormous achievement, driven by a few men with great vision. Yes, the 8x.303 armament could have been bettered, but in the context of all the other radical developments that were being introduced this issue was not as important as getting the aircraft into service quickly and developing the radar directed fighter-control concept. The failure to develop air-combat tactics suited to the new equipment was a far greater omission than the armament issue.

It is often easy to over-focus on the comparative attributes of aircraft types at the expense of the other,less tangible, aspects of the employment of airpower. Of course, the basic aircraft must be adequate for the mission, but after that a slightly sub-optimal platform will achieve all that is required provided that intelligence, tactics, training, logistics and numbers are in it's favour. A paltry 50 Spitfires with no radar control and the end of a long logistics chain would have not really offered significant resistance to hundreds of well-trained Japanese crews in the invasion of Singapore. Conversely, thousands of Typhoons and P-47s succeeded in paralysing the German Army in NW Europe regardless of whether their attacks could have been better delivered by specialist dive-bombers. It was these 'Jabos' that caused the most fear in the German Army, from soldier to general.

LJ - Have you conceded the point about the continued threat of a German invasion of the UK precluding the deployment of Spitfires to other theatres? :)
LJ, a couple of quick thoughts, if I may:

The reason that the P-51A/Mustang I wasn't used as a fighter and was handed over to Army Co-operation Command was simply its engine.

Unlike the Eastern Front, where the combat was at lower levels - which is why the P-39 did so well in Soviet hands - the altitudes at which air combats occurred over Western Europe were at an altitude where the Allison V1750 was a liability. The Mustang needed the Merlin to become the leading long-range escort fighter it did, hence the reason for Webster and Frankland's statement that Portal's objections to a long-range type were supported by the evidence and experience to that date.

I have to confess that it is a little puzzling that we didn't see the way the wind was blowing when the Belgians began production of the .5-inch Browning for the Hurricane.

However, if you put the decision to arm the Spitfire and Hurricane into the context of the research carried out which suggested (rightly at the time, it must be said) that 8 x .303-inch weapons gave the necessary weight of fire to down a bomber, and to give a chance of shooting down fighters (volume versus weight of fire) then the decision to go with the .303 made sense. When the Germans started to increase the amount of armour plate in their aircraft, the .303, as you know, stopped being as effective. A shift over to .5 would've made sense, but:

1. We'd embarked upon a massive effort to produce the .303-inch weapons; remember that the airborne Vickers gun was never as reliable a weapon as the Vickers .303 MG in army use & that the Lewis and Vickers K didn't have the ammunition capacity. Hence the fact that we went with the Colt-Browning design.

Shifting over to the .5 Browning would've been problematic in terms of the delays to aircraft MG production, and because of the re-engineering of the Spitfire's wing needed to accommodate the larger weapons. The latter would've reduced the flow of airframes to Fighter Command; now, of course such weapons could've been put into a newer version designed to accommodate the weapon, but the decision was taken to move over to the 20mm cannon, since this gave even greater hitting power.

The decision to move over to cannon was made pretty early on in the game (I forget when, but the info is in Colin Sinnott's book on RAF aircraft specifications, which is far more interesting than the title suggests!), but the issue here was that the feed mechanism for the 20mm needed to be altered to be accommodated in the Spitfire's wing (and the Hurri), and the ammo capacity was only 60 rounds and a belt-feed was required for it to be really effective.

It could be said that a trick was missed in not moving straight to what became the E-wing armament of 2 x 20mm and 2 x .5-in, but again - what to do with the thousands of .303 weapons? IIRC (I'd have to check) we didn't have the necessary drawings for the .5-in weapon since they weren't brought over from Belgium, so we'd have had to have gone to Colt for the licence anyway.

Rather than be too critical of the RAF on this, I think that the issue was simply one of making a good decision pre-war, only for 1940 to see the Germans start adding much more armour to their aircraft and getting ahead of the introduction of cannon because of the teething troubles with that weapon. Also, the fact that Leigh Mallory allowed people such as Bader to roundly criticise suggestions that something better than .303 was needed didn't help, and it took some effort for the Bader point of view to be rejected as the nonsense that it was.
Dear LJ,

littlejim said:
What set my teeth on edge right from the beginning of this little stoush was the flagrant bad manners displayed by MM to what was an off the cuff posting I made. He was the one who chose to make a huge song and dance out of it in which he virtually accused me of lying.
At no point did I accuse you of lying, virtually or otherwise. So please do not twist my words. I was robust in my comments about your initial post which I considered then, as now, a series of inaccurate generalisations. You will also note that I stated I never seek to cause offence, and apologised if I had done so.

However, I never used obscenities as you did. Given your language, it would be nice to recieve a similar apology.

Nevertheless, you appear to have tempered your approach in your most recent posts and I thank you for that. Perhaps if you wish to discuss manners any further, we could correspond via (polite) PM. As Alfie has intimated, the thread is at last returning to some civility, so let’s keep it that way and avoid inflicting anymore of what is a fairly pointless exchange between us upon the readership.

littlejim said:
If we keep going perhaps MM will honour us with some of his sources.
My sources are various. Much of it comes from my own knowledge as - like you - I have always been fascinated by military history. In addition, much of my wider analysis of what I have referred to as ‘second or third order’ effects comes from my own experience of contemporary military ops and just by applying common sense to what I consider would have been the mindset of the period. Some of this is reinforced by the many conversations I have had over the years with relatives and veterans who experienced the period. Finally, I have a fairly extensive ‘library’ here at home and obviously use the internet widely.

Where appropriate, I shall therefore attempt to include references in future if you wish. In this however, Archie will have the advantage as he has the one of the Nations finest military libraries in his place of work (a library which was as much a hindrance in its distraction to me as it was a resource whilst I studied!).

littlejim said:
I certainly make no secret of the fact that I regard MM as an RAF spin doctor. A pretty good one too.
I consider myself a very ‘Purple’ officer and a quick glance through my posts on ARRSE, PPRUNE and Rum Ration will illustrate that I regularly argue in favour of other services on both historical and contemporary issues. Indeed, I have already acknowledged the efforts of other services in this very thread. My overall contention is that the vast majority of military scenarios, whether good or bad, are largely a result of Joint actions.

That said, I am light blue to the core and will defend my Service rigorously when I believe inaccurate comments are being made.

So, a few responses to your recent posts.

littlejim said:
…"Spitfires gradually assumed the AD of the Island from March 1941."…What I'm saying is that quote makes the whole deal sound like the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace…A far more accurate description of the event was that the Spitfires arrived in Malta and promptly got slaughtered.
Mmm, I don’t think the Guard is changed ‘gradually’. I think that my post illustrated exactly what happened. That the Spitfire gradually supplanted the Hurricane in defending the Maltese Islands with increasing success.

As Archie has already correctly intimated, the Hurricane was superior to virtually all of the early war Italian fighters. Indeed, so successful was the initial British AD of the Island against the solely Italian assaults from June 1940 that they allowed a more Joint offensive posture to be adopted. Moreover, 12 Hurricanes were delivered to the Islands from carriers in August 1940, the height of the Battle of Britain. The RN actions during the Battle of Calabria allowed respite for the Islands defences by diverting Italian bombers to maritime ops. The RAF reciprocated by providing recce of Italian ports which led directly to the successful attack on Taranto which in turn removed a significant threat to Allied convoys in the area. (Holland, James (2003), Fortress Malta: an Island Under Siege 1940-1943, London, Orion Books Ltd).

However, the success of such Joint ops against the Italians precipitated German attention and the second phase of the Maltese Campaign. However, until the arrival of the bf 109F in March 1941, RAF pilots (using Joint engagement zones with Army AAA batteries) felt that they ‘had the edge’ and even maintained offensive ops against Axis targets (Playfair, Major General ISO (1956), The Mediterranean and Middle East Volume II, London, HMSO). The appearance of the bf109F however completely changed the balance of air superiority and I acknowledge that fact.

However, as mentioned by many here, that was at a time when the Hurricane and Spitfire were also facing the same type over the Channel (with the FW-190 imminent). Luckily for us, Hitler rejected the option of invading Malta, instead diverting his resources to Crete and Russia. This coincided with the arrival of the offensively minded AVM Hugh Lloyd. He arranged for no fewer than 143 Hurricanes to be delivered to Malta in June 1941 and the formation of a night fighter unit of Hurricanes working in close cooperation with Army searchlight batteries (a precursor to the Luftwaffe Wilde Sau tactics of 2 years later!). These seized the initiative back for the UK and even resulted in the destruction of a night time E-Boat raid! (Holland, James (2003), Fortress Malta: an Island Under Siege 1940-1943, London, Orion Books Ltd).

In fairness however, Lloyd was probably too pre-occupied with offensive ops and refused to request Spitfires which was in retrospect a serious error as our successes forced Kesselring to redeploy Luftflotte III from Russia to again focus on Malta. This was the critical period for Malta with defences quickly eroded. The delivery of the first Spitfires was indeed disastrous due to a combination of poor preparation of the aircrafts weapons on the carriers, poor readiness at the airfields by RAF groundcrews and a little luck from the Germans in terms of weather and timing. By May 42 however, the various airfield dispersals had been linked by RAF and RE personnel. The delivery of 61 Spitfires from the USS Wasp was met with exceptionally well organised operational turn arounds from the maze of new blast pens. The day after their arrival, 65 enemy aircraft were destroyed for the loss of just 4 Spitfires. (Holland, James (2003), Fortress Malta: an Island Under Siege 1940-1943, London, Orion Books Ltd).

The success of these ops were reinforced by the replacement of Lloyd with AVM Keith Park whose experience of the Battle of Britain allowed aggressive ‘forward patrols’ and increasing attrition of enemy aircraft and convoys. Of course, you would argue that this could have been done earlier and you’d be right. Again however, I would suggest that such a position is with the considerable benefit of hindsight.

Again, I would contend that the Maltese Campaign was a Joint and indeed combined) victory. As ever, the RAF wasn’t perfect, not least in its pre-war approach to AD of the Island being poor to say the least. However, the Service later achieved much in the face of unprecedented challenges and was surprisingly aggressive for much of the period in taking the fight to the enemy. Once again, this is hardly the symptom of an organisation which had ‘gone to sleep’.

littlejim said:
Nobody has suggested any way in which the 400 fighters and pilots lost over Northern France in 1941 did anything of any great advantage to the British war effort.
On a wider point regarding the above comment, I notice that you have still not addressed the greater freedom of action Fighter Command and other RAF ops over the Channel afforded RN activities, the defence of UK ports, and the implications for German surface and mining ops.

littlejim said:
Where I disagree with you is the contention that the British had no choice but to go with the eight .303's. If the Belgians could arm their Hurricanes with four .5 Brownings why couldn't we?...did we really forego the chance to use .5's against the Luftwaffe because of a piece of paper?
Unfortunately, Great Britain has all too often taken the gentleman act too far! I can therefore well believe that the powers that be refused to produce such weapons and modify our fighters until all the legal niceties had been completed! This is of course the same nation which gave the Russians the jet engine free of charge!!!

In fairness however, I’m not aware of the exact circumstances and, as Archie contends, such modifications would have interrupted production at a time when we were desperately building up for war and 8 x .303s were deemed adequate.

Of course, heavier armament was fielded during the Battle of Britain with 19 Sqn having had a small number of Hispano cannon armed Spitfire Ibs since the Spring of 1940. However, these weapons proved extremely unreliable and unpopular initially and were quickly withdrawn to OTUs. They were eventually redeployed later in the year (‘The Spitfire Story’, Alfred Price) once the gremlins had been removed.

Anyway, it’s now somewhat late and I shall retire (sadly not via a swim!). I shall perhaps address your comments regarding dive bombers and the Mustang later this week. However, I shall be committing aviation at numerous points over the next few days so engagement may be fleeting.

Best regards,
The decision to move over to cannon was made pretty early on in the game (I forget when, but the info is in Colin Sinnott's book on RAF aircraft specifications, which is far more interesting than the title suggests!), but the issue here was that the feed mechanism for the 20mm needed to be altered to be accommodated in the Spitfire's wing (and the Hurri), and the ammo capacity was only 60 rounds and a belt-feed was required for it to be really effective.
I'm way outgunned academically here, but I can help a little on this point, Archimedes - though it feels like preaching to the choir.

I don't have a source to hand but I know that air ministry thinking began seriously looking at Hispano-suiza 20mm from around 1937. But introduction was heavily delayed by, ironically enough, difficulties in securing a production license from the French.

19 Sqn finally did operational trials of the Hispano armed Mk.1b Spit in June 1940. However, repeated feed stoppages infuriated the pilots so much that the OC was able to convince Group to replace them with .303 a/c by the begining of July.

92 Sqn also flew Mk1bs around that time. (I have a lovely print of an A flight Vic touching down at Manston and two A/C are clearly cannon armed.) I believe "Johhny" Johnson also covers the Mk.1bs rather poor showing with 92 Sqn in his biography.

Hello again LJ,

Regarding the relative merits of dive bombers and fighter bombers, allow me the following riposte.

As I mentioned, dive bombers have their place and were unquestionably one of the most accurate methods of delivering dumb bombs at that time.

Level bombing has always been the most inaccurate form of low level bomb delivery for a variety of reasons. Even now, the most unpredictable phase of a student fast jet pilots weapons training is the level bombing phase which sees wildly placed weapons!! Indeed, one of the reasons it was taught at TWU (or at least this was the case at Brawdy in 1987) was to illustrate its limitations! Only the advent of GPS and laser guidance has notably altered the laws of physics in this respect and of course such technology was not available during WWII.

A classic dive bomber in contrast could obviously overcome such limitations via the high angle from which they delivered their weapons which in turn largely overcame the issue of speed and drift, (although even a small amount of rudder input has a far greater effect on this form of bombing). Leaving aside the vulnerability of many such designs to fighters however, I would suggest that the principle limitation of dive bomber tactics needs no academic reference. This is the fact that dive bombers are severely limited by weather due to the altitude (often over 10 000 ft) that they are required to commence their weapons delivery profile and then recover (normally above 2000 ft). In anything other than good weather conditions, this would routinely preclude visual acquisition of the target.

Such weather factors were obviously prevalent during the Italian and particularly the Burma Campaigns. In the latter case, the monsoon season dominated for significant periods each year and was exacerbated where topography was an issue. Indeed, many engagements took place over the rugged Burmese terrain where navigation aids were at a premium. Such factors severely restricted the value of dive bombers such as the Vengeance for considerable periods each year (although I acknowledge that it remained an extremely valuable asset at other times). (Woodburn Kirby, Major General S (1962), The War Against Japan Volume III: The Decisive Battles, (London, HMSO)).

Aircraft providing support to ground forces were therefore often forced to operate at low levels utilising ‘letter boxes’ between the ground and the cloud base in narrow valleys. This in itself required a not inconsiderable amount of manoeuvrability by the bomb carrier to ensure accurate effects, somewhere else where many dive bomber types were disadvantaged. However, bombs were only one weapon employed with strafe and rockets also being important and not being subjected to such demanding ballistic issues.

Given the issues surrounding dive bomber and level bombing delivery profiles, the inevitable compromise was made with fighter bombers employing the same shallow angle and ‘pop up’ tactics employed elsewhere in WWII (and which are still employed today). This enabled many assets to access narrow valleys or to get under the weather and to deliver their weapons accurately. Notwithstanding the limitations of level bombing however, the steep topography could sometimes be exploited by delivering bombs as close to perpendicular to steep slopes as possible where ricochets and ‘bouncing’ bombs were less of a factor. (Woodburn Kirby, Major General S (1965), The War Against Japan Volume IV: The Reconquest of Burma, (London, HMSO)). This could almost be described as ‘level dive bombing’ although obviously the fall of the bomb and drift would remain a factor.

Looking now at the Mustang specifically, I did acknowledge that the Allison engined variants remained effective at low level and they proved exceptionally useful in that environment throughout Europe, Italy, North Africa and the Far East (notably here with the USAAF Air Commandos who so ably assisted British efforts in Burma). However, it is worth noting that the aircraft remained less manoeuvrable than the Spitfire in most regimes.

The A-36 meanwhile was a fascinating and little known technological diversion in the Mustang story, albeit one which was arguably too late to have affected early British setbacks. After overcoming teething problems with the hydraulic system which sometimes resulted in asymmetric deployment of the dive brakes (Gruenhagen, Robert W. Mustang: The Story of the P-51 Mustang. New York: Arco Publishing), it produced very good results. However, it still suffered from a high accident rate which at one point was allegedly the worst in the USAAF and this resulted in some limitations (albeit, largely ignored by experienced aircrew) being imposed on the type (Freeman, Roger A. Mustang at War. New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1974). It also suffered a fairly high attrition rate in comparison to fighter bomber types (Gunston, Bill and Robert F. Dorr. ‘North American P-51 Mustang: The Fighter that Won the War.’). In fairness however, this could well be due to the fact the A-36 probably conducted a higher proportion of its sorties at low level against concentrated ground defences; the Mustang (like the Spitfire) also had a cooling system that was particularly vulnerable to ground fire. Meanwhile, in Burma the Allison engined A-36 was hindered to a greater extent due to the weather (and the associated need to sometimes climb over it) and topography encountered. No air-air kills were achieved by the A-36 and it suffered somewhat at the hands of the lighter, more maneuverable Japanese types.

Overall, whilst I consider the A-36 a highly effective ground support aircraft, a consideration of the wider aspects leads me to understand why the USAAF procured relatively few and the RAF (other than a single example trialed under the designation Mustang I (Dive Bomber)) none.

In particular, the need to modify the airframe of any type engaged in high angle dive bombing compromises its wider utility. The added weight associated with strengthening, dive brakes and other bespoke systems such as automatic recovery, are the most obvious issue. In addition, the dive brakes also complicate wing design and potentially the ability of a type to carry greater ordinance or fuel. In terms of the Mustang design therefore, I would suggest that the relatively limited advantages over a ‘slick’ P-51s air-ground capabilities was not seen as worth the effort needed to conduct parallel production.

Similarly, in a wider context, the operational limitations of dive bombers, particularly when weather factors and surviveability were considered further eroded their value. This is particularly at a time when Allied aircraft production was still gearing up for maximum output, and when angle rate bomb delivery prediction systems on gun fighter bombers sights were becoming more effective.

In the context of British aircraft procurement generally, and Burma in particular, I can therefore fully appreciate why wider use was not made of dive bombers. Indeed, I would suggest that a more critical oversight by my Service in the Far East was the initial absence of Photo Recce types which significantly hindered Joint ops.

Just a few of points if I may, rather than cut and quote large chunks of very worthy essays. Sorry if previously covered.

The Westland Whirlwind was proposed and indeed armed with cannon fairly early on.2 Merlins would have made this a superb long-range fighter. I believe the MB5 was proposed to be armed with same?

The FEAF were heavily tilted in favour of British Aircraft , certainly after the fall of Singapore , where Hurricanes performed admirably , but there just weren't enough , and the Buffalo was hopelessly outclassed.

The RAF did use types like the P-47 in theatre , but the Spitfire and Cannon Hurricane dominated. Has anyone mentioned the Beaufighter?

The FAA were more inclined towards American types in the final years with Corsair and Hellcat

Dizzy Allen I personally view as an individual, with a chip on both shoulders and a nasty little narrow field of vision to match.

You are correct to highlight Fighter Command’s Whirlwind which was one of the most underrated and overlooked aircraft of the war imho. Despite its limited numbers, the Whirlwind achieved exceptional results over Europe. It is such a shame they never tried it with a couple of Merlins.

I did mention the Beau in one of my earlier posts and it was exceptionally effective in the Med (particularly from Malta) and Far East. Indeed, the Beau proved a lot more suited to the Far East than the Mosquito, the adhesive of which suffered in the humidity and heat encountered.

It is interesting that you mention the MB5 PTP. One of the reasons I believe that it wasn’t pursued with much vigour was that the P-51 was available and that it made little sense to pursue yet another indigenous type. That arguably has resonance as to why the UK didn’t pursue its own Dakota or C-46 equivalent when the former was available from the US.


I regard the Whirlwind and MB5 as the two greatest examples of "What might have been" of the war years.

The Whirlwind could comfortably have performed Rhubab tasks and indeed did,with 2 Merlins and more fuel , it would have been formidable.
Concur; more so than the engines, its limited range was probably its worst feature although drop tanks and minor mods could probably have largely offset these issues. It is a testament to the Whirlwind design that it remained in service from 1940-43 virtually unmodified from its original appearance. That was, I think, unprecedented for the period.

I'll add my 2p.

The whirlwind suffered from having very unreliable engines. It soldiered on in one squadron (263??) for long after a Typhoon or even the Hurricane could deliver the same punch.

There is a case for examining the restrictions on the use of the Spitfire and Mosquito in the far east reflect excuses not to use these types rather than solid grounds. Spitfires were deployed to Australia after the Japanese bombed Darwin and Mosquitoes deployed from 1944. Soluitions were found to the glue problem and it was found that the Spitfire could operate from jungle strips.

Arguable a few of the squadrons of spitfires wasted misguidedly "leaning into France in 1941 might have made a lot of difference in the Middle east and the far east. Hurricanes and P40s were outclassed by 1942 by the Me109F the Mc202 in the middle east and by the Zeke and Ki43 in the Far East.

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