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North American Mustang II over Normandy, 1944

North American Mustang II over Normandy, 1944

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North American Mustang II over Normandy, 1944

This picture shows one of the small number of Mustang IIs that were still in service with RAF reconnaissance squadrons during the battle for Normandy. This aircraft is seen over a convoy of Allied tanks moving up towards the front during the battle of the Falaise Gap.

The North American P-51 Mustang: A “Little Friend” with a Big Impact

Few fighter aircraft have had an impact on a conflict like the P-51 Mustang.

Top Image: P-51 Mustang fighters on the way to their base on the recently captured Japanese island of Iwo Jima, 1945. Gift In memory of Isaac "Ike" Bethel Utley, 2012.019.243

The North American P-51 Mustang is the gold standard for WWII fighters. While the Mustang was in Europe and the Pacific, its impact on the strategic situation in Europe cannot be understated. One of the most important operations of the war, the strategic bombing campaign against Germany, can be broken down into two phases: pre-P-51 and post-P-51. Pre-P-51, the Allies were losing—and losing badly. Post-P-51, the Allies established complete control of the air, and drove the Germans from the skies of Europe.

So, why was the P-51 such a game changer? Where did this world-class aircraft come from? In early 1940, the British asked North American Aviation to build Curtiss P-40 Warhawks because they desperately needed planes as the Germans were rampaging across Europe. Instead of P-40s, North American offered to design a new fighter which became the P-51 Mustang. The P-51 prototype was ready on September 9, 1940, and it first flew October 26, 1940. It was an astonishing accomplishment for North American: they had delivered a brand new, prototype aircraft in a mere 102 days and flew it weeks later. The British accepted the plane into service, and gave it its famous “Mustang” nickname.

However, the P-51 did have issues. While the American-built Allison engine was fine at lower altitudes, it suffered a drastic drop-off in performance at higher ones. In the fall of 1942, the Americans and British experimented with Mustangs by adding British Rolls-Royce Merlin engines to the air-frame. The results were unbelievable. The Mustang’s top speed leapt to well over 400 miles per hour, and it no longer suffered from performance drop-off at higher altitudes. Production of the Mustang was thrown into high gear and the first American P-51 units arrived in Europe towards the end of 1943.

Three American servicemen posing near the nose of P-51 Mustang in Germany, 1945. Gift in Memory of Nicholas Patano, 2013.433.085

A row of American P-51 Mustangs in Germany, 1945. Gift in Memory of Nicholas Patano, 2013.433.098

View of a P-51 Mustang from a B-17 Flying Fortress in flight over Europe, 1944-45. Gift of Peggy Wallace, 2010.308.023

A P-51 Mustang with nose art on its airfield in Germany, 1945. Gift in Memory of Nicholas Patano, 2013.433.087

P-51 Mustang with early war US roundels painted on the plane. Photo Courtesy Library of Congress

Before the Mustang finally began arriving in Europe in increasing numbers, the British and American strategic bombing campaign was faltering. The British were bombing only at night, and the Americans were suffering frightful losses in their daytime raids. Although the Allies had planes like the Lockheed P-38 Lightning which could escort bombers, it was inefficient and not economical. A long-range escort fighter was needed not only to bring the bombers in and out of Germany, but also to wrestle control of the sky from the German fighters who preyed on the bombers. The Mustang, with its high speed, long-range, low-cost, and six .50 caliber M2 Browning machine guns, made it the ideal fighter for the job. The campaign for air supremacy kicked into high gear in March 1944 when the Americans made their first major daytime bombing raids on Berlin. On March 6, 1944, over 800 US bombers, escorted by over 900 fighters, attacked Berlin.

Known as “Black Monday,” bomber losses were heavy, but this mission, and others like it, helped the Allies' goal of pulling the German fighters into the sky where the P-51 could destroy them and establish air supremacy.

Underscoring the importance of the Mustang, by the end of 1944, 14 of the 15 fighter squadrons of the US Eighth Air Force were composed of Mustangs.

The P-51 dominated air combat in Europe, destroying nearly 5,000 enemy aircraft. It was also a very capable fighter-bomber and could carry 1,000 pounds of bombs and rockets. In the Pacific, P-51s flying off of Iwo Jima escorted Boeing B-29 Superfortresses on their way to bomb Japan. At the close of its production run, 15,000 Mustangs had been built. The end of World War II was not the end of combat for the P-51, as it saw service in the Korean War in 1950 because it was the only US fighter with the range to hit Korean targets from Japan. The P-51 remains the iconic fighter of World War II, and it is a popular plane among Veterans and enthusiasts alike.

Assaulting the Reich: The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress

The iconic bomber of the European theater, the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, carried the fight to the Germans in the skies over Europe.

James Linn

A New Orleans native, James Linn first became involved with the institution then known as The National D-Day Museum in 2001 as an eighth-grade volunteer on weekends and during the summer. Linn joined The National WWII Museum staff in 2014 and served as a Curator until 2020.

Born in the U.S.A.: The P-51 Mustang Proved America's Military Strength

The P-51 Mustang was a an American-made aircraft that did provided the Allies the victory.

Donald Blakeslee: Advocate For Mustangs as Escort Fighters

Ironically, the decision to adopt the Mustang as the primary escort fighter did not come immediately after the adoption of the Merlin engine. Initially, the Merlin-powered P-51Bs were allocated to the tactical air forces that were being formed to support ground forces in Europe. The first P-51-equipped fighter group to see combat in Europe was the 354th Fighter Group, which arrived in England in October 1943 and was immediately assigned to the newly organized Ninth Air Force. The Ninth had previously been assigned to the Mediterranean, but the Allied victory in North Africa led to the unit’s transfer to England to become a tactical air force, with the mission of supporting the Allied ground forces when the invasion of Western Europe took place in mid-1944. Since the Ninth was scheduled to include a large number of fighter groups, the Eighth Air Force pressed for Ninth fighters to be temporarily assigned as bomber escorts.

In November 1943, Lt. Col. Donald Blakeslee, deputy commander of the 4th Fighter Group and one of the most experienced American fighter pilots in Europe, was sent to fly with the 354th Fighter Group. Blakeslee was a former RAF Eagle Squadron Spitfire pilot who had been flying Thunderbolts, and his lack of love for the P-47 was no secret. Whether he engineered the assignment to the 354th or was selected to evaluate the group’s P-51Bs is unclear his enthusiasm for the highly maneuverable airplane is not. The main advantage of the new P-51 was the reduced fuel consumption of the Merlin engine compared with the radial engine P-47, which was then the primary escort fighter. The first Mustangs to arrive in England were fitted only with 184-gallon wing tanks, but the reduced fuel consumption of the Merlin engines increased their range substantially over similarly equipped P-47s. Plans were under way for the installation of an additional 85 gallons in a fuselage tank, while the hard points under the wings allowed an additional 150 gallons when two 75-gallon drop tanks were carried. Blakeslee believed the Mustang was the solution to the long-range escort problem, but all of the Mustangs were slated to go to the Ninth Air Force.

In the winter of 1943, Allied military planners in Europe were preparing for the invasion of Western Europe, followed by an advance toward Germany. Experiences in North Africa and New Guinea had revealed that air power served as what would come to be known as a “force multiplier,” an element that could aid ground commanders in the age-old endeavor of capturing territory.

The Ninth Air Force was a tactical unit, with the primary mission of supporting the theater commander, and a massive effort was under way to build up its force of fighter-bombers and light and medium bombers to support the ground forces. Once the troops were ashore in France, the war in Europe would turn from what had primarily been an air war against the Luftwaffe to a ground war, with the objective being the ultimate capture of Berlin and the defeat of Germany. The new Mustangs were seen as an ideal weapon for securing and maintaining air superiority over the battlefield and for taking the war to the enemy rear areas.

The Eighth Air Force Receives Their Mustangs

At this point military politics reared its ugly head, as Blakeslee and the leaders of VIII Fighter Command began maneuvering to have the Mustangs transferred to the Eighth. They saw the Eighth Air Force mission as strategic bombardment and recognized that if this mission was to succeed it was important to have a long-range escort fighter that could go with the bombers to their targets deep in Germany and fight at high altitude. Much of Western Europe was still in German hands at the time, and aerial bombardment of strategic targets was still seen as the primary mission for the air forces.

Their arguments fell on receptive minds in the Army Air Forces headquarters in England and won out. Preparations were begun to equip nearly all of the VIII Fighter Command squadrons with new Mustangs. In the meantime, IX Fighter Command P-51s (and other fighters) flew under the operational control of the Eighth Air Force and were used in the escort role. Three P-51 groups were scheduled to go to Ninth, but a compromise led to the assignment of one of these groups to the Eighth in return for the transfer of the recently arrived 358th Fighter Group and its P-47s to Ninth Air Force. VIII Fighter Command received the Mustang-equipped 357th and began making plans to convert all of its P-47 and P-38 groups to Mustangs.

There was one exception—the 56th Fighter Group was the first group to fly P-47s, and it remained with the Thunderbolt until the end of the war. The 56th, which had been nicknamed the Wolfpack because of the group’s reputation for hunting Germans like a pack of wolves, was the highest scoring American fighter group in the European Theater. The 56th finished the war with a total of 674 enemy aircraft claimed in the air and 311 on the ground. By contrast, Blakeslee’s 4th Fighter Group, which was the first Eighth group to convert to P-51s and was the longest in combat of any American fighter group in Europe, finished the war with 583 air-to-air kills and 469 strafing claims.

Although the 4th—which flew Spitfires and P-47s before making the transition to P-51s—was credited with a few more total aircraft destroyed, the P-47-equipped 56th was credited with almost 100 more air-to-air kills. So much for the oft-stated assertion that the fabulous P-51 was the “superior” fighter! The third highest scoring group, however, flew only Mustangs. The 357th Fighter Group was the first P-51 group in VIII Fighter Command. The group put in claims for 609 air-to-air kills and 106 destroyed on the ground.

Did the P-51 Win Allied Air Superiority Over Europe?

Many writers mistakenly advance the proposition that it was the appearance of the Mustang as an escort fighter that signaled the gaining of Allied air superiority in the skies over Europe. In fact, this was not the case. The advantage of the P-51 was that the later models had the range to go deeper into Germany than the P-47s, but the longer range Mustangs did not make their appearance in England until mid-spring of 1944. By this time the effectiveness of the Luftwaffe was already beginning to decline owing to a number of factors. Not the least of these was the interruption of petroleum supplies from refineries in Eastern Europe, prompted in large part by the advance of Soviet forces into the oil-rich Balkans, and the air campaign on transportation, including railroads and bridges. The first U.S. Army Mustangs used in Europe lacked the additional fuel tanks that gave the later models the range to go deep into Germany.

There was also another reason for the decline of the Luftwaffe. Throughout 1942 and 1943 German fighter pilots had pretty much steered clear of the Allied fighters, waiting just beyond their effective range and then going after the bombers as soon as their escorts reached their fuel limits and turned back. By the spring of 1944, the VIII Fighter Command had managed to extend the range of the P-38s and P-47s significantly through the addition of suitable external fuel tanks, and the escorts were able to go much deeper into German territory with the bombers. In fact, the twin-engine P-38s were able to accompany them all the way to Berlin. With the increased range of the fighters, VIII Fighter Command authorized them to drop down on the deck and attack the Luftwaffe airfields to destroy the German fighters on the ground as well as in the air. By the time P-51s were available in Europe in large numbers, the Allies were already gaining air superiority.

The modifications to the Mustangs to turn them into long-range fighters were not without problems. When the 85-gallon internal fuel tanks were added, test pilots discovered that full tanks affected the airplane’s control during combat maneuvers. To take advantage of the increased range, VIII Fighter Command was forced to fuel the fighters so that the tanks would have no more than 35 gallons in them when they reached the areas of likely combat. Since external tanks caused drag and were normally burned off first so they could be dropped, the stability problem reduced the effective range of the Mustangs. The stability problem was not the only problem with the Mustangs. They also experienced a lack of heating at high altitude, which had plagued the twin-engine P-38s during their early months in combat.

It is commonly believed that once the P-51s arrived in the European Theater, the P-47s were assigned solely to the fighter-bomber role while the Mustangs flew only escort. Such is not the case. With the appearance of the Mustangs, VIII Fighter Command adopted a strategy of assigning the more experienced P-47 groups to patrol the areas where the Luftwaffe fighters were most likely to hit the bomber stream while the longer legged P-38s and P-51s went all the way to the targets.

World War II Database

ww2dbase When North American Aviation President "Dutch" Kindleberger approached Sir Henry Self of the British Supply Committee for the sale of the B-25 Mitchell bombers in 1939, Self responded with a more urgent need for fighters. Self initially asked if North American could produce the Curtiss Tomahawk fighters under license, but Kindleberger responded negatively. Instead, he promised, North American was to deliver a better design, and in less time than what the company would need to gear a new production line for the manufacturing of the Tomahawk design. By Mar 1940, the British ordered 320 of the new Mustang fighters. On 26 Jun 1940, production was expanded when Packard was given a license to build the design with a different, Rolls-Royce Merlin, engine.

ww2dbase It would be interesting to note that, initially, the United States Army Air Corps disliked the new design. Not only that it did not show any interest in purchasing aircraft of this design, it also attempted to block the export to Britain based on its protectionist philosophy. Relieved that USAAC eventually abandoned its effort to lobby against the export, North American promised that two examples would be given to the US Army at no cost. These two examples would be the first to carry the US Army designation P-51.

ww2dbase The first prototype, designated NA-73X, took flight on 26 Oct 1940, merely 117 days after the order was placed. It handled well, and most significantly, offered a long range with its high fuel load. It also had room to house heavier armament than the British Spitfire fighters. The first design suffered some performance drawbacks at high altitudes, but otherwise it still impressed RAF Air Fighter Development Unit's commanding officer.

ww2dbase The first combat action the Mustang fighters participated took place on 10 May 1942, when RAF pilots flew them against German counterparts.

ww2dbase In early 1943, a new Mustang design went into production. Designated Mustang X during prototype stages and P-51B and P-51C Mustang III after production began, these P-51 Mustang fighters equipped with Rolls-Royce Merlin 61 engines had much better performance in high altitudes, something the prior variants lacked. One improvement that had longer lasting effect was the possibility of a drop tank in these Merlin-equipped fighters, which provided the Allies candidates for long-range bomber escorts. Many of these new fighters began arriving in Britain in Aug 1943, while fewer numbers went to Italy late that year. By late 1943, they were the favored fighters to escort bombers on bombing missions deep into Germany. Their high speed also allowed them to pursue German V-1 rockets.

ww2dbase The next stage of development resulted in the P-51D variant, which was considered the definitive Mustang model bubble canopies that provided much greater field of vision and six M2 machine guns were the key characteristics of the P-51D fighters. When they first saw combat over Europe, gunners of US bombers were unfamiliar with their appearance, and there were incidents of bombers firing at their escorting "enemy Bf 109 fighters". By mid-1944, regardless of US Army's initial dislike for this design a few years prior, they quickly became the United States Army Air Forces' primary fighters. While their armament, reliability, and self-sealing tanks were all favorable attributes, the characteristic that the USAAF leadership liked most was the P-51 Mustang fighters' long range, allowing them to escort heavy bombers deep into Germany. The P-51D variant would also become the most widely produced variant of the Mustang design. By the end of 1944, 14 out of the 15 groups of the US Army 8th Air Force flew Mustang fighters of various variants. American pilot Chuck Yeager of later test pilot fame flew a P-51D Mustang fighter at this time, skillfully shooting down a German Me 262 jet fighter during its landing approach, making him the first American to shoot down a German jet fighter.

ww2dbase Two American pilots flying P-51 fighters were awarded the Medal of Honor during WW2, Major James H. Howard of the 354th Fighter Group for action over Germany on 11 Jan 1944 and Major William A. Shomo of the 82nd Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron for action over the Philippine Islands on 11 Jan 1945.

ww2dbase By late 1944, P-51 Mustang fighters were seen in the China-Burma-India Theater as well. They operated in both ground support and bomber escort roles.

ww2dbase The P-51H variant entered production just before the end of the war, yielding 555 of the fastest production Mustang fighters built, but none of them saw combat during WW2. Because of the lower availability of spare parts, most P-51H fighters would not see much action even during the Korean conflict, unlike their P-51B, C, and D siblings.

ww2dbase After WW2, P-51 Mustang fighters were selected as the main propeller-driven fighter of the US Army Air Forces, but the advent of jet fighters had already eclipsed the design. Nevertheless, they remained in service in 30 countries around the world, and remained in production in the form of a license-built variant by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation in Australia until 1948. By 1950, most of the American P-51 fighters, now designated F-51 under a new designation system in the US, were relegated to Air National Guard units. During the Korean War, many F-51 fighters were used as tactical ground attack aircraft and reconnaissance aircraft, particularly of the F-51D variant. After the Chinese-North Korean push that nearly conquered all of South Korea, F-51 Mustang fighters could actually reach targets that their jet counterparts could not.

ww2dbase After the Korean War, the United States continued to employ Mustang aircraft until 1957, then again after 1967 with Mustang aircraft built by Cavalier Air Corporation, which had purchased the design rights from North American in the early 1960s. The last US military use of the F-51 aircraft was in 1968, when the US Army used them as chase aircraft during the development of the YAH-56 Cheyenne helicopter. Many of them continued to be in service abroad, with the Dominican Republic Air Force being the last to retire them, in 1984.

ww2dbase Mustang aircraft were sold to the civilian market as early as immediately after WW2, some for as little as US$1,500. Many of them entered air racing, such as the P-51C aircraft purchased by Paul Mantz, who won the Bendix Air Races in 1946 and 1947 and set a US coast-to-coast record in 1947. Today, Mustang aircraft are among the most sought after "warbird" aircraft on the civilian market, with some transactions exceeding US$1,000,000.

ww2dbase In total, 15,875 units were built, making the P-51 Mustang design the second most-built aircraft in the United States after the P-47 Thunderbolt.

ww2dbase Sources:
Robert Dorr, Fighting Hitler's Jets

Last Major Revision: Sep 2007

26 Jun 1940 Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan, United States received the license from Rolls-Royce to build Merlin engines for the P-51 Mustang fighters, with an order at the size of US$130,000,000 being placed. The first Packard-built Merlin engine, designated V-1650-1, would be ready in Aug 1941.
26 Oct 1940 The P-51 Mustang fighter, NA-73X, took its maiden flight.
10 May 1942 P-51 Mustang fighters saw combat for the first time with RAF pilots in the cockpits.
23 Nov 1943 The USAAF commenced operations with the new P-51A fighter in Asia when eight P-51 fighters from Claire Chennault's 23rd Fighter Group escorted B-25 Mitchell bombers in an attack on the Japanese airfield in Shinchiku Prefecture (now Hsinchu), Taiwan.
1 Dec 1943 US IX Fighter Command aircraft began operations from the United Kingdom when 28 P-51B fighters flew a sweep over north-western France. The mission also marked the debut of the Merlin-powered Mustang fighter in USAAF service.
2 Jun 1944 US suttle-bombing between Italy and the USSR (Operation Frantic) began. Under command of Lieutenant General Ira C Eaker, 130 B-17s, escorted by 70 P-51s, bombed the railway marshalling yard at Debreczen (Debrecen), Hungary and landed in the Soviet Union the B-17s at Poltava and Myrhorod, the P-51s at Pyriatyn. 1 B-17 was lost over the target.
6 Jun 1944 Operation Frantic shuttle bombing continued as 104 B-17s and 42 P-51s (having flown to the USSR from Italy on 2 Jun) attacked the airfield at Galați, Romania and returned to Soviet shuttle bases 8 German fighters were shot down and 2 P-51s were lost.
11 Jun 1944 126 B-17s and 60 P-51s departed Russian shuttle bases for Italy to complete the first Operation Frantic operation. On the way, 121 B-17s bombed the Focşani, Romania airfield.
21 Jun 1944 145 B-17s began an Operation Frantic shuttle bombing mission between the United Kingdom and bases in Ukraine. 72 P-38s, 38 P-47s and 57 P-51s escorted the bombers to the target, the synthetic oil plant at Ruhland, Germany. 123 B-17s bombed the primary target while the rest bombed secondary targets. The fighter escort returned to England while fighters based at Pyriatyn, Ukraine relieved them. 1 B-17 was lost to unknown causes and 144 B-17s landed in the USSR, 73 at Poltava and the rest at Myrhorod. During the night, the 73 B-17s at Poltava were attacked for 2 hours by an estimated 75 German bombers led by aircraft dropping flares. 47 B-17s were destroyed and most of the rest were severely damaged. Heavy damage was also suffered by the stores of fuel, ammunition, and ordinance.
22 Jun 1944 Because of the attack on Operation Frantic B-17s at Poltava, Ukraine the night before, the B-17s at Myrhorod and P-51s at Pyriatyn were moved farther east to be returned before departing to bases in Italy once the weather permitted. The move was fortunate as German bombers struck both Pyriatyn and Myrhorod during the night.
25 Jun 1944 Following a visit to British No. 617 Squadron at Woodhall Spa in England, United Kingdom by USAAF Generals Carl Spaatz and James Doolittle, a crated Mustang fighter was delivered as a gift from the United States to Wing Commander Leonard Cheshire. Cheshire wanted to use it that evening for a raid on the V-bomb site at Siracourt, France, and his mechanics worked all day removing the grease and the guns. One hour after the Lancaster bombers had taken off Cheshire followed in the Mustang fighter (which type he had never flown before) and he arrived in time to mark the target at low level for the heavy bombers.
25 Jun 1944 At daybreak, B-17s and P-51s were flown from dispersal bases to Poltava and Myrhorod and loaded and fueled with intentions of bombing the oil refinery at Drohobycz (Drohobych), Poland before proceeding to bases in Italy as part of Operation Frantic’s shuttle-bombing plan. Bad weather canceled the mission until the following day. The aircraft returned to dispersal bases for the night as precaution against air attacks.
26 Jun 1944 72 B-17s departed Poltava and Myrhorod, Ukraine, rendezvoused with 55 P-51s from Pyriatyn, bombed the oil refinery and railway marshalling yard at Drohobycz (Drohobych), Poland (1 returned to the USSR because of mechanical trouble), and then proceeded to Italy as part of Operation Frantic’s shuttle-bombing plan.
2 Jul 1944 41 P-51s, temporarily in Italy while en route from the USSR to the UK during an Operation Frantic shuttle mission, joined Fifteenth Air Force fighters in escorting Fifteenth Air Force bombers against targets in the Budapest, Hungary area, claiming 9 aircraft destroyed and suffering 4 losses.
3 Jul 1944 55 B-17s in Italy on the return leg of an Operation Frantic shuttle mission join Fifteenth Air Force bombers in bombing railway marshalling yards at Arad, Romania. 38 P-51s also on the shuttle run flew escort on the mission. All Operation Frantic aircraft returned to bases in Italy.
5 Jul 1944 70 B-17s on an Operation Frantic shuttle mission (UK-USSR-Italy-UK) flew from bases in Italy and attacked the railway marshalling yard at Beziers, France (along with Fifteenth Air Force B-24s) while on the last leg from Italy to the United Kingdom. 42 P-51s returned to England with the B-17s (of the 11 P-51s remaining in Italy, 10 returned to England the following day and the last several days later).
22 Jul 1944 76 P-38s and 58 P-51s began the second of the Fifteenth Air Force’s Operation Frantic shuttle missions, attacking airfields at Ziliştea (Zilişteanca) and Buzău, Romania (claiming the destruction of 56 enemy aircraft) and landing at Operation Frantic bases in Ukraine.
26 Jul 1944 Fifteenth Air Force fighters on an Operation Frantic shuttle mission leave Ukraine bases, strafed enemy aircraft in the Bucharest-Ploeşti, Romania area, and returned to bases in Italy.
4 Aug 1944 In an attempt to comply with the first direct Soviet request for USAAF air strikes, over 70 P-38s and P-51s left Italy, attacked the airfield and town of Focşani, Romania, and landed at Operation Frantic bases in Ukraine.
6 Aug 1944 In an Operation Frantic mission, 75 B-17s from England bombed aircraft factories at Gdynia and Rahmel, Poland and flew on to bases in Ukraine. 23 B-17s were damaged. Escort was provided by 154 P-51s. 4 P-51s were lost and 1 was damaged beyond repair. Further, 60 fighters from the previous day’s strike took off from Operation Frantic bases in Ukraine, attacked Craiova railway marshalling yard and other railway targets in the Bucharest-Ploesti, Romania area, and landed at bases in Italy.
7 Aug 1944 In accordance with a Soviet request, 55 B-17s and 29 P-51s of the USAAF involved in Operation Frantic flew from bases in Ukraine and attacked an oil refinery at Trzebinia, Poland without loss and returned to Operation Frantic bases in the USSR.
8 Aug 1944 Operation Frantic shuttle missions continued as 78 B-17s with 55 P-51s as escort left bases in Ukraine and bombed airfields in Romania 38 bombed Buzău and 35 bombed Ziliştea. No German fighters were encountered and the force flew on to Italy.
10 Aug 1944 45 P-51s in Italy during an Operation Frantic shuttle mission are dispatched with Fifteenth Air Force aircraft to escort a troop carrier evacuation mission.
12 Aug 1944 The Operation Frantic shuttle-bombing mission UK-USSR-Italy-UK is completed. 72 B-17s took off from bases in Italy and bombed the Toulouse-Francazal Airfield, France before flying on to England. 62 P-51s (part of the shuttle-mission force) and 43 from the UK provide escort no aircraft are lost.
11 Sep 1944 75 B-17s of Operation Frantic shuttle missions left England as part of a larger raid to oil refineries at Chemnitz along with 64 P-51s that continued on and landed in Ukraine.
13 Sep 1944 73 B-17s, escorted by 63 P-51s, continuing the Operation Frantic UK-USSR-Italy-UK shuttle-bombing mission, took off from Ukraine bases, bombed a steel and armament works at Diósgyőr, Hungary and proceeded to Fifteenth Air Force bases in Italy.
15 Sep 1944 As part of Operation Frantic, 110 B-17s were dispatched from England to drop supplies to Warsaw resistance fighters and then proceed to bases in the USSR but a weather front was encountered over the North Sea and the bombers were recalled. Escort is provided by 149 P-51s and 2 P-51s collided in a cloud and were lost.
17 Sep 1944 An Operation Frantic UK-USSR-Italy-UK shuttle mission was completed as 72 B-17s and 59 P-51s fly without bombs from Italy to England.
22 Sep 1944 The last Operation Frantic mission ended as 84 B-17s and 51 P-51s return to England from Italy.


MachineryOne Packard Merlin V-1650-7 liquid-cooled supercharged V-12 engine rated at 1,695hp
Armament6x12.7mm machine guns, optional 907kg of bombs or optional 10x127mm rockets
Span11.28 m
Length9.83 m
Height4.17 m
Wing Area21.83 m²
Weight, Empty3,465 kg
Weight, Loaded4,175 kg
Weight, Maximum5,490 kg
Speed, Maximum703 km/h
Speed, Cruising580 km/h
Rate of Climb16.30 m/s
Service Ceiling12,770 m
Range, Maximum2,655 km


MachineryOne Packard Merlin V-1650-9 liquid-cooled supercharged V-12 engine rated at 2,218hp
Armament4x12.7mm Browning machine guns or 6x12.7mm Browning machine guns
Span9.83 m
Length11.28 m
Height3.38 m
Wing Area21.83 m²
Weight, Empty3,195 kg
Weight, Loaded4,310 kg
Weight, Maximum5,215 kg
Speed, Maximum784 km/h
Rate of Climb16.30 m/s
Service Ceiling12,680 m
Range, Maximum1,865 km

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North American Mustang II over Normandy, 1944 - History

P-51 Mustang, 45-11559 N451TB "Kimberly Kaye"

P-51 Mustang 45-11559, N451TB on display during the Planes of Fame Airshow. Tony recently left us on Mar 30 2021. Tony was a well respected, well liked man. Banta graduated from San Jose State University Aeronautics in 1970. He served 10 years in the military as a test pilot/engineer. He flew F-111, F-4 and F-105 jet fighters. After the military he had a successful technology/communications career. He was always willing to share his love of aviation. He will be missed. Condolences to his family and friends.

Anthony Banta, Flown West, March 30 2021.

P-51 History - from the beginning. The players, the company, the demand, the problems, and the results.

43-12112 (May) Started
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44-74978 N74978 (Oct) First Flight

Air to air pics of P-51s and other warbirds like the P-40, P-38, P-47, F4U

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P-51 Aces.
A tribute to those brave men who fought hard in WWII and put their country and comrades first. And not just the fighter pilots. Crew chiefs, ground personnel and the WASPS also deserve much praise for their hard work.

These men are part of a generation that is considered to be the greatest of all time. Links to "Aces in a Day", "Top Aces" and the full list plus some individual aces history. Some of these great men are still around today, attending air shows, signing books and meeting with fans. Many are flying west each year as they enter their 90s - give them the thanks and respect they deserve.

WWII: It was decided by Allied commanders that a full time strategic bombing campaign would cripple the enemy over time and allow ground troops the advantage they needed to first stop the advancing German Army and then push them back into Germany. This included the practice of daylight bombing raids on German targets. The 1st daylight bombing mission by a US unit was on 4th July, 1942. Two out of the six RAF A-20s were lost. On 17 August 1943, 60 out of 376 American bombers were lost!

Almost all the losses coming beyond the range of the bomber escort. Early escort included the RAF Spitfire and the USAAF P-47 Thunderbolt. Even with drop tanks, the range of these fighters would barely reach to the Germany border. After that, the Luftwaffe, laid in wait.

14th October of 1943, another 60 were lost in a single day, "Black Thursday". The B-17 had a crew of 10 men. Many did not get out and if they did get out and get their chute to deploy, evading capture and returning to England was very difficult. At that loss rate, the practice of daytime bombing raids was in question. The B-17, although designed to defend itself, could not. Strategic day-time bombing was crippling both sides.

It should be noted that the concept of the P-51 Mustang began more than three years before the first daylight bombing missions and the heavy losses. It is often accepted that the P-51 Mustang was designed to be an escort fighter, but as you look at the timeline, it is more plausible that the Mustang, as a fighter aircraft, fit that need better than any other fighter available. By the time heavy bomber losses were at hand, the P-51B and P-51C, with outstanding range, were already in production and being delivered to bases in England.

Part of the US approval in 1940 for export to Britain was that 2 examples of the Mustang would be turned over to the USAAF for evaluation at no cost. In 1941, the USAAF was not too interested in the P-51, taking their time with the XP-51 trials, but now they are very interested. General Hap Arnold was instrumental in pushing the P-51 into the escort fighter role. The USAAF sent a directive to NAA to provide maximum range to the P-51B for fighter escort at the earliest possible date. The P-51 already had the longest range of any Allied fighter. An 87 gallon fuselage fuel tank behind the pilot was added to some of the B/C models and all of the D/K models to fulfill this directive.

It all started in 1939, when the British needed more fighter aircraft. They showed interest in the Curtiss P-40 Warhark and the Bell P-39 Aircobra among others. Neither were their first choice, but that was the best that the Americans had and the British could not wait for any new designs. They decided the P-40 would be the one. James H. "Dutch" Kindelberger, president of North American Aviation, was approached by the British to build the P-40 at the North American production facility because Curtiss Aircraft was at full capacity. Kindelberger told the British that it would take 120 days to tool up for the P-40. Then Kindelberger somehow, with no real evidence that it could be done, convinced the Sir Henry Self of the British Purchasing Commission, that North American Aviation could design and build a new fighter that was better than the P-40. The new fighter would fly faster, higher, farther, be more maneuverable and pack more firepower.

Kindelberger put Edgar Schmued in charge of the new P-51 prototype design, NA-73X. After 78,000 man hours and 102 days later, the prototype, NA-73X, rolled out of the hangar - without an engine. 18 days later, the Allison V-1710-39 was ready and on 26 October 1940, NX19998 took to the skies for its maiden flight with test pilot Vance Breese at the controls. On 9 December 1940 the British Purchasing Comission sent a letter to North American Aviation stating that the NA-73 airplanes have been given the official designation of "Mustang".

The P-51 Mustang is credited with providing very effective long range bomber escort. The Allied daylight bombing campaign proved extremely successful by strangling the support lines of the enemy and nearly stopping the production of war-time machinery. The P-51 Mustang and the men and women that dreamed, designed, built, tested, ferried, maintained and flew them in combat saved lives in the skies and on the ground. Who would have thought, back in 1944, that this escort fighter would still be flying 75 years later? The Mustang was built for the highest performance with less thought for longevity. With the hard work of warbird fanatics around the globe, about 300 P-51s still exist today with about half still airworthy! A few of the remaining P-51s ( Survivors) have the distinction of serving for more than 30 years with 4 different Air Forces around the world!

The P-51 served in many different air forces around the world. It served during peace and during hostilities - to stop the Nazis during WWII and in the famed "Soccer Wars" in 1969. The Mustang flew and fought in Korea during the early 50's and in many other smaller conflicts. In all, at least 25 different countries operated the P-51 Mustang for more than 35 years!

The P-51 was designed and built in the USA but not because of any US contract or requirement. The British were responsible for hiring NAA to produce a new fighter, and NAA then designed the Mustang to meet RAF requirements - but the design was all NAA. The RAF received early shipments and flew various models of the Mustang throughout the war.

Below is a quick list of the countries that put the P-51 into Military Service

Britain, Royal Air Force (RAF) WWII: 2607 Mustang I-IV models
Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) 1945 - 215 D models, 84 K models, 200 un-assembled
The Netherlands East Indies Air Force (NEIAF) 40 P-51s
The Soviet Union a few mustangs, none in front-line service.
China: WWII - 50 P-51s

Canada: WWII - flew the P-51 within RCAF squadrons of the RAF. After the war, RCAF received 100 mustangs that remained in service until 1956 where many of them came into the US civilian market.

New Zealand (RNZAF) 1945: 30 not assembled until 1950
Sweden (RSwAF) 1945: 157 P-51s
Switzerland 1948: 100 P-51s
Italy 1948: 48 P-51s
Israel (IDFAF) 1948: 2 P-51s, 1952: 25

South Africa (SAAF) 1950: 95 P-51s
Philippines (PAF) 1948
South Korea (ROKAF) 1950
Cuba 1947: 3 P-51s
Dominican Republic (FAD) 1948: 44 P-51s
Haiti (FAH) 1951: 4 P-51s
Nicaragua (GN) 1954: 26 Mustangs
Uruguay (FAU) 1950: 25 Mustangs
Guatemala (FAG) 1954: 30 P-51s
Bolivia (FAB) 1954: 23 P-51s
El Salvador (FAS) 1968: 17 Mustangs
Venezuela (FAV) used only 1 Mustang
Costa Rica 1955: 4 P-51s

In all, an outstanding military career for an outstanding escort fighter.
More details in P-51 History / Foreign Service

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Mustang Chronology

June '40 - British Request

In the Spring of 1940, the British Purchasing Commission, headed by Sir Henry Self, visiting the U.S. asked Dutch Kindelberger, head of North American Aviation, to build Curtiss-designed P-40's for them. While his company had never built a fighter, Kindelberger's designers, led by Edgar Schmued had started design work on a modern fighter. Already, in 1940, the Curtiss P-40 and the Bell P-39 were inferior to aircraft being flown by Germany and Britain. Kindelberger offered to design and build the first prototype of the new fighter in 120 days. They signed the contract for 300 of the aircraft in late May.

The new fighter incorporated many of the latest developments in aeronautics, notably the laminar flow wing, a wing that was relatively symmetrical and offered less drag at high speed. The wings were designed to be easy to manufacture, with only two spars. As specified by the British requirement, the new airplane, designated the NA-73X, employed an in-line engine the Allison V-1710 fit the bill, although it lacked a turbo-supercharger for high-altitude performance. The main wheels were set twelve feet apart, for good stability on landing.

In the original design, the British required eight machine guns: four .30 caliber and four .50 caliber. Ultimately, most Mustangs would carry the usual American weaponry of six .50 caliber Brownings. It carried twice as much internal fuel as a Spitfire, 180 gallons in self-sealing wing tanks.

102 days after contract signing, in Sept. 1940, the protoype NA-73X rolled out. Apparently no one quibbled over the fact that it didn't have an engine, nor brakes, nor paint, nor actual gun mounts.

Oct. '40 - Flight of NA-73X Prototype

Oct. '41 - Mustang Mark I Reaches Britain

Nonetheless, the Mustang was so promising that in late 1941 the RAF ordered another 300 and the USAAF 150. As the exigencies of war demanded, 93 of these 150 (factory designated NA-91) ended up in British service, as Mustang IA's, equipped with four 20mm cannon. The remaining 57, equipped with four .50 caliber machine guns, and known as P-51's, ended up in US service.

Feb. '42 - Tactical Recon: No. 26 Sqn Issued Mark I's

These early Allison-powered Mustangs were fast, strongly constructed, had a long range, and packed a wallop with their eight guns. But their poor high-altitude performance relegated them to the low-level tactical reconnaissance role with British Army Cooperation Command (ACC). Outfitted with a K24 camera behind the pilot, the Mark I Mustangs could photograph enemy dispositions, provide ground support, and fight their way out of a jam. And they could do so better than the ACC's existing Tomahawks and Lysanders. By summer 1942, 15 RAF squadrons were flying the Mark I, photographing invasion targets, shooting up trains, barge-busting, and probing German defenses.

July '42 - First Long Range Recon Mission

On July 27, sixteen RAF Mustangs undertook a long-range reconnaissance mission, photographing the Dortmund-Ems Canal.

Aug. '42 - Dieppe Raid

The "reconnaissance in force" on August 19 gained little for the Allies, except the expensive and bloody lesson in how tough the German defenses were, both on the ground and in the air. The raid, Operation Jubilee, introduced the Typhoon and the Spitfire Mk. IX, and marked the first Mustang aerial victory. Four Mustang squadrons, No. 26, 239, 400, and 414, provided tactical recon for the ground troops.

Flight Officer Hollis "Holly" Hills, an American serving with No. 414 Sqn of the RCAF, took off from Gatwick in the pre-dawn darkness, as "weaver" (wingman) to Flt. Lt. Freddie Clarke. Flying at wavetop level, the glow from the searchlights and AA fire at Dieppe permitted him to stay with his leader. Once over the target, they were promptly separated both returned safely. On the second mission that morning, they saw a huge dogfight filling the sky over Dieppe, and Hills spotted four Fw 190s off to their right. With his radio out and unaware of the German fighters, Flt. Lt. Clarke left himself open and was hit. Then Hollis caught one of the FW's with a deflection burst. It started smoking and flaming, then the canopy popped off. Hollis fired again, and the plane fell to ground. He headed for home, shepherding Clarke as he went, dueling another Fw 190 for miles. In his fight with the Fw's, he lost sight of Clarke. After that, Hollis flew home uneventfully, to a dinner made rather somber by Clarke's apparent loss. But next morning, Clarke re-appeared over Hollis' bunk, smelling of seaweed he had ditched off Dieppe and been rescued. He had witnessed and could officially confirm Hollis' victory over the Focke-Wulf, the first of many aerial victories for the Mustang. And Clarke had the dubious honor of being the first combat Mustang to be shot down in the war by the Germans.

Read more about Clarke's and Hills' mission in this email from Clarke's son.

Mustang Aces of the Ninth and Fifteenth Air Forces and the RAF tells more about Dieppe and the RAF's use of the Mustang.

Oct. '42 - the Merlin Engine

As early as May, 1942, Ronald Harker, a Rolls Royce test pilot, first recommended mating the Mustang airframe to the Merlin engine, an idea which would transform the P-51 into a decisive weapon, capable of escorting American bombers all the way to Berlin. Harker test-flew an RAF Mustang on April 30, 1942, and noted that it was 30 MPH faster than the Spitfire Mk V and had almost double the range. Harker's memo recommending the Merlin-Mustang combination (in which he erroneously identified Edgar Schmued as a former Messerschmitt employee) got the attention of Rolls Royce management, who borrowed five RAF Mustangs to test the idea. The British flight-tested the Mustang X in October, and found that the experimental craft significantly out-performed the Allison at high altitudes, generating 200 more horsepower at 20,000 feet and almost 500 more HP at 30,000 feet. While the British research was valuable, the American Merlin Mustang program proceeded almost independently.

In the summer of 1942, Packard Motors was negotiating with Rolls Royce to license-build the Merlin engine at its Detroit plant. Learning of Rolls Royce' Merlin-Mustang plans, Major Thomas Hitchcock, the American military attache in London, and others, pushed for the development of a Mustang powered by the Packard-built Merlin. Authorized in July, 1942, North American began its Merlin Mustang development in August.
The XP-51B included these changes:

  • a Packard Merlin engine, instead of the Allison V-1710
  • a four-bladed propeller
  • stronger underwing racks
  • a strengthened airframe
  • a relocated carburetor air intake, from above to below the nose, as shown below
    © Osprey Publishing Ltd,
  • an intercooler radiator
  • larger ducts and doors for the radiator system
  • a deeper scoop under the rear fuselage
  • removal of the nose-mounted guns - (see illustration above)

The USAAF, desperately needing a long-range bomber escort, contracted for 2200 P-51B's. North American geared up for Mustang production, moving the B-25 program to Kansas City, dedicating the Inglewood plant to the Mustang, and expanding the Dallas plant for the Mustang (Dallas-built versions of the -B model were designated P-51C). P-51B's began rolling out of Inglewood in May, 1943 eventually 1,990 of the -B models would be made. The first of 1,750 P-51C's produced at Dallas flew in August.

After production of the B/C model began, three more changes appeared:

  • an up-rated Packard Merlin engine, the 1650-7 replacing the 1650-3, for a small increase in HP
  • an 85 gallon fuel tank installed behind the pilot, giving critically longer reach, but moving the center of gravity aft, thus reducing directional stability until most of the fuel was consumed
  • the bulbous Malcolm hood, giving much better all-around visibility (a field modification), as shown below
    © Osprey Publishing Ltd,

June '43 - A-36's with USAAF in MTO, Sicily

300 A-36A's (a variant of the Mustang known as "Apache" and "Invader") made a larger impact, when the 27th and 86th Bombardment Groups began flying them. In June, 1943, the 27th BG flew missions against Pantelleria, in the build-up for the Sicily invasion. Dive bombing was a challenge, the recommended technique being a dive from 8,000 - 10,000 feet at 90 degrees, with dive brakes extended to keep speed below 400 MPH. At 3,000 feet, the pilot dropped two 500-pound bombs and pulled out at 1,500 feet. With this extended straight-in bomb run, they were vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire.

German and Italian fighters engaged also engaged them. One A-36 pilot, Lt. Mike Russo of the 27th BG, made ace, the only man to do so while flying an Allison-powered Mustang. He counted four different types among his five aerial victories: two Fw-190's, a Bf-109, a Ju-52, and a Fieseler Storch.

The 27th and 86th were reduced to three squadrons each in September, due to the heavy losses they had incurred. As the Italian campaign progressed, they increasingly used strafing and glide bombing tactics, which reduced their losses to flak. In early 1944, both Groups transitioned to P-47's and turned over their A-36's for training.

The North American P-51D Mustang

North American P-51 Mustang figher plane over France. Mustangs served in nearly every combat zone. P-51s had destroyed 4,950 enemy aircraft in the air, more than any other fighter in Europe.

Ready to Ride

IN MAY 1940, British war planners asked North American Aviation to design and build a fighter-bomber with firepower, climb, speed, agility, and range sufficient to carry the fight to Berlin and back. By September, the firm had a prototype for what became one of the war’s most recognizable silhouettes. Debuting in combat with RAF pilots on the stick, the Mustang by late 1943 had become the escort of choice for Allied bombers over Europe and, in time, Japan. Pilots hailed the elegant machine’s robust, durable design, which evolved through multiple variations. Of 15,000-plus produced, more than 8,100 were P-51Ds, introduced in mid-1944. Auxiliary fuel tanks stretched the P-51’s range to 1,650 miles a pilot could cross the Channel into European air space, tangle with Luftwaffe fliers, and return to England. Critics sniffed at a P-51’s inability to turn like a Spitfire, Messerschmitt, or Focke-Wulf—but no rival could match a Mustang for range and ceiling. A dogfighter’s dream, able to catch and kill V-1 buzz bombs, the P-51 achieved permanent iconhood.

Originally published in the March/April 2016 issue of World War II magazine. Subscribe here.

D Model Mustangs

By now the 8th AAF was starting to receive the D model Mustang. To many people, this is the iconic Mustang. Possibly the most important improvement was a redesigned fuselage, which allowed a bubble canopy to be fitted.

This new canopy, which was largely free of a metal frame, gave the pilot fantastic visibility. A new gyro gun sight was also fitted. This complex sight helped with the difficult art of deflection shooting and was a welcome addition to the fighter.

Bomber escort missions were still handled for the most part by the P-51 Mustangs, yet the German army was fighting back hard and there was an ever-increasing call for ground attack and close air support missions.

The Rise and Fall of America’s Top P-51 Mustang Ace

The tropical heat in Darwin, Australia, was brutal on the afternoon of July 12, 1942, when four pilots of the U.S. Army Air Forces’ 49th Fighter Group clambered into Curtiss P-40E fighters for what was supposed to be just one more training mission. They were First Lieutenant I.B. ‘Jack Donalson and Second Lieutenants John Sauber, Richard Taylor and George Preddy Jr.

The mission started out in routine fashion, with Preddy and Taylor peeling off to play the role of Japanese bombers on which Sauber and Donalson would practice their interceptor skills via a dummy attack. Sauber made the first pass, but as he dived on Preddy’s plane, he became disoriented, possibly blinded by the sun, and misjudged his distance. Too late he tried to pull up, but slammed into the tail of Preddy’s aircraft at 12,000 feet, sending both planes tumbling earthward in flames.

Sauber, who never made it out of his cockpit, was killed. Preddy managed to bail out but came down in a tall gum tree that shredded his parachute and dropped him through the branches to the hard ground below. Aided by Lieutenant Clay Tice, who spotted his position from his P-40, ground crewmen Lucien Hubbard and Bill Irving found Preddy, who had a broken leg and deeply gashed shoulder and hip. After the squadron’s surgeon examined Preddy in the airfield’s infirmary, he announced the young airman would have bled to death if he had not been found before morning.

George Preddy stands with his Curtiss P-40 Warhawk "Tarheel." Preddy flew the rugged fighter in the Southwest Pacific with the 49th Fighter Group until October 1942. (National Archives)

George Preddy’s bloody baptism into World War II had come at the hands of his own comrades. But he would recover from that initial mishap and be reassigned to another front, where his dogfighting skills made him the war’s top-scoring North American P-51 Mustang ace at age 25.

When the U.S. Army Air Forces’ 352nd Fighter Group arrived at Scotland’s Firth of Clyde on July 5, 1943, its pilots were mostly grass-green rookies fresh from flight school. On that same day, however, Queen Elizabeth delivered a few seasoned campaigners to bolster the new unit. One of them was Preddy.

Learning to fly the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt meant Preddy had to do some retraining before he was battle-ready, but after a year out of action he was chafing for combat. The budding hero was addicted to crap games, and when he tossed the dice he would yell “Cripes a’ Mighty!” for good luck. To enhance his chances aloft, he had those words painted on the nose of every warplane he ever flew.

Operating from Bodney Airfield, the 352nd got into the action on September 9, 1943, flying cover for out-of-ammunition and low-on-fuel Thunderbolts of the 56th and 353rd Fighter groups as they returned from escort missions. It was boring at first, but these newcomers would soon be in the midst of massive air battles over the Third Reich.

On what became known as Black Thursday, October 14, 1943, Preddy was among 196 frustrated escort pilots whose almost empty fuel tanks forced them to turn for home just as the Luftwaffe swept down onto Eighth Air Force bomber formations attacking the Schweinfurt ball-bearing works. The resulting carnage among the unguarded bombers made it clear the P-47’s 200-gallon-per-hour fuel consumption handicapped its value as an escort fighter.

Short range notwithstanding, Preddy and Cripes A’ Mighty stayed busy sticking as close and long as possible to the Strategic Bombing Offensive’s four-engine formations throughout the autumn of 1943. On December 1, he and a formation of Thunderbolts rendezvoused with bombers returning from an attack on Solingen. He latched onto the tail of a Messerschmitt Me-109 approaching the last bomber box from the rear. When the German saw the charging P-47, he made the mistake of trying to out dive Preddy’s 13,000-pound gun platform. At 400 yards Preddy opened fire and held down the firing button as he closed to 100 yards, disintegrating the luckless interceptor. Preddy’s 487th Fighter Squadron was the only one in the 352nd Group to score kills on that day of light fighter opposition.

On December 22, the 352nd lifted off to guard part of a returning force of 574 bombers that had savaged the marshaling yards of Münster and Onabrück. Preddy’s wingman that day was brilliant young concert pianist Lieutenant Richard L. Grow. Just east of the Zuider Zee, the pair of Americans became separated from the rest of their flight during a swirling, confused dogfight in blinding cumulus clouds. Climbing back to the bombers’ altitude, they spotted a gaggle of six Messerschmitt Me-210s and 10 Me-109s chewing on the tail of a crippled Consolidated B-24 Liberator. Unhesitatingly diving into the interceptors, Preddy quickly torched the Me-210 nearest the bomber before the Me-109s could interfere. With the pack now chasing them, the intrepid Thunderbolt pilots plunged for the clouds. Preddy managed to outpace his pursuers, but the fighters on Grow’s tail apparently finished him before he could reach the fleecy cloud cover. The blossoming concert star never made it back to Bodney, but the limping Liberator, Lizzie, got home. Preddy was recommended for the Distinguished Service Cross for that action, but instead received his country’s third-highest award for heroism, the Silver Star.

January’s weather was both sides’ worst enemy. On January 29, 1944, the ice storms abated long enough for 800 bombers to fly against the industrial district of Frankfurt. The 487th was part of the fighter presence dispatched to meet the bombers on their return leg. Preddy quickly shot down a Focke Wulf Fw-190 over the French coast, but then flew over a flak pit and was hit hard. He coaxed his smoking Thunderbolt up to 5,000 feet, but could not make it across the English Channel. When his dying warbird dropped below 2,000 feet, he bailed out and inflated his pressurized dinghy while his wingman, 1st Lt. William Whisner, circled overhead until air-sea rescue units could triangulate a radio fix on the downed airman. A Royal Air Force flying boat landed, but in the rough seas it ran over Preddy and nearly caused him to drown. Then the rescue plane broke a pontoon while trying to take off, and had to call for additional assistance. By the time a Royal Navy launch arrived to tow the crippled flying boat to port, however, the American airman had been given a quart of brandy by the British crew and was beginning to thaw out.

Preddy (left) reunites with his wingman, 1st Lt. William Whisner, shortly after having to bail out of his flak-stricken Republic P-47D Thunderbolt over the English Channel on January 29, 1944. (National Archives)

Soon after Preddy’s Channel swim, the 352nd began to switch from the P-47 to North American’s new P-51 Mustang fighter. On the morning of April 22, 1944, the 487th Squadron took off to shepherd bombers on a drawn-out mission to Hamm, Sost, Bonn and Koblenz. In between bombing runs, the Mustangs swooped down onto the airfield at Stade. Preddy and two comrades simultaneously opened fire on and pulverized a Junkers Ju-88 twin-engine bomber that had just taken off, resulting in each of the Americans receiving a .33 kill credit.

On April 30, Preddy shot down an Fw-190 in a one-on-one dogfight 17,000 feet above Clermont, France. From that point, now-Major Preddy’s score would rise at a steady rate as he and his new airplane became better acquainted. Between April 30 and the Normandy landings on June 6, Preddy torched 4 1/2 enemy aircraft. He completed a standard 200-hour tour of duty and two 50-hour extensions, and was starting a third. He expressed little outward interest in his score, preferring instead to concentrate on how much nearer the war’s end was drawing and what he could do to hasten it. As the pivotal summer 1944 battles on the Western Front churned below him, Preddy shot down nine more Germans from June 12 to August 5.

He downed an Me-109 on August 5, and when he returned to Bodney he heard the weatherman’s prediction of bad flying conditions for the next day, along with word that no flights would be scheduled. That same night the 352nd gave its war bond drive party, and the combat-weary Preddy enjoyed himself greatly at the bash. Following that celebration, he reeled off to his quarters past midnight. Twenty minutes later an aide shook him awake to inform him a mission was scheduled after all, and it was his turn to serve as flight leader. After a farcical briefing during which he was so drunk he fell off the podium, Preddy’s buddies sat him in a chair and held an oxygen mask over his nose until he appeared somewhat sober. They kept a close watch on their swaying major until takeoff, and continued to observe him as he led them aloft on a maximum-effort mission to Berlin.

The weather was beautiful, with mostly clear skies. The Luftwaffe was up in force. Before the Americans reached their target, more than 30 Me-109s intercepted the group of Boeing B-17s Preddy’s unit was shepherding, arriving from the south. Preddy led an attack from astern and opened fire on a trailing plane, apparently killing the pilot. That Messerschmitt instantly heeled over and spiraled down in flames. Wading into the formation, Preddy came up behind a second Me-109 and ignited it with a flurry of hits to the port wing root. The pilot bailed out. Advancing into the enemy formation from the rear, the Americans picked off one fighter after another. Meanwhile those in front took no evasive action, seemingly unaware of the destruction creeping up from behind.

Another Messerschmitt Me-109 goes down to Preddy's guns. (National Archives)

Preddy torched two more 109s before the remaining Germans perceived the trailing menace and went into a dive. The Mustangs followed hungrily. Preddy dispatched his fifth victim as the dwindling flock of Germans descended to 5,000 feet and one jerked his plane into a sharp left turn. This pilot had evidently seen Preddy and was trying to get onto his tail, but the American snap-rolled to the left and passed over his opponent. The German gamely tried to copy the maneuver and opened fire, but the angle was wrong for him. With the speed Preddy had built up in his roll, he was able to drop astern of his foe and fire from close range. That airman, too, bailed out.

After landing at Bodney, 1st Lt. George Arnold photographed a wan, sick-looking Preddy climbing from his out-of-ammunition Mustang. Gun camera footage and testimony from fellow pilots confirmed his achievement of six kills in one flight. War correspondents and photographers were on the way, and for the next few days Preddy was the most exalted soldier in Europe. Lieutenant Colonel John C. Meyer recommended his 25-year-old hero for the Medal of Honor for his exploits of August 6. To Meyer’s surprise and anger, however, on August 12 Brig. Gen. Edward H. Anderson instead pinned the Distinguished Flying Cross on Preddy’s tunic.

An exhausted Preddy is helped from his Mustang's cockpit after his six-victory mission on August 6, 1944. (352nd FG Association via Troy White)

Counting ground victories and partial kills, Preddy’s score now stood at 31, and another of his combat extensions had expired. It was time for him to go home on leave. He would never again fly Cripes A’ Mighty 3rd — senior officers who incorrectly assumed the major was going home for keeps assigned it to another pilot. But as Preddy told his minister back in Greensboro, N.C., Reverend, I must go back. There was no way George Preddy was going to leave any job unfinished.

After almost two months at home Preddy managed to acquire a fourth tour extension, returning to England and taking command of the 352nd’s 328th Fighter Squadron. He was given a brand-new P-51D-15NA. The 328th’s victory tally trailed that of the other 352nd squadrons, and Preddy was expected to boost the pilots’ confidence and morale. He did as much as he had time to do.

Following an uneventful mission on October 30, Preddy led his fliers on November 2 to escort bombers to Merseburg, Germany. Spotting more than 50 suspicious contrails at 33,000 feet, he set out to cut off the enemy’s approach to the bombers, guiding his pack to the Me-109 formation’s rear. Although he had never before used his plane’s new British-designed K-14 gunsight, he fought as though he’d been using it for years, sending an Me-109 down in flames.

On November 21, Preddy destroyed an Fw-190 just before the overtaxed Luftwaffe virtually disappeared for an entire month. Daily, Preddy and his men scanned empty skies. Meanwhile, however, the Germans were building up their store of fighter aircraft in preparation for the looming Ardennes offensive. When 600,000 previously undetected Wehrmacht troops surged through the freezing, fog-draped Ardennes Forest on December 16, they were protected from aerial attack by the worst weather the Allies had seen since the invasion. For a full week the 352nd was grounded by cotton-thick overcast. When the 328th Squadron’s pilots brazenly lifted off on December 23 from their new airfield outside Asch, Belgium, the clouds forced them to fly so low that they had to dodge trees. They found nothing to shoot at, and returned to base to spend another 48 frustrating hours in their freezing forest clearing encampment.

On Christmas Day Preddy and nine of his pilots took off for a hopeful sweep over confused woodland fighting. After patrolling for three fruitless hours, they received radar vectoring to intercept bandits just southwest of Koblenz. Diving on the targets, Preddy quickly flamed two Me-109s, forcing their pilots to hit the silk. The dogfight carried the combatants close to Liege, where Preddy latched onto the tail of an Fw-190. At less than 100 feet he was pouring bullets into his victim when an American anti-aircraft emplacement opened fire on both planes with .50-caliber machine guns. Realizing he was shooting at a friendly plane, the gunner stopped after firing only about 60 rounds, but it was too late. One of the big bullets had hit Preddy, and although he managed to release his canopy, he was unable to bail out. Mortally wounded, he crash-landed near the flak pit.

Major George Preddy never knew defeat in combat, but at age 25 he fell victim to human error. His status as the top-scoring Mustang ace of the war—with a total of 27 1/2 confirmed aerial kills—crystallized his standing as one of America’s greatest war heroes.

Valor was apparently a family trait. On April 17, 1945, George’s 20-year-old brother William, who had logged two victories in a P-51, was killed by anti-aircraft fire over Pilsen, Czechoslovakia.

This feature originally appeared in the July 2006 issue of Aviation History. For more great articles subscribe to Aviation History magazine today!

Build Preddy’s final “Cripes-A-Mighty” P-51D for your own Mustang collection. Click here!

‘There were no successes we could report’

Leutnant Hans Grűnberg, Staffelkapitän 5/JG 3:

‘In the first few days after arriving in Evreux each Staffel had to prepare one Schwarm for dropping bombs as Jabos. The targets were the Allied fleets, which gave such effective artillery protection for the landed troops, and the landing craft.

There were no successes we could report. It was almost impossible that we would be able to drop bombs in the landing zone. The enemy fighters controlled the airspace and the larger ships carried barrage balloons for extra protection.

Losses to the units of II/JG 3 were continuous. On our airfields we were constantly subjected to strafing and bombing.’

Allied air supremacy was total.

Patrick Eriksson is emeritus Professor of Geology, University of Pretoria, has co-authored/-edited three scientific books and over 230 papers, and is a veteran of the Namibian Bush War. Alarmstart South and Final Defeat is his most recent aviation history book, and will be published on 15 October by Amberley Publishing.

Watch the video: North American P-51D Mustang - Part 3 - Flight wCockpit Audio - Kermie Cam (May 2022).