What Was The Best Fighter Plane of World War Two?


Best Fighter of World War Two

P-51 Mustang


Best Fighter of WWII – Criteria, by Greg_P

No doubt many of you have seen Corky Meyer’s article in Flight Journal about this subject. In the article, he states clearly that any plane worthy of being called “the best” should have several characteristics and should be able to fly at least four missions:

It should perform:
1) Fighter vs. fighter
2) Bomber escort
3) Ground attack
4) Photoreconnaissance

It should:
1) Be easy to fly for 200-hour pilots trained in wartime conditions.
2) Have been produced in quantities of at least 10,000 and should have been around for a while, seeing continuous improvement in its combat capabilities.

His pick for the European theater was the P-47. His pick for the Pacific theater was the F6F. He also sates that the Fw-190 and the Yak-1, -3, -9 series of Russian planes were string contenders, but that too little data on sorties and bombs dropped were available for the Yaks, and that the Fw-190 was, in his opinion, a very close second to the Thunderbolt. He specifically enumerated the faults with the P-38, F4U, P-51, Spitfire, Bf-109, and other aircraft. Based on his criteria, I can agree with his selection, but fully expect the people who flew the other types to root for their favorite mounts.

My personal vote would be the Fw-190 series, especially the Fw-190D-9 and later models … but the entire series was good. Still, the tales of the toughness and reliability of the Jugs were legendary, so it’s hard to disagree with someone who was there and test flying at the time.

Wonder which airplane Captain Eric Brown would have picked? I once saw a quote attributed to him that stated his favorite fighter, for the sheer thrill of flying it and experiencing the maneuverability, was the A6M5 Zero. Whether or not it would have been his pick for the best COMBAT fighter is conjecture … I doubt it considering the Zero’s faults at high speeds and lack of armor plating and self-sealing tanks, but ya’ never know …

Best Fighter of WWII – Ta 152 and Me 262, by Akira

I don’t know if one can say which plane is the best. IMHO it depends too much on for what and in which altitude you want to use the plane and not to forget how much punishment a plane can take without disassembling.

But for me I would take the Ta 152 or Me 262 although the Ta is best in high altitude and the Me 262 is too vulnerable on take off and landing. But the late Spits are near equal or equal to them me thinks. If you’d ask me which plane is the best looking, the answer (for me at least) would be simple: the FW 190 A-8, but the Mustang’s certainly next.

Best Fighter of WWII – Reliability, by acepil2

The “greatest fighter” debate is endless and fascinating. The point about desired role is very important. Another factor which is frequently under-rated is reliability, ease of manufacture, ease of maintenance, handling characteristics, etc. The classic example of this trade-off is the Corsair vs. Hellcat. By simple performance specs, the Corsair wins, hands-down. But the Hellcat was more reliable, easier to fly, easier to maintain, etc. As one wag put it, “The Corsair was a better plane, three days a week.” Me? I’d take a squadron of Hellcats any day.

Best Fighter of WWII – Brewster F2A Buffalo, by pags

“It should perform:
1) Fighter vs. fighter
2) Bomber escort
3) Ground attack
4) Photoreconnaissance”

A sometimes overlooked airframe was the Brewster F2A Buffalo that performed well in all these areas, and had the best kill ratio of any other WW2 fighter anywhere including such giants as the Corsair, Hellcats and Fw190s- the Brewster beats em all, statistically of course. Does that make the F2A the best fighter? I don’t think so, it was operated by many nations during the war so the figures probably reflect that. Although the P40 warhawks were also flown by many nations and do not have stats as good as an F2A.

Best Fighter of WWII – Hellcat / Corsair comparison, by Greg_P

Did any of you read Corky’s earlier article in FLIGHT JOURNAL about the Hellcat / Corsair performance?

In it, Corky states that Grumman and Vought were each given the other airplane to look at and fly for a period of time.

He stated that on several occasions Grumman flew the Hellcat and Corsair side-by-side at cruising speed. They would say “Go!” and then go to full throttle. The two were side by side and one or the other would slowly move in front a bit, and it wasn’t always the same plane. Since the Corsair and the Hellcat used the same engine and propeller, Corky said he wasn’t surprised, and he surmised that Vought’s placement of the pitot made the Corsair seem a bit faster than it was in real life. He said the only place the Corsair had a definite advantage was in the main supercharger stage where Grumman didn’t use ram air and Vought did. Grumman elected not to use ram air in the main stage to prevent carb icing. Once in boosted flight, he maintains they were nearly identical in speed.

Corky also stated that Grumman could have modified the Hellcat to roll as well as the Corsair, but it would have interrupted production at a vital stage in the war, so they pressed ahead with the F6F-5 and left the dihedral in the outer wing.

I like the Fw 190 series, too. Very good airplanes. The Focke Wulf Fw 190A-3 had the following specs:

10.46 m span, 8.84 m length, 18.3 sq m wing area, 1268 kW (1700hp), 3200 kg empty, and 3893 kg normal loaded. This gives a wing loading of 193.8 kg / sq m (39.7 lbs / sq ft) and a power loading of 2.8 kg / kW (4.6 lbs / hp. I calculated these at half load (empty plus 1/2 the payload).

The P-51D has: 11.37 m span, 9.93 m length, 21.8 sq m (235 sq ft) wing area, 1111 kW (1490 hp), 3176 kg empty, and 5263 normal load weight. This gives a wing loading of 193.3 kg / sq m (39.6 lbs / sq ft) and a power loading of 3.3 kg / kW (5.4 lbs / hp). These are also at half payload.

So the wing loading is the same and the Fw 190 has the power to weight advantage by a small bit. Gun advantage to the Fw 190 with cannons and MGs. In reality, the two had nearly identical turning performance due to having the same wing loading. The Fw 190 rolled better than any other WWII-era fighter (not sure about the Yak-3 / 9’s) and climbed a bit better than the P-51 at sea level. I’m not too sure about the supercharger information on the BMW 801D-2 radial, so I can’t say which one ran out of steam first, but the P-51 was faster at altitude … probably due to being an inline engine as opposed to a radial, and so had smaller frontal area.

Which was better? Can’t say. I’d bet the Fw 190 pilots would say “Fw 190!” and the Mustang pilots would say “Mustang!.

Of the WWII fighters, I think the Italians had some of the best in the Macchi 202 and the Reggianne 2005, but they had little effect on the war even though they were among the very best fighters. The Soviet Union had the Yak-3 / 9 and the Lavochkin La-5 / 7 / 9 series of planes. The Japanese had the N1K2-J Shiden-kai, Ki-84 Frank, and the Ki-96 (great power to weight!). Even the Polish PZL P.48 had a great power-to-weight ratio.

Of these, the Yak-3’s had the best power to weight ratio of ANY WWII fighter at 1.9 kg/kW (3.1 lbs / hp), and they had a low wing loading of 156.9kg / sq m (32.1 lbs / sq ft), so they should be considered. Must have been an absolute BLAST to fly!

The Bf 109F-3 also had a low wing loading and a low power loading that would put it right in the ballpark as did the late-model Spitfires. From the vantage point of 60+ years away, it’s hard to make a meaningful comparison, isn’t it? There ARE some stock Yak-3’s around and they ARE some stock P-51’s around, and there are people making Fw-190’s today, and there ARE some late-model Spits around … so there is an outside chance we might be able to get some answers … but don’t hold your breath. The Yaks that are flying have American Allison engines in them (why didn’t they put in a Merlin?) and the Fw-190s, once they are finished and flyable, probably will not have the wartime armament or takeoff weight. If I had a late-model Spitfire, I would cherish it and not abuse it by having a fly-off against old adversaries …

Everyone who loves WWII-era aviation has a favorite airplane, and their minds are already made up … so this question will NEVER be answered.

The only thing I can’t understand is the number of people who think the Me-262 was a great fighter. It had abysmally slow acceleration, was not maneuverable, had unreliable engines with almost no time between overhauls and needed both engines to have a prayer of flying well, was very difficult to service, and took up a lot of valuable German production resources when they were desperately needed elsewhere. Certainly it was well armed and fast, but it had virtually no impact on WWII except to introduce new technology to the world by being the first jet fighter in service. I think of the Me-262 as a wonderful technology demonstrator, ahead of its time, but one that had no impact on the war.

Best Fighter of WWII – F4U Corsair, by Austin35

In early January, 1943, a captured Japanese Zero was put up against an F4U-1, with the Corsair proving superior in most respects. Against a P-51 Mustang, the Corsair outfought the Army craft above 12,000 feet, and was considered evenly matched below that altitude. A pair of Corsair took on two Grumman Hellcat NOTE Navy Flier Edward “Butch” O’Hare piloted one of the Hellcats, and later flew the Corsair. Observers said the Hellcat was no match for F4U-1. On May 21, 1943 a fighter evaluation meeting took place at Eglin Air Base in Florida. Army pilots flying the Corsair for the first time were high in their praise. Dogfights were held with P-47, P-51, P-38, and P-39 Army fighters and all resulted favorably for the Corsair.

Best Fighter of WWII – Spitfire Mk 14 and the D-9, by steve

Eric Brown said it was a tie between the Mk 14 Spit & the D-9. The Mustang just a notch below these 2. He also said a Corsair could not beat a 190. He did not mention the Frank, I don’t believe he got to fly a Frank. but Mahurin I believe did. These are the top 3 as I see it. The Frank could outmaneuver the Mustang & was one of the few Japanese planes to go over 400 mph. Its only potential weakness was altitude performance. Which I have no info on. The mk 14 Spit weighed a lot more than the Mk 9. Ginger Lacey flew one in Burma & did a loop over the airfield & missed the deck by 4 feet. He then ordered his pilots to not do any loops in the 14 at low altitude. it also had wind buffet – stability problems like the Mustang did cause of the bubble canopy. One test pilot said it needed constant trimming in level flight. The D-9 on the other hand needed no trim tabs whatsoever as it flew so well. it was also centrally armed. which was an advantage it had over Mustang & Spit. The Yak 3 could outmaneuver any of em, but had no high altitude performance & only went 407 or so. The Italian Greyhound was very maneuverable, fast & had cannon, so it might be a contender. Don’t know its altitude or climb stats.

So again I would pick The D-9, Spit 14 & Frank as top 3. Best? don’t know.

Best Fighter of WWII – F6F Hellcat, by B-24WillowRun

I started as a kid with the love of the P-51, but I have been reading more. In the original list of criteria it asked that long term life and that a production of over 10,000. Now I know the USAAC makes get the production numbers but I am not certain of the Italians. Yes they had some good craft, but they never seemed to get them in numbers and tactics that would work.

Look at the fighters and who they went after, I will say pick an engine and a firm. My engine the R-2800 and variants, the firm – Grumman. So the two together gets you the F6F-5, and if it could have been done the -6 might have come out. But this plane could roll, turn, and though not as fast as others was just as rugged and could cover all the missions asked of it.

Now as a bomber lover I need an escort. The P-38 is close to my heart, and it did a nice job early and could have if left to develop, but for a plane that could ride along chase the 190s, 109s and what ever else was flying, and then hit the deck to raise hell, the massive “Jug” P-47. But Grumman, its commitment to the Navy over some 5 decades is a true testament to aviation and design. I would take a Wildcat up and fight even if the Zero would fly around me, and I think the F4F does not get the credit it should.

Best Fighter of WWII – P-51, greatest contributor to war effort, by Ben C

I have a print in my living room of a Supermarine Spitfire Mk VB done by Barrie Clark and also a pair of Vickers Armstrong Wellington bombers by Gerald Coulson. I’ve always had a liking for the Spitfire and P-51 Mustang (particularly the P-51D).

The best fighter as the one which contributed the most against the war effort at the time and not necessary an aircrafts number of “kills” or air superiority over other aircraft.

In this view, I believe once the P-51 was developed into a long range fighter it helped to substantially reduce the number of bombers shot down in previous unescorted daylight strategic bombing raids. I understand there would be many variables that would affect a successful raid such as enemy flack laying etc but for example on Oct 21 1943 an unescorted daylight bombing raid on a ball bearing factory by 291 B-17s ended with 60 lost (and 140 damaged). On a similar escorted raid with P-51 Mustangs on a another ball bearing factory in Mar 8 1944 by 590 aircraft in comparison only 37 aircraft are lost.

The losses were reduced once long range escorts by the P-51 were made possible. Because strategic bombing (against industry) played a key role in the outcome of the war, made more possible by the P-51 it gets my pick as the best fighter of WWII.

Best Fighter of WWII – BF109, by Ben C

As much as Id hate to admit it (being a serious Spitfire fan) but the BF-109 must have been a great plane. It had a long lifespan, which tells me that it must of been a great platform to develop from to last as long as it did (even while the Germans were experimenting with jet aircraft).

From what I’ve read and heard on documentaries on the Battle of Britain, the BF-109 as a fairly even match for the Spitfire, advantages from the fuel injected engine gave it an advantage in diving (where the Spitfire would suffer momentary power loss when nose over due to gravital effects on the carburetor) however the Spitfire had a superiority below (if I remember correctly) 20,000 ft and as most of the fighting was below this in the battle, this gave the Spitfire a decisive advantage, and more importantly the Spitfire could turn inside a BF-109 which would be a huge advantage when someone was one ‘ya six or you were trying to drill someone else’s.

Either plane was very lethal in the right hands where the advantages of each plane would be exploited. The Spitfire pilots would have actually have downed a lot more BF-109s had they not had to do so many scrambles with the continued and determined bombing of Britain by the Germans. In one of the documentaries, with the effects of repeated scrambles I heard a pilot drilled a tractor! The English had the home advantage, the BF-109s had only something like 15 minutes flight time before that had to return for refueling and have the duel purpose of fighter and escort role, another huge advantage to home based pilots.

I’m very interested in the Battle of Britain, what amazes me is that if the Germans had of continued to strategically bomb military and industrial targets instead of switching to bombing English cities (which gave the British time to build up the much needed fighters, which were coming close to depletion) then it is highly likely that the Germans would have won the battle, and would have likely ejected Britain from the war.

Best Fighter of WWII – Best Fighter of WWII, by Twitch

I’m inclined to agree with Ben about P-51s for the reasons he stated by its contributions to the war effort beyond other performance features. After Schweinfurt there was very serious discussion of curtailing daylight bombing operations. Imagine if that had happened and how the war would have unfolded quite differently, and lasted much longer till when the 2nd generation of jets would have been combat ready.

The Stuka was the best dive bomber of the war regardless of performance. The aggressiveness it portrayed in the early war years gripped people with terror. B-17 is best bomber for so many reasons, mostly crew safety and durability.

Besides performance, the way planes were used tactically, pilot quality, durability, and their places in history were of paramount importance.

Best Fighter of WWII – Best Fighter of WWII, by B-24WillowRun

The RAF did have a lot of advantages. And having the Hurricanes to take the bombers while the Spits dance with the bf 109’s. The Spitfire’s floating carburetor was changed in the Mk.V, I think, yes?

Now for the B-17 being so good, it was, but was quickly being replaced, but then I am a bit biased to the B-24. Daylight raids being pushed back, and extending the war? The B-29 would have been ready for Europe as it was intended.

Best Fighter of WWII – Best Fighter of WWII, by B-24WillowRun

So the Hurricanes got to take out the swarms of bombers and the bomber crews had to bail out over the cold channel or into English soil and have a hard time to get back home to a new bomber. Spits were not used in the numbers that the Hurricanes were but they did dance with the bf 109s well provided the pilot watched his six.

Now if the German’s could have stayed on the RAF airfields longer that would have broken the fighters. They were stretched so thin already that it would have made a quick work. Now what ever you want to believe the reasons for the change to bomb the cities is that was plane great luck for the tiered and worn out pilots, planes, and ground crews.

Also the German’s new about the radar sites but never seemed to kill them off. The Coastal defenses were developed and placed very well.
I hope that helps, I can write more, but why not we talk?

As for the war stretching out remember that the US industries were really just coming up to speed. They would have been able to sustain that for another two years I think. That would brig the USAAC jet into the war. But think of a prolonged war in Europe as it relates to the Pacific or the other theaters. 😕 10 710 1222 10.1110062516

Best Fighter of WWII – Best Fighter of WWII, by Twitch

It’s pretty well conceded now that the Germans would have won the BOB if they had continued to attack strategic targets like the plane laden airfields and radar installations.

Point is that they were switched to civilian targets by Hitler. As mentioned, that gave the beleaguered RAF time to regroup.

Ben- if the war had lasted just 1 more year there would have been many potent air Luftwaffe weapons in service. Doesn’t mean the Germans would have won, but they would have dragged things out so more on all sides would have died. There was rocketry well beyond the A-4 (V-2) at hand too.

Best Fighter of WWII – Best Fighter of WWII, by Twitch

No Russians didn’t have anything close to the A-4 at all. But they did have some rocket powered planes and used combat assist rockets to a fairly larger degree than we think.

One of the things Germany could have done before we had a workable fission bomb was to drop a dirty bomb of radioactive material mixed with dust. Such a device would use a conventional explosive trigger to spread the material around and contaminate an area, like New York or Washington. They had the aircraft to deliver it too.

Best Fighter of WWII – Best Fighter of WWII, by B-24WillowRun

Twitch are you talking of the Amerikana bombers? The four engine heavies that were to go over the Pole and strike Canada and the northern industrial sites in the USA? I have read up on them and the program was workable but the planes were to late in coming. If the war went for another year they might have been ready, but Hitler was so anti-heavies I am not sure it would have survived.

As for the A-4 that was already scary. A two stage type would have been ready and they were trying to develop it for the U-boats I think.

Best Fighter of WWII – Best Fighter of WWII, by Ben C

Its scary to think that atomic weapons came close to being at the full disposal of the world domination possessed Hitler. The affects would have been devastating, at a time before the long-term effects of radiation were known.

Best Fighter of WWII – Amerika bombers, by Twitch

There were 2 planes that could have done it:


JU 390
Conceived in early 1942, the Ju 390 V1 first flew in August 1943. It could and DID reach New York! Its 165-foot wing mounted six BMW 801E 14 cylinder radials of 1,970 H.P. each. Nose and Tail turrets had twin 13 mm MG. The two dorsal turrets each mounted a pair of 20 mms and a remote-controlled ventral barbette housed two more. Finally, there were two more 20 mms each in an aft lateral mount. Range was 5,750 miles with a 4,255 lb. load.

In February 1944 the 390 V2, with enough fuel for thirty-two hours, left France, penetrated to within twelve miles of the New York coastline, and returned safely.

ME 264
The long-range Me 264 Amerika Bomber existed in it three prototypes. It had the look of a B-29 but for the twin-rudder tail. Its role was the same as the Ju 390 discussed earlier. But the Me 264 had a much greater range- 9,320 miles! This plane was readied to whisk Hitler to Japan non-stop if the rebel generals had gained an upper hand in July 1944 after the assassination attempt. It first flew in 1942.

It had four 1,700 HP BMW 801D 14-cylinder radials with GM-1 (nitrous oxide-laughing gas) boost on its 141 foot wings. The smooth fuselage measured 68.5 feet in length and it could weigh as much as 123,460 lbs. when fully loaded. 75-79,000 lbs. was normal. A 4,400 lb. bomb load could be carried at maximum range configuration. Four 13 mm Mg 131s and two 20 mm MG 151s were mounted for defensive purposes. Normal cruise was 217 MPH but at 75,000 lbs. it could haul at 351 MPH with the GM-1 on at its 27,230-foot ceiling.

If the call had been made in 1942 the Ju 390 or Me 264 could have been put into production easily seeing action by 1944. The U-boat launched V-2s was to be an affair with a cylinder that the sub would tow to a point off the US coast with the rocket inside. It would then be set up and launched.

I read an AP newspaper story a couple of days ago that it is now taken with seriousness that the Germans did in fact test a “dirty bomb” in the Ohrdruf concentration camp area of eastern Germany. Ground zero later became a Soviet munitions depot after the war. Higher than normal levels of radioactive isotopes remain though no longer at dangerous levels. The alleged test was on March 3, 1945 according to eyewitnesses. A vivid flash of light was followed by a column of smoke and nearby residents suffered nosebleeds and nausea for days. Corpses later disposed of were described as hairless with blisters and raw flesh reminiscent of the Japanese radiation victims.

The P-51 Mustang and the Spitfire are often thought of as the best fighters of WWII. They were not. The Me109 was much better and here are its secrets!

Year—German aircraft lost—British aircraft lost

Question: During WWII, the average kill ratio in combat was 1 to 10 on the Eastern front and 1 to 4 on the Western front including the Battle of Britain to give an average of 1 to 7 for the Me109. For every German shot down, 7 Allied fighters were shot down. What was the reason for this statistic.

Answer: Below [you need to go directly to the website: www.aeroscientists.org/aircraft.html to see this photo and other pics and diagrams] is Skip Holm in Harold Kindsvater’s Me109. Harold often flies a P-51 Mustang but he also flies his Me 109. The video is an interview with Harold in which he answers the big question. Download the (940K QuickTime Movie) for the answer! Click on small triangle in picture to start the movie.
Beside the Fw190 and the Me 262, the Me 109 was one of the best designed and most awesome fighters of WWII.

During WWII, 33,000 single seater and 6,000 two seat trainers of the Me 109 were produced in Germany.
At a recent air show in California, Skip was asked to take the Me 109 up in a mock dogfight with 2 P-51s. In the mock dogfight the 2 P-51’s could not get a sight on the Me 109 because it was too maneuverable. Of course Skip was a better pilot which also made a difference.

Aircraft – Me109G, 1941 P-51D Mustang, 1943 Spitfire VC, 1941
Gross weight – 7,500 lbs 11,200 lbs 6,785 lbs
Engine – DB605A V-1650-7 Merlin Merlin 45
Power – 1,475 hp 1,450 hp 1,470 hp
Wing area – 173 sq.ft. 233 sq.ft. 242 sq.ft.
Climb rate – 2,250 fpm 1,500 fpm 2,000 fpm
Vmax – 413 mph 437 mph 369 mph
Cl max – 2.9 1.6 1.6
Stall speed – 76 mph 107 mph 82 mph
Wing root – NACA 2R1 14.2 NACA/NAA 45-100 NACA 2213

One of the secrets of the Me109 is its wing. A unique design like no other. The Me109 used Fowler flaps and leading edge (LE) slats with a NACA 2R1 14.2 airfoil at the root so that a max lift coefficient of 2.9 could be achieved. The LE slats were used for landing and during combat maneuvers.

The P-51 and the Spitfire used a simple flap and no slats for which the max lift coefficient is 1.6 (almost one half). The Me 109 also used a forgiving airfoil. The P-51 used a NACA/NAA 45-100 laminar flow airfoil which had not been well tested and could not achieve laminar flow because of the riveted skin. With its sharp LE, it had a sharp and bad stall. As such, the Me 109 could use a smaller wing. The Me 109 had a long tail moment arm and the rudder was 50%C. As such, it could be yawed from right to left by 30 to 40 degrees to spray bullets. The P-51 could not be yawed and had to be pointed at a target. The P-51 also had a bad stall-spin characteristics from which it would often not recover. It would loose 10,000 ft of altitude in a power on stall. See POH picture.
Below is the wing section of the Me109 with slat and flap.

With the same power in the Me109 and an empty weight of 1,700 lbs less, the climb rate of the Me109 was substantially higher that of the P-51. Its take off distance was half. The heavy gun on the Me109 shot through the engine and other guns were mounted inboard on the fuselage and shot through the prop. The P-51 and the Spitfire guns were mounted on the wing outboard of the prop. The roll inertia of the Me109 was lower allowing it to roll much much faster. Because of the fantastic handling characteristics of the Me109, the P-51 was no match for the Me 109.
The performance of the Me 109 and the Spitfire is almost the same. However, the Spitfire had an average 25-20%C plain aileron with little aerodynamic balance which, despite differential control, gave it a very heavy stick force in roll compared to the light stick force of the Me 109. With a 50% span and narrow chord, Frise, aileron, the Me109 stick forces were very low in roll. It could do a complete roll in less than 3 seconds. This was much quicker than any Allied fighter. The Me109 was more evasive than the Spitfire or the P-51 which were slow in roll and much less agile.
Furthermore, the Merlin used in the Spitfire was naturally carbureted and could not operate in a negative g maneuver. This anomaly was not corrected until 1943. The Me109’s Daimler Benz engine was fuel injected from its first inception in 1936. As such the Me 109 could easily do a pull over (negative g maneuver) and escape an attacking Spitfire.

(c) Copyright 2004 Scientists and Friends
Please visit the above site for additional diagrams and photos.

Best Fighter of WWII – Alleged Ju 390 Mission to New York, by R Leonard

Conceived in early 1942, the Ju 390 V1 first flew in August 1943. It could and DID reach New York! … Range was 5,750 miles with a 4,255 lb. load. … In February 1944 the 390 V2, with enough fuel for thirty-two hours, left France, penetrated to within twelve miles of the New York coastline, and returned safely.

Ummm, there are a few problems with this story . . .

According to William Green (Warplanes of the Third Reich), the usual source for the mission claim, it went thusly: . . . In January 1944, the Ju 390 was assigned to Fernaufklaerungs-Gruppe 5 (Long-Range Reconnaissance Group) at Mont de Marson south of Bordeaux, for operational evaluation. The Ju 390 carried sufficient fuel for an endurance of 32 hours, and after a few short-distance flights, the aircraft flew from Mont de Marson to a point some 12 miles from the US coast, north of New York, returning successfully to its base.”

Okay, that is approximately 3960 miles one way, so figure 7900 miles, give or take, round trip. But according to the information I can find, the range of the Ju 390 is given as being from 8000 km (4971 miles) up to 9700 km (6027 miles). My theory on the difference is based (1) on counting a safety factor in the lower number into the higher number, typically calculated as .20 x fuel for range plus fuel for 45 minutes, and (2) any additional auxiliary fuel tanks which could have been installed. In either case, the 6027 miles maximum is somewhat short of 7900 miles.

So, that’s interesting. Now let’s see … if the Ju 390 could travel 7900 miles (about 12714 kilometers) and the rated cruise speed was 347 km/hr, that works out to about 36.6 hours at cruise which exceeds the 32 hours cited by Green. Further, that little calculation doesn’t begin to address fuel consumption, especially expended climbing to altitude. And don’t forget that the first half mission from the vicinity of Bordeaux to the vicinity of New York and return in the winter means bucking headwinds all the way … doesn’t do much for the fuel consumption, and can rob you of an average 20 percent efficiency in the right (or wrong, depending on your point of view) conditions.

The BMW 801 engine, at cruise, burned about 570 liters (150 gallons) of fuel per hour, or for the 6 engine Ju 390, about 3,420 liters (900 gallons) an hour. For Green’s declared 32 hours of flight, not counting climb out consumption, headwinds, and other vagaries, that’s some 109,440 liters of fuel. And of course, 109,440 liters of fuel is in the neighborhood of 28,795 gallons (US), which would weigh about 200,000 pounds.

But wait … empty weight of the Ju 390 was 36,900 kilograms (81,350 pounds) and the fully loaded weight was 75,500 kilograms (166,448 pounds). And, of course, I didn’t even count the crew (10 – figure 75 kilograms each or 750, their gear another 25 kilograms each or 250 kilograms or 1000 kilograms altogether) or oil (probably in the neighborhood about 36 liters per engine or another 250 kilograms) factors of in the load out and I presume the 1800 kilograms bomb payload wasn’t loaded.

So, figure:
Crew and incidentals: 2205 pounds
Oil: 480 pounds
Fuel for mission based on 32 hours of flight: 200,000 pounds
Total: 202685 pounds


Full Load weight: 166,448 pounds

Equals: 36,237 pounds over weight.

How do you suppose they got all that off the ground?

And they’re going to fly into a coastal area that had near it some of the more important aircraft production facilities, Grumman comes to mind, that had radar coverage and they’re not going to be detected? Only if they run the last hundred miles or so, in and out, at about 150 feet (wow, that would do wonders for their fuel consumption, wouldn’t it). And if you strip out defensive armament, cut crew size, remove armor, and self-sealing tanks, what happens when you just happen to run into a patrolling PB4Y loaded for bear. PB4Ys knocked down about 343 Japanese planes, included 95 twin and multi engine types, and five German planes (a Do 217, an He 177, and three Ju 88’s). One would be perfectly capable of ruining a stripped down Ju 390’s day. Are you willing to take that chance for what is essentially a one time stunt? And how come one of the most efficient propaganda machines the world has ever seen never mentioned this feat?

Then there’s the small matter of geography. Green says, and as I understand the story his source was an interrogation transcript in an intelligence report from 11 August 1944, detailing the questioning of captured German personnel. A prisoner, who claimed having been photo assistant in Mont de Marsan, made the claim during his interview. Another prisoner, in the same report, said that the Ju 390 “had an endurance of 32 hours”.

Well, look at a map. The New York coastline runs roughly from ENE to WSW. “North” of New York, city or state, is over land. Jeez, you think if they managed to get some 850 miles (half the distance in the above range variance) beyond their rated roundtrip range and ended up somewhere just west of Long Island Sound it would make a much better story. If they took pictures of the coast, they would have had to turn around to do so.

And what about Goering or Goebbels? Don’t you think such a feat would be trumpeted to the heavens?

Remember, there were only two of these airplanes, V1 and V2. According to “Die großen Dessauer. Junkers Ju 89, 90, 290, 390. Die Geschichte einer Flugzeugfamilie” (“The Big Ones from Dessau. … . History of an aircraft family”) by Karl Kössler and Günter Ott, during the time period of this feat was supposedly accomplished, the lone Ju 390 V1 was in Prague, arriving there on November 26th 1943. While at Prague, V1 was involved with a series of flight tests, flying on Nov. 30th, and Dec. 2nd and 3rd. The flight on the 3rd was to Merseburg. V1 returned to Prague on Dec. 10th. More flights were made: on 17th, and again on 30th and 31st of December. Still more flights in January 1944, on the 3rd, 5th, 7th, and 8th. From January 17th to the 23rd, in-flight refueling tests were conducted with a Ju 290. More tests for aerial refueling took place in through February and March in the Prague area. The preoccupation with flight tests in the December, January, February and March time period would seem to knock single prototype Ju 390 V1 out of contention for four weeks duty in FAGr 5 culminating in a side trip to New York..

And the Ju 390 V2? Well, there’s some question as to whether or not that particular aircraft was actually completed. If it had, as near as I can find, it would not have been completed before September 1944, sometime after the mission in question. Further, FAGr 5 evacuated from Monte de Marsan on August 20, 1944. So, built too late (if at all) and could not have possibly launched from Monte de Marsan.

Further, there’s a fellow, whose name escapes me at the moment, Peter something or other, but he’s out there in cyberspace somewhere, who has researched extensively on FAGr 5 and who says no record of this event exists. Could probably find him with some diligent googling.

With the wrong information even an otherwise reputable historian can make a mistake. Take a look at Eric Hammel’s Pacific Air War Chronology for the TF-38 strike results on 28 July 1945. Absolute hogwash. Similar error appears in Clark Reynold’s The Fast Carriers … could they be feeding each other? Similarly a recently published book by popular oral history writer, Gerald Astor, entitled Wings of Gold, on the US naval air war in the Pacific devotes whole pages to complete fabrications. Checking facts would have prevented mistakes. Maybe Green should have looked a little deeper.

I’ll be the first to admit I’m not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, so maybe someone else ought to run the numbers and see how they come out. I’m willing to be wrong, but I just don’t see how this flight could have happened the way it is described. I’d suggest that there was a plan to try to see how close they could get. A plan with a lot of wishful thinking involved (not unusual for the those folks, especially as events became more and more unpleasant for them) that never got off the ground when the rational thinkers on the pointy end of the stick looked at it.

Best Fighter of WWII – Ju 390 Mission, by Twitch

If we consider that the Ju 390 was too heavy to fly than so was the B-29 because it had the exact same power to weight ratio! A 124,000-lb B-29 with 8,800 combined HP = 14.0 lbs. per HP. The 166,450-lb Junkers with 11,820 combined HP is the same!

Considering big, heavy planes let’s look at the Martin Mars at 144,000 lbs loaded and the same 8,800 combined HP and a range of 5,000 miles. Now let’s look a real big mutha, the Blohm & Voss BV 250 with 10,500 combined HP weighing in at a max of 198,420 lbs. and a range of 8,700 miles. This was a land-based version of the BV 238 flying boat that flew in 1944.

It was amazing that the 276,500-lb. XB-36 got into the air with a measly 21,000 combined HP and it musta been voodoo that the B-36A stumbled into the heavens tipping the scales at 311,000 lbs. loaded! Hmm? 14.8 to 1 power to weight at that weight. The B-36 was a contemporary of the Ju 390 having been designed during the same era.

Calculating oil, crew and parachute weight as extra is not correct. The maximum takeoff weights of aircraft were the figures engineers came up with that included just that- maximum takeoff weight. Who said there were 10 crewmen aboard? Who knows exactly how much fuel was truly on board? If the normal payload weight was turned into fuel it would equal out to 709 more gallons. Were 2 engines shut down at cruising altitude?

When Lindbergh went to the South Pacific and trained P-38 groups on fuel efficiency they gained 100s of miles of unadvertised additional range. No that ain’t in the spec and data figures put out by the factory. P-38 pilots have personally related this to me. With creative fuel management training P-47s were able to penetrate deep into Germany by 1944 that they couldn’t in 1942. Ace Fred Christensen told me how P-47 guys stretched fuel and how he later taught the techniques he learned while flight testing the P-47N for Republic. I mean, we just KNOW P-47s could fly as far as they actually did later on a regular basis!

And all figures published by William Green on the Ju 390 are given as “manufacturer estimates” in the 1968 book Bombers & Recon Planes Vol. 10 and again covered in the 1986 Warplanes of the Third Reich. Estimates can be optimistic or conservative until in-depth flight testing is complete and that never really occurred on the Ju 390. If I was going to choose between “a guy named Peter something in cyberspace” or one of the pre-eminent aircraft engineering statistician authors of our time I’ll take Green. Green poured over company records to glean his data for his books and the flight was recorded in the Junker archives.

By the same logic we are asked to contrarily believe a German me 262 pilot that says he broke the sound barrier in 1945. PULEEZE! When I ran this by General Yeager his response was simply, “the 262 won’t do but Mach point nine.” Yeah some dispute the Ju 390 flight on the internet. Who is writing what on the internet? Any authors of dozens of books? Let’s dispute Yeager’s Mach 1 record while we’re at it since this German fellow SAYS he was first.

And why would German propaganda pick up and publicize the fact if the 390 did the trip? With the probability of Amerika bombers like the later Ho 18 in the works why telegraph you punches? The 390’s speed was faster than any PB4Y which would have been mostly concentrating on sea surface radar countering U-boats at lower altitudes anyhow.

The V1 flew in August 1943 and the V2 was the aircraft that flew to NY. It began flying in January 1944 not September so there is no question as to whether it actually existed! Where is the doubt coming from? It was the V3 that was not finished when the whole project was shelved.

The quite contemporary, in fact earlier, Me 264 maxed out in weight at 123,460 lbs. with just 6,800 combined HP and a power to weight ratio of 18.1 to 1. It could fly 9,300 miles range! Obviously your GPH for the BMW 801 is in error since the Me 264 carried 4,329 Imperial gallons for that range. The 390 had provisions for 7,500 gallons. The XB-36 at a whopping 276,000 lbs. carried 19,796 gallons and could fly 9,500 miles with a 10,000-lb bomb load. Avgas weighs 6 lbs. per gallon and a typical cruise speed would yield as little as 45-55 GPH and 80-100 at full power not 150 as mentioned.

Why the did event occur but was not capitalized on? Oh but it was. There was no fantasy wishing about the Reich’s war hardware either. The V1, V-2, Me 163, Me 262, Go 229 and all the other stuff that was in the works or on the drawing boards. The NY event was a simple mileage trip in anticipation of things to come, hopefully, for the Luftwaffe on a regular basis in the future. By the time of the flight the Germans had detailed damage assessment maps of Manhattan and other key coastal targets in preparation of Amerika bomber attacks.

It was no fluke or fantasy that the Germans had designs on the east coast.

Best Fighter of WWII – on Amerika bombers, by Twitch

That’s fine, Rich 🙂 Besides, there is too much other amazing stuff that IS totally documented.

B-24WillowRun- yes the A9/A10 was sure to escalate to a reality had the war not concluded. There were tests by U-boats done for V-2 launches off the coast of the US too. Of course late war times would have made U-boat crossings tough, unless they were using the new Walter-powered closed-circuit system with no need to surface.

The fact that the success of the Ho 229 would have led to the Ho 18 Amerika Bomber is a forgone conclusion since it was designed and scheduled for production. Of course this is all feasible if the war had taken turns for the worse. A failed D-Day would have put another invasion assembly off for another year at least due to forthcoming winter weather and logistics. Freed up German manpower could have stalled Russian thrusts towards Germany and the war could have dragged on. Then with not having to fight the Allies on the ground in France how much could the dispersed and underground German aircraft industry have produced? We’d have had to retake the skies as a prelude an 1945 invasion once more.

Then there is Dr. Eugene Sänger’s “Silverbird” Amerika Bomber project that would not quite make orbit but would get high enough to skip off the atmosphere 90-110 miles up and be able to fly anywhere on the globe, including anywhere in the US. Rocket tests were scheduled for 1941 but the project was put on hold due to the Russian invasion. This mechanics of this design IS the grandfather of the space shuttle. This was also real in every sense of the word.

Werner von Braun got us to the moon. He would have gotten German ordnance to US soil in 1946. Count on it.

Best Fighter of WWII – Re: Best Fighter of WWII, by Dan631

The US had a lot of prototypes and one-off’s. Some of the Bombers that were flown, but not put into production were:

XB-15 Flew around 1939. It had a 149 ft wing span. In a test it climbed to 8,000 ft with a 71,000 lb load.

XB-19 Flew in spring of 1941. It had a wingspan equal to a 747 and gross take-off weight of more than 160,000 lbs. Range was something like 8,000 miles.

XB-39 A B-29 re-engined with Allison double engines rated for 3,000 hp for take-off (that is 12,000 hp total), it had a top speed of 405 mph. It’s maximum bomb load was over 32,000 lbs.

XB-42 Developed in case the B-29 concept failed, the “Mixmaster” flew at 410 mph and could carry an 8,000 lb bomb load 4,000 miles. It first flew in late 1943 or early 1944.

Then there is the little known B-32. The Consolidated bomber was about as big as the B-29 and as fast with a similar bomb load. Developed as insurance against the failure of the B-29 program, about 130 were built with 24 used in operations against the Japanese.

Best Fighter of WWII – Re: Best Fighter of WWII, by Lucky

By choosing the term “best” we are left with only 44-45 planes to choose from since what was best from 1942 would be a deathtrap by war’s end. But if we choose 44-45 as the time frame, and use history as our guide we only have allied planes to choose from, right? By late ’44 Japan was woefully outnumbered, unable to produce their latest designs and having problems with the sophisticated engines they were able to produce. At the same time, Italy was defeated and the Luftwaffe lost most of its planes on the ground, so we are left with a bit of a contradiction…

However, if beauty, design innovation and having at least one thing a plane did extremely well, my list for “best” would include the following:

German ME262A1…the jet that changed the world, even if it didn’t contribute much to the war.

German FW190D9 as the best muscle plane of the axis side, and unlike most German designs was beautiful as well, inside and out.

Japanese Ki84 Frank, for being able to hang with the muscle planes in speed and climb, deliver a decent bomb load to target and dogfight with the best of them.

Japanese Kyushu J7W for being just a very cool design, decades ahead of its time.

American F4U-4 for being among the best pure muscle planes of the war, but with far more versatility than others such as the P47

American P51D not because it was “best” at anything but simply because its aura and beauty captured the imagination of the world for decades…besides it’s still with us on racing circuits.

Soviet Yak3 for being the best pure aerial superiority plane by far (below 15,000 ft anyway). As an acrobatic plane it’s descendents are still with us.

Best Fighter of WWII – Re: Best Fighter of WWII, by Lucky

WillowRun, both the P38 and the P47 were capable of carrying nearly as much ordnance as a medium bomber, as well as excellent high altitude performance. What the F4U could do that they couldn’t do was take off and land from a carrier. As far as the second part of your post, it seems to me that most aircraft the US deployed in WW2 were already in the works at the beginning of US involvement. The notable exception is the crash program to develop and produce the F6F, necessary because the F4F was barely holding its own against the zero. The US approach was just to overwhelm the axis with sheer numbers, so it didn’t really need jets. 10 1052 671 10.1130892372

Best Fighter of WWII – Re: Best Fighter of WWII, by R Leonard

The F6F was not a “crash program.” Just as the F4F design was a hedge against production problems with the Brewster F2A, the US Navy asked Grumman to start the design of the F6F in June 1941 as a hedge against problems with the development of the Chance-Vought F4U, scheduled to replace the Grumman F4F series. Grumman was already out of the starting blocks on this having begun studies on a concept for an improved F4F in early 1938; by 1940 the concept had received a company designation of G-50. The Navy’s order of 30 June 1941 was for two of the G-50 models, now designated as the XF6F-1 and the XF6F-2. As things turned out having Grumman design its own replacement for the F4F was a good idea as there were development and deployment problems with the F4U.

Best Fighter of WWII – Spitfire, by Greg_P

I’d like to make a point about climb and top speed. I have read at least a dozen WWII reports on aircraft performance. In almost every case, the intent was to bolster morale of the home troops (actually home pilots) by proving their steed was the best. To do it, the various reports I have read simply limit the opposition to some arbitrary level of boost. I have seen one British comparison between the Spitfire and Mustang in which the Mustang was limited to 12-inches of boot on 100-Octane fuel while the Spitfire was allowed to use 24-inches of boost on 100-130 fuel. The same was true of an American test between the Zero and some USAAF fighters that I saw. So, I take the Mustang’s climb rate with a grain of salt. I don’t think the Spitfire was a 4000+fpm climber at 12-inches of boost, either.

Anyway, not making a statement about “the best,” just throwing out an observation of mine for consideration.

Personally, I think the British Hawker Sea Fury was one of the best piston engine fighter-bombers ever made, and would have made a huge impact if deployed in WWII, but it didn’t. The Tempest was a great performer, but didn’t quite make a huge impact either.

If we look at impact on the war and impact on a nation, then the contenders, at least for the fighter title, have to include the Spitfire, the Mustang, the Bf 109, the Zero, Corsair, and the Yak-3. As an American who has loved the Mustang for a lot of years I lean toward the P-51, but discounting the Bf 109 is simply incorrect. As to impact on the war, the Bf 109 probably had a bigger influence on Germany’s early offensive success than any other fighter had on any other nation’s war efforts. I say that because Germany used aviation offensively at the start of WWII while other nations used it only for defense.

If Germany had not opened too many fronts, they could have won. While it is true they lost, it is NOT true that the Bf 109 was a second-rate fighter. Looking at it without a cloud of emotion, I think the Messerschmitt Bf 109 was the best overall offensive fighter of the war, even with its faults ( and it had some). Let’s remember that the highest-scoring fighter pilots of all time almost all flew the Bf 109 for most of their careers in fighters.

That being said, the Spitfires, Mustangs, Corsairs, etc were great planes in their own right. All had strengths, weaknesses, adherents, and detractors.

The best defensive fighter of the war I’d give to the Spitfire.

Best Fighter of WWII – Grumman Bearcat F8, by duggi4

you have to think of the dynamics of air warfare. each theater had its unique traits. Russian front was dogfights over the battlefront at low alt close to airfields. in the pacific it was medium altitude clear the air then pound the ground kind of stuff long way from carriers. and the European theater was all high level intercept/escort kind of engagements. on the Russian front the emphasis was more on slow speed maneuverability and tight turning circles in which the heavier me109g could not keep with the yak3 which i think was king. but the yak3 would have beaten the pants off a p51-d below 15000 feet alt the only way the p51 would take on a yak is a fast zoom climbing pass and then once the yak3 had the vk107 engine it could wipe the mustangs butt below 20000 feet until the p51h is introduced which is faster than all any alt but just not as maneuverable. so my thinking is that the only western aircraft ,Germany included, that can beat the yak3 low down would be the f8f bearcat. hypothetically of course. it had a longer range so it could chase down the yak3 when it had to bug out or fly longer sweeps over enemy airfields and have a greater offensive persistence(like mustangs put more pressure on hitler’s air force than the spitfire ever did).it had much more armour so was more difficult to be shot down while yak had same armour philosophy as a6m zero.

my verdict: below 20 000 feet – Grumman f8f2 bearcat and above 20000 feet where climb dive roll and offensive range are more important p47n

Best Fighter of WWII – Lavochkin La-5FN, by Greg_P

The Yak-3 was tops below 15 – 20,000 feet, too. The Soviet Lavochkin La-5FN and La-7 were among the best of all times.

Ray Hanna of the British RAF thinks the Lavochkin La-11 of slightly post-WWII was the best he ever flew. He stated it had better control harmony than any of the Allied fighters and could out-accelerate the Sea Fury and the F8F Bearcat! That takes some doing, but I believe Ray Hanna. He had no axe to grind and could have been “pro home boy” if he had wanted to be so. The fact that he praised the La-11 above all else makes me, at least, reconsider it as an air superiority fighter. I always liked the looks of the La-11, but its performance was apparently the pinnacle of piston fighters, which gave way to the jets …. unless you count the A3 Skyraider that could deliver the bomb load of a WWII B-17 using only one piston engine and also rake you with 20mm cannons while doing it at least until the mid-1960s or so.

Let’s also remember that the highest-scoring Allied ace of WWII was Ivan Kozhedub with 62 kills. He flew a Lavochkin La-5FN for most his kills. Says something for the Shvetsov ASh-82 engine and the Soviet cannons of various calibers, doesn’t it? We like to think the Western powers had the edge in design, but the Lavochkin La-5/7 series beat us all as a mount for aces. By 1945, the Germans were being shot down in droves by Yak-3s and Lavochkin La-5/7s. Not saying the La-5/7 was the best, just pointing out that until mid-1944 or so, more than 50% of the German fighters were flying on the Russian Front, and by that time they were being killed by Soviet Yak and La drivers. They shot down a LOT of Germans. Yes, the Germans racked up impressive kill totals against the Soviets, but that was mostly before 1943.

The exceptions were Erich Hartmann and Gerhard Barkhorn, and they would be “exceptions” in ANY conflict at ANY time. My opinion is that these two were the best of all times, bar none, at killing the aircraft they were fighting with at the time. As with gas mileage, your opinion may vary, and I’m not saying I am right and you are wrong. I AM saying that whoever you think was better didn’t demonstrate it in any measurable manner.

Hey! Cream rises to the top. The rest are simply NOT the cream of the crop, either by virtue of being unlucky enough to get killed early or by not flying in the sky with the most targets. Was your favorite pilot’s skill better? Maybe … but he didn’t prove it by any means. The lone exception might Hans Marseille … he proved it by his rate of kills against Western opponents before he died of a failing engine. Mechanical things can easily kill us all …

Best Fighter of WWII – Germans needed an armored fighter, by Dan631

One has to consider whether it was successful in the role it found itself in. For example, the bf109 failed in its biggest test, the Battle of Britain. I think this was mainly due to it being a small aircraft which limited its fuel capacity and thus range.

German aces ran up huge victory totals, yet did not achieve victory. They fought a war of attrition in which their adversaries could more than make good their losses. They needed decisive victories, which eluded them. Even during the early sneak attack on Russia where they destroyed thousands of planes in the first few days of conflict, they destroyed obsolete aircraft that would not have been significant in the following conflict anyway. Going out day after day waiting for your opportunity to pick off stragglers and the unwary may run up impressive scores, but it doesn’t win wars.

I don’t quite buy the “overwhelmed” excuse as to why Germany lost the air war either. By D-Day, Germany had lost the air battle in the West. It still had a potent force, but control of the skies belonged to the Allies. As England did not have long range fighter aircraft, it was primarily P-38’s, P-47’s and P-51’s that defeated the Luftwaffe. These aircraft were not available in overwhelming numbers in early 1944, especially when you consider that a German fighter could fly 2 to 4 times as many mission per day (due to the short distances they had to travel as opposed to the Allies) and if damaged, could likely land some place where they could be recovered. Meanwhile the Allied fighter escorts were running up huge hours on their engines and airframes and a single bullet nicking a coolant line could mean the aircraft’s loss.

What Germany needed was an armored fighter that had the firepower to take out heavy bombers and still outfly American long range escort fighters. Neither the bf109 or FW190 could. The ME262 had many problems relating to the new technology that limited its effectiveness. It was probably 2 years away from being an effective weapon when the war ended (although neither Russia, England or the USA chose to copy the 262 after the war, which says something).

Best Fighter of WWII – Two from the ETO, by viper

After the first couple of years, in the European theater, things become more complicated. During the 1939, 1940, and 1941, the Spitfire and Messerschmitt Bf 109 were clearly the dominant fighters. But as the war wore on, many new designs entered combat.

In 1942 (really beginning late in 1941) the Focke-Wulf 190 appeared in numbers, and immediately established a measure of superiority over the Spitfire Mk V, already hard pressed by the Bf 109F. In 1942, the first year of the war for the U.S., American P-39 and P-40 fighters were out performed by the German Messerschmitt and Focke-Wulf fighters, and things looked a bleak for the Allies. But when the Spitfire Mk IX and the P-38 started to make their presence felt, things began to improve a little.

In the Spring of 1943, the P-47B went into operation in England. The Focke-Wulf 190, up until now the premier fighter in the theater, was suddenly hard pressed by the big American fighter, particularly at high altitude. In mid-1943 the much improved P-38J started to arrive, and the pressure on the Germans increased. The arrival at the end of 1943 of the P-51B, the long range escort fighter the Americans so desperately needed, marked the beginning of the end for the Luftwaffe. Able to escort the bombers all the way to Berlin and back, the Mustang left the Luftwaffe no place to regroup and train. The P-51 did to the Luftwaffe what the Bf 109 did not have the range to do to the RAF earlier in the war.

So while all of the above fighters played an important part in the war, it was the P-51 that turned out to be decisive. The Americans could have won their daylight air war over Germany with the improved P-38L or P-47D, both of which appeared in 1944, but in fact it was the P-51, more than any other single fighter, that did it. So it seems only fair to examine first the FW 190, and then the P-51 Mustang, as the two successive “bests” of the later part of the European war.

Best Fighter of WWII – on the RAF in Battle of Britain, by davep

Te RAF was nowhere near breaking point in Sept 1940, when Hitler switched to city bombing. this is one of those great historical fallacies that has somehow taken root as fact. I suggest they read ‘the Battle of Britain’ by Bungay. Attacking airfields or radar stations was nor getting the Luftwaffe anywhere. Britain had an invisible wall (of radar) and RAF planes were not caught on the ground. They could crater airfields but these could be quickly repaired. In fact Kesselring was worried the RAF might retreat to airfields around London, beyond the range of the 109’s, where they could still intercept bombers.

As regards the radar the RAF had mobile radar units that could plug any gaps caused by bombing substations while they were repaired. Radar stations were also small and difficult to hit. Finally the idea that fighter resources were near breaking point is untrue. As Bungay pointed out from 1940 until 1944 Britain out produced Germany in warplanes. Attrition was hurting the Luftwaffe more than the RAF. The RAF ended the Battle with as many planes as it started with, but the Luftwaffe received severe damage.

I hope this dispels some myths.

Best Fighter of WWII – hitting the airfields, by B-24WillowRun

Hitting the airfields was the better plan. That said, the German command did not have what it needed to do the job, that is a heavy bomber with a good escort. To be able to level a field or render it un useable would have helped. Also these bombers would have been able to hit London and the other production sites, that might have caused the RAF to move more production to Canada. I think that they would have broken the RAF, and besides, Operation Sealion, still was fare from ready, well it never as given good support anyhow.

Best Fighter of WWII – the La-7, by Dmitry

A. Galland says that Messer always had shortcomings. When it had good flying performance, it hadn’t enough gun power and v.v. And by the end of war it became too heavy, imho. As for me, La-7 (or maybe Yak-3) is superb. Very impressive characteristics and armament, which made this fighter capable of shooting down both fighters and bombers. Moreover, La 7 could absorb a lot of gunfire and was extremely easy to fly, as opposed to Me-109 which killed almost as many pilots during training as in combat.

Best Fighter of WWII – Re: Bf 109, by Lucky

It is a myth that the 109 was especially difficult to fly, or killed more pilots-in-training than other planes of it’s type. The landing gear width of the 109 is roughly equivalent to the Spitfire, and it’s take off and landing characteristics similar, as reported by British pilots who flew both planes. In the air, the 109 was very responsive and had gentle stall characteristics with no sudden tendency to drop a wing, as did the F4U or FW190. It should also be noted that the 109 was produced for more than twenty years…longer than any fighter in history. The last 109 rolled off Spanish production lines in 1957 (powered by a rolls Royce Merlin engine).

Best Fighter of WWII – Re: Jumo 004D engine, by davep

by B-24WillowRun
Interesting, if the Germans had that year an invasion would have been very difficult at best. The German second generation jets would have been ready.

As for the B-32, it is not so little known and were used well 😛

Another year (assuming a failed D-Day )would have been interesting. I have read that when the war ended the Jumo004D engine had just finished testing and was about to enter production. This was a successor to the Jumo004B which the me262 used. The 004D had about 17% more thrust and a better carburetor system to avoid flooding the engine on take off. It also had better endurance. The combined thrust would have been nearly as great as a Korean war vintage jet. I don’t have figures but with that thrust a 262 could have gone near 600mph. With that engine and those new air to air missile the Germans developed in 1945 the casualties among allied bombers would have become unsustainable. Remember the allied jets(such as the Meteor) did’nt have the endurance for long range escort missions. The war would have gone on a lot longer.

Best Fighter of WWII – Re: what ifs, by B-24WillowRun

True, Kurt Tank’s last jet, the one he built for Perone in Argentina, would have been ready as would have the People’s Jet. I think that Normandy would have been a lot different. We are not considering Hitler and what he would do. Would have all these programs been funded fully? Could the materials and people for them be found? The war might have ground n down to a stand still or a crawl, as the US tried to get the P-80 program to compete. Also the Russians would have to hold out more, or they might have taken Germany on their own.

Best Fighter of WWII – Ki-81 Frank, by Ace

The P-51 probably had the greatest impact in the European war and the Hellcat in the Pacific. The 47 the greatest ground attack aircraft and the 190 the good all around fighter for quickly trained pilots. But, if I am going up against equal pilots in a ‘brand new’ aircraft with its theoretical ‘perfect’ performance (sounds like the computer game’s arena) I would have to vote for a Ki-81 Frank. Speed, climb, maneuverability, firepower, protection, tops in all categories. Good thing it came too late and too few. I understand one was brought to the states, but I don’t know where it is. Can anyone help?

Best Fighter of WWII – Re: Ki-81 Frank, by Lucky

A KI 84 1a was restored and tested in the US in 1946. There is other information, including original Japanese documents which list flight performance characteristics available online…you’d have to search Japanese websites for it (not an easy task if you can’t read Japanese). I do remember it reached a top speed of 426 mph at 22,000′ (its peak performance altitude). I’m not sure this plane that was tested in the US ever made it into a museum however but I know there are a few KI 84’s in various air museums around the world…I think there’s one in Hawaii.

There were half a dozen (or more) engine variants used on KI 84’s so not all models achieved equal performance. The later models had more horsepower…up to 2500 horsepower, thus the greatest theoretical performance but their actual performance was impeded by poor workmanship and unreliable components which were common given the state of Japanese industry in the last months of the pacific war. I believe the Ki 84 II was the fastest overall though I have never seen any data for this plane. I do know it had some wooden components to economize on aluminum. Even a steel version was experimented with but it deemed a failure (for fairly obvious reasons). Another (very rare) variant utilized a turbo supercharger to improve performance above 30,000 ft.

Best Fighter of WWII – Re: P-51, by Lucky

There are lots of reasons why there is still interest in ww2 era planes. They represented the pinnacle in piston engine development. They were part of a vast global war that shaped our world. Some of us, including myself had brothers, sisters, fathers, brothers involved as well plus the dwindling stock of folks who remember Pearl Harbor “as if it were yesterday.”

The P51 was a terrific plane. Japanese author and fighter ace Saburo Sakai was allowed to fly one post-war and said that up to that point, the zero was his favorite plane…but the mustang could do everything a zero could do plus a few things it couldn’t, such as a high speed diving turn, so the mustang became his #1 plane and the zero #2. But like any plane, the P51 had its weaknesses. It didn’t offer a lot of armor protection for the pilot. It’s laminar flow wing lost efficiency after time due to stress-induced shape changes. Being water-cooled, it was very vulnerable to even small arms fire if it hit the right spot, such as the radiator. It had a mediocre climb rate and poor slow speed handling characteristics. Below 25,000 ft, the Japanese Frank was faster and superior to the mustang in every other category. Above that altitude, the P51 was the better plane.

But taking all that into account…the most important thing, as you said, was the pilot. The great pilots of WW2 could get kills and survive flying even inferior planes. Luck was often a factor as well. A big factor in US success in the air war was superior pilot training. The Axis (and to a certain degree the British) needed all the pilots they could get so the veterans flew till they died and its for this reason some of them racked up such impressive kill numbers.

Best Fighter of WWII – a Bulgarian ace, by Ace

The best is our local German ace, Vladimir Alexandrof, or Alex. A Bulgarian kid, he joined the National Air Force as a teenager where he learned to fly with a bunch of German students. He worked his way into an ME 109 that his country bought from Germany. Then, when Germany invaded Bulgaria, he fought Germans with everybody in 109s. After losing, the Germans made him a deal.”Fly for us or we’ll shoot you”. He flew the whole war as he couldn’t go home and he couldn’t advance in rank. His stories are great. And he says,

“Yea, the P-51 was good but it was easy to shoot down. A few bullets in the fuselage and she leaks fluid. Then she goes down. No, my 109 was better.” Alex never had a problem with getting along. In south Louisiana, he is a celebrity in his home town. And everyone who meets him can’t help but like him. He’s famous among LA’s Ag pilots. My dad and I were having lunch with him in a restaurant and watching the Desert Storm news years ago when someone asked Alex. “Alex, if you could go fly in this war, would you go?”

“Ooooh, in a second. With these new jets, it’d be good fun. You know I was fighter pilot. Best thing I ever did.”