The Mighty P-51

At the beginning of WWII, the British needed a fighter plane to go against the German Luftwaffe and to defend the British Isles. In 1940, the North American Aviation Co. designed the P-51 in 90 days and began producing it for the British Royal Air Force (RAF). It would later become one of the finest all-around piston-engined fighters of WWII for the United States Army Air Corps.

Photo: YouTube/Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

The P-51s, with their Merlin engines, could reach speeds of 400 mph and had a combat range of 750 miles. With their external drop tanks, they could extend that range to 1,375 miles. They were armed with six .50-cal. machine guns that could focus all of that lead into tight groupings. They were very effective, both in the air, as a fighter plane in dogfights with German or Japanese counterparts, or as a low-level fighter for strafing targets on the ground. One of the videos included here will show how effective the P-51 was in both instances. It is from a film taken from P-51s on missions over Japan toward the end of the war.

You may remember that the P-51 was also the fighter plane that was flown by the “Red Tails” of the 332nd Fighter Group piloted by Tuskegee Airmen. This plane was used to escort the massive bomber formations on their way over Europe and into Germany. The P-51’s prowess as a fighter plane design was enhanced by the young men who flew this fighter and were trained to hunt and to take out the German or Japanese fighters that came up against them.

The “Red Tails” gained their reputation as the favorite escort group, all because of their flying skills, their aerial instincts, and the in-your-face courage they displayed regularly against the German fighters that came up against the American and Allied bombing missions.

The P-51 would be one of the most effective fighter planes in WWII in both the European and the Pacific Theaters. Being a Baby Boomer, born right after the end of WWII, I can remember growing up hearing stories about this fighter. I remember, too, getting birthday gifts or Christmas gifts of model plane building sets. One of my favorites was the P-51; another was the Navy/Marine Corps Corsair.

Photo: YouTube/Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

As the old saying goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” And so it was with the P-51 during WWII. Though it originated as a fighter plane for the RAF, it was soon adapted and enhanced for service with the U.S. Army Air Corps, to great advantage.

Photo: YouTube/Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

American ingenuity and industrial might made the P-51 Mustang and so many other technological advances to the war effort with incredible speed and expertise. The nation also gave huge numbers of its young men in the worldwide effort to confront and, with great sacrifice, to defeat the tyrannical efforts of both Nazi Fascism and Japanese Imperialism.

The Veterans Site is honored to keep the memories of both the fighting men and machines that met the challenges of WWII with skill, industry, courage, and self-sacrifice against those who threatened the freedom of so many millions around the world during WWII. We will never forget!

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