P-51 best Us fighter in WW2?

Why do they consider the P-51 the best fighter?

7 of the top 10 ETO aces flew the P-47

7 of the top 10 PTO aces flew the P-38.

So what made the P-51 better?

Certainly not kills.

Let’s not forget the Grumman F6F Hellcat. IIRC, it had something like 12,000 kills in WWII. (The Chance-Vought F4U Corsair of Baa Baa Black Sheep fame had something like 1,200.)

I once talked to a guy who owned a Spitfire Mk.IX trainer (extra cockpit on the turtledeck) and a P-51D Mustang. He said the Spit was a nicer plane to fly, but would rather have the Mustang in a fight.

IANAWW2FP, but my understanding is that the P-51 had a very powerful engine for the size of the plane and was therefore very maneuverable.

I should mention that the top two aces overall…Richard Bong and Thomas McGuire flew the P-38.

You may be interested to know that the P-51 (originally) was such a poor performer that the AAF had rejected it! Later, it was re-engined with the excellent Rolls-Royce “Merlin” V-12 engine, and proved to be an excellent fighter. The Merlin engine was the same engine that powered the British Spifire, and from all accounts, it was a superb power plant.
The US Merlin engines were built under license by Packard…unfortunately, their success brought on the demise of Packard (as an auto mfg., after the war), because the AAF contract was unprofitable for them.
Regarding the P-38-excellent plane, but I hear that it was quite a tricky plane to fly at low speed…it had a rather high stall speed, and many inexperienced pilots crashed attempting to land them.

The P-47 had a deplorable climb rate. Other “paper” comparisons varied by altitude. The P-51 was designed as a “fill in” fighter when requested by the British (rather than licensing a U.S. firm to build Spitfires) and the USAAF originally took a few as ground attack planes, idenitifed as A-36. When the Rolls Royce Merlin engine was put into a P-51 as a trial to improve its performance, it turned into an amazing plane.

The P-47 was designed as a high altitude fighter and nothing could touch its performance above 40,000 feet. Unfortunately, since the bombers it was intended to protect never got much above 25.000 - 27,000 feet, it did not find a lot of enemies to fight at its design altitude. (Ironically, its ability to absorb small arms fire resulted in it being used as a ground attack weapon, far below its design altitude.)

At different altitudes and speeds and conditions, either plane might outperform the other. The various models that were produced kept leapfrogging each other for the current “fastest” fighter.
The stories of P-47 roll rates are extremely contradictory, with some sources claiming that it rolled over like a sluggish elephant and others claiming that no plane it the air could outroll it. (I suspect that those comparisons were all anecdotal and I have never seen a genuine comparison–and doubt that any was made.)

Given that the USAAF kept the P-51 (later F-51 in the USAF) well into the 1950s, while it abandoned the P-47 almost as soon as the war ended, I would guess that there were maintenance and upkeep issues that kept the P-51 in service longer.

The P-47 got bad press early on with its poor climb. For one thing the 4th Fighter Group that had been flying Spitfires as the earliest U.S. fighter group in Europe really hated the beast that was nearly three times the size of their Spits. On the other hand, the 56th Group was given P-47s as their first weapon and they loved it.

(One possible reason for the kill ratios might have been sheer numbers: more P-47s were built than any other US fighter. (Similarly, B-24s–that could fly higher, faster, and farther than the B-17–were built in greater numbers than the B-17, but the B-17 gets the glory for the war in Europe.))

They were all excellent planes that did the jobs they needed to do. Comparisons tend to bring out the sort of IMHO feuds that humans so dearly love.

Weren’t you just watching the History Channel? (They just did a show on this this AM.)

Basically: The P-51 was the best escort fighter for the European theater. Others were around longer, did better under certain circumstances, etc., but the Merlin-engine P-51 is what really allowed the allied heavy bombers to crush the Nazi infrastructure.

No other fighter could escort the bombers all the way to Berlin and back (and still serve as a match to the Luftwaffe fighters on the way). The allies were losing hundreds of bombers and crews before the P-51 came along. After, the odds were much better.

So the P-51 was generally quite maneuverable, was fast at both high and low altitudes, and had tremendous range. So while other planes may have more kills, the P-51 did its job–protecting bombers–better than any other.

Sorry. This is part of the legend-creating aspect of the Mustang story that is simply not supported by facts. The P-47 and P-38 were quite as capable of killing Messerschmidts and Focke-Wulfs at long range as at close range. As to the “only fighter that could reach Berlin” story: piffle.

The way that that story is usually presented is: “With the introduction of the P-51, the Allies were finally able to escort their bombers all the way to their targets, even reaching Berlin on March 4, 1944.”

That is true, in a leave-some-things-out sort of way. The 4th Fighter Group, as the senior outfit in the theatre, were given the honor of being the first escorts over Berlin on March 4, 1944. The 56th Fighter Group, flying P-47s, escorted a raid all the way to Berlin on March 6, 1944.

The P-51 did have a longer range than the P-47 without drop tanks. With drop tanks, the P-51 still had a longer range, but the P-47’s range was enough to hit any target in Europe. (The P-38 could fly farther than either of them and the German’s feared it enough to give it their own nickname of “fork-tailed devil.”)

IIRC at vintage plane races the only two planes that anybody bothered to enter were either the P-51 or the F8F Bearcat (Which did not see WW2 service). Of course this just shows that the plane is very fast.

As a WAG, I would guess that the reason the P-51 didn’t have the kill rates per individual pilot that other planes did is because they entered the war fairly late, when the Luftwaffe was already starteing to fade. Their just weren’t enogh Germans for Allied pilots to rack up the huge scores. Also, because they were needed for long-range bomber escort they didn’t see much action in the Pacific.

As an interesting note to Ralph124c’s comment on the P-38, Tommy McGuire, the number 2 U.S. ace Reeder mentions, was killed when his P-38 stalled in a low speed turn.

There’s a Bob Stevens cartoon that shows a P-47 being fired upon from behind by a Bf-109. The bullets are bouncing off, and the “Jug” pilot is thinking, “I guess I could always just wait for him to run out of ammo.” :stuck_out_tongue:
[qoute]Regarding the P-38-excellent plane, but I hear that it was quite a tricky plane to fly at low speed.

*Don’t give me a P-38
The props they counter-rotate
They’re scattered and smitten
From Burma to Britain
Don’t give me a P-38. *


*Don’t give me a P-51
It was great for fighting the Hun
But with the coolant tank dry
You’ll run out of sky
Don’t give me a P-51. *
– USAAF ditty

Wild Blue Yonder lyrics
More complete lyrics

I’ve heard (tho’ I can’t say it if it’s true or not) that this nickname is another post-war myth, like “Jug” being a common nick for the P47 during the war

Or the Hawker Sea Fury (very similar to the Bearcat but a development of the Typhoon/Tempest family) IIRC most of the Sea Furys still racing are ex- Iraqi Airforce!

IMO in all these discusions on “which aircraft was best” what gets overlooked is how good the Americans were at learning and using the right tactics with each type, Eg the P47 was useless in a dogfight, so the pilots were taught to never, ever get drawn into a turning battle - just to “Zoom climb”, dive down on an enemy and straight back up to a safe altitude

There were a handful of ‘great fighters’ in WWII, and picking the ‘best’ out of that group is subjective at best. The best fighters of WWII:

Grumman F4U Corsair (my favorite)
P-51 Mustang
P-38 Lightning
Focke-Wulf FW-190
Mark XXXVVVXXXVV Spitfire, or whatever the last one was.
Grumman Hellcat
Republic P-47
DeHavilland Mosquito

I’m probably forgetting a couple. All of these aircraft excelled in specific roles. The Mosquito was a great fighter-bomber and recon airplane. The Mustang was a great high-altitude fighter/escort. The Spitfire and YAK planes were small and very manoeverable. Some were armored better than others. Some had better guns, and were more stable shooting platforms. Which was the best? Depends on the mission.

If I had to pick one all-around fighter, it’d have to be the Corsair. It could fly off carriers or land, had great performance high and low, good armor and guns, it was very fast (lots of F4U’s in air racing back in the day), etc. And its history would tend to back that up - the Corsair stayed as a front-line fighter in the U.S. inventory through the Korean war, and the first Jet kill of that war was accomplished by an F4U shooting down a Mig-15. The F4U made a great ground attack plane, too.

It might have been the mig shot down by prop driven plane. But it wasn’t the first mig shot down.

This resulted in the first air battle between jet aircraft. The MiG was a superior aircraft, but the Chinese pilots lacked training and experience. A F-80 pilot fired along burst from his six 50 caliber machines guns, resulting in the first MiG shot down in Korea.


Thanks for that, Reeder. Looks like I remembered wrong.

My favorite plane ever is the F4U corsair. A beautiful aircraft.

Have you ever seen the F5U?

It was a deadly airplane, during combat trials enemy planes approaching the F5U were reported to lose control and spin to the ground. Later examination of the wrecks showed that the pilots, upon seen the F5U, had a fit of hysterical laughter, followed by the previously mentioned lose of control and crash.


Didn’t they call it the flying pancake?

This is a question that is better posted here.

Actually, the demise of Packard has more to do with what happened to them after the war than during the war. Had the Eisenhower Administration not cancelled all the contracts which had been awarded to Packard and then given them to GM (funny about that, Eisenhower’s Secretary of Defense used to work for GM…), and had Packards first post war models not been so ugly, they might have survived longer.

Yep, I wonder why? :dubious: