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I'm just sat here re-installing software on my laptop after it fell over the other day, and I'm watching "Great Planes" on Discovery Knowledge.

The commentary is describing the P-51 with sush superlatives as "the greatest piston fighter of the war", "the most dominant fighter of the war", "outperforming the outdated German aircraft" and of course the oft-quoted remark from Goering about losing the war once he saw Mustangs over Berlin.

If you listen to the commentary you would think the P-51 won the war in Europe and the Pacific single handed!

Am I the only one who thinks the Mustang is over rated?

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I think anyone who claims that any one aircraft is the best of them all is skating on thin ice. Not least because for everyone who says that the Douglas Dingbat is the best, there's another who claims the Westland Widget, another speaks up for the Messerschmitt Muppet, and someone else will chip in with the Nakajima Numpty. It's all a matter of opinion, frequently based on which side you prefer rather than objective fact (although that's perhaps understandable, given the difficulty there still is in sorting out fact from fiction). For my money there's not a lot to choose between the P-47, the P-51, the Fw 190D, the Ki-84, the Griffon-Spitfire, and the Tempest II. Each is different, each has its strengths and weaknesses, each had its record massively influenced by who used it and how, and so each can be described as "the best" for a given value of "best". Plus, anything on Discovery will be filtered through the Not Invented Here mechanism - a judgement derived as much from unthinking jingoism as from anything else.

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I certainly dont think it won the war, that particular accalade would have to go to the spits, and hurricanes of the battle of britain i think. The P-51 was awesome though, and out performed everything else mainly due to great aerodynamics and above all the Rolls Royce Merlin.

I might go as far as saying the engine won the war, but perhaps not the aircraft its self.

Just my 2p

Z

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I think it can certainly be considered one of the best fighter aircraft of WW2, simply for the fact that it could escort the USAAF to distant targets and have a useful combat duration at these extreme ranges.

As for which fighter won the war you would probably have to look for something with red stars on it in terms of Lufwaffe aircraft destroyed. (open to debate though!)

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I think anyone who claims that any one aircraft is the best of them all is skating on thin ice. Not least because for everyone who says that the Douglas Dingbat is the best, there's another who claims the Westland Widget, another speaks up for the Messerschmitt Muppet, and someone else will chip in with the Nakajima Numpty.

Everyone knows that the best aircraft was the Farley Fruitbat. :analintruder:

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I'm far from being an expert on aviation history, but I see it like this:

The early Mustangs were pretty mediocre aircraft, only having good performance at low altitudes. Once they swapped out the Allison engine for a Merlin it became a very capable high altitude fighter. However, I don't think it was vastly superior to its contemporaries, and I don't think it was a "war winner".

Consider this:

By the time the P-51B/C began to arrive in significant numbers the Luftwaffe was but a shadow of its former self, having lost huge numbers of experienced pilots after years of war. By the time the P-51D arrived the Luftwaffe had been bled dry and were resorting to throwing kids in the cockpits of their fighters and throwing them to the wolves. The Germans were trying to shoot down the USAAF daylight bombers, which all flew at high altitude, protected by swarms of Mustangs in their element at high altitudes, flown by properly trained pilots. The backbone of the Luftwaffe, the FW190A and Bf109G were inferior to the Mustang at these altitudes and flown by inexperienced and poorly trained pilots.

I wonder how well the Mustang would have fared if the Luftwaffe had been able to put up large numbers of FW190D and Bf109K fighters flown by properly trained pilots?

Likewise compared to the other Allied fighters the only advantage the Mustang had over the likes of the Tempest and Griffon Spitfires was range. At medium and low altitudes the Mustang wasn't anything special.

Compared to Soviet fighters I suspect the Mustang was superior to them at high altitudes, but at lower altitudes I think the La-7 and Yak-3 would have literally flown rings around the Mustang.

I'm not trying to put the Mustang down, it really was a great fighter and got the job done. I just think it is more than a little over rated compared to its contemporaries.

Oh, and for my part I think the best fighter of the war would either have to be the Me262 or Meteor. The fighters that had the biggest impact would have to be the Spitfire/Hurricane combo during the BoB, and the greatest fighter would have to be a draw between the Spitfire and Bf109.

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I'm far from being an expert on aviation history, but I see it like this:

The early Mustangs were pretty mediocre aircraft, only having good performance at low altitudes.

But at those low altitudes they were the fastest thing in European skies. No IV(AC) Sqn, RAF used Mustang Mk.Is in the armed recce role. I have read the squadron logbooks from the time. The pilots swore by their mounts. At the altitudes they were operating, they considered themselves immune from interception, because the German defenders simply could not catch up. However, the Mustangs could get caught in an ambush, but it was a relatively simple matter for them to put the nose down, open the throttle and just walk away from the fight. At such low altitudes, the Mustangs, like all aircraft at such altitudes, were vulnerable to AAA but the IV(AC) pilots certainly had no concerns about enemy fighters. In all their time operating Mustangs, IV(AC) Sqn lost aircraft to accidents and AAA but never to enemy fighters.

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I reckon its horses for courses if you excuse the pun!

I'd say the Mustang was undoubtedly the best escort fighter of the war - no question. Whether that makes it the best interceptor is doubtful and by no means was it anywhere close to being a good ground attack fighter, far too vulnerable to ground fire. The lovely Spitfire had the same problem.

Also its very difficult to fairly compare a Mustang with any of the aircraft developed and put into service pre 1939 as she was at least a half generation onwards in design tech and the operational requirements at design were totally different.

The point made earlier re pilot quality, war situation and tactics all mean we get a skewed view of any aircraft and its worth. A good example is the Zero. Quite feared early in the war when up against a Brewster Buffalo but not big issue when being bounced by a well trained USN pilot in a Corsair.

I think that rather than say what the "best" aircraft was its maybe better to note aircraft that "made a mark in history" whatever their qualities and honour the guys that flew them whatever their nationality

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It's a pretty sterile debate, though a lot of fun in the pub! "Given value of best" is the question, isn't it?

"Had the most significant impact on the course of the war, flown in the circumstances and numbers and by the pilots that it was flown by historically?"

or

""Would come out top in a 'league cup' of one on one dogfights between pairs of types flown by pilots chosen to be of equal ability and experience" (assuming you could agree consistent "terms of engagement" for height, weight etc?

I guess, for me, the best definition is something more like "Had the highest likelihood of bringing its pilot home intact after successfully executing the strategic and tactical objectives of its designated mission". Good pilots are the resource that's hardest to replace, after all.

For the first, I think something Russian is probably the "best." The BoB fighters, bravely-piloted and publically inspiring as they undoubtedly were, certainly didn't prevent the German invasion of Britain single-handed (they prevented the Germans achieving the overwhelming air superiority that was a necessary requirement to prevent the Navy defeating a German invasion. The Navy was the deterrent, the RAF made sure the deterrent couldn't be neutralised, so the invasion was deterred...). The Russians broke the Wehrmacht and the Luftwaffe and made sure that the planes put up against the Allied bombers WERE piloted by inexperienced kids. I'm not sure the US daylight bombing campaign had that significant an impact on the outcome of the war. Day and night bombing shortened the war, perhaps, but I tend to the view that using the resources (ideally in different aircraft) in effective ground-air supported warfare from D-Day to Berlin would have shortened the war as much with far fewer airmen killed (and far less civilian "collateral damage). Hence you couldn't claim the Mustang or Thunderbolt had a hugely "significant impact on the course of the war"

For the second, you get into a whole "good pilots will fight where THEIR aircraft has the advantage" scenario. Hence Hellcat pilots used their weight advantage over the Zero; Spitfire pilots went for altitude. I'd guess that for this one, later is better, but whether a well fought P-47M, Dora, Spitfire 18, Me262 or Ki 84 would come out top, and in what circumstances, who know? I wouldn't like to tangle with a 262 in a straight line, but in a turning dogfight from altitude to ground level?

For the third definition, I think it'd probably be something like the P-47. Successfully completing long escort missions, keeping the defending fighters away from the bombers, occasionally shooting some of them down, and being very survivable...

bestest,

M.

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I don't see how one particular aircraft can be considered the best there are just to many factors.

Perhaps you could make the argument that the P-51 was a fighter capable of holding it's own against it's contemporaies. yet it having the range that none of them could match. A Spitfire Bf109 or 190 may have been a match in straight fight but they couldn't take part in a similar fight over Berlin having taken off England and then return,in that situation they would have been none starters.

I seem to remember reading somewhere that Eric Brown considered the Spitfire XIV and FW190D the best one on one fighters of WWII, if so who are we to question.

Malcolm

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I seem to remember reading somewhere that Eric Brown considered the Spitfire XIV and FW190D the best one on one fighters of WWII, if so who are we to question.

I read his memoirs "Wings On My Sleeve" a few years ago. I believe Eric Brown is the most prolific test pilot in history, I can't remember exactly how many types he flew but it was more than any other pilot in history. The back of the book had a list of all the types in his logbook and it was bloody impressive! He is also the only pilot to have flown all the major combat types from all the major combatants of the war, one of his jobs during the war was to evaluate both Allied and Axis fighters.

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He wrote a series of articles for Air International in the Seventies about his experiences test flying WWII aircraft.,each article was devoted to an aircraft type. Although I am not sure I think one of the articles was on test flying the ME163 I don't know if I am imagining this but it sounds absolutely amazing anyone would want to get into one of those things. A true hero.

Malcolm

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Bet some of the later Japanese aircraft had they been produced in large numbers and equipped with experienced pilots would be a match for the Mustang.

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Although I am not sure I think one of the articles was on test flying the ME163 I don't know if I am imagining this but it sounds absolutely amazing anyone would want to get into one of those things. A true hero.

After the war ended Brown was sent to Germany with a shopping list of advanced German aircraft the British wanted to get hold of, among them was the Me163. He found one along with the ground crew and conducted several flights towed by another aircraft and gliding to the ground. He was forbidden to fly the 163 under its own rocket power because it was deemed too dangerous. Brown couldn't resist the temptation, and enlisted the help of the ground crew to fuel the aircraft early one morning and take it for a test flight under its own power. Apparently he was extremely impressed by the sheer power and performance.

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Yeah - for reasons detailed in far greater professionalism than I could, the argument is largely academic, the Yaks were also exceptional fighters but their spartan equipment and lack of armour would have horrified Allied Pilots, and the later Japanese fighters, in particular the George and the Frank would have made an impact had they been deployed in sufficient tactical and strategic depth, with experienced and fully-trained Pilots.

However, just to set out a different consideration, if you superimposed a map of the Pacific over the European theatre of operations, including the combat theatres of Russia, the Pacific theatre would overlap the European one by a considerable margin. Thus, with around four thousand victories, I'd suggest the Hellcat was of considerably greater influence.

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Velociweiler,

I think Yak pilots would also consider themselves as allied pilots along side there UK.USA.Aus.N.Z. Poles Czech etc. comrades

Again when we compare the Hellcat to the P-51 we come up against the same problems as with any other two aircraft we are trying to compare aircraft designed for different roles operating in different theatres which makes comparison impossible.

As far as aerial kills are concerned both the P-51 and Hellcat are accredited with approximately 5,000 kills with the P-51 having supposdly the higher number although no doubt due to the inaccuracies in claims I would say there is little to choose between the two sets of figures :winkgrin:

Malcolm

Edited by Mal
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I have to admit my knowledge of the Pacific air war and Japanese aircraft leaves a lot to be desired. I remember reading somewhere that the reason the likes of the Wildcat could cling on against the Zeroes in the early part of the war was because the Americans had much better tactics than the Japanese, staying with their wingman and working as a team throughout the fight, whereas the Japanese essentially treated dogfights as a free-for-all. I also read somewhere that a lot of Japanese aircraft lacked radios early in the war.

There is no doubt the Hellcat was a hugely influential fighter in the PTO.

As for the Soviet fighters, they were all sound designs, but in the early part of the war they suffered big problems with quality control coming out of the factories when the Soviets were desperately trying to halt the German advance. It's no wonder I suppose... Imagine you are a factory manager and Uncle Joe tells you to produce 1,000 Yaks this month or you'll be carted off to the gulag... I would imagine quality control goes right out the window. I also think the Yaks and MiGs suffered from lack of firepower compared to the German aircraft, the Soviets trying to keep their aircraft as light as possible. The LaGG and La series were more heavily armed, but the La-5 series had lots of problems with engine overheating early in its career I believe. The Soviet fighters were also optimised for combat at low altitudes, where most of the air combat over the Eastern Front took place.

Back to Eric Brown - his comments about the Japanese fighters he flew was that they were wonderfully aerobatic and light, but shockingly unprotected and vulnerable. As for the Russian types he said they were basically sound designs, but had poor radios, poor cockpit layout and weren't as mechanically reliable as the British and American aircraft.

Anyway, great discussion!

Edited by Pielstick
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