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Book Review
Short-nosed P-40s
Curtiss P-40 – Snub-nosed Kittyhawks and Warhawks
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by: Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]

Originally published on:

Curtiss P-40 – Snub-nosed Kittyhawks and Warhawks
Series & Nr.: Air Vanguard 11
Author: Carl Molesworth
Artists: Adam Tooby, Richard Chasemore
Format: Softcover; PDF; eBook
Pages: 64
ISBN: 9781780969121

Curtiss P-40 – Snub-nosed Kittyhawks and Warhawks is Osprey's 11th title in their new Air Vanguard series and is the second of two P-40 books. It explores the Hawk H87, the later P-40 Allison- and Packard Merlin-powered variants from the P-40D through the P-40N.

Curtiss was one of the preeminent fighter builders between the world wars. Their Hawk series of fighters served all military branches of the United States and found their way into dozens of countries world-wide. The P-36/P-40 family was designed by Donovan R. Berlin who recognized that while fighters increased in weight over their life, more advanced powerplants would be forthcoming, and designed what is today referred to as "stretch" into the P-36. Those characteristics would be recognized when the inevitable more powerful engines arrived in the future.

While P-40 was a good design competitive with contemporary fighters, it was crippled by Army Air Corps doctrine that focused on low altitude operations as the world-wide air war moved higher. That and weight were the Achilles heel of the type. P-40D was one of the heaviest of all frontline fighters with the same class of engine output in 1942. P-40 was ready, willing and deployed around the world when America was forced into war; when suitable two-speed two-stage superchargers became available the P-40 was needed to hold the line without disrupting production and the superchargers went into other fighter types working up for deployment. What could have been was demonstrated by the XP-40Q. While XP-40Q had a souped-up Allison, one can extrapolate the performance of Merlin-power Warhawks had two-speed two-stage superchargers been provided.

Allison- and Merlin-powered P-40s fought competently all around the world in dozens of air forces. "Damned by words but flown into glory" was how Col. Robert Scott described the P-40 while another famous fighter pilot assessed it as, "The best second-best fighter in the world."

Curtiss P-40 – Snub-nosed Kittyhawks and Warhawks is brought to us through 64 pages in six chapters and an index:
    - Introduction
    - Design and Development
      * A Long Line of Hawks
      * The Hawk 81
      * The Hawk 87 - A Tale of Two Engines
      * The Failures

    - Technical Specifications
      * Army Hawk 87
      * USAAF Experimental Models
      * TheFighters of 1942

    - Operational History
      * Stateside Duty
      * First Blood in the Pacific
      * Kittybombers in the Middle East
      * Over Southern Europe
      * China-Burma-India
      * On the Russian Front

    - Conclusion
    - Further Reading
    - Index

Author Carl Molesworth has written several P-40 titles and his wealth of P-40 knowledge is harnessed to explain the intricacies of the Hawk 87 P-40 models. He explains the march of progress from the first Curtiss Hawk biplanes of the Curtiss-Wright Company through the H-75/P-36 series to the H-81 (P-40 - P-40C) through the Hawk 87 P-40 models. He presents engineering and production detail such as the redesigns of the fuselage. Engine deficiencies and development to improve the breed are discussed, including the repercussions of not using a two-stage supercharger.

Successes and failures of redeveloping the Hawk family and replacements are discussed, as is the Army criteria that inspired the work. Curtiss tried to move beyond the P-40 with mutations and even new designs, including an inspired and futuristic swept-wing pusher fighter.

Additionally, Mr. Molesworth includes company and government designations for the many H-87 models and variants. These details may not help you build a better model, however it will enlighten the reader to a erudite understanding of the P-40 family. Twenty-nine major and minor models and variants ("Blocks" in today's parlance) are identified, from P-40D through P-40N-40, some with trivial differences.

Thirty-three tables deliver essential and interesting metrical data on the many Hawk 87 models and subtypes and follow-on projects:
    * H-87A-2/P-40D/Kittyhawk I through the H-87W/P-40N-40 Warhawk/Kittyhawk IV
    * XP-40Q-2 Warhawk
    * XP-46-CU
    * CW-24/XP-55-CU Ascender
    * H-95C/XP-60C-CU

These tables include 22 characteristics including powerplant detail; propeller type; weights and dimensions; performance; weapons and gun sights; production dates; serial numbers. While I definitely appreciate this data, the tables are somewhat frustrating. Not all data matches, i.e., some climb performance is shown as 'rate of climb' while some is 'time to climb'. I do not fault the author as no doubt those statistics relate the idiosyncrasies of Curtiss and USAAF documents. Fascinating information all the same!

OK, that's what is in the first 41 pages. Operational history and the conclusion are recounted in the next 21 pages. Combat history starts with USAAF combat over the Philippines on the first day of the war. The story continues with USAAF and Commonwealth use over the Pacific, Middle East and Mediterranean theater, Southern Europe, China-Burma-India, and with the Soviets above the Russian Front. Pilot logs, interviews and personal letters, plus excerpts from unit histories add numerous accounts which enrich this title. Indeed, just as in Air Vanguard*8 Curtiss P-40 Long-nosed Tomahawks, one of the best features of this book are eight quotes by combat pilots experienced with the P-40:
    - John Wheeler, 23rd FG
    - George Kiser, 17th P.S., Luzon and Java
      We flew many missions from Blimbing Field. In fact, a lot of us flew about 150 hours during the short stay there. At all times we were outnumbered at the least 10 to 1, but still we managed to get official credit for in excess of 65 victories [the currently accepted total is 49 - author] with only a loss of nine pilots killed or missing. Our activities ranged from Palembang, Sumatra, where we went to bomb and strafe the airport there, to Koepang, Timor ...

    - Mel Wheadon, 44th FG, "ace in a day" in the Solomons
    - Ben Horden, No. 112 Sqn, North Africa
    - William Mount, 57th FG, North Africa
    - R.T. Smith, AVG ace
    - Bruce K. Holloway, 23rd FG, 13 kills in the P-40, about the XP-40Q
    - Clive R. "Killer" Caldwell, 112 and 250 Sqn, 20.5 kills in the P-40

Mr. Molesworth presents why, if the P-40 was a failure, were so many built? Curtiss certainly was diversified in aircraft designs: Army fighters, Navy dive-bombers and catapult scouts, transports and trainers. How did the P-40 and lack of successors impact the company post-war?

Graphics, photographs, artwork
Unlike the first book in which many of the supporting images are pre-war factory photographs, this book is full of war time photos of the P-40 in the field. All photographs are black-and-white, a shame as there are many Kodachrome photographs of snub-nosed Hawks available. Most of the photos are small and many are not particularly clear, odd considering how many photos of P-40s are available. Perhaps Osprey wants to use scenes not usually published?

Regardless, the images used support the text. Modelers will find some fascinating images:
    * Clear closeup of 45th FS P-40N plywood and metal tube sway braces for wing bombs.
    * Packard-Merlin P-40L with cowling completely removed during servicing.

Artwork by Richard Chasemore and Adam Tooby is a feast for the reader: in-action scenes; camouflage and markings; insignia; profiles and planforms. Two exceptionally well done digital “in action” illustrations show the enemy suffering under the talons of the Warhawk. These dynamic full color pictures are a signature of Osprey’s titles. They are:

First Ace 1Lt "Buzz" Wagner rolling in at tree-top level on a Ki-27 that would be his 5th kill.

112 Squadron's Last Kittyhawk Victories P-40s downing Focke-Wulf 190s over Italy, April 1944.

Further color artwork includes:

A. P-40 Engines: cowl cutaways of the Allison V-1710 and the Packard Merlin V-1650.
B. P-40 and Curtiss cousins
    1. XP-40F
    2. XP-40Q, the 420mph Warhawk.
    3. XP-46, Curtiss' attempt to gain greater performance with the V-1710 in a smaller airframe.
    4. XP-60, contra-rotating props on a Pratt & Whitney R-2800 in a brand new laminar-flow airframe.

C. Aleutians P-40K, 1943: 3-view of Warhawk, 18th FS, 343rd FG, Attu, 1943.
D. P-40N-5: 3-view of "Corky", Warhawk No. 634, 28th Fighter Sqn/3rd FG, Chinese-American Composite Wing, Kweilin, China, 1943.

The final illustration is a cutaway of a P-40E with 31 keyed components. An item shown is one of the Browning .50-caliber machine guns. Illustrated is the .50-cal. heavy barrel type with the distinctive perforated barrel extension cuff while the P-40 was armed with the "Army/Navy" AN/M2 "light-barrel". Perhaps these barrels were used at some point although I am unaware of it.

Osprey has provided P-40 enthusiasts and historians another excellent work with this Air Vanguard book. I learned a few things about the redesigned P-40. The book does not recount aerial hack-n-slash, rather it describes the predominant H-87 series and versions. The 33 tables of metrical data are interesting. Unfortunately, those tables are inconsistent with data units.

Pilot accounts are appreciated and blend the engineering story with the combat history. Including the failed successors to P-40 also puts Kittyhawk/Warhawk longevity into perspective. Ah, Curtiss, how far they fell!

There are minor errors with typos and possibly with illustrations.

Mr. Molesworth's passion for the P-40 is apparent in Curtiss P-40 – Snub-nosed Kittyhawks and Warhawks. I am very pleased this book is available to clarify and enhance previous understandings of the H-87 series of P-40s. I think it is a valuable addition to any reference library of Curtiss P-40 fighters and happily recommend it.

Please tell Osprey and retailers that you saw this review here - on Aeroscale.
Highs: Modelers will find some fascinating photographs.
Lows: Most of the photos are small and many are not particularly clear. A couple of minor errors with illustrations and typos.
Verdict: A valuable addition to any reference library of Curtiss P-40 fighters.
  Scale: N/A
  Mfg. ID: ISBN: 9781780969121
  Suggested Retail: $18.95; £11.99
  Related Link: 
  PUBLISHED: Feb 16, 2014
  NATIONALITY: United States

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About Frederick Boucher (JPTRR)

I'm a professional pilot with a degree in art. My first model was an AMT semi dump truck. Then Monogram's Lunar Lander right after the lunar landing. Next, Revell's 1/32 Bf-109G...cried havoc and released the dogs of modeling! My interests--if built before 1900, or after 1955, then I proba...

Copyright ©2021 text by Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of ModelGeek. All rights reserved.


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