Now why in the hell would anyone consider the Zero to be the best fighter of the war?
Hell, it didn't even start out that way. . .
The above is not just my opinion, but garnered from available facts, and flying the P-40 in combat.
What was truly obsolete happened to be the turning or dogfighting combat that had been used during of WW I.
Erich Hartman, Germany's leading Ace with 352 victories said, "I always avoid the turning combat when ever possible. "In half of my victories," Hartman said, "the pilot was unaware he was under attack until he was being hit." He was also an extremely good marksman. Erich Hartman averaged 70 victories a year. Therefore, why is it so difficult for some Americans to believe that 82 AVG pilots destroyed 297 Japanese in a seven month period?
To put our victories in their proper prospective: If all the AVG pilots had been of Eric Hartman's caliber, we would have destroyed 3,052 airplanes in this 7 month period. Provided there had been enough Japanese airplanes available to shoot down. Now, 296 doesn't seem so terribly outstanding, as a matter of fact somewhat shabby.
The AVG encountered 4 types of Japanese aircraft in their fight over Burma and southeast China. Two were fighters, the Hayabusa we called the I-97 and the Mitsubishi*, an obsolete fixed geared fighter, the I-96. The only Japanese bomber was the I-97, which I think was called the Sally, and an occasional Japanese photo-recon plane.
The P-40s was 50 mph faster than the Hayabusa we called the
The P-40's top speed was 70 mph faster than the I-96, an early fixed geared Mitsubishi*.
The P-40 was 130 mph faster than the Japanese bomber, and 130 mph faster in a dive than any fighter the Japanese had.
The P-40's pilot protection was in the form of self-sealing fuel tanks. Almost two - inch thick bullet proof armor plate windshields, and 9 mm and 7 mm armor plate protecting the pilot from behind. Also the P-40's armor plate could stop the bullets from any military aircraft the Japanese had in the China - Burma theater.
Aviation buffs always come up with the statement that the Zero was more maneuverable than the P-40. Emphatically not true. Flown properly the P-40 was an outstanding fighter, especially in the Chinese theater of war.
Actually the P-40 was more maneuverable than the Zero. Unfortunately, those that claim otherwise do not know the definition of maneuverability as defined by Webster's dictionary.
1. To perform a movement in military or naval tactics in order
to secure an advantage.
2. An intended and controlled variation from a straight and level
flight path in the operation of an aircraft.
3. To make a series of changes in direction and position for a specific purpose.
4. Evasive movement or shift of tactics.
5. To manage into or out of a position or condition.
6. To bring about or secure as a result of skillful management.
Saburo Sakai, in an interview made on August 11, 1996, admitted that, after flying the P-51 he had changed his mind and now rated the Zero as number two, where as before he thought it was the best. He said, "the P-51 could do everything the Zero could do and more." My comment to him would have been that it's too bad you never got the opportunity to fly the P-40.
Compare this to the P-40's 355 mph, and he the maximum allowable dive speed of 480 mph, (occasionally our pilots dove as fast as 510 mph) 130 mph faster than the Zero. The P-40's roll rate at 260 mph was 96 degrees per second, three times that of the Zero's mere 35 degrees at the same speed.
Japanese pilots were taught the antiquated importance of Dogfighting, or turning combat as used in WW I. Unfortunately our military pilots were taught the same thing, dogfighting. But the Americans didn't have the equipment with which to be successful. When the Japanese encountered Chennault's hit and run tactics, they were at loss. It wasn't in their book, and they didn't know how to handle the situation.
On December 24, 1941, Tokyo Rose announced over the radio that Japan had a Christmas present for the AVG. How utterly stupid, we were ready and waiting. The AVG were confirmed to have shot down 13 fighters and 4 bombers. The British got 6, all confirmed. No losses by AVG or RAF.
As early as September 1941 Chennault was teaching us to hit and run, requiring speed, which was the P-40's forte against the Japanese. When properly used, it outclassed the Japanese Zero in every respect. It took the American Military 2 more years, and the loss of several hundred American pilots, before they stumbled on the secret of successfully fighting the Japanese in the air.
An article in the Smithsonian magazine, Air & Space, said that Lt. Commander Thach had developed the weave which he said contributed in a large part, "...To the success of the Battle of Midway...." However, Commander Thatch admits he had heard it was used in China. Incidently this weave was used, during our training at Toungoo, and was part of a combat report when the AVG first encounter the Japanese on December 20, 1941.
A controversy developed about the invention of the Thach "Weave" and later it was discovered that Commander never called it a weave but a "Beam Defence," which incidently was not a "Weave" as every one seemed to think.
In 1992, on our fiftieth anniversary of the deactivation of the Flying Tigers, we finally received the long over due recognition from the military in the form of a Presidential Unit Citation for our group, and a promise of Honorable discharge from the United States Air Force was forth coming. The wording of the Citation acknowledged that we were members of the U. S. military on a covert secret mission. The unit citation specifically named the AVG as Flying Tigers.
Air Force regulations prohibit the use of the name of any unit that had been deactivated. Since the AVG, Flying Tigers were deactivated on July 4, 1942, the name Flying Tigers, by Air Force regulation, prevented any Air Force unit using this name.
These are the reason why we guard our name and record so vehemently. This small group set a record in military aviation that no outfit has ever come close to equaling, and undoubtedly never will.
Chennault was fully aware that it was the Flying Tigers that gave him the opportunity to prove his tactics, and said so in his biography. He knew it was because of the AVG's outstanding combat record that forced the military to reluctantly accept him as a force to be reckoned with, in the makeup of a fighter force in China. Due to world-wide publicity of his Flying Tigers, made it impossible for the military to ignore Chennault and the accomplishments of Flying Tigers which he commanded.
As great a tactician as Chennault was, it was highly unlikely that the Air Force would have even considered returning Chennault to active duty. Even so, with his leadership established, there was a great deal of opposition to Chennault's appointment as a General by many high ranking military. Without the AVG, Chennault would have never been made the Commanding General of the 14th Air Force, much less being recalled to active service. Chennault needed the Flying Tigers to prove his tactics. As a result of his knowledge of the Japanese military that was imparted to the AVG, and using the tactics learned from him they became famous. The 14th's record alone would never have made him world famous. I wonder, beside Chennault and LeMay, both controversial figures, how many other Air Force commanders can the average person name?
Three days after my 80th birthday, I finally received my discharge from the USAAF dated July 4, 1942, and the following awards: The Distinguished Flying Cross with oak leaf cluster, Air Medal with oak leaf cluster, Asiatic Campaign medal with four battle stars, WW II victory medal, and Presidential Unit Citation with oak leaf cluster.