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Modeller's Guide to Curtiss P-40 Variants

n by Martin Waligorski

How Good is Good Enough?

The P-40 was the last and best known of Curtiss Hawk series fighters initiated in the 1920s. It's qualities were, and are, controversial.Criticised by many for poor manoeuvrability, low speed and rate of climb, it was on a verge of being obsolescent already before series production started. The inadequacies of the P-40 were widely publicised in the initial war years and even became the subject of a Congressional investigation.

Still, the P-40 was used successfully by many Air Forces during the war. One of the first customers was RAF, where the fighter named Kittyhawk distinguished itself in the African and Italian campaigns. It also did pretty well in USAAF service during the first year of Japanese advance in the Pacific, when little else (namely the P-39 Airacobra) was available in quantity. Popularised as the aircraft used by the Flying Tigers (American Volunteer Group) in China, it also helped to produce one of the first morale-boosting 'success stories' of the American Air Force in the war against Japan. It is with this unit that the P-40 achieved immortal fame.

Another large user of the P-40 was the Soviet VVS. Interestingly, although favoured by USSR pilots, Josef Stalin himself opted for Bell P-39 over P-40 as "more suited for combat against German fighters." On what grounds his opinion was based remains a mystery.

The P-40 had no serious vices and was a pleasant aircraft to fly. When flown by an experienced pilot was able to give a good account of itself in aerial combat. It's indisputable advantage was also very tough construction, which made the aircraft capable of bringing it's pilot home despite sometimes heavy damage.

Contrary to it's opinion of a stop-gap measure, the production of P-40 continued long after more modern types were readily available. The total number of P-40 manufactured reached the third highest total for American World War II fighters, bettered only by the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt and the North American P-51 Mustang. These production numbers can be deemed the ultimate measure of the aircraft's usefulness.

And besides, do you know any other aircraft that looked better with the sharkmouth?

p40_07.jpg (12817 bytes)

Do you know any other aircraft that looked better with the sharkmouth? Often associated with American Volunteer Group (AVG) in China, this motive was actually "discovered" by No. 112 RAF Squadron in North Africa, then adopted by AVG and many other air force units flying P-40s all over the world, including countries like Brazil!

Illustration (c) 1999 Thomas A. Tullis. Used with permission.

A Quick Guide to P-40 Variants

Unsurprisingly for the massive production of almost 14,000 aircraft, the P-40 went through many changes during it's life. Little resemblance can be found between last production variants and the original concept. This guide is intended to help identifying the production versions and spot the major differences between them.

To make a very long story short, here's the list of major production variants:

p40_16.jpg (21535 bytes)

A first production version P-40 can be recognised by armament concentrated solely above the engine.
Wing-mounted guns would be introduced in all subsequent versions.

p40_17.jpg (12736 bytes)

This is Tomahawk Mk. I, modified to the RAF specification with four wing-mounted 0.303" Brownings. Installation of British radio equipment resulted in a radio mast halfway down the rear fuselage.

p40_09.jpg (24438 bytes)

P-40C displays it's four-gun installation in the wing,
which was a distinctive feature of this version.

p40_01.jpg (28389 bytes)

This excellent period photograph shows a flight of "Flying Tigers" Tomahawk Mk. IIBs in flight over China. Various sources refer to AVG machines as being P-40Bs or P-40Cs, but they were actually produced for British contract to Tomahawk Mk. IIB standard.
The first machine is flown by Charles Older, AVG. It appears to have only two wing machine guns mounted.

'p40_10.jpg (32084 bytes)

The completely redesigned nose accommodating the Allison V-1710-39 can be seen in detail on this photo, which the author believes to show one of the AVG P-40Es. "Flying Tigers" received their first Es in March 1942, after the lack of spare parts and combat attrition reduced the unit's strength to only 20 flyable P-40Cs.

p40_19.jpg (14362 bytes)

113601 was the second production P-40F. The most prominent feature of the Merlin-powered Warhawks
was lack of carburettor air scoop on top of the cowling.

p40_02.jpg (28701 bytes)

Seven of the RAF Kittyhawks Mk. II were handed over to the Free French Air Force in Africa. Almost all of these aircraft can be seen on the above photo. The aircraft are representative of the late P-40F production with lengthened fuselage.

p40_03.jpg (24948 bytes)

p40_06.jpg (22871 bytes)

Early production P-40Ks featured a short fuselage of the P-40E with enlarged  fin,
which can be seen on the second aircraft.

p40_05.jpg (26039 bytes)

Late series Ks looked much different. The P-40K-15 presented here
displays a long style fuselage. The K-15 series carried special equipment for winter conditions.

p40_12.jpg (21708 bytes)

A row of British Kittyhawks Mk. III. The nearest aircraft is a machine from P-40K-1 series,
which can be read from the partially obscured RAF serial FR3??.
An interesting detail is a non-standard camouflage pattern on the first aircraft's nose.

p40_14.jpg (21733 bytes)

The P-40M introduced the rectangular cooling gill just in front of the exhaust stacks. This is one of the machines serving with 14th Air Force in China.

Serial Numbers

The table below states production numbers for all (I hope) P-40s produced. This section is based on Joe Baugher's excellent research published at his home page.

Version US serial numbers RAF serial numbers RAAF serial numbers RNZAF serial numbers
P-40 39-156..280
Tomahawk Mk. I   AH741..880    
P-40B 41-5205..5304
Tomahawk Mk. IIA   AH881..990    
P-40C 41-13328..13520      
Tomahawk Mk. IIB   AH991..999
(all to VVS)
(36 to AVG)
(64 to AVG)
P-40D 40-359..381      
P-40E 40-358
Kittyhawk Mk. I & Mk. IA   AK571..999
P-40E-1 (Kittyhawk Mk. IA) 41-24776..25195

A29-1..163 NZ3001..3044
P-40F 41-13600..13695
P-40F-5 41-14300..14422      
P-40F-10 41-14423..14599      
P-40F-15 41-19733..19932      
P-40F-20 41-19733..19932      
Kittyhawk Mk. II (P-40Fs and Ls) delivered from series
P-40G 42-14261..14274
P-40K-1  and Kittyhawk Mk. III 42-45722..46321 FL875..905
P-40K-5 42-9730..9929      
P-40K-10 42-9930..10264   A-29-164..202  
P-40K-15 42-10265..10429   A-29-203..205  
P-40L-1 42-10430..10479      
P-40L-5 42-10480..10699      
P-40L-10 42-10700..10847      
P-40L-15 42-10848..10959      
P-40L-20 42-10960..11129      
Kittyhawk Mk. II (P-40L)   FS400..499    
Kittyhawk Mk. III (P-40L)   FL714..730
P-40M-1 43-5403..5462      
P-40M-5 43-5463..5722      
P-40M-10 43-5723..6002      
Kittyhawk Mk. III (P-40M) 43-5403..6002 FR779..872
P-40N-1 42-104429..104828   A29-415..419
P-40N-5 42-104829..105928   A29-542..558
P-40N-10 42-105929..106028      
P-40N-15 42-106029..106405      
P-40N-20 42-106406..106428
P-40N-25 43-24252..24751   A29-800..811
P-40N-30 44-7001..7500   A29-900..928  
P-40N-35 44-7501..8000   A29-1000..1079  
P-40N-40 44-47749..47968   A29-1100..1221  
Kittyhawk Mk. IV   FS270..399
(all to VVS)


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