Iron Dog: Bell P-39 Aircobra

Discussion in 'The War In The Air' started by CL1, Feb 11, 2019.

  1. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery Patron

    A statement summing up the P-39 from Profile Publication number 165

    "With its tough hide and the spirit of its defiant pilots in the face of overwhelming odds ,it bought enough time for the full might of the United States to be geared for war"

    Bell P-39 Airacobra - Wikipedia
  2. Kash Seal

    Kash Seal Member

    What a bizarre quote. Surely the Curtiss P-40 did more for the allies before "the US geared up for war" Imo.
  3. Dave55

    Dave55 Very Senior Member

    "Don't forget the Russians." from the movie after Patton considered the allies to be UK and USA. :)
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  4. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    The Airacobra, like the much-reviled Buffalo, was an attempt to squeeze too much into too small an airframe. As ever, the attempt produced a combat aircraft with degraded performance. The P39 was not much good in air-to-air combat--too heavy, no turbo-supercharger, but the Soviets found that it was pretty good for strafing, especially against vehicles because of the 37mm nose gun. It was also pretty tough, able to take a fair amount of punishment and bring the pilot home. The enlarged Kingcobra had much better performance and the Soviets took most of them.
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  5. Juha

    Juha Junior Member

    In fact Russian used P-39 mostly as an air superiority fighter. Three of the five top Soviet aces (Grigori Rechkalov, Nikolai Gulaev and Dmitri Glinka) got most of their kills while flying P-39s and Rechkalov and D. Glinka ended the war in May 1945 still flying P-39s with Guards units operating inside Germany. Gulaev was badly wounded in Aug 44 while flying P-39 with 129 GIAP. Stalin asked more P-39s and Spitfires, not P-40s and Hurricanes. And Valentine tanks not Churchills
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  6. Orwell1984

    Orwell1984 Senior Member


    Due in June and on the list to buy as the authors know their stuff.

    And I recently read this:

    Claringbould also knows his stuff and is writing one of the best series on the air war in the SWPA now available through Avonmore books. In addition he also co-authored a great history of the Tainan Air Group who flew Zeroes in New Guinea (Eagles of the Southern Sky). Lots of use of Japanese sources and checking of kill claims with records on both sides. What I found interesting in his works is that the combat was a lot closer than one would expect and the Airacobra held its own better than one would think given its popular reputation. This can partially be attributed to the weather conditions in New Guinea which restricted much of the combat to lower altitudes, the P-39's preferred operating area.
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  7. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    Interesting, thanks. I'd like to know what tactics the Red Air Force used for the P39 in that role.
  8. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    Very interesting indeed, it certainly goes counter to the general perception of the aircraft. That's what I like about this site, you learn new things here.
  9. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake Gunner Tours

    The telling statistic for the P39 can be found in the accident statistics taken from the USArmy statistical summary of accidents in the Continental USA. United States World War II Aircraft Loss Statistics during Flight Training

    The P39 had an accident rate of 245 per 100,000 flying hours compared to 188 for the P40 and 105 for the P51. This aircraft had some nasty handling characteristics. P39 pilots were two and a half times more likely to crash and die than P51 Pilots .

    The Russians didn't care.

    . .

    Attached Files:

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  10. Juha

    Juha Junior Member

    Nothing special in tactics but Finnish 109G pilots thought it was almost equal to La-5F/FN, which was the most dangerous opponent to the FiAF's Bf 109Gs during the big aerial combats in the summer of 1944 , but maybe a bit less manoeuvrable. Soviets saw P-39 as a low- and medium altitude fighter, according to Soviet tests P-39’s good altitude to fight against Bf 109 G-4 was appr. 3 750 – 5 300 m and against Fw 190 A-5 appr. 2 000 – 6 000 m, see attachment. That was how the Soviets saw it, not necessarily how it was in reality. And over the Eastern Front low- and medium altitude combats were the norm.

    Also P-39s had good radios, which were new to Soviet pilots, allowing effective command and control and good teamwork. Fw-190 pilots liked head on attacks on Soviet fighters, which were mostly fairly lightly armed and Fw 190 was well protected and its radial was more invulnerable to hits than 109's liquid-cooled DB 601/605. But 37 mm hit into BMW 801 could ruin 190 pilot's day and the arrival of P-39s ended 190 pilots' eagerness to head-on tactics. In fact about same time some Yaks and few LaGG-3 were also armed with more powerful Soviet 37 mm cannon and later on some Yaks got even 45 mm cannon. So P-39s were not the only reason why head on attacks became passé amongst the 190 pilots.
    As Sheldrake wrote P-39 was somewhat difficult plane but in the Soviet macho culture that was not so bad problem. Their standard 1936-40 fighters were also fairly difficult to fly even if very nimble. Especially I-16 went to spin easily. Of the new fighters MiG-3 was before the war most produced and it was rather difficult plane for the VVS pilots. That the M in its designation means Mikoyan, whose brother was a member of the Politburo might have something to do with its early success.
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2019 at 11:23 AM
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  11. Dave55

    Dave55 Very Senior Member

    The mid-engine design moved the center of gravity much further back than typical fighters. The result was when flat spins occurred they were almost impossible to recover from.

    Someone wrote that the recovery procedure for a flat spin in a P-39 below 10,000 feet is to bail out.
  12. Kash Seal

    Kash Seal Member

    The RAF were delivered one squadron of P-39's in 1940/41 There are reports that these airacobras were lacking power/turbo chargers. Not unlike the castrated lightnings. The RAF evaluated the P-39's and then immediately sent them on to Russia. Its one of ww2's enigmas as to why Soviet pilots liked the cobras so much. But they were on the same page with regards to guns. Soviet fighters have always favoured heavy calibre cannons such as the 37mm. Its a puzzle for sure considering how many decent fighter types were available to the allies/Soviets. But i guess the US had no complaints lend leasing P-39's, even if after the war Stalin flat out refused to pay for them....
  13. Kash Seal

    Kash Seal Member

    Yeah, only when Stalin realized the Soviet Union could actually lose the war in the east. The US + UK alliance with Russia was more out of desperation and Stalin's shrewdness in political wrangling. Thats why he was desperate for aid and the allies to open a second front asap! I think Russian pilots liked the enclosed cockpit and set up of the airacobras, as most of their designs were do or die machines. Altho, it should be noted later in ww2 Soviet fighters were greatly improved. Such as the Lagg/Mig/Yak/La-5/7....
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  14. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake Gunner Tours

    601 Squadron tested them in 1941. Fighter com,mand did not feel they had any need for a fighter optimised for low level operations and certainly not one promoted by the manufacturer as a "tank buster!" - There was a promotional piece in the Daily Telegraph War Illustrated with cartoons showing P39s strafing German tanks. Guaranteed to raise hackles in Bentley Priory.

    These might just be the reasons the Red Army though they were great.
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  15. Dave55

    Dave55 Very Senior Member

    The XP-39 had a turbocharger but the NACA (which eventually became NASA) decided to eliminate it because they felt that the aerodynamic drag caused by its radiator hurt top speed. The resultant prototypes were slightly faster at lower altitudes but high altitude performance suffered. The Army thought it was a good trade off since America was protected by two oceans at the time and beyond the range of high altitude bombers

    The castrated Lightenings were the result of the Army not allowing the turbos to be exported because they wanted to keep their technical details under wraps.
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2019 at 7:15 PM
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  16. Kash Seal

    Kash Seal Member

    I agree with some points here about the P-39/P-38. The main reason the RAF hated the P-39 was because of the enclosed car door style canopy. Plus the armament was completely foreign to them. They considered the fighter too dangerous to bail out. Where as the Soviets liked it, probably because they had no choice but to stay in their aircraft or face the consequences. The P-38 was not that bad an aircraft (apart from the compressibility fatalities) But it just didnt work in the E.T.O. Much like the German Bf-110......
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  17. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake Gunner Tours

    I can understand why the car door might have been an issue, obscuring the view,, but had not heard it before in connection with the RAF,. It seems a little strange that Hawker would put a similar door in the Typhoon around the same time.

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  18. Dave55

    Dave55 Very Senior Member

    The Bell doors were jettisonable. Hope they told the RAF that :)
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  19. Juha

    Juha Junior Member

    Soviet pilots wore parachutes and while Soviet high command didn't care much on common soldiers (there is a saying by Trotskiy that "The Red Army doesn't count its losses") pilots were specialists and so valuable, Soviet put pilot's back armour into their fighters already before the WWII so before e.g. British or Germans and at least in LaGG-3 there was a system that pumped inert gas to fuel tanks to prevent the formation of highly inflammable fuel vapours, the medium bomber DB-3M, which entered production before the war, had armour protection for pilot and dorsal gunner and some of its fuel tanks were self-sealing and all had CO2 fire suppression system.

    One Soviet pilot's thoughts on P-39 Part 3

    PS: Ah, absent-mindness, USA delivered at least over 1 million HE rounds for the Cobra's 37 mm gun but 0 AP round. The SU produced appr. 36,000 Il-2 ground attack planes, so there was no acute need of ground attack a/c. Of course Cobras also straffed but so did other VVS fighters.
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2019 at 2:43 PM
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  20. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    The main reason that the P39 as the Airacobra had a short operational service with the RAF was due to its poor record of availability.This was due to the Allison engine being located behind the pilot and the power output transmitted to the prop via an extended shaft...this design resulted in elevated mechanical problems.

    The aircraft was ordered during the demand for aircraft at a critical time in September 1940 when the British Aircraft Purchasing Committee visiting the US had the task to buy any suitable aircraft. This led to the opportunity to take up the same order intended for the French Air Force of 675 aircraft.This was cut back to about 80 on assessment of its operational record by December 1941....the rest of the ordered fleet were delivered to the USAAF who received a later version,the P 39D in February 1941 which saw service in the Middle East and the Pacific.

    The RAF Duxford Air Fighting Development received the first Airacobras in July 1941 and the only RAF squadron,No 601, to operate the aircraft, which was the Mark I followed, to receive the aircraft in September 1941.The aircraft's performance was seen as being restricted to the ground attack role.The first operation took place on 9 October 1941 against the French coast but after serious serviceability problems, the aircraft was relegated from front line operations in December 1941.....cannot see an account of a Airacobra being lost from the squadron while engaged on operations during this period.

    The French Air Force finally were able to fly the type while in the MEAF as French squadrons in No 340 Wing and together with HQ Malta were deployed mainly on the reconnaissance role.

    As regards the Red Air Force,any aircraft offered by the US and RAF were accepted to counter the German invasion of June 1941.Russia was in dire straits.

    Least Lend was launched in March 1941 by FDR for any nations deemed to be subject to Axis aggression. WSC's diplomatic challenge after the invasion of Russia in June 1941 was to forge an alliance with Russia and at all costs keep Russia in the war.The extension of Lease Lend was extended to Russia by the US with WSC's influence.38 countries in all received the benefits of the Lease Lend policy by the end of the war.
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2019 at 5:04 PM
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