North American P-51A Mustang

The early variants of North American’s famous fighter saw limited production.  But some of these early Mustangs did see success.

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Join me for a look at one such example from a lesser known theater.

The CBI Theater had sunk to lowest priority throughout 1943.  It was very difficult to supply and support, and the local politics were beyond difficult.  But it was not completely ignored.  In September of that year the 311th Fighter-Bomber Group started operations in Burma.  The Group’s component Squadrons consisted of two A-36 Apache Squadrons and one P-51A Squadron.  This would be the first use of the Mustang as a fighter, it had earlier seen service as a tactical recon aircraft and light attack plane.  But now one full squadron of Mustangs would be tasked with providing long range fighter escort for the 311th’s own A-36s and other groups’ bombers.  Within a few weeks newer “B” model Mustangs would be making a name for themselves over Europe, but the “A” model saw action first, barely.

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These early model Mustangs used an Allison V-1710 which lacked the high altitude capabilities of the more famous Merlin engine.  It was felt this wasn’t a huge issue against the Japanese who only had a few specialized types that operated up high anyway.  The “A” Mustang was very long ranged, fast and a capable dog-fighter.  It would be very useful in Asia for bomber escort and fighter sweeps.

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The Japanese still had significant air power in theater at this time and early combat would be difficult and deadly for the new fighter squadron.

Capt England in “Jackie” with eight kills.

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By the end of 1943 then-Capt James J England had scored his first few kills.  He would ultimately have ten kills in Allison Mustangs.  This subject is Maj England’s assigned aircraft from the Accurate Miniatures kit.  It is unclear how many kills were actually scored in this aircraft; conflicted records indicate two, eight or all ten of Maj England’s kills were in his own mount.  But it is known a squadron-mate, Lt. William Griffith, won the Silver Star while flying this plane in late 1944.

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The 311th FBG was one of only a few US Groups to use mixed types. Initially with two squadrons of A-36 Apache (top aircraft, actually from the Italian based 27th FBG) and one of P-51A. These are both similar Allison engined Mustangs, but the A-36 has dive flaps and two additional .50 MGs in the chin position (lower nose). Both types had under-wing racks for bombs or fuel tanks.

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The P-51A was upgraded to P-51B with a change to a Packard V-1650 Merlin Engine. This greatly improved high altitude capability. The most obvious external clue is the nose scoop moving from above the spinner to below it. There were also many less obvious changes to the wing, landing gear and cockpit.

 

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About atcDave

I'm 53 years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I've been an air traffic controller for 30 years; grew up in the Chicago area, and am still a fanatic for pizza and the Chicago Bears. My main interest is military history, and my related hobbies include scale model building and strategy games.
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9 Responses to North American P-51A Mustang

  1. Pierre Lagacé says:

    Reblogged this on My Forgotten Hobby and commented:
    Great post aga the Dave.

  2. jfwknifton says:

    A really interesting blog post, thanks a lot for sharing it with us.

  3. Extremely informative article Dave, and another excellent build. I was fortunate enough to see an A-36 Apache fly at the Duxford airshow in the UK in 2002. It was a real privilege to see such a rare bird fly. Thanks for a great post.

    • atcDave says:

      That’s awesome! I’ve never seen an Allison Mustang fly, quite a few on static display, but never in the air. There are what, two or three airworthy? Sounds like a real treat.

  4. Ernie Davis says:

    Another informative post and interesting build. I never knew the A with the Allison was deployed. I guess it is sort of the mirror image of the Allies having peashooters and swordfish deployed at the war’s start. It always struck me that some theaters were starved for resources and that both sides could get away with less than cutting edge equipment, granted to their detriment, but not catastrophically so. To me the biggest determinant is strategic bombing. The Western front of the European theater saw probably the greatest air battles, and innovation because of it. Carriers were the determinant in the Pacific, and because of that the carrier became the modern weapon of worldwide military strength. The European eastern front was, to me it seems, granted, with a lot of great innovation in armor, a slugging match after the initial German success, and in the end the Russians were willing to sacrifice more men than the Germans could kill. CBI is a tough one to figure out, mainly because I know so little about it. Only a few movies and books, but it strikes me as a theater that for the most part had to make do with what they had in place at the outbreak of the war, on both sides.

    • atcDave says:

      Yeah CBI is sort of a shoestring theater. Early on, FDR had big hopes that China would become a great power and great ally; so the US definitely got some resources into the area (including heavy bombers and a lot of transport). But partly because of distance and terrain, partly because of the corruption and/or incompetence of the local government(s) the theater proved more trouble than it was worth by early 1943 (and giving Churchill a major “I told you so” over FDR). A second big push was made for the theater in late ’43, early ’44, with the idea of basing B-29s there. And modern equipment followed including, eventually, Merlin Mustangs, late model Liberators, Black Widows, etc. But it remained mostly a trickle down sort of area.
      There were definitely some fascinating aspects to the theater, especially in the area of irregular operations (Chindits, Merrill’s Marauders, Air Commando Groups); but I think it is more of a fascinating side show than a main event.

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