Curtiss Mohawk Mk IV

The Curtiss Hawk 75 had been a popular export product in the years just before the start of World War II.

Let’s take a look at one that flew for the RAF.

Curtiss had long named all of their fighters “Hawks”.
Donovan Berlin was a talented designer working for Jack Northrup, who got into a fight with his employer that cost him his job in 1934. Curtiss quickly snatched him up. In 1935 he designed the Hawk 75. After several engine changes the Hawk 75B was performing very well with an R-1820 Cyclone engine. In 1936 the US Army Air Corp had a fighter competition for a new fighter. Curtiss was expected to win, but the engine failed to perform well and Seversky was declared the winner with what became the P-35.
After switching to a R-1830 Twin Wasp the Hawk 75 was clearly demonstrated to be better than the new P-35 and received a contract that became the P-36. This led to a law suit and all sorts of ugliness, Seversky was annoyed that Curtiss got a “do over” of sorts and of course that meant a split contract. For the record, pilots mostly preferred the P-36.
Meanwhile, Curtiss was marketing their Hawk 75 internationally with both engines. Seversky was pursuing those same sales and the two types had numerous fly-offs over the next couple years. The Hawk 75 generally, but not always, won the day (the two types were very closely capable).

The first Hawk 75 to fly in 1935. Shown here with an experimental GR 1670 engine, it would take some time to make the right engine/airframe match. [thisdayinaviation.com]
Seversky P-35 was the regular competition for the Hawk 75.

The biggest user of the Hawk 75 was France. Over 500 aircraft in four production blocks were ordered by the Armee de l’Air. At the start of World War II the Hawk 75 was the most numerous fighter in the French air force, it would prove to be the most capable as well. Most French designs were a step behind, only the Dewoitine D.520 was truly better, but its initial deliveries started in May 1940 with Germany already streaming into the country.
No doubt the Battle of France was a disaster for that country, but the Hawk 75 performed well. It was credited with 230 kills for 29 losses. 38 pilots made ace in the type.
After the fall of France Germany took possession of many Hawks. They retained some as fighter trainers and let the Vichy government keep some. A large number were also reconditioned and sold to Finland.

But a number of French Hawk 75s escaped to Great Britain. The British took them as a modern fighter they named “Mohawk” and allocated Marks I – IV related to the four production blocks. The last group was not even complete yet. Britain arranged to take delivery of those planes too, almost 200 brand new Mohawk Mk IV came into British service this way.
Britain had already purchased brand new Hawk 81s, what the USAAC called P-40 and the British would come to call “Tomahawk”. In fact, the first of these were also roll overs from a French order. But it meant even as the new Mohawks were entering service more modern Tomahawks were coming right behind them. So the RAF decided to use the Mohawk mostly as a fighter trainer, or a second rate fighter for the colonies. In this capacity almost 100 found their way to India and were in use there when the Pacific War started. Initial combat fell to the imported Buffalo that was deployed in Malaya, Singapore and Burma. There was a rush to get more modern Hurricanes into the theater as fast possible. Through 1942 the Hurricane Mk II would carry the burden of operations against the Japanese. But supplies were always short and the Mohawk was being used to fill out more squadrons, operating closer to the front. New Zealander Sgt Vic Bargh felt the Mohawk was fully equal to the Hurricane up to 15000 feet. The only knock against it was the Mohawk’s lighter firepower of six light machine guns.
In April of 1942 a strike group built around the carrier Ryuho raided into the Indian Ocean and Mohawk squadrons defended shipping on several occasions. By mid-1942 the main focus came to be northern Burma and southern India, especially around Imphal (where the allied line finally held). Mohawks of 5 Squadron were extensively used in this campaign, mostly for close support. But they did see some aerial combat too and scored a number of kills. As the year wore on Mohawks were used in a variety of more traditional fighter roles, including bomber escort. 155 Squadron also became Mohawk operators at this time, and would continue with the type until January 1944 when they re-equipped with Spitfire Mk VIII.

The P-40/Hawk 81 was essentially just another engine change for the Hawk 75; to a liquid cooled Alison V-1710.

Obviously the Mohawk would never be a major combat type, but for over two years it filled a critical role in a neglected theater of operations. Most of its combat came from two squadrons, Numbers 5 and 155.

The shape of Commonwealth air power in Burma and India at the start of the War. The Buffalo was initially the most numerous type, until it showed its inadequacies. Then it became a race to get Hurricane Mk II into use as quickly as possible. But there were never enough, and the Mohawk Mk IV was called on to fill gaps until 1944.

This particular Mohawk is shown in November 1943 markings. It was the regular mount of No. 155 Squadron Leader “Porky” Jeffries. With six kills total, and one in the Mohawk (but not in this aircraft) he is the only Commonwealth Ace with a Mohawk kill (he claimed an Oscar as a probable, but its wreckage was subsequently found at the location of the fight to make it “Confirmed”). He was however, flying this aircraft on November 2, 1943 for his last sortie after over a year as squadron CO. That last mission led to the last air-to-air combat and last kill for the type when Flight Officer Tony Dunford shot down an Oscar (Ki-43). Two other RAF pilots, WJN Lee and P Rathie, made five total claims during their time in the type but neither is credited an ace with five confirmed kills.

Mohawks fought the Imperial Japanese Army, and that most often meant the fighters were Ki-43 Oscars.

This is the Hobbycraft kit with Aeromaster Decals. It is really a basic kit, like Monogram from the 1960s. The overall shape is good(ish), but I eagerly await something more modern. This may be my favorite aircraft (I seriously like its shape, attractive little fighter) that hasn’t been treated to a more modern redo. That may be changing, Clear Prop! is doing at least the fixed gear Hawk 75s (the simplified export product) in 1/48. That makes me hopeful for something better, soon.

This Hawk 75 still flies in French colors. This is either from the first French order (a Mohawk Mk I in British terminology) or a P-36C (R-1830 engine and four gun armament; compare to the R-1820 engine and six gun armament on the Mohawk Mk IV).

About atcDave

I'm 5o-something years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I was an air traffic controller for 33 years and recently retired; 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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13 Responses to Curtiss Mohawk Mk IV

  1. Pierre Lagacé says:

    Most interesting and very informative. Indeed a beautiful plane.

    • atcDave says:

      Thank you Pierre!

      • Pierre Lagacé says:

        I am finishing up my Monogram P-39.

      • atcDave says:

        I meant to comment earlier, for some reason the Word Press reader is opening your site in smaller window I couldn’t comment on (maybe just from tablet, I’ll try on the PC later tonight.)
        But I like your presentation with the box art and picture frames. Very stylish!

  2. jfwknifton says:

    Another beautifully made little fighter. The Far East was a very neglected theatre until it became more obvious that the Germans were a beaten force. I hadn’t realised though, that the Mohawk soldiered on until 1944.

    • atcDave says:

      I had did a double take on the date too!

    • Ernie Davis says:

      All sort of reinforces my theory that some of the “lesser” theaters of the war were sorry of frozen in place, fighting and making do with what they had, or could be spared, at the start of the war.

      It is sort of illustrative of this point that depending on where you were in the North African campaigns, both the British and the Germans were using (rather obsolete) Italian tanks.

      • atcDave says:

        The British Army was even using Lee tanks in Burma until 1945.
        Ethiopia is another campaign fought with obsolete hardware. There absolutely was a big difference based on location.

  3. Ernie Davis says:

    This isn’t a type I’m familiar with so this was an interesting bit of history. It does have that sturdy utilitarian look a lot of the rotary engine fighters of the era had (with the Thunderbolt or perhaps the Hellcat being the pinnacle of that look).

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