As a kid, like many boys in the Baby Boomer generation, I used to enjoy putting together model airplanes from WWII. One of my favorite fighters was the P-51. This video gives a good sense of how effective these incredible fighter planes were against their German and the Japanese enemies.
The P-51 made its maiden flight in 1940. I found out that the P-51 and I share the same birthday; October 26th, though it was born 7 years before me. It was built by the North American Aviation Corporation, originally to help out the lack of fighters in the British Air Forces at the beginning of WWII, but it became one of the most important fighter in the U.S. Army Air Force in both the European and the Pacific Theaters of WWII as well. The “P” in its name stands for “pursuit” and that is exactly what she would become famous for in WWII. The original P-51 engines were ultimately replaced with Rolls Royce Merlin engines which were far more powerful and which produced the distinctive sound that the P-51 would become famous for during the war.
The P-51 had a far superior range, more speed and maneuverability and greater fire power. They could bring all of those variants to bear in their battles against their German and Japanese enemy forces. It was very effective at high altitudes, making them excellent escort for the bombers. During WWII some 17,000 P-51 Mustangs were produced. This fighter was credited with shooting down almost 5,000 enemy aircraft over the course of the war. As the video points out, in the year 1944 the Mustang was destroying up to 100 enemy planes per day, in the air and on the ground. Air Marshal Herman Gehring apparently remarked that when he saw the P-51s over the skies of Berlin, he knew that the war was over.
In the European Theater, the P-51 was used early on as an escort fighter for the Allied bombing missions deep into German territory. As you will see in the video, because of the long ranges of the bombing missions, the escort fighters would have to fly in shifts, rendezvousing at various points along the way to replace each other, because they could only stay in the weaving formations with bombers for more than a half hour. But as the war went on, they became so efficient at taking down the enemy fighters that would come up to attack the bombers, they were able to then begin hitting the enemy first by attacking the German air assets on the ground at their own airfields.
Though this video concentrates on the P-51s record in the European Theater, it had as storied a history in the Pacific Theater against the Japanese Air Forces. Of course there is one element that is left out, though it is mentioned once in the video, and that is the quality, the skills and the determination of the American pilots who flew them. It is one thing to have such high quality aircraft, it is another to have pilots whose qualities and skills were a match for the technology and who could get the best performance out of those machines.
The P-51 and their pilots must be recognized for having played a significant part in the efforts to defeat the totalitarian dreams of both the German Reich and Japanese Imperialism. We can not thank those who flew these incredible machines enough. We will never forget.