Of A P-40 Pilot
by Charles Dills
Brad told you were a MASTER
builder. He spoke very highly of you.
We used to build models in the
30's. We had free flight gas models. I built a "Buccaneer"
and a "Zenith".
In 1942 I went into Aviation
Cadets and the modeling days were over. I was a "pedestrian"
builder. I was never anywhere near a Master Builder as you apparently
I wish I had had a plane more
worthy of your talents. I was there a bit earlier than the ones
you hear about. We were pretty sure how it was going to turn
out eventually but it was not an exultation time yet.
I have the impression that after
the Southern French invasion, things became a lot more upbeat
and confident. They knew they were on top, way on top and while
it was just as dangerous doing the ground game, they did it
with more panache.
They decorated their planes,
had new planes more worthy of the attention. We had a very poor
supply line in Italy and everything was old and beaten up.
I started out in an A-36A. I
wish I had a "good" photo of it but the only two pictures
I have are of the wreck after I tore it up.
Then I got a war weary P-40F.
It had been put out to pasture once but we had to fly what was
there. The mechanics did a masterful job but these planes were
just worn out when we got them.
The mechanics earned our undying
gratitude for the masterful way they maintained their planes
under the most formidable conditions.
To complicate things, the P-40F
had a metric Merlin engine and they had NO metric tools. Apparently
they maintained them out in the field, always in the open. I
say apparently because everybody concentrated on their job with
minimal thought about what others were doing. We assumed that
if we did our part and they did their part that it would all
I hope you will know what I
mean when I say, "There were no long flowing white silk
scarves, anywhere!" We had neither the time nor the inclination
to "decorate" our planes. So they are not very "model-worthy".
My P-40F had been flown by the
66th Squadron (?) of the 57th Fighter Group, probably in Africa
and Sicily. When I got, it it was a rather unattractive gray
brown. I did have my name and the crew chief's names painted
on it in small yellow letters. And I had in large yellow letters,
the name "Patty B II" named for the girl I was "stuck"
on in high school. I was an orphan and as far as I remember
she was the only one that ever wrote me a letter! I lost track
of her for years afterward and finally relocated her a couple
years ago. She lives alone, was married three times, is content,
and we correspond once a week.
To illustrate the condition
of the plane, when I got it it had no left brake. Taxiing was
pretty tough with only one brake. They changed everything in
it and it still didn't work. Finally about three weeks later
it suddenly started working!
It was un-aerodynamic. When
one goes into a vertical dive in a P-40F (or any propellor driven
aircraft) the torque-correction built into the wing and fin
overpowers the engine torque and the plane tends to roll to
the right! Mine rolled to the left. There is no aerodynamic
reason for this but if you didn't trim for it correctly it would
almost go out of control on pullout as you will read in my page.
I thought mine was a bit slow
and I was afraid I would run out of gas since I had to use more
throttle than the others, so I asked if I could replace the
rounded wingtips with squared up ones (like the P-51, or A-36A)
using shaped pieces of wood. We were in the process of doing
it when the Squadron Commander drove up and told us not to do
it because "We would not know how to explain it if something
went wrong!" I thought at the time that it was a specious
argument since nobody had to explain anything over there. Yes,
they wrote reports but I think there was a lot of paper that
was just that, paper!
We had a job to do and we did
it. I don't remember ever having a feeling of "fun".
So this explains why our planes were not scenic-worthy.
The only other "decoration"
I remember on my P-40F was a big letter "Q" on the
side of the fuselage, aft of the wing. I didn't know whether
it stood for queer or quaint, because it was both!
I tore it all to pieces at Castel
Volturno. I can still see it on the deck of a flatbed truck
as they towed it away. The wings barely stuck out on each side
and the fuselage, broken just aft of the cockpit was dragging
on the ground. I went to Rest Camp on Capri and when I returned
I had a brand new P-47D waiting for me. I could look down the
runway and see where I had crashed the week before. I remember
the feeling when I had to shove the throttle forward and takeoff.
It was a terrible airplane as I explain in two places on my
page. Many P-47D pilots disagree with me and that is understandable.
"Any airplane that took a pilot through all his missions
and brought him back alive is the greatest airplane ever made!"
But as in Shakespeare, "Aye, there's the rub!" ALL
their missions. If that was the only plane they flew, how can
they judge. I flew three different airplanes, in combat, doing
the same work and the A-36A was way out ahead of any other dive
bombing plane. The war-weary P-40F was adequate and the P-47D
should never have been built!
The A-36A paint job was the
dull dark gray of the early worry years. The only "decoration"
I remember was the two block letters on the rudder, one above
the other. The top letter was either A, B or C depending on
the squadron. They stood for 524th, 522nd and 523rd, respectively.
The lower letter was characteristic of the individual plane,
mine was either a B or a D, I don't remember.
I'm probably being very unfair
to the later pilots in France and Germany but they seemed to
us like "dilettantes". The outcome at that point was
quite obvious, there was no "effective" opposition
and there was a grand feeling of being low on the downslope
at the end of the war. We had no such feeling, when we were
there we were pretty sure of the probable outcome but there
was a lot of dirty work still to do.
Well, I've run on a bit and
let out a lot of my "prejudices". And I have painted
a dismal picture about the planes I flew. I'm sorry they were
not more flamboyant but they were "plowhorses". They
were for dirty work. And they did it well.
I don't remember mentioning
Malta on my page. If I did (send me the URL) it had to be in
passing because I don't remember ever being anywhere near it.
Thanks for the kind words about
the site. I have tried very hard to be simple, succinct and
accurate. Some opinions creep in I'm sure, that is quite unavoidable.
I didn't win the war without
any help as some others seem to have done. I was an orphan at
14 and knew very little about my family. I was not going to
let that happen to my children, a boy and a girl. SO I wrote
up the military as accurately as I could. When our son presented
us with a grandson that will be six this month I had to accept
the idea that he will never know me. So I have been adding the
"before combat" and "after combat" parts
to the site.
Well, I have run on quite a
bit. I appreciate your interest. WE ALL appreciate it when your
generation shows you have not "forgotten".