The Lady and the Tigers

A Russian view of the Curtiss P-40

[The following was posted to the Usenet newsgroup rec.aviation.military y by a reader who signed himself "Nele." I have edited it a bit. — Daniel Ford]

I just read the interview with General-Major Nikolay Gerasimovich Golodnikov (retired), who flew with Boris Safonov in Hurricanes and P-40s. Golodnikov flew enormous number of various piston and jet-engine fighters in his career--from I-16 to Su-15TM. His opinion about fighter capabilities of US types (P-39 and P-40) is rather high (and it is not the usual "good radio" thing).

Russian Kittyhawk

This is the translation of, maybe, [the] most important part about P-40 capabilities:

Q. I will cite Mike Spick to you; [who] is [a] recognized military aircraft historian: "Some units of the Air Force, like on Malta or North Africa, had to fight with the second-grade aircraft. Firstly those were Gloster Gladiator biplanes and war-weary Hurricanes I. Then, in June 1941 and April 1942, Curtiss P-40 Tomahawk and Kittyhawk were introduced. Deemed inferior for use as fighter in Europe, they were sent to the desert where they could counter most of the Italian fighters, although they could not be mached to German Bf-109E and F..."

Golodnikov: Well, that what Allies [i.e., British and American pilots] thought, that it is not wise or almost impossible fight with P-40, I knew all the time during the war. P-40 was thought of as quite good fighter with us. When we started to use P-40, we immidiatelly find two drawbacks that were reducing its value of a fighter:

1. P-40 was "dull" in acceleration; it would accelerate quite slow. Poor acceleration dynamics resulted in the low combat speed. It was hard to obtain speed necessary for the air combat. Speed is ultimate thing for a fighter.

2. Poor vertical, especially Tomahawk.

The first and second was the result of the lack of power. What we did was simple. First drawback we removed by holding higher RPM. We always flew it with increased RPM. Second: we took (wing-installed) guns off. That was it. Fighter became "on par". It all depended of yourself, the most important thing was not to be lazy, to work more intensive with the throttle. Truth to be told, engines were "burning away" from our unusual settings. They would last up to 50 hours, often shorter. They would usually clock up to 35 hours and then be replaced.

Q. And of your intensive work with throttle would do "abracadabra" (translator's. note: according to Golodnikov, Tomahawk—but not Kittyhawk—woud sometimes tumble "head over heels", depending of the throttle or harsh stick movement!). Allies found many drawbacks of "Tomahawks", but "abracadabra" was not mentioned. Why?

Golodnikov: I don't know, but "Tomahawk" had that drawback.

Q. and all in all, there is a serous difference in evaluations. Could it be from the different Soviet and Allied tactics?

Golodnikov: Main difference in the assesment of P-40's combat capabilities comes from that we and Allies had completely different exploitation of the aircraft. They use it as written in manuals, from letter to letter. We, as I said before, had a main rule is to take from the machine everything possible. How much "everything" is, it did not write in manuals, and even airplane designer didn't anticipate. This appears in combat. Everything said above goes for Aircobra, too. Have we flown them how Americans wrote it in the manual, we would all got shot down. It was a dud as the fighter aircraft on "birth" regime. On our regimes we had a equal combat with either "Me's" or "Fw's", but it would have meant 3-4 combats with subsequent engine change.


In some of the old AVG romances, the claim was made that the early P-40s could be stalled in such a way that the plane would tumble, ass over tea-kettle. In an early draft of Flying Tigers, I included this comment, but was talked out of it by a P-40 veteran who insisted it wasn't true. Of course he had flown the big-jawed P-40E version. So here is an independent, Russian collaboration of that old legend.

When I asked Nele if I could post his translation here, he added the following:

Original in Russian is at Original interview is copyrighted and made by Andrey Suhorukov, May 2003. with Nikolay Gerasimovich Golodnikov, General-Major (rt'd), former fighter pilot 2 GIAP VVS KSF (7 personal credited victories).

Question? Comment? Newsletter? Send me an email. Blue skies! — Daniel Ford

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