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What is considered to be the best overall fighter of World War II?

Originally published under Ask Mr. History. Published Online: January 17, 2013 
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What is considered to be the best overall fighter of World War II?


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Dear Woody,  

For the umpteenth time, it is pretty universally accepted that, while outdone by other fighters in such specialized aspects of maneuverability, speed, climb, dive, service ceiling, etc., the North American P-51 Mustang combines the best of all those elements, along with long range in one plane, to be the best overall fighter of the war.



Jon Guttman
Research Director
Weider History Group
More Questions at Ask Mr. History



7 Responses to “What is considered to be the best overall fighter of World War II?”

  1. 1
    Mike Davies says:

    For my money it's the Supermarine Spitfire. In production at the outset of the war and after its conclusion. Unequalled as an air superiority fighter at all altitudes across different marks it also shone as a photo reccie and fighter bomber and served on aircraft carriers with equal distinction. A testament to the old adage "if it looks right it is right"

  2. 2
    macmn says:

    Sorry Mike, I have to disagree. The Spit didn't have the speed, endurance or firepower the Mustang did. Or for that matter the P-38 or the Jug. .

  3. 3
    G Mullen says:

    I would agree with the Mustang but only after it had been fitted with the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine

  4. 4
    William says:

    I have to go with the Spitfire as well then the P51, and taking third would be the M262. I disagree with macmn about the speed of the spitfire, it had the same engine as the P51 but better maneuverability and 4 guns on each wing it was basically a P51 modified.

  5. 5
    Barrie says:

    For best fighter the P 51 was not good until it got the same engine as the Spitfire Mk IX, then it was better but by then it was fairly late in the war, and the earlier Spitfire Mk IX while a bit slower had much better rate of climb, acceleration, and maneuverability. By the time the P 51 D which had good visibility came into service the Spitfire Mk XIV had been in service 6 months and the P 51 only had a better range, otherwise completely outperformed by the Spitfire.
    The Spitfire served as a defensive fighter, photo reconnaissance, dive bomber, fighter bomber, high altitude fighter, low altitude fighter and escort fighter, it was used to escort USAAF bombers, RAF bombers and even top cover for the Tempest V.
    I like the Tempest but it like the P 51 was late in the war, for me the Spitfire and Messerschmitt Bf 109, later called Me 109 are the best of the war.

  6. 6
    Alastair says:

    I think it was 1944 when the chief test pilot for the RAF commented to the effect that "Me in a spitfire could beat me in a mustang in a dogfight. However, if I were in a dogfight over Berlin against a German machine, I would choose to be in a mustang because it would have the range to get me home."

  7. 7
    armit2003 says:

    Not Rolls Royce Merlin ..It was the PACKARD MERLIN ..The American version that had little to do with Rolls Royce..ALL MERLIN engines in the Mustang were Packard redesigned and built Merlins. Packard even improved the supercharger drive and used the Bendix carborator which solved the lean out in a dive. RR even adopted this in their engines. Brit still trying to claim \THEY\ built the Mustang. What a lot of people don't know is that Packard Redesigned the Merlin to make it easier to mass produce.they also redesigned it so the heads were seperate and not part of the block. The British were basically hand building them…but they couldn't make them fast enough .

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