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What was America's best Lend-Lease Fighter?

Originally published on HistoryNet.com. Published Online: November 10, 2009 
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 Aviation History Reader Poll

The United States exported more fighter aircraft than any other nation in World War II. What was the best American-designed fighter shipped overseas before the U.S. entered the war?

Give us your thoughts in the comments box below.


28 Responses to “What was America's best Lend-Lease Fighter?”


  1. 1
    Patrick McManus says:

    I would have to say the P40 in general and the P41 Mustang sent under Lend Lease to Britain. If the Brits hadn't put a Merlin Engine in it, We wouldn't have had the (arguably) Best Fighter in WWII

  2. 2
    Bob Tufo says:

    The Mustang was the North American P51 not the P41.

  3. 3
    Chris D. says:

    The Soviets were very fond of the aircrobra, it was either the P-39 or p-36. But, I would think that the P-40 was probably a better aircraft.

  4. 4
    Mike H. says:

    Actually the first mustang's sent to England under Lend-Lease were A-36's ,; Originally to be used for ground attack because their performance at high alitude sucked.

  5. 5
    Anthony Loates says:

    Let's not forget the original P-51 was an American aircraft built to British specifications.

  6. 6
    George Liptak, Jr. says:

    Most comments are correct, in that the "best" lend lease fighter plane
    depended upon the mission it was assigned:

    — P-51 Mustang with the Merlin engine was universally considered
    the best all around US-supplied fighter aircraft. It could fly high to defend bomber squadrons. It could fly low to bomb and straf ground
    targets, like enemy positions, railheads, etc.

    — P-39 Airacobra with the end-the-nose cannon was all that the Russians said it was, as a close support fighter-bomber. Also,
    carried sufficient bombs to destroy ground targets.

    — P-40, supplied to the Nationalist Chinese and the Flying Tigers,
    did the job in that theater of war. Pilot armor let it keep flying, when
    a Japanese fighter might be shot down with machine gun fire.

    — P-36, or the Buffalo, was obsolete. We supplied them to Midway
    and Wake Islands jest before pearl Harbor. Replaced by the much
    faster + better eqyuipped P-47, also from Republic.

  7. 7
    Hugh Greene says:

    The Curtiss P-36 was nicknamed the Hawk and was the first plane to shoot down a German aircraft during the invasion of France. It was also the first plane to destroy a Japanese aircraft during the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Brewster Buffalo was really a dog. The Republic P-47 was a pretty good fighter, especially the later models. It was especially good as a ground attack/support airplane in the ETO.

  8. 8
    frank miller says:

    found this site bt accident, but, I salute ALL you WW2 veterans. thanks for saving the world and our great USA. now WE ALL must step up and save us again from this administration.never would I have thought that I would see the day that our country would be going downhill so fast.
    Let's keep GOD on our money and in our government and in our way of life.
    now we ALL must step up to the plate if WE want to save her.
    "GOD BLESS THE USA".

  9. 9
    Melangell says:

    I salute all veterans as I myself am one. Please, save us from people like Frank Miller. Hopefully President Obama can save us from the near destruction of our Republic by the likes of Bush and Cheney.

  10. 10
    ken weitzman says:

    Interestingly the P-51 was designed by a German immigrant and only took 90 days or so to the first flying model. It was built at North American's El Segundo facility which was across the street from Douglas El Segundo.

  11. 11
    jack turso says:

    The bruster buffalo was obsolete as were most of the the countrys aircraft..The japanese were at war ten years ahead of our kids at that time. Dive bombers and torpedo bombers were ouch?? Just the guts of our navy flyers averaging 21 yrs old made the difference.The japanese
    long lance torpedos and their torpedo bombers were a bit better.The
    wildcat was no match for the zeke 0.Not untill the hellcat came on the scene which fooled the japanese in dogfights thinking it was the wildcat looking the same.Imagine in a year our kids caught up to them. The p 51 was not sent on lend lease to England in 1940 ,was not in operation yet
    England did not like the p38 or our b 17 useing them improperly.at first
    They had a equal match to the p51 with their spitfire..germans me 109 and fulk wolf 190 not so shabby.The warhawk tommahawk p40 was no great shakes against the zero..only thing is the zero could not dive or turn with the p 40..pappy boyenton improvised .what i dont get is reports were coming back to the usa about his zero in 1938 41 fell on deaf ears…no excuse…end result my vote is the p51 that shot down a russian mig 15 and a me 262 not to bad.Ps forgot the jug p47

  12. 12
    Peter says:

    jack turso: the B17's initially supplied to Britain lacked the Norden Bombsight so couldn't hit a thing from high altitude. The guns froze at high altitude because the correct low temp lubricant hadn't been developed. We also received very few of them…sending 20-odd B17's with frozen guns over Germany was a suicide mission regardless of who was flying them. The only way to conduct daylight missions over Germany was to send 100's of B17's with hundreds of escort fighters. It took the US a while to achieve that too. The early B17s were quite useful as maritime aircraft though and we just loved the B24 in the same role… my parents neighbour flew them against U-boats and loved the aircraft. As far as I know Britain never recieved P38's although we used P40's in North Africa because of their firepower and long range (they were good ground attack planes too). The spitfire and hurricanes with much shorter range were far superior air defence fighters so we didn't use US aircraft in the battle of Britain.

  13. 13
    Johnny says:

    The P-39 Airacobra was the best lend lease aircraft of the war. I realize that answer may be kind of controversial, but in my opinion it had the most overall impact. Particularly the “Q” version that was the last production version made. The Soviet Air Force used it very effectively. For the US Army Air Corps that was not the case and I believe that only one American pilot ever became an ace flying the Airacobra. The P-39 was heavy and was not effective as a high-altitude fighter. It did not have a supercharger so high altitude use was not feasible. The war over Europe demanded high altitude fighters to match our bomber escort doctrine.
    The Soviet Air Force loved the P-39. The lack of a supercharger did not limit it so much in that low altitude environment. It was not slow; it still topped out at nearly 400 mph. Between the particular features of the P-39 (good armor, large cannon, great pilot visibility) and other more standard American features (comfortable for the pilot to be in for extended periods, easy to read instruments, good communications equipment) it was probably the best fighter the Soviets operated during the war!
    I don't believe that the P-51 was a lend lease aircraft that we “loaned” to the Soviets. We did get them to the British, but these were earlier versions. Again, to me, it’s all about the overall impact. While the P-51 was head and shoulders above the P-39, the latter kicked the most butt so to speak.
    Interestingly a lot was written about the P-51 Mustang on this website. That’s not unusual and I’ll continue that. The Mustang is one of those standouts that helped us not only win the war, but to win it in an impressive and dominating way. Hermann Goering is famous for uttering a remark about the Mustang. It was something about when he heard Mustangs over Berlin, he knew that Nazi Germany was doomed. It was our best fighter of the war. Not only was it our best, It was the best fighter of the entire war. The Mustang was an American fighter that started out as the A-36 Apache, an attack aircraft. It was designed very quickly, but did not become the plane it was meant to be without the very same engine that powered the British Spitfire. That is the Merlin-Rolls Royce which was much more powerful and responsive than the Allison that powered it before the change. Armed with six .50 caliber machine guns, the combination of that engine with the Mustang’s superb airframe made it a powerful weapon.

  14. 14
    Johnny says:

    Operation Entebbe was an Israeli military operation that took place in 1976 in Entebbe, Uganda. Interestingly, and fittingly, it happened on the 4th of July, our bicentennial. Palestinian terrorists were holding Israeli citizens from a high jacked Air France plane. The Israeli military, as it still is, was very powerful in 1976, having fought and won a war each decade of its existence.

    It was all about speed and surprise. The rescue operation took place only one week after the high jacking! Intriguingly, the building that the hostages were held in was built by an Israeli construction company. Israel had the blueprints! Between that and interviewing others who had been released they were able to design and execute ingenious operation that proved to be one of the best surprise attacks in history. Pilots flew very low to avoid the radars of countries between Israel and Uganda. Uganda had a very poor although “thuggish” military who were absolutely no match for the spirit, training, drive, and tenacity of Israel’s best. Israel flew in, maneuvered aircraft as close as possible to where troops could egress out. Special task organized teams went to work, taking out Ugandan security, destroying aircraft to prevent interdiction of Israeli aircraft, securing hostages, and moving them towards the waiting aircraft. The entire operation was controlled by an airborne platform overhead.

    Other interesting items of note concerning Operation Entebbe:
    – Idi Amin was the dictator in Uganda at the time.
    – The raid took about three minutes once it began. All the terrorists were killed. Because Israel military planners are so savvy, they destroyed Ugandan MiG aircraft on the ground. Before destroying the more recently made MiG 21s there they may have kind of “taken” Soviet-designed avionics equipment before blowing them up.
    – The Israelis only lost one Soldier on the raid. Yonatan “Yoni” Netanyahu was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Israeli Army. He was Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu’s brother. If you don’t know who he is you should. Because of Yoni’s sacrifice, the operation was posthumously named Operation Yonatan.
    – Three hostages died in the raid’s crossfire.
    – 75-year old Dora Bloch was a hostage who was hospitalized due to sickness. Because of this she was not there to be rescued. She was taken out of the hospital and killed by Ugandan thugs who I will not call Soldiers.
    – Air France pilot Michel Bacos refused to leave his passengers and his crew, inspired, followed suit. Air France rewarded him by temporarily suspending him—wow!
    – Israeli commandos used a commandeered Mercedes, painted it black to match the one used by Idi Amin, and used it to gain key access during the raid.
    – Some UN representatives were upset that Israel conducted the raid. You’re thinking, “really?”, but yes that is really the sad truth. Here’s the truly awesome and defiant statement made by Chaim Herzog, Israel’s man at the UN said: “We come with a simple message to the Council: we are proud of what we have done because we have demonstrated to the world that a small country, in Israel's circumstances, with which the members of this Council are by now all too familiar, the dignity of man, human life and human freedom constitute the highest values. We are proud not only because we have saved the lives of over a hundred innocent people—men, women and children—but because of the significance of our act for the cause of human freedom.” Ha! Chaim, you are the man!

  15. 15
    Wolfe says:

    What about the Vought F4U Corsair. Some say it was the best fighter or fighter/bomber of WW2. Apx. 2,000 supplied to the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy, another 420 to the RNZAF.
    Produced from 1942 till 1952. Last saw combat in 1969! Corsair vs. Corsair (and P-51s) in the Football War between Honduras and El Salvador.

  16. 16
    Bob Tufo says:

    My entry on Nov. 17, 2009 had typos I wish to correct,
    I meant to say that the 2000 Bell P-63 King Cobras we supplied to the Russians were put to good use more than any other lendlease aircraft that we provided.
    The Russians ate up the Panzers with the nose mounted 37mm cannon and wing mounted 50 calibers.
    We have a flyable King Cobra at the Palm Springs Air Museum , where I am a Docent,and I hope you all will pay us a visit.
    God Bless America.

    • 16.1
      simul8guy says:

      Well Bob, the question specifically asks what was the best U.S. supplied fighter prior to us getting into the war. Since the P-63 King Cobra's first flight wasn't until December, 1942 it doesn't meet the criteria. The P-39 Airacobra does…

  17. 17
    Listing of certified pilots in Idaho says:

    The Curtiss P-36 was nicknamed the Hawk and was the first plane to shoot down a German aircraft during the invasion of France. It was also the first plane to destroy a Japanese aircraft during the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Brewster Buffalo was really a dog. The Republic P-47 was a pretty good fighter, especially the later models. It was especially good as a ground attack/support airplane in the ETO.

  18. 18
    victor says:

    we're supposed to be discussing aircraft in here but its nice to see some trying to foist their views about politics on us.

  19. 19
    Bob Tufo says:

    The P-39 Airacobras lend leased to the Russians scored more kills than any other US built aircraft so my vote has to be for the Cobra.

  20. 20
    James Creeden says:

    I have to agree with the Aircobra as the most effective fighter of the War,but that takes nothing away from the P-51 Mustang which did more harm and inflicted more casualties that could be counted considering the massive damage to Railroads,ammo dumps,and all kinds of buildings and Convoys of German troops and tanks,etc…

  21. 21
    Ed R says:

    The P-51 and P-38 were great and well documented. The P-39 and P63 served Russia well during WWII and were flown by preference by many Russian Aces. Only recently have we begun to learn from the Russians who flew the P-39 and P-63 just how much they really liked the planes. I think the Russian pilots might have been a little more motivated to take risk because they were defending and fighting on their soil. During WWII we were both fighting the same enemies and the Russian Pilots who flew the P-39s and P-63s were fond of the planes and those who lived long enough to talk freely do not hesitate to complement the Bell Fighters. There were a lot of politics during WW II with regard to military purchase decisions. For example, if the P-51 could be designed and flown in about 90 days, some manufacturer in the USA could have duplicated the Super Chargers, etc. that might would have made the P-39 and P-63 more successful at all levels. In my opinion, the P-39 as used in Russia, was the forerunner of the "Wart Hog." It served them well.

    I think the Bell Fighters were the most effective Lend Lease planes.

  22. 22
    Hans says:

    The United States supplied many aircraft during WW2, only a few were lend-lease.

  23. 23
    Barrie Rodliffe says:

    The Spitfire and Mosquito were probably the best, USAF very rarely takes anything not American.



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