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Early in 1944 several squadrons of Flying Fortresses of the U.S. Eighth Air Force staged a daylight bombing raid on the German city of Hanover, an industrial center deep within the Third Reich. German fighter planes--Messerschmitt Mf-109s and Focke-Wulf Fw-190s--quickly rose to meet the Americans. As usual, they expected to take a heavy toll of the unescorted four engine bombers.
When they reached the formation of B-17s, however, the startled Luftwaffe pilots were pounded back by a sleek American fighter that outraced, outmaneuvered and outfought them.
As reports of the first dogfight over German soil reached Hermann Goering, the Nazi air minister refused to believe them. He knew of no Allied fighter that had the range to fly so far into Germany. However, when he was finally convinced the news was true, Hitler's deputy is reported to have muttered, "We have lost the war."
The aircraft that caused Reichsmarshal Goering to despair was the North American P-51D Mustang, the supreme Allied escort fighter of World War II, The P-51D was a high-speed, heavily armed fighting plane with the range of a bomber.
Designed and built by North American in less than four months during the spring of 1940, the Mustang was commissioned by the British. At the time, the British were desperate to augment their depleted squadrons of Spitfires and Hurricanes with anything that could fly and fight.
The first Mustangs, delivered to Britain in 1941, were faster than the Spitfire, but the aircraft still had a serious shortcoming. Its Allison engine was designed to operate best at altitudes below 20,000 feet, and the air war in Europe had long since gone to much greater heights. The British suggested substituting their own 1,590-horsepower Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, and that was all the change the Mustang needed.
With its new engine the Mustang had a
speed of 437 miles per hour and an operating attitude of nearly 40,000 feet. Its
range was extended to almost 2,000 miles by auxiliary fuel tanks so it could accompany the
bombers into the heart of Germany. Armed with its six .50-caliber Browning machine
guns, the Mustang became an almost unbeatable escort fighter.
The preceding information was extracted from the pamphlet,
"The Great Airplanes Sterling Silver Miniature Collection", published by The Franklin Mint, 1979.
Permission was granted to ALLSTAR by The Franklin Mint to use the preceding materials.
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Updated: March 12, 2004