Master of Arts (MA)



Document Type



The purposes of this study were to trace the evolution of the North American P-51 Mustang as an escort fighter in World War Two and to enumerate the reasons why it played a leading role in the extension of the American strategic bombing campaign into Germany and the ultimate defeat of the German Luftwaffe. The Mustang prototype was built in 1940 in response to a British request for a fighter to help repel German invaders. The original model, powered by an Allison engine and three-bladed propeller, was fast and maneuverable at low altitudes, but its performance deteriorated rapidly at altitudes above 12,000 feet. In an experiment to improve its high-altitude performance, the British installed a Rolls Royce Merlin engine in the Mustang, and the resulting high altitude performance of the airplane was exceptional. However, at that time neither the British nor the Americans opted to pursue further development and production of the airplane. After America entered the war following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Allied powers agreed that the main war effort should be to "Defeat Germany First." A principal aspect of the war plan was a daylight strategic bombing campaign against German forces in Continental Europe by American bombers. The bombing campaign from bases in England began in July of 1942. As the program progressed and targets were attacked that were beyond the range of escorting Allied fighters, it became apparent that the bombers could not adequately defend themselves against defending German fighters. A desperate effort was made to develop a high-performance escort fighter that could accompany the bombers to all targets of interest. The Merlin-powered Mustang with a four-bladed propeller proved to be that airplane. This thesis discusses the technical reasons why the Mustang was a superior escort and air combat fighter. The energy maneuverability analysis is used to explain how the fighter gained an air combat advantage over the principal Luftwaffe fighter aircraft. The roles of bomber escort doctrine, pilot training and aircraft production in bringing the Mustang into its position of superiority are also indicated.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Charles J. Shindo



Included in

History Commons