The Famous Planes
The fighting forces of the Second World War were each dependent of another. Without each branch of service, the war would not have been won by any side. Whether or not it was the Allied air-war victory that "broke the camel's back" could never be known, but the air forces were significant contributors to the winning of the war. The air forces of each country had more destructive force than any other branch of service, and were what broke the will of the country's core fighting force; the people.
The topic of "famous aircraft of WWII" is hotly debated. There are many aspects that one can argue that causes this conflict. Some argue that "this plane had a deeper impact on the war" or "this plane was produced more" or "this plane is better known." Each argument for a specific aspect has credit, and should not be dismissed. The truth is, there is no right answer. The Famous Planes section will cover fighters, bombers, and one important transport aircraft of the Allies and Axis air warriors. Selections are based on performance, production numbers, kill ratesm and impact on the war.
North American P-51 Mustang
Largely known as the "most famous plane of WWII," the Mustang was a symbol of American airpower. It was a formidable adversary to the German fighters that had been shooting down RAF and other USAAF planes repeatedly. First fitted with the Allison engine, the Mustang's performance was mediocre. When tests with the Rolls Royce Merlin 68 engine were first done, the USAAF was so impressed that it went into large-scale production almost immediately. Versions were sent to Allied air forces across the globe. Fame was earned with the Mustang's ability to fly the bomber escort role successfully, despite the long distances across Germany and the Pacific. The P-51 Mustang remained in service with the USAF until 1957.
Republic P-47 Thunderbolt
A rugged aircraft, the Thunderbolt was excellent at ground attack and bomber escort. Weighing in at nearly 7 tons with thick armor plating and a heavily-armored engine, the P-47 could withstand massive damage from Axis anti-aircraft guns. It was also useful in dog fighting, but was most famous for its ground attack capabilities. The addition of drop-tanks could enable it to escort the bombers all the away to Berlin and back, but by the end of the war, most of the Allied air force's had switched to using the P-51 Mustang.
Lockheed P-38 Lightning
A top of the line fighter, the P-38 outperformed its original expectations when it was first released into combat in 1939. The P-38 was the first successful twin-engine fighter, and it amazingly out powered its enemies in the skies over Europe and the Pacific. While mostly used in the PTO, it played a large role over Europe too. The absence of a propeller in the nose cone gave the Lightning an advantage. More guns could be placed in the nose, and modifications of the plane were fitted with devices such as reconnaissance cameras, and nose-mounted radar. A P-38 squadron was also responsible for the famous mission that shot down the plane carrying Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto (the Japanese admiral that commanded the attack on Pearl Harbor). Top American ace Major Richard Bong scored his 40 kills flying P-38s in the Pacific.
Mjr. Richard Ira Bong, by his P-38
Vought F4U Corsair
Probably the second-most famous PTO fighter next to the Lightning, the Corsair was very useful against Japanese "Zero" fighters. At first deemed unsuitable by the Navy for carrier operations, the Corsair was quick to prove the Navy wrong. Modifications were made and it was soon the best single-engine fighter the Navy owned. Performance was excellent and the pilots loved them. This aircraft was vital to the Allied victory in the Pacific.
The pride and power of the Royal Air Force, the Spitfire led Britain through the Second World War with gallant victories. Its superb performance never faltered. With the help of aircraft designers and many improvements, it was able to keep up with the best of the German fighters, and it was well equipped defend its nation. At first designed with less than adequate armament, the Spitfire was quickly modified and became the perfect aircraft. It was a favorite among many, and not just the pilots. The fighter was the "jewel of the people," and symbolized Britain's refusal to give up, and their unending strength.
The Hurricane's claim to fame was the Battle of Britain. Before Hitler's attack on Britain, Hawker had been designing the Hurricane for the RAF. Hawker had anticipated the need for more aircraft for the war once they had finished testing, and that lucky guess gave the RAF enough aircraft to fight in the Battle of Britain. The Hurricane fought well against the Bf109's and Fw190's. Many pilots actually favored the Hurricane over the mighty Spitfire, for it had engraved its reputation into the hearts of the pilots. The Hurricane was continued for use as a bomber escort and interceptor throughout WWII.
Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress
Acknowledged as one of the most famous aircraft of aviation history, the B-17 Flying Fortress first rolled into the world as the Model 299, produced by Boeing. After many versions, successes, and failures, the B-17G "Flying Fortress" was the most famous bomber of WWII. Although it often overshadowed its counterpart in fame, the B-24 Liberator, the Fortress was definitely worthy of the selection by the USAAF to be the primary bomber of the war.
The "Fortress" was most honored for its ability to bring the crew back safely. After hard flak hits the plane would survive the trip back, even if it ended up crashing on the runway. This aspect of the plane, along with its exceptionally long range, the bomb load capacity, effectiveness in combat and the ease of flying, was what made the "Fortress" extremely popular among bomber crews. Supposedly 2 out of every 5 bombs dropped during WWII were dropped by the B-17 Flying Fortress.
Consolidated B-24 Liberator
Forever remembered as the most produced aircraft of WWII, it was often eclipsed by the B-17. Over 19,000 Liberators were produced during the war, with each of those planes being used in practically every theatre of operations. Approximately 10,000 Liberators were produced by Consolidated Vultee at San Diego and Fort Worth, and the remaining 9,000 by Ford, Douglas, and North American. Many different models were made out of the same basic design to perform many different functions, such as passenger, fuel, and utility transport PLUS photographic reconnaissance and training aircraft. By the end of WWII, almost all B-17's in the PTO had been phased out by B-24's. This bomber proved to play a very crucial role in the air war over Europe and the Pacific.
Boeing B-29 Superfortress
Although the first specifications for the B-29 were made in 1940, the first B-29 was not delivered to the USAAF until 1943. And, the Superfortress did not reach full service until 1944.
The B-29 was the most technologically advanced aircraft in the US fleet. The United States government had asked Boeing to produce a long range, accurate bomber that could travel the long distances over the Pacific. The B-29 was never in use in the ETO. Originally produced for the long-term bombing campaign planned for Japan, the B-29 was instead used to deliver the atomic bomb onboard the Enola Gay and Boxcar to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This proved to be a quicker way of ending the war, but cost millions of Japanese lives.
North American B-25 Mitchell
An all-around great choice for a medium-bomber, the Allies chose well in this department. Known for its ability to be flown and landed easily, the B-25 Mitchell soon became a favorite among many pilots. Constantly being improved, the later versions were very successful. Versions of the plane were given to the US Navy under the name PBJ and proved to be highly effective in the naval war . One of the Mitchell's finest hours was the Doolittle Raid, in which a group of B-25Bs were led by Jimmy Doolittle, off the carrier Hornet, in a bombing raid on Tokyo. The aircraft became so popular that it was exported to the RAF and USSR, and eventually produced after the war to be used in air forces around the world.
The Lancaster was Britain's primary bomber throughout the Second World War. It participated in the destruction of the enemy in tandem with the American B-17s. Along with the Flying Fortress, the Lancaster could take its share of flak hits. Superior manufacturing made the aircraft very tough, powerful, and well defended. The Lancaster was the RAF's favorite bomber during nighttime bombing raids on German cities and military installations. The Lancaster participated in 156,000 sorties and dropping 608,612 tons of bombs on Europe to destroy the power of the Reich.
Douglas C-47 Skytrain
The Skytrain; a magnificent multipurpose aircraft. The C-47 was used in every theatre of operation, for almost any purpose imaginable. The C-47 Skytrain, commonly referred to as "Gooney Bird," was one of four weapons singled out by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower as the most instrumental in helping the US win World War II. (The others were the bazooka, the jeep, and the atomic bomb) The C- 47 was adapted from the DC-3 Dakota commercial airliner and was used to carry personnel and cargo, tow gliders, and drop paratroopers. As seen here with D-Day invasion stripes, the Skytrain played a huge role in transporting Allied forces into combat during Operation Overlord (D-Day). It was also used in Korea and in Vietnam, where it took on additional roles of attack as the AC-47 "Spooky" gunship
Messerschmitt Bf-109 "Gustav"
The Bf109 was a deadly fighter. A glance at it could still scare the most hardened RAF pilots. Its speed and firepower generally outclassed its prey, and it saw great success in the skies. The Bf109 was the primary German fighter, weaving a tight role with the Focke-Wulf 190 as the protectorate of the Third Reich. The Bf109's shot down hundreds of Allied bombers, and fended off P-51's and Spitfires during offensive attacks, as in the Battle of Britain. Whatever the challenge, the Bf109 was ready and succeeded time and time again. The plane was a devil to control, but deadly in the hands of a skilled pilot.
Focke-Wulf 190 "Wurger"
The Focke-Wulf 190 was a superb fighter. In many ways it outmatched its counterpart, the Bf-109. Designed by brilliant German aeronautical engineer Dr. Kurt Tank, the Fw-190 was built as a sturdy interceptor, escort, and fighter-bomber. The Spitfire had to be upgraded to even try to meet its specifications. Generally the Fw-190 was given "second notice" in that the Bf-109 claimed all the fame. Nonetheless, the Fw-190 performed magnificently over the skies of Germany, Britain, Russia and Africa. Time and time again it shot down enemies of Hitler's war machine. The Fw-190 was, in many opinions, one of Germany's three best fighters of WWII! (The three being the Fw-190, Bf109, and Me262)
Messerschmitt 262 "Schwalbe"
The Messerschmitt 262 was an amazing aircraft. It was the first jet-engine powered aircraft to enter the war. The Me262 was 100mph faster than the best the Allies had to offer. Four 20mm cannons worked extremely well at ripping other fighters and bombers to shreds. A whole bomb group could be in great danger by one of these quick jets. The Me262 was greatly feared by American and British pilots alike. It was swift, durable, and powerful. Fortunately for the Allies, Hitler's blunder of delaying the 262's production for modification into a fighter-bomber and its late entry into the war over Europe made the 262 unable to stop the Allied advance into the German heartland.
The He-111 was one of the first German bombers to participate in the bombing of Britain. The aircraft's history was hidden in secrecy. After the treaty of Versailles from WWI, the Germans were not to operate a military air force. The He-111 was made as a commercial airliner or transport but was designed under the intention of being able to be converted to a bomber on short notice, when the Germans decided to make war. The plane was rugged, and powerful. It carried bombs to Britain and back under protection of the Bf-109's and Fw-190's. This bomber was adequately armed, and a good choice for a multi-purpose medium bomber.
Junkers Ju 87 Stuka
The Ju-87 Stuka was greatly feared on the ground. Despite being vulnerable to fighter attack the Ju-87 was perfect for its job of dive-bombing. Bombs attached under the wings were the main offensive weapon. The Ju-87 would dive at an angle of nearly 90 degrees towards its target, and the Ju87 could automatically pull out of the dive, should the pilot have passed out under the some 6 G's the dive created. The Stuka was used in terror bombing, and destroying decisive targets. However, once the Hurricanes and Spitfires were in full production, the Ju-87's did not stand a chance over the fast, maneuverable fighters. The bombing was discontinued, and "Operation Sealion" (Hitler's blitzkrieg on Britain) was terminated.
Junkers Ju 88 "Mistel"
The Ju-88 was another excellent bomber. It participated actively in the bombing of Britain alongside the Heinkel 111. Fighter escort was needed due to light armor, but the Ju-88 was still versatile. It was fast and had adequate range for its purposes. It was a formidable foe in the sky. Passing over the English Channel, it could drop bombs on British cities and escape quickly, but this was not true in the presence of British fighter escort. Many Ju-88's were lost over the English Channel and over the British mainland. It was also versatile, performing the roles of dive bomber, level bomber, night fighter, day interceptor, photo reconnaissance, and tank destroyer.
Dornier Do 17
The Do-17 was another one of the main medium-bombers for the Luftwaffe. The Do-17 also participated as an occasional night attack aircraft. Like most of the medium-bombers it was swift, and was very powerful in groups. Unfortunately, like so many of the German planes, it was not designed to be pleasing to the eye. Its nickname was the "Flying Pencil."
The Ju-52 was first assembled in the early 1930's. The aircraft was simple and easy to operate which was appreciated by the Luftwaffe and Lufthansa. After participating in the Spanish Civil War, the Ju-52 progressed on to WWII. It soon became the workhorse of the transport fleet operated by the Luftwaffe. One was even used as Hitler's personal transport aircraft.