We present a report by Mark Sheppard on recovery efforts of P-40C and P-40E in Russia.
All material presented here is copyrighted and can not be reprinted and/or duplicated in any form without the written consent of their respective authors.
Curtiss-Wright P-40C (C/N 16194) Serial 41-13390
Nick Grey of the Fighter Collection sat in the cockpit of the Curtiss P40-C in Russia prior to it returning for restoration. (Fighter Collection)
The Curtiss-Wright model H81 A-3 was manufactured for the US Army Air Corps between March and May 1941. The order number was W-535, account 15802 and it cost the US Government $40,148.00. Curtiss-Wright completed 193 P-40Cs in the Curtiss construction block of 16104-16296. The Allison engine order was for a V-1710-33, which originally would have been in the 41.35??? range as seen on other P40Cs in the same block. The P-40C described was completed in Olive Drab 41 to upper surfaces and Neutral Gray to the under-side. The pre-war star and meatball was on the upper surfaces, whilst the underside of the wings had a US ARMY marking in large black letters.
Curtiss-Wright P-40C factory number 16194 was the 90th P-40C manufactured at the main production facility in Buffalo, NY. It was completed in March 1941 with the serial 41-13390 and was then issued to Holabird, Central District, on 9 April 1941. It is thought that this P-40C did not have any previous USAAC service. To support this, there are no listings on the record card and no evidence on the recovered airframe of any previous markings or painted rudder.
It became the property of the Office of Defense Aid (ST-41-24390) on 11 June 1941. P-40C 41-13390 was one of ten P-40Cs purchased by the British to be included within their Tomahawk IIB order, of which the British ordered 1180 examples. (The ten were 41-13389/13390/13396-13401/13406/13407.) Serial 41-13390 was allocated to the Soviet Union as part of the Defense Aid Program in September 1941.
The P-40C was located by satellite photography in a desolate part of Russia in 1993. It was recovered from behind Murmashi, a rail depot south of Murmansk, where it had crash-landed during WWII.
The pilot undertook an emergency wheels-up landing in the tundra. Very little damage occurred in the crash-landing, except to the radiator chin cowl assembly. The pilot, and possibly others, then removed the radio and gun sight.
The P-40C was recovered by helicopter, dismantled, and eventually returned to the UK, where the restoration was being planned by The Fighter Collection at Duxford.
The ID located on the tail oleo showed it is P-40C-CU Model 81A-3, serial 41-13390. The serial number was also located on the oil tank. The fuselage longerons, back armor, and other panels were stamped with the construction number 194. Other panels and components clearly stated B model and these are thought to be from the production line where the B models and Tomahawk IIBs ran into the C-model batch. There was very little difference between these models and parts certainly just ran through.
The P-40 was clearly marked up with a tactical number ’53’ on the faded camouflage. All upper surfaces had been scoured nearly down to bare metal during over 50 years of snow storms. The old-style American star was faintly visible on the fuselage side. The US ARMY on the underside of the wings was clearer and had been overpainted, and red stars had been applied. There was evidence also of brown and green camouflage and possibly the outline of an RAF roundel, also on the side of the fuselage. It is not known whether this was possibly added before being completed for the US Army or after it was taken over by the British Purchasing Commission. A number of the engine cowling panels had clearly come from a British Tomahawk IIB (with green and brown camouflage), and could have been added during its operational period in Russia.
The P-40C had clearly suffered combat damage and there were small-caliber bullet holes along the fuselage and to the wings. The oil tank was holed, which most likely led to the loss of the aircraft. It was clear, though, that repairs had been undertaken previously, particularly to one wing tip (according to V. Romanenko, it could be the result of a ramming attack).
The engine recovered from the airframe was a British-ordered Allison V1710-33 with UK War Office stamps and the number A.200541. This was one of 1,000 Allison V-1710 engines (A.199588 through to A.200587) ordered against Contract No A-196.
The Soviet Union received their first 47 Tomahawk IIBs in September 1941. They were assembled by an RAF team at Yagodnik airfield near Archangel and from here were flight- tested by USAAC pilot Lt. Zemke (later Col ‘Hub’ Zemke, 56 FG 8AF) and less so by Lt. Alison. The first two Tomahawks, serials AK300 with Allison A.200767 and AK242 with Allison engine A.200663, were handed over to the Soviet Air Force on 5 October 1941. Unfortunately, in both cases, within half an hour both had crashed/emergency landed. It was found that both had suffered gear, generator-drive gear, and accessory-drive gear failure. It appeared that the generator-drive gear on these aircraft had not received the necessary modification prior to being dispatched for the Soviet Union! As of 28 November 1941, the Soviets had suffered 19 failures with their Tomahawks due to no modification and they were not too happy! The Soviets grounded all their Tomahawks until it was all sorted out.
According to Soviet research data, the Curtiss-Wright P40C 41-13350 arrived at Murmansk in early 1942 by convoy. It was then most probably assembled and flight tested at Yagodnik airfield before being assigned to a fighter regiment. The Soviets recorded American-supplied P-40 aircraft by their construction (factory) number, so in the case of 41-13390 it was recorded as ‘194’ as painted on the pilot’s back armor (the British-supplied aircraft were easier to inventory as they were recorded by the RAF serial). The first entry for ‘194’ was the following:
P-40 “194” was issued new to the 147 IAP VVS 14 Army (147th Fighter Regiment, 14th Army) in early 1942. On 5 February 1942, at 1340 CET (Central European Time) P-40 ‘194’ suffered engine failure and had to make a belly-landing at Murmashi airfield, south of Murmansk. It was considered as “medium damaged” (30-50%). Pilot was Sr. Lt. N. V. Jurilin, who survived unhurt.
After repairs and with a new Allison engine fitted, it was issued to 20 GIAP (Guards Fighter Regiment) on 12 July 1942. This regiment had 20 P-40s on strength, 16 of which were operational. 147 IAP became a Guards Unit on 7 March 1942, becoming 20 GIAP. The records mention Tomahawk “194” as powered by a British Air Ministry-ordered Allison C-15 No A.200541. Whether this was from a damaged Tomahawk IIB or a crated spare is still unknown. At this time, the 20 GIAP was a part of the 1SAD (Combined Air Division) of Soviet Air Force (VVS) and was on the Karelian Front as part of the defense of Murmansk.
On 27 September 1942, the Soviet War Diary records the following combat activities:
1617 – 1723 hrs (CET), five Hurricanes of 837 IAP covered the air over own bases when nine P-40s of 20 GIAP and one P-39 of 19 GIAP were engaged in combat with eighteen Bf-109s at altitudes of 4000 – 5000meters. The air battle lasted 25 minutes. The Russians claimed three Bf-109s shot down (Luftwaffe records report undercarriage damage to a Bf-109F-4 of 7./JG5). Russian losses were two aircraft from 837 IAP and two aircraft from 20 GIAP (Jr. Lt. N. A. Fikljunin was shot down and killed in a Hurricane, Sr. Sgt. P. K. Prochan made a force landing in a Hurricane 3km east of Shonguj, Sgt A. P. Pakov was shot down and parachuted to safety from his P-40 and, finally, Major Ermakov belly-landed his P-40 “194”.
The last available record for “194” is on 5 January 1944, when it was written off from the inventory of 20 GIAP of the 1st Combined Air Division. It was a common Soviet practice not to strike off wrecked equipment immediately (the Soviet Navy did the same with ships and aircraft) until a period of time after the event. There is no evidence of P-40 “194” being on the inventory list of 20 GIAP on 31 December 1942, or on the inventory of 7 VA (Air Army) on 1 June 1943. It can safely be assumed that 27 September 1942 was when “194” was lost and 5 January 1944 was the date that “194” was eventually written off from Soviet records.
Curtiss-Wright P40E (C/N 16814) Serial 41-13570
In late 1941, the new P-40E ‘Warhawk’, as the whole production was now named, began rolling off the production lines in Buffalo, NY. The Curtiss-Wright model H87 A-3 was manufactured for the US Army and to fill British contracts through 1941 and well into 1942. The US Army received 2320 models and 1500 were ordered by the British, who named this model the ‘Kittyhawk 1A’.
The P-40E in question was completed within the smallest batch of E models produced, towards the end of 1941. Many of the completed components were dated “08.41”. This P-40E was supplied with the Curtiss construction number 16814 and the serial 41-13570. The order number was W-535 ac15802 and it cost the US government $39,628.00. Curtiss-Wright completed 79 machines within this block (construction numbers 16737-16815) and the serials 41-13521 to 41-13599 were assigned to them.
The Allison engine was a V-1710-39 that had the construction number 42-33729. The P-40E had been painted in Olive Drab 41 on the upper surfaces and Neutral Gray on the underside. It seems it had already been earmarked for the Soviet Union as it had been completed in nothing more than the serial number and stenciling. There was no sign of the American star having ever been applied.
It was accepted by the USAAC on 23 January 1942 and on the same day 41-13570 was assigned to Defense Aid. It was then transported to one of the East-coast ports and loaded aboard a ship along with other Lend- Lease supplies bound for the Soviet Union.
The P-40E was recovered from its watery grave of 55 years on 31 August 1997. Although the lake was relatively shallow, the aircraft was brought to the surface using flotation gear and gradually brought to the shore. In shallower water the tail plane and fin were removed along with the ammunition boxes and covers to the wings. The P40-E seemed remarkably complete and well-preserved.
Once the P-40E was back on shore, other parts were recovered from the lake bottom, including the armored windscreen, canopy, and lower engine parts. The P-40E was then airlifted by Ka-25K helicopter to a site closer to civilization to be dismantled. Additional lifting support was required to the engine due to the damage which had occurred in the crash landing. Unfortunately, during the lift further damage was sustained to the port trailing edge by the use of lifting chains instead of webbing.
When lowered, the P-40E could be seen fully for the first time in 55 years. It could be clearly seen that it had not been overpainted and still retained the Olive Drab and Neutral Gray as it had been applied when it left the factory. A white painted number “51” had been applied to the fuselage sides; red stars had also been applied over the fin/rudder and also to the underside of the wings. Interestingly, there were no red stars on the upper surface of the wings that were often applied on Lend-Lease aircraft.
The P-40E was clearly marked up with all the standard stenciling. It had the maximum weights and other technical stencils on the port side of the cockpit and also located there was the serial 41-13570, confirming it was an E model. The Curtiss construction number “814” was located around the whole aircraft and seems to have been stamped on all of the fillets and removable panels. The most identifiable number was painted at the top of the pilot’s back armor.
The E model carried six .50-caliber (12.7mm) heavy machine guns and up to 280 rounds of ammunition. The corroded ammunition was removed and made safe. The ammunition boxes and guns themselves were in remarkably good condition and the etched panels were clearly readable. The cockpit instrumentation and control stick were all there. Generally the P-40E was recovered complete, albeit with some damage from the crash landing.
The P-40E had suffered only slight combat damage prior to its final flight. There were a couple of light-caliber bullet holes to the fin and tailplane, which had been patched. More recent combat damage consisted of two visible bullet holes that had occurred at a very shallow angle, skimming the skin. One hole was to the tail plane and another to the engine cowling. The only damage that seemed to have contributed to its loss was to the lower starboard side of the engine casing, which appeared to have resulted in the loss of coolant. The exhausts were of the early type-three sets of two through the cowling. They were of the round type, not the later flattened group of six exhausts carried on the majority of E models.
The only effects from the water seemed to be corrosion to the ferrous elements. For example, the metal handles for the ammunition boxes had rusted away. Likewise, the magnesium cam covers and items on the rear of the Allison engine had literally dissolved to nothing. The wheel hubs that appeared to have been protected more by the silt looked to be intact and the tires were still inflated.
It was probably the loss of engine coolant, leading to an overheating engine, that forced the pilot to undertake an emergency landing. Jr. Lt. A. V. Pshenev decided not to try to crash-land on the unforgiving tundra, which was covered by stunted trees and large rocks. Instead he opted to put the P-40E down on one of the numerous lakes in the area. Possibly still in combat, the P-40E seems to have hit the water at a steep ascent rather than a shallow glide. On hitting the water, the large radiator housing caused the P-40E to decelerate rapidly. The spinner received a long flat dent to one face and one propeller blade snapped completely off. The radiator probably dug in and acted as a brake, bending the fuselage along its axis to such an extent that it snapped both upper longerons on the canopy rail! Fifty odd rivets were also blown to the top skin above the port undercarriage rotation point due to the hard impact. The P-40E then skewed around, pivoting on its wing, a maneuver that produced the damage visible to the starboard wing tip. On gradually settling down, the pilot clambered out and made for shore whilst his P-40E sank below the surface.
According to Soviet records, the P-40E arrived in spring 1942 to a port, most likely Murmansk. The Soviet records list the loss by the aircraft type, construction, and engine number, which showed the following information:
P-40E “814”, engine No 42-33729 of 20 GIAP, 14th Army.
Lost completely on 1 June 1942. Pilot Jr. Lt. A. V. Pshenev survived and returned to Soviet forces.
The 20 GIAP (20 Guards Fighter Air Regiment) was part of the 14th Army under the command of the Karelian Front. The unit was based at Murmashi airfield, south of Murmansk, as part of the defense of Murmansk and the Kola Peninsula.
According to the 14th Army Soviet War Diary for that day, this is what occurred:
On 1 June 1942, between 0452-0631 (Murmansk time) four P-39s and four P-40s of 19 GIAP escorted Soviet SB bombers to attack Petsamo airfield. Later, between 0519 – 0650 hours, six P40s of 20 GIAP escorted four more SBs to join in the attack on the German airfield. At the target the P-39s and P-40s were involved in air battle with Bf-109s of II/JG5. Soviet losses were listed as four P-40s and four SBs. No loses were recorded by II/JG5.
On this day, P-40E tactical number “51” was being flown by Jr. Lt. A. V. Pshenev when it was involved in air combat during this mission. The Luftwaffe victor could well have been Uffz. Dцring of 5./JG5, who shot down one P-40 in the early morning of the 1 June 1942 at 0456 CET (0556MT). (Interestingly, this was the second P-40E loss with the 20 GIAP, the first E model being lost on 29 May 1942.)
The P-40E crashed on Lake Kod Ozero, a small lake near Pja Ozero in the tundra west of Murmansk. The pilot survived the crash, swam to shore, and walked back to his own lines. He was treated in a hospital, where during an attack by the Luftwaffe on 13 June 1942 he was caught by bomb fragments and lost a foot.
After being recovered in 1997, the P-40E was shipped to the UK in 1998 and put on display. At the time this article was written the aircraft was still for sale.
The author would like to acknowledge assistance of the following individuals in preparation of this article:
Stephen Grey of the Fighter Collection and the new owners.
Special thanks to Rune Rautio, Carl-Fredrik Geust, and Valeriy Romanenko for all their help with the Soviet combat records.
Thanks must go to the Peter Monk, Martin Cobb, Steve Vizard, and Rune Rautio for all their help.