The Curtiss P-36 Hawk also known as the Curtiss Hawk Model 75, was an American-designed and built fighter aircraft of the 1930s and 40s. A contemporary of both the Hawker Hurricane and Messerschmitt Bf 109, it was one of the first of a new generation of combat aircraft—a sleek monoplane design making extensive use of metal in its construction and powered by a powerful radial engine. Obsolete at the onset of World War II and best known as the predecessor of the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, the P-36 saw only limited combat with the United States Army Air Forces.
Even before the P-36A entered production, the French Air Force entered negotiations with Curtiss for delivery of 300 aircraft. The negotiating process ended up being very drawn-out because the cost of the Curtiss fighters was double that of the French Morane-Saulnier M.S.406 and Bloch MB.150, and the delivery schedule was deemed too slow. Since the USAAC was unhappy with the rate of domestic deliveries and believed that export aircraft would slow things down even more, it actively opposed the sale. Eventually, it took direct intervention from U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt to give the French test pilot Michel Detroyat a chance to fly the Y1P-36.
Detroyat's enthusiasm, problems with the MB.150, and the pressure of continuing German rearmament finally forced France to purchase 100 aircraft and 173 engines. The first Hawk 75A-1 arrived in France in December 1938 and began entering service in March 1939. After the first few examples, aircraft were delivered in pieces and assembled in France by the Société Nationale de Constructions Aéronautiques du Centre. Officially designated Curtiss H75-C1 (the "Hawk" name was not used in France), the aircraft were powered by Pratt & Whitney R-1830-SC-G engines with 900 hp and had instruments calibrated for the metric system, a seat for French dorsal parachutes, a French-style throttle which operated in reverse from U.S. and British aircraft (full throttle was to the rear rather than to the front) and armament of four (i.e. later models had six with two firing through the prop and four in the wings) 7.5 mm FN-Browning machine guns, aimed with a French supplied Baille-Lemaire gun sight. The aircraft evolved through several modifications, the most significant being the installation of the Wright R-1820 Cyclone engine. This variant, designated as Curtiss H751-C1, saw little operational use due to its late delivery and reliability problems with the new engine. A total of 316 H75s were delivered to France before the German occupation.
On 8 September 1939, aircraft from Groupe de Chasse II/4 were credited with shooting down two Luftwaffe Messerschmitt Bf 109Es, the first Allied air victory of World War II on the Western front. During 1939--1940, French H75 pilots claimed 330 confirmed air to air kills (of a total of 1,009 air to air kills by the French Air Force during the 1939-40 time period) and 80 probable victories in H75s against only 29 aircraft lost in aerial combat. While only 12.6% of the French Air Force single-seater fighter force the H75 accounted for almost a third of air-to-air kills during the 1940 Battle of France. Of the 11 French aces of the early part of the war, seven flew H75s. The leading ace of the time was Lieutenant Edmond Marin la Meslée with 15 confirmed and five probable victories in the type. H75-equipped squadrons were evacuated to French North Africa before the Armistice to avoid capture by the Germans. While under the Vichy government, these units clashed with British aircraft over Mers el-Kébir and Dakar. During Operation Torch in North Africa, French H75s fought against U.S. Navy F4F Wildcats, losing 15 aircraft while shooting down seven American aircraft. From late 1942 on, the Allies started re-equipping the formerly Vichy-controlled French units with the H75s replaced by P-40s and P-39s.
The P-36 was used more extensively by the French Air Force, both during the Battle of France and by the Vichy French; and was used against French forces in the Franco-Thai War (October 1940--9 May 1941.) It was also used by the British Commonwealth (where it was known as the Mohawk), and by Chinese air units. Several dozen also fought in the Finnish Air Force against the Soviet Air Forces. With around 1,000 aircraft built, the P-36 was a major commercial success for Curtiss. This article also covers the YP-37 and the XP-42 prototypes based on the P-36.
Copyright © 2012 Malcolm Auld
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The Curtiss P-36 "Hawk" or Curtiss Hawk Model 75, was also know by the British as the Mohawk...