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The P-36 Hawk

Updated on April 15, 2019
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A P-36 at a Flying Legends Airshow 2016.A Curtis Hawk 75 of the Argentine Air ForceAn RAF Mohawk IV in India 1943A Finnish Air Force Curtis Hawk 75A-3A Curtis Hawk 75A Curtis H75-N HawkThe Curtis P-36A at the USAF Museum a mannequin of Lt. Philip M. Rassmussen.Curtis H75-C1
A P-36 at a Flying Legends Airshow 2016.
A P-36 at a Flying Legends Airshow 2016. | Source
A Curtis Hawk 75 of the Argentine Air Force
A Curtis Hawk 75 of the Argentine Air Force | Source
An RAF Mohawk IV in India 1943
An RAF Mohawk IV in India 1943 | Source
A Finnish Air Force Curtis Hawk 75A-3
A Finnish Air Force Curtis Hawk 75A-3 | Source
A Curtis Hawk 75
A Curtis Hawk 75 | Source
A Curtis H75-N Hawk
A Curtis H75-N Hawk | Source
The Curtis P-36A at the USAF Museum a mannequin of Lt. Philip M. Rassmussen.
The Curtis P-36A at the USAF Museum a mannequin of Lt. Philip M. Rassmussen. | Source
Curtis H75-C1
Curtis H75-C1 | Source

Into Production

The Curtiss P-36 was a runner up in the U.S. Army Air Corps (USAAC) 1936 fighter competition. The P-36 was an all metal aircraft with a closed cockpit and retractable landing gear. The winner was the P-35.[i] The P-36 performed well enough for the USAAC to order 3 test aircraft. The Army received these planes in February 1937. In May one of these aircraft entered a fighter competition at Wright Field and won a contract for 210 aircraft. Deliveries began in April 1938.[ii] Other countries also purchased the P-36.

[i] Uncertain Wings: Curtis Hawk 75 in China, by Richard L. Dunn © 2008, https://warbirdforum.com/uncert.htm, last accessed 4/3/19.

[ii] U.S. Fighters, Army – Air Force 1925-1980, by Lloyd S. Jones, © 1975 Aero Publishers, Inc., P. 85.

The P-36 in Combat

The Sino-Japanese conflict began in July 1937. Lieutenant Colonel Claire L. Chennault, Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek’s air advisor recommended they purchase a demonstration model of the Curtis Hawk 75, the export version of the P-36. China purchased a demonstrator in mid-August. The Hawk had fixed landing gear as opposed to the P-36 which had retractable landing gear. China decided to purchase 30 Hawks on August 24. On January 2, 1939 the 25th Squadron, equipped with Hawks flew from Chungking to Sichuan. Five Hawks crashed and their pilots died in the crashes. In the following months many Hawks were lost or became unserviceable in non-combat operations. On October 4, 1940 eight Japanese Zeros, led by Lieutenant Tamotsu Yokoyama, attacked six Chinese Hawks. The Zeros shot down one Hawk, its pilot bailed out but his parachute didn’t open. The Zeros caused two other Hawks to crash land. Two of the Hawks that made it back to base were destroyed on the ground by Japanese strafing. Four of the Zero pilots landed on the airfield to burn the remaining Chinese aircraft. The Hawks avoided combat and by 1942 none were operational.[i]

In the Battle of France, the French credited P-36s with 311 kills for a loss of 29 Hawks[ii]. One of the early victims of a French Hawk was Leading Condor Legion ace Werner Mölders. In a fight with Hawks he had to land with a shot-up engine[iii]. On November 6, 1939 about 30 Bf 109s attacked 9 Hawks which were escorting a reconnaissance plane. The Bf 109s had the tactical advantage and the Luftwaffe pilots had more combat experience. In the ensuing combat the Hawks shot down 8 Bf 109s for the loss of one Hawk[iv].

The Royal Thai Air Force also had 25 P-36s when the Franco-Thai war broke out in October 1940. The first air combat between the two forces, on December 1, 1940, involved three Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) P-36s and three Vichy French MS..406s. The combat was inconclusive. On January 10, 1941 four MS.406s attacked a formation of 9 Ki-30s escorted by two Hawk 75Ns. French pilot Adjuctant-Chef Tivolier shot down a Ki-30. Another combat between P36s escorting 10 Martin 139WSM bombers and MS.406s was inconclusive. The P-36s were also in inconclusive air combats on the 24th and 28th.[v]

The RAF No. 5 Squadron in India began receiving Hawk 75s, called the Mohawk IV, in December 1941. Mohawk’s began operations in March 1942. On April 6 a flight of Mohawks spotted three Japanese cruisers. The Mohawks damaged a Nakajima E8N “Dave” floatplane. No. 146 Squadron operated Mohawks in March and April. On August 20 Mohawk pilot Sergeant Stuart Garnett shot down a Ki 27 “Nate”. This was the first actual air victory for No. 5 Squadron.[vi] The Mohawks stayed in service with the RAF until January 1944. They flew air defense, bomber escort, and ground attack missions.[vii]

The South African Air Force also operated Mohawks. They saw limited action in Africa. On October 5, 1941 Captain Jack Parsonson destroyed an Italian Air Force Savoia S.75 on the ground at Djibouti. On December 11 Lt. Gazzard damaged an Italian Potez 63.[viii]

The Germans sold captured P-36s to their allies. The Finnish Air Force pilots nicknamed the P-36 “Sussu”, which means “sweetheart”. The Finnish Air Force began P-36 operations on July 16, 1941. They claimed 190.5 Soviet aircraft for the loss of 15. K. Tervo was the highest scoring Hawk pilot with 15.75 kills. Kyösti Karhila scored 13.25 of his 32 kills while flying Hawks.[ix]

At Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7, 1941 there were 41 P-36A Mohawks.[x] Since it was Sunday many of the service members could “sleep in”. Second Lieutenant Philip M. Rasmussen was sleeping in purple pajamas when the Japanese attack woke him. 2nd Lt. Rasmussen, 1st Lt. Lewis M. Sanders, 2nd Lt. Gordon H. Sterling, Jr., and another pilot took off in P-36s. They attacked some Japanese Aichi D3A “Val” dive bombers. Sanders, Rasmussen, and Sterling each shot down a Japanese aircraft. The Japanese shot down Sterling. His aircraft crashed into the ocean and he drowned. Japanese fighters severely damaged Rasmussen’s but he managed to return to base.[xi] The National Musuem of the Air Force has a P-36A Hawk and a mannequin of Lt. Philip M. Rassmussen getting into it. [xii] Friendly anti-aircraft fire shot down one P-36. The USAAF lost four P-36s and 19 others received combat damage.[xiii] These were the only USAAF air victories for the P-36.[xiv]

[i] Uncertain Wings: Curtis Hawk 75 in China, by Richard L. Dunn © 2008, https://warbirdforum.com/uncert.htm, last accessed 4/3/19.

[ii] U.S. Fighters, Army – Air Force 1925-1980, by Lloyd S. Jones, © 1975 Aero Publishers, Inc., P. 85.

[iii] Luftwaffe Fighter Aces, by Mike Spick, © 1996, Published by Ballentine Books. Werner Mölders scored 14 kills during the Spanish Civil War and 101 in World War II.

[iv] Luftwaffe Fighter Aces, by Mike Spick, © 1996, Published by Ballentine Books. Four of the Bf 109s crash landed as did the sole Hawk loss.

[v] The Franco-Thai War, August 31, 2015, https://pacificeagles.net/the-franco-thai-war/, last accessed 4/3/19.

[vi] The RAF credited the E8N as a kill.

[vii] History of War.org, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_curtiss_mohawk_IV.html, last accessed 4/7/19.

[viii] History of War.org, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_curtiss_mohawk_IV.html, last accessed 4/7/19.

[ix] WW2 in Color.com, Finnish Curtis P-36 Hawk, http://www.ww2incolor.com/finnish_forces/Curtiss-hawk-cu-58x.html, last accessed 3/30/19.

[x] WWII Pacific, Dec 7, 1941, http://www.ww2pacific.com/aaf41.html, last accessed 4/7/19.

[xi] The Few Who Got Up, by Robert F. Dorr, October 22, 2009, https://www.defensemedianetwork.com/stories/the-few-who-got-up/, last accessed 4/7/19.

[xii] The Few Who Got Up, by Robert F. Dorr, October 22, 2009, https://www.defensemedianetwork.com/stories/the-few-who-got-up/, last accessed 4/7/19.

[xiii] WWII Pacific, Dec 7, 1941, http://www.ww2pacific.com/aaf41.html, last accessed 4/7/19.

[xiv] Coincidentally in the Korean War the aircraft that achieved the first USAF air victories, the F-82, didn’t get any other air victories during that, or any other, war.

P-36 and it's contemporaries stats

 
P-36
P-35
P-39
P-40
Wingspan
37'4"
36'
34'
37'4"
Length
28'2"
25'2"
30'2"
31'9"
Gross Weight
5650 lbs
5600 lbs
6204-8500 lbs
7215-10,000 lbs
Engine H.P.
1050
950
1150-1325
1040-1325
Max Speed
300 mph
281 mph
379-385 mph
350-370 mph
Source: Air Force Fighters Since 1925 by McDonnel Aircraft Company

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Robert Sacchi

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    • Miebakagh57 profile image

      Miebakagh Fiberesima 

      4 months ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

      Well noted.

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      4 months ago

      Thank you for reading and commenting.

      MG Singh that is quite a compliment coming from a flier. Thank you.

    • Miebakagh57 profile image

      Miebakagh Fiberesima 

      4 months ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

      Noted, please.

    • emge profile image

      MG Singh 

      4 months ago from Singapore

      Very interesting article.

      As a flier it is my field and the learning curve went up.

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      4 months ago

      Yes, they are also building some aircraft under license using the original company plans.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 

      4 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Robert

      And I think thats awesome! A few months ago I got the chance to see a couple of restored WW2 Soviet planes, they looked awesome!

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      4 months ago

      Lately it seems some people are going to great pains to recover and restore abandoned and crashed vintage aircraft.

    • Miebakagh57 profile image

      Miebakagh Fiberesima 

      4 months ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

      Hi, Robert, it pains me to push such marvelous machines into the junkyard, particularly the Spitfire. Thanks for a great comment.

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      4 months ago

      Thank you for reading and commenting. You are right. Many aircraft that served between WWI and WWII are all but lost to history because they are overshadowed but the legendary actions of the aircraft that served in the World Wars.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 

      4 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Robert

      The P36 is often overlooked by us as it came in a time when aircraft development was really 'taking off' but it would have been among the first monoplane fighters and deserves credit for paving the way for the next generation of fighters.

      A very informative hub.

      Lawrence

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      4 months ago

      Thank you for reading and commenting. In air combat tactical position is also a big factor. The highest scoring fighter pilot, Erich Hartmann, believed in 50 - 75% of his air victories the opposing pilot didn't know he was there until he opened fire. A superior aircraft in capable hands is a dangerous combination.

    • DREAM ON profile image

      DREAM ON 

      4 months ago

      A very good history lesson about the P-36 Hawk. When I think of the men in the air I first think of their qualifications as a fighter pilot and I forgot to think about the ability of the plane itself. If you are up against better- made aircraft then you have a slight chance of survival no matter how skilled you are. Thank you for sharing and teaching me more about history.

    • Miebakagh57 profile image

      Miebakagh Fiberesima 

      5 months ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

      Hi, Robert, you are welcomed. Thank you.

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      5 months ago

      On the night of December 6, 1941 America wasn't at war. It was a Saturday night in a hot tourist spot. The soldiers and sailors in Hawaii didn't have any reason to believe they were going to wake up to a war.

    • Miebakagh57 profile image

      Miebakagh Fiberesima 

      5 months ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

      Hi, Flourishanyway, I agreed with you.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      5 months ago from USA

      I like the tuxedo story. Makes you wonder why they didn't all sleep in flight suits. The kill information is also fascinating. People are very competitive. It could get really iffy with thirds mixed in there. Shooting at a plane that is already on its way down seems like it shouldn't count.

    • Miebakagh57 profile image

      Miebakagh Fiberesima 

      5 months ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

      Hi, Robert, it is well appreciated. And thank you.

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      5 months ago

      Thank you. I'm glad to add information for inquisitive commenters.

    • Miebakagh57 profile image

      Miebakagh Fiberesima 

      5 months ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

      Hello, Robert, your short brief is informative. Thank you.

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      5 months ago

      Thank you for reading and commenting.

      Miebakagh Fiberesima - What made the Spitfire such a legendary aircraft was the ability to improve it. The Spitfire I had a max speed of 355mph, the Spitfire IX had a max speed of 408mph, and the Spitfire XIV had a max speed of 460. The P-36, as with most American fighters during World War II, was a sturdy airplane. In that area it probably had the edge over the Spitfire.

      Psmela Oglesby - Yes I'm glad my friend suggested I write an article on it. I found the history of this often overlooked aircraft very interesting.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      5 months ago from Sunny Florida

      The P-36 Hawk has quite an interesting history despite the rough start it turned out to be an amazing plane. Thanks for another historical lesson.

    • Miebakagh57 profile image

      Miebakagh Fiberesima 

      5 months ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

      Hi, Robert, thanks for the information in your response. I think the P-36 is similar to the SpitFire? Many thanks again, and enjoy the day.

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      5 months ago

      Thank you all for reading and commenting.

      The P-36 had a good record in most of the places it fought but it falls into the categories of a forgotten fighter. A friend of mine suggested I do an article on this fighter. Most of the theatres it fought in were "side shows" so it doesn't get the attention of the more widely used fighters.

    • Miebakagh57 profile image

      Miebakagh Fiberesima 

      5 months ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

      Noted, please.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      5 months ago

      This is truly a "sweetheart" of a plane! Thanks for the interesting facts on the P36 Hawk.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      5 months ago from UK

      It sounds like the commisioning of the P-36 was very timely for its involvement in major conflicts of the 20th Century.

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      5 months ago

      Thank you both for reading and commenting.

      Miebakagh Fiberesima - Like many aircraft the Hawk was superseded by other aircraft. There may be some P-36 fans who would say with the proper upgrades it could have been be comparable or superior to other aircraft. Others may say the aircraft didn't have much development life in it so other aircraft were chosen.

      FlourishAnyway - Another pilot who had a night out on the town fell asleep with his tuxedo pants. He went up with his tuxedo pants. Many countries had a system where if more than one pilot hit an aircraft that was shot down they would divide up the kill. If two pilots shoot down a plane each pilot gets 1/2 a kill. If 4 pilots shoot down a plane each gets 1/4 a kill. I remember in Chuck Yeager's book he complained some pilots would try to get some hits into a stricken plane to get 1/2 a kill.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      5 months ago from USA

      What a diverse history this plane has had, having been used by so many nations. So I guess Rasmussen took off in his flashy purple jammies to fight, without the luxury of time to prepare. I was also wondering about how they calculated kills as fractional (i.e.,.25 and .75.)

    • Miebakagh57 profile image

      Miebakagh Fiberesima 

      5 months ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

      Hello, Roberts, it is a pity that the Hawk did not see enough action like any other combat aircraft. Thanks for sharing.

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