A Tale of Two (or Three) Kitties

On the anniversary of Pearl Harbor I was searching for a picture of the Pearl Harbor survivor Curtiss P-40B 41-13297.   I was riffling through Wikipedia looking at all the surviving Warhawks / Tomahawks / Kittyhawks when my geeky eye lit upon an entry for a Kittyhawk 1A

What it said was:
ET573 – based at Military Aviation Museum in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Here it is – Jerry Yagen’s Military Air Museum is the owner of this Curtiss P-40E (Kittyhawk1 1A) painted as Tex Hill’s P-40E 41-5658 ‘108’ of the 3rd Fighter Squadron, American Volunteer Group. The MAM Kittyhawk never flew with the Flying Tigers, being an RAF example that was re-exported to the Soviet Union in 1942. Seen here on November 28, 2008. Photo by Michael Rehbaum, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Wikipedia page for the MAM says:

Curtiss P-40E Kittyhawk – This particular aircraft, serial number 41-35918, was built in 1941 and sent to the UK as a Lend-Lease item; it was passed along to the Russians in April, 1942, and lost in action while protecting Murmansk. It stayed on the tundra where it had landed for almost 50 years, and was recovered in 1992; acquired by the Museum’s founder in 1996, it finally flew again in 2003

Those of you who know me, know what a sucker I am for registration and serial numbers.  It is a talent I have acquired over the last fifty-something years.  Bear with me when I say I suddenly got interested, because I knew there had been another ET-serialled Kittyhawk in the news recently.

Oh yes dear reader, it is ET574, the 260 squadron P-40E (Kittyhawk 1A)  which was discovered in the Egyptian desert in 2012 by a group of Polish oil company workers.   As a Wikipedia author quite succinctly puts it: “As of 2018, displayed at a museum in El Alamein in a faux paint scheme.”  See another blog entry.

It’s a romantic or sentimental thought that two neighbors on the Curtiss production line could be survivors, in very different forms. Emboldened, I went to consult Joe Baugher’s database, and found the following:

41-35927 (MSN 18448) to RAF as ET573 but delivered to USSR.  Lost in action near Arctic Circle where it lay on frozen tundra for 50 years.  Recovered from crash site near Murmansk c.1992.  Brought to USA at Griffin, GA and underwent restoration.  There is an RAF record card which has this plane as going to the RAF as ET573 and later becoming an instructional airframe Oct 1943 as 4181M.

41-35928 (MSN 18449) to RAF as Kittyhawk IA ET574.  Missing during ferry flight Jun 28, 1942 from LG.85 (Amriya South, Egypt) to an RSU near Wadi Naturun which was used as a maintenance group facility (53RFU).  The aircraft flew with its undercarriage locked down due to damage.   An incorrect course was set and the aircraft was thought to have crashed in the Egyptian desert due to fuel exhaustion. Pilot listed as missing.  The aircraft wreckage that was located in March 2012 by oil company workers in nearly intact form may be this plane.   Pilot still missing,

Something is wrong here.   This is very much a geek point,  but the former USAAF identity for ET573 is unlikely to be 41-35927 (Joe Baugher) and 41-35918 (MAM / Wikipedia).  I think the first (and easiest) theory is that someone at Wikipedia has got their wires crossed.  It would not be the first time that erroneous or misleading information had been posted on Wikipedia, after all. Alternatively the confusion may lie somewhere else.

So what about 41-35918? Back to Joe Baugher, who clarifies the question of RAF identity.

41-35887/35925 (MSN 18408/18446, ET533/ET571) were to have gone to RAF as Kittyhawk IA but diverted to USSR Apr 1942

41-35918 (MSN 19751, production no. 1025 on data plate) to RAF as ET564.  To USSR Apr 4, 1942.  Shot down Jun 1, 1942 in area of Pyal-Yavr Lake.  Recovered in 1992 and brought to USA and restored by the Fighter Factory. Now on display at the Military Aviation Museum, Virginia Beach, VA

Whoa – hold on. So Joe Baugher seemed to be saying the MAM example is actually ET564 whereas someone else in Wikipedia thinks it’s ET573. Joe Baugher’s record says ET573 did return to the States and was being restored in Georgia.

A little further riffling around the Web retrieved an article and a photo from Airliners.net which seems to answer my question: [my additional notes in square brackets]

Military Aviation Museum – Ex USAAF 41-35927, RAF ET573. Gerald Yagen acquired two P-40E Warhawks, both recovered from Russia in 1992. Both aircraft had gone to the Soviets in 1942 on lend-lease. They were c/n 18439 (ex USAAF 41-35918, RAF ET564 and Soviet AF 1025) and this one [c/n 18448 ex-USAAF 41-35927].   [Yagen’s flyer was assumed to be 41-35918, but] research, confirmed by the company in New Zealand that did the actual restoration in 2001-2003, showed that it is in fact the other one, 41-35927.

So it’s not a matter of one recovered P-40, It’s two. No doubt this is where the confusion arises. The question which remains in my mind is this. If the flyer really is the former ET573, (as the restorer in New Zealand seems to confirm) are there any substantial remains of ET564 or were they consumed in the restoration of the other one?  How did the identities get swapped? In the words of an old TV series: “Confused? – You will be!”

If you look up Jerry Yagen’s P-40E on the Web you’ll see histories of both of his machines with photographs of the same aircraft.   They’ve both been to the USA, and possibly both to a restoration facility in Griffin, GA. They’ve both been to New Zealand (or have they?) but seemingly only one has emerged from restoration to flying condition. I suppose I could always email someone out there and ask them. No doubt some of you are saying “why didn’t you do that in the first place?”

In conclusion.  I first had a romantic thought about the survival of two neighbors on the Curtiss production line in Buffalo sent to very different destinations. Then my little internet paper trail made me wonder if the identity of the Soviet P-40 was correct, but now it seems possible that, after all, the P-40s in Virginia Beach, USA and El Alamein, Egypt really are construction numbers 18848 and 18849, 41-35927 and 41-35928, ET 573 and ET 574.   One is considerably better preserved than the other – neither look very much the way they did when flying in the Second World war, but each have a story to tell. 

A footnote about Lend-lease P-40s in the air forces of the USSR

An assembly plant for American fighter warplanes destined for Russia, somewhere in Iran. March 1943 – Public Domain via Wikimedia – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress‘s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID fsa.8d29407.

There is a fascinating article written in 2019 by Valery Romanenko entitled The P-40 in Soviet Aviation https://lend-lease.net/articles-en/the-p-40-in-soviet-aviation/.

I was curious as to how the two Soviet P-40s probably went to the USSR. Romanenko says that the southern lend-lease route began (through Abadan, Iran and/or Basra, Iraq) began to operate in June 1942, but Kittyhawks were received from this source starting in November.  This means Yagen’s  P-40s probably arrived in the USSR on one of the (in)famous Arctic Convoys to Murmansk, possibly either PQ13 (arrived Murmansk 3/31/1942)  or PQ14 (arrived Murmansk 4/19/42).  See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arctic_convoys_of_World_War_II

On a related literary meander, if you haven’t read Alistair MacLean’s 1955 debut novel HMS Ulysses or Paul Lund and Harry Ludlum’s PQ17 – Convoy to Hell you might consider a visit to your local library or bookstore.

Mark Sheppard’s article on P-40 recoveries from Russia on the same site https://lend-lease.net/articles-en/p-40-recovery-in-russia/ Mentions that 47 Tomahawk IIBs arrived in the USSR  in September 1941. They probably arrived in the test Convoy “Dervish” which arrived at Archangel on 8/31/1941. The P-40s were assembled by an RAF detachment at Yagodnik and flight- tested by a couple of American USAAC officers by the names of Lts. Allison and Zemke – the latter better known later as as Colonel  ‘Hub’ Zemke, 56th  Fighter Group. The timing is a little interesting since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was still three months away. It’s interesting to know that ‘Hub’ Zemke was getting involved even before the USA was officially at war.

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