Military History Books
by Harold A. Skaarup   
Canadian Warplanes 3: Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk

Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk, RCAF

Data current to 9 April 2021.

 (DND Archives Photo, PL-8346)

Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk from No. 118 (Fighter) Squadron, RCAF, located in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, photographed on 4 April 1942.

The Curtiss P-40 (known as the Warhawk in the USA) is single-engined, single-seat, all-metal fighter and and ground-attack aircraft that first flew in 1938.  The British Commonwealth air forces including the RCAF, and the Soviet air forces used the name Tomahawk for models equivalent to the P-40B and P-40C, and the name Kittyhawk for models equivalent to the P-40D and all later variants.  The P-40 was in frontline service until the end of the Second World War.  It was the third most-produced American fighter of the war after the P-51 and P-47, with 13,738 being built in Buffalo, New York.  Based on war-time victory claims, over 200 Allied fighter pilots from 7 different nations (Australia, Canada, England, New Zealand, South Africa, the Soviet Union and the United States) became aces flying the P-40.  A total of 13 RCAF units operated the Kittyhawk in the North West European or Alaskan theaters.

In mid-May 1940, Canadian and US officers watched comparative tests of a XP-40 and a Spitfire, at RCAF Station Uplands, Ottawa, Ontario.  While the Spitfire was considered to have performed better, it was not available for use in Canada and the P-40 was ordered to meet home air defense requirements.  In all, eight Home War Establishment Squadrons were equipped with the Kittyhawk: 72 Kittyhawk Mk. I, 12 Kittyhawk Mk. Ia, 15 Kittyhawk Mk. III and 35 Kittyhawk Mk. IV aircraft, for a total of 134 aircraft.  These aircraft were mostly diverted from RAF Lend-Lease orders for service in Canada.  The Kittyhawks were obtained in lieu of 144 Bell P-39 Airacobras originally allocated to Canada but reassigned to the RAF.

However, before any home units received the Kittyhawk, three RCAF Article XV squadrons operated Tomahawk aircraft from bases in the United Kingdom.  No. 403 Squadron RCAF, a fighter unit, used the Tomahawk Mk. II briefly before converting to Spitfires.  Two Army Co-operation (close air support) units, No. 400 Squadron and No. 414 Squadron, trained with Tomahawks, before converting to Mustang Mk. I aircraft and taking on a fighter/reconnaissance role.  Of these, only No. 400 Squadron used Tomahawks operationally, conducting a number of armed sweeps over France in the late 1941.  RCAF pilots also flew Tomahawks or Kittyhawks with other British Commonwealth units based in North Africa, the Mediterranean, South East Asia and (in at least one case) the South West Pacific.

In 1942, the Imperial Japanese Navy occupied two islands, Attu and Kiska, in the Aleutians off Alaska.  RCAF home defense Kittyhawk squadrons saw combat over the Aleutians, assisting the USAAF.  The RCAF initially sent No. 111 Squadron, flying the Kittyhawk Mk. I, to the US base on Adak island.  During the drawn-out campaign, 12 Canadian Kittyhawks operated on a rotational basis from a new, more advanced base on Amchitka,75 miles (121 km) southeast of Kiska.  No. 14 and No. 111 Sqns took "turn-about" at the base.  During a major attack on Japanese positions at Kiska on 25 September 1942, Squadron Leader Ken Boomer shot down a Nakajima A6M2-N Rufe seaplane.  The RCAF also purchased 12 P-40Ks directly from the USAAF while in the Aleutians.  After the Japanese threat diminished, these two RCAF squadrons returned to Canada and eventually transferred to England without their Kittyhawks.

In January 1943, a further Article XV unit, No. 430 Squadron was formed at RAF Hartford Bridge, England and the pilots trained on the obsolete Tomahawk Mk. IIA The squadron converted to the the Mustang Mk. I before commencing operations in mid-1943.

In early 1945 pilots from No. 133 Squadron RCAF, operating Kittyhawks out of RCAF Station Patricia Bay, Victoria, British Columbia, intercepted and destroyed two Japanese balloon-bombs, which were designed to cause wildfires on the North American mainland.  On 21 February, Pilot Officer E. E. Maxwell shot down a balloon, which landed on Sumas Mountain in Washington State.  On 10 March, Pilot Officer J. 0. Patten destroyed a balloon near Saltspring Island, BC.  The last interception took place on 20 April 1945 when Pilot Officer P.V. Brodeur from No. 135 Squadron out of Abbotsford, BC, shot down a balloon over Vedder Mountain.  (Wikipedia)

 (IWM Photo, 17252)

The first Curtiss Tomahawks, Mk. I and Mk. IIA, to enter squadron service with the RAF, in the hands of No. 403 Squadron, RCAF, at Baginton, Warwickshire in the UK.  The Squadron operated the Tomahawk for only a short time, yielding them in favour of Supermarine Spitfires in May 1941.

RCAF units that operated Kittyhawks were, in order of conversion:

Article XV squadrons serving in the UK under direct command and control of the RAF, with RAF owned aircraft.

No. 403 Squadron (Tomahawk Mk. IIA and Mk. IIB, March 1941),

No. 400 Squadron (Tomahawk Mk. I, Mk. IIA and Mk. IIB, April 1941–September 1942)

No. 414 Squadron (Tomahawk Mk. I, Mk. IIA and Mk. IIB, August 1941–September 1942)

No. 430 Squadron (Tomahawk Mk. IIA and Mk. IIB, January 1943–February 1943)

Operational Squadrons of the Home War Establishment (HWE) (Based in Canada)

No. 111 (F) Squadron (Kittyhawk Mk. I, Mk. IV, November 1941–December 1943 and P-40K, September 1942–July 1943)

No. 118 (F) Squadron (Kittyhawk Mk. I, November 1941–October 1943)

No. 14 (F) Squadron (Kittyhawk Mk. I, January 1942–September 1943)

No. 132 (F) Squadron (Kittyhawk Mk. IA & Mk. III, April 1942–September 1944)

No. 130 (F) Squadron (Kittyhawk Mk. I, May 1942–October 1942)

No. 163 Squadron (Kittyhawk Mk. I & Mk. III, October 1943–March 1944)

No. 133 (F) Squadron (Kittyhawk Mk. I, March 1944–July 1945)

No. 135 (F) Squadron (Kittyhawk Mk. IV, May 1944–September 1945)

Curtiss Hawk Model 81A-1, P-40 Tomahawk Mk. I (3), (Serial No. A313 (ex AH793), A315 (ex AH840), A316 (ex AH774), 81A-2, P-40B Tomahawk Mk. IIA (1), (Serial No. A317 (ex AH938).

Curtiss Hawk Model 87A-2, P-40D Kittyhawk Mk. I (72), (Serial Nos. 1028-1099). , P-40E-1 Kittyhawk Mk. IA (12), (Serial Nos. 720-731), P-40M Kittyhawk Mk. III (15), (Serial Nos. 831-845), P-40N Kittyhawk Mk. IV (35), (Serial Nos. 846-880), P-40K-1 Warhawk (9), for a total of 143 aircraft.

(DND Photo)

RCAF Curtiss Kittyhawk formation including (Serial No. AZ138) coded LZ-S, and LZ-G, LZ-E, LZ-V and (Serial No. AL166), coded LZ-O, No. 111 (F) Squadron over the Rockies, ca 1942.

 (City of Vancouver Archives Photo, AM1184-S3-: CVA 1184-1132)

RCAF Curtiss Kittyhawk, No. 14 (F) Squadron, Vancouver, British Columbia, ca 1942.  The badge on the nacelle seems to be that of the ANAF Vets or the Royal Canadian Legion.  It reads "For King and Empire". 

 (RCAF Photo)

Curtiss Kittyhawk Mk. I (Serial No. AK803), coded RE-K, No. 118 (F) Squadron, RCAF, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, 4 April 1942.

  (DND Archives Photo, PL-8345)

Curtiss Kittyhawk Mk. I (Serial No. AK803), coded RE-K, No. 118 (F) Squadron, RCAF, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, 4 April 1942.

 (DND Archives Photo)

Curtiss Kittyhawk Mk. I , No. 118 Squadron, RCAF.  Pilots at RCAF Station Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, flight planning in front of a squadron Kittyhawk prior to departing for the Pacific Coast in 1942. Left to right are: Beirnes, Bourbonnais, Davidge, Roberts, Studholme, Moran, Pennock, Hindmarsh.

 (DND Photo via Shuan Mullins)

Curtiss Kittyhawk Mk. IAs (Model H87-A4) bearing RAF serials in the ET series from a batch of 480 P-40E-1 aircraft ordered under USAAF Serial Nos. 41-35874/36353, c/n 19395/19474, a number of which were diverted to the RCAF.  The identity of the nearest Kittyhawk, Serial No. ET84-, is likely one of three aircraft:
P-40E-1 41-36199 cn 18720, RAF ET845, became RCAF 720, to No. 132 (F) Squadron, Western Air Command, in 1942.
P-40E-1 41-36200 cn 18721, RAF ET847, became RCAF 721, to No. 132 (F) Squadron, Western Air Command, in 1942.
P-40E-1 41-36201 cn 18722, RAF ET849, became RCAF 722, to No. 132 (F) Squadron, Western Air Command, in 1942.
A Handley Page Hampden is taxiing in the background and a Harvard completes the airfield line up.  The Kittyhawks belonged to No. 132 (F) Squadron.  This Flying Party flew from Lethbridge, Alberta to Penticton, BC, on the 8th of June, 1942.  They were grounded there by weather.  The Flying Party finally arrived at Sea Island, BC, from Penticton on the 12th of June.  The Hampden could have been shepherding the aircraft out to the west coast or just visiting.

 (DND Photo via Shuan Mullins)

Curtiss Kittyhawk Mk. IA maintenance.

 (RCAF Photo)

Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk, No. 400 Squadron, RCAF, with an Electrical repair crew working on its electrical circuits.  Electrically controlled pitch propellors and the fighter's electrical undercarriage mechanism require close attention.  The three drums under the engine are glycol and air coolers.  On the left is LAC D.E. "Chubby" Grant, of Maxville, Ontario, an ex-hockey player and former Hydro Line-Man.  Centre is 25 year-old C.A. Bowe of Orangeville, Ontario, an ex-salesman, and supervising is F/Sgt. M. Thompson, 25 Bonsley Ave., Toronto, Ontario, ca 1941.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo,  MIKAN No. 3583637)

Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk, RCAF Station Trenton, Ontario, 13 Dec 1941. 

(RCAF Photo)

Curtiss P-40E Kittyhawk RAF (Serial No. AL194), RCAF (Serial No. 1087), coded LZ-V, No. 111 (F) Sqn, being recovered from the water at Fort Greely, Kodiak Island, Alaska, 19 Apr 1943.  The pilot was R104777 WO2 S. R. J. McLeod. He was doing a test flight checking the engine, when the electrical system failed. He carried out a flapless landing and ended up dropping over the edge of the runway and into five feet of water.  Co-incidentally, he also had another accident with the same aircraft on the 18th of September, 1942 at Elmendorf Field.  (Chris Charland)

(Library & Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4105388).

Curtiss P-40E Kittyhawks, No. 111 (F) Sqn, RCAF, Kodiak, Alaska, 1942-43.  The aircraft marked "BITSA" is reported to have been flown by SL K.A. Boomer when he shot down a Japanese Rufe, 25 Sep 1942. 

 (Library & Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 4332918)

Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk, RCAF No. 111 Sqn, SL Kenneth Boomer, DFC, KIA 2 Oct 1944. 

 (Library & Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3582198)

Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk Mk. I, engine view, 1942.  

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3582881)

Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk Mk. I cockpit, July 1942. 

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3582032)

Curtis P-40 Kittyawk Mk. I throttle. 

(Library & Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3406263)

Curtiss Kittyhawk Mk. I aircraft of RCAF No. 111(F) Squadron, Patricia Bay, British Columbia, 15 January 1942. 

 (Library & Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3211090)

Curtis P-40 Kittyawk Mk. I, RCAF No. 111 (F) Squadron pilots, Sep 1942. 

 (Library & Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3643686)

 (Library & Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3643687)

 (Library & Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3643688)

Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk Mk. I, RCAF (Serial No. AL109), later (Serial No. 1071), nose over, 29 Feb 1942. 

 (Library & Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3643689)

Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk Mk. I, RCAF (Serial No. 1066), wheels up landing, 4 Feb 1942. 

(RCAF Photo)

Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk, RAF (Serial No. FL220).

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3582934)

Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk, in a hangar at RCAF Station Rockcliffe, Ontario, 30 March 1943.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3643716)

Curtiss P-40 Warhawks (USAAF), Consolidated Canso A, RCAF (Serial No. 9793), Supermarine Spitfire Mk. V, RCAF (Serial No. X4220), Noordyn Norseman and Avron Anson, Rockcliffe, Ontario, 31 May 1943.

(DND Photo)

Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawks refueling, Patricia Bay, British Columbia, 20 Jan 1942.

 (Library and Archives Canada Photo)

Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk Mk. I, RCAF No. 118 Squadron (Auxiliary), Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, 4 April 1942.  These aircraft  came to the Squadron in November 1941 and in June the unit was transferred to Annette Island, Alaska as part of the RCAF reinforcement to the USAAF.  The pilots make the 6,400 km trip by air, the first RCAF fighter unit to fly from coast to coast.

 (No. 438 Squadron Archives Photo)

Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk Mk. I, RCAF No. 118 Squadron (Auxiliary), Annette Island, Alaska, 1942.

Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk, RCAF (Serial No. 361).  (DND Photo)

(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3643698)

Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk (Serial No. AK752), later RCAF (Serial No. 1028), RCAF Station Rockcliffe, Ontario, 25 May 1942.  This aircraft served with No. 132 (F) Squadron and No. 133 (F) Squadron.  This P-40 was built as a Kittyhawk Mk. I for the RAF.  She was purchased by the British Purchasing Commission and did not fall under any Lend-Lease agreement and therefore did not receive a US Army serial number.  She was given the RAF serial AK752 but was handed over to Canada and received the RCAF serial 1028.  During her service with No. 132 (F) and No. 133 (F) Squadrons in defence of Canada's West Coast, it is reported that pilots of this aircraft downed two Japanese balloon bombs.

 (Stonehenge Air Museum Photo)

In 1947 she was acquired by a farmer in Alberta and used as a parts bin before being buried in 1952.  For the next twenty-three years she remained thirteen feet below the ground, being excavated in 1975.  The first parts of the ship to be unearthed were some of the exhaust stacks which, at the time, encrusted in dirt as they were, reminded the excavators of dinosaur bones.  This led to the Hawk being dubbed "Curtissaurus Rex".  The ship was found to be in very good condition, given the circumstances, and mostly complete.  Over the course of thirteen years AK752 was restored back to flying condition (First Flight, 15 Dec 1989) by Steve Seghetti in California and Col Pay in Australia, Reg. No. N96045, later Reg. No. VH-KTH.  Painted as AK752, coded ZK-R.  She was acquired by her current owner, James E. Smith of Fortine, Montana, in 1994 and is today one of many aircraft in Mr. Smith's Stonehenge Air Museum which is part of Crystal Lakes Resort.  Reg. No. N440PE, painted as USAAC/AVG (Serial No. 15133).

 ( Photo)

Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk.  Although the Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk was not used in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, it was a significant fighter-bomber in the Royal Canadian Air Force home defence squadrons.  It and variants P-40 Warhawk and P-40 Tomahawk comprised the 13,738 aircraft built by the Curtiss-Wright Corporation between 1939 and 1945, all in the Curtiss-Wright Corporation plant in Buffalo, New York.  One hundred and thirty four of the Curtiss Kittlyhawks were obtained for the RCAF through the Lend-Lease Program.  They flew operations exclusively for eight Home War Establishment Squadrons on Canada’s east and west coasts.

The RCAF utilized the P-40 Tomahawk in four Article XV Squadrons operating in Europe, Africa, the Mediterranean and Southeast Asia.  These squadrons were created when the four Commonwealth Countries (Great Britain, Canada, New Zealand and Australia) signed the Riverdale agreement to create the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.  According to Article XV of the agreement, BCATP graduates were to be assigned to squadrons in each of their country’s air forces or to squadrons defined by national identity of the training graduates but under Royal Air Force control.  Under RAF control, the squadrons were given numbers in the 400 to 490 range. Canadian squadrons were numbered 400 to 449, Australian squadrons were numbered 450 to 467 and New Zealand squadrons were numbered 485 to 490.  44 Canadian, 17 Australian and 6 New Zealand Article XV squadrons were created during the Second World War.  Despite the formation of 67 national squadrons, most graduates of the BCATP were assigned to British units contrary to the conditions of Article XV. 

When the Japanese Navy occupied territory in the Aleutian Islands, RCAF home defence pilots in P-40 Kittlyhawks from Canada’s 14 and 111 Squadrons worked with the United States Army Air Force to repel the enemy.  When these two squadrons returned to Canada, they were redeployed to England without the Kittyhawks.  No. 133 Squadron, RCAF Patricia Bay, BC, saw limited action intercepting Japanese balloon-bombs designed to start fires in remote British Columbia as did members of RCAF No. 135 Squadron.  All of the Canadian based P-40 Kittyhawk squadrons specialized in maritime patrol and defence over the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

 (IWM Photo, CH 2573)

Curtiss Tomahawks of No. 403 Squadron, RCAF, based at Baginton, Warwickshire, in the UK, flying in 'vic' formation over clouds.  In the foreground is a Mk. I (Serial No. AH878), coded KH-G, accompanying two Mk. IIAs, (Serial No. AH882), coded KH-R, and (Serial No. AH896), coded KH-H.  These were among the first Tomahawks to enter squadron service with the RAF, although No. 403 Squadron operated them for only a short time in the Army Cooperation role before converting to Supermarine Spitfires in May 1941.

 (RAF Photo)

Curtiss P-40 Tomahawks, RAF in the UK, ca 1942. 

 (Author Photos)

Curtiss P-40E Kittyhawk Mk. Ia, RCAF (Serial No. 1076), (Serial No. 18780).  Canada Air and Space Museum, Ottawa, Ontario.

(DND Photo)

Curtiss P-40E Kittyhawk Mk. Ia, RCAF (Serial No. 1076), (Serial No. 18780).  Canada Air and Space Museum, Ottawa, Ontario.

 (Alain Rioux Photo)

Curtiss P-40E Kittyhawk Mk. Ia (Serial No. 1076), (Serial No. 18780), 8 Sep 2005.  Canada Air and Space Museum, Ottawa, Ontario.

 (Bill Larkins Photo)

Curtiss P-40N Kittyhawk, ex-USAAF (Serial No. 42-105191), RCAF (Serial No. 856), Hayward Airport, California, July 1948, Reg. No. NL-1011N.

 (IWM Photo, CM 4340)

Trolleys loaded with 250-lb GP bombs are drawn up in front of a line of Curtiss Kittyhawk Mk. IIIs of No. 260 Squadron, RAF, at Marble Arch landing ground, Libya, prior to a bombing sortie.  (Serial No. FR350), coded HS-B, (second from the left), was flown by Flight Lieutenant J.F. Edwards, RCAF, the most successful Kittyhawk pilot in the Western Desert with twelve confirmed and eight probable victories.

  (ME(RAF) Photo,7299)

Curtiss Kittyhawk Mk. IIIs of No. 260 Squadron RAF, lined up at Marble Arch landing ground, Libya. In the foreground is the personal aircraft of the squadron commander, Squadron Leader O.V. Pedro Hanbury.  At this time it retained its US (Serial No. 42-45798).  FR350, coded HS-B, was flown by Flight Lieutenant J.F. Edwards RCAF, the most successful Kittyhawk pilot in the Western Desert with twelve confirmed at eight probable victories.