People’s Republic of China (1948-1953) Fighter – 39 Operated
The North American P-51 Mustang is considered one of the world’s most iconic warplanes from the Second World War, seeing action in nearly all theaters, as well as the Korean War and many other conflicts thereafter. However, one of the lesser known stories of the Mustang, is its service with the Communist Chinese forces who would go on to form the People’s Republic of China shortly after. A total of 39 Mustangs were obtained from the Chinese Nationalist forces either by capture or defection. These Mustangs were used in various roles with the Communists, and nine of them even had the honor of flying over Beijing on October 1st 1949 for a parade to commemorate the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. Although never seeing combat, the Mustangs still had served with the Communist Chinese forces as one of their most advanced fighters until the arrival of Soviet aid.
The Republic of China (i.e, Chinese Nationalists under Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek) was a notable operator of the North American P-51 Mustang during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945). Since the United States entered the Second World War, plans were made to provide the Republic of China China with modern American warplanes to replace the worn and outdated planes that the Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF) were using. The Mustangs were initially flown by pilots of the Chinese-American Composite Wing (CACW) starting from November 1944. The models they operated were P-51B and P-51C, but later in February 1945, P-51D and P-51K variants were delivered and put to use against the Japanese along with the P-51B and P-51C. At the end of the Second World War, the ROCAF received 278 Mustangs from the USAAF, most of which were P-51D and P-51K models, but also with some F-6D and F-6K photo reconnaissance models. Soon after, the uneasy relationship between the Communist Party of China under the leadership of Mao Zedong and the Nationalist government under the leadership of Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek) disintegrated. As such, the civil war between the two parties resumed after nearly nine years of truce. This time however, the Communist forces were more prepared to fight the Nationalist forces. As time went on, the Nationalist forces began losing their hold on mainland China and were forced to retreat to Formosa (Taiwan), but not before many of their soldiers, officers and generals defected, leaving a substantial amount of equipment behind.
The People’s Liberation Army obtained their first Mustang on September 23rd 1948 when Captain Yang Peiguang (杨培光) from the Nationalist 4th Fighter Wing based in Beiping (Beijing) defected with his P-51D to the Communist forces at Siping, Jilin Province. The bulk of the Mustangs which would be captured by the Communist forces were, however, from the Liaoshen Campaign which lasted from September 12th – November 2nd, 1948. With the Communist victory at the Battle of Jinzhou on October 15th, a considerable amount of Nationalist equipment was captured; among these were thirty one Mustangs in various states of repair at the Jinzhou Airfield. Though now with thirty four Mustangs in total, the People’s Liberation Army was not able to press any into service due to many factors; the most important two being the lack of able pilots and the varying states of disrepair that the Mustangs were in.
The city of Shenyang was finally captured by the People’s Liberation Army on October 30th 1948, and on the second day of the city’s capture on October 31st, the Northeast People’s Liberation Army Aviation School sent men to secure the Shenyang Beiling airport, factories, warehouses, personnel, and various other assets formerly belonging to the Nationalists. In November, the Shenyang Beiling airport was officially established as the People’s Liberation Army Air Force Repair Factory Number 5 (中国人民解放军空军第五修理厂). With the establishment of this repair factory, the first machines to be repaired were the Mustangs. The repairs took top priority and the first Mustang was ready for service on December 30th. Since then, thirty six Mustangs were repaired within a span of eighteen to twenty months lasting until 1950.
On December 10th 1948, the People’s Liberation Army was able to capture the Nationalist-held Beiping (Beijing) Nanyuan Airport as part of the Pingjin Campaign. Three Mustangs were found in relatively good condition, and a total of 128 Packard-built V-1650 Merlin engines were captured as well. This boosted the total amount of Mustangs in the People’s Liberation Army to thirty seven, and provided plenty of replacement engines for maintenance. After this, two more Mustangs would fall in the hands of the Communist forces.
On December 29th, Lieutenant Tan Hanzhou (谭汉洲) of the Nationalist 4th Fighter Group defected with his Mustang from Qingdao to Communist held Shenyang. The last Mustang to fall into the People’s Liberation Army’s hands occured on January 14th of 1949 when Lieutenant Yan Chengyin* (阎承荫) from the Nationalist 3rd Fighter Group’s 28th Squadron defected from his home base of Nanjing to Communist held Jinan.
Now with thirty nine Mustangs in total, the People’s Liberation Army began to put them to use. Starting from late January 1949, a large number of Mustangs were presented to the Northeast Old Aviation School’s (东北老航校) 2nd Squadron of the 1st Air Group with the purpose of training pilots. On August 15th 1949, the People’s Liberation Army formed their first flying squadron named at the Beiping Nanyuan airfield. The squadron consisted of two Fairchild PT-19 trainers, two de Havilland Mosquito fighter-bombers and six Mustangs. Shortly after the formation on September 5th, this squadron was assigned the task of defending Beiping’s airspace from Nationalist forces. At some point before October, eleven more Mustangs were assigned to this squadron. The squadron saw no combat.
* Mr. Yan later changed his name to Yan Lei (阎磊) after his defection.
Perhaps the most notable use of the Mustangs in Communist Chinese service was on October 1st 1949. By then, the bulk of the Nationalist forces were in discord and in the process of retreating to Formosa (Taiwan). With the Communist victory inevitable, Mao Zedong proclaimed the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. A Soviet-style military parade was held in newly-renamed Beijing’s (Beiping) Tiananmen Square which included sixteen thousand and four hundred soldiers, one hundred and fifty two tanks, two hundred and twenty two cars and seventeen planes were displayed to the public. Of these seventeen planes, nine were Mustangs. The Mustangs flew in groups of threes in a V formation and led the aerial convoy. Once over Tiananmen square, these Mustangs increased their speed and flew past the square and out of sight, they made a turn and reentered Tiananmen square for the back just in time to link up with the two Fairchild PT-19A trainers flying last. Because they re-entered the square so quickly, the spectators were led to believe these were nine different Mustangs, with a total of 26 planes appearing over Tiananmen square instead of the actual seventeen. This was mentioned in a government made propaganda newsreel. Of these nine Mustangs, at least one was a P-51K model.
After the parade, the Mustangs were once again deployed in a defensive state awaiting possible Nationalist intrusions in Beijing. By November 1949, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force was officially established and a total of twenty two airworthy Mustangs were in service, with nine more awaiting repair. This meant that thirty one Mustangs still survived, with eight written off. It is unknown what precisely happened to these Mustangs but the author speculates that they could have been cannibalized for parts, destroyed in training flights, disassembled to study the structure, or simply scrapped.
On July 26th 1950, the Beijing defense squadron was renamed the “Air Force 1st Independent Fighter Brigade” (空军独立第一歼击机大队). By then, the Soviet Union was supplying the Chinese with more modern equipment and by mid-August, the brigade’s Mustangs were replaced by Soviet Lavochkin La-9 fighters. Once replaced, all Mustangs scattered across the country were collected and given to Aviation School No.7 to train new pilots. With this, Aviation School No.7 modified thirteen Mustangs to be two-seat trainers. This was done perhaps to speed up the training process, and to prevent accidents by rookie pilots without guidance. There is currently one known photo of the two seat trainer.
By September 1953, most Mustangs were retired from training service due to cracks in the landing gear. However, eight of them remained in service with Aviation School No.7 to train Ilyushin IL-10 pilots how to taxi their planes. A few more examples were used as teaching tools to train pilots on identifying plane parts. It is unknown when precisely the Mustang was retired once and for all.
Surviving PLAAF Mustangs
To this day, only two Mustangs formerly in PLAAF service survive in museums. The first one is a P-51K-10-NT “Red 3032” with the serial number 44-12458. This P-51K is on public display at the Chinese Aviation Museum (中国航空博物馆), sometimes also known as the Datangshan Aviation Museum located in Datangshan, Beijing. It remains in relatively pristine condition as it was in an indoors display and sheltered from the elements. Bomb hardpoints are visible under each of the wings which signifies that this Mustang perhaps once served as a fighter/bomber for the ROCAF.
The other surviving PLAAF Mustang is a P-51D-25-NA “Red 3” with the serial number 44-73920. This Mustang can be seen at the China People’s Revolution Military Museum (中国人民革命军事博物馆) in the Haidian District of Beijing. What is notable about this specific plane is that it was one of the nine Mustangs that flew over Beijing on October 1st of 1949 for the Founding of the People’s Republic of China parade. This Mustang was displayed outdoors exposed to nature for the majority of its life until the museum went under renovation when it was finally moved indoors. The Mustang has gone through minimal restoration, as it looks considerably cleaner than when it was displayed outdoors. This Mustang also had bomb hardpoints under its wings.
A total of 39 North American P-51D Mustangs were operated by the Communist Chinese forces, and later the People’s Republic of China. Within these Mustangs, an unknown amount were P-51D and P-51K models.
P-51D – An unspecified amount of P-51D Mustangs of various block numbers were operated by the People’s Republic of China. A P-51D-25-NA is confirmed to have been in service as it flew over Beijing as part of the establishment of the People’s Republic of China parade and is now in the China People’s Revolution Military Museum (中国人民革命军事博物馆) in the Beijing.
P-51K – An unspecified amount of P-51K Mustangs of various block numbers were operated by the People’s Republic of China. A P-51K-10-NT is confirmed to have been in service as it is in the Chinese Aviation Museum (中国航空博物馆) in Beijing.
P-51 Trainer – A total of thirteen Mustangs were modified by Aviation School No.7 in 1951 to be two-seat trainers. The instructor sat in the rear while the student pilot was at the front. No surviving examples are preserved to this day.
The author would like to extend his thanks to Mr. Hemmatyar for restoring some of the photos used in this article.
The P-51 Mustang is one of the most famous fighters of WWII and of all time thanks to its exceptional performance characteristics, strong airframe and the role this fighter plane played in the European Theatre against the German Luftwaffe. Contributing to its defeat and aiding the Allies in gaining full control of the skies. It was also a long-enduring aircraft, with the last ones retired in 1984. It was by far the best day and night-time fighter of the Allies’ arsenal, with the Lockheed P-38 being its closest in-service rival.
The Origins of the Mustang
The Mustang was a single-seat and single engine fighter/fighter-bomber for day and night-time, with low wings. Its development began after a 1940 request by the Royal Air Force (RAF) for further license-built Curtiss P-40 Fighters to the North American Aviation. The British realized that bombing missions over German occupied territories were risky, suffering heavy casualties at the hands of the highly skilled Luftwaffe pilots and their fighters. The company made a move that would have a ripple effect throughout history, as it proposed to develop a new fighter instead of issuing the RAF an old model that was in short supply. The P-40 chain of production was already overloaded, with the P-40 component manufacturers reportedly turning down requests.
As a result, in 1940 the development of the Mustang began, which was by itself a feat as it took only four months. Its first flight took place in October 1940. The plane was a very advanced aircraft for its time, as it had an entirely metallic airframe, while slightly bigger than the Luftwaffe’s Messerschmitt Bf-109. The P-51 featured laminar wings and a radiator located in the rear. It developed speeds of 615 km/h thanks to its Allison V-1710 engine, found in the early P-51 Mk I and P-51A Mk II. By 1942 it had joined the ranks of the RAF, with nearly 620 units issued, executing reconnaissance missions during the first landings the Allies attempted at the French port of Dieppe in August 1942, as well as ground-attack missions following poor high-altitude performance. The V-1710 tended to underperform at altitudes above 4500 meters.
As time went by, the Mustang would receive improvements that would enhance its already stellar performance. By late 1942 North American improved the propeller, the radiator and the aircraft’s aerodynamics. The developments in the engine design gave the Mustang increased horsepower and climbing ability, thus making the aircraft an exceptional air asset. The initial 12 cylinder Allison V-1710 engine was replaced with a Packard V-1650, which itself was based on the legendary Rolls Royce Merlin. As a result speed and range both were increased, with the top speed nudging up to 703 km/h and the range increasing up to 3703 km in the P-51B and C models. Furthermore, the upgrades were the key behind the Mustang’s celebrated reputation alongside its 6 12.7mm Browning machine guns. The Mustang reportedly shot down nearly 5000 enemy airplanes in air combat sorties, and destroyed nearly 4000 ground targets. Further improvements followed in the P-51D which had its airframe slightly shortened in the rear while received a revolutionary new bubble-shaped canopy. Additionally it had greater oil capacity and provisions for carrying rockets under the wings.
During the Sicily campaign the Mustang devastated the Luftwaffe and the Regia Aeronautica (Italian Air Force.) It also served as a notable escort fighter on bombing missions deep into Germany, wiping out the Luftwaffe’s defending fighters from the skies. It also had a very limited participation in the Pacific during WWII, seeing more action during the Korea War with the US Air Force, the Republic of Korea Air Force, the Royal Australian Air Force, and the South African Air Force, until all of the aforementioned replaced the Mustang with newer platforms. During the Korean conflict Mustangs were used for ground-attack and reconnaissance missions sustaining heavy losses due to ground fire. It was then in service with reserve units until 1956, except for three F-51Ds. The nomenclature for US fighters was changed from P for ‘Pursuit’ for F for ‘Fighter’ after WWII. These F-51s were used as chase planes for the Lockheed YAH-56 Cheyenne attack helicopter project and other experimental purposes until the late 60s.
The Mustang also saw extensive use in combat with other air forces. The Netherlands used them during the Indonesian War of Independence. Israel deployed the Mustang during its War of Independence and the Suez Canal Crisis also known as Operation Kadesh. The Philippines used the Mustangs for counter-insurgency purposes during the Huk campaign against communist guerrillas. Indonesia and many South American countries used the P51 in many similar campaigns against guerrilla fighters. Sweden used the Mustangs on reconnaissance versions for Operation Falun, a reconnaissance of soviet Baltic coast military installations in 1946-47; El Salvador’s Air force also made use of this model during the 1969 Soccer War against Honduras, being the last combat use between piston engine fighters (with Honduras using the Vought Chance F4U-5); and the Dominican Republic, were they took part in Operation Power Pack, an US intervention during the brief 1965 Dominican Republic Civil War. This was the last air force in withdrawing the Mustang from active duty in 1984.
The Mustang also had a civilian life after WWII and other conflicts it served. Many are now privately owned with some now in museums and on static display. Others are still airworthy and maintained by hobbyists and historical societies. Some have even been modified for racing. A total of 15.386 Mustangs were built.
The Mustang is a low-wing fighter, with a single tail and a single engine: 1 Allison V-1710 V-12 developing 1,325 hp used in the P-51 Mk.I and P-51A Mk.II or 1 Packard V-1650 V-12 of 1,315 hp in the P-51D and onwards. Its wings featured a laminar flow airfoils that generated very low drag at high speed, also providing outstanding aerodynamic characteristics. The radiator is a remarkable feature of the Mustang, in both its shape and performance as it takes advantage of the ‘Meredith effect’ which creates a slight jet thrust from the heated air flowing outward providing more propulsion to the engine and increasing the speed of the aircraft. A 2 stage supercharger gave the Mustang power enough to outperform its German counterparts. This designs also had incidence with the length of the aircraft, which allowing the fitting of a bigger inner fuel oil tank that increased its maximum range and speed. The fuselage shares the same features as the Lansen, which was lofted mathematically using conic sections. This resulted in a smooth fuselage with low drag surfaces. The Mustang had another unique feature: its fuselage was divided into 5 sections – forward, center, rear fuselage, and two wing halves which made assembly during production very efficient.
The aircraft material was covered in aluminum overall, which made the Mustang a lightweight aircraft for its day. Combined with its aerodynamic characteristics, it was an aircraft easy to fly with good performance in-flight and during combat.
The first versions of the Mustang (P-51 to P-51C) had conventional canopy setup with the door opening and closing upwards and downwards to the side albeit possessing poor rearward visibility. The P-51D and the following versions introduced the bubble-shaped canopy that is widely known which gave the pilot a full 360° view. This design slid on rails that moved backwards, making easy entry and exit. This would influence the design of future fighters and light bombers canopies alongside its bullet-proof windscreen.
Earlier versions were armed with 4 X 12.7mm / .50 caliber AN/M2 Browning machine guns. As North American decided to upgrade the firepower, the P-51D through H versions received 6 Browning guns.
A Reliable “Little Friend”
The Mustang would go on to win the skies and the hearts of the bombers crews, as it provided good escort to the very risky and dangerous long-range bombings deep into German territory. Needless to say, it also won the respect and fear of its adversaries. The crew of the bombers dubbed the Mustangs as “little friends” for the invaluable protection they afforded to the bombers during the deep raid missions over German-controlled skies.
The P-51 Mustang came about initially by request from the RAF to be provided with a fighter capable enough to match the German Messerschmitt, but it had the P-40 in mind. North American, the manufacturing company, proposed instead a new airplane. When it came in service with the RAF, it became the first fighter capable of penetrating deep into the German skies from England. As a result, the US decided to operate it over the skies of Italy and Sicily. Evaluating the performance and range, the P-51 was then used as bomber escort plane, being capable of reaching even Poland and Czech Republic. When executing this particular task, it became an important air asset for the Allies to control the skies of Europe. But it was not mere realization about such need what brought the P-51 into the scene. In fact, there were two factors that pushed the Allies into adopting the Mustang as escort airplane: First, the initially reluctant allies were able to assess the potential the Mustang had once the D type was introduced with all of its improvements. Second, two disastrous raids over the German city of Schweinfurt, where the bombers suffered heavy casualties at 59 destroyed, morale was low. The resulting evaluation showcased the need for bombers to be provided with escort fighters to carry out strategic bombing operations with minimal losses.
The Mustang also executed the similar escort missions in the Pacific theatre alongside the Boeing B-29 Superfortress bombers over Japan. Once the island of Iwo Jima was taken by the Marines, the Americans had a base from which both bombers and escort fighters could strike mainland Japan.
NA.73X – The only prototype of the Mustang, which was ready only four months after contracts were signed
A-36 Apache / A-36 Invader – Dive-bomber and ground attack. The ‘Apache’ and ‘Invader’ were the original nicknames for the airframe, before Mustang was adopted. Fitted with the same Allison engine of the earlier versions. It was also equipped with dive brakes and two hardpoints allowing 2 X 500 lb (227 kg) bombs on each wing, as well as two fuel drop tanks of 75 gallons. It was armed with six guns .50 cal Browning machine guns, 2 of those guns were placed at the nose. It could have a secondary role as low-altitude fighter, being as a P-51A. 500 produced.
P-51 – Mustang Mk IA taken over by the USAAC. 57 units.
F-6A – Reconnaissance version fitted with cameras. Number unknown.
P-51A – Fighter version. Was a good low-altitude fighter. It also had two hardpoints allowing bombs or drop fuel tanks. It served also in the China,Burma, and India theatre as fighter and escort. 310 delivered.
P-51B – Fighter version. This model featured a better engine in the form of the Packard V-1650-3, based on the Rolls-Royce Merlin. This version was capable of performing as high-altitude fighter. However it had problems of poor rear visibility and guns jamming when intense G maneuvers were performed. All in all, this version began to turn the tide against the Luftwaffe and Germany’s infrastructure. 1,988 delivered.
P-51C – Fighter version. Built in Dallas, Texas. It had the same engine of the P-51B, but also the same visibility and gun jamming problems. 1750 delivered.
TP-51C – A field modification intended at creating a dual-control variant, for VIP transport and training. 5 built.
P-51D – Fighter version that received a suite of improvements that would make the Mustang a powerful fighter, becoming a milestone for fighter development and the Allies’ air superiority in Europe. Amongst the improvements, there was the bubble canopy, shortened fuselage, greater on-board fuel capacity, and a modified wing allowing 3 Browning .50 cal machine guns on each. Provisions for rockets were also complemented by a K-14 gun sight that used an analog computer, which improved accuracy. 7966 delivered.
XP-51F – Lightweight version. 3 built.
XP-51G – Lightweight version, with a 5-bladed propeller. 2 delivered.
P-51H – A lightweight version, powered by a Rolls-Royce Merlin 1650-9, decreased fuel capacity, and a distinctive tall tail. 555 delivered.
XP-51J – A lightweight version powered with an Allison engine. 2 built.
P-51K – A P-51D having a different propeller (A Hamilton Standard 11’12’’ 4-blade. 1337 delivered.
P-51L – Cancelled version.
P-51M –Cancelled version
Mustang Mk I – The very first operational version of the Mustang, entering in service with the RAF in October 1941. Having the same engine as the models P-51 and P-51A, as well as the same armament but bombs and rockets. 620 delivered.
Mustang Mk IA –A second version for the RAF, being the version with the most powerful armament as it had 4 X 20 mm Hispano guns at the wings, being the machineguns of the nose removed. 150 delivered and 57 deviated for US use.
Mustang Mk II – A third version for the RAF, based on the P-51A. Equipped with an Allison V-1710-81 engine with an improved supercharger that enhanced mid-altitude performance, making of the Mk II the fastest fighter for such altitude. It was equipped also with a fixed belly scoop, drop tanks but only 4 X 12,7mm machine guns
Mustang Mk III – A fourth version for the RAF that also received the same improvements than the P-51B in regards of the power plant, yet having the same 4 X 12,7mm machine guns of previous models. It was widely used to chase and take down the German V-1 flying bombs. 852 delivered under Lend Lease programme.
Mustang Mk IV and IVA – Fifth and sixth versions for the RAF, receiving the upgraded canopy and other upgrades similar to those of the P-51D (including the 6 12,7mm guns and the K-14 gun sight). These versions were based on the P-51D and P-51K, respectively. 284 Mk IV and 594 Mk IVA were delivered.
Rolls Royce Mustang Mk X – An experimental version developed by the Great Britain powered with a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, taking as a basis the airframes of Mustangs Mk I, for medium and high altitudes. Despite success, the 500 planned series production was cancelled. 5 airframes modified.
Commonwealth CA-17 Mustang Mk 20 – The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) was in need of new fighters and high-altitude interceptors. An agreement between the RAAF and North American resulted in the Australian Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC) allowed to build the P-51D version under license. Powered by the Merlin engine. 100 unassembled P-51D were issued, with only 80 being fully completed by CAC (CA-17 Mk 20).
Commonwealth CA-18 Mustang Mk 21, Mk 22 and Mk 23 – These versions were licensed built versions by CAC. The Mk 21 was powered by a Merlin V-1650-7, the Mk23 was powered with Rolls Royce Merlin engines. The Mk22 was modified to be a reconnaissance version similar to the F-6D. 120 CA-18 were built.
Mustang Cavaliers (or Mustang II F-51/Mustang III-Piper PA-48 Enforcer) – Surplus P-51Ds that were modified, with all the military equipment initially removed, and a second seat added. Some received increased fuel capacity with wing tip tanks, upgraded avionics and a tall tail. Some F-51 were repaired and upgraded by Cavalier, being delivered to the Dominican Air Force (36), to the Salvadorian Air Force (9), to the Indonesian Air Force (6), and two to the US Army serving as chase planes for the Cheyenne AH-54 attack helicopter program. Attempts to keep the P-51 in service by adding a turboprop (Rolls Royce Dart) were made, resulting in the Mustang III, but they came to no avail. The project was sold to Piper, which developed the Piper PA-48 Enforcer, finding the same fate. Only two PA-48 Enforcers exist as museum pieces.
P-82/F-82 Twin Mustang –Designed as a long-range, high-altitude bomber escort, with a high maximum range (3600 km/2300 miles) and very high ceiling 12192m (40,000 ft), being able to escort the B-29 bombers over Japan. It had two elongated P-51 fuselages (hence its name) that gave the aforementioned characteristics, having two pilots as crew, with one later on operating a radar. The power plants were the same of the P-51D, reaching speeds of 750 km/h (500 mph). Its firepower was the same 12,7mm machineguns, placed at the central wing, 25 air-to-ground rockets or up to 4000 lbs of bombs. It saw action in the early Cold War protecting US mainland against soviet bombers, and during the earlier stages of the Korean War, as night-fighters and ground attackers.
United States of America – The US Air Corps/Air Force became the second and the main operator of the P-51. As the US needed a capable bomber escort, the P-51 became the choice for this purpose with the P-38 and P-47 for the initial stages of the bombing operations. The Mustang became the mostly used escort fighter in Europe by the US. When the Mustang was used in advanced formations to the bombers, fighting the German fighters before they were able to strike the bombers, it achieved air superiority. After the Luftwaffe was nearly wiped out, it performed ground-attack mission. It was on this sort of missions that the Mustang was able to destroy the German-introduced Messerschmitt 262. The top ace using Mustangs shot down 26 enemy airplanes. It had a secondary participation in the Pacific theatre. It lasts service with the USAF was during the Korean War, when it was re-denominated as F-51, until it came to be replaced with F-86 Sabres.
United Kingdom – The nation whose request gave birth to the Mustang P-51, being the very first operator in January 1942. 620 were Mustangs Mk I, 93 were Mk IA, 50 were Mustangs Mk II, 308, 944 were Mustangs Mk III, 208 were Mk IV, and 600 were MK VIA. The RAF used the P-51 initially as close cooperation, ground-attack and reconnaissance, due to earlier models poor performance at high altitude. Mostly returned to the US or scrapped, remained in service with the RAF until 1947.
Australia – Became an operator of the P-51 in 1944, although operated the Mustangs under RAF badge. It received its first P-51 in Italy, in 1944. Received 80 and 120 later on as CA-17 and CA-18, respectively. It was deployed in the Pacific, as part of the occupation force in Japan and in the Korean War. The Citizens Air Force (CAF)reserve units used the P-51s until 1960.
Netherlands (East Indies Air Force) – The Netherlands used the P-51 on its East Indies Air Force, receiving 40 P-51D, using them during the Indonesian War of Independence. After the war, it handed some Mustangs to the nascent Indonesian Air Force.
New Zealand – Ordered 370 P-51 but received only 30 P-51D when the war came to an end. The delivered Mustangs were stored in their packing cases until 1951, when they were assembled and assigned to 4 squadrons of the Territorial Air Force. Remained in service until 1955 following corrosion problems in the undercarriage and coolant system. Some P-51s were flown as loaned airplanes with the RAF, and even some flew with the USAAC.
Sweden – The Flygvapnet operated initially 4 P-51s (2 P-51B and 2 P-51D) that were diverted to Sweden during operations. 50 additional P-51D were purchased, later on 111 being acquired, forming two wings. 12 were modified for photo reconnaissance, being designated as S 26 and taking part in Operation Falun, Sweden’s operation in mapping the new Soviet military installations in the Baltic countries in 1946-47. Replaced by the S 29C Tunnan in the early 50’s, selling some 25 P-51 to Israel and some Latin American countries.
Switzerland – The Schweizer Luftwaffe operated 100 P-51 that were diverted to Switzerland during operations, purchasing additional 130 P-51. They were in service until 1958
Israel – Around 4 P-51 were obtained by Israel in 1948 by buying surplus scrapped airframes, assembling and disassembling them again, packing and smuggling them to Israel in crates labelled as irrigation equipment, using them during the Israeli Independence War. They also were used as reprisal-attack aircraft, protection of an Israeli Navy Ship that ran aground, latter destroying it, and reconnaissance operations. Received 25 further P-51 from Sweden in 1951. They took part in the Operation Kadesh during the Suez Crisis, and even disrupted communications of Egypt during a parachute drop at Mitla Pass. In service until 1957.
Italy – Italy operated 173 P-51s after the war, with fighter, training, experimental and acrobatic purposes. Had to fly with some restrictions due to some factors affecting flight.
South Africa – 95 Mustangs were used in the Korean War, suffering heavy casualties yet performing well. The models used were Mk IV, Mk IVA, and P-51D. In service until 1952-53 when replaced with F-86 Sabres.
Canada – The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) had five squadrons equipped with Mustangs during the war (Mk I, Mk III and Mk IVA). After the war, it received 150. Most were retired in 1956, with some remaining on special purposes service until the early 60s.
France – France began to operate with Mustangs by 1944, operating some of the F-6 series on reconnaissance missions in Germany in 1945. Remained in service until the earlier 50s, as they were replaced with jet fighters.
Poland – It operated Mustangs Mk I as the Polish Air Force in Britain, under RAF command. Then it operated Mk III until 1944, replacing the Mk III with Mk IV and IVAs in 1945. After the war, 80 Mk III and 20 Mk IV and Mk IVAs were returned to the RAF, and then to the US.
Japan – Only one unit that was damaged by gunfire and forced to do a belly landing in 1945 was used by Japan for testing purposes.
South Korea – 10 P-51D were supplied to the Republic of Korea Air Force following the beginning of the war, being the backbone of the ROKAF until they were replaced by F-86 Sabres. They also served as the black Eagles acrobatic team until 1954.
Taiwan – Some P-51 were used by the Nationalist forces against the Japanese, and then against the communists. In 1949 and following the Nationalist withdrawal to Taiwan, some P-51 were flown to the island, becoming part of the Taiwanese Air Force.
Germany – Some captured P-51s were used by the Luftwaffe, with some P-51B, P-51C and P-51D operating with the Germans for testing purposes.
Costa Rica – Four P-51D were operated from 1955 to 1964.
Cuba – 3 P-51D were smuggled into the country to serve with the rebel forces, but never gained operational status, becoming instead pieces of museum.
Dominican Republic – It was the second largest air force and the largest Latin American air force to operate the P-51, having 44 in its arsenal in 1948, and in service until 1984.
Guatemala – 30 Mustangs P-51D were in service with this country from 1954 to the first half of the 70s.
Haiti – 4 were operated by this country from 1951 to 1971, selling them for spare parts to the Dominican Air Force.
El Salvador – 6 Cavaliers (5 Mustang II and 1 dual control Cavalier TF-51) were purchased in 1968-69, in service until 1974. They saw combat action during the 1969 Soccer War against Honduras, with one being lost by a F4U.
China – 39 P-51s were captured from the Nationalists.
Indonesia – Some P-51D were acquired following the Netherlands withdrawal from the country, used against the Commonwealth (RAF, RAAF and RNZAF) during the Indonesian crisis in the early 60’s. Six Cavalier II were shipped to Indonesia in 1972-73, remaining in service until 1976.
Nicaragua – 26 P-51D were purchased from Sweden by this nation, receiving a further 30 P-51D US surplus along with two TF-51. In service until 1964.
Philippines – 103 P-51D were acquired after the war, becoming the backbone of the Philippine Air force and Air Corps, having action during the Huk campaign, fighting communist insurgents. It served also in the Blue Diamonds demonstration squadron and serving as COIN until the early 80’s, when 56 F-86 relegated them from first-line fighter missions in the late 50s.
Uruguay – 25 P-51D Mustangs were in service from 1950 to 1960, with some being sold to Bolivia.
Bolivia – 7 Cavalier F-51D and 2 TF-51 were issued to Bolivia under Peace Condor program. 23 P-51 were also sold to Bolivia. All remained in service from 1958 to 1978.
Somalia – 8 P-51D served in this nation after the war.
Soviet Union – 10 Mustang Mk I from the RAF were received, relegated for training missions after tests supposedly rendered them as underperforming to soviet fighters.
11.28 m / 37 ft 0 in
9.84 m / 32 ft 3 in
4.18 m / 13 ft 8.5 in
21.83 m² / 235 ft²
1 Allison V-1710 V-12 – 1,150 hp (P-51 Mk I & P-51A Mk II
1 Packard V-1650 V-12 of 1,315 hp (P-51D version and following)
3.40 m / 11 ft 2 in
Maximum Take-Off Weight
5,493 Kg / 12,109 lb
3,103 kg / 6,840 lb
5,262 kg / 11,600 lb
703 km/h / 437 mph
3703 Km / 2,300 miles
Maximum Service Ceiling
12770 m /42,000 ft
6,095m in 7 minutes and 18 seconds (16.3 m/s ; 40,000 ft/min)
6 X .50 caliber (12.7mm) AN/M2 Browning Machine Guns
2 hardpoints that could allow 453 lb (907 kg) of payload. 2 x 100 lb (45 kg) bombs; 2 x 250 lb (113 kg) or 2 x 500 lb (226 kg) bombs. 6 or 10 x 5.0 in (127mm) T64 H.V.A.R rockets