Planes of Heroes of the MTO

The “MTO,” or Mediterranean Theater of Operations, had its own heroes, initially staging out of North Africa, and then out of captured airfields in Italy, as the Allies fought their way north.

The colorful, two-view rendering above is of the North American P-51D Mustang “American Beauty,” flown by MTO ace Capt. John “Johnny” Voll , with the peppermint striped fighters of the 308th Fighter Squadron, 31st Fighter Group of the 15th Air Force.

The P-51 D  above, named “Marie,” was flown by Korean American ace Capt. Freddie Ohr, flying for the 2nd Squadron of the 52nd Fighter Group, known for their bright yellow tail sections, colorful even among the other lively schemes of the 15th Air Force.  Captain Ohr went on to practice dentistry after the war.

Speaking of colorful Mustangs of the 15th Air Force, the plane above belonged to the “Checkertail Clan.”  This particular plane is an earlier model of the P-51D, with no dorsal fin fillet installed in front of the vertical stabilizer, which came out on later models, or was retrofitted to some planes. Without it, the plane lacked the lateral stabilty afforded by this extra bit of “fin.”  This plane, “Devastating Dottie, ” was flown by MTO ace Lt. John M. Simmons, who flew with the 325th Fighter Group. 

The plane above, a P-51K, was flown by Squadron Leader Murray Nash of No. 3 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force, which staged from captured air bases in Northern Italy.   The P-51K was built in a plant in Grand Prairie, Texas, just west of Dallas,  the second facility which North American Aviation used to build Mustangs, adding even more to the massive numbers built at their Mines Field facility in Inglewood, California, in the same general area where LAX now serves Los Angeles. The P-51K differed from the P-51D in that it mounted a hollow-bladed Aero Products propeller, and in that it had a distinctive “hump” in the rear portion of its Plexiglas canopy dome.  The Australians also mounted a unique, louvred vent, instead of the usual large, round holes usually seen in the lower cowling, just aft of the chin intake.  Earlier Australian and British Mustangs had used the typical dark green and sea gray camouflage, but this late in the war, many Mustangs began to show up in this bare metal finish.

You may be able to see the differences between the frontal views of these two versions of the Mustang.  The later version, shown above,  has a bubble canopy and six .50 claliber machineguns, as opposed to the four .50’s mounted in the wings of the P-51B’s and C’s, like the plane shown below.

In the rendering above, you can see what I mean by the earlier, dark green and sea gray camouflage scheme, applied to a an earlier model, the P-51B.  The renderings above and below are of an RAAF Mustang flown by Warrant Officer Jack Quinn.  Take a  look at the squadron emblem in the upper left-hand corner.   The Australians took the standard configuration of a “normal” RAF squadron crest, and substituted a native, Australian shrub, the “Golden Wattle,” to surround their RAAF crests, so that’s what surrounds their emblem.  Once again, I want to thank James Oglethorpe, the very kind, very patient, very meticulous archivist for No. 3 Squadron, RAAF, for his help in getting the details right, on both their emblems, and their planes.

Whether over North Africa, or when staging out of bases in Italy, the Tuskegee Airmen of the United States Army Air Corps continued to distinguish themselves.  Their unit conducted dangerous Close Air Support and ground attack missions, as well as missions on which they flew bomber escort missions alongside American “heavies.”

The poster above shows the P-51C Mustang “Topper III,” another classic Tuskegee Red Tail flown by Capt. Ed Toppins of the 99th Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group. 

Following the use of the P-51B and P-51C razorback versions of their famous Mustangs, the Tuskegee pilots were next issued the new, bubble canopy version of the Mustang, the  P-51D, of which this really can’t help but be one of my favorite examples, “Duchess Arlene,” flown by Lt. Robert Williams, a veteran of 50 missions with the 100th Fighter Squadron. You could argue that this was the ultimate example of one of “The Red Tails.”

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