Mark Sheppard ©
P-40 Recovery in
We present a report by
Mark Sheppard on recovery efforts of P-40C and P-40E in Russia.
presented here is copyrighted and can not be reprinted and/or
duplicated in any form without the written consent of their respective
Curtiss-Wright P-40C (C/N
16194) Serial 41-13390
Nick Grey of the Fighter
Collection sat in the cockpit of the Curtiss P40-C in Russia prior to
it returning for restoration. (Fighter Collection)
model H81 A-3 was manufactured for the US Army Air Corps between March
and May 1941. The order number was W-535, account 15802 and it cost
the US Government $40,148.00. Curtiss-Wright completed 193 P-40Cs in
the Curtiss construction block of 16104-16296. The Allison engine
order was for a V-1710-33, which originally would have been in the
41.35??? range as seen on other P40Cs in the same block. The P-40C
described was completed in Olive Drab 41 to upper surfaces and Neutral
Gray to the under-side. The pre-war star and meatball was on the upper
surfaces, whilst the underside of the wings had a US ARMY marking in
large black letters.
Curtiss-Wright P-40C factory number 16194 was the 90th P-40C
manufactured at the main production facility in Buffalo, NY. It was
completed in March 1941 with the serial 41-13390 and was then issued
to Holabird, Central District, on 9 April 1941. It is thought that
this P-40C did not have any previous USAAC service. To support this,
there are no listings on the record card and no evidence on the
recovered airframe of any previous markings or painted rudder.
It became the property of the Office of Defense Aid (ST-41-24390) on
11 June 1941. P-40C 41-13390 was one of ten P-40Cs purchased by the
British to be included within their Tomahawk IIB order, of which the
British ordered 1180 examples. (The ten were
41-13389/13390/13396-13401/13406/13407.) Serial 41-13390 was allocated
to the Soviet Union as part of the Defense Aid Program in September
The basically complete
P40C at the Fighter Collection hanger at Duxford and still in its
The P-40C was located
by satellite photography in a desolate part of Russia in 1993. It was
recovered from behind Murmashi, a rail depot south of Murmansk, where
it had crash-landed during WWII.
The pilot undertook an emergency wheels-up landing in the tundra. Very
little damage occurred in the crash-landing, except to the radiator
chin cowl assembly. The pilot, and possibly others, then removed the
radio and gun sight.
The P-40C was recovered by helicopter, dismantled, and eventually
returned to the UK, where the restoration was being planned by The
Fighter Collection at Duxford.
The ID located on the tail oleo showed it is P-40C-CU Model 81A-3,
serial 41-13390. The serial number was also located on the oil tank.
The fuselage longerons, back armor, and other panels were stamped with
the construction number 194. Other panels and components clearly
stated B model and these are thought to be from the production line
where the B models and Tomahawk IIBs ran into the C-model batch. There
was very little difference between these models and parts certainly
just ran through.
The early ‘star and
meatball’ emblem (later replaced with just the standard American star)
on the side of the P40C.
Over it can be the individual Russian aircraft number ‘53’. (Mark
The P-40 was clearly
marked up with a tactical number '53' on the faded camouflage. All
upper surfaces had been scoured nearly down to bare metal during over
50 years of snow storms. The old-style American star was faintly
visible on the fuselage side. The US ARMY on the underside of the
wings was clearer and had been overpainted, and red stars had been
applied. There was evidence also of brown and green camouflage and
possibly the outline of an RAF roundel, also on the side of the
fuselage. It is not known whether this was possibly added before being
completed for the US Army or after it was taken over by the British
Purchasing Commission. A number of the engine cowling panels had
clearly come from a British Tomahawk IIB (with green and brown
camouflage), and could have been added during its operational period
The P-40C had clearly suffered combat damage and there were
small-caliber bullet holes along the fuselage and to the wings. The
oil tank was holed, which most likely led to the loss of the aircraft.
It was clear, though, that repairs had been undertaken previously,
particularly to one wing tip (according to V. Romanenko, it could be
the result of a ramming attack).
The engine recovered from the airframe was a British-ordered Allison
V1710-33 with UK War Office stamps and the number A.200541. This was
one of 1,000 Allison V-1710 engines (A.199588 through to A.200587)
ordered against Contract No A-196.
The full fuselage and
engine cowlings. Note how long the engine is.
Some of the cowling panels had clearly originally come from a British
Tomahawk IIB (P40C)
and were camouflaged brown and green. (Mark Sheppard)
The Soviet Union
received their first 47 Tomahawk IIBs in September 1941. They were
assembled by an RAF team at Yagodnik airfield near Archangel and from
here were flight- tested by USAAC pilot Lt. Zemke (later Col 'Hub'
Zemke, 56 FG 8AF) and less so by Lt. Alison. The first two Tomahawks,
serials AK300 with Allison A.200767 and AK242 with Allison engine
A.200663, were handed over to the Soviet Air Force on 5 October 1941.
Unfortunately, in both cases, within half an hour both had
crashed/emergency landed. It was found that both had suffered gear,
generator-drive gear, and accessory-drive gear failure. It appeared
that the generator-drive gear on these aircraft had not received the
necessary modification prior to being dispatched for the Soviet Union!
As of 28 November 1941, the Soviets had suffered 19 failures with
their Tomahawks due to no modification and they were not too happy!
The Soviets grounded all their Tomahawks until it was all sorted out.
According to Soviet research data, the Curtiss-Wright P40C 41-13350
arrived at Murmansk in early 1942 by convoy. It was then most probably
assembled and flight tested at Yagodnik airfield before being assigned
to a fighter regiment. The Soviets recorded American-supplied P-40
aircraft by their construction (factory) number, so in the case of
41-13390 it was recorded as '194' as painted on the pilot's back armor
(the British-supplied aircraft were easier to inventory as they were
recorded by the RAF serial). The first entry for '194' was the
P-40 "194" was issued new to the 147 IAP VVS 14 Army (147th Fighter
Regiment, 14th Army) in early 1942. On 5 February 1942, at 1340 CET
(Central European Time) P-40 '194' suffered engine failure and had to
make a belly-landing at Murmashi airfield, south of Murmansk. It was
considered as "medium damaged" (30-50%). Pilot was Sr. Lt. N. V.
Jurilin, who survived unhurt.
After repairs and with a new Allison engine fitted, it was issued to
20 GIAP (Guards Fighter Regiment) on 12 July 1942. This regiment had
20 P-40s on strength, 16 of which were operational. 147 IAP became a
Guards Unit on 7 March 1942, becoming 20 GIAP. The records mention
Tomahawk "194" as powered by a British Air Ministry-ordered Allison
C-15 No A.200541. Whether this was from a damaged Tomahawk IIB or a
crated spare is still unknown. At this time, the 20 GIAP was a part of
the 1SAD (Combined Air Division) of Soviet Air Force (VVS) and was on
the Karelian Front as part of the defense of Murmansk.
A photo of P40C ‘58’ from
20gvIAP after a ‘Taran’ (intentional air collision to bring down
another aircraft – often fatal). Note the ‘58’ is in the same style as
the ‘53’. These marking type were often individual to each unit. (Carl
On 27 September 1942,
the Soviet War Diary records the following combat activities:
1617 - 1723 hrs (CET), five Hurricanes of 837 IAP covered the air over
own bases when nine P-40s of 20 GIAP and one P-39 of 19 GIAP were
engaged in combat with eighteen Bf-109s at altitudes of 4000 -
5000meters. The air battle lasted 25 minutes. The Russians claimed
three Bf-109s shot down (Luftwaffe records report undercarriage damage
to a Bf-109F-4 of 7./JG5). Russian losses were two aircraft from 837
IAP and two aircraft from 20 GIAP (Jr. Lt. N. A. Fikljunin was shot
down and killed in a Hurricane, Sr. Sgt. P. K. Prochan made a force
landing in a Hurricane 3km east of Shonguj, Sgt A. P. Pakov was shot
down and parachuted to safety from his P-40 and, finally, Major
Ermakov belly-landed his P-40 "194".
The last available record for "194" is on 5 January 1944, when it was
written off from the inventory of 20 GIAP of the 1st Combined Air
Division. It was a common Soviet practice not to strike off wrecked
equipment immediately (the Soviet Navy did the same with ships and
aircraft) until a period of time after the event. There is no evidence
of P-40 "194" being on the inventory list of 20 GIAP on 31 December
1942, or on the inventory of 7 VA (Air Army) on 1 June 1943. It can
safely be assumed that 27 September 1942 was when "194" was lost and 5
January 1944 was the date that "194" was eventually written off from
Curtiss-Wright P40E (C/N
16814) Serial 41-13570
Up she comes. The P40E
brakes through the surface with the remains of the red star
on the fin and the tactical number ‘51’. (Unknown copyright)
In late 1941, the new
P-40E 'Warhawk', as the whole production was now named, began rolling
off the production lines in Buffalo, NY. The Curtiss-Wright model H87
A-3 was manufactured for the US Army and to fill British contracts
through 1941 and well into 1942. The US Army received 2320 models and
1500 were ordered by the British, who named this model the 'Kittyhawk
The P-40E in question was completed within the smallest batch of E
models produced, towards the end of 1941. Many of the completed
components were dated "08.41". This P-40E was supplied with the
Curtiss construction number 16814 and the serial 41-13570. The order
number was W-535 ac15802 and it cost the US government $39,628.00.
Curtiss-Wright completed 79 machines within this block (construction
numbers 16737-16815) and the serials 41-13521 to 41-13599 were
assigned to them.
The Allison engine was a V-1710-39 that had the construction number
42-33729. The P-40E had been painted in Olive Drab 41 on the upper
surfaces and Neutral Gray on the underside. It seems it had already
been earmarked for the Soviet Union as it had been completed in
nothing more than the serial number and stenciling. There was no sign
of the American star having ever been applied.
Another photos of the P40E
coming ashore. The tail unit has already been removed. Note damage to
the starboard wingtip from when the aircraft hit the water. (Unknown
It was accepted by the
USAAC on 23 January 1942 and on the same day 41-13570 was assigned to
Defense Aid. It was then transported to one of the East-coast ports
and loaded aboard a ship along with other Lend- Lease supplies bound
for the Soviet Union.
The P40E back on land. The
white ‘51’ is very clear and also the damage to the cockpit area.
The P-40E was recovered
from its watery grave of 55 years on 31 August 1997. Although the lake
was relatively shallow, the aircraft was brought to the surface using
flotation gear and gradually brought to the shore. In shallower water
the tail plane and fin were removed along with the ammunition boxes
and covers to the wings. The P40-E seemed remarkably complete and
Once the P-40E was back on shore, other parts were recovered from the
lake bottom, including the armored windscreen, canopy, and lower
engine parts. The P-40E was then airlifted by Ka-25K helicopter to a
site closer to civilization to be dismantled. Additional lifting
support was required to the engine due to the damage which had
occurred in the crash landing. Unfortunately, during the lift further
damage was sustained to the port trailing edge by the use of lifting
chains instead of webbing.
When lowered, the P-40E could be seen fully for the first time in 55
years. It could be clearly seen that it had not been overpainted and
still retained the Olive Drab and Neutral Gray as it had been applied
when it left the factory. A white painted number "51" had been applied
to the fuselage sides; red stars had also been applied over the
fin/rudder and also to the underside of the wings. Interestingly,
there were no red stars on the upper surface of the wings that were
often applied on Lend-Lease aircraft.
The damage to the cockpit
skins and longerons can be clearly seem. This probably occurred from
the crash landing and hitting the lake bottom. (Mark Sheppard)
The P-40E was clearly marked up with all the standard stenciling. It
had the maximum weights and other technical stencils on the port side
of the cockpit and also located there was the serial 41-13570,
confirming it was an E model. The Curtiss construction number "814"
was located around the whole aircraft and seems to have been stamped
on all of the fillets and removable panels. The most identifiable
number was painted at the top of the pilot's back armor.
The E model carried six .50-caliber (12.7mm) heavy machine guns and up
to 280 rounds of ammunition. The corroded ammunition was removed and
made safe. The ammunition boxes and guns themselves were in remarkably
good condition and the etched panels were clearly readable. The
cockpit instrumentation and control stick were all there. Generally
the P-40E was recovered complete, albeit with some damage from the
The P-40E had suffered only slight combat damage prior to its final
flight. There were a couple of light-caliber bullet holes to the fin
and tailplane, which had been patched. More recent combat damage
consisted of two visible bullet holes that had occurred at a very
shallow angle, skimming the skin. One hole was to the tail plane and
another to the engine cowling. The only damage that seemed to have
contributed to its loss was to the lower starboard side of the engine
casing, which appeared to have resulted in the loss of coolant. The
exhausts were of the early type-three sets of two through the cowling.
They were of the round type, not the later flattened group of six
exhausts carried on the majority of E models.
After being flown in by
helicopter the P40 was ready to be dismantled. First to be removed was
the Allison engine. (Unknown copyright)
The only effects from
the water seemed to be corrosion to the ferrous elements. For example,
the metal handles for the ammunition boxes had rusted away. Likewise,
the magnesium cam covers and items on the rear of the Allison engine
had literally dissolved to nothing. The wheel hubs that appeared to
have been protected more by the silt looked to be intact and the tires
were still inflated.
The P40E being flown out
ready for dismantling. No comment on the methods or the damage
inflicted to the trailing edges! (Unknown copyright)
It was probably the loss of engine coolant, leading to an overheating
engine, that forced the pilot to undertake an emergency landing. Jr.
Lt. A. V. Pshenev decided not to try to crash-land on the unforgiving
tundra, which was covered by stunted trees and large rocks. Instead he
opted to put the P-40E down on one of the numerous lakes in the area.
Possibly still in combat, the P-40E seems to have hit the water at a
steep ascent rather than a shallow glide. On hitting the water, the
large radiator housing caused the P-40E to decelerate rapidly. The
spinner received a long flat dent to one face and one propeller blade
snapped completely off. The radiator probably dug in and acted as a
brake, bending the fuselage along its axis to such an extent that it
snapped both upper longerons on the canopy rail! Fifty odd rivets were
also blown to the top skin above the port undercarriage rotation point
due to the hard impact. The P-40E then skewed around, pivoting on its
wing, a maneuver that produced the damage visible to the starboard
wing tip. On gradually settling down, the pilot clambered out and made
for shore whilst his P-40E sank below the surface.
The anodised ammunition
boxes and instruction plate were in very good condition.
Only the steel handle had corroded. (Mark Sheppard)
According to Soviet
records, the P-40E arrived in spring 1942 to a port, most likely
Murmansk. The Soviet records list the loss by the aircraft type,
construction, and engine number, which showed the following
P-40E "814", engine No 42-33729 of 20 GIAP, 14th Army.
Lost completely on 1 June 1942. Pilot Jr. Lt. A. V. Pshenev survived
and returned to Soviet forces.
The 20 GIAP (20 Guards Fighter Air Regiment) was part of the 14th Army
under the command of the Karelian Front. The unit was based at
Murmashi airfield, south of Murmansk, as part of the defense of
Murmansk and the Kola Peninsula.
The P40E on display on the
Isle of White for a few months prior to being purchased by an American
According to the 14th
Army Soviet War Diary for that day, this is what occurred:
On 1 June 1942, between 0452-0631 (Murmansk time) four P-39s and four
P-40s of 19 GIAP escorted Soviet SB bombers to attack Petsamo
airfield. Later, between 0519 - 0650 hours, six P40s of 20 GIAP
escorted four more SBs to join in the attack on the German airfield.
At the target the P-39s and P-40s were involved in air battle with
Bf-109s of II/JG5. Soviet losses were listed as four P-40s and four
SBs. No loses were recorded by II/JG5.
On this day, P-40E tactical number "51" was being flown by Jr. Lt. A.
V. Pshenev when it was involved in air combat during this mission. The
Luftwaffe victor could well have been Uffz. Döring of 5./JG5, who shot
down one P-40 in the early morning of the 1 June 1942 at 0456 CET
(0556MT). (Interestingly, this was the second P-40E loss with the 20
GIAP, the first E model being lost on 29 May 1942.)
The P40E engine bearers
when on the Isle of White. These seemed to be in very good condition.
The P-40E crashed on Lake Kod Ozero, a small lake near Pja Ozero in
the tundra west of Murmansk. The pilot survived the crash, swam to
shore, and walked back to his own lines. He was treated in a hospital,
where during an attack by the Luftwaffe on 13 June 1942 he was caught
by bomb fragments and lost a foot.
Photo looking into the
P40E on recovery. Notice the construction number on the pilots back
This was how lend lease (excluding British) were often identified.
After being recovered
in 1997, the P-40E was shipped to the UK in 1998 and put on display.
At the time this article was written the aircraft was still for sale.
The author would like
to acknowledge assistance of the following individuals in preparation
of this article:
Stephen Grey of the Fighter Collection and the new owners.
Special thanks to Rune Rautio, Carl-Fredrik Geust, and Valeriy
Romanenko for all their help with the Soviet combat records.
Thanks must go to the Peter Monk, Martin Cobb, Steve Vizard, and Rune
Rautio for all their help.