Most former combat aircraft, especially fighter aircraft, do not survive long after their primary usefulness has been surpassed. Fighter evolution has almost always been faster-paced than other types of combat aircraft. The reason for this is that fighters are of the highest priority in that they are used to establish air superiority over the territory of an adversary. So, as the fighters of enemy nations improve so must the fighters of the nations that are fighting them. Case in point: even before the Second World War had ended, US airframe and powerplant contractors were hard at work in their respective developments of turbojet-powered aircraft and engines. NAA had been working on jet-powered aircraft since 13 September 1944 when it initiated its XB-45 Tornado programme to build a four-engine, turbojet-powered medium-class bomber for the USAAF. This was followed by its XFJ-1 Fury programme on 27 December 1944 to create a single-engine, jet-powered fighter for the US Navy. The XP-86 Sabre single-engine, jet-powered fighter for the USAAF began on 23 May 1945 followed on 28 June 1945 by 30 production USN FJ-1 Fury fighters for the USN. Thus, NAA had committed to four different jet-powered aircraft programmes before VJ Day. But due to development time, none of these aircraft would be ready for operational service until several years after the war. Therefore, current operational combat aircraft such as the P-51 Mustang were first-line combat aircraft.
However, Lockheed Aircraft had a head start with an operational jet-powered fighter that saw service with a few USAAF squadrons during the close of the war. The P-80 Shooting Star was deemed to be superior to the P-38 and P-47; however, it did not replace the P-51 as the latest versions of the Mustang – the P-51D, P-51K and P-51H – were capable of very long range missions. Also, the D and K versions created more aces in the war than any other USAAF fighter. Therefore, it was decided to keep the D and K for VLR duties and the non-combat H for point and area defence duties. As a result, a number of older Mustang variants, namely the P-51B and P-51C, were sold to air racers while the majority were scrapped. The D, K and H Mustangs were retained as intermediate front line fighters until they could be replaced by newer and faster jet-powered fighters. This would take another twelve years to happen.
One can argue as to what standout USAAF fighter – the P-38, P-47 or P-51 – was the best. This is an argument that most likely will never be completely settled. One truism is clear: that very few foreign air forces wanted P-38s or P-47s after the Second World War, but they all demanded the P-51 Mustang. In any event, there were a large number of foreign air forces that obtained P-51 Mustangs before the end of the Second World War. Some were used in limited action between warring nations, but not in the large numbers as seen in the Korean War including the RAAF and SAAF. Some twenty-seven air forces around the world employed P-51 and F-51 Mustangs. These are now discussed:
Bolivia, Bolivian Air Force, Fuerza Aérea Boliviana (FAB)
The Fuerza Aérea Boliviana or FAB procured three surplus Mustangs from the US Government which included two single-seat F-51Ds and a tandem-seat TF-51D. It also bought eight single-seat Cavalier F-51D Mustang IIs and a dual-control Cavalier TF-51D Mustang II. These included: TF-51D-25-NT, 44-84611, FAB-xxx; F-51D-25-NT, 44-84655, FAB-510; F-51D-25-NA, 45-11453, FAB-xxx; Mk2, 67-14862, FAB-xxx; Mk2, 67-14863, FAB-xxx; Mk2, 67-14864, FAB-xxx; Mk2, 67-14865, FAB-522; TF Mk2, 67-14866, C-GXUR; Mk2, 67-22579, C-GXRG; Mk2, 67-22580, C-GXUQ; Mk2, 67-22581, C-GMUS; Mk2, 67-22582, FAB-523. Thus, FAB had twelve Mustangs in all.
China, Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF)
The Chinese-American Composite Wing (Provisional) or CACW (P) was a joint USAAF and Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF) organisation. It was assigned to the 14th Air Force in China during the Second World War from 1 October 1943 to 1 August 1945.
During the Civil War, under extreme logistical difficulties, sixteen Mustangs were purchased from the US to supplement the 3rd and 4th Fighter Groups in 1948. When the Nationalist Government retreated to Taiwan in 1949, forty-two additional F-51s were bought from the US for the 3rd, 4th and 5th FGs. The CAF eventually managed to evacuate 110 Mustangs to Taiwan which provided the bulk of its fighter strength throughout the subsequent years.
A former Bolivian Air Force Cavalier Mark II Mustang (FAB-523) at an unnamed airfield in Canada on 29 January 2007. (Photograph by William ‘Bill’ Zuk)
This is a factory-fresh P-51C-11-NT undergoing final assembly prior to rolling out of the Dallas factory. The Dash 11 P-51Cs had the 85 US gallon fuselage tanks installed. Note the special ‘louvered’ air filter just aft of a propeller blade for operations from dirt (dusty) airfields in China. (NAA via Chris Wamsley)
A well-worn P-51C-11-NT (44-11073) of the Chinese Air Force in 1944. (Photograph courtesy of the USAF)
Black 3 of Costa Rica, a P-51D-25-NT (45-11386) formerly of the 182nd Fighter Squadron of the Texas ANG. (Photograph courtesy of Time Life Corporation)
In 1955, the Organization of American States (OAS) authorised the procurement of four F-51D airplanes for use by the government of Costa Rica to counter an invasion of Nicaraguan-backed rebels. These were procured on 16 January 1955 for $5,500US each from the US Government and were formerly attached to the 182nd Fighter Squadron of the Texas Air National Guard. Since Costa Rica had no air force, they were operated by freelance Costa Rican Government pilots from 1955 until 1964. These four airplanes, known only as Black 1 to Black 4, were F-51D-25-NA (Black 1, 44-73193), F-51D-25-NA (Black 2, 44-73339), F-51D-25-NT (Black 3, 45-11386) and an F-51D-30-NA (Black 4, 44-74978).
Two Mustangs were lost: one in 1955 (44-73339), the other in 1956 (45-11386) and the surviving two (44-73193 and 44-74978) were sold in 1964. William W. ‘Willy’ Martin of MACO Sales Financial Corporation in Chicago, Illinois, purchased the F-51D-30-NA (Black 4, 44-74978) on 31 March 1964. He applied for and received the civil registration number N6169U. Richard Vartanian bought this Mustang in 1966 and its registration number was changed to N74978 in 1972. This F-51D was lost in a hangar fire in Shafter, California, in 1988 (Arthur McDonnell was then its owner). Willy Martin of MACO bought F-51D-25-NA (Black 1, 44-73193) on 31 March 1964 and received the civil registration number N6170U. While he was flying Black 1 home, Martin crashed-landed near Mateare, Nicaragua. Reportedly, Black 2 (44-73339) was shot down on 19 January 1955 during a combat sortie and Black 3 (45-11386) crashed on 22 January 1956 during a flight demonstration at an air show at El Coco Airbase.
Cuba, Cuban Rebel Air Force, Fuerza Aérea Rebelde (FAR)
Cuba acquired two F-51D Mustangs, F-51D-30-NT (45-11700) and F-51D-30-NA (44-74505), on 23 April 1958. Cuba’s Rebel Air Force, or Fuerza Aérea Rebelde (FAR), assigned serial numbers FAR-400 and FAR-401 respectively to its two Mustangs. The former served until it was removed from service in April 1961 and its disposition is unknown. The latter is on display at the Defensa Antiaérea y Fuerza Aérea Revolucionaria or DAAFAR Museum in Havana, Cuba.
Dominican Republic, Dominican Republic Air Force, Fuerza Aérea Dominicana (FAD)
The Fuerza Aérea Dominicana (FAD) was the largest air force in Latin America to use the F-51 Mustang. It first obtained six F-51Ds in 1948, followed by further forty-four former Royal Swedish Air Force F-51Ds in 1948. Another Mustang was said to have been obtained from an unknown source. In all, the FAD employed as many as fifty-one Mustangs.
El Salvador, El Salvador Air Force, Fuerza Aérea Salvadoreña (FAS)
The Fuerza Aérea Salvadoreña (FAS) purchased five Cavalier Mustang IIs and a single Cavalier TF Mustang II in 1967-1968 with wingtip fuel tanks for increased range and uprated Merlin engines. Prior to this it had several F-51Ds already in service.
France, French Air Force, Armée de l’Air (ALA)
In the early months of 1945, the Armée d l’Air of France began to take delivery of former USAAF P-51B, P-51C, P-51D and P-51K airplanes. These were all modified for the tactical photographic reconnaissance role and therefore became F-6B, F-6C, F-6D and F-6K aircraft respectively. For the most part, these Mustangs served with two groups: GR 1/33 and GR 2/33. The lone P-51K or F-6K was further modified to have a second seat to serve as a pilot training and transition airplane. All of the French Air Force Mustangs were retired from service by the end of October 1953 and put out to pasture. A few were sold to aficionados but most were scrapped.
Germany, German Air Force (Luftwaffe)
A number of crash-landed but repairable P-51s were captured by the Luftwaffe during the Second World War and were subsequently evaluated in Göttingen, Germany. These included P-51Bs and P-51Cs – with Luftwaffe codes T9+CK, T9+FK, T9+HK and T9+PK – and three P-51D Mustangs. The serviceable P-51s were returned to USAAF units during the occupation of Germany.
Guatemala, Guatemalan Air Force, Fuerza Aérea Guatemalteca (FAG)
The Guatemalan Air Force (Fuerza Aérea Guatemalteca or FAG) operated at least thirty Mustangs from 1954 to 1972. They were operated by No. 1 Fighter Squadron of the FAG. Guatemala also fielded a P-51-equipped flight demonstration team known at first as the ‘Los Machitos’ (c. 1955), ‘Los Cofres’ (c. 1957) and ‘Quetzales’ in the early 1970s.
FAG 315 of No. 1 Fighter Squadron. The Fuerza Aérea Guatemalteca (FAG) operated some 30 Mustangs. (Photograph courtesy of FAG)
An unidentified F-51D of Fuerza Aérea Guatemalteca (numbered FAG 1). (Photograph courtesy of FAG)
A Fuerza Aérea Guatemalteca F-51D (FAG-336) being armed for a combat mission during Operations Power Pack I-IV. (Photograph courtesy of FAG)
Haiti, Haitian Air Force, Corps d’aviation d’Haiti (Haitian Aviation Corps)
Haiti, its Haitian Aviation Corps in particular, purchased several F-51D Mustangs in 1950. These included a single F-51D-10-NA and six F-51D-15-NA airplanes. Reportedly, these Mustangs were used in country policing activities well into the 1960s. They formed a composite squadron at Port-au-Prince and the last example went to the Dominican Republic in 1974.
Indonesia, Indonesian Air Force, Tentara Nasional Indonesia Angkatan Udara (TNI-AU)
The Indonesian Air Force (TNI-AU) took possession of some forty F-51s in 1949 from the Netherlands East Indies Air Force (NEIAF) when it departed Indonesia and employed against RAF, RAAF and RNZAF forces during the Indonesian War in the early 1960s. During 1972-1973, the TNI-AU received a shipment of six Cavalier Mustang II aircraft with their design wingtip fuel tanks installed due to the US Government decision not to allow these aircraft to be used for any purpose other than Indonesia’s self-defence purposes which precluded long-range missions.
Israel, Israeli Air Force (IAF)
The Israeli Air Force (IAF) was officially formed on 28 May 1948 and held a variety of used combat aircraft that had been procured both legally and illegally. These included a small number of P-51D Mustangs which remained in service until 1961.
Italy, Italian Air Force, Aeronautica Militare Italiana (AMI)
The Aeronautica Militare Italiana (AMI) received a total of 176 Mustangs under the Mutual Defense Assistance programme or MDAP in 1947-1951. These included 175 P-51D-NA and P-51D-NT airplanes and a single TP-51D-NT airplane. They served with 2o, 3o, 4o, 5o, 6o and 51o stormos(wings) until 1958 when most, if not all, had been replaced with turbojet-powered fighter aircraft by the end of that year. The AMI serial numbers assigned to these aircraft were MM4234 to MM4283 (50), MM4286 to MM4305 (20) and MM4306 to MM4405 (100). MM4406, MM4407 and MM4408 were three heavily damaged Mustangs that were rebuilt for service and two late arrivals assigned out-of-sequence serial numbers MM4431 and MM4432. The USAAF serial and block numbers for the one TP-51D-NT are not known.
Netherlands, Netherlands East Indies Air Force (NEIAF)
The Netherlands East Indies Air Force (NEIAF) procured forty P-51s and operated them in the Indonesian conflict. When the conflict ended, Indonesia took possession of these Mustangs in 1949-1950.
Nicaragua, Nicaraguan Air Force, Fuerza Aérea Nicaragua (FAN)
In 1947, Nicaragua purchased a small number of F-51Ds (still known as P-51D in 1947). Then, in 1953, it bought twenty-six former J26s (F-51Ds) from Sweden. These remained in service into the 1960s.
Philippines, Philippines Air Force (PAF)
The Philippines Air Force (PAF) purchased over 150 refurbished F-51D Mustang airplanes from US Government surplus in the early 1950s. Four PAF Mustangs formed a flight demonstration team in 1953 known as ‘The Blue Diamonds’.
Poland, Polish Air Forces (Polskie Sily Powietrzne)
Five Polish Air Forces fighter squadrons within the RAF operated Mustangs from March 1944 until the end of the war. However, No. 309 Squadron/Flight B temporarily employed Mustang Mark Is on 1 April 1942. Some of these squadrons retained their Mustangs until 1947. These five squadrons included:
Squadron, Squadron Code, Squadron Aircraft
No. 303 Polish Fighter Squadron, PD (RF prior to 1945), Mustang Mark IV
No. 309 Polish Fighter Squadron, WC, Mustang Mark I/III
No. 306 Polish Fighter Squadron, UZ, Mustang Mark III
No. 315 Polish Fighter Squadron, PK, Mustang Mark III
No. 12 (Fighter) Group
No. 316 Polish Fighter Squadron, SZ, Mustang Mark III
An F-51D-25-NA (44-72917) of the Philippines Air Force (PAF) c. 1954. (Photograph courtesy of PAF)
South Korea, Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF)
South Korea, specifically its Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF), was a big user of US-supplied F-51 Mustangs during the Korean War and for some years after. In late 1953, the ROKAF formed a flight demonstration team called the ‘Black Eagles’ that flew four F-51D Mustangs primarily in air shows throughout South Korea until 1958.
Sweden, Royal Swedish Air Force, Svenska Flygvapnet
Although Sweden was neutral during the Second World War, its government realised in early 1945 that its neutrality might be compromised through aerial attacks from Germany. It therefore decided to bolster its air defences. To do this, in part, it opted to purchase a large number of fifty P-51D Mustangs through the US Government Mutual Defense Assistance programme (MDAP). It already had four Mustangs in its possession (two P-51Bs and two P-51Ds) that had made emergency landings in Sweden. Therefore, forty-six additional P-51Ds were flown from Great Britain to Sweden by USAAF pilots in a number of delivery flights to complete the fifty-plane order. The Swedish Air Force (Svenska Flygvapnet) assigned these aircraft to Royal Uplands Wing F16 at Uppsala and it received these beginning on 10 April 1945. All 50 fighters, including the two P-51Bs, were designated J26 (the prefix J meant Jaktplan or Fighter in Swedish). Another ninety P-51D Mustangs were bought in March 1946 for Wing F4 in Östersund. A final batch of twenty-one P-51D Mustangs were purchased for Wing F21 at Kallax. Thus, counting the four original Mustangs, the Swedish Air Force had acquired a grand total of 161 Mustang airplanes. Twelve of the J26s were converted to photographic reconnaissance aircraft and were designated S26. These were fitted with single downward-aimed British-made F.52 cameras located on the centreline just forwards of the tail wheel and were employed by Wing F21 at Luleå. These relatively large cameras were known as Ska 10 (Seriekamera 10) in the Swedish Air Force and had a maximum focal length ranging from 19.7-36.2 in. depending on the size of lens fitted to the camera.
When the Swedish Air Force transitioned to an all-jet fighter air force in 1954, Mustangs were sold to Israel (twenty-five), Nicaragua (twenty-five) and the Dominican Republic (forty-two). All of the Swedish Air Mustangs were either sold or scrapped – not one example survived in country. For historical purposes, Sweden offered to buy a Mustang from Israel as a museum display. As a kind gesture, the Israeli Ministry of Defence donated a former J26 to Sweden, P-51D-20-NA (formerly Fv 26020, 44-), and it is currently on display at the Flygvapenmuseum (Air Force Museum) in Malmslätt.
Switzerland, Swiss Air Force
After the Second World War, for the sum of $4,000US each, the Swiss Air Force purchased 130 P-51 Mustangs that served until 1958. It had previously operated several impounded Mustangs that had made emergency landings in Switzerland during the war.
In addition to the RAF and the USAAF, there were four other Allied air forces that employed the P-51 Mustang in the Second World War. These included Australia (Royal Australian Air Force or RAAF), Canada (Royal Canadian Air Force or RCAF), New Zealand (Royal New Zealand Air Force or RNZAF) and South Africa (South African Air Force or SAAF).
Australia, Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF)
Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) No. 3 Squadron was the first RAAF squadron to operate Mustangs in November 1944 when it was attached to the First Tactical Air Force of the Royal Air Force (RAF). By this time, however, the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC) factory at Fisherman’s Bend in Melbourne, Australia, was hard at work manufacturing eighty of the 100 ‘kit’ NA-110 P-51D-1-NA Mustangs shipped from America by NAA. These eighty CAC assembled CA-17 airplanes were designated Mark 20 and were assigned RAAF serial numbers A68-1 to A68-80. The remaining 20 ‘kit’ airplanes were used as spares for the eighty assembled Mark 20 airplanes.
CAC went on to produce an additional 120 Mustangs (down from the original 170-plane order) based on the P-51D that was its CAC Model Number CA-18 produced as the Mark 21, PR Mark 22 and Mark 23. The Mark 21 was powered by the V-1650-3 while the Mark 22 used the V-1650-7. The Mark 23 used either Rolls-Royce Merlin 66 or Merlin 70 engines.
CAC-built Mustangs were assigned to RAAF Squadrons 76, 77, 82, 83, 84 and 86. When No. 3 Squadron returned to Australia, it was re-designated No. 4 Squadron after it transitioned to CAC-built Mustangs. Numbers 77, 76 and 82 Squadrons became the three squadrons of the 81 Fighter Wing of the British Commonwealth Air Force (BCAIR) that participated in the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF) based in Japan beginning in February 1946. RAAF No. 77 Squadron was extensively used during the Korean War.
In October 1953, six Mustangs – including A68-1, the first CAC-built Mustang – were assigned to the Long Range Weapons Development Establishment at Maralinga, South Australia, for experiments to gauge the effects of low-yield nuclear atomic bombs. They were parked on a dummy airfield about six-tenths of a mile from a blast tower on which two low-yield bombs were exploded. Somewhat surprisingly, all six Mustangs survived intact.
A number of Citizen Air Force (CAF) units also flew Mustangs and these included 21 City of Melbourne Squadron, 22 City of Sydney Squadron, 23 City of Brisbane Squadron, 24 City of Adelaide Squadron and 25 City of Perth Squadron. In 1960, the last Mustangs assigned to these units were retired when CAF units changed over to a non-flying role. Therefore, CAC built 200 Mustangs and Australia was the only country besides the US to manufacture P-51s.
Canada, Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF)
The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) operated five squadrons equipped with RAF-owned Mustangs during the Second World War. These included Squadron No. 400 ‘City of Toronto’, No. 414 ‘City of Sarnia’ and No. 430 ‘City of Sudbury’ squadrons flying Mustang Mk. Is (1942-1944), and No. 441 ‘Silver Fox’ and No. 442 ‘Caribou’ operating Mustang Mk. IIIs, Mk. IVs and Mk. IVa airplanes in 1944-1945.
Between 1947 and 1951, Canada procured 130 second-hand former USAF F-51D-25-NA and F-51D-30-NA Mustangs that served in two regular (416 ‘Lynx’ and 421 ‘Red Indian’) and ten auxiliary fighter squadrons: 400 ‘City of Toronto’, 401 ‘City of Montreal’, 402 ‘City of Winnipeg’, 403 ‘City of Calgary’, 411 ‘City of York’, 420 ‘City of London’, 421 ‘Red Indian’, 424 ‘City of Hamilton’, 438 ‘City of Westmount’, 442 ‘City of Vancouver’ and 443 ‘City of New Westminster’.
Great Britain, Royal Air Force (RAF)
Refer to Part 7 for full details.
New Zealand, Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF)
The Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) was taking deliveries of Mustangs near the end of the Second World War. When the war ended on 2 September 1945, so did Mustang deliveries to the RNZAF and only thirty Dallas, Texas-built P-51D-NT airplanes were delivered.
Royal New Zealand Air Force P-51D (NZ2423) (Photograph courtesy of Royal New Zealand Air Force)
F-51Ds of No. 2 Squadron of the South African Air Force in Korea on 1 May 1951. (Photograph courtesy of the USAF)
South Africa, South African Air Force (SAAF)
The South African Air Force (SAAF) – No.5 Squadron specifically – operated P-51B/C (Mustang Mk.III) and P-51D/K (Mustang Mk.IV/IVA) airplanes that had been provided to it by the RAF in the MTO and Yugoslavia from September 1944 until VE Day in May 1945. No.5 Squadron returned its Mustangs to the RAF after the end of the war and disbanded. Shortly after VE Day, a second Mustang-equipped SAAF squadron was organised for combat duties in the Pacific theatre, but VJ Day came about before it had been fully prepared and it never received a squadron number. Former No. 5 Squadron personnel and others were involved in this short-lived operation.
No.2 Squadron of the SAAF – ‘The Flying Cheetahs’ – operated F-51D/K Mustangs from Pusan, South Korea, in the Korean War while attached to the 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing of the 5th Air Force. The SAAF operated its Mustangs from 16 November 1950 to February 1953 when it began transitioning to turbojet-powered F-86 Sabre Jets. The SAAF put ninety-four F-51s into the fray losing seventy-four to enemy action and accidents. No.2 Squadron flew 12,067 sorties in the war which were primarily ground attack missions.
Uruguay, Uruguayan Air Force, Fuerza Aérea Uruguaya (FAU)
In 1950, the Uruguayan Air Force (FAU) bought twenty-five F-51D-20-NA Mustangs that served in the FAU between 1950 and 1960. These were numbered FAU 250 to FAU 274. Some were subsequently sold to Bolivia.
Yugoslavia, Yugoslav Air Force
The Yugoslav Air Force inherited a number of captured ‘war prize’ Mustangs during the Second World War that had crash-landed. At least nine of these were said to have been flyable, but unfortunately there is little to no information as to exactly what Mustangs these were.