Today Warbirds Online acknowledges one of the most notable original P40 restorations on display anywhere in the world, Curtiss P-40E-1 Tail Number 41-36084 ex RAAF serial A29-133 that is on display at Australian War Memorial (AWM) Canberra ACT.
The P40 was an extremely important type to the RAAF in WWII. It was for a long time the mainstay of our fighter force in the absence of higher performance aircraft and performed very well in many actions against Japanese aircraft throughout the South Pacific.
This particular P40 was delivered to the RAAF in June 1942 from the USA and delivered to 75 Squadron RAAF on 22 June 1942. It served with that squadron in Papua New Guinea (PNG) at Milne Bay and carried the code ”S” on the fuselage and was soon adorned with the artwork of “Polly” on the nose. During its time with 75 Sqn it was principally the mount of P/O Bruce Edward Brown DFC and it took part in fierce fighting against the Japanese and had at least one victory credited to it.
“Polly” spent most of its operational service in PNG and received at least 2 engine changes until on 2/6/43 in the hands of F/O Paul Ernest Whitehead the P40 was damaged due to a deflated tyre but was repaired and went back to 75 Sqn. The P40 was by now becoming a little war weary and on 11/9/43 it was received by 82 Sqn from 75 Sqn and then started a second career as a training aircraft with 2 Operational Training Unit (2 OTU) and survived the war. The aircraft was struck off charge in 1949 and became derelict on an orchard in Victoria as did a lot of surplus aircraft that were sold for metal l fittings, nuts and bolts to farmers.
Records show that the wreck of the aircraft was acquired around 1960 by famous vintage aircraft restorer Nelson Wilson. Over the next few decades the P40 was lovingly restored to airworthy condition with the registration VH-NRW reserved for it in 1987. Sadly, however, circumstances intervened which required that the aircraft had to be sold and it was purchased by the Australian War Memorial (AWM) who completed the detail of the aircraft as it was when in service in Milne Bay. The detail of the finish and fit out of the aircraft is stunning and it would be hard to find a P40 more comprehensively or accurately restored anywhere.
The Curtiss P40 is a credit to both Nelson Wilson and to the restoration staff at the AWM. Although it is sad that the aircraft never flew post restoration, it is fitting that a genuine Milne Bay RAAF P40 holds such pride of place in the AWM.
Anybody who has not seen this aircraft should visit it in the Aircraft Hall at the AWM fittingly displayed alongside a restored Mitsubishi A6M2 Model 21 Zero, once flown by the fourth ranking Japanese air ace, Saburo Sakai. He used this machine while serving with the Rabaul-based Tainan Flying Group (Tainan Kokutai) in June-July 1942 – WWII adversaries now in close company.
Warbirds Online was particularly taken with the way in which Polly is presented in a diorama with pilot and ground crew as if preparing to take off on a mission – it is very effective.
© John Parker 2015