Since World War 2 is quite notable as when aircraft truly became a weapon of war, I asked Spartacus if I could start some general discussion on aviation topics. Hopefully nothing too controversial or heated.
So to start, opinions (supported if you desire) regarding the “best overall” aircraft of the Second World War. I don’t necessarily mean the “best fighter” or “best bomber” or “best nuisance bomber” of the war. But the plane that was most successful, most useful, and most completely represents the war.
I propse that the “best aircraft of WW2” is undeniably the Douglass DC-3, aka the C-47 Skytrain.
In fact, I’d go so far as to argue the Skytrain (or, if you are in the UK, Dakota) is the most ubiquitous airplane ever. Gen. Eisenhower said it was one of the four battle implements that brought the US to victory. C-47s served in every theater, from carrying cargo over the Hump to dropping paratroopers in Normandy. Even the Soviets and Japanese built versions. Her military carrier didn’t end with 1945, but continued into the Berlin Airlift. They’ve been used continually since the 1930s with just about every nation on earth. The only replacement for a DC-3 is another DC-3, after all.
I agree, the B-29 would be easy contender for “best bomber” (on paper), though I’d argue the Mosquito was best in terms of versatility. Likewise, the F4U Corsair was the best fighter of the War overall, but in 1939 the P-36 Hawk was the best available.
Context makes all the difference.
Maybe the better question would be “what was the most effective (_______) plane of the war?”
Most effective maritime patrol aircraft: B-24. I’d agree with that. Consolidated built some of the best maritime patrol craft. But you’re right, the Liberator was the right plane at the right time, which often is all it takes to be the “best.”
Yeah, the numbers produced are impressive, as is the fact that the Bf 109 was produced by Spain and Czech Rep. post war, the first with Merlin engines, the second with Junkers.
I’m not sure if the title of “most air-to-air kills” goes to the Messerschmitt, but it wouldn’t surprise me. And it was the mount of the top, what, five aces, each scoring more than 200 kills each.
On the other hand, the Bf 109 had a narrow landing gear footprint, leading to ground loops, and a narrow canopy, making it difficult for pilots to “check six.” The cannon on early models had a low enough muzzle velocity that the gun wasn’t harmonized to the machine guns. And being mounted to the engine, firing it would lead to potential damage, such as to the crank shaft. Later models had extra machine guns mounted in under-wing gondolas, which due to weight would affect maneuverability. It also had a short range, and through the K model still had struts supporting the tailplane.
And to add insult to injury: it looked too much like that “damned Yankee plane” escorting bombers over Berlin.
I propose that the DFS SG 38 Schulgleiter was the most effective trainer.
It was this glider that the vast majority of German pilots used to get their first taste of flight. That means this is the granddaddy of every Luftwaffe plane of WW2, and since the blitzkrieg was a massive influence on everyone’s aviation plans, this simple unpowered aircraft was the foundation of wartime aviation.
“I’m surprised at the lack of love for the Bf-109 so far in this thread.
Most produced fighter aircraft ever.”
I’d say the Il2 Sturmovik has that honor.
“Most (I think) air to air kills of any fighter.”
Possible, though the sometimes very dubious german numbers claimed could put that to doubt.
“In production all the way through the war.”
its frame outlived its usefulness.
“Racked up some absolutely ridiculous numbers in the first year of the war, and again during Barbarossa.”
Ridiculous is the word. And during the first year, they had a 2 to 1 advantage in the air.
It was indeed a very good planes, truly excellent in some areas, when it went out.
But the best plane of the war, even in its class ? Not sure at all.
Yeah, the Il-2 was as valuable as bread for the VVS, so on just numbers alone it probably takes top slot.
But “best in class” when talking fighters, there’s a lot of things to consider.
Which year? The best fighter (or any other plane) in 1939 was useless in 1945.
Which theater? The best fighter (etc) in Europe may have been a lemon in the Pacific or Russia.
Which country? The best fighters of the Soviets and Finns were considered junk by the Americans.
And if we want to judge “best” fighter, we should consider the thoughts of the highest time pilot: Capt. Brown.
Asked to name the greatest fighter aircraft of WWII, Brown declared that there was “not a whisker between” the Spitfire Mk. XIV, Fw-190D and P-51D. Next came the Grumman F6F Hellcat, then the Mitsubishi A6M5 Zero and Nakajima Ki.84 Frank. He deemed the Zero probably the best fighter in the world for the first three years of the war, although its lightweight agility was gained through a frightening indifference to pilot survival. He considered the Messerschmitt Me-109G inferior to the Spitfire Mk. IX and the P-51C, but added that pilot quality would always win out.
I remember reading he listed Rate of Climb, Top Speed, Visibility, Range, Firepower, and Armor as all more important than maneuverability.