Lockheed P-38 exports

Lockheed FO-1

The US Navy acquired four F-5Bs from the AAF in North Africa and redesignated them FO-1 [01209/01212]. They were operated exclusively as land-based aircraft and never from carriers. Lockheed had proposed a carrier-based version of the Lightning (Model 822) with folding wings, arrester hooks, and a strengthened airframe. However, the Navy looked askance at such a large aircraft on its carrier decks, and they disliked liquid-cooled engines for carrier-based planes. Consequently, the project never got past the paper stage.

Lightning I/II exports

Chronologically, Lightning Mark I for the RAF was the second model produced. In France, as early as the spring of 1939, the Comite du Materiel and the Etat Major had been taking a look at the P-38 as a possible substitute for the Breguet 700, Potez 671, and Sud-Est S.E.100 twin-engine fighters then under development. In Apr 1940, the Anglo-French Purchasing Committee ordered 667 P-38s. The two versions were the Model 322-61-03 (322-F) for France and 322-61-04 (322-B) for Britain.

    Both British and French delegations insisted the fighters be equipped with Allison s without turbo-superchargers and with strictly right-hand rotation because they wanted the engines interchangeable with those of the Curtiss H.81A Tomahawk that had been ordered by both Britain and France in large numbers. In addition the Committee wanted to optimize the aircraft for medium-altitude combat, as was currently the dominant mode of aerial warfare in Europe, rather than the high-altitude role for which the P-38 had been designed. The Anglo-French delegation was also aware of the problems currently being experienced by the USAAC in the delivery of turbo-superchargers and did not want to run the risk of costly, time-consuming delays, since they wanted all planes delivered in less than a year. It turned out that decision was particularly unfortunate.

    British and French Model 322s were to be powered by Allison V-1710-C15s rated at 1010hp at 14,000' and with both engines rotating in the right-handed sense. The French version was to have metric-calibrated instruments, French-built radios and French-supplied armament, and were to have throttles that operated in the "French fashion"—reverse from British/American throttles.

When France fell in June1940, the entire contract was taken up by Britain. By July 1941 the RAF recognized there would be a need for high-altitude capabilities, and the original contract was amended to deliver 143 Lightning Is [AE978/999, AF100/220] with the V-1710-15 non-turbo-supercharged engines, and the remaining 524 as Lightning IIs [AF221/AF744] with turbo-supercharged V-1710-F5L/-F5R engines (Model 322-60-04). Because of its non-turbo, right-handed Allisons, RAF's Lightning I was christened the "Castrated P-38" by the factory. It turned out that the nickname was apt. The first three Lightnings arrived in the UK by sea transport in March 1942. [AF105] was sent to Cunliffe-Owen at Southampton for examination and experiments. [AF106] was sent to Boscombe Down for flight evaluation. [AF107] went to the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough for experiments and evaluation.

    Performance of the hybrid was quite poor and RAF refused further deliveries after testing only three examples. The remaining 140 Lightning Is were taken up by the US Army and designated P-322—P for pursuit and 322 for the Lockheed model. They were sent to a Dallas modification center where most were converted as trainers and for various experimental roles. They retained their original British s/ns while in AAF service, and 20 retained their V-1710-C15 engines (AAF designation: V-1710-33). The rest of the P-322s were fitted with V-1710-27/-29s but were not given turbo-supercharged. As operational trainers they had no cannon and only two each .30 and .50 machine guns.

    Only one Lightning II [AF221] was completed and it, too, was taken up (along with its British s/n) by the AAF as P-38F-13-10, but in AAF markings, and was used by Lockheed to test of smoke-laying canisters on racks between the booms and nacelle, plus air-dropping of two torpedoes from the same racks. Other British-ordered aircraft were 28 completed as P-38F-13, 121 as P-38F-15, 174 as P-38G-13, and 200 as P-38G-15.

Foreign P-38s

Fifteen P-38J/P-38L fighters were delivered to China late in the war. Later they were supplemented by a similar numbers of F-5E and F-5G recons. I found no details of their service or their ultimate fate.

    Three F-4-1s were given to the Royal Australian Air Force in Sep 1942 and were assigned to the No. 1 Photographic Reconnaissance Unit where they were serialed as [A55-1/A55-3]. The first and last were written off in landing accidents, and the remaining one was returned to the USAAF after only three months in Australian service.

    In April 1943 six F-4s went to Free French Groupe de Reconnaissance II/33 in Morocco for conversion training. They later were re-equipped with F-5s and operated as a squadron attached to the 3re Photographic Recon Group of the 12th AF. The best-known Free French F-5 pilot was the renowned author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, who disappeared off southern France on July 31, 1944 while on a combat sortie from Corsica.

    After the liberation of France, GR II/33 was renamed GR I/33 "Belfort" and continued to fly recon Lightnings (F-5A/-5B and F-5F/-5G) for several years after the war, finally re-equipping with modified Republic F-84G Thunderjets in 1952.

    Two P-38s of the First Fighter Group made forced landings at Lisbon, Portugal while being ferried from England to Algeria. The Portuguese government obtained USAAF permission to retain the planes and assigned them their own s/ns [300/301].

There is at least one occasion in which Lightnings served with Axis forces, joining the list of aircraft that served on both sides during WW2. Regia Aeronautica managed to obtain an intact P-38G when it was forced to land with navigation equipment problems on Sardinia on July 12, 1943 in a flight from Gibraltar to Malta. It was repainted in Italian markings and flown to the experimental center at Guidonia for evaluation, and flown from there on Aug 11 by Col Angelo Tondi to intercept American bombers. Tondi is credited with possibly shooting down one B-24D Liberator. However, the P-38 was grounded shortly thereafter by a lack of spare parts.

    Italians acquired additional Lightnings in a more orthodox manner six years later. When Italy joined NATO, the Aeronautica Militare Italiana received 50 Lightnings (P-38Js, -38Ls, and F-5Es), who operated them until they were replaced by jets.

    The Fuerza Aerea Hondurena received 12 P-38Ls in the late '40s. In 1947 several P-38Ls ended up in service with the Partido Revolucionario Dominicano (PRD) based in Cuba. PRD was a revolutionary movement founded in Cuba in 1939 by opponents of the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. By 1947 both American and Cuban governments were supposedly providing covert support to PRD rebels, who planned to stage an amphibious and airborne attack on the Dominican Republic and overthrow the Trujillo regime. The P-38s were apparently purchased on the sly in the US by the revolutionary plotters, and were designed primarily for long-range photo work—they were not equipped with guns or bomb racks when they arrived in Cuba. However, when the invasion plan leaked out to the press, both Cuban and American governments changed their minds, invasion plans were blocked, and the rebel's weapons confiscated. The P-38s, along with one PB4Y-1, were taken by the Cuban government, where they were flown until worn out or scrapped.