World War II was undeniably the most noteworthy military event of the last century. It was fought on all fronts, but the most prominent role was played by the aircraft used by various countries. It was the era that saw fast-paced innovation in aviation technology. It also produced some of the best aircraft and aerial combat accomplishments that are still remembered at the present time.
From bombers to fighter jets to photo-reconnaissance missions, World War II saw fast-paced innovation in combat aviation. All of these airplanes played an important role in the war and are still recollected for their horror in the skies and chaos on the battlefields. There were numerous aircraft that stood out for their speed and dominance. Even today, pilots study them for their capabilities and successes during the war.
In fact, the designs of the planes used in World War II have a massive influence on aviation even to this day. Also, some of these planes still fly in airshows and demonstrations in different parts of the world. In this post, let us take a look at some of the major World War II planes, particularly those of America, Japan, and Germany.
The Major World War II Planes of America
Compared to other great powers, the United States entered World War II later. However, it quickly made its presence known through its higher industrial capacity. One of the major ways that American influence was felt in the Second World War was through its air force. Take a look at the infographic below to find out more about the major American planes of World War II.
1. Curtiss P-40 Warhawk
This plane was among the few American fighter planes of World War II to see active service with American pilots before the official beginning of warfare. It was dynamically used by the Flying Tigers, which was an all-volunteer unit sent to Chine to help combat the Japanese. It was a ground attack plane that saw considerable success. However, air superiority betrayed its greatest weakness as it was underpowered compared to the best German fighters early in the war. With this, it was used in parts fart from the European theater of the war. Around 14,000 units of this were built before it was phased out in 1944. You can read more about it in our post, Curtis P-40 Warhawk.
2. Lockheed P-38 Lightning
This aircraft was designed by Lockheed, and it was among the most typical-looking fighters of the war. It was the only fighter built across the entire war, having over 10,000 of it produced. The problem with this was its high cost. But its incredible range made it popular as a bomber escort both in the Pacific and in Europe. It also had the wing strength to make a capable dive bomber. It was referred to by the Germans as the fork-tailed devil. Find out more about this airplane in our post, Lockheed P-38 Lightning.
3. North American P-51 Mustang
This was the most widely loved and used aircraft of the United States during World War II. It was designed by North American, and more than 15,000 of them were created from 1942 onwards. It costs around $50,000 per plane. The greatest advantage of this aircraft was that it allowed the Allies to give full escorts to their bomber crews across Europe. It proved to be among the most enduring designs of the war. It remained as a fighter-bomber into the Korean War. You can read more about this plane in our article P-51 Mustang.
4. Vought F4U Corsair
This was most popular for its folding wings and plexiglass canopy, which made bailing out easier. Throughout the war, there were around 13,000 of this produced, making it a common sight in the Pacific. However, when it was matched against the Japanese Zero, it had some shortcomings, particularly when it came to maneuverability. With this, it became more commonly used as a US Marine fighter plane during the late years of World War II. Check out our Vought F4U Corsair article to find out more about this aircraft.
5. Grumman F6F Hellcat
This aircraft replaced the Corsair on American carriers. It was equipped with the folding wing design of the Corsair, making it a natural carrier fighter. Compared to other Allied carrier-based aircraft, it claimed more victories in the air. It was also cheap as it only cost 70% of the price of a P-51 Mustang. There were over 12,000 of these produced during the war as navy pilots loved it. You can read our post about The Grumman F6F Hellcat to learn more about it.
6. Northrop P-61 Black Widow
This aircraft was made from the beginning to fight at night. Only 700 of these were created, and each cost $190,000. It was among the most expensive American fighter planes of World War II. But this aircraft was worth its price. It carried a pilot, a gunner, and a radar operator, and it was much larger than other fighter planes. It entered service in 1944, making it a late entrant to the war. If you want to learn more about this World War II plane, read our post, Northrop P-61 Black Widow.
7. Brewster F2A Buffalo
Around 500 of these were used by the United States and were mostly sent to the Pacific. However, this aircraft was boxy and unwieldy. With this, they were sent to carrier service as it had an arrestor hook, making it handy for naval service. However, this plane was so slow against the faster Zeros that some Marines refer to it as a flying coffin.
8. Republic P-47 Thunderbolt
There were more than 15,000 of these aircraft produced during the war. One of them was seized by the Germans and was used for ground recon. Each of them costs around $83,000. Mostly, they were used as heavily armed fighters, carrying machine guns. But it could also be fitted with some bombs and was soon used as a tactical fighter-bomber. Learn more about this plane by reading our post, P-47 Thunderbolt.
The Major World War II Planes of Japan
During the Second World War, Japan was one of the best when it came to technological advancement, along with Germany. In addition to expertise, Japan also had the human resources to design, create, and use their new-age artillery. In addition to having some of the best bombs, machine guns, and tanks back then, one specific entity stood out from the rest, which was the Japanese fighter aircraft.
Throughout the war, the Japanese military chose the best high-tech companies, including Nakajima Aircraft Company and Mitsubishi. With this, more than 48 various fighter plane models were made in just under a decade. You can check out the infographic below to learn about the major Japanese planes of World War II.
1. Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa
This was a tactical Japanese fighter plane that was designed by Hideo Itokawa. It was created to be subtle. That’s why it had a much lighter build. It was fitted with two cowling machine guns that worked together, which made the plane devastating. Its engine was later updated, adding a three-blade propeller. This plane was a favorite for most kamikaze missions made by the Imperial Japanese Army Force.
2. Nakajima Ki-27
This aircraft was also referred to as the Army Type 97 Fighter. Its design featured a low-wing, which was an improved version of the Army Type 95 Fighter Plane. It had an air-cooled radial engine, which removed overheating issues. Its body was streamlined with the trailing edge pointed. It also had straight wings with leading ends, which afterward became its trademark.
3. Mitsubishi J2M
This aircraft did not have any issues when it came to conquering the great attitude. It was sleek and sturdy, which made gliding and maneuvering through the air fast feel like a child’s play. It was the most used local-defense interceptor fighter plane by Japan during World War II. You can learn more about this plane by reading our post, Mitsubishi J2M Raiden.
4. Nakajima J1N1 Gekko
This aircraft was popular due to its efficiency during the kamikaze and in night fighting missions. It was originally created to accommodate a crew of three, who were tasked to be on the lookout for enemy fighter planes. Aside from that, they were also expected to handle devastating machine guns in case of any encounter with the enemy. It was mainly used by the Imperial Japanese Navy for reconnaissance purposes.
5. Mitsubishi J8M1
This aircraft featured a light frame, which allowed it to carry out the missions stealthily. It was also designed to carry less fuel and ammunition. The main spar of this plane was made out of plywood, which greatly reduced its total weight. Its vertical tail was also made out of wood for the same reasons. From 1944 to 1945, there were only seven Mitsubishi J8M1s created. The IJA Air Service mainly used this plane.
6. Mitsubishi A6M “Zero”
This was among the most well-regarded airplanes made by the Mitsubishi Aircraft Company. It was foreshadowed as the best of its kind when it made its debut on the war front. It featured a dependable frame complete with efficient features. It could maneuver easily and gracefully, which made it difficult for the allied forces to shoot it down. Before 1942, it quickly achieved its impressive twelve to one kill ratio. To find out more about this amazing aircraft, read out article Mitsubishi A6M Reisen (Zero).
7. Nakajima Ki-84
This was a fighter plane that was created for speed, which made it easy to maneuver even when under heavy fire. It had an upgraded armor, and its frame was all metal, ensuring that the pilot was safe and secure. It had two machine guns and a 65mm armor glass canopy to protect the pilot. This was used primarily by the Japanese Army Air Service.
8. Kawasaki Ki-61
From 1942 to 1945, this airplane was used mainly by the Imperial Japanese Air Service. It was a fighter plane that was made for defending at low to medium altitudes. It featured a semi-monocoque fuselage, three-spar wings, and fabric-covered ailerons. There were around 3,000 Kawasaki Ki-61 fighter aircraft that were produced during the war. Read our article Kawasaki Ki-61 Hien/Tony to find out more about this airplane.
The Major World War II Planes of Germany
From the beginning of the Second World War, Germany expected its air force to play the main role in its goals. With this, German engineers made some of the most advanced designs of the war. The Luftwaffe, or German Air Force, had long been a central part of the plans of Germany for the future. This is why it was not surprising that Germany had some of the best fighter planes of World War II. They were able to create aircraft that were unlike anything the world had seen before. Take a look at the infographic below to see some of the major World War II planes of Germany.
1. Messerschmitt Bf 109
This was by far the most successful plane of Germany during World War II. It was a versatile fighter that remained in use by other countries even after the war. There were around 34,000 of these aircraft produced throughout the course of the war. The Allied airmen were a bit jealous of the capabilities that it offered, and the three top German aces were all pilots of this aircraft. You can read more about this aircraft in our article Bf 109.
2. Focke-Wulf Fw 190
Pilots during the war loved to fly this aircraft. It was the second most-produced German fighter plane of the war. From 1941 onwards, over 20,000 of these were created. This plane lacked the high-altitude capabilities of the Me 109. But it was superior at lower heights. It also easily defeated the British Spitfire that it spent much of the initial years of the war combating. For more information about this World War II plane, you can read our Fw 190 (Focke-Wulf, Germany) article.
3. Dornier Do 17
This aircraft was referred to as the Flying Pencil. There were more than 2,000 of these produced during the war. Initially, it was made as a bomber, but it soon proved itself as a proficient night fighter. It could carry the extra equipment needed to fly effectively at night. Its biggest advantage was its speed, which could fly faster than many other planes in the early years of the war.
4. Messerschmitt Me 410
This aircraft was used for sheer mobilization. It carried a combination of machine guns and rockets, which made it dangerous to any bomber that crossed its patch. It could carry a significant bomb load, too. Nearly 1,200 of these aircraft were made in the late years of World War II. For more information about this aircraft, you can read our Messerschmitt Me 410 Hornisse (Hornet) article.
5. Messerschmitt Bf 110
This was the most successful heavy fighter plane used by the Germans in the Second World War. More than 6,000 of them were built during the war. Compared to other planes, it was not that fast, but it had a lot of things it could do. It became the night fighter of choice by the Germans as it was able to carry radar on board. It allowed its pilots to be the best night fighters in Germany. You can also read our post, Messerschmitt Bf 110 Zerstorer (Destroyer), to learn more about it.
6. Heinkel He 162
When 1944 came, Germany was on the losing side of World War II. With this, a call was put out to the engineers of the country, which was called the Emergency Fighter Program. It encouraged new technologies to be applied in creating aircraft, such as using wood and other non-metallic materials for the airframes. The He 162 was the first plane to use these new techniques, and it was mainly made from plywood. Learn more about this plane by reading our post, He 162 Volksjager Salamander: Third Reich Jet Fighter of Last Resort.
7. Messerschmitt Me 262
This was the most common jet during World War II. It was also considered the most successful early jet in history. It was faster and better armed compared to the others that it fought against. More than 1,400 of them were built during the war. It was also faster than any propeller-driven plane in the war. In fact, the Allies had to adopt special tactics to defeat it. You can read our post, Me 262 (Messerschmitt, Germany), to learn more about this airplane.
8. Messerschmitt Me 163
This was a rocket-powered aircraft that flew so fast, shooting through bomber formations and assaulting with impunity. It was also rare that it could be shot down, but it was possible. Its advanced technology made it more of a psychological weapon. Its pilots were limited in high altitude flight as its cockpit was not pressurized. Pilots were ordered to consume less fiber to lessen the risk of gas expanding in their intestines when using this aircraft. For more details about this German World War II plane, you can read our Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet post.
These were the major World War II planes used by the United States, Japan, and Germany. There were many other planes made and used in the war, but these were the ones that stood out in terms of performance and build. These aircraft indeed contributed a lot to their respective countries throughout the Second World War, and some of them were utilized even after the war had ended. We hope this post helped you learn more about the major World War II planes of America, Japan, and Germany.