Operational History

Argentina bought a number of the simplified, fixed landing gear Hawk 75Os, (intended for rough-field operations and ease of maintenance) and purchased a manufacturing license for the type. Argentinian Hawks remained in service until 1954.

In March 1942, 10 USAAC P-36As were transferred to Brazil.

British Commonwealth
Like others, the Royal Air Force also displayed considerable interest in the aircraft. Comparison of a borrowed French Hawk 75A-2 with a Supermarine Spitfire Mk I revealed that the Hawk had several advantages over the early variant of the iconic British fighter. The Hawk was found to have lighter controls than the Spitfire at speeds over 300 mph (480 km/h), especially in diving attacks, and was easier to maneuver in a dogfight thanks to the less-sensitive elevator and better all-around visibility. The Hawk was also easier to control on takeoff and landing. Not surprisingly, the Spitfire's superior acceleration and top speed ultimately gave it the advantage of being able to engage and leave combat at will.

Although Britain decided not to purchase the aircraft, they soon came in possession of 229 Hawks comprised of diverted shipments to occupied France and aircraft flown by escaping French pilots. The aircraft received the designations Mohawk I through IV, mirroring French Hawk 75A-1 through A-4, and were fitted with 0.303-cal. Vickers K machine guns and conventional throttles (forward to increase power). Obsolete by the standards of the European theatre, 72 Mohawks were sent to the South African Air Force, and a number served in India and Burma.

In April 1941, the British government of India ordered 48 Cyclone-powered Hawk 75As to be built by Hindustan Aircraft. The first Indian-built machine was test flown on 31 July 1942. Four additional machines were completed before the project was abandoned. The Indian-built machines were absorbed into the RAF as Mohawk IVs. Similarly, Chinese license production of the Hawk 75A-5 was moved to India, and these machines were also absorbed into RAF as Mohawk IV.

The prototype of the Hawk 75H - a simplified version with fixed landing gear, like the 75O - was eventually sold to the Chinese Nationalist government who presented it to Claire L. Chennault for personal use. China also received two similar demonstrators, the Hawk 75Q. They also used a number of simplified Hawk 75Ms against the Japanese. The Hawk 75A-5 was built under license in China, but production was later moved to India, and these machines were absorbed into the RAF as the Mohawk IV.

After the fall of France, Germany agreed to sell captured Curtiss Hawk fighters to Finland in October 1940. In total, 44 captured aircraft of five subtypes were sold to Finland with three deliveries from 23 June 1941 to 5 January 1944. Not all were from the French stocks, but some were initially sold to Norway and captured in their wooden crates when the Germans conquered the country. The aircraft were given serial codes CU-551 to CU-585.

Curtiss Hawk 75A-3, February 1943. Source: Unknown

In Finnish service, the Hawk was well-liked, affectionately called Sussu ("Sweetheart"). The Finnish Air Force enjoyed success with the type, credited with 190 1/3 kills by 58 pilots, between 16 July 1941 and 27 July 1944, for the loss of 15 of their own. Finnish ace Kyösti Karhila scored 13 1/4 of his 32 victories in the Hawk, while the top Hawk ace K. Tervo scored 15 3/4 victories. The Hawks were flown by Lentolaivue 32 throughout their wartime operational service.

The Finnish Hawks were initially armed with either four or six 7.5 mm machine guns. While sufficient during the early phase of Continuation War, the increasing speeds and armor of Soviet aircraft soon showed this armament was not powerful enough. From 1942 the State Aircraft Factory replaced the fuselage machine guns with either one or two 12.7 mm Colt machine guns and installed two or four 7.7 mm Browning machine guns to each wing. The 12.7 mm Berezin UB or LKk/42 heavy machine guns were also used. The installation of heavier armament did not cause changes to the very good flying characteristics of the fighter but the armament was much more powerful against Soviet planes. The Finnish Hawks were also equipped with Revi 3D or C/12D gunsight.

Surviving Finnish aircraft remained in service with the FAF aviation units HLeLv 13, HLeLv 11 and LeSK until 1948.

Even before the P-36A entered production, the French Air Force entered negotiations with Curtiss for delivery of 300 aircraft. The negotiating process ended up being very drawn-out because the cost of the Curtiss fighters was double that of the French Morane-Saulnier MS.406 and Bloch MB.150, and the delivery schedule was deemed too slow. Since the USAAC was unhappy with the rate of domestic deliveries and believed that export aircraft would slow things down even more, it actively opposed the sale. Eventually, it took direct intervention from U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt to give the French test pilot Michel Detroyat a chance to fly the Y1P-36.

Curtiss Hawk 75 Source: Unknown

Detroyat's enthusiasm, problems with the MB.150, and the pressure of continuing German rearmament finally forced France to purchase 100 aircraft and 173 engines. The first Hawk 75A-1 arrived in France in December 1938 and began entering service in March 1939. After the first few examples, aircraft were delivered in pieces and assembled in France by the Société Nationale de Constructions Aéronautiques du Centre. Officially designated Curtiss H75-C1 (the "Hawk" name was not used in France), the aircraft were powered by Pratt & Whitney R-1830-SC-G engines with 900 hp (671 kW) and had metric, translated instruments, a seat for French dorsal parachutes, a French-style throttle which operated in reverse from U.S. and British aircraft (e.g. full throttle was to the rear rather than to the front) and armament of four 7.5 mm FN-Browning machine guns. The aircraft evolved through several modifications, the most significant being the installation of the Wright R-1820 Cyclone engine. This variant , designated as Curtiss H751-C1, saw little operational use due to its late delivery and reliability problems with the new engine. A total of 416 H75s were delivered to France before the German occupation.

On 8 September 1939, aircraft from Groupe de Chasse II/4 were credited with shooting down two Luftwaffe Messerschmitt Bf 109Es, the first Allied air victory of World War II on the Western front. During 1939–1940, French pilots claimed 230 confirmed and 80 probable victories in H75s against only 29 aircraft lost in aerial combat. Of the 11 French aces of the early part of the war, seven flew H75s. The leading ace of the time was Lt. Edmond Marin la Meslée with 15 confirmed and five probable victories in the type. H75-equipped squadrons were evacuated to French North Africa before the Armistice to avoid capture by the Germans. While under the Vichy government, these units clashed with British aircraft over Mers el-Kébir and Dakar. During Operation Torch in North Africa, French H75s fought against U.S. Navy F4F Wildcats, losing 15 aircraft to seven shot down American planes. From late 1942 on, the Allies started re-equipping French units formerly under Vichy and the H75s were replaced by P-40s and P-39s.

Ten Hawk 75A-9s were delivered to Persia, but were captured by the British while still in crates. These were then used by the RAF in India as Mohawk IVs.

Netherlands East Indies
In October 1939, the Netherlands East Indies government ordered 24 Hawk 75A-7s, powered by 1200 hp Cyclones. They had 4 x 7.7 mm machine guns (two in the nose and one in each wing) and could carry 2 x 100-pound bombs. The fighters were shipped in 1940 (and were almost rerouted to the Netherlands, when Germany invaded) and were used extensively leading up to the Japanese attack. However, by that time the aircraft had flown so many hours, the engines were worn out.

These Dutch Hawks formed 1-VlG IV, or Vliegtuiggroep IV, 1e afdeling (1st Squadron, Airgroup IV) of the ML-KNIL and some with 1-VlG V. They saw action over Malacca, Sumatra and Java, successfully bombing a railroad and intercepting bombers. They also participated in the extensive dogfights over Surabaya, where US, RAF and ML-KNIL aircraft together fought Japanese bombers and fighters.

Norway ordered 24 Twin Wasp-powered Hawk 75A-6s, of which 19 were delivered and seven assembled at the time of the German invasion. None of the aircraft were combat-ready. The disassembled aircraft were disabled by a single customs employee who smashed the instruments and cut all the wires he could reach. Norwegian Hawks captured by the Germans were part of the batch sent to Finland. Norway also ordered 36 Cyclone-powered Hawk 75A-8s, most (30) of which were delivered to a Norwegian training base (established by the exile-government in London and named "Little Norway") near Toronto, Ontario, Canada, as advanced trainers. Still later, they were resold to the U.S. and redesignated as the P-36G model.

In 1943 the U.S. sent 28 Hawks to Peru under the Lend-Lease agreement. These were ex-Norwegian P-36Gs that had served in Canada.

Twelve British Mohawks ended up in Portugal, after they became obsolete in the RAF.

A few Hawk 75Ns were used by Thailand during the French-Thai War. They also fought at the Battle of Prachuab Khirikhan against Japanese forces during the Japanese Invasion of Thailand.

United States
The first production P-36As were delivered to the 20th Pursuit Group at Barksdale Field in Louisiana in April 1938. The aircraft's service history was marred by numerous teething problems with engine exhaust, skin buckling over landing gear, and weak points in the airframe, severely restricting the performance envelope. By the time these issues were resolved, the P-36 was considered obsolete and was relegated to training units and overseas detachments at Albrook Field in the Canal Zone, Elmendorf Field in Alaska, and Wheeler Field in Hawaii.

Curtiss P-36. Source: Unknown

The only combat with U.S.-operated P-36s took place during the Pearl Harbor attack on 7 December 1941. Five of the 39 P-36A Mohawks at Pearl Harbor were able to take off during the attack and were credited with shooting down two Japanese Mitsubishi A6M2 fighters for the loss of one P-36, the first U.S. aerial victories of World War II.

Persyn, Kari, & Thomas. P-36 Hawk Aces of World War 2. Oxford: Osprey Pub. (2009)
Green, William. War Planes of the Second World War, Vol. Four: Fighters. London: MacDonald & Co. Ltd., 1961