A Survivor’s Tale | The Fighter Collection’s P-40F by Rachel Morris
The Americans christened the P-40F the Warhawk (more fitting and aggressive than the British moniker of Kittyhawk II), and it saw action on many fronts, including the Pacific.
It was here, on a quiet former battle ground of World War II, that
one of Curtiss’ combat-hardened warriors was to survive through
to the 1970s, as a forgotten wreck on the island of Espiritu Santo.
Fate, however, was to deal P-40F- 15 USAAF serial 41-19841,
manufacturing serial no. 19503, a lucky hand. The aircraft was to
be acquired by The Fighter Collection and selected for restoration
by the Collection’s driving force, Stephen Grey.
In Grey’s owns words, “When found, the airframe was in a
largely complete but distressed state, most of her systems having
been stripped out. Economics and lack of parts contributed to a
decision to store the airframe until a suitable time arrived to begin
But as the warbird
movement knows, Stephen
Grey is one very determined
individual and over the last
decade some of the major
parts and systems were
found and restored in the
UK and the USA. By 2007,
the project was ready for
final completion and so
was shipped to Precision
Aerospace in Victoria,
Australia. Four years later,
this ultra-rare fighter debuted
at the 2011 Flying Legends
Air Show at Duxford: it is one
of only two F models flying
anywhere in the world.
Research into the history
of the airframe commenced
some time ago, with the aim
of reuniting 41-19841 with
its original paint scheme.
Maxwell AFB AFHRA records
show that the aircraft was
shipped out direct from
the Stockton Depot, CA on
November 26, 1942 with
the shipping code “Poppy,”
the code revealing that this
P-40F was destined for the
Pacific. Delivered to the 13th
Air Force, it is known the aircraft remained in the Southwest Pacific
until June 1, 1943 but was condemned later that same year, on
August 11. Stephen Grey says, “Despite several years of research,
we have yet to come up with a picture of the F in service and so,
temporarily and pending further research, I decided to paint it as
an MTO aircraft”.
The search for photographic evidence of 41-19841 is ongoing.
However, the temporary paint scheme that has been chosen, Lee’s
Hope, reveals a fascinating and important part of the P- 40 service
Originally from Ohio, 1st Lt. Robert J. Duffield was enlisted in
March 1942. Having completed his training he was sent to Tunisia,
joining the 85th FS 79th FG at Cape Bon in August 1943. At just
23, he was given the P-40F Lee’s Hope to fly. Days after his arrival,
the invasion of Sicily was completed and Duffield soon moved to a
new base there.
His first opportunity to shoot at an enemy aircraft did not arrive
until several months later, as he described to Carl Molesworth,
“On January 25, 1944, my 63rd mission, as #3 flight leader, while
patrolling Anzio beachhead our ground control notified us of Bf
109s in the area, approaching from the north and strafing ships.
We engaged and my shooting luck was good. This was actually
my first time shooting at aircraft.” Duffield was credited with one
Duffield’s P-40F wore the standard desert two-tone tan colors
and azure blue belly with the famous flying skull insignia of the
79th emblazoned on the nose. Coded X17 on the fuselage, with
red trimmed national insignia, the Fighter Collection’s Lee’s Hope
also looks every inch the desert warrior.
Though history will forever link Duffield with Lee’s Hope, he
actually inherited the aircraft and its name from another pilot
and so rechristened the aircraft Speedy Edie. His final and most
unforgettable flight in the P-40F came in March 1941 and he
explained to Carl Molesworth how Speedy Edie “died on her 91st
“We were patrolling Anzio, ground control would tell us where
to strafe (they did a good
job). Feeling cocky, on my
way back to base (Naples),
I told my wingman, “Let’s
go up the Appian Way.” (We
had been told to stay out,
as it was a dead-end valley.)
As soon as we arrived in the
valley, there were trucks,
tanks etc., as far as we could
see, just waiting for a couple
of characters like us. Our
first pass caught them by
surprise, as we received no
“We stayed at treetop
level. After our turn back
(damned tight turn, as no
room) our return trip showed
not too much return fire.
Doing so much damage
to trucks full of troops, I
decided for one more pass.
“I was hit so damn often!
Canopy shattered, rudder
control gone, control panel
shattered etc. Somehow I
climbed and turned back to
sea. My wingman said I hit
a tree with my right wing,
which somehow helped to
turn me. Getting ready to bail
The Fighter Collection’s Curtiss
P-40F Warhawk, one of only two
airworthy examples, took to the
skies again in July 2011. (Photo
by John Dibbs/ planepicture.com)
out over the water, I checked my chute gear. Wow! No dinghy was
“With not much control panel left, I could not tell about fuel,
hydraulics etc., and the engine running real rough, no rudder
control, no radio. I tried to get back over land. Could see a dark,
low rain cloud down towards Naples. At about 2,000 feet, I got
out. Managed to hang onto the rip chord ring as a memento.
Looking up at the chute I counted 12 holes (the chute rigger later
said one bullet must have clipped a corner of the folded chute).
Came down very fast and landed in (I think) the only briar patch in
Italy. Speedy Edie exploded before hitting the ground. I must have
been out for a few minutes.
“When I opened my eyes three British soldiers with big rifles
were asking me if I needed help. They took me for a Jeep ride to
a nearby airfield —31st Group—Spitfires. The major I bunked (and
drank) with that night was the officer who had been my instructor
on P-40s back in Sarasota.”
Duffield completed five more missions in P- 47 Thunderbolts, for
a total of 97, before returning to the U.S. His last mission was on
April 12, 1944.