By Steve Kotecki
21st Space Wing Public Affairs
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — This year marks the 76th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, that spurred the United States into WWII. While Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado and the Air Force itself had yet to be established, this event was a pivotal moment for the United States and what would eventually become the Air Force.
Here on Peterson AFB we commemorate the history of one aircraft that played a part in the defense of Pearl Harbor and a large role in the rest of the war.
Located on the corner of Peterson Boulevard and Ent Avenue is an accurate scale replica of the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, a plane that saw a great deal of service before, and during, WWII.
“The P-40 was the U.S. Army’s best fighter aircraft available in large numbers when WWII began in 1939,” said Jeff Nash, Peterson Air and Space Museum assistant director and curator.
When Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor, on Dec. 7, 1941, US forces were taken completely by surprise and only a handful of pilots were able to get their fighters into the air.
“At least six P-40s managed to take off and engage Japanese aircraft during the surprise attack,” Nash said.
Pilots George Welch and Kenneth Taylor, are credited with shooting down four Japanese aircraft during the defense of Pearl Harbor. With this action the P-40 cemented itself in combat aviation history.
Within two weeks the First American Volunteer Group of the Chinese Air Force, nicknamed the Flying Tigers, composed of three squadrons of P-40s, struck back at the Japanese who were bombing China and Burma, known today as Myanmar.
Throughout the war the P-40 saw action in just about every theater around the world.
As the war continued and new fighter craft like the P-47 Thunderbolt and P-51 Mustang started to replace the P-40s on the front lines, the planes were brought to Peterson Field, which became modern day Peterson AFB to be used for fighter pilot training.
“The colors and markings of the display P-40 represent the 268th Army Air Forces Base Unit which trained pilots here from the summer of 1944 to the summer of 1945,” said Nash.
While Peterson AFB was not directly involved in the defense of Pearl Harbor, Team Pete still honors the efforts of the men and women who were through the display of this aircraft.