When thinking of that awesome shark face nose art, be it on a P-40 Warhawk or even now on our A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, we typically think of the AVG (American Volunteer Group.) Right?
The Flying Tigers as they were called, were a group of American pilots who served with the Chinese Air Force before the country joined the war. The unit was comprised of 100 pilots who came from the Navy, Marine Corps and the Army Air Corps.
Although they lacked many resources as they couldn’t be fully backed by the United States and had to rely on the few maintenance personnel that came with them, they had a great record. They were credited with 229 air-to-air kills while only losing 14 of their own in action.
Fun Fact: 13,738 P-40s were built until their production ceased in 1944.
One of the signature identifiers of their group was, of course, the shark mouth painted around the intake on their P-40s. That’s what most people associate that logo with. That, however, wasn’t an original idea.
The AVG got the idea after seeing a newspaper picture of a P-40 from the No. 112 Squadron of the Royal Air Force. Fighting in Egypt, Sudan, Greece and Crete, they were one of the first squadrons to fly the P-40 and painted them with the shark mouth because they thought the intake looked perfect for it. That’s why they were nicknamed the “Shark Squadron.” Although the idea was theirs to paint the Warhawk, the graphic was not.
The first documented use of this nose art was by the Zerstörergeschwader 76 group of the Luftwaffe. Formed in 1939, they flew Bf 110Cs and it was them who were first seen painting their noses with the logo in question. They didn’t have the eyes on them (see picture below) as that was added by the RAF, but the shark mouth was their original idea.