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Old 03-09-2009, 09:40 PM
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Which was the Better Fighter: BF109 or Spitfire?

I ask because (i seems) that the (British) Spitfire was constantly being upgraded-I belive it went through 9 or 10 iterations by the end of the war. The constant improvements made the planes faster and more maneuverable. In contrast, I think the German BF109 did not evolve much-it was substatially the same aircraft in 1945, as it was in 1940. So which was the better plane? I heard that the Spitfire was slightly faster, more maneuverable, and had more firepower. The one problem was the engine-because the Spitfire used carburators (instead of fuel injection), the engine could stall in a barrel roll maneuver.
Why were the Germans (no slouches in aerodynamics) so slow to upgrade the Messerschmidt fighters?
Old 03-09-2009, 09:59 PM
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Originally Posted by ralph124c View Post
I ask because (i seems) that the (British) Spitfire was constantly being upgraded-I belive it went through 9 or 10 iterations by the end of the war. The constant improvements made the planes faster and more maneuverable. In contrast, I think the German BF109 did not evolve much-it was substatially the same aircraft in 1945, as it was in 1940. So which was the better plane? I heard that the Spitfire was slightly faster, more maneuverable, and had more firepower. The one problem was the engine-because the Spitfire used carburators (instead of fuel injection), the engine could stall in a barrel roll maneuver.
Why were the Germans (no slouches in aerodynamics) so slow to upgrade the Messerschmidt fighters?
"Messerschmitt." No D.

The 109 was HEAVILY modified throughout the war, and substantially upgraded; there were dozens of models. I don't know where you got that it stayed the same throughout the war, but it didn't; it was as modified as the Spitfire. They stuck with it because it was a proven and successful design, and it was relatively cheap and didn't use a lot of materials.
Old 03-09-2009, 10:00 PM
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The Bf 109 was also produced in several major variants with a myriad of minor versions. It was E's during the Battle of Britain, G's defending against the 8th Air Force daylight bombing raids, and K's in the last days of the war. The upgrades were as substantial as those to the Spitfire.

As to which was superior - they were comparable, which is all that matters. The Allies had the luxury of rotating pilots out of combat and using them as teachers in flight schools sheltered from the war in North America. The Germans had to leave their aces in the cockpit until they eventually got killed or bailed over enemy territory. As a result, throughout the war Allied formations became more skillful and Axis formations became less skillful. The attrition of skilled Luftwaffe pilots had far more impact than any minor advantage one fighter might have had over the other.
Old 03-09-2009, 10:30 PM
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I'd say the Spit was better overall. The Bf-109 had some serious shortcomings that only got worse as it got heavier with every new version. One third of all the 109s built where lost in accidents caused by the poor visibility from the cockpit, the merciless low speed performance and narrow track landing gear. Not surprising since Willy Messerschmitt goal was to build the smaller possible plane around the most powerful engine available.

All accounts I've heard say that the Spit was a pleasure to fly, while the 109 was very demanding and unforgiving. Of course in the hands of an expert it was one of the deadliest planes ever to fly, but as the experts began to be culled off the Luftwaffe new pilots ended up going to battle on a plane that had more or less the same chances of killing its own pilot as of shooting down an enemy.
Old 03-09-2009, 10:33 PM
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Originally Posted by ralph124c View Post
I ask because (i seems) that the (British) Spitfire was constantly being upgraded-I belive it went through 9 or 10 iterations by the end of the war. The constant improvements made the planes faster and more maneuverable. In contrast, I think the German BF109 did not evolve much-it was substatially the same aircraft in 1945, as it was in 1940. So which was the better plane? I heard that the Spitfire was slightly faster, more maneuverable, and had more firepower. The one problem was the engine-because the Spitfire used carburators (instead of fuel injection), the engine could stall in a barrel roll maneuver.
Why were the Germans (no slouches in aerodynamics) so slow to upgrade the Messerschmidt fighters?
As noted, both planes underwent numerous upgrades throughout the war (and beyond), so a claim for a stagnant development is incorrect.
Firepower was very different in the earliest versions: Bf -109 had two wing-mounted 20mm cannon and two 7.62mm machines firing through the propellor arc (and, thus, slightly downrated in firing rate) while the Spit had 8 .303 caliber machine guns mounted in the wings, but no cannons or heavy machine guns.
At the end of the war, the Spit was using four wing-mounted 20 mm cannons while the Bf-109 was using an engine-mounted 30 mm cannon firing through the propellor hub with two 13 mm machine guns firing through the propellor arc.

Each plane saw several different weapons configurations over time.

I believe the last Spit with a carburetur was the Mk V. It made a big impression on U.S. pilot Robert S. Johnson when he killed the engine in a slow roll and reported it in his book Thunderbolt. However, a slow roll was not a normal combat maneuver and the plane was fitted with fuel injection before the Mk IX variant, anyway.
Old 03-09-2009, 10:46 PM
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From this site:

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First, many of [the messerschmitt's] pilots believed it was not structurally sound. Its wings were both small and thin - so thin that prominent bulges were needed to house the breeches of its wing-mounted guns. The undercarriage was mounted on the fuselage rather than on the wing spar, the latter not being strong enough to withstand the impact of landing, which also gave it a dangerously narrow undercarriage track. The tailplane had bracing struts to cure structural problems resulting from engine vibration. The German machine looked light and dainty and its pilots simply did not trust its strength, although it was more than adequate given the light weight of the aircraft as a whole. In fact the whole design philosophy of the machine had been to make the wings as small and thin as possible to give maximum speed and maneuverability, which also dictated the overall small size of the plane to keep its weight to a minimum.

Second, when it was approaching its limits of low-speed handling, its leading edge slats automatically deployed, with a loud bang clearly audible over the engine roar! Although still having a considerable margin before stalling once the slats deployed, most pilots would back off their turn at that point, believing they were right on the verge of stalling. Many others did not even reach this point, and used the point of the slats deploying as the limit of safe performance, flying their aircraft in order to prevent their deployment at all. In this way these slats hindered their machines maneuverability, rather than being used to enhance it as was intended. This was a deficiency of the pilots, rather than of the designers, but when flown without the assistance of the slats the Bf109 would certainly be less maneuverable than its opponents.

An opposite fallacy exists with regard to the Bf109's ability to escape from the Spitfire by diving away. Early in the Battle, Spitfire pilots gave up the chase as considerable distance would be lost initially by the Spitfire having to roll before diving to prevent engine cut-out. However, as some pilots, through ignorance or frustration, followed they found that the 109 would have to pull up sooner or later, and when they did pull up it was done gently to avoid overstressing the thin wings, which was a genuine weakness of the design. The Spitfire pilots had no such fear, as their larger, thicker wings had a hefty "leaf-spring" spar which conferred enormous strength, and could simply "cut the corner" when pulling up their nose to make up their lost ground. Furthermore, diving to a lower altitude played to a strength of the Spitifre, as its performance was better at low altitude than high altitude, where the 109 had the advantages
Old 03-09-2009, 11:04 PM
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For a fascinating discussion of these two aircraft (as well as the Hurricane), read Michael's Korda's new book, With Wings Like Eagles, about the Battle of Britain. Highly recommended!
Old 03-09-2009, 11:12 PM
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Originally Posted by mutantmoose View Post
Also to note was that sometimes the slats deployed asymmetrically, pretty much a death sentence at low altitudes and speeds.
Old 03-10-2009, 06:37 AM
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Originally Posted by Ale View Post
Also to note was that sometimes the slats deployed asymmetrically, pretty much a death sentence at low altitudes and speeds.
I'm not sure that was a huge problem given advance knowledge of the airplane. It just meant that as a precaution the pilot shouldn't pull hard off the deck.

Last edited by Magiver; 03-10-2009 at 06:37 AM.
Old 03-10-2009, 09:51 AM
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Originally Posted by Gorsnak View Post
The Bf 109 was also produced in several major variants with a myriad of minor versions. It was E's during the Battle of Britain, G's defending against the 8th Air Force daylight bombing raids, and K's in the last days of the war. The upgrades were as substantial as those to the Spitfire....
They even developed a T variant for deployment on the never-completed aircraft carrier Graf Zeppelin.

The Gustav was an effective and handsome aircraft, no doubt, despite its flaws, and it's one of my favorites of WWII. The three top aces of WW2 flew Bf 109s, all on the Russian Front. According to Wiki, the Finns, Romanians, Croatians and Hungarians also were highly successful in Gustavs. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bf-109

Still, I'd have to give the edge to the Spitfire. I think any pilot of the day, if given his choice of one or the other in a dogfight and if equally well-trained on both, would probably agree.

Last edited by Elendil's Heir; 03-10-2009 at 09:52 AM.
Old 03-10-2009, 10:02 AM
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Just found this in the Wiki article:

RAF pilots who tested captured Bf 109s liked the engine and throttle response but criticised the high speed handling characteristics, poorer turning circle, greater force required on the control column at speed, and the thick framing of the cockpit glazing which they felt created blindspots in the pilot's field of vision. In August 1940 comparative trials were held at the E-Stelle in Rechlin, with the famous ace Werner Mölders being one of the participants. The tests concluded that the Bf 109 had superior level and climb speed to the Spitfire at all altitudes, but also noted the significantly smaller turning circle of the British fighter. It was advised not to engage in turning dog-fights unless the performance advantage of the Bf 109 could be used to full effect. The roll rate of the Bf 109 was deemed superior as was its stability on target approach. Mölders himself called the Spitfire "miserable as a fighting aircraft," due to its two-pitch propeller and the inability of its carburettor to handle negative g-forces. It should be noted, however, that in the political climate of the times there was often a considerable amount of propaganda written into such reports by both sides....
Old 03-10-2009, 10:06 AM
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I also seem to remember that because of the wing design, the Spitfire was extremely difficult to build. The Bf 109 could more easily be mass produced.

Which stands in contrast to the typical German habit of the time of over engineering military products making mass production difficult to say the least (Panthers, Tigers etc).
Old 03-10-2009, 10:42 AM
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Originally Posted by villa View Post
I also seem to remember that because of the wing design, the Spitfire was extremely difficult to build. The Bf 109 could more easily be mass produced.

Which stands in contrast to the typical German habit of the time of over engineering military products making mass production difficult to say the least (Panthers, Tigers etc).
That's not really fair. The Germans didn't go down the excessively complicated system path until they were looking for wonder weapons. The Panzer IV and the StuGs were well designed, and they were from the same generation
as the Bf 109. The Panther/Tiger analogs in the air were the Komet and the Me 262.
Old 03-10-2009, 10:50 AM
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I was under the impression that while the Panther was well designed, it was overly reliant on bespoke parts and highly skilled labor - once manpower shortages bit hard in Germany that led to production problems. Not sure where I am remembering that from so I will have to look.

Sorry - misread your post, Winsling. I read it as the Panzer V being well designed... I'd agree with you re the Panzer IV, which didn't seem to suffer from production problems. But Germany was suffering less of a labor shortage at that time too, as well as less disruption from the air.

Last edited by villa; 03-10-2009 at 10:53 AM.
Old 03-10-2009, 11:27 AM
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Originally Posted by villa View Post
I was under the impression that while the Panther was well designed, it was overly reliant on bespoke parts and highly skilled labor - once manpower shortages bit hard in Germany that led to production problems. Not sure where I am remembering that from so I will have to look.

Sorry - misread your post, Winsling. I read it as the Panzer V being well designed... I'd agree with you re the Panzer IV, which didn't seem to suffer from production problems. But Germany was suffering less of a labor shortage at that time too, as well as less disruption from the air.
Well designed tough to nail down. We both agree that the Tiger was poorly designed - even if everything was up to spec, it was too heavy for the suspension. On the other end, the T-34 was well designed by any definition. The Panther was theoretically sound, but building and maintaining one put a burden on the German logistics and infrastructure that wasn't justified by its performance.

I'll argue that means that it wasn't well designed, because the designers weren't operating under realistic constraints. The fact that their design could have been successful under conditions that didn't exist doesn't really matter to me. If someone wants to argue that the design was sound, but the implementation under wartime conditions failed, it's just a matter of definitions.

Remember also that the Panzer IV was the one German tank that served throughout WWII. Production was actually higher in '44 than any other year despite labor shortages and the bombing campaign. By any measure, it was a phenomenally successful tank.

Okay, I'll stop hijacking now. Sorry.
Old 03-10-2009, 11:29 AM
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I think we would both agree the design of the Spitfire wing made it hard to manufacture, and that should be included in any calculation of how good a 'plane it was...
Old 03-10-2009, 12:10 PM
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Originally Posted by Elendil's Heir View Post
the thick framing of the cockpit glazing which they felt created blindspots in the pilot's field of vision
Correct me if I'm remembering incorrectly, but the Spitfire's canopy was developed so that eventually it was a bubble above the fuselage, giving much better all around visibility. The BF109 kept the canopy streamlined into the fuselage, restricting visibility.

Remembered (without cite) from one of those "weapons vs weapons" shows on TV. Interesting show, especially when showing how much fuel the BF109 burned through when in combat over England.
Old 03-10-2009, 12:30 PM
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As others have noted (and noted the notations) there were a lot of variants of the 109. Also, while the 109's were the most prolific of the German planes there were other fighter designs from Messerschmitt as well as other competing companies.

I couldn't access the Military Channel's top ten fighters web site for some reason, but IIRC the 109 was about the middle of the list with the Spitfire edging it out by a couple of slots (I believe that they picked the P51 as their top fighter choice...which I agree with btw). Here is another top 10 list of all time fighters. They have the BF109 as number 6 and the Spitfire as number 1 (edging out the P51 which they list as number 2). Interestingly enough they have the FW 190 as number 3, beating the 109 (which I agree with, though it depends on what metrics you are using to measure 'best' or 'greatest').

Myself, I think the Spitfire was a superior fighter for the role it was used in (short range local air superiority fighter)...while the 109 was unsuited for the role the Germans tried to use it in (as a long range air superiority fighter). By the end of the war the air frame was definitely getting long in the tooth, despite numerous upgrades and versions.

I agree with an earlier poster however that said the critical difference wasn't so much the fighter itself it was the fighter pilots and the system of how pilots were trained, used and rotated. The same thing can be said for the Japanese pilots vs US pilots and their programs during WWII. The Japanese (and the Germans) started off with superior personnel at the outbreak of the war, however by the end of the war they had worn down and lost through attrition their best pilots...which the Brits (and the US) had not. That was the critical difference, not which plane was better.

ETA: Finally got on the History Channel's top ten site. Was wrong...the BF109 isn't even on the list. Instead, they chose to put the ME262 on there. The Spitfire is number 6 btw.

-XT

Last edited by XT; 03-10-2009 at 12:35 PM.
Old 03-10-2009, 12:40 PM
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all good replies..as i recall, the british even had a carrier-based Spitfire (the Seafire). It proved not to such a good plane, however 9its undercarriage was not robust enough for carrier landings).
WRT the BR109-I also recall reading that BF109 fighter pilots suffered horrendous attrition, on the easter fron 9after 1943). the reason was that the Russian YAK and Shtormovik fighters greatly outclassed the BF109.
Did the Italians ever field their airforce in Russia?
Old 03-10-2009, 12:47 PM
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Originally Posted by ralph124c
WRT the BR109-I also recall reading that BF109 fighter pilots suffered horrendous attrition, on the easter fron 9after 1943). the reason was that the Russian YAK and Shtormovik fighters greatly outclassed the BF109.
I don't think this is true. The Germans kicked the crap out of the Russian air force...but the Russian's simply had more planes and pilots to throw at the Germans and eventually simply wore them down through attrition. Since a German pilot basically flew until either killed, captured or hurt so bad they couldn't fly anymore it was a long slow decline. Much like the rest of their armed forces.

-XT
Old 03-10-2009, 02:10 PM
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Originally Posted by villa View Post
I think we would both agree the design of the Spitfire wing made it hard to manufacture, and that should be included in any calculation of how good a 'plane it was...
The fact is, though, that the British outbuilt the Germans in fighter production throughout the war. Whatever the difficulties, they overcame them. If you have the production capacilty to build a more complex fighter, its complexity isn't really a weakness.

Quote:
Originally Posted by xtisme
...the BF109 isn't even on the list. Instead, they chose to put the ME262 on there. The Spitfire is number 6 btw.
Boy howdy, that is a terrible list. The Me-262? It was COOL, sure.

Last edited by RickJay; 03-10-2009 at 02:12 PM.
Old 03-10-2009, 02:15 PM
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The fact is, though, that the British outbuilt the Germans in fighter production throughout the war. Whatever the difficulties, they overcame them. If you have the production capacilty to build a more complex fighter, its complexity isn't really a weakness.
Well that just isn't true. The British outbuilt the Germans, absolutely. Did the British outbuild the Germans building only Spitfires? Would the British have outbuilt the Germans by more had the Spitfire been easier to build? If no more pilots were available then 'planes, could the extra resources have been used to build other required military equipment? Does the complexity of the Spitfire wing play any importance in comparing it as a fighter to the Hurricane (the 'plane that really won the Battle of Britain)?

They were both great 'planes without a doubt. But how many of them can be put in the air is definitely relevant to a comparison between the two.
Old 03-10-2009, 02:40 PM
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Boy howdy, that is a terrible list. The Me-262? It was COOL, sure.
Hey, during the 2-3 hours you could expect to get out of the engines it was absolutely untouchable. Assuming you didn't get picked off during takeoff by, or flame out by pushing the throttle too quickly, or get bounced by a P-47 diving at near-supersonic speeds, or......

Actually, if the Germans hadn't been suffering from critical material shortages (exotic alloys for parts of the jet engine, primarily - the production versions used lower grade materials hence the awful reliability) and experienced pilots, the 262 itself was a pretty kick-ass plane.
Old 03-10-2009, 02:54 PM
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Worth mentioning is that the post-Battle of Britain 109 variants were tailored more toward being a bomber interceptor, and not an anti-fighter platform. Their powerplant was focused on speed and climb, and they carried armament that was really becoming overweight for the size of the airframe and best designed to bring down bombers.

After the F variant, I'd consider them to be interceptors rather than fighters.
Old 03-10-2009, 03:42 PM
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Originally Posted by RickJay
Boy howdy, that is a terrible list. The Me-262? It was COOL, sure.
Well, if you've ever seen the show you know that they use a bunch of different factors as criteria for their evaluation. Stuff like 'fear factor' and 'innovation'. The ME 262 would have high marks in both, especially innovation...so I don't think it's unreasonable that it's on the list.

-XT
Old 03-10-2009, 08:55 PM
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Originally Posted by ralph124c
WRT the BR109-I also recall reading that BF109 fighter pilots suffered horrendous attrition, on the easter fron 9after 1943). the reason was that the Russian YAK and Shtormovik fighters greatly outclassed the BF109.
I don't think this is true. The Germans kicked the crap out of the Russian air force...but the Russian's simply had more planes and pilots to throw at the Germans and eventually simply wore them down through attrition.
Your reply doesn't prove your point at all. In the same way that the T34 was a better tank than any German contemorary one, but that fact had virtually no influence in 1941 due to the inability to use them properly, the same could be the case in the two airforces; the German beat the Russian airforce in 1941 because they destroyed most of it on the ground in the first few days, and its airfields kept getting overrun for the rest of 1941. That says nothing about the quality of the respective planes.
Old 03-10-2009, 09:32 PM
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WRT the BR109-I also recall reading that BF109 fighter pilots suffered horrendous attrition, on the easter fron 9after 1943). the reason was that the Russian YAK and Shtormovik fighters greatly outclassed the BF109.
Did the Italians ever field their airforce in Russia?
The Il-2 Sturmovik was a ground attack plane, not a fighter...
In any case, I think that until the Lavochkin La-5 appeared in 1943 the Soviet air force didn't have anything quite up to the task of facing the 109s; it still was an inferior plane, but not abysmally so compared to previous fighters. It wasn't until mid '44 when the La-7 showed up that the Russians had something to fight in more or less equal terms.

Yes, the Italians sent some planes to the Eastern front, they performance, AFAIK, wasn't anything to write home about.
Old 03-10-2009, 10:21 PM
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Did the Italians ever field their airforce in Russia?
Yes, with the expected "AF 1935 vs AF1939" results, Italy's fighters could dogfight, but what killed pilots was speed and firepower. A .30cal and a .50cal firing through the prop just wasn't enough to kill pilots. The Bf109 had cannon, and that made the game.

Last edited by dropzone; 03-10-2009 at 10:24 PM.
Old 03-10-2009, 10:30 PM
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Well that just isn't true. The British outbuilt the Germans, absolutely. Did the British outbuild the Germans building only Spitfires? Would the British have outbuilt the Germans by more had the Spitfire been easier to build? If no more pilots were available then 'planes, could the extra resources have been used to build other required military equipment?
Well, that sort of seals the deal, though, doesn't it? If at the moment it mattered most you had so few pilots that your fighter production couldn't have been meaningfully increased anyway, it makes little difference. And as the war went on, British fighter (and Allied, in general) production just hopelessly outstripped German production; it eventually reached the point that Allied fighter output might as well have been infinite for all the difference it would have made to the Germans.

Economical solutions are great at some points on the quality vs. quantity indifference curve, but that curve was clearly different for the British than it was for the Germans.
Old 03-10-2009, 10:38 PM
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And as the war went on, British fighter (and Allied, in general) production just hopelessly outstripped German production; it eventually reached the point that Allied fighter output might as well have been infinite for all the difference it would have made to the Germans.
Okay, let's forget the P-51, P38, P-47, and all Spit production standardize in 1941 and let Hurricane production and development continue unabated. What happens?

For my money the Gustav, though technologically superior, is eaten alive by the Allies' production.

Last edited by dropzone; 03-10-2009 at 10:39 PM. Reason: Completely unlikely, but the basis for discussion.
Old 03-10-2009, 10:43 PM
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Okay, let's forget the P-51, P38, P-47, and all Spit production standardize in 1941 and let Hurricane production and development continue unabated. What happens?

For my money the Gustav, though technologically superior, is eaten alive by the Allies' production.
That's quite likely, given the numbers. More Allied pilots - a LOT more, when one considers the impact of the P-51 on daytime bomber survivability - would have died than necessary, but in the end the Germans would have been hopelessly swamped anyway. The numbers were simply staggering; to make a comparison, by mid-1944 the Royal Canadian Air Force was as big as the Luftwaffe, and it was a small part of Allied air strength.
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