The Curtiss Model 75 was developed as a private venture by the company in the 1930s to meet the US Army Air Corps requirement for a new single seat fighter. Designed by Donovan Berlin, the prototype first flew in May 1935 and, although it lost a fly-off in competition with the Seversky P-35 the following year, an order was placed by the USAAC for the re-development of three new prototypes. Fitted with an up-rated Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp engine and armed with one .30 in and one .50 in Browning machine guns, this new aircraft performed so well that 210 were ordered under the designation P-36A Hawk.
The first production aircraft were delivered to the USAAC in April 1938 but experienced numerous teething troubles which severely limited their performance. By the time these problems were rectified, the P-36 was considered obsolete and relegated to training units and overseas detachments – including Wheeler Field, Hawaii. It was from there on 7th December 1941 that it saw operational service during the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbour. Five aircraft managed to take off during the attack and destroy two Mitsubishi A6M2 fighters for the loss of one Hawk.
The P-36 also saw service with the air forces of twelve other countries including the France and Britain. An initial purchase of 100 machines by France began entering service in March 1939 as the Curtiss H75-C1. In order to meet national requirements these were armed with four 7.5 mm Browning machine guns and fitted with a throttle that operated in the reverse sense (throttle movement rearwards to increase power). On 8th September 1939, H75s were credited with shooting down two Me 109s, reputedly the first allied air victory of the 2nd World War on the Western Front. Although Britain decided not to purchase the aircraft, the RAF came into possession of 229 Hawks through diverted shipments to France and aircraft flown to England by escaping French pilots when France fell. Designated the Mohawk by the British, the aircraft was re-armed with four .303 Vickers machine guns and equipped with a conventional throttle before seeing combat with three RAF units – Nos 5, 146 and 155 Squadrons. Tangmere’s association with the Mohawk dates back to June 1940 when a number of aircraft flew in directly from France.
Approximately 1,000 P-36s were built in total of which several survivors are on display in museums around the world. The sole airworthy machine known to exist is owned and operated by The Fighter Collection at Duxford.