| Continued from above… airplane that could match the P-47 Thunderbolt for ruggedness and dependability. It was by far the largest and heaviest single-engine fighter that had been built.
The pilots who flew it into combat called it "The Unbreakable" and "The plane that can do anything." They were not far from wrong. P-47's often came back from combat shot full of holes, their wings and control surfaces in tatters. On one occasion a Thunderbolt pilot, Lieutenant Chetwood, hit a steel pole after strafing a train over Occupied France. The collision sliced four feet off one of his wings--yet he was able to fly back safely to his base in England. |
P-47 Thunderbolt; Nicknamed "Jug," the P-47 Thunderbolt was one of the most famous AAF fighter planes of WW II. Although originally conceived as a lightweight interceptor, the P-47 developed as a heavyweight fighter and made its first flight on May 6, 1941. The first production model was delivered to the AAF in March 1942, and in April 1943 the Thunderbolt flew its first combat mission--a sweep over Western Europe. Used as both a high-altitude escort fighter and a low-level fighter-bomber, the P-47 quickly gained a reputation for ruggedness. Its sturdy construction and air-cooled radial engine enabled the Thunderbolt to absorb severe battle damage and keep flying. During WW II, the P-47 served in almost every active war theater and in the forces of several Allied nations. By the end of WW II, more than 15,600 Thunderbolts had been built.
The story of the P-47 began in the summer of 1940. At that time Republic was building the P-43 Lancer and had plans to produce a lightweight fighter, designated the P-44 Rocket. In view of combat experience in Europe, however, the Air Corps decided that if the United States became involved in the war something larger and better than the P-44 would be required.
Alexander Kartveli, Republic's chief engineer, quickly prepared a rough sketch of a new fighter. It was a daring concept. He planned to use the new Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp , 2,000 h.p. XR-2800-21 eighteen-cylinder two-row radial engine. It which was largest and most powerful aircraft engine ever developed in the United States. He also envisioned that his plane would have eight .50-caliber machine guns and enough armor plating to protect the pilot from every direction. These features added up to an airplane weighing about 4,000 pounds, more than any existing single-engine fighter.
|Without such power of the new 2,000 h.p. Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp , Kartveli could see no way of meeting the performance and load carrying demands being made by the U.S.A.A.F. From an engineering standpoint, the requirements presented some enormous problems, but far more problems were presented by the engine. |
The first of these was the need for an efficient super-charging duct system that would offer the least interrupted airflow. Kartveli therefore adopted the unorthodox method of designing this feature first and then building up the fuselage around it; the large turbo-supercharger was stowed internally in the rear fuselage, with the large intake for the air duct mounted under the engine, together with the oil coolers. Exhaust gases were piped back separately to the turbine and expelled through a waste gate in the bottom of the fuselage, and ducted air was fed to the centrifugal impeller and returned, via an intercooler, to the engine under pressure. Surprisingly, all this ducting of gases under temperature and pressure did not prove very vulnerable in combat, for the fighter was to become renowned for its ability to absorb battle damage and return home.
The first tasks of the Thunderbolt, which began on April 8, 1943, were high-altitude escort duties and fighter sweeps in which the new aircraft acquitted itself well, despite the inexperience of its pilots. P-47's flew more than 546,000 combat sorties between March 1943 and August 1945, destroying 11,874 enemy aircraft, some 9,000 locomotives, and about 6,000 armored vehicles and tanks. Only 0.7 per cent of the fighters of this type dispatched against the enemy were to be lost in combat.
|Lt. Col. Glenn E. Duncan: |
LTC Glenn E. Duncan - I was leading the Group flying with Pipeful Squadron on Area Support for heavy bombers near Ans, Germany. We had been patrolling our designated area with the lead Squadron at 22,000 ft., the second Squadron, Roughman as high cover at 33,000 and the third Squadron, Wakeford at 25,000 acting as a bouncing Squadron. At 1215 Recall was given and I began a slow descent in order to fly under a layer of cirrus. AT about 1235 hours the lead Squadron was at 15,000ft in good combat formation and under a thick layer of cirrus. Wakeford Squadron was to my right at about 16,000-ft. Roughman Squadron was above the cloud at about 26,000-ft.
I was just getting the R.A. at having flown another milk run mission when I saw two airplanes off to my left and low. They were easily recognized as twin engines and as we closed were definitely identified as ME 110s. By this time I was down under a lower layer of scattered cumulus at about 7,000 ft. and could then see four ME 110s flying a swept-back line-abreast formation. They were flying at about 5,000 ft on a heading of approximately 230 degrees. I had pulled my handful of throttle, turbo, and prop levers all back in order to slow down, but I was still closing too fast. I made a sharp left return then swung around so as to come in behind the last ME 110. Still I was closing too fast so I threw in a few good hearted skids and then at the last moment as I would have overshot and messed up a good shot I barrel-rolled and came in position on the Hun''s tail. I closed up to about 250 yards, centered the needle and ball, put the pip on the top of the cockpit, then squeezed in a nice long burst. The ME 110 immediately began losing excess parts and flamed up. (They burn nicely) I must have killed the rear gunner in the first few rounds because he was not shooting. This ME 110 veered off to the left and down, then crashed.
During this time the other ME 110s had made a sweeping turn to the right and was now in line astern formation. Incidentally, three were black and one was all white.
I pulled over the ME 110 that I had just shot down and came in behind the No. 3 or next in line. This rear gunner was really excited and shooting like mad. They must be very poor gunners because I held my fire until I pulled up to about 250 or 300 yards then gave him a goo long squeeze. (I found later that I picked up one .303 slug in the right side of my engine from this gunner.) He immediately burst into flames and pieces flew everywhere. THOSE EIGHT FIFTIES SURE PACK A WALLOP!
One of the few shortcoming (which was even more marked in other Allied fighters) was that of insufficient range to permit deep penetration into Germany, but means were already being sought to add to the P-47B's 307 U.S. gallons of internal fuel. At the time of the Thunderbolt's European debut radial-engine single-seat fighters were a rarity, the only other such fighter operational in Europe being the Fw-190A. To prevent confusion between the two fighters of the opposing sides the engine cowlings of the Thunderbolts were painted white, and white bands were painted around the vertical and horizontal tail surfaces--an appropriate comment on recognition standards appertaining at that time, as it would seem impossible to mistake the sleek and beautifully-contoured German fighter for the portly Thunderbolt.
| Fact File: |
Republic P 47 Thunderbolt
Rugged, reliable and powerful, the P-47 Thunderbolt not only was a monster of a machine, it was the most numerous US fighter of World War 2
The Republic P 47 Thunderbolt single-seat fighter was directly descended from the P 43 Lancer, a light-weight pre-war type designed by Alexander Kartveli. The prototype P 47B flew on 6th May 1941, powered by a 2,300 hp Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp driving a four-bladed propeller. In 1942 the P 47D entered production, early versions having a sliding cockpit canopy while later ones adopted a teardrop one instead which improved visibility and decreased drag. The Thunderbolt was aptly named. Its armament of six or eight .50-in (12.7-mm) Browning M2 machine-guns fired at 6,000 rounds a minute and the effect of such firepower was described as that of driving a five-ton lorry against a brick wall at a speed of 60 mph. The whole aircraft exuded power and strength.
Thunderbolts were first reported in action with the US 8th Army Air Force in Britain in May 1943, flying as escorts to bombers. Their radius of action of 965 km (600 miles) enabled them to accompany bombers all the way to Emden and back in September 1943, and they could also reach Berlin with auxiliary fuel tanks. They entered service in the Pacific in late-1943, acting there as in Europe, as fighter-bombers carrying two 453 kg (1,000 lb) bombs. Despite its huge weight of 5,920 kg (13,500 lbs) the aircraft was maneuverable in combat and popular with its pilots.
The P47C had a lengthened fuselage and ventral fuel tank. Republics built 5,423 and Curtis 354 of the early P 47D series, of which the RAF received 240 as Thunderbolt Mk Is. Of the subsequent bubble-canopied version 8,179 were constructed and the RAF operated 590 as Mk IIs in SOUTH-EAST Asia as fighter-bombers. Some late Ds carried a dorsal strake forward of the fin to improve stability. The P 47M had an up-rated 2,800 hp engine and was designed to counter the flying-bomb attacks of 1944; it could attain nearly 800 kph (500 mph). The P47N was a long-range escort version weighing 9,390 kg (20,700 lbs) and the last Thunderbolt to be built before production ended in December 1945.
Span: 12.4 m (40 ft 9 in) Length: 11.02 m (36 ft 2 in) Maximum speed (P47D): 697 kph (433 mph) Ceiling: 12,190m (40,000 ft).