The Thunderbolts: Ramrod to Emden with the 56th Fighter Group (1943)

 

This was Col. Robert S. Johnson’s group; Author of “Thunderbolt!”

Added this video 3-27-16

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“The aeroplane that you can fly into combat, do your job, and get you home,
is THE best aeroplane in the world, and the P-47 did that for us”
Bob Winters. 62nd FS


On May 26th 1942, the first Republic P-47 Thunderbolt was received by the USAAF, and the 63rd Fighter Squadron of the 56th Fighter Group became the first squadron to be equipped with the new fighter. It was the beginning of a partnership which would become unique in the history of the 8th Air Force, with the 56th being the only Fighter Group to fly the P-47 continually throughout it’s service in the E.T.O.

56th Fighter Group

In much the same way as the Spitfire came to signify the defence of Britain during the Battle Of Britain in 1940, while the Hurricane, although accounting for just over half of the Axis aircraft destroyed during the battle remains the unsung hero, it was the P-51 Mustang which was to became the 8th Air Force “pin up girl” while the P-47 and its pilots took on the Luftwaffe from 1943 onwards and slowly began to turn the tide of the air war against Germany.

Initially hampered by its slow rate of climb and short operational range, developments in auxillary fuel tanks coupled with larger internal fuel capacity from the D-25 models onwards meant that eventually the P-47 was able to range as far as Berlin. Rate of climb was dramatically improved with the introduction of the wider “Paddeblade” propellers and 56th FG aircraft already in theatre began to be field fitted with these propellers in late 1943, while later batches of the P-47 were factory fitted with them.

56th Fighter Group

Working closely with attached Republic Aviation representatives, many of the field modifications developed by the 56th Fighter Group were incorporated into the later batches of P-47’s, whilst older aircraft in service with the group were continually upgraded and received the latest improvements from Republic.

Although designed as a high altitude escort fighter the P-47 was adapted to carry not only additional fuel tanks but also listed GP bombs, M10 rockets, and fragmentation bombs amongst its weapon loading. Coupled with the eight .50 cal Browning machine guns mounted in the wings this turned the Thunderbolt into what is considered by many to be the most effective fighter-bomber of the second world war.

56th Fighter Group

The P-47s ability to absorb battle damage and still get make it back to base is legendary, and many pilots owe their lives to the rugged construction of the Thunderbolt and the reliability of the air cooled Pratt +Whitney R 2800 engine. Unlike the liquid cooled engines of the P-51 Mustang, with which loss of coolant would give the pilot approximately 10-15 minutes flying time before the engine seized, P-47’s returned to base with whole cylinders missing and the contents of the oil reservoir coated along the fuselage sides but still flying. As the saying goes, “If you want to get a girl fly a P-51, if you want to get home in one piece fly a P-47”

56th Fighter Group


FIRST IMPRESSIONS

“The aeroplane that you can fly into combat, do your job, and get you home, is THE best aeroplane in the world, and the P-47 did that for us”
Bob Winters. 62nd FS

56th Fighter Group

I looked at that big machine and I said “Captain, that’s not a fighter aeroplane that’s a single engine bomber!”
Russ Kyler. 61st FS

“You come from an AT-6 training plane, and here’s this great big P-47 with a 2800 engine up there, four bladed prop. You’ve never seen anything like that in your life, and you’ve got to get in that thing and fly it alone!”
Cleon Thompton 61st FS

“It was an awful lot of airplane for a kid out of flying school, but we managed.”
Wilfred Van Abel. 63rd FS

“It looked to me like a monster airplane, the biggest airplane I’d ever seen, which it wasn’t, but it just looked huge. It felt like the airplane had run away with you, and I just hung on. I didn’t really fly it off, it flew itself off and I just hung on.”
Les Smith. 61st FS

“The P-47 was a completely honest bird-easy to take off and easy to land, with wide, stable landing gear. The cockpit was roomy and comfortable – just a sweet ship in every way”
Edward “Praeger” Neyland. 61st FS

“The P-47 was heavy; it did not climb very fast and did not seem very responsive to the controls, but I found out on that first flight it could really dive and at higher speeds it was stable and responsive. During the flights that followed I began to really like this big flying jug.”
Gerry Johnson. 61st and 63rd FSs.

The cockpit had more room than any fighter I had flown, and it gave me quite a sense of power to look out and see the big, four bladed prop in front and the four .50-caliber machine gun barrels sticking out of the front of each wing.”
“Gabby” Gabreski. 61st FS

“It was love at first sight. Somehow I just knew that this machine and I were meant for each other.”
Robert S. Johnson. 61st and 62nd FS’s.

“I will never forget how astonished I was when I walked around the P-47. I always thought of a fighter plane as small, streamlined, highly manouverable and fast, comparable to a hummingbird: and from the standpoint of appearance, the P-39 fitted this description perfectly. Judging by the same appearance, if the P-39 was a hummingbird, the P-47 was a gooney bird.”
John Truluck. 63rd FS



56th Fighter Group

Republic’s P-47 Thunderbolt: From Seversky to Victory [Hardcover]
Warren M. Bodie
Publisher: Motorbooks Intl (Nov 1994)
Language English
ISBN-10: 0962935913
ISBN-13: 978-0962935916


56th Fighter Group

56th Fighter Group Statistics

Missions flown : 447

Aircraft airborne : 20480, amended to 20274 when unused “spare” aircraft returned.

Sorties : 19391

A/C not completing mission : 1057

A/C completing mission : 19217

Total operational flying time : 64,302 hrs

Enemy aircraft claims : 674½ air – 332 ground

56th FG aircraft MIA : 128

.50 cal ammunition expended : 3,063,345 rounds

Rockets fired operationally : 59

Tons of bombs dropped : 678

Drop tanks utilised : 200gal -181 ….. 75 gal – 1202 ….. 108 gal – 8721 ….. 150 gal – 13120 ….. 215 gal – 322

SOURCE

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