This American Fighter Had One Goal: Kill Hitler's Jets
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Crucial point: Although the air force was increasingly crippled by lack of fuel and trained pilots, the German Me-262 was still a deadly threat to US bombers.
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Pilots nicknamed the P-47 Thunderbolts of the early model "Razorback", a reference to the angular canopy of the bulky fighter plane. However, the name was more generally appropriate - like a wild boar, the huge single-engine "pitcher" was hard and heavy to load, and its eight 0.50 caliber machine guns were an incredible blow.
UK-based Thunderbolts could accompany four-engine B-17 and B-24 bombers of the 8th Air Force in dangerous raids deep over Nazi Germany and attack German fighters at roughly even conditions, especially while diving.
From the middle of 1944, however, the Allied aviators were concerned about new Me-262 fighters with turbo-jet propulsion and rocket-driven Me-163, which could overtake the fastest Allied piston-driven aircraft such as the Mustang or British Tempest by 100 miles per hour or more. V-1 "Buzz Bomb" cruise missiles that bombed London were slower, but were also difficult for Allied fighters to intercept.
The Thunderbolt manufacturer Republic has taken four P-47Ds with a bubble canopy from its production line in Farmingdale, New York, and equipped them with a souped-up Pratt & Whitney R-2800-57 twin wasp motor with turbocharger. Together they could generate 2,800 horsepower.
At high altitudes, the yellow-painted YP-47M prototypes were able to climb 3,500 feet per second and a top speed of 473 miles per hour in horizontal flight - although some pilots said they could reach 490 to 500 miles per hour when using the emergency emergency power. This made the P-47M the fastest piston-engine fighter to have a fight in the war - although it was still slower than the Me-262's top speed of 540 mph.
Although Republic produced more radical XP-47H and J prototypes that could drive even faster, the YP-47 was able to go into production without any problems. In September 1944, the Army Air Corps approved a limited edition of 130 P-47M-1 RE aircraft. These were delivered in December 1944 and were received on January 3 by their only operator, the 56th Elite Combat Group based at Boxted Airfield near Colchester, England.
The 56th, better known as Zemkes Wolf Pack after its legendary first ace commander, was the only unit in the 8th Air Force geared towards strategic bombing that didn't trade its Thunderbolts for P-51D Mustangs, a leaner and more agile (though less robust) fighters. The three seasons of the Wolfpack have completed the conversion to the P-47M by March, each with a unique camouflage pattern: dark black wing tips for the 61st, green / gray interference pattern for the 62nd and a striking blue / blue-green pattern for the 63 ..
The 56th also received new experimental fire bullets of caliber T48 .50, with which kerosene jet fuel with a higher combustion temperature is to be ignited. The 500-grain rounds made by the Des Moines Ordnance Plant were filled with 5.4 ounces of composite fire - twice as much as in the standard M1 round.
However, the juiced motors of the P-47M were plagued by serious technical problems. A crack ignition wiring harness was discovered after a Thunderbolt crash landed due to an engine failure. Then, on February 26, a problem with the fuel carburettor diaphragm was discovered, which resulted in the P-47M being grounded while a local company was building new seals.
But these fixes did not end the P-47M's problems. In an escort mission on April 4, six out of fourteen Thunderbolts had to abort the engine failure. The mishaps took a fatal turn between April 11 and 15 when three pilots were killed in engine accidents. The P-47Ms were re-grounded on April 16 and the Wolfpack pilots reluctantly started training on Mustangs.
In the meantime, engineers poured over the engines of the R2800-57 - and discovered rust in the pistons. The super double wasp engines were not properly sealed for transport across the Atlantic, so moist sea air could attack the pistons.
Replacement motors were procured by March 25 and the 56th was ready for operation again. Despite the growing lack of air force targets, the P-47M excelled in performing the mission it was designed for - shooting down Nazi jets.
In fact, the P-47M's first two jet kills took place before the corrosion problem was solved. On March 14, three P-47s of the 62nd Fighter Wing encountered two low-flying Arado 234B jet bombers. The twin-engine jet bombers were probably aimed at the battered Ludendorff bridge in Remagen, over which the 1st US Army flowed to Germany. The P-47M, which roughly matched the speed of the Arado, both shot down.
On March 25, Wisconsinite Major George Bostwick, commander of the 63rd Squadron, and wingman Edwin Crosthwait sent two Me-262s when they landed at Parchim Airfield - a time when jet fighters were notoriously vulnerable. Bostwick and his thunderbolt "Ugly Duckling" (shown here together) ended the war with eight air-to-air kills.
Although the Air Force was increasingly crippled by lack of fuel and trained pilots, Me-262 still posed a deadly threat to US bombers. Fifty-three Thunderbolts escorted an attack on Regensburg on April 5, as a lone Me-262 from 3 a.m. on Entered 500 miles an hour, flew unscathed from a hail of defensive machine gun fire, and fired a B-17 from the sky with its four powerful 30mm cannons. The escorting razorbacks snapped for the raging jet when it detached at 9:00 a.m. - including "Devastatin 'Deb", piloted by Captain John C. Fahringer.
Stephen Chapis described the action in Allied Jet Killers of World War II:
"The P-47s dropped their tanks and went down in search of them. Phillip Kuhn fired first before overshooting. Afterwards Fahringer rolled onto the rear of the Me-262 and let it have several shots without effect. However, the German pilot then made the fatal mistake of tightening his train, which enabled Fahringer to approach the deadly range. At 500 meters he opened again with the eight 50-caliber machine guns of this Thunderbolt, and as the smoke poured out of the jet, Fahringer saw something going down on the right side of his P-47. It was the pilot of the Me 262. "
On April 10, Lieutenant Walter Sharbo and Bill Wilkerson shot down two more Me-262s over Lake Muritz when they returned from a hunting flight over Berlin. These were the last two aerial victories for the 56th Fighter Group.
Three days later, after they had not met any enemy fighters on an escort mission, the wolf pack rushed to Eggebek Airfield. Their rattling machine guns consumed 85,000 rounds and destroyed ninety-five parked planes on the ground.
The new fire ammunition proved to be particularly devastating. After the German surrender, an air force report raved: “… enemy planes burned after being hit only two or three times. . . . A pilot destroyed 10 planes on a single mission by firing short shots. “This could affect 2nd Lt. Randall Murphy, whose cannon camera recorded the destruction of ten planes during the Eggebek strike.
Zemke's wolf pack ended the war as the top-rated U.S. Combat Group of the 8th Air Force with 665.5 recognized aerial killings - or a thousand destroyed planes, including those streamlined on the ground. The P-47M, which was used after the Luftwaffe's defeat, claimed only fifteen of these victories - even though there were at least seven jet planes among them. Twelve P-47Ms were lost in accidents and two were shot down by ground fire, but none were killed in air-to-air combat.
In recognition of the achievements of the wolf pack, a P-47M was exhibited under the Eiffel Tower for a victory celebration in July. In the meantime, Republic developed the P-47M into the ultimate P-47N model, 1,800 of which were built. Although the N is slightly slower than the P-47M due to its heavier weight, thanks to additional tanks in the wings, it has been modified so that it can fly up to 1,800 miles with internal fuel - a useful feature for the long-range missions it does in the flown last month of war in the Pacific.
Sébastien Roblin holds a Masters in Conflict Resolution from Georgetown University and was a university teacher for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in the areas of education, editing and resettlement of refugees in France and the United States. He is currently writing about security and military history for War Is Boring. This article was first published in 2019 and is reprinted due to the interest of the readers.
Image: Wikimedia Commons
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