P-47D – ‘Victory Through Air Power’
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The Republic P-47 Thunderbolt was one of the heaviest single-seat fighters of World War Two; indeed, a fully-laden ‘Jug’ could weigh up to 17,500 lbs at take-off. To give you something to compare this to, this is 3,000lbs MORE than a fully-laden Bristol Blenheim IV, a British twin-engined bomber, with a crew of three!
Alexander Nikolaievich Prokofiev de Seversky was a Russian emigre of noble birth who had been an ace with the Russian Imperial Air Service during World War One, despite having lost a leg in action. He founded the Seversky Aircraft Company on Long Island in 1931. Despite many successful prototypes and designs for civil aircraft, the only military plane to bear the Seversky name in any numbers was the P-35 fighter (ordered by the United States Army Air Corps and the Swedish Air Force). This was developed into the P-43 Lancer by Alexander Kartveli, the principal designer of Seversky Aircraft Company. Ordered in March 1939, with light armament, no self-sealing tanks, and only slightly faster than a Hawker Hurricane 1, it was obsolete before it flew.
Major Seversky had lead his company deep into debt, and despite his previous service record he was forced out; the company was renamed Republic Aviation Corporation. The Lancer, meanwhile, received only minor orders (the USAAC wanted to keep production lines at Farmington, on Long Island, open for the aircraft that was to follow, the P-47). P-43 aircraft saw very limited service with the Chinese Air Force and the Royal Australian Air Force, and were replaced by the P-38 Lightning as quickly as possible.
The P-47 was derived from the earlier P-43 Lancer and a fighter prototype to be powered by an Alison V-1710, V-12 engine (if you look at photographs of the P-43, you will see the ‘family’ resemblance). The number of engineering problems which had to be solved in order to produce a serviceable P-47 were staggering. To ensure altitude performance up to 30,000 ft and beyond, there was a hugely complicated exhaust-driven turbosupercharger, which took exhaust gases all the way to the rear of the fuselage to spin a turbine at over 21,000 rpm, which then forced clean air forward to supercharge the Pratt & Whitney R-2800 radial engine to over 2,500 hp!
The P-47 served on many fronts; with the RAF in Burma, with the Brazilian Air Force on the Italian Front, the US 5th and 7th Air Forces in the Pacific, and even with the Soviet Air Force on the Eastern Front. However, the most famous P-47D units were to be found in the 8th and 9th US Air Forces in the European Theater of Operations. Initially used in fighter support and escort roles for B-24 and B-17 bombers, they came into their own when cut loose and allowed to head home at ground level, blasting targets of opportunity with their 8 x .5″ M2 Browning machineguns. When hung around with 500 and 1,000lb bombs, 5″ HVAR rockets and even multiple M8 rocket tubes, they became a lethal ground-attack fighter for the advancing Allied forces in Normandy and beyond. A ‘sprint’ version, the P-47M, was delivered in early 1945 and was capable of 475 mph; this achieved several kills against Luftwaffe Me 262 jets.
The New England Air Museum’s P-47D-40-RA, was built at Republic’s Evansville, Indiana plant, in 1945 and was assigned the serial number “45-49458”. It is finished as an earlier machine, “420344”, ’54, Norma’ of the 65th Fighter Squadron (‘Fighting Cocks’), 57th Fighter Group, USAAF, in Olive Drab/Light Grey overall, typical of 1943/early 1944 ETO colour scheme. The 57th FG was based at Bradley Field, Connecticut (as it then was) for a time, before deploying to Alto, Corsica, from where they undertook mostly ground attack missions. This aircraft had originally served with the Peruvian Air Force (as ‘AF 451’) and was donated to the New England Air Museum, where it was painstakingly restored.
The P-47 exudes an air of rugged strength and raw power – a powerful weapon of war that often was a ‘difference-maker’ on the battlefield. Oh, and ‘Victory Through Air Power’? For those who haven’t read the prescient 1942 book by Alexander P. de Seversky, then try to watch the Walt Disney 1943 animated film (with Seversky narrating some scenes); most interesting!