Republic P-47 Thunderbolt

The Republic P-47 Thunderbolt is a World War II-era fighter aircraft produced by the American company Republic Aviation from 1941 through 1945. It was a successful high-altitude fighter, and it also served as the foremost American fighter-bomber in the ground-attack role. Its primary armament was eight .50-caliber machine guns, and it could carry 5-inch rockets or a bomb load of 2,500 lb (1,100 kg). When fully loaded, the P-47 weighed up to 8 tons, making it one of the heaviest fighters of the war.

By the end of 1942, P-47Cs were sent to England for combat operations. The initial Thunderbolt flyers, 56th Fighter Group, were sent overseas to join the 8th Air Force. As the P-47 Thunderbolt worked up to operational status, it gained a nickname: “Jug” (because its profile was similar to that of a common milk jug of the time). Two fighter groups already stationed in England began introducing the Jugs in January 1943 – the Spitfire-flying 4th Fighter Group, a unit built around a core of experienced American pilots who had flown in the RAF Eagle Squadrons prior to the US entry in the war; and the 78th Fighter Group, formerly flying P-38 Lightnings.

The first P-47 combat mission took place 10 March 1943 when the 4th FG took their aircraft on a fighter sweep over France. The mission was a failure due to radio malfunctions. All P-47s were refitted with British radios, and missions resumed 8 April. The first P-47 air combat took place 15 April with Major Don Blakeslee of the 4th FG scoring the Thunderbolt’s first air victory (against a Focke-Wulf Fw 190).

By mid-1943, the Jug was also in service with the 12th Air Force in Italy and against the Japanese in the Pacific, with the 348th Fighter Group flying missions out of Port Moresby, New Guinea. By 1944, the Thunderbolt was in combat with the USAAF in all its operational theaters except Alaska.

Luftwaffe ace Heinz Bär said that the P-47 “could absorb an astounding amount of lead and had to be handled very carefully”. Although the North American P-51 Mustang replaced the P-47 in the long-range escort role in Europe, the Thunderbolt still ended the war with an aerial kill ratio of 4.6:1 in over 746,000 sorties of all types, at the cost of 3,499 P-47s to all causes in combat. By the end of the war, the 56th FG was the only 8th Air Force unit still flying the P-47, by preference, instead of the P-51. The unit claimed 677-1/2 air victories and 311 ground kills, at the cost of 128 aircraft. Lieutenant Colonel Francis S. Gabreski scored 28 victories, Captain Robert S. Johnson scored 27 (with one unconfirmed probable kill leading to some giving his tally as 28), and 56th FG Commanding Officer Colonel Hubert Zemke scored 17.75 kills. Despite being the sole remaining P-47 group in the 8th Air Force, the 56th FG remained its top-scoring group in aerial victories throughout the war.

Country: USA

First flight: 6 May 1941

Years of production: 1941–1945

Production: 15,636

Crew: 1

Length: 36 ft (11 m)

Wingspan: 40 ft (12 m)

Height: 14 ft (4.472 m)

Powerplant: 1 × Pratt & Whitney R-2800-59

Max speed: 426 mph (686 km/h, 370 kn)

Range: 1,030 mi (1,660 km, 900 nmi)

Ceiling: 42,000 ft (13,000 m)

Weight: 10,000 lb (4,536 kg)

Armament: 8× M2 Browning machine guns (12.7 mm) + 10× HVAR unguided rockets (127 mm)

Bourget Museum (ParisFrance)

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