Ordnance P-47 Thunderbolt in the Pacific

WWII painting, P-47 Thunderbolt

The P-47 Thunderbolt was not generally welcomed in the Pacific theatre. It was seen as too clumsy to compete with the very agile Japanese fighters and it did not have the range for operations over the vast expanses of the Pacific. Worse, the P-47 was best at the high altitudes at which American bombers operated over Europe.  However, in Japan most combat occurred below 20,000 feet, where the P-47 was at its least maneuverable.

Despite these problems, General George C. Kenney, commander of the 5th Air Force in the SW Pacific, was determined to acquire as many aircraft as possible for his command.  The Lockheed P-38 Lighting was popular with American pilots in the Pacific, but not available in sufficient numbers.

The U.S. Navy escort carrier USS Barnes (ACV-20) underway in the Pacific Ocean on 1 July 1943, transporting U.S. Army Air Forces Lockheed P-38 Lightning and Republic P-47 Thunderbolt aircraft.

Fortunately for Kenney, the first Thunderbolt unit to reach him was the 348th Fighter Group,  commanded by Col. Neel Kearby.  He was very enthusiastic about the P-47, and had put some thought into the best way to take advantage of the big fighter. One of its strengths was a very high speed in the dive.   He had put some thought into the best way to take advantage of the big fighter. One of its strengths was its very high speed in the dive. Kearby decided to take advantage of that.

IMG_1747

WO Russell Precians, UAAF, with the RAF in Burma, from Trove archives Sent from Garrulous Gwendoline

Immediately after taking off,  his P-47s would climb to a high altitude.  At that height they would head towards their target, normally a Japanese base. Once close to the base they would dive into the attack. By the time they reached the target, they would be travelling at very high speed. Having made their attack, they would then use that high speed to climb back to high altitude before the Japanese could react.

Newly arrived USAAF Republic P-47 Thunderbolts lined up in a maintenance area at Agana Airfield, Guam, Marianas Islands on 28 March 1945.

These tactics would have been familiar to many British pilots of the Battle of Britain, having been used by pilots of the Messerschmitt Bf 109, who would reach high altitude over France, then swoop down on British fighters climbing to attack German bombers.  They were particularly effective in the SW Pacific.  Between August and December 1943 the 348th Fighter Group claimed over 150 victories while losing only 8 pilots. Kearby himself would become the highest scoring American P-47 Ace of the SW Pacific, with 22 confirmed kills.

Japanese Ki-43 War Thunder

The weak low level performance and limited maneuverability of the Thunderbolt was still a weakness.  Kearby himself was killed on 6 March 1944 during a fighter sweep over Wewak, when he stayed at low level to confirm a probably kill and was caught by a Ki-43.

The P-47 was never popular amongst pilots who were used to the P-38 Lighting, although many were forced to fly it in early in 1944.  The P-38 units had suffered relatively heavy losses in the fighting over Rabaul in November 1943, and P-38s were still in short supply. However, during 1944 the P-47 was slowly phased out in the SW Pacific. Suitable targets on New Guinea were in increasingly short supply. Those units that had converted from the P-38 were often able to convert back during the year. Early in 1945 even the 348th would move away from the Thunderbolt, moving onto the Merlin powered P-51D Mustang.  By the end of the war the only Thunderbolt unit remaining in the Fifth Air Force was the 58th Fighter Group, a ground attack unit.

P-47 design

In mid-1944 the 7th Air Force finally received the Thunderbolt and the Mustang. This was just in time for them to take part in the invasion of Saipan, flying onto the island in June 1944.  On Saipan the P-47 saw action in the ground attack role.

The capture of Iwo Jima and then Okinawa finally allowed the 7th’s Thunderbolts to see air to air combat. The two islands were used as bases during the increasingly heavy strategic bombing campaign over Japan.  Both Thunderbolt and Mustang units saw service in the high altitude bomber escort role at which the Thunderbolt excelled. The same period saw the arrival of the long range P-47N, which had a range of close to 2,000 miles with drop tanks.

P-47 firing its M2 machine guns during night gunnery

In terms of victories gained, the Thunderbolt’s best moment in the Central Pacific came in late May 1945. Kamikaze attacks were threatening Allied shipping around Okinawa, and so the 318th Fighter Group was allowed to fly fighter sweeps over southern Japan, with the aim of intercepting potential Kamikaze aircraft far from their targets.  In 2 sweeps, on 25 and 28 May, the Thunderbolts claimed nearly 40 victories.

The career of the P-47 Thunderbolt in the Pacific is a good example of how important it was for the pilot to adjust their tactics to their aircraft. If a Thunderbolt pilot allowed himself to be dragged into a low level dogfight then they were in serious trouble.

Mexican P-47D Thunderbolt over the Philippines.

Nicknamed as the “Jug” due to its silhouette looking like a milk jug,( some say it was named Jug, short for juggernaut )  Apart from US service, the P-47 Thunderbolt aircraft saw action as part of the British RAF, the French Air Force, Soviet Air Force and also as part of the contingent of pilots hailing from Brazil and Mexico who also participated as part of the Allied war effort.

RAF Thunderbolt Mk.II readying for a sortie over Burma. January 1945

The idea for this post came from Teagan Riordain Geneviene.

Research from: the Smithsonian Museum; Pacific Encyclopedia; History of War and War History on line.

CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE.

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Military Humor –

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Farewell Salutes – 

Elizabeth Brook – Galeburg, IL; US Navy WAVES, WWII, Lt.

Ethel Calabakas — Port Arthur, CAN; RC Army, WWII

John Hill – Webster, NY; US Navy, WWII, PTO, PT-boats

Michael Kormos Jr. – Wilkes Barre, PA; US Army Air Corps, WWII, 406th Squadron

Cleveland Lemon Jr. – Baton Rouge, LA; US Army, WWII, PTO

Charles M. Lentz – Independence, MO; US Navy, Korea & Vietnam, (Ret. 22 y.)

Terrance B. Salazar – San Antonio, TX; US Army, Spc., 82nd Airborne Division

James A. Scott – Aiken, SC; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, 11th Airborne Division

Frederick Trader – Oriska, ND; US Army Air Corps, WWII, 2nd Lt., bombardier/navigator

Raymond R. Veckruise – Gary, IN; US Army Air Corps, WWII

About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on November 30, 2020, in WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 113 Comments.

  1. Whenever I hear that the P47 was nicknamed the Jug because it resembles a jug I wonder what shape American jugs are. Juggernaut, on the other hand, seems absolutely right.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My mind is blown how extensive of a knowledge you have on so many things. I love aviation, yet I feel like I probably know nothing relative to you 🤣

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s the adaptability of the men — both pilots and leaders — that shines through. Even those of us who don’t know lickety-split about aircraft can get the point. If you’re given something that’s less than perfect, find what it can do for you, and then make it do it.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Thank you, GP. I enjoyed this story of the Thunderbolt. Now I appreciate how altitude makes a difference. A WWII fighter plane, a P-40B Tomahawk, has just arrived at a nearby New England Museum, and it made front page news!

    Liked by 3 people

  5. At least you cant beat Kamikaze. Seems there were some design freaks onboard, calling the P-47 Thunderbolt glumsy. 😉 Thank you for sharing, GP! I remember in childhood i had played with simple miniatures of them.:-) It was the time during the Cold War, where in Europe it was politically correct playing with soldier figures, building miniature battle ships – and my very favorite Lol – use a miniature metal cannon to shoot small stones into the neighbours garden. Michael

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Such nostalgic pictures and the incidents. Thank you for bringing this to us.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. The pilots and their skill in maneuvering that big craft were probably underappreciated. Thank you for another informative post, GP!

    Liked by 4 people

  8. You are one of the first persons I followed when I came onto WordPress. I felt a connection with you (and still do), because of my family’s military background. ♥️ I’m so glad you are here!

    Liked by 5 people

  9. Thank you kindly for the shout-out, GP! I’m sorry to be so late. ^^’ (blushes) I appreciate being included, although I think you already had most of this. Meaning that you are being very modest.
    They really got creative in how to use the P-47 to best effect. It’s exciting to think about the plane diving from great heights, and then pulling back up.
    Happy December. Hugs on the wing!

    Liked by 4 people

    • I didn’t use the specific article you sent due to the fact that another blogger beat me to it, so I’m glad you approve of what I did put together!
      Wishing you a ton of happiness for December 2020 and hope like heck that 2021 turns out better!!

      Liked by 2 people

  10. Excellent post! The 414th FG, flying P-47Ns, arrived at North Field on Iwo Jima on July 7th and flew their first strike mission Chi Chi Jima on July 13th. Before the end of the Pacific War, the 414th would fly several VLR strike missions against Japanese airfields and other installations, proving that the N model, with its increased fuel capacity and 165 gallon drop tanks could fly Very Long Range missions along with the P-51D Mustang. At high altitude, it was an incredibly nimble fighter and a very stable gun platform. At low altitudes, it was a brute in the ground attack role with its 8-50 cal machines and ability absorb a tremendous amount of damage and keep flying. Great airplane that served admirably in the Pacific Theater! Thanks again for posting this! Andy

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Nice painting and photographs…
    Great post!

    Liked by 3 people

  12. There was one of these in the Tillamook Air Museum where I worked one year..ages ago. Such a fun craft!!!

    Liked by 3 people

  13. I temporarily have possession of a camera owned by an Aussie who flew Thunderbolts in WWII. One day I intend to do more research on him (R. K. Precians), but I can say he was from RAAF No 19 Pilots’ Course at No 5 Service Flying Training School in NSW and completed training on 23 June 1942. At one stage he was in Burma with No. 258 Squadron RAF flying THUNDERBOLT Mk1 HD133 (“Y”). Here is a newspaper page which will interest you:
    https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/1108471?searchTerm=%22precians%22

    Liked by 3 people

    • Don’t you just adore Trove? I used to be on it all the time, but now I can’t recall my password. I took a copy of the picture and will add it to the post. Thanks, Gwen!!

      Liked by 1 person

      • GP You don’t need a password for Trove. https://trove.nla.gov.au/
        Unless you wish to correct the text using your own name. I just do so as “Anonymous”.
        You’ll see they have updated the website so takes a couple of goes to adjust to the new search facility. They are adding to it all the time. It’s not only for newspapers – although that is what you would use most of the time.
        I am constantly using it for fact checking as I write my current manuscript.

        Liked by 1 person

  14. I love the detail about the plane, but my thoughts run to the pilots, for without them the plane does nothing, and the way you describe them, they were not an easy machine in the conditions. Was privileged to see one at an aircraft display years ago, and saw one flying.

    Liked by 3 people

  15. Heel goede informatie en dat ze de supersnelheid bij een aanval ook konden gebruiken om erg vlug te stijgen en zo aan de de vijand te ontsnappen zal wel veel kennis van de piloten gevraagd hebben

    Liked by 3 people

    • Onze piloten kregen behoorlijk wat training. Dat gaf ons zeker een voorsprong op Japan, aangezien ze geen ervaren piloten meer hadden en geen tijd meer hadden om meer te trainen.
      Dank je voor je bezoek, Mary Lou.

      Like

  16. That was a really interesting post, thank you. The P-47 always looked the part of being a very powerful killer. It’s interesting that the wings are elliptical, not unlike the Spitfire.

    Liked by 5 people

  17. The P-47 was a tough warbird

    Liked by 5 people

  18. Super post, GP. My uncle flew P-38s, P47s, and P51s in Europe.

    Liked by 6 people

  19. Nice writeup on the Jug, gpcox.

    My user ID on many websites is P47koji. Now you many see why. 🙂

    As a side note, Kearby was promoted to a staff position in the 5th AF but wanted to fly. Against all advice, he went back into the air. He was shot down as you reported. In detail, according to reports, he did manage to jump and parachute although wounded. He made it to the ground but died some time later from his wounds. Because he went down in enemy territory, his body couldn’t be recovered until after the war. It then took awhile for identification.

    By the way, his brother was also KIA during the war; I sadly have forgotten his name but the two brothers are buried alongside one another.

    A great generation.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thanks for the added information, Koji. It’s always good to get into the detailed account of each story. I’m glad the two brothers finally came to rest together.

      Like

  20. Great explanation of the P-47 role in the Pacific. Amazing that the United States was able to develop and produce many different fighter models for the army and navy/marines in a war that for us lasted less than four years.

    Liked by 4 people

  21. While I don’t know much about fighter planes, I was amazed at the amount of planes that could be taken on one carrier ship. It sounded to me like a good pilot was the key to success.

    Liked by 4 people

  22. Enjoyable as usual, GP. Since I no longer read the news (or watch it), I have more time for interesting articles such as this.

    Liked by 4 people

  23. Interesting post, GP. I read somewhere but can’t remember where about P-47 being called Jug for juggernaut.

    Liked by 4 people

  24. Nice post GP, I was just thinking you must have mentioned Regis Phil in in one of these posts.

    Liked by 3 people

  25. The story of the Thunderbolt teaches one important lesson. If you cannot replace something that appears unacceptable at first, you must adapt to what is given to you. The American pilots apparently did well adapting to the plane they did not want for combat in the Pacific.

    Liked by 3 people

  26. Another advantage was that the P-47 used the Pratt & Whitney R-2800 engine. the same basic engine as the F4U Corsair and the F6F Helcat. Though all three used a different version of the R-2800.

    If I am not mistaken. The P-47 was an “army” plane, the F4U a “marines” plane and the F6F, a “navy” plane, so maybe sharing mechanics was not much of an option – but one would hope that they played nice with sharing spare parts and logistics.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Sharing was not a trait back then, especially in the Pacific. The generals and admirals had to beg, borrow, steal and demand for everything they got – so much went to Europe.

      Like

  27. It’s interesting to read the hows and whys about this planes success and problems, GP. Kudos to Teagan for suggesting it. Sometimes, you get what you need, sometimes, you get what’s available. I give great credit to the airmen who found ways to adapt their tactics and make this plane work in battle.

    Liked by 4 people

  28. I hope you have a P-38 post coming too! That’s my favorite WWII fighter. I loved seeing them fly over my house when I was a kid. They’re pretty rare nowadays.

    Liked by 4 people

  29. I learned alot about reading this post. I loved the cartoon too. Great way to start a rainy Monday.

    Liked by 4 people

  30. “Trust me” – a phrase I use quite often too haha😝

    Liked by 6 people

  31. Had to think for a minute on what that funny was showing me. Too funny! Interesting article.

    Liked by 4 people

  32. I sure enjoyed finding Smitty’s stories in the new “Soldiers’ Stories: A Collection of WWII Memoirs” Volume II!

    Liked by 4 people

  33. You have pique my curiosity. I had this on one of my WWII blogs GP.

    https://athabaskang07.wordpress.com/2015/01/25/the-mexican-201st-fighter-squadron-part-three/

    Liked by 4 people

  34. Like many people, I know a little about most fighter aircraft used during WW2. But generally I don’t consider things like handling characteristics, or suitability for one role over another. This was a very interesting explanation of the strengths and drawbacks of the Thunderbolt. Thanks, GP.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 6 people

  35. Thank you very much.

    Like

  1. Pingback: When a P-47 Pilot Aided a Japanese Aviator – Yarnhub | Ups Downs Family History

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