Republic P-47D Thunderbolt

4th Fighter Group

The 4th Fighter Group would be one of the top US fighter groups in the war against Germany.  Early models of the Thunderbolt were among the first weapons they flew.

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After the jump, a look at this group and one of their Thunderbolts.

Prior to the US getting involved in World War II, many young American men had signed up to fight the Nazis.  The British Royal Air Force had three full squadrons, known as Eagle Squadrons staffed with American pilots.  On August 22, 1942, the Eagle Squadrons were absorbed into the US Army Air Force as the 4th Fighter Group.  Initially retaining their Spitfires.

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To reduce weight, 4th Fighter Group removed the outer .50s from each wing, and covered the opening with a patch of red fabric.

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But in time, they were re-equiped with the latest and greatest American fighter.  The Spitfire and Thunderbolt were about as different as two fighters could be.  One was all about maneuver, the other all about power and kinetic energy.  So while the US 56th Fighter Group, which trained in Thunderbolts, loved their mounts and would stand by them to the end of the war; the 4th Fighter group loathed them.  They were too different.  One fact stands out; the Spitfire Mk V had a maximum gross weight of 6700 lbs, the P-47D Thunderbolt weighed 17500 lbs.  One pilot quipped “evasive maneuvers in the Thunderbolt meant you unstrapped and ran around the cockpit.”  When Group CO Don Blakeslee scored one of the group’s first kills in the Thunderbolt with a spectacular high speed dive he was quoted as saying “well it sure ought to be able to dive, it sure as hell can’t climb!”

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The Thunderbolt would go through dramatic improvement in a short time, and later versions with improved R-2800 engines and paddle-blade propellers actually would have a good rate of climb.  And apparently the type became significantly more nimble at altitude, boasting one of the best roll rates of any aircraft.  But the 4th Fighter group’s tenure with the type was fairly brief.  When Mustangs first came available in early 1944, Blakeslee promised he could have his group ready to fly missions in less than a month if they were re-equiped. As an ace, and commander of the most experienced group in the 8th, he got his way.

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Ironically, the 4th and 56th Fighter Groups would be the two highest scoring groups in the entire 8th Air Force.  But their order changes depending on the measure one uses.  During the war, 8th Air Force awarded full victory credit for ground kills (strafing attacks against airfields was considered very dangerous), which made 4th Fighter Group the top scorer with 1052 enemy destroyed.  Today, no one really counts ground kills, so the 56th is considered number one with 675 air to air.

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Spitfire Mk Vb and P-47D Thunderbolt.  Two very different types, required very different flying and tactics to be at their best.

Spitfire Mk Vb and P-47D Thunderbolt. Two very different types, required very different flying and tactics to be at their best.

This is the Hasegawa kit, depicting an early P-47D of the 4th Fighter Group.  The decals are by Super Scale.

Up Next:  Volkswagon Type 82E  

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About atcDave

I'm 53 years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I've been an air traffic controller for 30 years; grew up in the Chicago area, and am still a fanatic for pizza and the Chicago Bears. My main interest is military history, and my related hobbies include scale model building and strategy games.
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11 Responses to Republic P-47D Thunderbolt

  1. Theresa says:

    Big slow and heavily armored It was perfect as a dive bomber.

    • atcDave says:

      It only looked slow, it was actually very fast with a top speed well over 400 MPH. Especially at high altitude, there was little that could match it.
      It is ironic that after it was eclipsed by the Mustang (but not by much!) that it found its greatest game as a fighter-Bomber. It was agile at altitude and a beast on the deck.

  2. John says:

    When the United States Air Force needed an official nickname they paid tribute to the P 47 by calling the A-10 the Thunderbolt II. Of course because of it’s ungainly appearance crews called it the warthog.

  3. Ernie Davis says:

    This is a favorite of mine. Though I admit I’m more partial to it’s later models outfitted in a ground attack role outfitted with rockets. Survivability, especially compared to the Mustang was a key factor in this role.

    • atcDave says:

      I’ll definitely get some later Thunderbolts up eventually too (in addition to the “M” I posted a few months ago), those later planes seem to be what the Thunderbolt is really known for.
      But what I like about these early T-Bolts is they are what chased the Luftwaffe out of France. I’ve even read commentary that went so far as to say the Thunderbolt broke the Luftwaffe, the Mustang just cleaned out the scraps.
      There was still so much to learn in early 8th Air Force operations, and sometimes it got really ugly. But in late ’43, early ’44; the Thunderbolt won its battles and gained air superiority over Western Europe.

    • Ernie Davis says:

      It is the most unlikely looking performance fighter, but was one of the allies best in the end.

      • atcDave says:

        Yeah exactly.

        I cited Blakeslee in the post with his “ought to dive” comment; what the most successful T-Bolt pilots seemed to master, and this was pretty much SOP for the 56th, was that it was all about energy management. The P-47 was designed for high altitude work; by staying high, diving to attack, and climbing back to altitude, it was nearly unbeatable.
        Its sort of interesting how this was exactly the tactic the Luftwaffe had used that made the Bf109 so successful. But the T-Bolt was much better at it.
        Of course it helped a lot that when the tables were turned, and the tactical situation was not advantageous, the T-Bolt could take a pounding and still bring its pilot home. Presumably richer for the experience.

      • Ernie Davis says:

        It is an interesting bit that both the P47 and the P51 had significantly better performance at altitude. And better service ceilings that their counterparts. The allied fighters were almost always flying high cover for bombers and diving on the axis interceptors, even the jets.

      • atcDave says:

        And I find it interesting that both types went through opposite progress. The early Mustangs were not so good up high, until they got late model Merlins. While the early Thunderbolts were clumsy on the deck, until they got paddle-blade propellers and water- ethanol injection.

  4. Pingback: North American P-51B Mustang | Plane Dave

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