Republic’s big Thunderbolt was best known for its ground attack and close support work.
So after the jump, a colorful example from the 9th Air Force.
It is ironic that a type designed to excel at high altitude would become best known for tank busting. Doubly so since early versions of the Thunderbolt were remarkably sluggish on the deck. But later aircraft of the “D” family had more powerful versions of the R-2800 engine adding water/methanol boost and massive “paddle blade” propellers made significant improvements. This is also an example of how later in the war incremental changes could be added to a type that would have surely generated a new letter type earlier in the war. “D” model Thunderbolts come with razorback or bubble canopies, different engines, different gun sights and at least three different propellers.
Late in the war, the 9th Air Force had converted almost entirely to the P-47. It was valued for its fire power, ability to carry heavy ordnance, and extreme durability. Unlike the long ranging 8th Air Force, the 9th would generate few aces or headlines.
This particular aircraft is from the 405th Fighter Group in 1945. The Army Air Force had stopped worrying about camouflage; it saved time, money and weight to leave the camo off. And yet well supplied and fully staffed bases in the rear found plenty of time to make their aircraft colorful!
This from the Hasegawa kit with Aeromaster decals. Both Hasagawa and Tamiya offer excellent kits of this aircraft in this scale. I prefer the Tamiya kit, but qualitative differences are slight enough I would say availability and price may be the main determinants.
Another fine work horse of the war. Anti tank capabitiy was a very important part of winning the battle of the bulge.
Another of those great planes that is under-rated or undervalued because of the existence of the Mustang. Arguably the Thunderbolt had as much to do with the defeat of the Luftwaffe in the first 6 months of 1944 leading up to complete air superiority for D-Day. The Thunderbolts eventually developed the range to escort bombers all the way to Germany (if not all the way to Berlin like the Mustang). But it was when the Army realized, due to striking target’s of opportunity on the way back from escort duty that the Thunderbolt’s value as a fighter/bomber came to light. It is that role that it is most famous for rather than helping pave the way to air superiority over Germany along with the Mustang.
Yeah I agree with all of that. The Thunderbolt took on the Luftwaffe when it was still a fearsome threat. Not that it was all easy for the Mustang pilots, but the Thunderbolts had definitely thinned the herd quite a bit!
The last Thunderbolt variant (the “N”) had about the same range as the Mustang, by carrying almost twice the fuel! The Jug had a bit of a drinking problem… But even a “D” could make it into Germany with drop tanks.
I do think it’s one of the great ironies and tragedies that the Thunderbolt was retired so fast post-war, that when we got to Korea, Mustangs were used for close support work that they weren’t well suited for.
It’s like the A-10. Ground attack is remarkably effective, both in firepower and morale (both ways) but the brass hate exposing their fancy machines to actual return fire.
Yeah, always forgetting the value of a dedicated earth mover!
Always thought the USAF probably wished they had kept enough F-47s to have used them in Korea.
I would think so!
I just wonder if anyone sees the parallel of retiring an A-10 for an F-16.
Well, the A-10 and the F-16, as well as the F-15 were all developed in the 1970’s, so if you mean the Mustang replacing the Thunderbolt in 1980’s, yeah, the analogy holds.
The Thunderbolt and Mustang were both products of the 40s. With the coming of jets like the P-80, the older aircraft were no longer the elite fighters. So they quickly retired Thunderbolts and more slowly replaced the Mustangs. But since the Shooting Star (and soon the Sabre) was now the main fighter, neither Mustang nor Thunderbolt was going to be a fighter. So I think they should have kept the Thunderbolts and retired the Mustang more quickly. The Mustang took heavy losses in Korea, in part because it was so vulnerable to ground fire. The Thunderbolt would have done better in that role.
So I think they’re repeating that mistake today. They want to retire the A-10 and keep F-15 and F-16 in service along side F-22 and F-35. That’s a lot of pretty fighter types, but they’re loosing the better Attack plane.
Certainly the P-47 was the better attack plane, but as I understand it Mustangs were going up against MiG’s at first. Perhaps the Thunderbolt would have been better, more survivable, in that role too.
As for the A-10, it was basically reverse-engineered for it’s role, so obviously it is far better suited to it. The operating theory I guess is now that forward spotters can illuminate a target or the munitions gan get GPS guidance low and slow doesn’t matter, the jets can stand-off and deliver precision munitions. I’m not so sure. What about targets where there is no forward spotter and where you need to see the enemy.
The problem was never Mustang vs MiG. Sure sometimes it happened, but it was never supposed to. The problem was Mustang vs small arms fire. That’s a fight the Thunderbolt would have handled better.
But yeah I agree entirely about the A-10. Even if the F-15E can often do the same job with modern ordnance, the A-10 was built for that job and will be more capable in a broader range of ground support mission profiles.
The problem was Mustang vs small arms fire. That’s a fight the Thunderbolt would have handled better.
Agreed. I only mention Mustang vs. MiG because I seem to recall the US jets were in short supply early on in that conflict.
Yeah, but early on, the North didn’t have them either. Most initial combat mostly involved Yak-9s, either Mustang or Thunderbolt could handle that equally well.
It’s ground fire that brought down most Mustangs in Korea.
Would you agree that there is a huge dIfference between a ground attack aircraft and a close support aircraft? Example; in Viet Nam, the F-100 was certainly a capable ground attack aircraft, yet I feel it was not the close support aircraft the A-1 Skyraider was.
Interesting distinction. I tend to lump all light tactical into a single category. Obviously some may have more air to air capability than others, and some may emphasize different types of targets or payload (Hs129 is different from Stuka; A-36 is different from A-20), but I think we can drive ourselves nuts trying to put too fine a point on it (gee is that a Scout-Observation or an Observation-Scout?)
So to the question, I certainly see a difference in capability between those types, but I think there’s so much overlap in the sorts of missions they would fly I wouldn’t make too big a thing of defining that difference.
Obviously the F-100 and A-1 have some very different capabilities(!) and its worth considering if those differences make it worth keeping both types on inventory. But I think one also needs to remember since they’re performing many similar missions they MOST need to be compared to each other.
I guess I want to clarify that a little more. I think there’s a tendency to create a lot of distinctions that don’t really need to be made. Like do we really need a light Bomber, a medium Bomber, and a dive bomber? Or would be more efficient to have an all purpose design that can perform two or three functions?
And I really don’t mean that as a leading or difficult question, I mean that as an honest question. If we find real specialized aircraft that best fill a unique role, we build each specialized aircraft. But if a more generalized design can do multiple tasks equally well, then it’s probably better to simplify production and development costs, as well as parts and maintainence, with the single design.
So again back to the original question. If the two types are truly the best way to fulfill two needs then go ahead and define those different needs. But I am a little cautious about such a distinction defining a role instead of the other way around. There were clear cases, like the Army Air Forces Heavy Observation types (O-47 or O-52) that met a requirement that served no role.
Does that make sense? I like to define things more broadly. I also took a stab at this issue here.
I think I understand the distinction, and the difference is real, but you are talking about two different roles. Think of the Gulf Wars. Even the stealth aircraft attacked ground targets such as radar and missile batteries with great effectiveness. I think the distinction you are making is that the A-10 attacked tactical ground targets in direct support of ground units objectives and needs. In Vietnam fighter and fighter bomber aircraft often supported ground units by bombing and napalm, but they weren’t putting lead and missiles or rockets on specific targets, just in a saturation effort on areas where enemy formations were operating. In that sense I can see a distinction between close support being almost as blurry in one sense, both are methods of supporting ground units directly, but also being distinct from just attacking ground targets that may be static defenses or troop concentrations.
I think it gets even murkier when you add precision and guided munitions.
Yeah I think there’s a lot of variations on a theme. Different aircraft with different capabilities using different tactics to achieve the same end.
All the comments make good points, but unfortunately sometimes it’s noy just question of requirements and finding the best plane for the job. It has always been there and most likely always will be —– lobbyist, company influence, competing service branches and Congressmen and Senators looking out for for thier own interests. I have to believe better decisions would be made if these obstacles weren’t part of the equation.
Oh yeah that’s absolutely true. I do tend to look at this as a war gamer, but of course there are all sorts of political issues involved too. One of the interesting things to me is always how wartime realities expose some of those issues.
I imagine many people are familiar with all the obstacles to getting the B-17 built; from loosing a fly off against the B-18 through accident, to congress purchasing the B-18 when everyone knew the B-17 was the better airplane, to turf wars between Army Air Force and Navy.
Or the way the Mustang was first purchased as a dive bomber because congress wouldn’t authorize another Fighter program.
Likewise the RAF was saddled with the Fairey Battle because Parliament wouldn’t fund a more capable aircraft.
I often wonder about what all really went on between Buffalo and Wildcat. The Buffalo won a fly off in 1937, but the Navy ordered both aircraft, ostensibly because they didn’t think Brewster could fill the whole order.
Was the Navy really aware of how deep Brewsters problems ran? Or did Grumman exert some pressure behind the scenes through their long established good relationship with Naval aviation? Whatever it was, the Navy sure looked wise in hindsight with all of Brewster’s problems.
And of course ships are even worse. Virtually every heavy unit ever built has a political story behind it.
It is all fascinating stuff.