Toward the end of WW II, better than 40 percent of all AAF fighter groups serving overseas were equipped with the rugged P-47s. Affectionately nicknamed "Jug," the P-47 was one of the most famous AAF fighter planes of World War II. Although originally conceived as a lightweight interceptor, the P-47 developed as a heavyweight fighter and made its first flight on May 6, 1941. The first production model was delivered to the AAF in March 1942, and in April 1943 the Thunderbolt flew its first combat mission -- a sweep over Western Europe. Used as both a high-altitude escort fighter and a low-level fighter-bomber, the P-47 quickly gained a reputation for ruggedness.
This single-engined, single-seat escort fighter and fighter-bomber was conceived, tested, produced, and put into action wholly within the period of World War II. P-47 Thunderbolts (F-47Ds and F-47Ns) equipped SAC, TAC, and ADC squadrons for a number of postwar years. They subsequently reached the Air National Guard and did not pass out of service until 1955. The F-47 was the Air Force's last radial-engine fighter.
Its sturdy construction and air-cooled radial engine enabled the Thunderbolt to absorb severe battle damage and keep flying. During WWII, the P-47 served in almost every active war theater and in the forces of several Allied nations. By the end of WWII, more than 15,600 Thunderbolts had been built. Production P-47B, C, early D and G series aircraft were built with metal-framed "greenhouse"-type cockpit canopies. Late D series (dash 25 and later) aircraft and all M and N series production aircraft were given clear "bubble" canopies, which gave the pilot improved rearward vision.
The Thunderbolt was the culmination of a series of radial-engine fighters developed in the 1930s by Russian émigrés Alexander de Seversky and Alexander Kartveli. Although the P-47 design originated as a small, inline-engine lightweight interceptor, changing requirements drastically altered the project. The considerably larger prototype XP-47B weighed over twice as much as the original concept.
The first production version, the P-47B, entered service in the spring of 1942. Production and development problems limited the 171 built to training use only. The follow-on P-47C corrected some of the vices of the P-47B, and it started coming off the production line in September 1942. With over 12,500 built, the P-47D became the most-produced and widely-used model of the Thunderbolt. The early P-47Ds were similar to the P-47C, with the most important change being additional armor around the pilot. Although they were fast and had an excellent roll rate, early P-47s suffered from poor climbing performance and short range.
Over the course of its production, the P-47D was greatly improved. A more efficient propeller significantly increased the climb rate. Internal fuel tank capacity became larger and new wing mounts carried droppable fuel tanks or bombs in addition to those on the underside fuselage mount. Late-model P-47Ds received more wing mounts to carry a total of 10 air-to-ground rockets. The Thunderbolt became even faster with engine water injection, which allowed higher emergency horsepower. The most visible change during the P-47D production run was the new "bubble-top" canopy, which provided much better all-around vision for the pilot.
The USAAF and several Allied nations used the P-47 in nearly every combat theater. Through 1943 in Europe, the P-47C and P-47D equipped the majority of 8th Air Force fighter groups in England (and one in the 15th Air Force in Italy) as a long-range escort fighter. But since they couldn't escort USAAF heavy bombers all the way to some targets, longer-ranged P-51 Mustangs gradually replaced them in the escort role (with the sole exception of the 56th Fighter Group). The rugged and heavily-armed P-47D proved to be ideal for ground attack, though, and it became the backbone of the fighter-bomber force in the 9th Air Force in western Europe and the 12th Air Force in southern Europe.
In the Pacific, several 5th Air Force fighter groups flew the P-47D against Japanese air and ground forces in New Guinea and the Philippines in 1943-1944. Later, five groups in the 7th Air Force (and, in the closing weeks of the war, the 20th Air Force) flew the much longer-ranged P-47N as an escort fighter for B-29s against the Japanese homeland. The P-47D did not arrive in the China-Burma-India (CBI) Theater until late spring 1944, but it flew as an effective fighter-bomber in several units there, including the famous 1st Air Commando Group. Many Allied countries also flew the P-47D in combat in WWII, including Brazil, Free France, Great Britain, Mexico and the Soviet Union.
Range continued to be a problem for the Thunderbolt until the introduction of the P-47N, which breathed new life into the P-47 design. The P-47N had a more powerful engine and introduced a new wing which, unlike the P-47D's, carried two 96-gallon internal fuel tanks. The P-47N was 40 mph faster and could fly over 800 miles farther than the P-47D. The first production models appeared in September 1944, and over 1,800 were built. During the war, the P-47N was only used in the Pacific Theater.
The P-47Ds and P-47Ns continued to serve in the USAAF (after 1947, the U.S. Air Force) as initial equipment for SAC, TAC and ADC squadrons. In 1948 the Thunderbolt was redesignated the F-47. As more jet fighters came into the inventory, the USAF phased out the F-47 in 1949, but the Air National Guard continued to use it into the mid-1950s.
During the Korean War, the USAF theater commander, Lt. Gen. George Stratemeyer, requested that F-47s be sent. But, due to the shortage of spare parts and logistical complications, his request was denied. Many countries in Latin America, along with Iran, Italy, Nationalist China, Turkey and Yugoslavia continued to operate the Thunderbolt, some into the 1960s.
Of the grand total of 15,683 P-47s built, approximately two-thirds reached operational commands overseas and 5,222 were lost in action, including 1,722 non-combat losses. In 1.35 million combat hours flown, the combat loss was less than 0.7 percent, an exceptionally low figure attesting to the strength of the aircraft.
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