Tools of War: Republic P-47 Thunderbolt

When thinking of aerial warfare, it is common to recall the glamorous and sleek fighters that engaged in tumbling dogfights high above the earth. Several such aircraft are remembered include the P-51 Mustang, the Me-109, the Spitfire, and the A6M Zero. However, the Second World War also saw the rise of fighter bombers, aircraft which would take on multiple roles, including that of supporting advancing ground troops. The best example from that war was the Republic P-47 “Thunderbolt”.

 A New Zealand P-47D runs up its engine. Photo source: Wikipedia.

A New Zealand P-47D runs up its engine. Photo source: Wikipedia.

By Seth Marshall

                In the late 1930s, as war clouds gathered on the horizon, leaders of the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) recognized that their existing fighter aircraft were outdated and would be unable to compete with the modern fighters that were being developed and seeing early combat over Europe at the time. Their response was to ask multiple aircraft firms to submit their proposals for fighter designs. One of the many companies to answer the call was Republic Aviation. Though Republic’s name was a new one in the aircraft industry, it was actually the successor to the Seversky Aero Corporation. Seversky was founded in 1931 by a Russian emigre, Alexander de Seversky. Seversky had designed two fighter aircraft, the P-35 and the P-43.

 A Seversky P-43 Lancer in pre-war markings. The design already shares the jug-shaped fuselage which would distinguish the P-47. Photo: Wikipedia.

A Seversky P-43 Lancer in pre-war markings. The design already shares the jug-shaped fuselage which would distinguish the P-47. Photo: Wikipedia.

The P-35, a stubby radial-engined fighter, was a notable step forward for the USAAC, with its all-metal construction, retractable landing gear, and enclosed cockpit. The P-43 Lancer was a follow-on to the P-35; designed by Seversky’s head engineer, a Georgian émigré named Alexander Kartveli, the P-43 was powered by a 1200-horsepower Pratt & Whitney which could allow the fighter to reach a maximum speed of 356 mph at 20,000 feet. However, the P-43 had primarily been marketed as an export fighter- of the 272 built, 51 were delivered to China, while still others were delivered to European countries.[1] Those that did see US service were considered obsolete almost from the time they were delivered. As a result,  and in order to fulfill a 1939 USAAC request for a high-altitude interceptor, the Seversky design team began working on a new fighter which would incorporate the experiences gained from working on the P-35 and P-43.

By this time, Seversky Aero Corporation had been renamed Republic Aviation. The founder, Seversky himself, had been ousted while in Europe in 1939 by a company board vote. The new aircraft would be again designed by Kartveli. Kartveli’s creation featured many characteristics shared with the P-43- it would be powered by a large radial engine and feature a coke-bottle-shaped fuselage. Kartveli’s first design was actually finished before the USAAC request was issued- the P-47A would be powered by a 1,150-horsepower Allison engine and armed with two .50 caliber machine guns. The USAAC request called for an aircraft which could fly at 400 mph at 25,000 ft, carry an armament of six .50 caliber machine guns, carry armor-plating for pilot protection, be equipped with self-sealing fuel tanks, and be capable of carrying 315 gallons of fuel.[2] Based on these specifications, the existing P-47A design was already outdated. As a result, Kartveli had to immediately set about upgrading the new aircraft. After revisions, Kartveli’s P-47B was powered by a 2,000-horsepower Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp radial engine equipped with a turbo supercharger, a three-bladed propeller, and eight .50 caliber machine guns. Owing to the ducting required to drive the turbo supercharger at altitude, the P-47’s size was tremendous.  When fully loaded, the new fighter would weigh over 12,000 lbs, far heavier than contemporary fighters. The new design seemed promising, enough so that the USAAC placed an order in September 1940.

The XP-47B first flew on May 6, 1941, with Lowry L. Brabham at the controls. The first flight did not go as planned- Brabham had to make an emergency landing because of exhaust fumes leaking into the cockpit. However, the performance of the enormous new aircraft was better than Kartveli had hoped for- the XP-47B could achieve 412 mph at over 20,000 feet, and it could climb to 15,000 feet in five minutes. However, in addition to the fume problem, there were other issues. After the first production P-47s began to be delivered to the USAAF in March 1942, one of the new fighters crashed into a golf course on March 26, 1942, killing the pilot. It was determined that the tail assembly had broken off in flight- further investigation found that at high altitudes, the fabric-covered control surfaces would burst, eliminating their effectiveness, and the canopy could not be opened, trapping the pilot. Eventually, the problem was solved by using all-metal construction for the control surfaces, reshaping them, and adding trim tabs for additional control.[3] The canopy was replaced with a new one which could be jettisoned by the pilot in the event he needed to bail out. In spite of a turbulent testing period, the USAAF placed an initial order for 171 P-47Bs and 602 P-47Cs.[4]

In mid-1942, the 56th Fighter Group, based at Farmingdale, New York, was chosen as the first fighter group to be equipped with the P-47. This decision was primarily made owing to the proximity of the group to the Republic Aviation factory. The 56th had a very difficult period of breaking in their new mounts- during training, 41 P-47Bs were lost and 13 pilots killed. Though pilot error was a problem in some cases, many crashes were caused by continual teething problems. One phenomena which was encountered by P-47 pilots was compressability, a previously unknown occurrence. During a high-speed dive, air moving across the control surfaces becomes more dense, preventing control surfaces from being effective. Additional, air can be traveling at supersonic speeds across various surfaces while the aircraft itself is subsonic. This can cause buffeting, and can potentially lead to the aircraft breaking up in flight.[5]  Eventually, these problems were overcome with the installation of dive flaps, making the P-47 a safer aircraft.[6]

The 56th Fighter ultimately proved to be the first Thunderbolt-equipped fighter group to be sent overseas. Two other Fighter Groups, the 78th and the 4th, had preceded the 56th in deploying- both of these units converted to P-47s not long afterwards. This was done, in the case of the 78th, because it had lost most of the P-38s with which it had been formed to the North African theater. Pilots in the 78th and the 4th were unimpressed by their new aircraft, which they derided as “seven-ton milk bottles.” This would eventually lead the Thunderbolt’s nickname- the “Jug.”[7]

 A trio of P-47Cs from the 56th Fighter Group prepare to take off in late 1942 or early 1943 (indicated by the yellow ring around the roundels on the fuselage). Photosource: Wikipedia.

A trio of P-47Cs from the 56th Fighter Group prepare to take off in late 1942 or early 1943 (indicated by the yellow ring around the roundels on the fuselage). Photosource: Wikipedia.

The P-47’s first operational missions occurred in March 1943 and were relatively uneventful. These flights were really training flights over German-occupied territory, intended more to give their pilots experience than to target German aircraft. However, with the Luftwaffe’s strength in the West being what it was at that time, these flights did not remain quiet for long. On April 15, 1943, a flight of P-47s from the 4th Fighter Group encountered a group of Focke-Wulfe FW-190s. Former Eagle Squadron pilot Don Blakeslee caught up with one of the German fighters in a dive and shot it down, scoring the Thunderbolt’s first victory. However, the former Spitfire pilot was not overly enthused with the aircraft, remarking, “It oughta dive, it sure can’t climb.”[8]

Blakeslee’s comment was not entirely wrong. At the high altitudes that it was built for, the P-47 would prove that it was generally superior to Luftwaffe aircraft. However, at lower altitudes, it was found that the German aircraft had both superior turn and climb rates. Owing to its weight and powerful engine, it was found that at lower altitudes, the P-47’s best tactic was diving. Despite its shortcomings, the Thunderbolt was quickly pressed into service as a bomber escort. The first escort mission took place on May 4, 1943, when 117 P-47s from all three P-47 groups escorted 8th Air Force B-17s and B-24s to bomb Antwerp and Paris.[9] On these early missions, early model P-47s had mixed results. When they did engage German fighters, they had modest success. However, these P-47s did not have the range to escort their bombers all the way to targets inside of German, and had to turn back near the German border. As a result, the Luftwaffe simply had to wait until the bombers’ escort had turned for home, then they would pounce. As 1943 went on, 8th Air Force bomber losses became appalling; two raids on Schweinfurt on August 17th and October 17th respectively resulted in the loss of 60 bombers each. Until fighters with longer range could be made more readily available, stopgap solutions with the P-47 would have to be found. The best option seemed to be the addition of drop tanks. The first Thunderbolt mission with drop tanks to extend range was on July 28th, 1943 to Oschersleben and Kassel. Initially, large 200-gallon ferry tanks were used, but these were unpressurized and could not be used at altitudes above 23,000 feet. This resulted in a switch to 75-gallon teardrop-shaped tanks, which were more suitable. A third version emerged in the fall of 1943 with a centerline 108-gallon tank. This configuration finally allowed Thunderbolts to escort the bombers all the way to the target on September 27th, when the 8th Air Force hit Emden.[10] Additional improvements to the fighter’s design were made to continually improve its performance. The P-47D-20-RE saw a number of improvements: the so-called “universal wing,” designed to carry a variety of ordnance (which would greatly enhance its lethality as a fighter bomber), a four-bladed “paddle” propeller to improve rate of climb (now up to 2,750 feet per minute), and the water-injection R-2800-21 engine, which had a war emergency rating of 2300 horsepower.[11]

 A P-47D from the 460th Fighter Squadron equipped with a centerline tank in flight over the Pacific, likely the Philippines. The aircraft has probably completed a ground attack mission, as its bomb racks are empty. Photo source: Wikipedia.

A P-47D from the 460th Fighter Squadron equipped with a centerline tank in flight over the Pacific, likely the Philippines. The aircraft has probably completed a ground attack mission, as its bomb racks are empty. Photo source: Wikipedia.

Around the same time period that the first P-47 units were being sent to Europe, additional fighter groups were formed and sent to the Pacific. The first of these was the 348th Fighter Group, which was made a part of the 5th Air Force in the Southwest Pacific. Under the leadership of LTC Neel Kirby, this unit demonstrated the potential of the P-47 as a fighter bomber over New Guinea. Two additional groups, the 35th and 48th, replaced their P-40s and P-39s with Thunderbolts soon after. Just as in Europe, the P-47s range was found to be an issue, particularly given the distances involved in flying from island to island in the Pacific. Drop tanks were again used as the solution- eventually, 5th Air Force technicians developed 200-gallon tanks to help cope with the problem.[12] Additional help in the Pacific came in the form of aviation legend Charles Lindbergh. Lindbergh had been fulfilling the role of civilian consultant to the military by advising Pacific units on how best to maximize their aircraft’s range. He had previously worked with F4U Corsair and P-38 Lightning units.

 Col. Neel Kearby, the highest-scoring P-47 ace in the Pacific. Flying with the 348th Fighter Group, Kearby racked up 21 kills by March 1944 over the South Pacific. On March 5th, Kearby was on a mission near Wewak when he encountered a formation of Japanese Ki-43 fighters. After shooting down one, Kearby himself was shot down and killed. The remains of his P-47D, Fiery Ginger IV, are on display in the National Museum of the United States Air Force. Photo source: Wikipedia.

Col. Neel Kearby, the highest-scoring P-47 ace in the Pacific. Flying with the 348th Fighter Group, Kearby racked up 21 kills by March 1944 over the South Pacific. On March 5th, Kearby was on a mission near Wewak when he encountered a formation of Japanese Ki-43 fighters. After shooting down one, Kearby himself was shot down and killed. The remains of his P-47D, Fiery Ginger IV, are on display in the National Museum of the United States Air Force. Photo source: Wikipedia.

 A Mexican Air Force P-47D in flight over the Philippines in early 1945. Photo source: Wikipedia.

A Mexican Air Force P-47D in flight over the Philippines in early 1945. Photo source: Wikipedia.

Back in Europe, Thunderbolt escort missions continued. By early 1944, Thunderbolts were carrying 150-gallon tanks to escort their charges all the way to their targets in Germany. During the third week of February 1944, known as “Big Week”, P-47s were used extensively in escort missions. On February 20, 1944, for example, 668 Thunderbolts escorted over 1,000 heavy bombers. Combined with additional protection from P-38 Lightnings and P-51 Mustangs, Thunderbolts wreaked havoc on the Luftwaffe’s strength in western Europe, causing large losses which temporarily forced the Luftwaffe from the skies.[13] Improvements were continually made to the big fighter in an effort to better its performance. The P-47D-25 changed the shape of the aircraft- the framed canopy and raised rear fuselage was replaced by a tear-drop-shaped canopy and cut-down rear fuselage, greatly improving rear visibility for the pilot. In late 1944, the P-47M was debuted as a limited response to the introduction of the V-1. 130 of these aircraft, powered by a 2,500-horsepower engine pushing the Thunderbolt to a maximum speed of 473mph at 30,000 feet. These aircraft were specifically intended to counter V-1 flying bombs.[14]

Even as P-47s were being used as escort fighters, there was an increasing trend of using the aircraft as a ground-attack plane. This is perhaps inevitable, given the Jug’s immense payload capacity. It could carry up to 3,000lbs of external ordnance including general purpose bombs, M10 rockets, fragmentation bombs, napalm tanks, and later in the war 4.5-inch High Velocity Aerial Rockets (HVARs). One configuration even featured a 1,000lbs bomb on each wing.[15] Paired with eight .50 caliber machine guns with 3400 rounds stored in the wings, the P-47 would prove to be an outstanding fighter bomber. The first use of the Thunderbolt as a fighter bomber came on November 25, 1943. Aircraft from the 56th and 353rd Fighter Groups, armed with a single 500lbs bomb, struck airfields in the St. Omer area of France.[16] Several months later in March 1944, 8th Fighter Command leader Brigadier Genearl Bill Kepner ordered a squadron of P-47s to form and develop ground strafing techniques. These pilots first practiced over airfields in England before undertaking a number of operational missions over the Continent. At the end of March, the pilots were returned to their units to instruct others on low-level attacks.[17]

At around the same time as these early fighter bomber missions were taking place, the P-51 Mustang began arriving in large numbers in England. With the 8th Air Force focused on the strategic bombing of Germany, most of its fighter groups began converting to the Mustang and handing over their P-47s. These used Thunderbolts, along with new ones being shipped to the theater, were used to begin building up the 9th Air Force. Unlike the 8th Air Force, the 9th was intended to provide tactical air support to ground forces. The 9th Air Force did have a bomber component, but this was made up of medium bombers intended to be used against transportation and communication hubs. The larger elements were the Tactical Air Commands (TACs). The 9th had two TACs- IX TAC, which was equipped with three Fighter Wings (each made up of 3-4 fighter groups), and XIX TAC had two Fighter Wings. IX TAC, commanded by then-Brigadier General Elwood “Pete” Quesada, supported Lieutenant General Omar Bradley’s First Army, while XIX TAC, commanded by then-Brigadier General Otto Weyland, provided supported to Lieutenant General George S. Patton.[18]

 Two P-47Ds from the 65th Fighter Squadron take off for a ground attack mission in Italy from their base in Corsica. This squadron along with others in Corsica participated in a vigorous interdiction campaign in central and northern Italy called Operation Strangle, the goal of which was to cut off German front lines from their supply lines. Photo source: American Air Museum.

Two P-47Ds from the 65th Fighter Squadron take off for a ground attack mission in Italy from their base in Corsica. This squadron along with others in Corsica participated in a vigorous interdiction campaign in central and northern Italy called Operation Strangle, the goal of which was to cut off German front lines from their supply lines. Photo source: American Air Museum.

 A P-47D with the 507th Fighter-Bomber Squadron in Germany in April 1945. This unit participated in the European Campaign with the IX TAC, providing close air support to General Omar Bradley's forces. Photo source: Wikipedia.

A P-47D with the 507th Fighter-Bomber Squadron in Germany in April 1945. This unit participated in the European Campaign with the IX TAC, providing close air support to General Omar Bradley's forces. Photo source: Wikipedia.

Following the invasion of Normandy, these TACs would play a significant role in the forward progress of American armies. After D-Day, P-47 units would engage in armored column cover missions, a tactic devised by Quesada, which involved several flights of heavily armed P-47s flying overhead of a tank column as it advanced. A liaison on the ground with the tanks, frequently a fighter pilot in a specially modified tank, would radio the circling fighter bombers regarding targets impeding the advance.[19] The P-47s would then act as on-call heavy artillery, hitting the target with bombs, rockets, and heavy machine gun fire. An additional tactic, armed reconnaissance, saw fighter bombers roaming as much as 30 miles in front of advancing columns and attacking targets of opportunity. As the Allies expanded their beachhead in mainland Europe, engineers worked to establish airfields and shorten the distance fighter bombers would have to travel for support. Two weeks after D-Day, five airfields had been established in France to support the fighter-bombers. By the end of the month, Quesada’s IX TAC had flown 26,000 sorties on 800 missions, claimed 204 enemy planes destroyed, as well as the destruction of 24 bridges, 506 railroad engines and cars, and nearly 1300 vehicles.[20] Operations would increase even more when the breakout from Normandy began in late July.

 In this well-known provocative photo, a P-47 piloted by Captain Ray Walsh of the 406th Fighter Squadron pulls up from strafing an ammunition truck, which has exploded violently. Ground attack missions against potentially volatile targets such as ammunition train cars and storage depots could be hazardous obstacles, throwing up flaming debris into the flight path of attacking fighter bombers. Photo source: Air & Space Magazine.

In this well-known provocative photo, a P-47 piloted by Captain Ray Walsh of the 406th Fighter Squadron pulls up from strafing an ammunition truck, which has exploded violently. Ground attack missions against potentially volatile targets such as ammunition train cars and storage depots could be hazardous obstacles, throwing up flaming debris into the flight path of attacking fighter bombers. Photo source: Air & Space Magazine.

When Operation Cobra commenced on July 25, 1944, P-47 ground attack missions increased tremendously as the tanks on the ground began to break out. P-47 units were quickly relocated to the Continent to support the advancing tanks. One, the 50th Fighter Group, reported a typical day’s operations for July 29th- its three P-47 squadrons flew a total of 23 missions, losing three aircraft to flak, another three damaged, and claiming the destruction of 46 tanks, 80 other vehicles, 8 towed artillery pieces, and an estimated 80 German soldiers killed.[21] By this point in the war, the Luftwaffe on the western front was but a shadow of its former self- the primary threat to fighter bombers supporting the American advance came in the form of flak. A typical German infantry division was equipped with 84 20mm AA guns, while a panzer division could be equipped with up to 21 self-propelled AA guns, 50 towed guns, and 32 truck or half-track-mounted guns.[22]

“Ground attack pilots often had to contend with formidable concentrations of small caliber flak that was very effective up to 3000 feet and the fire of which was not visible to them; therefore they were briefed to come below 3000 feet only when carrying out their attacks. Heavy caliber automatic flak (20mm-40mm) was effective up to 6000 feet and its explosions were easily seen by the pilots; fighter-bomber formations usually flew at 7500-8000 feet, which was just out of range.”[23]

With such heavy amounts of flak then, it is unsurprising that fighter bombers suffered a far higher rate of loss to ground fire than to hostile fighters. From the start of Operation Cobra on July 25 to August 7th, IX TAC lost 80 aircraft- 49% were lost to flak, 24% to small arms fire, 24% to unknown causes, and just 7% to enemy fighters.[24]

 A P-47 pilot displays a rather sober face after examining his P-47, which has sustained a direct hit from a flak round of unknown caliber. Photo source: Pinterest.

A P-47 pilot displays a rather sober face after examining his P-47, which has sustained a direct hit from a flak round of unknown caliber. Photo source: Pinterest.

 Another pilot stands among the remains of his right horizontal stabilizer, which was clearly hit by flak, spraying shrapnel into the tail and fuselage. This kind of damage was not at all uncommon during the dangerous close air support and ground attack missions undertaken by Thunderbolt pilots on a routine basis. Photo source: Cradle of Aviation Museum.

Another pilot stands among the remains of his right horizontal stabilizer, which was clearly hit by flak, spraying shrapnel into the tail and fuselage. This kind of damage was not at all uncommon during the dangerous close air support and ground attack missions undertaken by Thunderbolt pilots on a routine basis. Photo source: Cradle of Aviation Museum.

                Despite the high losses, the fighter bombers continued their grim work against German ground forces. As Allied armor began exploiting the frail German defenses in the wake of Cobra’s opening salvoes, large German convoys began attempting to fall back, only to set upon by fighter bombers. During the last week of July alone, Quesada’s IX TAC flew 9000 close air support sorties, and his pilots had claimed destruction of 384 tanks, over 2200 vehicles, and almost 100 artillery pieces.[25] On a sortie which could be described as typical of the period, the 405th Fighter Group tore into a German convoy on July 29th:

“On the afternoon of 29 July P-47s of the American 405th Fighter Group observed this dense mass of German transport, including tanks, on the roads near Coutances and on the road between St. Denis-le-Vetu and Roncey they saw a column extending for over three miles blocked by American armor to east and west. Between 310 and 940 p.m. the P-47s of the 405th Group systematically bombed and strafed this column, returning to their base to rearm and refuel before returning to the attack. Two days later American ground forces found the road impassable, and discovered 66 German tanks, 204 vehicles, and 11 guns destroyed, and 56 tanks and 55 vehicles damaged. This destruction was the result of the combined firepower of P-47s and artillery and tanks of nearby American ground units.”[26]

As the German retreat from Normandy increased in desperation, their slaughter by fighter bombers such as the P-47 only increased. The apex of this bloodbath would come during the Allied attempt to close the Falaise Gap. During this period, as thousands of vehicles and tens of thousands of soldiers tried to escape encirclement, fighter-bombers wreaked havoc among the retreating Germans. German tank commander Hans von Luck recalled, “Enemy planes were swooping down uninterruptedly on anything that moved. I could see the mushroom clouds of exploding bombs, burning vehicles, and the wounded, who were picked up by retreating transports.”[27] Jack Dentz, a pilot with the 386th Fighter Squadron, later remembered, “We went in like flying artillery and just destroyed it all… It was hideous. It was the only time I actually came home feeling sick. I killed over 60 horses on just one mission; they had been pulling 88mm guns.”[28]

                The ground-attack missions, while successful, were not without cost. German units put up a tremendous amount of flak. During the length of its European campaign, XIX Tactical Air Command lost nearly 600 pilots either killed or missing, an average of two per day. During the summer of 1944, an average of 227 fighters were shot down per month, most to flak.[29] Fortunately, the P-47 proved to be one of the most rugged aircraft of the Second World War. Eventual ace Robert Johnson, of the 56th Fighter Group, had a narrow escape from a formation of FW-190s on June 26, 1943.  One FW-190 hit Johnson’s P-47 with 21 20mm cannon shells, cutting Johnson’s hydraulics and jamming his canopy shut, preventing him from bailing out. One shell had also set fire to his aircraft, and Johnson was temporarily blinded by spraying hydraulic fluid- he had also been wounded by shrapnel in the leg and nose. Regaining control of his holed aircraft, Johnson headed for the English Channel, only to be set upon by another FW-190, which pumped his aircraft full of 7.92mm machine gun rounds. Eventually the German aircraft ran out of ammunition, pulled alongside Johnson, saluted, then flew off. Johnson managed to return his aircraft to base, he gave up counting holes in his aircraft after numbering 200. Johnson would eventually go on to become one of the highest-scoring P-47 aces, shooting down 27 German aircraft by June 1944. [30] The highest-scoring P-47 ace was Francis Gabreski, who shot down 28 German planes. Gabreski’s 28 kills also made him the highest-scoring American ace in the European Theater. Despite the gradual replacement of the Thunderbolt as an escort fighter by the P-51 Mustang, during over 746,000 missions flown by the P-47 pilots claimed 3,752 enemy planes shot down.[31] The most successful P-47 unit was the 56th Fighter Group, which at the end of the war was the only fighter group in the 8th Air Force still flying the Jug- it claimed 647 aerial victories and 311 more planes destroyed on the ground. Against these claims, the 56th had lost 128 Thunderbolts.[32] 9th Air Force P-47 groups, while focused on their ground attack missions, also claimed aerial victories. The 368th Fighter Group claimed 143 enemy planes shot down and 98 more destroyed on the ground from March 1944 to May 1945. During the same period, that group also claimed the destruction of nearly 500 tanks, 3174 rail cars, 33 bridges, 31 barges, and 187 artillery pieces.[33]

 LTC Francis Gabreski of the 56th Fighter Group was the leading ace of the 8th Air Force with 28 confirmed victories. On July 20, 1944, during the final mission of his tour in Europe, Gabreski flew too low during a strafing pass on a German airfield and his propeller struck the ground, forcing him to crash land. He spent the remainder of the war as a POW. After the war, Gabreski continued to fly with the Air Force, shooting down six MiGs in the Korean War and retiring in 1967 as a Colonel. He died in 2002 at the age of 83. Photo source: Wikipedia.

LTC Francis Gabreski of the 56th Fighter Group was the leading ace of the 8th Air Force with 28 confirmed victories. On July 20, 1944, during the final mission of his tour in Europe, Gabreski flew too low during a strafing pass on a German airfield and his propeller struck the ground, forcing him to crash land. He spent the remainder of the war as a POW. After the war, Gabreski continued to fly with the Air Force, shooting down six MiGs in the Korean War and retiring in 1967 as a Colonel. He died in 2002 at the age of 83. Photo source: Wikipedia.

 Captain Robert S. Johnson shot down 27 German aircraft over Europe, making him the second-highest scoring 8th Air Force ace. After returning to the US in 1944, he left the military in 1947. He died in 1998 at the age of 78. Photo source: Wikipedia.

Captain Robert S. Johnson shot down 27 German aircraft over Europe, making him the second-highest scoring 8th Air Force ace. After returning to the US in 1944, he left the military in 1947. He died in 1998 at the age of 78. Photo source: Wikipedia.

                The final variant of the Thunderbolt to be produced was the P-47N. The heaviest of all of the Jugs, weighing in at 21,200lbs, was designed specifically with escort duties in mind. With external tanks, the P-47N had a combat radius of 1000 miles. Over 1800 of these final Jugs were produced, but few saw action before the war finally ended in August 1945.[34] Final production of the P-47 totaled 15,683- 5,222 were lost in combat operations.[35] With the surrender of Japan, P-47 production was cancelled. Many Thunderbolts were scrapped, which was common occurrence with most warplanes at the end of the war. In 1948, the P-47 was redesignated the F-47 in keeping with a new nomenclature system. F-47s would equip numerous Air National Guard squadrons until well into the 1950s. Air Force leaders discussed using the F-47 in Korea for close air support- the F-51 (previously known as the P-51) was in widespread use there, but took heavy losses from ground fire because of their more vulnerable liquid-cooled engines. However, by this time, F-47s and spare parts were in relatively short supply, so the Mustang continued to be used as a ground support aircraft in Korea.[36] F-47s would soldier on with a number of foreign air forces into the 1960s before the last examples in service were finally retired.

                Though the Thunderbolt was overshadowed by the Mustang as the eminent American fighter of World War II, the Thunderbolt proved to be a far more capable ground attack aircraft which came to be feared by German ground forces. Perhaps most importantly, the use of the Thunderbolt for ground attack was a precursor to the transition among the Air Force and Navy to fighter-bombers as the primary type of combat aircraft. The Thunderbolt remains arguably the best fighter-bomber aircraft of World War II.

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13.   Rowland, Michael D. “Why the U.S. Air Force Did Not Use the F-47 Thunderbolt in the Korean War”. Air Power History, Fall 2003. https://sobchak.wordpress.com/2012/04/24/article-why-the-u-s-air-force-did-not-use-the-f-47-thunderbolt-in-the-korean-war/ Accessed 10 May 2018.

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[1] http://www.chuckhawks.com/p47.htm

[2] http://www.aviation-history.com/republic/p47.html

[3] http://www.456fis.org/P-47.htm

[4] http://www.aviation-history.com/republic/p47.html

[5] https://www.grc.nasa.gov/www/k-12/airplane/bgc.html

[6] P.67- US Experimental and Prototype Aircraft and Projects: Fighters 1939-1945

[7] http://warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/wwii/the-p-47-thunderbolt-the-story-of-a-formidable-fighter-bomber/

[8] http://warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/wwii/the-p-47-thunderbolt-the-story-of-a-formidable-fighter-bomber/

[9] http://warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/wwii/the-p-47-thunderbolt-the-story-of-a-formidable-fighter-bomber/

[10] http://www.kagero.pl/index.php?option+com_content&view+article&id+293:p-47-thunderbolt-with-the-usaaf--european-theater-of-operations&catid+95:aviation-of-ww2&Itemid=688

[11] http://www.chuckhawks.com/p47.htm

[12] http://warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/wwii/the-p-47-thunderbolt-the-story-of-a-formidable-fighter-bomber/

[13] http://www.kagero.pl/index.php?option+com_content&view+article&id+293:p-47-thunderbolt-with-the-usaaf--european-theater-of-operations&catid+95:aviation-of-ww2&Itemid=688

[14] http://www.aviation-history.com/republic/p47.html

[15] P. 68- US Experimental and Prototype Aircraft and Projects: Fighters 1939-1945

[16] http://www.kagero.pl/index.php?option+com_content&view+article&id+293:p-47-thunderbolt-with-the-usaaf--european-theater-of-operations&catid+95:aviation-of-ww2&Itemid=688

[17] http://warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/wwii/the-p-47-thunderbolt-the-story-of-a-formidable-fighter-bomber/

[18] P.191-192- Strike from the Sky: The History of Battlefield Air Attack, 1911-1945

[19] P.184- Overlord: General Pete Quesada and the Triumph of Tactical Air Power in World War II

[20] P.169- Overlord: General Pete Quesada and the Triumph of Tactical Air Power in World War II

[21] https://www.airspacemag.com/military-aviation/day-after-d-day-180954668

[22] P.201-202- Air Power at the Battlefront by Ian Gooderson

[23] P.70- Air Power at the Battlefront by Ian Gooderson

[24] P.225- Strike from the Sky: The History of Battlefield Air Attack, 1911-1945

[25] P.224- Overlord: General Pete Quesada and the Triumph of Tactical Air Power in World War II

[26] P.108- Air Power at the Battlefront

[27] https://www.airspaemag.com/military-aviation/day-after-d-day-180954668

[28] https://www.airspaemag.com/military-aviation/day-after-d-day-180954668

[29] https://www.airspacemag.com/military-aviation/day-after-d-day-180954668/

[30] http://acesofww2.com/USA/aces/johnson/                      

 

[32] https://www.fighter-planes.com/info/p47_thunderbolt.htm

[33] http://www.kagero.pl/index.php?option+com_content&view+article&id+293:p-47-thunderbolt-with-the-usaaf--european-theater-of-operations&catid+95:aviation-of-ww2&Itemid=688

[34] P.68- US Experimental and Prototype Aircraft and Projects: Fighters 1939-1945

[35] https://www.airspacemag.com/military-aviaiton/day-after-day-180954668

[36] https://sobcahk.wordpress.com/2012/04/24/article-why-the-u-s-air-force-did-not-use-the-f-47-thunderbolt-in-the-korean-war

Tools of War: M1 Garand

 A GI poses with an early production M1 Garand in a rare pre-war color photograph taken at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Source: Popular Mechanics/Library of Congress.

A GI poses with an early production M1 Garand in a rare pre-war color photograph taken at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Source: Popular Mechanics/Library of Congress.

In the mid-1930s, the US Army found itself searching for a new main battle rifle for its soldiers. The aging Springfield M1903 bolt-action rifle was still the primary firearm of the infantry, but there was a growing trend towards the development of semi-automatic rifles. However, Springfield engineer John Garand had been working on a solution for years which would eventually take shape as the US Army’s primary small arm during World War II.

By Seth Marshall

            During the Second World War, nearly all of the countries involved used bolt-action rifles as their primary rifle. These weapons had been developed either late in the 19th Century or not long after the turn of the century. Britain had the Lee-Enfield, Germany had the Kar 98, the Soviet Union had the Moisin-Nagant, and Japan had the Arisaka. However, during the decades preceding the war, a number of countries had experimented with semi-automatic weapons. In the United States, an immigrant weapon engineer named John Garand had been refining the design of a new rifle which would eventually be adopted for use by the entire US military.

            John Cantius Garand was born on January 1, 1888 in the small town of Saint-Remy, Quebec in Canada. In 1898, Garand’s family moved to the United States, to Connecticut. Garand only attended school for another year until age 11. Following this, he began working in a local textile mill, gaining experience in took-making with the machinists there. A few years later, he began working at Brown and Sharpe, a tool-making company in Providence, Rhode Island. By the time of the First World War, Garand had moved to New York. When the Army began looking to design a new light machine gun, Garand took an interest. Garand began a partnership with another firearms designer, John Kewish. Kewish paid Garand $50 a week for his work; by June 1918, they had a prototype ready to be demonstrated. After showing their weapon to Hudson Maxim, the brother of machine-gun designer Hiram Maxim, Hudson recommended that the two men demonstrate their prototype t the Naval Consulting Board. Though the board passed them along to a succession of military agencies, the design was ultimately turned down. However, the Naval Consulting Board did send Garand and Kewish to the National Board of Standards, which began paying Garand and a different machinist $35 a week to improve his existing design, using NBS facilities.[1] Garand began his work in August 1918; by the time he had completed the requested modifications, it was 1919 and the First World War had ended.

 John Garrand at work in the Springfield Armory machine shop in 1923. Photo source: m1-garand-rifle.com

John Garrand at work in the Springfield Armory machine shop in 1923. Photo source: m1-garand-rifle.com

            Despite the initial setback, Garand’s talent for weapons design apparently did not go unappreciated. In November 1919, Garand was hired by Springfield Armory. By this time, Garand had become a naturalized citizen. Additionally, recognizing that semi-automatic rifles would represent an advantage for US infantrymen in future wars, the Army continued to press forward with the development of a new primary rifle. While Garand continued work on his design, another weapons designer was busy on his own semi-automatic creation. John D. Petersen had diverted from the Army’s M1906 .30-06 cartridge by developing a .276-caliber cartridge and compatible toggle-action rifle. Pedersen’s rationale for the change in ammunition was that an infantryman equipped with such a weapon would not have to carry as heavy a rifle and could instead carry more rounds.[2]

            Through the 1920s, changes in Army requirements kept both men making changes to their respective designs. Garand’s rifle, initially a primer-operated designed, was changed first in 1925 to chamber the new M1 .30 cal cartridge and was gas-operated, then to a .276-caliber design in late 1927 to compete with Pedersen’s rifle. Finally, in the early 1930s, formal trials were held to determine which rifle was more suitable. The Garand, by now designated as the T3E3 was determined by the Ordnance Department in January 1932 to be better suited for the next war than the Pedersen. However, not long after the competition, the Army decided that it would not convert to .276-caliber, instead preferring to remain with the already existing M1 .30-06 cartridge, which was readily available in large quantities. The newly redesigned rifle was the T1E2.[3] 80 production models of this new rifle were ordered for testing in March 1932, but it was some time before machinery had been constructed and the rifles built. As a result, the first production T1E2s were very expensive for the time- over $1800 per rifle (over $31,000 in 2018).[4] By the time the rifles had been produced and sent to Aberdeen Proving Grounds in August 1934, the design had been redesignated the M1. During the next year and a half, the rifles were shunted back and forth between the proving grounds and Springfield Armory as deficiencies were worked out of Garand’s design. Finally, on January 9, 1936, the M1 was officially approved for use in the Army by the Adjutant General and redesignated “U.S. Rifle, Caliber .30, M1.”[5] The approved design of the M1 had resulted in a rifle weighing nearly 11 pounds (4.9kg) and 43 inches in length. The new rifle had an effective range of 457 meters, and a well-trained infantryman could fire it up to 30 rounds per minute.[6]

 The final product of John Garand's labors. Photo source: Wikipedia.

The final product of John Garand's labors. Photo source: Wikipedia.

 John Garand shows the details of his rifle to Major General Charles Wesson, Chief of the Army Ordnance Corps. Photo Source: Wikipedia.

John Garand shows the details of his rifle to Major General Charles Wesson, Chief of the Army Ordnance Corps. Photo Source: Wikipedia.

            The first production M1s began coming of the lines at Springfield Armory in August 1937. Deliveries were somewhat slow at first- 945 were handed over to the Army in 1937, and 5,879 in 1938. Daily production rates steadily rose however; in 1937, only 10 were produced every day- by January 1940, 200 were being turned out by Springfield Armory daily. The first M1s were not perfect. It was quickly found that the gas cylinder assembly and muzzle plug were too loosely fixed to the barrel, which affected accuracy. Additionally, early M1s were prone to jamming after firing six rounds. Investigations found that there were manufacturing problems with guiding ribs in the receiver, leading to stoppages. Not helping matters was bad press- during the 1939 National Matches at Camp Perry, Ohio, 200 M1s had been supplied to participants. When many of the contestants complained of problems with the rifles, the Army denied that there were problems with the rifles. However, the issues were resolved in time. In late 1939, a new gas system was developed and implemented by the fall of 1940. 50,000 M1s had been produced prior to the change.

 A magazine photograph shows the difference between the early "Gas-trap" M1s and later production versions. Photo source: American Rifleman.

A magazine photograph shows the difference between the early "Gas-trap" M1s and later production versions. Photo source: American Rifleman.

            With the bugs gradually being worked out of the design, production of the M1 increased as the likeliness of war increased. Winchester Repeating Arms Company began producing M1s under license in 1940, delivering its first rifles in December that year. The M1’s introduction to combat came when the Japanese invaded the Philippines in December 1941. Several examples were being used by American soldiers defending the islands, including M1s which had the older-style gas-trap. Despite concerns that the older versions would be more seceptible to breaking down or stoppages, General Douglas MacArthur sent a cable in February 1942 to Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall that,

 “Garand rifles giving superior service to Springfield, no mechanical defects reported or stoppages due to dust and dirt from foxhole use. Good gun oil required as lubricant to prevent gumming, but have been used in foxhole fighting day and night for a week without cleaning and lubricating. All these weapons are excellent ones even without any modifications such as suggested.”[7]

With the declaration of war, the production of M1s was stepped up significantly. By the end of the war, over 4,000,000 M1s were produced by Springfield and Winchester.[8] Garand’s rifle had become revered by soldiers and marines alike by that point. The rifle was so good that General George S. Patton remarked in January 1945 that the M1 was “the greatest battle implement ever devised.”[9] In addition to the standard M1 rifle, sniper variants were produced in large quantities- by 1944, the M1C replaced the M1903A4 as the US Army’s standard sniper rifle.[10]

 An NCO instructs a private on marksmanship during the Second World War. Photo source: Popular Mechanics/Getty Images.

An NCO instructs a private on marksmanship during the Second World War. Photo source: Popular Mechanics/Getty Images.

 A World War II poster featuring the M-1. Photo source: m1-garand-rifle.com

A World War II poster featuring the M-1. Photo source: m1-garand-rifle.com

 John Garand poses with an M1. Photo: Popular Mechanics.

John Garand poses with an M1. Photo: Popular Mechanics.

 A soldier with his M1 in Europe. US soldiers and marines enjoyed a firepower advantage over their adversaries in both Europe and the Pacific; all of the Axis powers used primarily bolt-action rifles such as the Kar 98K and the Arisaka. Photo source: Popular Mechanics.

A soldier with his M1 in Europe. US soldiers and marines enjoyed a firepower advantage over their adversaries in both Europe and the Pacific; all of the Axis powers used primarily bolt-action rifles such as the Kar 98K and the Arisaka. Photo source: Popular Mechanics.

            During the years immediately following the end of World War II, production of the M1 tapered off, and many wartime rifles were placed in storage. However, when North Korea invaded South Korea in June 1950, production was ramped back up. International Harvester Corporation and Harrington & Richardson Arms both took up M1 production during the 1950s- between 1950-1957, another 1,500,000 M1 rifles were produced.[11] Many M1s began equipping other nations’ armies, including those of Germany, Italy, and Japan, which the M1 had helped defeat just years earlier. However, by the mid-1950s, the M1’s days were waning.

            The development of the M14 had begun years before it was formally adopted by the Army in 1957. Equipped with a 20-round magazine and chambered in 7.62 x 51mm NATO, the M14 had drawn upon the M1 design. Deliveries of these rifles began in 1959, and the transition from M1 to M14 within the Army was completed in 1963. Use of the M1 in the Army Reserve and National Guard, and US Navy continued into the 1970s. [12]

 US soldiers supervise the marksmanship training of South Korean soldiers using M-1s in 1952. Photo: Wikipedia.

US soldiers supervise the marksmanship training of South Korean soldiers using M-1s in 1952. Photo: Wikipedia.

            In spite of the success of his rifle, John Garand never received profits from his design, having sold the patents to Springfield Armory. During his 34 years working in conjunction with the Ordnance Corps, Garand never made more than $12,000 annually. At one time, a bill to award him with $100,000 for his services was introduced into Congress, but it failed to pass.  In 1941, he was awarded the Medal for Meritorious Service, and in 1944 he was awarded the Medal for Merit. [13] He continued working for Springfield Armory until his retirement in 1953. John Garand died in 1974 at the age of 86 in Springfield, Massachusetts.[14]

            The M1 Garand was one of the seminal rifles of the Second World War, and remains a classic weapons design. Reliable, tough, and efficient, the M1 was a favorite of soldiers and marines alike. It influenced the design of subsequent rifles, including the M14. Today, thousands of M1s remain in private hands as popular collectors firearms.

 John Garand after his retirement. He died in 1974 in Springfield, Massachusetts. Photo: m1-garand-rifle.com

John Garand after his retirement. He died in 1974 in Springfield, Massachusetts. Photo: m1-garand-rifle.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources

1.      “M1 Garand History - John C Garand, The Inventor.” The M1 Garand Rifle, m1-garand-rifle.com/history/john-garand.php. Accessed 5 May 2018.

2.      Canfield, Bruce N. “The Unknown M1 Garand.” American Rifleman, Jan. 1994. https://www.americanrifleman.org/articles/2015/9/15/the-unknown-m1-garand . Accessed 5 May 2018

3.      “M1 Garand Rifle.” D-Day Overlord, 2018, www.dday-overlord.com/en/material/weaponry/m1-garand-rifle. Accessed 5 May 2018

4.      Seijas, Bob. “History of the M1 Garand Rifle.” Garand Collectors Association, 2018, thegca.org/history-of-the-m1-garand-rifle/. Accessed 5 May 2018

5.      Moss, Matthew. “The Legendary Rifle That Fought World War II.” Popular Mechanics, Hearst Communications, 30 Dec. 2016, www.popularmechanics.com/military/weapons/a24537/m1-garand-world-war-two. Accessed 5 May 2018.

6.      “M1 Garand History – The M1 Garand After 1957.” The M1 Garand Rifle, https://m1-garand-rifle.com/history/since-1957.php. Accessed 5 May 2018.

7.      “M1 Garand History - John C Garand, The Inventor.” The M1 Garand Rifle, https://m1-garand-rifle.com/history/world-war-ii-to-korea.php . Accessed 5 May 2018.

 

 

[1] https://m1-garand-rifle.com/history/john-garand.php

[2] https://www.americanrifleman.org/articles/2015/9/15/the-unknown-m1-garand

[3] https://www.americanrifleman.org/articles/2015/9/15/the-unknown-m1-garand

[4] https://www.americanrifleman.org/articles/2015/9/15/the-unknown-m1-garand

[5] https://www.americanrifleman.org/articles/2015/9/15/the-unknown-m1-garand

[6] http://www.dday-overlord.com/en/material/weaponry/m1-garand-rifle

[7] https://www.americanrifleman.org/articles/2015/9/15/the-unknown-m1-garand

[8] http://thegca.org/history-of-the-m1-garand-rifle/

[9] http://www.popularmechanics.com/military/weapons/a24537/m1-garand-world-war-two

[10] https://m1-garand-rifle.com/history/john-garand.php

[11] https://m1-garand-rifle.com/history/john-garand.php

[12] https://m1-garand-rifle.com/history/since-1957.php

[13] https://m1-garand-rifle.com/history/world-war-ii-to-korea.php

[14] https://m1-garand-rifle.com/history/world-war-ii-to-korea.php

Tools of War: Vickers F.B.5 'Gunbus'

 A replica Vickers Gunbus. Photo source: Wikipedia.

A replica Vickers Gunbus. Photo source: Wikipedia.

During the first months of World War I, aviation, was still a new technology which was exhibited in the seemingly ungainly aircraft of the time. One of these early designs, the Vickers ‘Gunbus’ proved it was more than just an awkward ‘kite’, and it became one of the first successful designs of the war.

By Seth Marshall

                The first year of the World War I was a tremendous learning experience for all of the militaries involved in terms of aviation. Before the war began, aircraft were seen primarily as platforms for reconnaissance- early military aircraft were armed with cameras, not with machine guns and bombs. Nonetheless, within a short time, pilots and observers began carrying with them pistols and rifles with the intention of shooting down other observation aircraft. However, even before the war began, the potential for use of aircraft in combat was being explored. Bombs were first dropped from aircraft during the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913. Around the same time, aircraft designers began considering the possibility of creating aircraft specifically intended to destroy other aircraft.

                The first aircraft to be specifically designed for aerial combat was the Vickers F.B.5 ‘Gunbus’. In 1912, the British Admiralty issued an order for a scout aircraft armed with a machine gun. The Vickers firm, still new to aircraft design at the time, came up with a new prototype designated the E.F.B.1- “Experimental Flying Biplane 1”. Designed by Archibald Lowe, the first prototype, nicknamed ‘The Destroyer’, was flimsy and ungainly in appearance, with staggered unequal-span wings. It was equipped with a V-8 Wolseley engine which produced a measly 80-horsepower, and armed with a single 7.7mm machine gun. ‘The Destroyer’ was unveiled during the 1913 Olympia air show in London, but crashed on its initial flight because the machine gun, mounted in the nose, disrupted the center of gravity.[1][2]

 A plan view of the Vickers F.B.5 Gunbus. Photo source: Wikipedia.

A plan view of the Vickers F.B.5 Gunbus. Photo source: Wikipedia.

                Vickers was not dissuaded by the failure of their first fighter design. A series of experimental pusher-type aircraft followed the E.F.B.1- these aircraft featured the pilot and observer/gunner in seats located in front of the engine; the engine itself was mounted facing the rear of the aircraft. The second plane, the E.F.B.2, also crashed. The third design, the E.F.B.3, ditched the wing-warping controls used in the previous two designs in favor of ailerons, flaps which control the roll-rate of flight. This version was more successful, and the Admiralty ordered six aircraft in late 1913.[3] Finally, in the first half of 1914, the F.B.5 was designed. The F.B.5 was given a more powerful engine, a 100-horsepower Gnome rotary engine. Additionally, the tail structure was redesigned to with several beams forming a V-shape, with the rudder mounted at the apex of the V-shape. [4]

 The production version of the Vickers Gunbus, showing its flexible machine gun mount in the nose. Photo: Wikipedia. 

The production version of the Vickers Gunbus, showing its flexible machine gun mount in the nose. Photo: Wikipedia. 

                The new aircraft first flew on July 17, 1914, just weeks before the war broke out.[5] Weighing just over 2,000lbs, the F.B.5 was capable of only reaching a top speed of 70 mph, slow even by the standards of the day. The F.B.5 had a maximum ceiling of 9,000 feet. In November, the first production F.B.5 aircraft began reaching Royal Flying Corps (RFC) units- the first squadron to receive the new aircraft was No. 6 Squadron. As was common for the time, the F.B.5 equipped squadrons piecemeal initially- most RFC squadrons flew a motley of aircraft during the first months of the war. It would not be until 1915 that F.B.5’s would be committed to action over the Continent. The first squadron to solely operate the F.B.5 was No. 11 Squadron, formed in February 1915 with the specific purpose of destroying other aircraft. In July, the squadron moved to an aerodrome near a racetrack at St. Omer, France. The nickname “Gunbus” was acquired through the escort duties that the type performed for unarmed reconnaissance planes.[6] No. 11 Squadron thus had the distinction of becoming the first fighter squadron in history.

  The Gunbus , painting by Frank Wooten. 

The Gunbus, painting by Frank Wooten. 

                The operational life of the F.B.5 Gunbus was relatively short. The type’s slow speed, sluggish rate of climb, and mediocre ceiling meant that it was quickly eclipsed by newer aircraft types on both sides. Additionally, numerous problems were encountered with the Gunbus’ engine, which was considered unreliable. Maurice LeBlanc-Smith later recalled:

“… the Vickers seemed a more robust aircraft, but my chief recollection, apart from the smell of castor oil that blew into our faces and probably helped to keep us fit, was the unreliability of the 100hp Gnome engine. One great fault was the breakdown of the expanding piston ring, shaped like an L… It frequently would not stand up to the heat and would buckle or break, with consequent loss of power…”[7]

Beginning in late 1915, the introduction of the German Fokker Eindekker effectively signaled the end of the operational life of the Gunbus. The Eindekker was faster and far more maneuverable- the Gunbus couldn’t even dive away for safety. As a result, by early 1916, the F.B.5 had been withdrawn from frontline service.[8] Before it was phased out, the F.B.5 did have a moment of glory. On November 7, 1915, an F.B.5 from No. 11 Squadron, crewed by pilot Second Lieutenant Gilbert Stuart Martin and gunner First Class Air Mechanic T.H. Donald, shot down a German Aviatik and were then themselves brought down by ground fire. However, both crew were able to repair the Gunbus, take off, and return to base. Both were later awarded the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest military honor.[9] Nonetheless, the Gunbus’ operational days were numbered. By mid-1916, the F.B.5 had been relegated to the role of trainer. An improved version of the F.B.5, the F.B.9, was built in some numbers, but was generally unsuccessful.

 A Gunbus is attacked by a Fokker Eindecker- by late 1915, increasing numbers of Eindeckers had rendered the Gunbus design hopelessly obsolete. Photo source: HiPM Models.

A Gunbus is attacked by a Fokker Eindecker- by late 1915, increasing numbers of Eindeckers had rendered the Gunbus design hopelessly obsolete. Photo source: HiPM Models.

                Ultimatley, 125 F.B.5s were built by Vickers and delivered to the RFC- 109 of these served in the BEF. Another 75 aircraft were built under license in France by Societe Anonym Darracq between 1915-1916. Finally, 12 examples were built by the Danish company Tojhusvasrksted during 1917-1918.[10] Today, no original examples of the F.B.5 survive. Several replicas exist, including one built in the 1960s that flew for a number of years in the UK. While the Gunbus had a relatively short operational life, it was an important step in military aviation design as the first purpose-built fighter aircraft. Additionally, the design of the F.B.5 informed later successful pusher-type aircraft designs, including the Royal Aircraft Factory F.E.2b two-seater and Airco D.H.2 single-seater fighters, both of which were important to eliminating the advantage that the Luftstreitskrafte had gained with the Fokker Eindekker. Though not a instrumental aircraft, the F.B.5 was an important stepping stone of First World War aviation.

 

 The sole replica Vickers Gunbus, which is currently on display in the Hendon RAF Museum. Photo source: Flikr.

The sole replica Vickers Gunbus, which is currently on display in the Hendon RAF Museum. Photo source: Flikr.

 

Sources

1.       Pfeiffer, Greg. “Vickers Gunbus.” Old British Guns, 16 May 2010, oldbritishguns.com/the-vickers-gunbus. https://oldbritishguns.com/the-vickers-gunbus  16 APR 2018

2.       “Vickers F.B.5 'Gunbus', Royal Air Force Museum – the First 'Fighting Squadron'.” Shortfinals's Blog, 29 Mar. 2015, shortfinals.wordpress.com/2013/9/17/vickers-f-b-5-gunbus-royal-air-force-museum-the-first-fighting-squadron. https://shortfinals.wordpress.com/2013/9/17/vickers-f-b-5-gunbus-royal-air-force-museum-the-first-fighting-squadron/ 16 APR 2018

3.       “Vickers FB5.” Tangmere Musseum, Tangmere Military Aviation Museum, May 2014, www.tangmere-museum.org.uk/aircraft-month/vickers-fb5. 16 APR 2018

4.       “Vickers F.B.5 Gunbus.” Vickers F.B.5 Gunbus - Fighter, www.aviastar.org/air/england/vickers_fb-5.php. 16 APR 2018

 

 

[1] https://oldbritishguns.com/the-vickers-gunbus 16 April 2018

[2] https://shortfinals.wordpress.com/2013/9/17/vickers-f-b-5-gunbus-royal-air-force-museum-the-first-fighting-squadron 16 April 16, 2018

[3] https://oldbritishguns.com/the-vickers-gunbus 16 April 2018

[4] https://shortfinals.wordpress.com/2013/9/17/vickers-f-b-5-gunbus-royal-air-force-museum-the-first-fighting-squadron

[5] http://www.tangmere-museum.org.uk/aircraft-month/vickers-fb5

[6] https://shortfinals.wordpress.com/2013/9/17/vickers-f-b-5-gunbus-royal-air-force-museum-the-first-fighting-squadron

[7] Dog-Fight: Aerial Tactics of the Aces of World War I, p. 21-22

[8] http://www.tangmere-museum.org.uk/aircraft-month/vickers-fb5

[9] http://www.tangmere-museum.org.uk/aircraft-month/vickers-fb5

[10] http://www.aviastar.org/air/england/vickers_fb-5.php