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Republic P-47 Thunderbolt

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P-47, One of WWII's Heaviest Fighters


P-47 Thunderbolt - American fighter plane

P-47N Thunderbolts flying in formation. USAAF photo

Although it originated from a request for a lightweight interceptor, the need for greater fighter performance, heavy armor, more armament, and self-sealing fuel tanks, lead to it becoming one of the heaviest fighters of the war. When the five ton (empty weight) P-47 Thunderbolt fighter arrived in England in late 1942, RAF pilots shook their heads and solemnly told the American pilots that they were going to die.


Thunderbolt Produced in Great Numbers

But above 30,000 feet the super turbocharged plane was amazingly nimble. Republic's P-47 Thunderbolt (the Jug) become one of the best all around fighters of WWII and was produced in greater numbers than any other American fighter of the war. Enemy pilots discovered that they could not out-dive a Thunderbolt to escape, and with its eight .50 caliber machine guns, most enemy aircraft rapidly disintegrated upon being hit with such heavy firepower.


“In the European Theater alone, from D-Day... to VE Day..., the Thunderbolt was credited with destroying 9,000 locomotives, 86,000 railway wagons, and 6,000 armored vehicles. In all theaters of war, its pilots claimed destruction of 3,752 enemy aircraft in the air and a further 3,315 on the ground,” Aircraft of World War II. Robert Jackson (p197).


Armament for the P-47

Armament for the P-47 Thunderbolt included six to eight .50 caliber (0.5 inch) machine guns in the wings, and some versions could up to 2,4000 pounds of bombs or rockets. Numerous variants were built and the P-47 was continuously upgraded, seeing improvements such as the bubble canopy, a small dorsal fin fillet to improve stability, drop tanks, and eventually longer wings which were fitted with four additional 50 gallon fuel cells for the late model long range P-47N variant.


A Formidable Fighter


Exhause vents on P-47 Thunderbolt

Note side vent near insignia. USAAF photo.


P-47 First Used as Fighter Escort

It was first used as a fighter escort for B-17s and B-24s by the 8th Army Air Force, which was responsible for the daylight bombing over Germany. Until supplanted by the P-51 Mustang, the P-47 Thunderbolt was the top scoring American fighter plane in Europe. When it became apparent that the P-51 Merlin Powered Mustang with drop tanks had superior range to any other Allied fighter, the P-51s were preferentially assigned to the 8th AF for long range bomber escort duties.


New Role for Thunderbolt - Ground Attack Aircraft and Dive-bomber

The Thunderbolts, conversely, were transferred to the 9th Army Air Force which was involved more with medium range bombers and ground support attacts. The exception was the 56th fighter group (Zemke's Wolfpack) in the 8th Air Force, which kept their Thunderbolts until the end of the war. The 56th Fighter Group is credited with destroying more aircraft than any other unit in the 8th Air Force. It's motto was Cave Tonitr (Beware the Thunderbolt).


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The Thunderbolt excelled in its new role as a ground attack aircraft and dive-bomber. Sturdy and dependable, it proved able to survive substantial damage in combat. In Italy and thereafter, it was in very high demand for that role, as well as in the invasion of Western Europe.


After its highly effective use by the USAAF and Allied air forces during the Second World War it continued service with the US Air Nation Guard until the early 1950s.


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* P-47 Thunderbolt facts

Category Fighter
Manufacturer Republic Aviation
Introduced 1942
Used in
WWII by
United States Army Air Force
Number built 15,660
Cruising speed 350 mph
Max. speed 433 mph
Altitude 40,000 feet service ceiling
Range

Approximately 1,100 miles with drop tanks
* Numbers are approximate