Republic P-47 Thunderbolt
The good ol’ Republic P-47 Thunderbolt was one of the most stalwart airplanes on the Allied side during WWII. This fighter-bomber entered service in November 1942. Fully loaded with rockets and bombs could tip the scales at almost 8,000 pounds. That meant that it carried by itself about half the payload of the B-17 bomber.
With over 15,000 made during the war the plane saw service with not only the United States, but in the forces of Britain, France, Russia and were piloted by pilots from Mexico and Brazil. One even found its way into the service of the German Luftwaffe! (It was captured after the pilot was forced to make an emergency landing behind German lines.) When the war ended they found service with the Chinese Nationalist forces in Taiwan.
She was heavier than many of planes of the war but was more than able to match their speeds. The cockpit was very large and comfortable for the pilots and the planes were very hard to kill. They had a very good safety record and were truly a favorite among the best pilots. In fact, the P-47 was so effective that in a single two-year period the plane was responsible for downing almost 4,000 enemy aircraft, 9,000 trains, 86,000 trucks, and 6,000 armored vehicles.
While the P-47 was in service among several nations well into the 1960’s its ongoing legacy can be found in the A-10 tank buster. Though mostly known by the loving moniker “warthog” its official name is the Thunderbolt II and like its namesake is an integral part of our military identity.
Flying the inestimable P40 Thunderbolt, the 25th Fighter Squadron was formed at Hamilton Field California in January 1941. A year later in January of 1942, this unit became one of the first deployed to fight the Japanese in the.
After a stop in Melbourne Australia, the unit continued to Karachi, India where it began its combat operations. In September it flew its first escort mission. Eventually, they moved to Assam, India, where the unit picked up the name “Assam Draggins”.
Its primary mission was to disrupt that Japanese in Burma. In February 1943 it carried out its most important mission. With their P40s modified to carry 1,000 pond bombs, they stood in for a B25 squadron. They managed to halt a major Japanese advance.
Over the course of World War II, this unit saw more combat than any other fighter squadron and was finally deactivated in December 1945. Only to be called back into service during the Korean conflict where it flew out of, ironically enough, its base in Japan.
For more on the history of this incredible air unit and its further adventures, click here.
VF-103 and the Jolly Rogers
The Jolly Roger (Skull and Crossbones) that you see above is emblazoned on the tail of an F-14 Tomcat. It has graced the aircraft of several different US Naval squadrons. In this case, it is part of VF-103 and has quite a history. It didn’t start as the Jolly Rogers, but it flies the name proudly today.
The squadron designated VF-103 (known as the Sluggers) was put together on May 1, 1952. At the time they flew the FG-1D Corsair and was part of Carrier group CVG-10. The squadron was stationed in the Mediterranean. In 1957 the squadron switched to the F8U-1 Crusader, a supersonic jet, a first for the squadron.
In 1958 during the Lebanon crisis (yeah, that’s been going on for a while) the USS Forrestal and VF-103 were dispatched to the region. They arrived after the crisis abated. After switching plane models several times in the early 1960’s they finally settled on the F-4B Phantom II. The plane that would make up the squadron until 1980.
During the height of the Vietnam War, VF-103 took part in Operation Linebacker. In 1972 one of the pilots of the squadron shot down a Russian MiG 21 with an air to air missile during a night flight. The first only (so far) MiG kill for the US Navy.
VF-103 would be one of the last air squadrons to transition to the legendary F-14 Tomcat in 1983. During that decade the squadron would be involved in several operations. It would be on the front line of Cold War. With the coming of the Gulf War in 1991, VF-103 flew escort for the bomber groups, did reconnaissance and bomb assessment missions.
The Jolly Rogers
All that brought us to this. In 1995 VF-84, a sister squadron that was known as the Jolly Rogers and used the Skull and Crossbones insignia was disbanded. Rather than see the name and insignia leave the Navy, VF-103 did away with their Slugger moniker and adopted the name Jolly Rogers and the infamous insignia. They would go on to take part in the Kosovo conflict and on into Operation Iraqi Freedom. Finally, they gave up the F-14 and transitioned to the F/A-18. In 2016 the Jolly Rogers were actively engaging with the ISIS forces in Iraq and Syria.
To this day the Skull and Bones fly with the Jolly Rogers where ever they are needed.
The Original Thunderbolt
Yes, we call the A-10 the Warthog, but that’s just a pet name. Officially it is the A-10 Thunderbolt II. The plane in the photo is its original namesake. The P47 Thunderbolt which was one of the largest and heaviest single-engine fighter planes that ever got off the ground.
How heavy? Well, put it like this. Fully loaded a single P47 could carry almost half of what the bigger B-17 could carry as far as the ordinance. That’s almost 2,500 pounds of explosive goodness. And versatile! She could serve as short to medium range escort for the bombers, was very effective at high altitude air to air and excelled at the ground attack role.
Though a very large part of US military in WWII it was used by France, Russia, Britain, Mexico, and Brazil! It sure did get around. With over 15,000 units manufactured during the war, it is no wonder that it found so many homes.
How effective was the Thunderbolt in WWII? Estimates credit the numerous P47 squadrons with the destruction of 86,000 German railway cars, 9,000 locomotives, 6,000 armored fighting vehicles, and 68,000 trucks. That does not count the enemy aircraft or infantry that found itself on the business end of its eight Browning .50 cal machine guns, bombs and possibly ten rockets. She was a tank with wings.
The best story about the P47 though has to be its nickname, the “Jug”. Apparently when it first sent to Britain its profile bore a striking resemblance to the milk jugs in use at the time. So the name Jug stuck. What do you think? Better or worse than Warthog?
PBY-5A Catalina The Eye in the Sky
Being a flying boat has some advantages and during WWII the PBY-5A Catalina put them to good use. She was versatile and served a number of roles. This model does a good job of showing her off but they really need to be seen in person to be appreciated.
Around 3,300 were built for the war and they served in almost every theater. She was first introduced in 1936 and remained in service with the US Navy until 1957 but the Brazilian navy kept them in service until 1979. Canada, Great Britain, Australia, and even the Soviet Union all used them during their lifetime. Today some still fly and act as firefighting platforms all over the world.
The Catalina had a crew of ten and had two 1,200 horsepower engines. She could reach 195 miles per hour and had a range of about 2,520 miles. Armed with machine guns and capable of carrying 4,000lbs of bombs she could always manage to hold her own.
Her biggest role was as a submarine hunter in the Pacific as well as the Atlantic theater. They would escort convoys and when called upon would take the fight straight to the enemy subs. As patrol craft, few planes are in her league. They helped the Royal Navy track the Bismark in 1941, leading the sinking of the massive ship. The helped spoil a surprise Japanese landing in Malaya on December 7, 1941, and most notably took part in the Battle of Midway, spotting the location of the Japanese carriers in the early hours of the battle. Scenes like these were repeated many times during the war where the Catalina’s always seemed to be on point.
AH-1 Cobra: Small Package, Big Punch
Above is a decommissioned version of the AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter. One of the workhorses of the Vietnam War. From 1967 when it first entered service until 1973 over 1,000 of these saw service. Over that time they accumulated over 1 million hours of operational time.
Their main mission was close fire support of the infantry. They also served as escorts for the troop helicopters and as highly mobile rocket artillery platforms. Basically, they did whatever was needed. During the war, almost 300 were lost due to combat and other incidents.
The Cobra comes in a number of variants that served many different roles and as such. They have seen a lot of action. Starting in Vietnam, then the invasion of Grenada in 1983 and Panama in 1989. The 1991 Gulf War saw the AH-1 and its variants in action. In they were on the scene in Somalia and again later in 1994 during the armed intervention in Haiti.
In 1999 the US Army officially pulled the AH-1 from active service. They found a home though with NATO and other allies. Over the years they have served a vital role for the US Forest Service, not as gunships, but as firefighting equipment. The AH-1W SuperCobra and AH-1Z Viper still are used by the US Marine Corps.
The AH-1G HueyCobra, the most common one in Vietnam had a maximum speed of 171mph and an effective range of 357 miles. For armament, it depended on the job but could include: 2 7.62 mm miniguns, 2 M129 grenade launchers, rocket pods, and additional minigun pods. Basically, for a small chopper, it packed a heck of a punch.
The above map is a section of a map of Pearl Harbor that one of the Japanese pilots carried. If you look close it shows where the ships were expected to be. Also the designated targets for each Japanese squadron. It is an interesting look at such a seminal historic event. Albeit through a lens different from what we normally see.
Pearl Harbor will always have a special place in our national psyche. The general public had no idea that relations with Japan had degraded so far. Most eyes were focused towards Europe and the rise of Germany. The government, however, knew that Japan was possibly an issue.
Jumping on the bandwagon that we “knew” Pearl Harbor was going to be attacked is sort of silly and actually immaterial. Once Japan invaded China the US took a course of action that made war almost unavoidable. On June 24th, 1941 President Roosevelt froze all Japanese assets in the US. With international cooperation throughout the world, Japan’s access to oil was cut off. Its current reserves were set to last only about three years, half that if it continued to expand its war machine.
The decision was made by their high command to strike out and take the resources they needed from the Dutch East Indies, but they knew the US would not sit idly by and allow it. They decided that the best course of action was to attack the US fleet in Pearl Harbor with the goal of landing such a devastating blow that the US would not have time to recover before the resources were secured, and by then the Japanese hoped to secure a peace treaty without fighting the US. They really underestimated the United States, a mistake that many enemies have made over the years.
Barter Kit, For When Things Go Bad
So, you are a US Navy pilot and you find yourself in the unenviable position of having to bail out over enemy territory. Maybe you were shot down, maybe you had mechanical issues, either way, you are about to be in deep trouble.
Luckily when you were preparing for your mission you put on your flight suit which contained a number of compartments. In those compartments are the survival tools that you may need in exactly this situation. Besides a first aid kit and such you have your handy, dandy Barter Kit.
The Barter kit was a small molded rubber case which measures 5 1/2″ by 4″. When opened there are 5 form fitted compartments. Two gold rings, marked as being 100% gold. A small charm with the image of a fish, several links of gold chain and the real beauty, a Swiss made 21 jewel Milus Instant Date watch with a band.
No, this was not a pilot’s early retirement present. In fact, the purpose was to give the downed pilots something of value to trade to either civilian. Or possibly even enemy soldiers to help them get back to their lines and to safety.
The kit above was a variation that was used in the South East Asia theater during the war. Another version used in the Atlantic had three gold rings and a number of gold coins.
If you were down and found yourself on the wrong side of the line, this little kit could very well be the difference between life and death.
To B-1B or not to B-1B
The above is the B-1B Lancer and for a good chunk of the later Cold War this was to be one of the primary aircraft that would deliver nuclear payloads, should it ever be needed.
Originally conceived in the 50’s and into the 60’s the idea was to create a replacement for the venerable B-52 that would have extended range and supersonic capabilities. The first of the prototypes, the B-1A, flew on December 23, 1974. Originally slated to cost in the area of $40 million, By 1975 the projected cost had ballooned to over $70 million per aircraft.
By the time that Jimmy Carter took over the presidency, this B-1 program, and several others were on the chopping block because of their expense and the feeling that would be no better in payload or penetration of enemy airspace than the B-52. Carter killed the program and decided to focus instead on ICBMs and “modernizing” the current B-52 fleet.
Upon taking office in 1981 President Reagan decided that the B-1 could fulfill a designated role. He ordered 100 of the planes to be constructed. The B-1B officially joined the US armory on October 1st, 1986.
It has a max airspeed of Mach 1.5 at high altitude and Mach 0.92 at low altitude. With a combat radius of almost three thousand miles. The crew of four would be able to deploy over 125,000 pounds of ordinance on a given target. Conventional as well as nuclear. The most amazing thing? With potential upgrades and increased capabilities, the B-1B could potentially be in services until 2038 or later!
Of course, the photo above is a model of the unit.
The F-4 Phantom
The F-4 Phantom is one of the most iconic military airplanes in American history. As much as the Huey is seen as a symbol of the Vietnam War, the Phantom has to run a close second.
During the war, it served a number of roles, from the main air superiority fighter to ground attack and close support. Even later in the war, it became an important reconnaissance tool also. Not bad.
It first flew in May 1958 and was introduced into front-line service in 1960. It was manufactured until 1981 and in total, more than 5,000 found their way into service. Officially retired in 1996 by the US military it saw use in foreign services until 2013 (Germany).
Oddly enough it is not in a military role that it has been the most impressive. During the 1960’s, as NASA was working on the technology to take a man to the moon. They needed an aircraft that could be used to film the test launches and provide data to the designers. The F-4 was the only airplane that could keep up. So armed with cameras under its wings, this warbird was instrumental to the space program.
Of course, some would argue that the five years that is served as the primary platform for the US Navy’s Blue Angles (1969-1974) ranks up there as its coolest moment.
The plane in the picture is currently undergoing restoration at the Air Zoo in Kalamazoo, MI. It is sort of strange to see such a majestic machine with its guts torn out and sort of empty. It helps to know that after so many years of service though it is somewhere they will take care of it.