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.
The IJN Kongo
Above is a model of the IJN Kongo one of the main battleships of the Imperial Japanese fleet during WWII. It was constructed in 1913 and had a total displacement of about 36,000 tons. She had a max speed of about 30 knots and had a main armament of 8 14″ guns as well as a smaller number of 6in and 5in guns. She was a beast. One of the most amazing aspects of the Kongo was that it was actually built by Vickers in England having been designed by Sir George Thurston. Yep, one of the main Japanese ships was built by England, someone kicked themselves thirty some years later.
Of course, it was not as if the Japanese were not able to build capital ships of its size, they had already built several but were very interested in finding out how the British were doing it. So they ordered one and when is received used as a template for three sister ships.
Among the battles she participated in during her career are:
Battle of Midway
Invasion of the Aleutian Islands
The Philippine Sea
Battle of Samar
The old girl got around and was a major thorn in the side of the US Navy, but they finally got their revenge on November 16, 1944, when she was attacked by the submarine U.S.S Sealion in the Formosa Strait. Kongo took two torpedoes to the port side which caused flooding in her boiler rooms. Still able to maintain speed the ship limped along until finally, the damage was just too great. The order was finally given to abandon ship.
All things considered a fairly good career for the ship that’s name translates to “invincible”.
It has been well established that as part of our journey through American Military History the space program falls under our purview. There are few things that exemplary the accomplishments of the program like moon rocks. Rocks that were brought back to Earth from the moon. How cool is that?
Now for the really cool part. Moon rocks that are currently on the Earth can be traced to one of three sources. Rocks that were brought back purposefully but the Apollo missions. Rocks that were brought back by the Soviet unmanned probes of the 70’s. And the ones that came to Earth the hard way as meteorites after being ejected from the surface of the Moon.
Six Apollo mission brought back over 800 pounds of rocks. These rocks are generally considered priceless and while the majority of them are in secured facilities some have found their way out to the collectors market and of course in museums around the world. In fact, in 1970 President Nixon distributed samples as goodwill gifts to all fifty states as well as 135 countries.
So how much is priceless? Well, first of all, if you had any of the real samples in your collection, your name is more than likely on a list somewhere. In 1993 three small fragments from the Soviet collections that weighed approximately 0.2g sold for $442,500. What is that per pound? No idea, that kind of math is beyond me. Suffice to say their value is amazing but even more than their monetary value is the value as a trophy. A trophy of what we can accomplish. We went to the Moon and brought something back. Think about that the next time you go out for milk.
The Rising Sun
It is known by several names but the most widely used is Hinomaru, “circle of the sun”. Like many flags through history, it has seen its share of good and bad. This flag has represented Japan since 1870. Even before that the sun motif was used to represent Japan and the history of the Japanese people. During WWII it became a symbol of empire and domination. Since the end of the war, it has become a symbol of a past that many would soon forget.
It has been a long road since the war ended. Mainly among the Japanese themselves who turned away from their militaristic past and have tried to distance themselves from it. For a period the flag was seldom used, almost hidden from sight but once Japan sought to rejoin the world it could no longer be hidden raising the question on the validity of having such a symbol representing their nation.
Protests at home and abroad have sought the removal of the flag for generations now. The issues of displaying it in their schools have divided the people. In many places across the country, it is never seen flying, even on national holidays. Yet there are many that see it as a symbol of pride and strength, and while many wrongs were done under it they question the validity of attempting to erase the history that it represents.
In August 1999 the Diet, Japan’s ruling body, officially passed legislation making the Hinomaru the official national flag of Japan. It would seem that it was decided that the best way to avoid repeating the past is to never forget it.
The Philippine Campaign 1899-1913
In 1898 during the Spanish-American War, the United States liberated the Philippines from the Spanish. Unfortunately, many Filipinos were not any happier to be under American control than Spanish control. Even after the war with the Spanish ended the war in the islands continued. For three years, until July 1902 the United States and the Philippines remained in a state of war. Even an official peace did not stop the fighting. Rebel factions continued to fight the US until June of 1913. Yep, what started in 1898 continued until 1913. This particular conflict had a huge effect on our military and policies.
First and foremost it was during this conflict, that was primarily a guerrilla war against unconventional forces, that the book was written on how to deal with this sort of war. In fact, the original blueprint for dealing with the unconventional tactics of the Viet Cong, came from the lessons learned during this war.
So how did one get this ribbon?
The following is from the USmilitary.about.com Page:
The Philippine Campaign Medal was awarded for military service in the Philippine Islands under any of the following conditions indicated in AR 600-8-22, between the dates 4 February 1899 and 31 December 1913:
- Ashore between 4 February 1899 and 4 July 1902.
- Ashore in the Department of Mindanao between 4 Feb 1899, and 31 Dec 1, 1904.
- Against the Pulajanes on Leyte between 20 July 1906 and 30 June 1907, or on Samar between 2 August 1904, and 30 June 1907.
With any of the following expeditions:
- Pala on Jolo between April and May 1905.
- Datu Ali on Mindanao in October 1905.
- Against hostile Moros on Mount Bud-Dajo, Jolo, in March 1906.
- Against hostile Moros on Mount Bagsac, Jolo, between January and July 1913.
- Fighting hostile Moros on Mindanao or Jolo between 1910 and 1913.
- Any action in which U.S. troops were killed or wounded between 4 February 1899, and 31 December 1913.
Considering that the Spanish-American war is barely remembered today, it is not a surprise that this conflict gets overlooked. It also doesn’t help that the dates of when it ended are up for discussion. Casualties are hard to quantify because of this also. For the US it was somewhere around 10,000 killed and wounded. For the Filipino’s between 12 and 20,000 killed and wounded with civilian casualties estimated at around 200,000 thousand.
That medal above represents a lot of lives in a forgotten conflict.
The Berlin Airlift
The Berlin Airlift was one of the first events of the burgeoning Cold War. It saw the Western powers facing off against their former ally the Soviet Union. The picture above depicts diorama of the event, but let’s look at it a little more.
At the end of WWII Germany was divided into several occupation zones split between the US, The United Kingdom, and The Soviet Union. The split Berlin four ways between the US, UK, France and Soviet Union. The question of how to rebuild and reunify Germany became a political hot topic. No one could quite agree and Berlin was at the center of the argument. Sitting deep within the Soviet occupation zone the city was almost an island unto itself.
In January 1947 the US and UK merged their German occupation zones.,This move that caused great discomfort to the Soviets. By 1948 the Western powers had taken steps to grant their occupied section of Germany and Berlin statehood. It was to serve as the primary bulwark against Communist expansion into West Europe. The Soviets responded in kind within their occupation zone. Germany officially became split in two. As part of this and in an attempt to gain control of the city, the Soviets implemented a blockade of the Western part of the city blocking all major, road, rail and canal links to the outside.
Neither side wanted war, but the people of West Berlin needed supplies. As an answer, the US and UK opted to fly supplies in through an air corridor that was agreed upon at the end of the war. They gambled that the Soviets would not be willing to go to war. During the height of the crisis that ran from June 1948 to May 1949 the West was able to land almost one supply plane every 45 seconds in one of the major airports and were also able to put in place a counter-blockade of East Berlin, these things combined caused the Soviets to lower the blockade, but also solid split Europe for the better part of fifty years.