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Republic P-47 Thunderbolt

The Republic P-47 Thunderbolt was arguably the most important Army Air Forces fighter during World War II. Produced in greater numbers than any other fighter, the P-47, affectionately known as the "Jug," underwent continual modification and improvement during the war as its role expanded to include not only bomber escort but also tactical strafing and bombing.

P-47 Thunderbolt just after take-off from a XIX TAC airfield, during WW II
P-47 Thunderbolt just after take-off from a XIX TAC airfield, during WW II.

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Republic P-47 Thunderbolt in World War II

The P-47 saw action in virtually every theater in WWII. The 8th Air Force used them extensively through 1943 in Europe as a long-range escort fighter until the P-51 Mustang, with its greater range, took over that role. The P-47D, with all its improvements, proved ideal for ground attacks, becoming the key fighter-bomber in the 9th Air Force and 12th Air Force.

In Asia, fighter groups in the 5th Air Force flew the P-47D against Japanese air and ground forces in New Guinea and the Philippines in 1943 and 1944. As the Allies began their assaults on the Japanese mainland, the long-range P-47N provided escort for B-29 Superfortresses in the 7th Air Force, and at the end of the war, in the 20th Air Force.

The Thunderbolt claimed 3,752 air-to-air kills during the war, with 3,499 lost in combat.

Republic P-47 Thunderbolt Models and Production History

The P-47 was developed by Alexander de Seversky and Alexander Kartveli in the 1930s. The original design was for a small, lightweight interceptor with an inline engine. However, changes to the requirements for the aircraft resulted in the XP-47B prototype, which with testing and revision became the P-47.

A total of 15,683 P-47s were built by the Republic Aviation Corporation, from mid-1942, when the fighter entered service, to December 1945, when production halted. The most important models of the P-47 were:

Model P-47B

The P-47B was the first Thunderbolt to enter service, in the spring of 1942. A total of 171 planes were completed and delivered in a period of six months, but were limited to use in training due to technical issues. The 56th Fighter Group got most of the P-47Bs, using them for training pilots who would ultimately fight overseas in later versions of the Thunderbolt.

Model P-47C

The P-47C was delivered starting in September 1942. A total of 602 aircraft were built, and all were put into operational service. The P-47C was the first American fighter to do battle in Europe with the U.S. Army Air Corps, in April 1943. (Note: The P-47C was the first fighter used as part of an American unit; the Grumman F4F Wildcat flew with the RAF in 1940; other US planes flew with other Allies before the US entry.) A Double Wasp radial engine powered the P-47C, with the assistance of a water-injection system. The tank for this system required the fuselage to be lengthened to 36 ft. 1.25 in., which in turn allowed for the addition of a centerline hardpoint for a drop tank. The P-47C also received a vertical mast radio instead of the forward-raked radio in the P-47B.

Model P-47D

The P-47D is the version that did the most, and is the model that best represents the P-47 Thunderbolt. The P-47D was visibly improved with its "bubble-top" canopy, giving the pilot a much better view. Pilots nicknamed these P-47s as "Superbolts." Other improvements over the course of its service included more efficient propeller design, larger internal fuel tanks, wing mounts for bombs or disposable fuel tanks, and in late models, more wing mounts. Engine water injection provided more efficient cooling for greater emergency power. Additional armor protected pilots, and maximum ammunition capacity was increased from 267 to 425 rounds per gun. Republic started delivery in October 1941, and the aircraft first flew in combat in April 1943. A total of 12,603 P-47Ds were built, with some supplied to the USSR, Brazil, Britain, France, and Mexico.

Model P-47G

The P-47G was the Curtiss-built version of the Thunderbolt, of which 60 conformed to the P-47C standard, and 294 to the P-47D standard.

Model P-47M

The P-47M played a unique role in the European theater. It was a "sprint" P-47, designed to chase and shoot down German jet aircraft and V-1 flying bombs. It had a R-2800-57(C) radial engine with a CH-5 turbocharger. A total of 130 were manufactured, and could achieve speeds of 470 mph. All of these aircraft were delivered to the 56th Fighter Group, which was able to shoot down four German jets.

Model P-47N

The P-47N was the last version of the Thunderbolt. Similar to the P-47M, it was the largest and heaviest of all the P-47s. It was designed for operation in the Pacific theater, with emphasis given to the maximum possible range. The P-47N had strengthened main landing gear and a longer wingspan than the P-47M. The wings held two fuel tanks, and a supplemental fuel tank could be attached to the bottom of the fuselage, along with two wing-mounted drop tanks. The P-47N's range was 2,350 miles, useful for escorting bombers on raids against the Japanese mainland. A total of 1,816 were built.

Republic P-47 Thunderbolt Characteristics

ArmamentEight .50 Browning MG53-2 fixed, forward-firing machine guns
Bomb load2,5000 lbs. maximum carried on three hardpoints; combination of bombs or up to ten 5-in. HVAR air-to-surface rockets
EngineOne Pratt & Whitney R-2800-59 2,430 hp radial piston engine
Maximum speed433 mph
Cruising speed350 mph
Range1,000 miles with drop tanks
Ceiling42,000 ft.
Span40 ft. 9 in.
Length36 ft. 2 in.
Height14 ft. 8 in.
Weight13,5000 lbs. under normal load; 10,700 empty; 17,500 lbs. maximum takeoff load

Note: Characteristics vary slightly with the P-47 Thunderbolt variant, manufacturing site, and date.

P-47 in flight, Schriever AFB photo
P-47 in flight, Schriever AFB photo.

P-47 Thunderbolt flies its first combat mission, a sweep over Western Europe during WW II
P-47 Thunderbolt flies its first combat mission, a sweep over Western Europe during WW II.

P-47 in flight with belly tank attached and fragmentation bombs on the wings. Signiture on photo from P-47s pilot Edwin J. Chick Chickering
P-47 in flight with belly tank attached and fragmentation bombs on the wings. Signiture on photo from P-47's pilot Edwin J. "Chick" Chickering.

P-47 Thunderbolt on the ground
P-47 Thunderbolt on the ground.

P-47 Thunderbolts in formation
P-47 Thunderbolts in formation.

P-47 Thunderbolt showing wing-mounted armament
P-47 Thunderbolt showing wing-mounted armament.

Recommended Books about the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt

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