Tricks of the Trade
After cutting my teeth in a P- 40 Warhawk for
10 hours and finding out firsthand what the
deadly combination of a long nose and a powerful engine could do on takeoff if you didn’t keep
enough right rudder in to counter the effects of
torque, I was sent Bradley Field, Connecticut, to
meet the airplane of my dreams: the Republic P- 47
Thunderbolt. With a gross weight of more than
seven tons, the P- 47 was a behemoth. Powered
by a Pratt & Whitney R-2800 radial engine, the
Thunderbolt could zoom to 40,000 feet and cruise
along at 360mph. Ironically, I never went above
18,000 feet in combat as a majority of my missions were down on the deck.
The P- 47 was rock solid in the air, especially in
a dive; it dove like a grand piano. Our stateside
instructors warned us about the effects of compressibility in a dive. Frozen controls were followed by an uncontrollable dive. We were taught
that our only option was to wait until we passed
through 15,000, when the shock waves would disappear in denser air.
Low-level navigation also took some getting
use to, especially in a fighter that moves quickly
over the ground. Thankfully, all of our practice
was back in the states where we controlled the
skies—unless, of course, we were jumped by some
hotshot Marines in their F4U Corsairs. The Corsair could outclimb and outturn us, but we could
always outroll them.
As the training hours ticked by, the AAF finally
trusted us enough with real bombs and ammunition. Gunnery training was performed over
Long Island, as we fired at towed targets and
then practiced dive-bombing with 100-pound
bombs strapped under our wings. I was a better
dive-bomber pilot than a shooter because I always
waited until the last second to drop my bombs.
That does have its drawbacks, however, as more
than once I came back from combat missions with
damage to my P- 47 caused by my own bombs.
With more than 75 hours of P- 47 time in my
logbook, I was deemed combat ready and sent to
England in late June 1944.
When I arrived at Atcham Airfield, the final
training phase before assignment to a combat
unit, I met my new instructors. They were all
combat veterans with the Eighth Air Force who
were being rotated home after finishing their tour.
Four of us drew a captain from the 56th Fighter
Group (“Zemke’s Wolfpack”), and he made us forget everything we were taught back home on how
to fly a Thunderbolt. We stalled the P- 47 going
straight up, did extended spins and negative G
maneuvers, and performed a split-S at 2,000 feet—
and survived. During that training phase, which
lasted only 25 hours, I got myself into some very
dangerous and unusual situations. But one thing I
discovered was that I really felt at home while flying the Thunderbolt.
Down on the Deck
In late July 1944, I was assigned to the 390th
Fighter Squadron, 366th Fighter Group of the 9th
Air Force. Having missed the D-Day invasion by
almost two months, I joined my new squadron
near Omaha Beach at a forward airstrip called
“A-1.” We shared our base with a P- 38 Lightning
unit, and most of my early missions were in sup-
P-47D s/n 42-76542 A6+ W
“Princess Pat” of the 389th
FS 366th FG taxies for takeo;
from its base in ;ruxton,
England, in April 1944. (Photo
courtesy of Jack Cook)