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Three Radial Engine Fighters at the Udvar-Hazy Center
Three Radial Engine Fighters at the Udvar-Hazy Center
In the Udvar-Hazy Center a Republic P-47, Focke Wulf FW-190, and Kawanishi N1K2-JA are on display near each other. In World War II these were top of the line radial engine fighters for their respective countries. They each had a more famous fighter as their stable mate.
The Republic P-47 Thunderbolt
The Thunderbolt is a P-47D-30-RA , serial number 44-32691. It started its military career at Godman Field, Kentucky in 1944. It served as an aerial gunnery trainer. After its military career it was transferred to the Air Force Museum and later to the Smithsonian.[i]
The P-47 had its share of skeptics when they were first deployed. Some pilots viewed its heavy weight and high wing loading as making it too cumbersome to fight on equal terms with other fighters. It was more than twice as heavy as the Supermarine Spitfire VB.
- April 8, 1943 - P-47s flew their first combat mission with the USAAF 8th Air Force
- April 13 - Engine failure caused the 8th Air Force to lose its first 2 P-47s on missions.[ii]
- April 15 - The 8th Air Force lost its first P-47s to enemy action. FW-190s shot down 2 P-47s without loss.[iii]
- April 29 - FW-190s made head on attacks against a squadron of P-47s that was flying at 28,000 feet. The FW-190s shot down 2 P-47s and damaged 2 others before diving away safely.[iv]
- May 4- The 4th Fighter Group lost a P-47 and its pilot to engine failure. It claimed 1 enemy aircraft shot down.[v] The P-47s and Spitfires prevented the Luftwaffe from shooting down any B-17s that bombed Antwerp.[vi]
- June 26 – FW-190s attacked the P-47s of the 56th Fighter Group. The FW-190s shot down 5 P47s without loss. The FW-190s damaged 6 P-47s, one was a complete write off. It was the written off aircraft that contributed to the P-47’s reputation for being able to take an enormous amount of punishment. An FW-190 seriously damaged First Lieutenant Robert S. Johnson’s P-47. Lt. Johnson was unable to open his canopy so he couldn’t bail out. An FW-190 again attacked his aircraft with machine gun fire. Despite an enormous number of hits Lt. Johnson manage to fly his Thunderbolt back to England.[vii] Johnson went on to become tied with another P-47 pilot, Colonel Francis S. Gabreski[viii], for the highest scoring USAAF aces in Europe with 28 air-to-air victories. Second Lieutenant Justus Foster made a belly landing at Hawkinge, England. 2Lt. Foster’s P-47 survived 5 20mm cannon hits.[ix]
- July 28 – Fuel drop tank equipped P-47s became the first 8th Air Force fighters to penetrate German airspace. The P-47s claimed 9 enemy fighters for the loss of 1 P-47. The 8th Air Force lost 22 B-17s, with 5 more written off.
- July 30 – P-47s claimed 25 enemy fighters for the loss of 7 P-47s and one written off. On this mission Major Eugene Roberts became the first USAAF pilot in the European Theatre to score 3 kills in a single mission. Captain Charles London shot down two enemy aircraft to make him the first 8th Air Force Ace.[x] The 8th Air Force lost 12 bombers with 5 more written off.
- August 17 – P-47s claimed 19 enemy aircraft for the loss of 3 P-47s. The 8th Air Force lost 60 bombers shot down with 2 more written off.
Air combat in the summer of 1943 proved the P-47 could best the enemy fighters. While the Thunderbolt had a good combat range, 950 miles, it couldn’t travel with the bombers to all the German strategic targets. In the October 14 raid on Schweinfurt P-47s claimed 13 Luftwaffe aircraft for the loss of 1 P-47 and 4 more written off. The German defenses shot down 60 B-17s and 7 more returned to England and were written off. This convinced the 8th Air Force it shouldn’t send its bombers further than its fighters could escort them.
The USAAF credited the P-47 with a 4.6:1 Kill-to-Loss ratio in air-to-air combat during World War II. The USAAF credited the P-47 with destroying 7,000 enemy aircraft (both air and ground). On August 28, 1944 P-47s of the 82nd Fighter Squadron destroyed the first Me-262 lost to allied aircraft. Major Joseph Myers and First Lieutenant M.D. Croy Jr. shared credit for the kill.[xi] The P-47s' last kill claim was on May 22, 1954 when Nationalist Chinese pilots Yen and Chen claimed a MiG-15.[xii]
The P-47 Thunderbolt was famous for its ability to absorb extensive combat damage and still continue flying. The P-47 had 8x50 caliber machine guns. This gave it more throw weight than any other day fighter in the USAAF. It could fire 30.93 lbs (14.03kgs) of lead in a 3-second burst. These qualities made the P-47 well suited for ground attack missions.
[i] National Air & Space Museum web site (http://airandspace.si.edu/collections/artifact.cfm?object=nasm_A19600306000)
[ii] Mighty Eighth War Diary, by Roger A. Freeman, © 1981, Page 53.
[iii] JG 26: Top Guns of the Luftwaffe, by Donald L. Caldwell, © 1991.
[iv] JG 26: Top Guns of the Luftwaffe, by Donald L. Caldwell, © 1991.
[v] Mighty Eighth War Diary, by Roger A. Freeman, © 1981, Page 56.
[vi] JG 26, Top Guns of the Luftwaffe, by Donald L. Caldwell, © 1991.
[vii] JG 26, Top Guns of the Luftwaffe, by Donald L. Caldwell, © 1991.
[viii] Colonel Gabreski scored another 6.5 victories in Korea flying F-86s.
[ix] Mighty Eighth War Diaries, by Roger A. Freeman, © 1981, Page 71.
[x] JG 26 Top Guns of the Luftwaffe, by Donald L. Caldwell, © 1991.
[xi] Messerschmitt Me 262 Described Part 2, by Kenneth A. Merrick, © Kookaburra Technical Publications 1969.
[xii] Air Combat Information Group (http://www.acig.info)
Aircraft Lost to Returned and Written Off
P-47D Thunderbolt vs P-51D Mustang
Rate of Climb
The Focke-Wulf FW-190 Würger
The National Air and Space Museum’s FW-190 was originally a FW-190A Werke Nummer 640 069. It began its operational career in 1943 and either served in the Balkans or the Mediterranean theatre. It was severely damaged and written off. What was left of it was remanufactured and it was made a FW-190F-8/R1 Werke Nummer 931 884 in 1944. It was assigned to Schlachtgeschwader 2[i]. Ground Attack Wing 2 was the Immelmann Geschwader which was eventually commanded by Hans Ulrich Rudel, the most highly decorated member of the Wehrmacht. It was captured at the end of World War II and brought to the United States on the HMS Reaper in July 1945. The USAAF gave it the Foreign Evaluation number FE-117. It was put into storage and handed over to the Smithsonian. The National Air & Space Museum restored it in the 1980s at its Paul E. Garber Facility. The FW-190 didn’t have an ejection seat but it had an explosive charge so the pilot could jettison the canopy to make bailing out easier. During restoration the restorers found FE-117 still had this explosive charge. They notified the army engineers who safely removed the explosive. FE-117 was missing its ETC 501 bomb rack. Fortunately Halvor Sperbund, a member of a Norwegian team restoring an FW-190F-8, learned from a magazine article FW-117 was missing a bomb rack. The team donated an ETC 501 bomb rack to the National Air & Space Museum. The bomb rack belonged to an FW-190, Werke Nummer 732 183, flown by Leutnant Rudi Linz.[ii] On February 9, 1945 RAF Beaufighters with a P-51 Mustang escort attacked the German destroyer Z 33 and its escort in the Foede Fjord. Ship and ground fire shot down 7 Beaufighters. 12 FW-190s shot down 2 Beaufighters and a P-51 for the loss of 4 or 5 FW-190s. Leutnant Rudi Linz shot down one of the Beaufighters for his 75th kill. Return fire from the Beaufighter shot him down and Leutnant Linz died in the crash. The surviving Beaufighter aircrews dubbed this action “Black Friday”.[iii]
II/JG 26 received the first FW-190A-1s in July 1941 but because of teething troubles the FW-190 didn’t see combat until September.[iv]
- August 29, 1941 – German flack shot down an FW-190 and killed its pilot. It was the first II/JG 26 FW-190 fatality.[v]
- September 18 – In an air combat with RAF Blenheims which were escorted by Spitfires and Hurricanes a Spitfire shot down and killed II/JG 26’s group commander Hauptmann Walter Adolph, who had 28 air victories to his credit.[vi]
- September 21 – FW-190s shot down 4 Spitfires without loss.
The FW-190 had good performance figures at low and medium altitudes. About 21,000 feet the FW-190A’s top speed dropped off sharply. It served as a fighter on every war front until then end of the war.
The FW-190F was a ground attack version of the FW-190. The Ju-87 Stuka was too slow to operate over a battlefield heavily defended with anti-aircraft guns and fighters without prohibitive losses. The FW-190F was a ground attack version of the FW-190. A number of different armaments were tested and used for the FW-190F. In his book, Stuka Pilot, Hans Ulrich Rudel points out because of the battlefield situation in late 1944 he didn’t want to withdraw his squadron while they learned how to fly the FW-190. Instead he had the pilots familiarize themselves with the FW-190 in between combat sorties. In December 1944 Soviet anti-aircraft shot down a pilot name Stähler on his first FW-190F mission. He crash landed inside the German lines. That same day an engine malfunction caused Rudel to crash land his FW-190F.[vii]
On the morning of June 6, 1944, D-Day two FW-190s had the distinction of being the only enemy aircraft to oppose the Allied landing. Oberstleutnant Josef Priller and Unteroffizer Heinz Wodarczyk strafed the landing beaches.[viii] Their attack killed one soldier. American and British pilots who test flew the FW-190 tended to compare it favorably to the Bf-109. Skilled Luftwaffe pilots tended to favor the Bf-109 over the FW-190. Some kept flying Bf-109s after their units switched to FW-190s.
[i] Focke-Wulf FW 190: Workhorse of the Luftwaffe by Jay P. Spenser © 1987 Smithsonian Institution.
[ii] Focke-Wulf FW 190: Workhorse of the Luftwaffe by Jay P. Spenser © 1987 Smithsonian Institution.
[iii] All About - Black Friday (1945) – (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cs4KdhbixBQ)
[iv] Luftwaffe Fighter Aces by Mike Spick © 1996.
[v] JG 26: Top Guns of the Luftwaffe, by Donald L. Caldwell, © 1991.
[vi] JG 26: Top Guns of the Luftwaffe, by Donald L. Caldwell, © 1991.
[vii] Stuka Pilot by Hans Ulrich Rudel © 1958 Ballentine Books, Inc.
[viii] In the film The Longest day used stock footage of BF-109s and flew Bf-108s to depict the attack.
Kawanishi N1K2-JA Shiden
The National Air & Space Museum’s Kawanishi N1K2-JA, allied code name GEORGE, was captured in Omura, Japan. It was transported to the United States on the USS Barnes. It was sent to the Naval Aircraft factory at Philadelphia and then sent to Willow Grove NAS. It was displayed outdoors until the Smithsonian acquired it in 1983. The Smithsonian housed it at the Paul E. Garber Facility until 1991. The Smithsonian loaned it to the Champlin Fighter Museum in Mesa, Arizona. The Champlin Museum restored the aircraft.[i]
Kawanishi developed the N1K2 to replace the A6M Zero. The N1K1 was a floatplane. The N1K2-JA had a retractable landing gear and other modifications to make it a front line fighter for the Japanese Navy. Kawanishi began delivering N1K2s to the Japanese Navy in July 1944. The N1K2 first saw combat in October 1944. In February 1945 Lt (jg) Kaneyoshi Muto engaged 12 U.S. Navy Hellcats. Muto claimed 4 of the Hellcats shot down. On July 24, 1945 a P-51 shot down and killed Muto over the Bungo Strait. Moto’s final was 28.[ii] Production was 428 airframes. The National Air and Space Museum has the markings of the 343rd Kokutai an elite fighter unit. The 343rd Kokutai flew the N1K2 and included some of the most famous aces in the Japanese Navy.
- March 19, 1945 – The 343rd launched 54 N1K2s against a U.S. Carrier strike force. The 343rd claimed 48 Corsair and Hellcat fighters and 4 SB2Cs for the loss of 16 Shidens. The U.S. Navy destroyed another 5 Shindens on the ground.[iii] A Japanese aircraft struck the Aircraft Carrier USS Ben Franklin with two 500 pound bombs killing 772 of its sailors and taking the USS Franklin out of the war.[iv]
- May 12 to June 22 – The 343rd launched 285 sorties and claimed 118 kills, including 12 B-29s for the loss of 32 Shindens, and 7 more heavily damaged.[v]
American bombing attacks caused the 343rd equipment and fuel shortages which reduced their ability to generate sorties. The 343rd claimed 170 enemy aircraft shot down for the loss of 74 pilots.[vi]
[i] The National Air & Space Museum web site (http://airandspace.si.edu/collections/artifact.cfm?object=nasm_A19830237000)
[ii] Air Aces by Christopher Shores © 1983 Bison Books Corp. Page 146.
[iii] History of the 343rd Kokutai During World War II (http://343rdkokutaielite.tripod.com/343rdkokutai/id4.html)
[iv] World War II Almanac 1931-1945 by Robert Goralski © 1981.Page 387.
[v] History of the 343rd Kokutai During World War II (http://343rdkokutaielite.tripod.com/343rdkokutai/id4.html)
[vi] History of the 343rd Kokutai During World War II (http://343rdkokutaielite.tripod.com/343rdkokutai/id4.html)
FW-190A-8 vs Bf-109G-6
Rate of Climb
N1K2 Shinden vs A6M Zero