|KIT:||Hasegawa 1/32 P-47D Thunderbolt|
|PRICE:||5200 yen at www.hlj.com|
Famed Grumman test pilot Corky Meyer - the last actual "airplane person" to head a major airplane company - named the P-47 Thunderbolt the "best fighter of World War II - ETO." As he pointed out, it had high performance, yet a wartime-trained 200-hour pilot could fly it, with a well laid-out cockpit in which all the controls, switches, and instruments were handily located. It exceeded at three of the four performance parameters he established: air combat capability, fighter escort capability, ground support capability and photo-reconnaissance (it only missed on the latter). With 15,683 Thunderbolts produced between 1941-45, it is the most-produced American fighter ever. Republic delivered one in 1941, 532 in 1942, 4,428 in 1943, 7,065 in 1944 and 3,657 in 1945. 730 were operated by the RAF in Southeast Asia, while 446 flew for the French Air Force in Europe. The only theater of war in which the Thunderbolt did not fight was in Alaska; it is telling that the two top-scoring American fighter pilots in the ETO both flew P-47s exclusively, and all 10 of the top P-47 aces in the ETO survived the war. By D-Day there were 17 P-47 Fighter Groups stationed in England, and in the next eleven months, they swept across western Europe like an aerial scythe.
The P-47 Thunderbolt acquired its name "Jug" when the P-47D-25 series appeared on operations. With the upper fuselage cut down to make way for a teardrop-shaped "bubbletop" canopy, the fuselage took on the shape of a milk bottle, hence "Jug." It was later claimed the name came from the word "Juggernaut," and in light of the career of the bubbletop Thunderbolts across Western Europe in the period between D-Day and V-E Day, that sounds reasonable. But to Thunderbolt pilots who were there when the "bubbletop" replaced the "razorback," "Jug" meant milk jug.
The first "bubbletop" Thunderbolt was the YP-47K, which began life as a P-47D-11RE, and was the second fighter fitted with a "bubble" canopy after the British Hawker Typhoon. Originally scheduled for production as the P-47L, the "super 'Bolt" as pilots called it originally began appearing in England in May, 1944, under the designation P-47D-25RE. With an R-2800-59 or -63 engine putting out 2,300 h.p. under war emergency rating, and swinging a Hamilton Standard Hydromatic propeller of 13 feet, 1 7/8 inches diameter, the airplane had increased tankage and the ability to carry a 150-gallon drop tank on the centerline shackles. At first, only flight leaders - group commanders and squadron commanders - received the new airplane. By the end of the summer of 1944, with the high losses sustained in ground attack missions during the Battle of Normandy, the "bubbletop" P-47D-25, -26, -27 and -28 Thunderbolts from Farmingdale (RE) and Evansville (RA) were the standard fighter bomber of the U.S. 9th Army Air Force.
Scenes From The P-47 Juggernaut Across Europe:
Once the American forces were established on the continent. many small airfields appeared across northern France to support the operations of the Thunderbolts. The fields the P-47s flew from were generally temporary: a short runway that was either made of pierced-steel-planking, or just dirt. When a P-47 pilot sat at the end of a 3,500 foot runway, carrying a full ammo load, two 500-pound bombs and a 110-gallon drop tank, successful takeoff could be problematic, especially if it had rained recently. Jack Reynolds of the 412th Fighter Squadron of the 373rd Fighter Group remembered the "Rules for Takeoff" that were posted at the ops office:
1. Line up on the runway with the canopy open.
2. Stand on the brakes.
3. Pull the stick all the way back.
4. Push the throttle, mixture, prop control, and turbo to the fire wall.
5. When the tail comes off the ground, ease off the brakes and push the stick forward so you are moving with the tail in the air.
6. With one hand on the throttle quadrant,
7. With one hand on the bomb release,
8. With one hand on the wheel retract handle,
9. With one hand on the cowl flap closer handle,
10. With one hand on the elevator trim wheel,
11. With one hand on the safety belt release,
12. With one hand on the water injection button,
13. With one hand, cross yourself.
14. When you reach the end of the runway, ease the stick back and retract the wheels.
As fellow 412th Fighter Squadron veteran John Rutherford remembers, "There was a very familiar sight at most strips whenever a shot-up P-47 would crash-land. Usually, the pilot would jump out and signal he was OK. Before the dust had settled, an enterprising crew chief would be making off with the canopy for his plane. The instruments would go next, before the salvage crew got there. It beat requisitioning parts and waiting forever."
When an accident happened on one of these strips, the result was that flight operations were cancelled until the wreckage was cleared. For those in the air, this meant finding another small crowded airfield to land at. As Rutherford recalls, "We came back one time to find our strip inoperative and were vectored to a neighboring strip about 30 miles away. The home group there was trying to land, along with another stranded group of P-47s. We had no radio contact with the controller, so we all got in a tight landing pattern to try and get on the ground. I recall flying close formation with several strange P-47s on the crosswind and approach legs. The strip was too narrow to take more than one at a time, so the one lucky pilot who was closest to the ground at the decisive moment, would put down. The rest had to go around again. The ceiling was about 1,000 feet and dropping. There was a small church with a steeple and cross about half a mile from the end of the runway we were landing on. One Thunderbolt managed to knock off the cross, but landed safely. Then another P-47 hit the steeple and knocked a few feet off it, and landed safely. A third hit the steeple and reduced it to about half its original height, and landed safely. Thunderbolts were tough, to take that and still land!"
While there were more than a few moments of "sheer terror" to be faced by a Thunderbolt pilot, not all of them happened under enemy fire. Jack Reynolds remembers an incident that was both terrifying and hilarious in the same moment. "We had a replacement pilot named Ted Buckley in the 411th Squadron who loved French champagne, cognac, you name it. One morning, after a long night in Brussels, he was assigned to make a test hop. He did it, breathing pure oxygen to get the cobwebs out of his brain. Upon landing, he allowed one wheel to get off the runway and hit a crater, and the P‑47 flipped on its back, burying the top of the canopy in the dirt so he couldn't get out. A group of us ran out to help. We found him drenched with gasoline, hanging upside down in his harness, cursing like a fiend. Before we had time to do anything, Lt. Ramon Franzalia, from Group Headquarters, ran in under the wing, drew his .45 automatic, pointed it at Buckley's head and said, "Don’t' worry Buck, if it starts to burn I'll shoot you!" The rest of us lifted the tail, opened the canopy and released Ole Buck. He got out, swore at Franzalia, and lunged at him but fell down. Franzalia took off running and wasn't seen for two days until Ole Buck had cooled down."
Occasionally, war could become completely absurd. Jack Reynolds recalls a particularly-memorable mission: "Col. James McCarthy, the Group C.O., was leading a squadron of 16 P-47s on an armed recon flight, each carrying three 500 pound bombs and a full load of 500 rounds per gun. They had been cruising for two hours over France without seeing anything. Finally, someone spotted a lone German on a motorcycle high-tailing it down a country lane.
"In desperation, McCarthy sent one flight down to drop one 500-pounder on the motorcycle. The pilot missed. Then each man in the first flight came around and dropped one 500 pounder on the motorcycle. All three missed! Then they each went back and dropped the remaining two bombs each. They all missed! The motorcycle was still speeding though the French countryside.
"Then each came back and made a strafing run at the motorcycle. They missed again! The next three flights came down in turn and did the same thing, and they all missed! Just count it up: 1,500 pounds of bombs each, 4,000 rounds of 50-caliber each. Sixteen P-47s made a total of 48 passes, dropping 24,000 pounds of bombs, and firing off 64,000 rounds from 128 machine guns - and they all missed! And all they were shooting at was one lousy German on one lousy motorcycle!! What a story he had to tell back at the barracks! He must have been the luckiest guy in the whole German Army."
Archie Maltby, a line pilot of the 388th Fighter Squadron of the 365th Fighter Group flew close air support in Operation Market Garden that September and in the Battle of the Huertgen Forest in October and November. Maltby remembered what it was like to fly in the Battle of the Bulge: "When the attack first came, with all the bad weather, we would take off into a 500-foot ceiling, and climb on instruments to 18,000 feet or so before breaking out. We were supporting the paratroopers at Bastogne, which is at an altitude of 3,500 feet. We'd get over the area, and drop back into the clouds on instruments. If we hadn't broken out by the time we got down to 4,500 feet, we had to climb back up, fly home, and let down again, all on instruments. That's damn hard to do in a P-47, and we lost five guys before the weather changed. It was wonderful the day the sky broke and we could give those paratroopers the support they needed! Once the skies broke, we had the most lucrative hunting of the war. It was a burning mess out there as we hit everything they had."
Operating at low altitude like they did, right in the front lines where flak was heavy, many Thunderbolt pilots died in their airplanes. Every one of the P-47 units involved in the fight across Europe after the invasion suffered more than 100 percent casualties in killed and wounded during the eleven months between D-Day and V-E Day. The "Jabos," as they were called by their Wehrmacht enemies, fought the toughest war of any group of American fighter pilots.
Archie Maltby flew on through the final months and weeks of the war, rising to the rank of Captain in March 1945. "On May 8th, 1945, when we got the word it was over, I was in the squadron operations tent. I looked over at the roster board, and of the thirty-six pilots assigned to the 388th Fighter Squadron, there was me and two others who had flown the D-Day missions. All the others I'd crossed the Channel with that morning were gone. Ten or twelve had finished their tours and made it home; the rest had been shot down, dead or prisoners."
The P-47 fighter-bombers were indispensable to the Allied victory in Europe. As Jack Reynolds says, "If I hadn't been flying the Thunderbolt, I would never have survived my tour." No better compliment can be paid to a combat airplane.
The first injection-molded 1/32 P-47d was released by Revell 30 years ago. As with many kits from that era, it suffered from various inaccuracies, several of which - like the incorrectly-shaped vertical fin and rudder - were not fixable. While Jerry Rutman released an accurate 1/32 P-47D in resin during the 1990s, until the arrival of this kit from Hasegawa, that Revell kit was it for mainstream modeling.
This Hasegawa kit effectively makes the Revell kit irrelevant. When this kit was announced, many modelers were afraid that Hasegawa would merely scale up their 1/48 kit, which suffered from its own errors. There is no need to worry. This kit is far closer to being a 1/32 scale-up of the highly-accurate Tamiya P-47D than to anything else from Hasegawa. (Representative sprues shown. Ed)
Out of the box, the kit makes up most accurately as a P-47D-27 or later Thunderbolt, due to the fact that the cockpit provides only the smooth floor associated with later Thunderbolts. The kit provides both the hydraulic Hamilton-Standard prop used by the P-47D-25/26 and the Curtiss-Electric symmetrical paddle prop used by the P-47D-27 and later. If a modeler elects to use the later gunsight and the extended vertical fin part that are both provided but listed as “not to be used,” the kit can be turned into any bubbletop P-47D up to the P-47D-40. A modeler who obtains Jerry Rutman’s resin asymmetrical prop, it will be possible to construct a P-47M.
I have heard already that aftermarket companies are providing the earlier corrugated floor, but this can also be created using Evergreen strip by any competent modeler willing to take the time. Any modeler who plans to do the Gabreski P-47D-25 will have to undertake this modification. Overall, the kit-supplied cockpit is more than adequate, and needs only a seatbelt to be complete. Eduard has just released a very nice 1/32 US seatbelt set that is very accurate, and Meteor Productions has a 1/32 posable resin US seatbelt set that I have used successfully on other models.
The kit has separate flaps, which can be posed up or down. In my experience, posable flaps are best displayed down, since fit to the wing can be problematic.
Hasegawa dealt with the problem of having release pin molds inside the gear doors by the very nice expedient of having the gear doors come in inner and outer parts, with the release marks on the inside of both parts.
The wing pylons are separate. Surprisingly, the kit does not provide the more common (at least in the ETO) 108-gallon paper tanks, but does provide the 150-gallon “flat tank” for the centerline and the later “P-38 style” tanks used outside the ETO. Underwing armament also includes two 500-lob bombs.
A very well-molded pilot figure is provided, whose face looks strikingly like Gabreski’s.
The only complaint I can find about the kit overall is that there are several long sink marks on the upper and lower wing halves, where there is internal detail. This is similar to what one finds on the 1/32 Bf-109 wings and Fw-190 wings, and is easily dealt with using Mr. Surfacer 500 and a few minutes with a sanding stick. Polish will have to be applied if a natural metal surface is going to be created.
The decals provide markings for Gabreski’s last and most famous camouflaged P-47D, and for the well-known “Eagle” flown by Glenn Eagleston, with a natural metal finish. As I look at the decals, it appears Hasegawa may have misunderstood various of the “steps of the cross” that occurred with Gabreski’s markings.
This Thunderbolt from Hasegawa can join the Tamiya kit as the most accurate P-47 kits available. If I wasn’t already a fan of 1/32 modeling, this kit would be the “tipping point.” If you have yet to do a 1/32 model, this is the kit to start with. The production design is such that it will almost be “foolproof” in assembly as regards getting the various alignment issues right (I’d almost say “completely fool-proof,” which I though was the fact with the Bf-109s and the Fw-190s until I saw the products of a couple of fools at shows, but most people will get it right with this kit). With the likely plethora of aftermarket decal sheets that will become available in coming months, this should become one of the most popular 1/32 kits released. It is excellent value for the money and highly recommended.
Review kit courtesy of HobbyLink Japan. Get yours at “Japanese prices” at www.hlj.com
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