Chapter 39:P-47 Thunderbolts At Last. Race for Rome. Strafing Yugoslavia. Arrested as Spies!
Jan 19, 1944 Amendola, Italy. I took the day off today, just to relax and read Italian Grammar. The Italian boys who do my laundry came by with two chickens, but I wouldn’t buy them because they were too scrawny! I told them to come back tomorrow with large chickens and a turkey or two.
Some of the fellows went to a movie in Manfredonia tonight, but I hung around and made a pineapple pie out of the last of the dough we scrounged from the mess hall. The Red Cross Girls were here this afternoon with coffee and doughnuts.
Jan 20th: My plane flew in a 14 plane dive-bombing mission. They strafed and dive-bombed German motor transport and dropped 500 pound bombs.
We heard that the enlisted man in the 64th squadron who used ‘improper language” to the officers was court marshaled. (See Part 38).
We are still waiting to receive our P-47s. They are presently at the 57th group service department being worked on.
Lt. Riley and Sgt. Burns are going home on rotation tomorrow. Lt. Salisbury is leaving for England to teach the RAF ground support tactics. We are told that we are to remain here and supply escort service for the heavy bombers on their Yugoslavia raids. This means that we will not be in on the Allies' invasion of Europe!
Jan 22, 1944. Amendola, Italy. 25 of our P-40s left this morning for Naples. The pilots will leave them there and fly back with 25 P-47s. This afternoon I got my P-47, brand new, with just 3 hours flying time on it! I can see where we all will be reading the tech orders for the new planes instead of books from home! It now appears that there is more work to be done on these planes than anybody thought!
We are told that at 5.30 PM the Allies made an amphibious landing at Anzio, about 20 miles from Rome. By evening the beachhead was secure, indicating that it came as a huge surprise to the Germans. We spent the next few days in frenzied activity, trying to get our new planes ready for operations. We hear that Pescara has fallen and that the British Army is about 15 miles from Rome. There seems to be a race taking place between the British Army under General Montgomery, and the American 5th Army under General Clark to see who gets to Rome first!
Lt. Williams was here all day helping me with the Receiving Inspection on Plane 73, and will help out tomorrow when it is washed down (with gasoline). The tachometer is not working and I’ll replace it tomorrow.
It is interesting to note that all the pilots are helping the crew chiefs to get these planes operational, and cleaned up. For example, Lt. Coughlin helped with plane #82.
We are told that Lt. Weber’s plane was downed in Yugoslavia, and that he bailed out over the water. He was last seen in his dinghy before the flight started home. He was picked up by the Yugoslav guerrillas and should rejoin us soon!
Even if we could get away to visit Naples we cannot, since it is still out of bounds because of Typhus!
Jan 24th: Lt. Benedict and Lt. Leaf took two P-47s on a mission in Yugoslavia to bomb two supply ships, but the ack-ack was too thick. Instead they strafed two trains, setting them on fire, and strafed motor transport. They returned with all their 50 Caliber machinegun bullets expended as well as their 6- 120 millimeter rockets.
My pilot, Lt. Williams told me that the exploits of our squadron 'The Exterminators' are announced over the radio in newscasts every day! We are of course, tickled pink to hear that our efforts are not going unnoticed!
Some of the boys went up to San Marco in Lamis (the top of Mount Foggia) and spent the night eating and drinking at Angelo’s restaurant. He can’t understand why we drink so much that we become 'cockeyed', and unless you have been in close combat, you cannot understand it either. The close proximity to death over long periods of time gives one a feeling that each day could be your last and must be lived to its limit.
Jan 25th: Today we dive bombed those two German Supply ships in Yugoslavia with 1000 Pound bombs on two planes, and sank the smaller one.
As an interesting sidelight, Ritchie, Spradlin, and Bingle are in jail in Naples, having been caught looting! It is a wonder that more of us have not been so caught, since we all consider it to be scrounging (not stealing), having learned about it in the British 8th Army in North Africa.
The Red Cross Girls were around again with coffee and doughnuts the next day.
Jan 27th. Ritchie, Bingle and Spradlin just returned from Naples with the real story of what happened. It seems they were picked up on suspicion of being spies. There were 10 spies caught in the area where they were, who were running a short wave radio.
Rumor has it that the 79th Fighter Group and the 338th Service Group are going to India. General Cannon has requested that the 57th Group stay in the 12th Air Force. Today 100 of the heavy bombers went out on an 8 hour mission.
So ends part 39 of my wartime memoirs.
Here are my impressions of the P-47 (Thunderbolt) airplane, dimmed somewhat by time and mental deterioration!
It was a large plane, and you knew that when you saw the P-40F alongside it. While it was smaller than the Mitchell A120 it could carry the same bomb load (around 2500 Lbs.) We frequently hung two one-thousand lb. bombs on the wing racks, and a large belly tank of gas under the belly. In addition it carried 6 x 120 millimeter rockets in two tubes, and 8 x 50 Caliber Machine guns. So in effect it was the equivalent of the A-120 light bomber, but it had the machine gun and rocket capacity.
While it was large and heavy (alongside all our other fighter planes - Army and Navy, this permitted it to assist the ground forces and for the P-47 was a good fighter plane. In contrast, in ground assistance the P-40F was a good fighter plane!
The flip side however, is that the P-47s largeness and heaviness precluded it from
operating at the height which the Spitfire, Messerschmitt, Zero, and Focke-wolf
were able to function (around 30,000 feet). So, when we felt we were vulnerable on any flight, we asked the RAF for Spitfires as top cover, and we always got it.
When we attacked 100 Heinkel 2-engine bombers between Cape Bon, Tunisia and Sicily on Palm Sunday 1943, we put up 48 P-40's and the RAF gave us 24 Spitfires for top cover. The Heinkels had around 24 Messerschmitt top cover, and we shot down 74 planes in that engagement. That was the largest aerial battle other than the one in the Coral Sea where carrier planes did all the fighting. So, at low level our P-40F’s and P-47's were adequate, but not as agile even at that altitude as the British, German, and Japanese fighters. We did have more firepower and more armor.
As to servicing, the P-47 was easier to service than the P-40. Firstly you could remove and replace cylinders whereas on the P-40 you could not even remove the head. It required a hydraulic press and was normally done at a Service Depot. The P-47 had all the accessories behind the engine, and they were accessible. We had very little problems with the P-47. Witness the fact that we used to accompany the B-17s and B-24s as far away as Ploesti Oil Fields in Romania, while we were in central Italy, sometimes for as long as 8 hours. The P-40 couldn't do that!
Also, the P-40 Allison engines used to throw oil a lot, and we could always see it on the windshield. In addition the exhaust stacks were so short that it was easy for sand to blow in and cause the engines to run rough. On one occasion in Libya after a 3 day sandstorm, we had to replace the engines on all 25 of our P-40s because the fine sand sifted into the exhaust ports of the engines and damaged the valves. Replacement engines had to be flown to us via DC-3 Transports from Cairo, Egypt, right in the middle of the war in North Africa! So, the P-40 wasn't as serviceable as the P-47, but it was all we had in 1942!
We used to call the P-47 a Mush Bucket, but it was a good plane, with a powerful Pratt and Whitney double row air cooled engine, which gave little trouble. We were quite successful using it as a Skip-bomber, rolling delayed action bombs into the mouth of tunnels in North Italy, and as a dive bomber against ships and ground targets.
If you have any questions, ask away! We, ground crews actually preferred the P-47!