After the initial months of combat operations carried out by the crews of the 8th Army Air Forces 'heavies' in 1942, the Spring of 1943 would see the advent of the escort fighter in the form of Republic P-47 Thunderbolt.
The Republic P-47 Thunderbolt.
Introduced into service with the USAAF in late 1942, the first two P-47 Fighter Groups, the 4th and the 56th would take the aircraft to war in the skies above Europe. The biggest single engine fighter of WW2, the P-47, powered by the excellent Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp radial engine and coupled with the firepower from eight Browning .50 AN/M2 machine guns it made it a formidable pursuit fighter and ground attack aircraft. However, at the time of its introduction into service, its Achilles heel was the lack of range. Much like that of the Mk IX Spitfire, the early Thunderbolt (without external drop tanks) was only capable of operating just inland of the French/Belgium coastline.
The 10th March 1943, would see the first operational sortie for the P-47 flown by the men of the 4th Fighter Group. Unfortunately, due to widespread radio malfunctions the mission was deemed a failure and a solution was needed. After refitting the aircraft with British radios over a period of 4 weeks, the next mission was flown on the 8th April over the Pas-de-Calais area, however no enemy aircraft were encountered.
The 4th Fighter Group, RAF Debden 1943.
With the issue of Field Order No 3 for Rodeo 204 (Rodeo was an RAF term for a fighter sweep over enemy territory) the 4th, 56th and 78th Fighter Groups were tasked with patrolling to Cassel in Northern France.
The RAF would provide the Kenley Wing as escort to the P-47s. Led by RAF ace, Johnnie Johnson they crossed the French Coast at 25,000 feet over Berck-sur-Mer, sweeping to port. Vectored by Appledore (the ground controller) to patrol over St Omer and engage enemy aircraft, they were unable to sight the enemy due to the 9/10ths cloud cover at 20,000 feet.
Wing Commander Johnnie Johnson with his personal Mk IX Spitfire
For the American pilots of the 4th fighter Group however, the 15th April 1943 would be the day they opened their score against the Luftwaffe.
Leading the 4th Fighter Group that day was Lieutenant Colonel Chesley Peterson. Originally flying with No 71 Eagle Squadron, upon American's entry into the war, he transferred to the USAAF and was promoted to Major, a month later to Lieutenant Colonel. Sighting 15 Focke-Wulf FW 190's in the St Omer area the P-47's of the 4th FG jockeyed into position and engaged the 190's of II./JG 1 (II./JG 1 was the 2nd Group (which consisted of 4 Squadrons of 12 aircraft) of Fighter Wing 1. Each fighter Wing had 4 Groups - for more information on the early, mid-war and later war compositions of Luftwaffe Fighter Wings visit https://rhorta.home.xs4all.nl/jgstruc.htm).
Major Don Blakeslee of the 335th Fighter Squadron, 4th Fighter Group, (later Colonel Blakeslee, the Commanding Officer of the 4th Fighter Group) would be the first to score a kill, downing an FW190 - the text from his combat report is below:
"I saw 5 vapor trails headed West about 5 miles North of Knocke and 5000 feet below over water. I made a turn to port and saw 3 FW 190's below, flying Southwest. As soon as they saw us, they turned inland and started home. Selecting the nearest one, who was in a 15⁰ or 20⁰ dive, I started down after him. Two unidentified P-47's took a short burst at him at long range and broke away right and left. I trimmed my kite for a steep dive and found myself overtaking him rapidly. His only evasive action was to increase his dive. I opened fire at about 700 yards, closing to 500 yards still firing. I saw tracers going over his canopy, so I increased the angle of my dive and sawed him twice. I saw many hits behind, in and in front of his cockpit. He lurched sharply, and a fraction of a second later crashed into the ground exploding - My entire attack was made from directly astern and slightly above. I pulled out of my dive below 500 feet and found myself approaching Ostend. I went over the centre of the city at about 300 feet and was not fired upon. Proceeding to about mid-channel on the deck, I climbed to about 3000 feet and returned to base, landing at 1820. My number two was engaged when he was attempting to follow me down and I returned alone.
Major Blakeslee with his P-47.
3 other FW190's were claimed destroyed that day for the loss of 3 P-47's. 2 of which were believed to have been shot down with the third, Lt col Peterson's aircraft having engine trouble causing him to bail out in the North Sea after his engine caught fire. Fortunately for Peterson, he was recovered by an RAF Walrus Air Sea Rescue aircraft shortly afterwards.
From the 15th April until the end of the war, the P-47 would gain a well-deserved reputation for being a hard diving, hard hitting aircraft that was feared by the Luftwaffe. The addition of drop tanks from mid-1943 would see its range extend to the boarders of Germany enabling greater protection to the crews of the four-engine heavies. With the advent of the P-51 in late 1943 and the ability for it to range all the way to Berlin, the P-47 Groups of the 8th would be reassigned to the 9th AAF in the ground attack role - all except for the 56th Fighter Group who would retain their mounts until wars end.
Our Forty Seven Coffee is our tribute this magnificent Warbird combining a blend of Indian and Central American beans to produce an aromatic, but strong coffee that delivers a jolt reminiscent of the P-47 Thunderbolt! The label has been specifically crafted to represent that of the 397th Fighter Squadron 'Jabo Angels', 368th Fighter Group, 9th AAF in recognition of the P-47's devestating ability in the ground attack role!