World War II aircraft that were shot to hell—and came back.
- By Cory Graff
- Air & Space magazine, November 2001
(Page 4 of 5)
In the Pacific, the Hellcat’s legend continued to grow. While Lieutenant Bruce Williams was strafing an ammunition barge, his Hellcat was blown upward 250 feet and showered with debris. The shredded fighter came back to the carrier with stove bolts and pieces of planking embedded in its wings and underbelly. After the deck crew examined the damage and determined the Hellcat was beyond repair, it was pushed overboard.
While often used as a high-altitude bomber escort, the Republic P-47 also showed amazing ability as an attack aircraft—going down on the deck to hunt down and ruthlessly blast trucks, tanks, and trains. The Thunderbolt’s sawed-off snout and heavy, all-business airframe caused some P-47 flyers to give it a name that stuck: the Jug.
In the Pacific, a flier describes how a fellow P-47 pilot hauled his Jug into a tight turn to get a shot at some Japanese trucks. The big fighter slid into the trees, briefly disappeared from sight, and then emerged, seemingly no worse for wear. Coming home, the pilot noticed his engine was running hot; once he was on the ground, everyone gathered around to find the engine cowl stuffed with branches as thick as a man’s wrist.
Famed ace Robert Johnson was tumbled out of his squadron’s formation by Luftwaffe Focke Wulf Fw 190s that left his Thunderbolt riddled with holes and his canopy jammed closed. Nearly blinded by leaking hydraulic fluid, Johnson was coaxing his crippled airplane toward England when another Fw 190 caught up with him. As Johnson hunkered down behind his armor plate, the German pounded his P-47 with machine gun fire. Between barrages, the enemy fighter cruised alongside, as if its pilot was puzzled by the invulnerability of the Jug, which, hit with dozens of rounds, refused to go down. With his ammunition expended, the pilot finally climbed away.
So could you really, as some pilots claimed, fly a P-47 though a brick wall and live? A post-war Air National Guard Thunderbolt undershot the runway upon landing and plowed into the second story of a factory. With its wings sheared off, the crumpled fuselage came to rest inside the building. The pilot walked away.