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How good was the P-47?

The 8th Fighter Command, belonging to the 8th Air Force Command had 3 fighter groups in early April 1943: 4th FG, 56th FG, and 78th FG, all equipped with the P-47C.

Of the three FG, only the 4th had combat experience. Some pilots had flown with the “Eagle” RAF Squadrons during the Battle of Britain. From September of 1942, the 4th had equipped with Spitfires. When they re-equipped with the Thunderbolt on 10 March 1943 the pilots were disappointed with the Jug. They considered it inferior to the Spitfire and no match to the Bf 109G and the Fw 190A in use by the Germans. While it took the P-47C twenty minutes to reach 30,000 feet, the Spitfire Mk IX required less than 7 ½.

To easily distinguish the P-47 from the Fw 190, it was decided to paint white bands on the nose and tail (see the picture) before committing them to battle. On 15 April, they saw combat for the first time when they attacked Fw 190A from II/JG 1 and claimed three for the loss of two P-47s. They were unhappy with the result (they would have been less happy had they known that no German fighters were lost in the encounter).

The 4th Group fought with the P-47 until 25 February 1944 when they exchanged their mounts for brand-new P-51B. The change brought quite a change in the fortunes of the 4th FG. While only 4 pilots became aces with the P-47, 17 achieved ace status with the P-51.

However, the pilots of the 56th FG had been trained from the beginning with the P-47 and they had confidence in their fighter. The 56th kept their P-47s through the end of the war and was the most successful fighter group in Europe in the USAAF. 42 pilots became aces in the 56th (most than any other outfit) and their claim-to-loss ratio of 5.3-to-1 was the best for all groups (the 4th FG had a 2.4-to-1 ratio). The 78th had been trained in P-38 in the USA but fought with P-47 from 13 Apr 1943 until 29 Dec 1944 when P-51D replaced the Jugs. 10 pilots became aces, and the group achieved a 2.0-to-1 claim-to-loss ratio.

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