The ‘JUG’ was solid and stable in flight and carried a tremendous load of bombs, guns and gas. It was a tight-turning, hard-hitting, flying truck. It didn’t climb worth a damn, but it could dive.
Those of us that survived fighter pilot training were sent to England. I arrived on 10 May 1944 as a replacement pilot, filling the gap left by those men who had either been shot down or rotated back home after finishing their tours. I was placed with the 78th Fighter Group, 84th Fighter Squadron at Duxford. This is where I learned the real tricks and traits of flying a Thunderbolt, hardest of which was formation flying in the murky English overcast.
Although I never fired my guns on 6 June 1944, I made up for it the next day and for many more months thereafter on fighter sweeps over France. I strafed German trains rushing supplies to the beachhead, barges full of munitions in support of the German counterattack and anything else that moved in our sector. Not much survived our hail of bullets as we flew low-level, pushing the Germans back to the Fatherland.
Throughout the summer of 1944, I flew bomber escorts, dive-bombing, glide bombing and strafing missions all over Europe. More than once my P-47 came back with jagged holes in my wings and belly, compliments of German flak. The Germans didn’t go down without a fight and the return fire was very accurate as they poured flak and small arms fire into the air.
My ‘Jug’ was like a magnet as I picked up a lot of German hot metal including a direct hit in my supercharger. It was the right time for me to leave the fight. I tried to climb to a safer altitude, but with some of the blades and the supercharger knocked out, I was stuck on the deck. As I started for home, the engine became rougher and rougher the longer I flew it. I had thoughts of a summer swim in the English Channel but, as long as my propeller was turning, I stayed with my ‘Jug’.
As I neared the English coast, the Thunderbolt became difficult to control. Setting up to land, I knew I didn’t have any hydraulics left, almost no directional control and a shot-off tailwheel. But as long as I had some wind under my wings, I was doing all right. I hopped, skipped and jumped when I touched down and coasted off the end of the runway. My grand finale was a self-induced ground loop to get her stopped. I had holes inside of holes covering my wings and fuselage. The P-47 had taken a beating but had delivered me safely home.