Tag Archives: World War II

13 November 1942

Two Republic Aviation Corporation P-47C Thunderbolts of the 56th Fighter Group retract their landing gear after takeoff. (U.S. Air Force)
Two Republic Aviation Corporation P-47C Thunderbolts of the 56th Fighter Group retract their landing gear after takeoff. (U.S. Air Force)

13 November 1942: Lieutenants Harold E. Comstock and Roger B. Dyar were fighter pilots assigned to the 63rd Fighter Squadron, 56th Fighter Group, at Bridgeport, Connecticut. They were often sent to test new P-47 Thunderbolt fighters at the Republic Aviation Corporation factory in nearby Farmingdale, New York:

Lieutenant Harold E. Comstock, U.S. Army Air Corps, with his P-47 Thunderbolt, 1943.

Because of the need to manufacture airplanes quickly and the close proximity to the Republic Aviation factory, active duty pilots were used for some of the test flights of the new P-47. On 13 November 1942, Lts. Comstock and Dyar were ordered to test a new type of radio antenna on the P-47C. Lt. Comstock climbed to an indicated altitude of 49,600 feet (15,118 meters) while trying to reach 50,000 feet. Due to poor response from the controls, he decided to let the aircraft fall off rather than risk a spin. He started to dive straight down and after passing below 40,000 feet he found that his controls had frozen. He then felt a bump and was unable to move the controls as the aircraft continued to dive. Even with maximum exertion, he was unable to move the control stick so he started to roll the trim tab back and after passing below 30,000 feet, the aircraft started to pull out of the dive and he recovered between 20,000 and 25,000 feet.

Lt. Dyar started his dive and encountered the same conditions. After landing, Lt. Comstock reported what happened and the chief designer of the P-47 Thunderbolt, Alexander Kartveli, questioned Lt. Comstock at length and made numerous calculations. Republic Aviation soon issued a press release claiming that Lts. Comstock and Dyar had exceeded the speed of sound. This was picked up in the national media and also drawn in Ripley’s Believe It or Not!. Soon after the press release, the 56th Fighter Group received a telegram from Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold that “there would be no more discussion about the dive.” The actual speed attained was probably less than the speed of sound but this speed which caused the flight controls to lock up was referred to as “compressibility.” This effect was encountered by many pilots flying in combat but training and proper procedures allowed them to recover from it. In 1959, the Air Force published “A Chronology of American Aerospace Events” and included an entry for 15 November 1942 which stated “Lts. Harold Comstock and Roger Dyar set a new speed record for airplanes when they power-dived their P-47 fighters at 725 mph from 35,000 feet over an east coast air base.” While the Air Force acknowledged the speed of 725 miles per hour, it is not known whether the P-47 could actually exceed the speed of sound in a dive. Capt. Roger Dyar was killed in action on 26 June 1943.Wikipedia

The instrument panel of a Republic P-47D-40-RA Thunderbolt in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force. The Airspeed Indicator is in the second row of instruments, just left of center. Note that the maximum speed marked on the face of the gauge is 700 miles per hour. (U.S. Air Force)
The instrument panel of a Republic P-47D-40-RA Thunderbolt in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force. The Airspeed Indicator is in the second row of instruments, just left of center. Note that the maximum speed marked on the face of the gauge is 700 miles per hour. (U.S. Air Force)

Almost certainly, the diving Thunderbolts did not exceed the speed of sound:

In July 1944 Major [Frederic Austin] Borsodi [Chief, Fighter Test Branch, Army Air Forces Material Command, Wright Field] made a number of full power vertical dives from 40,000 feet in a North American P-51D to assess the compressibility effects on the aircraft’s handling. He achieved a maximum Mach number of 0.86, at which point severe buffeting of the empennage was noted. . . many World War II pilots remained firmly convinced that they had taken their propeller-driven fighters supersonic in steep dives, often as local shock waves rattled their craft and caused the angle of those dives to become uncontrollably steeper. More often than not the center of lift moved aft on their wings, and Mach-induced turbulence blanketed the normal control surfaces on the tail. For the lucky ones, the descent into denser air slowed the airplane, while the higher temperatures at lower altitude meant that the Mach number for a given true airspeed was lower. Consequently, local shock waves tended to disappear. A normal recovery as from any steep dive, could usually be effected. . . the later [Supermarine] Spitfires, with a demonstrated ceiling of 45,000 feet, a much thinner wing of elliptical planform, and a lower profile liquid-cooled engine, could never register a maximum speed greater than 0.9 Mach number. That is the highest recorded speed, by a substantial margin of any propeller driven fighter. Oh yes, in the course of one such dive, on entering the denser air around 20,000 feet, the Spitfire’s propeller and much of the engine cowling parted company with the rest of the aircraft. Getting to 0.90 Mach number wasn’t easy. . . the speed of sound at sea level and 59° Fahrenheit is 761 miles per hour. At an altitude of 40,000 feet, where our standard atmosphere charts tell us that the temperature is -67° Fahrenheit, sound travels at 662 miles per hour.

Aces Wild: The Race For Mach 1, by Al Blackburn, Scholarly Resources, Inc., Wilmington, Delaware, at Pages 6–7, 24–27.

Captain Harold E. Comstock, United States Army Air Corps. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain Harold E. Comstock, United States Army Air Corps, 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
Harold E. Comstock, circa 1940.

Harold Elwood Comstock was born 20 December 1920 at Fresno, California. He was the son of Clinton Elwood Comstock, a telephone company repairman, and Leona M. Sutherland Comstock. He graduated from Roosevelt High School in Fresno, in February 1939. February 1939. Comstock then entered Fresno State College. He was a member of the F.S.C. Pilots Club and the Aero Mechanics Club.

Harold Comstock was appointed an Aviation Cadet, Air Corps, Army of the United States (A.U.S.), 10 October 1941. He was 5 feet, 10 inches (1.78 meters) tall and weighed 149 pounds (67.6 kilograms). After completing flight training, on 3 July 1942 Comstock was commissioned as a second lieutenant, Air Reserve. Comstock was promoted to first lieutenant, A.U.S., 29 May 1943. Lieutenant Comstock advanced to the rank of captain, A.U.S., on 12 March 1944, and to major, A.U.S., 17 September 1944. On 3 July 1945, Major Comstock’s permanent Air-Reserve rank was advanced to first lieutenant.

UN Y, Bunny Comstock’s P-47C-5-RE Thunderbolt 41-6326. (U.S. Air Force)

Harold Comstock flew two combat tours in Europe with the 56th Fighter Group during World War II. He completed his second tour as commanding officer of the group’s 63rd Fighter Squadron. He flew 138 combat missions and is officially credited with destroying 5 enemy aircraft in aerial combat, with 2 probably destroyed and 3 damaged, and another 3 destroyed on the ground.

Low on fuel after a combat mission, Lieutenant Comstock’s Republic P-47C-5-RE Thunderbolt 41-6326 crashed at Lyons Farm, Mutford, Suffolk, England, 3 February 1944. (U.S. Air Force)

During his World War II service, Major Comstock was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with three oak leaf clusters (four awards); the Air Medal with 11 oak leaf clusters (12 awards) and the Purple Heart.

Miss Barbara Lucille Joint, circa 1940.

Lieutenant Comstock married Miss Barbara Lucille Joint, also from Fresno, 10 June 1942 at Bridge City, Texas. They would have two children, Harold Eric Comstock, and Roger Joseph Comstock.

On 16 May 1947, Major Comstock was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, Air-Reserve. On 10 October 1947, Comstock’s permanent military rank became fist lieutenant, Air Corps, with date of rank retroactive to 3 July 1945. When the United States Air Force was established as an independent branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, Comstock’s commission was converted. (1st Lieutenant, No. 7779.)

During the Vietnam War, Lieutenant Colonel Comstock commanded the 481st Tactical Fighter Squadron, 27th Tactical Fighter Wing from 1965 to 1968. He flew another 132 combat missions in the North American Aviation F-100D Super Sabre, and 38 as commander of an airborne command and control unit of the 7th Airborne Command and Control Squadron. Colonel Comstock’s final assignment was as commanding officer, 602nd Tactical control Group, Bergrstom Air Force base.

Colonel Comstock retired from the Air Force on 30 September 1971. He was twice awarded the Legion of Merit, and he held the Distinguished Flying Cross with six Oak Leaf Clusters, a Purple Heart, and 17 Air Medals.

Harold E. Comstock died at Clovis, California in 2009.

Lieutenant Colonel Harold E. Comstock, U.S. Air Force, 481st Tactical Fighter Squadron, 26th Tactical Fighter Wing, with a North American Aviation F-100D-26-NA Super Sabre, 55-3623, at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico, 1964. (Jet Pilot Overseas)
Lieutenant Colonel Harold E. Comstock, U.S. Air Force, 481st Tactical Fighter Squadron, 26th Tactical Fighter Wing, with a North American Aviation F-100D-26-NA Super Sabre, 55-3623, at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico, 1964. (Jet Pilot Overseas)

The Republic P-47 Thunderbolt was the largest single-engine fighter that had yet been built. The first P-47C variant was completed 14 September 1942, only one month before Bunny Comstock’s famous dive. An early change (P-47C-1) was the addition of 8 inches (0.203 meters) to the forward fuselage for improved handling. The P-47C-5-RE was 36 feet, 1-3/16 inches (11.003 meters) long with a wingspan of 40 feet, 9-5/16 inches (12.429 meters) The overall height was 14 feet 3-5/16 inches (4.351 meters). The fighter’s empty weight was 9,900 pounds (4,490.6 kilograms) and maximum gross weight was 14,925 pounds (6,769.9 kilograms).

The P-47C was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 2,804.4-cubic-inch-displacement (45.956 liter) Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp TSB1-G (R-2800-21) two-row, 18-cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 6.65:1. The R-2800-21 had a Normal Power rating of 1,625 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. to 25,000 feet (7,620 meters) and a Takeoff/Military Power rating of  2,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. to an altitude of 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). A large General Electric turbosupercharger was mounted in the rear of the fuselage. Internal ducts carried exhaust gases from the engine to drive the turbocharger and the supercharged air was then carried forward to supply the engine. The engine drove a 12 foot, 2 inch (3.708 meter) diameter four-bladed Curtiss Electric propeller through a 2:1 gear reduction. The R-2800-21 was 6 feet, 3.72 inches (1.923 meters) long, 4 feet, 4.50 inches (1.340 meters) in diameter, and weighed 2,265 pounds (1,027 kilograms). Approximately 80% of these engines were produced by the Ford Motor Company. It was also used as a commercial aircraft engine, with optional propeller gear reduction ratios.

The P-47C had a maximum speed in level flight of 433 miles per hour (697 kilometers per hour) at 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). The service ceiling was 42,000 feet (12,802 meters), and it could climb to 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) in 7 minutes, 12 seconds. It had a maximum range of 1,250 miles (2,012 kilometers) with external fuel tanks.

Republic P-47D-6-RE Thunderbolt 42-74742 at RAF Duxford during World War II. The maintenance technicians show the fighter's enormous size. (Daily Mail)
Republic P-47D-6-RE Thunderbolt 42-74742 at RAF Duxford during World War II. The four maintenance technicians show the fighter’s enormous size. (Daily Mail)

The Thunderbolt was armed with eight Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, four in each wing, with 3,400 rounds of ammunition. It could also carry external fuel tanks, rockets and bombs. The structure of the P-47 could be described as “robust” and it was heavily armored.

602 P-47Cs were built in the five months before the P-47D entered production. A total of 15,683 Thunderbolts were built; more than any other Allied fighter type. In aerial combat it had a kill-to-loss ratio of 4.6:1. The amount of damage that the airplane could absorb and still return was remarkable. The P-47, though, really made its name as a ground attack fighter, destroying aircraft, locomotives, rail cars, and tanks by the many thousands. It was one of the most successful aircraft of World War II.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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12 November 1944

Tirpitz
KMS Tirpitz anchored in Bogen Bay, Ofotfjord, near Narvik, Norway, circa 1943–1944. (U.S. Navy Historical Center)

12 November 1944: No. 9 Squadron and No. 617 Squadron (Dambusters), Royal Air Force, sent a force of 32 Avro Lancaster long range heavy bombers to attack the 49,948 metric-ton-displacement Kriegsmarine battleship KMS Tirpitz at Tromsø Fjord, Norway. The attack was filmed by a photo aircraft of No. 463 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force.

The Lancasters were armed with 12,030 pound (5,457 kilogram) Tallboy bombs. They bombed from altitudes from 12,000 to 16,000 feet (3,658–4,877 meters). Two of the bombs hit the battleship, one was a very near miss and another three also were close enough that they probably contributed to the overall damage. Many other Tallboys landed within the torpedo nets that surrounded the ship and cratered the seabed, removing the sandy bottom which had been built up under Tirpitz‘ hull to prevent her from sinking. Tirpitz immediately began to list and was then rocked by an internal explosion. It capsized and sank to the sea bed. As many as 1,204 sailors were killed.

KMS Tirpitz under attack, 12 November 1944. The battleship is visible to the left of the bomb splashes and is firing its main guns at the bombers. (Unattributed)
KMS Tirpitz under attack, 12 November 1944. The battleship is visible to the right of the bomb splashes and is firing its main guns at the bombers. (Unattributed)

Tirpitz was a Bismarck-class battleship armed with a main battery of eight 38-centimeter (15-inch/52-caliber) guns in four turrets. These guns had a maximum range of 22.7 miles (36.5 kilometers) when firing a 1,800 pound (816 kilogram) projectile. The German Navy did not use its heavy warships to directly engage the British fleet, but instead to raid the Atlantic convoys.  The merchant ships with their destroyer escorts were defenseless against a battleship or battle cruiser. Allied forces expended tremendous effort and resources to contain or destroy Tirpitz throughout the war.

A Royal Air Force Avro Lancaster being "bombed up" with a 12,000 pound Tallboy earth-penetrating bomb.
A Royal Air Force Avro Lancaster being “bombed up” with a 12,030 pound (5,456.7 kilogram) Tallboy earth-penetrating bomb. (Royal Air Force)

The Avro Lancaster was a four-engine long range heavy bomber. It wasn’t as fast as the American B-17 Flying Fortress, but was capable of flying longer distances with a heavier bomb load. It was operated by a crew of seven: Pilot, flight engineer, navigator, radio operator, bomb aimer/nose gunner, top gunner and tail gunner. The “Lanc” was 69 feet, 4 inches (21.133 meters) long, with a wingspan of 102 feet (31.090 meters) and had an overall height of 20 feet, 6 inches (6.248 meters). It had a maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of 72,000 pounds (32,657 kilograms) when carrying a 22,000 pound (9,979 kilogram) Grand Slam bomb.

The Lancaster was powered by four liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,648.96-cubic-inch-displacement (27.01 liter), Rolls Royce Merlin XX or Packard V-1650 single overhead camshaft (SOHC) 60° V-12 engines, which were rated at 1,480 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. to 6,000 feet (1,829 meters). They turned three-bladed de Havilland Hydromatic constant-speed propellers which had a diameter of 13 feet (3.962 meters) through a 0.420:1 gear reduction.

These Merlin engines, the same as those powering Supermarine Spitfire, Hawker Hurricane and North American P-51 Mustang fighters, gave the Lancaster a maximum speed of 282 miles per hour (456 kilometers per hour) at 13,000 feet (3,962 meters) at a weight of 63,000 pounds (28,576 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 21,400 feet (6,523 meters) and maximum range was 2,530 miles (4,073 kilometers).

Defensive armament for a standard Lancaster consisted of eight Browning Mark II .303-caliber machine guns in three power turrets, nose, dorsal and tail. Modified bombers deleted various combinations of guns to reduce weight.

The Tallboy (Bomb, Medium Capacity, 12,000 lb) was a special demolition bomb designed to be dropped from high altitude, reach supersonic speeds, then penetrate as far as 90 feet (27 meters) into the ground before detonating. It was built of a specially hardened steel casing filled with 5,200 pounds (2,358 kilograms) of Torpex explosive. The bomb was designed by Barnes Wallis, who had also designed the special bomb used by the Dambusters in their famous 1943 attack on the Ruhr Valley hydroelectric dams, as well as the Grand Slam, a 22,000-pound (10,000 kilogram) scaled-up version of the Tallboy. The Tallboy and Grand Slam bombs were very successfully used against U-boat pens and heavily fortified underground rocket facilities.

A flight of three Avro Lancaster bombers of No. 617 Squadron, Royal Air Force, photographed 8 May 1945. The airplane closest to the camera, marked KC-B, is a Lancaster B Mk.I. The other two are Lancaster B Mk.I Specials modified to carry the 22,000 pound Grand Slam bomb. They are identified by the "YZ" fuselage codes. Photograph from the collection of Mrs. Cresswell, © IWM MH-30796.
A flight of three Avro Lancaster bombers of No. 617 Squadron, Royal Air Force, photographed 8 May 1945. The airplane closest to the camera, marked KC-B, is a Lancaster B Mk.I. The other two are Lancaster B Mk.I Specials modified to carry the 22,000 pound Grand Slam bomb. They are identified by the “YZ” fuselage codes. Photograph from the collection of Mrs. Cresswell, © IWM MH-30796.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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6 November 1935

Test pilot George Bulman in the cockpit of the prototype Hawker Monoplane F.36/34, K5083.

6 November 1935: The prototype Hawker Monoplane F.36/34, K5083, first flew at the Brooklands Aerodrome, Weybridge, Surrey, with Hawker’s Chief Test Pilot, Flight Lieutenant Paul Ward Spencer (“George”) Bulman, M.C., A.F.C., Royal Air Force Reserve,¹ in the cockpit. The airplane would be named “Hurricane” and become one of the most successful fighter aircraft of World War II.

Designed by Sydney Camm to meet a Royal Air Force Specification for a high speed monoplane interceptor, the airplane was developed around the Rolls-Royce PV-12 engine.

Sir Sydney Camm, CBE, FRAeS
Sir Sydney Camm, C.B.E., F.R.Ae.S. (1893–1966)

The Hurricane was built in the traditional means of a light but strong framework covered by doped linen fabric. Rather than wood, however, the Hurricane’s framework used high strength steel tubing for the aft fuselage. A girder structure covered in sheet metal made up the forward fuselage. A primary consideration of the fighter’s designer was to provide good visibility for the pilot. The cockpit sits high in the fuselage and gives the airplane its characteristic hump back profile. The cockpit was enclosed by a sliding canopy. The landing gear was retractable.

Hawker Monoplane F.36/34, K5083, front view. (World War Photos)
Hawker Monoplane F.36/34, K5083, the prototype Hawker Hurricane, photographed prior to its first flight. Note the flush exhaust ports and wooden fixed-pitch propeller. Photograph © IWM (MH 5475)
Right Profile of the prototype Hawker Hurricane, K5083. (© IWM-MH-5190)
Right profile of the prototype Hawker Monoplane F.36/34, K5083. © IWM (MH-5190)
Left profile (IWM)
Hawker Monoplane F.36/34, K5083. Left profile. © IWM (ATP 8654D)
Hawker Monoplane F.36/34, K5083, left rear quarter view. (World War Photos)

The Rolls-Royce PV-12 (“PV” stood for Private Venture) was a developmental liquid-cooled 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.022 liter) 60° V-12 that would become the legendary Merlin aircraft engine. The PV-12 first ran in 1933 and initially produced 700 horsepower.

The engine was progressively improved and by the time the Hurricane prototype first flew, it was equipped with a supercharged Rolls-Royce Merlin C, Air Ministry serial number 111144. The Merlin C had a Normal Power rating of 1,029 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m, at an altitude of 11,000 feet (3,353 meters), with +6 pounds per square inch boost. The V-12 engine turned a Watts two-bladed fixed-pitch wooden propeller through a gear reduction drive (possibly 0.420:1).

Right profile of the prototype Hawker Hurricane, K5083. Photograph © IWM (MH 5190)
Right quarter view of the prototype Hawker Monoplane F.36/34, K5083, in flight. Photograph © IWM (MH 5190)

An Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE) test pilot, Flight Sergeant Samuel (“Sammy”) Wroath (366485), flew K5083 at the Martlesham Heath in early 1936. He wrote, “The aircraft is simple to fly and has no apparent vices.”

In early flight testing, K5083 had a maximum speed of 253 miles per hour (407 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, an reached 315 miles per hour (507 kilometers per hour) at 16,200 feet (4,938 meters), with the Merlin turning 2,960 r.p.m., with +5.7 pounds of boost (0.39 Bar). The speed exceeded the RAF’s requirement by 5 miles per hour (8 kilometers per hour).

The prototype was able to take off in as little as 795 feet (242 meters) and to climb to 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) in just 5 minutes, 42 seconds. It reached 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) in 8 minutes, 24 seconds. The peak altitude reached was 30,000 feet (9,144 meters). The prototype’s estimated service ceiling was 34,500 feet (10,516 meters)and the estimated absolute ceiling was 35,400 feet (10,790 meters).

In May 1939 Hawker Monoplane F.36/34 K5083 was classified as a ground instruction airframe, with serial number 1112M. Reportedly, it remained in airworthy condition until 1942. Its status after that is not known.

Hawker Monoplane F.36/34 K5083 with “alighting gear” extended. (World War Photos)

The Hawker Hurricane Mk.I was ordered into production in the summer of 1936. The first production airplane, L1547, flew on 12 October 1937. The Hurricane Mk. I retained the wooden fixed-pitch propeller and fabric-covered wings of the prototype, though this would change with subsequent models.

The first production Hawker Hurricane Mk.I, L1547, circa October 1937. This airplane, assigned to No. 312 Squadron, was lost 10 October 1940, when it caught fire during a training flight near RAF Speke. The pilot, Sergeant Otto Hanzliĉek, parachuted from the airplane, but he landed in the Mersey River and drowned.

The Hurricane Mk.I was 31 feet, 5 inches (9.576 meters) long with a wingspan of 40 feet, 0 inches (12.192 meters), and overall height of 13 feet, 3 inches (4.039 meters) in three-point attitude. The wings had a total area of 257.6 square feet (23.9 square meters). Their angle of incidence was 2° 0′, and the outer wing panels had 3° 30′ dihedral. The leading edges were swept aft 5° 6′. The empty weight of the Hurricane I was 5,234 pounds (2,374 kilograms) and maximum gross weight was 6,793 pounds (3,081 kilograms).

The Hurricane Mk.I was powered by a Rolls-Royce Merlin Mk.II or Mk.III. The Mk.III was rated at 1,030 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. at 16,250 feet (4,953 meters). The engine turned a propeller with a diameter of 11 feet, 3 inches (3.429 meters).

Hawker Monoplane F.36/34 K5083 (BAE Systems)

The Mk.I’s best economical cruising speed was 212 miles per hour (341 kilometers per hour) at 20,000 feet (6,096 meters), and its maximum speed was 316 miles per hour (509 kilometers per hour) at 17,750 feet (5,410 meters) and 6,440 pounds (2,921 kilograms). The airplane’s range was 585 miles (941 kilometers). The Hurricane Mk.I could climb to 20,000 feet in 9.7 minutes.

The fighter was armed with eight Browning .303 Mark II machine guns mounted in the wings, with 334 rounds of ammunition per gun.

“No. 111 Squadron was responsible for the introduction of the Hurricane to the RAF with the first aircraft arriving at Northolt in December 1937, in advance of the official acceptance date of 1 January 1938. The CO, S/Ldr John Gillan, flew L1555 in record time from Edinburgh to Northolt on 10 February 1938.” (Daily Mail)

Peter Townsend described the Hurricane in his book, Duel of Eagles:

“. . . By December [1938] we had our full initial equipment of sixteen aircraft. The Fury had been a delightful play-thing; the Hurricane was a thoroughly war-like machine, rock solid as a platform for eight Browning machine-guns, highly manoeuvrable despite its large proportions and with an excellent view from the cockpit. The Hurricane lacked the speed and glamour of the Spitfire and was slower than the Me. 109, whose pilots were to develop contempt for it and a snobbish preference for being shot down by Spitfires. But figures were to prove that during the Battle of Britain, machine for machine, the Hurricane would acquit itself every bit as well as the Spitfire and in the aggregate (there were more than three Hurricanes to two Spitfires) do greater damage among the Luftwaffe.”

Duel of Eagles, Group Captain Peter Wooldridge Townsend, CVO, DSO, DFC and Bar, RAF. Cassell Publishers Limited, London, Chapter 13 at Pages 153–154. 

Hawker Hurricanes at Brooklands. (BAE Systems)

At the beginning of World War II, 497 Hurricanes had been delivered to the Royal Air Force, enough to equip 18 squadrons. During the Battle of Britain, the Hurricane accounted for 55% of all enemy aircraft destroyed. Continuously upgraded throughout the war, it remained in production until July 1944. The final Hurrican, a Mk.IIc, PZ865, was flown for the first time by P.W.S. Bulman on 24 July 1944. A total of 14,503 were built by Hawker Aircraft Ltd., Gloster Aircraft Company, Austin Motor Company, and the Canadian Car and Foundry Company.

The final Hawker Hurricane, a Mk.IIc, PZ865, “The Last of the Many!” Chief Test Pilot P.W.S. “George” Bulman also took this fighter for its first flight, 22 July 1944. (BAE Systems)
P.W.S. Bulman with PZ865, July 1944.
Group Captain “George” Bulman flying the final Hawker Hurricane, PZ865, a Mk.IIc.

¹ Later, Group Captain Paul Ward Spencer Bulman, C.B.E., M.C., A.F.C. and Bar.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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2 November 1944

Second Lieutenant Robert Edward Femoyer, Air Corps, United States Army. (U.S. Air Force)

2 November 1944: The 8th Air Force sent 638 B-17 Flying Fortress four-engine heavy bombers, escorted by 642 P-51 Mustang and P-38 Lightning fighters from their bases in England, over 500 miles to attack the I.G. Farben Leunawerke synthetic oil refinery at Leuna, a 3-square-mile facility a few miles from Merseberg, Germany.

The Leuna refinery used a hydrogeneration process to produce aviation gasoline from coal. This was the most heavily defended target in all of Germany, surrounded by more than 1,700 88 mm and 105 mm antiaircraft guns (“flak”) in 36-gun batteries. According the the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, “Aircrews viewed a mission to Leuna as the most dangerous and difficult assignment of the air war.

One B-17 pilot described it: “When I describe the flak over Leuna as a cloud, I don’t mean just a wall of smoke; it was a box, the length, width, and depth of our route to the ‘bombs away’ point.”

On the 2 November attack, the bombers were under “intense” anti-aircraft fire for 18 minutes, and heavy fire for 30 minutes. They were also attacked by a record 700 Luftwaffe fighters including the new Me 262 twin-engine jets. The 8th Air Force lost 38 B-17 Flying Fortress bombers and 28 fighters. An astonishing 481 bombers were damaged.

Second Lieutenant Robert E. Femoyer was the navigator on one of those B-17s, commanded by Second Lieutenant Jerome Rosenblum. B-17G-25-DL Flying Fortress 42-38052, Hotshot Green, of the 711th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 447th Bombardment Group (Heavy) based at RAF Rattlesden, was badly damaged by anti-aircraft fire and fell out of formation.

Medal of Honor
Medal of Honor

The President of the United States
in the name of The Congress
takes pleasure in presenting the
Medal of Honor
to

FEMOYER, ROBERT E.

(Air Mission)

Rank and organization: Second Lieutenant, 711th Bombing Squadron, 447th Bomber Group, U.S. Army Air Corps.

Place and date: Over Merseberg, Germany, 2 November 1944.

Entered service at: Jacksonville, Fla. Born: 31 October 1921, Huntington, W. Va.

G.O. No.: 35, 9 May 1945

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty near Merseburg, Germany, on 2 November 1944. While on a mission, the bomber, of which 2d Lt. Femoyer was the navigator, was struck by 3 enemy antiaircraft shells. The plane suffered serious damage and 2d Lt. Femoyer was severely wounded in the side and back by shell fragments which penetrated his body. In spite of extreme pain and great loss of blood he refused an offered injection of morphine. He was determined to keep his mental faculties clear in order that he might direct his plane out of danger and so save his comrades. Not being able to arise from the floor, he asked to be propped up in order to enable him to see his charts and instruments. He successfully directed the navigation of his lone bomber for 2-½ hours so well it avoided enemy flak and returned to the field without further damage. Only when the plane had arrived in the safe area over the English Channel did he feel that he had accomplished his objective; then, and only then, he permitted an injection of a sedative. He died shortly after being removed from the plane. The heroism and self-sacrifice of 2d Lt. Femoyer are in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Army.

B-17 Flying Fortress bombers under anti-aircraft artillery fire over Merseberg, Germany. (U.S. Air Force)
B-17 Flying Fortress bombers under anti-aircraft artillery fire over Merseberg, Germany. (U.S. Air Force)

Robert Edward Femoyer was born 30 October 1921 at Huntington, West Virginia. He was the first of two children of Edward Peter Femoyer and Mary Elizabeth Kramer Femoyer. After graduating from St. Joseph’s Central Catholic High School in Huntington, Femoyer attended Marshall College for one year before transferring to the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute (better known as Virginia Tech), at Blacksburg, Virginia, as a member of the Class of 1944.

In February 1942, when he registered with the draft board, Femoyer was an employee of the Hercules Powder Company, a manufacturer of explosives. He was described as having brown hair and eyes, was 6 feet tall and weighed 150 pounds. Femoyer joined the Enlisted Reserve Corps at Roanoke, Virginia, 11 November 1942. He enlisted as a private in the Air Corps 4 February 1943 at Miami Beach, Florida, where he received basic military training.

Aviation Cadet Robert Edward Femoyer, Air Corps, United States Army, 1943. (Imperial War Museum)

After aircrew training at the University of Pittsburgh, March through June, 1943, Aviation Cadet Femoyer was sent to the Mississippi Institute of Aeronautics, Jackson, Mississippi, for flight training. He did not qualify as a pilot but was recommended for training as a navigator. He trained at Selman Army Airfield, near Monroe, Louisiana, and attended aerial gunnery school at Fort Myers, Florida. On graduation, 10 June 1944, Robert Edward Femoyer was commissioned as a second lieutenant.

Following combat crew training at Lincoln, Nebraska, he was deployed to England in September 1944. Lieutenant Femoyer was assigned to the 711th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 447th Bombardment Group (Heavy) at RAF Rattlesden, southeast of Bury St. Edmunds Suffolk, England.

Second Lieutenant Robert Edward Femoyer’s body was returned to the United States in 1949, and buried at the Greenlawn Cemetery, Jacksonville, Florida. A residential building at Virginia Polytechnic Institute was built following the war and named Femoyer Hall.

Douglas B-17G-25-DL Flying Fortress 42-38052, 711th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 447th Bombardment Group (Heavy), RAF Rattlesden, Suffolk, England. At the time of this photograph, the airplane carried the name, Lucky Stehley Boy. (Mark Brown, U.S. Air Force)
Douglas B-17G-25-DL Flying Fortress 42-38052, 711th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 447th Bombardment Group (Heavy), RAF Rattlesden, Suffolk, England. At the time of this photograph, the airplane carried the name, Lucky Stehley Boy. (Mark Brown, U.S. Air Force)

B-17G-25-DL 42-38052 was one of 2,400 B-17 Flying Fortress four-engine heavy bombers built by the Douglas Aircraft Company at Long Beach, California from 1943 to 1945. 2,395 of these were the “G” variant, with its distinctive “chin” gun turret. -052 was delivered to the U.S. Army Air Forces on Christmas Eve, 24 December 1943. In January 1944, the new bomber was assigned to the 711th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 447th Bombardment Group (Heavy), based at U.S. Army Air Forces Station 126 (RAF Rattlesden), Suffolk, England. The new bomber flew its first combat mission 4 February 1944.

The B-17G was camouflaged with the standard U.S.A.A.F. olive drab sides and upper surfaces, with neutral gray underneath. The vertical fin and wing tips were painted yellow and two vertical green stripes circled the aft fuselage. The four engine cowlings were painted blue, and a blue chevron was painted on the top of the right wing, indicating that this B-17 belonged to the 711th Bomb Squadron. The 447th’s group identification, a white letter “K” surrounded by a black square, was painted on the upper portion of the fin. Below this was its abbreviated serial number, “238052.” A black capital “L”, identifying the individual airplane, was painted at the bottom of the fin.

42-38052 was a replacement aircraft and was flown by several crews. It carried the names El Mal Centavo (“The Bad Penny”) and Lucky Stehley Boy, (“. . . so named in honor of Dr. Stehley of Cumberland. . . .”—Grant County Press, Petersburg, West Virginia, Thursday, 31 August 1944, Page 1, Column 6.)

This Vega Aircraft Corporation-built B-17G-105-VE Flying Fortress, 44-85784, seen at Rotterdam, May 1985, is painted in the markings of the 447th Bombardment Group (Heavy). (Jan Arkesteijn)
This Vega Aircraft Corporation-built B-17G-105-VE Flying Fortress, 44-85784, seen at Rotterdam, May 1985, is painted in the markings of the 447th Bombardment Group (Heavy). (Jan Arkesteijn)

On 27 March 1945, -052 crash-landed at B-53, a forward airfield near Merville, France, when its left main landing gear failed to extend. It was repaired and survived the war.

B-17G-25-DL 42-38052, with one main gear extended, just before crash landing at B-53, 1340 hours, 27 March 1945. (U.S. Air Force)
B-17G-25-DL 42-38052, with one main gear extended, just before crash landing at B-53, 1340 hours, 27 March 1945. (U.S. Air Force)

The veteran bomber was flown back to the United States and on 15 August 1945, arrived at the reclamation center at Kingman, Arizona. It was scrapped 8 November 1945, after less than two years of service.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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1 November 1954

Boeing B-29A-20-BN Superfortress 42-94012 at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing B-29A-20-BN Superfortress 42-94012 at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona. (U.S. Air Force)

1 November 1954: The United States Air Force begins to retire the Boeing B-29 Superfortress from service. In the above photograph, B-29A-20-BN 42-94012 is at the aircraft storage facility, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona, “The Boneyard.” The dry desert climate and hard, alkaline soil make the base ideal for long-term aircraft storage. The Santa Catalina Mountains are in the background.

The B-29 Superfortress was the most technologically advanced—and complex—aircraft of World War II. It required the manufacturing capabilities of the entire nation to produce. Over 1,400,000 engineering man-hours had been required to design the prototypes.

The Superfortress was manufactured by Boeing at Seattle and Renton, Washington, and Wichita, Kansas; by the Glenn L. Martin Company at Omaha, Nebraska; and by Bell Aircraft Corporation, Marietta, Georgia.

There were three XB-29 prototypes, 14 YB-29 pre-production test aircraft, 2,513 B-29 Superfortresses, 1,119 B-29A, and 311 B-29B aircraft. The bomber served during World War II and the Korean War and continued in active U.S. service until 1960. In addition to its primary mission as a long range heavy bomber, the Superfortress also served as a photographic reconnaissance airplane, designated F-13, a weather recon airplane (WB-29), and a tanker (KB-29).

Boeing B-29 Superfortresses at Wichita, Kansas, 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing B-29 Superfortresses at Wichita, Kansas, 1944. (U.S. Air Force)

The B-29 was operated by a crew of 11 to 13 men. It was 99 feet, 0 inches (30.175 meters) long with a wingspan of 141 feet, 3 inches (43.068 meters). The vertical fin was 27 feet, 9 inches (8.305 meters) high. The wings had a total are of 1,720 square feet ( square meters). The angle of incidence was 4° with 4° 29′ 23″ dihderal. The leading edges were swept aft 7° 1′ 26″. The bomber’s empty weight was 71,500 pounds ( kilograms) with a maximum takeoff weight of 140,000 pounds ( kilograms).

The B-29 was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged, 3,347.66-cubic-inch-displacement (54.858 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 18 (also known as the Duplex-Cyclone) 670C18BA4 (R-3350-23A) two-row 18-cylinder radial engines, which had a Normal Power rating of 2,000 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m., and 2,200 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m. for takeoff. They drove 16 foot, 7 inch (5.055 meter) diameter, four-bladed, Hamilton Standard constant-speed propellers through a 0.35:1 gear reduction. The R-3350-23A was 6 feet, 4.26 inches (1.937 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.78 inches (1.417 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,646 pounds (1,200 kilograms).

Boeing B-29A-30-BN Superfortress 42-94106, circa 1945. (U.S. Air Force)
Boeing B-29A-30-BN Superfortress 42-94106, circa 1945. (U.S. Air Force)

The maximum speed of the B-29 was 353 knots (406 miles per hour/654 kilometers per hour) at 30,000 feet (9,144 meters), though its normal cruising speed was 198 knots (228 miles per hour/367 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). At its maximum takeoff weight, the B-29 required 1 hour, 1.5 minutes to climb from Sea Level to 20,000 feet (6,096 meters). The bomber’s service ceiling was 43,200 feet (13,167 meters). The combat range was 3,445 nautical miles (3,964 statute miles/6,380 kilometers) and its maximum ferry range was 4,493 nautical miles (5,170 statute miles/8,321 kilometers).

The Superfortress could carry a maximum of 20,000 pounds (9,072 kilograms) of bombs in two bomb bays. For defense it had 12 Browning M2 .50-caliber machine guns in four remote-controlled turrets and a manned tail position. The B-29 carried 500 rounds of ammunition per gun.

A number of B-29 Superfortresses are on display at locations around the world, but only two, the Commemorative Air Force’s B-29A-60-BN 44-62070, Fifi, and B-29-70-BW 44-69972, Doc, are airworthy. (After a lengthy restoration, Doc received its Federal Aviation Administration Special Airworthiness Certificate, 19 May 2016.)

B-29 Superfortresses in storage at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. (LIFE Magazine)
B-29 Superfortresses in storage at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. (LIFE Magazine)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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