Tag Archives: World War II

6 May 1941

Republic XP-47B 40-3051 prototype in flight. (Republic Aircraft Corporation)

6 May 1941: Just eight months after a prototype for a new single-engine fighter was ordered by the U.S. Army Air Forces, test pilot Lowery Lawson Brabham took off from the Republic Aviation Corporation factory airfield at Farmingdale, New York, and flew the prototype XP-47B Thunderbolt, serial number 40-3051, to Mitchel Field, New York.

During the flight, oil which had collected in the exhaust duct began burning. There was so much smoke that Brabham considered bailing out. He stayed with the prototype, though, and when he arrived at Mitchel Field, he exclaimed, “I think we’ve hit the jackpot!”

Alexander Kartveli

The prototype was designed by Alexander Kartveli, a Georgian immigrant and former chief engineer for the Seversky Aircraft Corporation, which became the Republic Aviation Corporation in 1939.

Alexander Kartveli (née Kartvelishvili, ალექსანდრე ქართველი) was born in Tbilisi, in the Kutais Governorate of the Russian Empire, (what is now, Georgia). After World War I, during which he was wounded, Kartvelishvili was sent to study at the Paris Aviation Higher College of Engineering in France by the government of the Democratic Republic of Georgia. He graduated in 1922. Kartvelishvili did not return to his country, which had fallen to the Red Army in the Soviet-Georgian War. He worked for Blériot Aéronautique S.A. until 1928, when he was employed by the Fokker American Company (also known as Atlantic Aircraft, or Atlantic-Fokker) which was headquartered at Passaic, New Jersey, in the United States. In 1931, he became chief engineer for the Seversky Aircraft Company in Farmingdale.

Republic XP-47B Thunderbolt prototype 40-3051 at Farmingdale, New York, 1941. The pilot standing in front of the airplane gives a scale reference. (Republic Aviation Corporation)

The XP-47B was the largest single-engine fighter that had yet been built. The production P-47B was 34 feet, 10 inches (10.617 meters) long with a wingspan of 40 feet, 9-5/16 inches (12.429 meters), and height of 12 feet, 8 inches (3.861 meters).¹ The wing area was 300 square feet (27.9 square meters). At a gross weight of 12,086 pounds (5,482 kilograms), it was nearly twice as heavy as any of its contemporaries.

Republic XP-47B Thunderbolt 40-3051 at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio.(Ray Wagner Collection, San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives )

The XP-47B was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged and turbocharged, 2,804.4-cubic-inch-displacement (45.956 liter) Pratt & Whitney R-2800-21 (Double Wasp TSB1-G) two-row, 18-cylinder radial with a compression ratio of 6.65:1 had a normal power rating of 1,625 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m., to an altitude of 25,000 feet (7,620 meters), and a takeoff/military power rating of 2,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). The engine drove a 12-foot, 2 inch (3.708 meter) diameter, four-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed propeller through a 2:1 gear reduction. The R-2800-21 was 4 feet, 4.50 inches (1.340 meters) in diameter and 6 feet, 3.72 inches (1.923 meters) long. The engine 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.

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. This supercharged air was then carried forward through an intercooler and then on to the carburetor to supply the engine. The engine’s mechanical supercharger further pressurized the air-fuel charge.

Republic XP-47B 40-3051. The pilot enters the cockpit through a hinged canopy segment. (Ray Wagner Collection Catalog, San Diego Air and Space Museum)

During flight testing, the XP-47B Thunderbolt demonstrated speeds of 344.5 miles per hour (554.4 kilometers per hour) at 5,425 feet (1,654 meters), and 382 miles per hour (615 kilometers per hour) at 15,600 feet (4,745 meters). Its maximum speed was 412 miles per hour (663 kilometers per hour) at 25,800 feet (7,864 meters). The test pilot reported that the engine was unable to produce full power during these tests. It was determined that it had a cracked cylinder head, resulting in a loss of 2.5–4% of its maximum rated power. Also, the XP-47B was painted in camouflage, resulting in a slight loss of speed.

It could climb to 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) in just five minutes.

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. The amount of damage that the airplane could absorb and still return was remarkable.

 

Republic XP-47B Thunderbolt 40-3051, 4 May 1941. (U.S. Air Force)
Republic XP-47B Thunderbolt 40-3051, 4 May 1941. (Republic Aviation Corporation)

During a test flight, 4 August 1942, the XP-47B’s tail wheel was left down. The extreme heat of the turbocharger’s exhaust set fire to the tire, which then spread to the airplane’s fabric-covered control surfaces. Unable to control the airplane, test pilot Filmore L. Gilmer bailed out. The prototype Thunderbolt crashed into Long Island Sound and was destroyed.

The third production Republic P-47B Thunderbolt, 41-5897, at Langley Field, Virginia, 24 March 1942. The door-hinged canopy of the XP-47B has been replaced by a rearward-sliding canopy, requiring that the radio antenna mast be moved.(NASA)
A Republic P-47B Thunderbolt in the NACA Full Scale Tunnel, 31 July 1942. (NASA LMAL 29051)

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 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.

¹ Data from Pilot’s Flight Operating Instructions, Technical Order No. 01-65BC-1, 20 January 1943

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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1 May 1943

Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson presents the Medal of Honor to Staff Sergeant Maynard Harrison Smith, United States Army Air Corps. (U.S. Air Force)

MEDAL OF HONOR

SMITH, MAYNARD H. (Air Mission)

Rank and organization: Sergeant, U.S. Army Air Corps, 423d Bombardment Squadron, 306th Bomber Group.

Place and date: Over Europe, 1 May 1943.

Entered service at: Caro, Michigan.

Born: 1911, Caro Michigan.

G.O. No.: 38, 12 July 1943.

Medal of Honor
Medal of Honor

Citation: “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action above and beyond the call of duty. The aircraft of which Sgt. Smith was a gunner was subjected to intense enemy antiaircraft fire and determined fighter airplane attacks while returning from a mission over enemy-occupied continental Europe on 1 May 1943. The airplane was hit several times by antiaircraft fire and cannon shells of the fighter airplanes, 2 of the crew were seriously wounded, the aircraft’s oxygen system shot out, and several vital control cables severed when intense fires were ignited simultaneously in the radio compartment and waist sections. The situation became so acute that 3 of the crew bailed out into the comparative safety of the sea. Sgt. Smith, then on his first combat mission, elected to fight the fire by himself, administered first aid to the wounded tail gunner, manned the waist guns, and fought the intense flames alternately. The escaping oxygen fanned the fire to such intense heat that the ammunition in the radio compartment began to explode, the radio, gun mount, and camera were melted, and the compartment completely gutted. Sgt. Smith threw the exploding ammunition overboard, fought the fire until all the firefighting aids were exhausted, manned the workable guns until the enemy fighters were driven away, further administered first aid to his wounded comrade, and then by wrapping himself in protecting cloth, completely extinguished the fire by hand. This soldier’s gallantry in action, undaunted bravery, and loyalty to his aircraft and fellow crewmembers, without regard for his own personal safety, is an inspiration to the U.S. Armed Forces.”

Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson reads the Citation for the Medal of Honor awarded to Staff Sergeant Maynard Harrison Smith, 306th Bombardment Group (Heavy). (Imperial War Museum, Roger Freeman Collection FRE 4379)

Sergeant Smith was a ball turret gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress on his first combat mission. The bomber was so badly damaged that, on landing, the airplane’s structure failed from battle damage and it broke in half. There were over 3,500 bullet and shrapnel holes.

Battle damage to the radio operator's compartment of Boeing B-17F-65-BO 42-29649. The bomber was salvaged 3 May 1943. (U.S. Air Force)
Battle damage to the radio operator’s compartment of Boeing B-17F-65-BO 42-29649. The bomber was salvaged 3 May 1943. (U.S. Air Force)

Maynard Harrison Smith was born at Caro, Michigan, 19 May 1911. He was the second child of Henry Harrison Smith, a lawyer, and Mary Christine Gohs Smith, a school teacher.

Smith worked as a clerk in a government insurance office. He married Miss Arlene E. McCreedy at Ferndale, Michigan, 31 July 1929. They had a daughter, Barbara Lou Smith. They divorced 22 October 1932. He later married his second wife, Helene Gene Gunsell, at Caro, Michigan, 30 March 1941.

Maynard Smith enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps, 31 August 1941. He was trained as an aerial gunner, and on completion, was promoted to the rank of staff sergeant. He was assigned as a ball turret gunner in a B-17 combat crew of the 423rd Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 306th Bombardment Group (Heavy), based at RAF Thurleigh, Bedfordshire, England.

A gunner fires the two Browning .50 caliber machine guns of his electrically-powered Sperry ball turret.

Following the 1 May mission, Staff Sergeant Smith flew only four more combat missions before a medical board diagnosed him with Operational Exhaustion. He was removed from flight status and reverted to his initial rank of private.

While stationed in England, Sergeant Smith met Miss Mary Rayner, a British subject and USO volunteer. They were married in 1944. They would have four children.

Sergeant Smith was released from active duty, 26 May 1945.

Following World War II, Smith worked for the Department of the Treasury. He later founded Police Officers Journal, a magazine oriented toward law enforcement officers.

Based on an examination of certain facts in his life, as well as anecdotes by persons who knew him, it is fair to say the Maynard Smith was a troubled individual. But the extreme courage he displayed on 1 May 1943 cannot be denied.

Maynard Smith died at St. Petersburg, Florida, 11 May 1984 at the age of 72 years. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Staff Sergeant Maynard Harrison Smith, United States Army Air Forces, was the first of only five Air Force enlisted airmen to be awarded the Medal of Honor during World War II. He was also awarded the Air Medal, with one oak leaf cluster (two awards).

This photograph shows SSGT Smith with a Browning .50-caliber machine gun at the left waist position of a B-17 Flying Fortress. (U.S. Air Force)
This photograph shows SSGT Smith with a Browning Machine Gun, Caliber .50, AN-M2, at the left waist position of a B-17 Flying Fortress. (U.S. Air Force) 

Boeing B-17F-65-BO Flying Fortress 42-29649 was delivered to Denver, Colorado, 29 January, 1943. After crossing the North Atlantic Ocean, the new bomber was assigned to the 423rd Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 306th Bombardment Group (Heavy) at RAF Thurleigh, near Bedford, Bedfordshire, England, 24 March 1943. It was identified by the letters RD-V painted on its fuselage.

On 1 May 1943, 42-29649 was one of 18 B-17s of the 306th Bombardment Group assigned to attack German Kriegsmarine submarine pens at Saint-Nazaire, on the Atlantic coast of France. Another 60 B-17s from three other groups were also part of the mission. Only 12 bombers from the 306th arrived over the target, which was heavily obscured by clouds. Each bomber carried two 2,000-pound (907 kilogram) General Purpose bombs, which were dropped from 25,200 feet (7,681 meters) on a heading of 270°. After a 20-second bomb run, the group released its bombs at 11:26 a.m.

Damage to the left side of 42-29649’s radio compartment. (U.S. Air Force)

Flying away from the target area, the 306th flew over the city of Brest at low altitude. 42-29649 was hit by anti-aircraft fire. The group was then attacked by 15–20 Luftwaffe Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighters. Two bombers were shot down over the city and a third ditched near the coast. -649 caught fire and three crewmen bailed out over the water and were lost.

Of the 78 B-17s dispatched, 7 were lost. 73 crewmembers were listed as Missing in Action, 18 Wounded in Action and 2 Killed in Action.

On 1 May 1943, 42-29649 was flown by Captain Lewis P. Johnson, Jr., aircraft commander/pilot; 1st Lieutenant Robert McCallum, co-pilot; 1st Lieutenant Stanley N. Kisseberth, navigator; Staff Sergeant J.C. Melaun, nose gunner and bombardier; Technical Sergeant William W. Fahrenhold, flight engineer/top turret gunner; Staff Sergeant Maynard H. Smith, ball turret gunner; Technical Sergeant Henry R. Bean, radio operator; Staff Sergeant Robert V. Folliard, waist gunner; Staff Sergeant Joseph S. Bukacek, waist gunner; Sergeant Roy H. Gibson, tail gunner. Sergeants Bean, Folliard and Bukacek were killed in action.

This Boeing B-17F-55-BO Flying Fortress, 42-29524. also o fthe 423rd Bombardment Squadron, was very similar to teh one on which Sergeant Smith was the ball turret gunner. The squadron identification markings, "RD", are painted on the fuselage. The second letter "D" identifies this particular airplane. (U.S> Air Force)
This Boeing B-17F-55-BO Flying Fortress, 42-29524, Meat Hound, was also of the 423rd Bombardment Squadron, 306th Bombardment Group. 8th Air Force. It is the same type as the B-17F on which Sergeant Smith was the ball turret gunner. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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29 April 1945

Royal Air Force Avro Lancaster Princess Patricia of No. 514 Squadron at RAF Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire, UK, being loaded with food for Operation Manna, 29 April 1945, (Pilot Officer Penfold, Royal Air Force official photographer)
Royal Air Force Avro Lancaster “Princess Patricia” of No. 514 Squadron at RAF Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire, England, being loaded with food for Operation Manna, 29 April 1945. (Pilot Officer Penfold, Royal Air Force Official Photographer/Imperial War Museum)
A Royal Air Force Avro Lancaster heavy bomber drops food packages over The Netherlands.
A Royal Air Force Avro Lancaster heavy bomber drops food packages over The Netherlands.

29 April 1945: With the defeat of Nazi Germany imminent, millions of Dutch citizens were still under the control of the occupying German army. Food was very scarce. The Allies tried to negotiate a cease fire so that American and British airplanes could fly into The Netherlands and drop food to the people.

The truce had not yet been agreed to by Germany, but on 29 April, Operations Manna and Chowhound began.

The first night, to test the feasibility of the project, two Royal Air Force Avro Lancaster four-engine long range heavy bombers of No. 101 Squadron—Bad Penny, crewed by Canadians, and a second ship flown by an Australian crew—were loaded with food at RAF Ludford Magna and flew into The Netherlands at barely 50 feet (15 meters) above the ground.

To drop the food they simply opened the bomb bay doors and the bags and packages fell to the starving people below.

A Royal Air Force Avro Lancaster drops bundles of food in The Netherlands during Operation Manna, 1945. (International Bomber Command Center)

With Flight Sergeant Robert Fairful Upcott, D.F.M., Royal Canadian Air Force, [service number R187858] leading with Bad Penny, the two Lancasters ¹ dropped their food on the Racetrack Duindigt at Wassernaar, near The Hague, then returned along the same corridor they had flown on the way in. At 2:00 p.m. that afternoon, another 200 Lancasters followed.

Flight crew of Avro Lancaster, “Bad Penny.” Standing, left to right: Wireless Operator Stan Jones; Flight Engineer John Corner; Aircraft Commander, Flight Sergeant Robert F. Upcott,D.F.M.; and Navigator Bill Walton. Kneeling, Aerial Gunner Bill Demo; Mid-Upper Gunner Ossie Blower; and Bomb Aimer Bill Gray. (Canadian Historical Aircraft Association)

Over the next ten days, approximately 11,000 tons (9,979 Metric tons) of food were dropped by Royal Air Force Lancasters and U.S. Army Air Force B-17 Flying Fortress bombers.

A Royal Air Force Avro Lancaster drops food packages from its bomb bay while flying at very low level over The Netherlands during Operation Manna.
A Royal Air Force Avro Lancaster drops food packages from its bomb bay while flying at very low level over The Netherlands during Operation Manna.

¹ The second Lancaster was commanded by Flight Officer P. G. L. Collett, Royal Australian Air Force (A424149).

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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24–25 April 1945

First Lieutenant Raymond L. Knight, United States Army Air Corps, (U.S. Air Force)
Aviation Cadet Raymond L. Knight, United States Army Air Corps. (U.S. Air Force)

MEDAL OF HONOR

RAYMOND L. KNIGHT

Rank and organization: First Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps.

Place and date: In Northern Po Valley, Italy, 24-25 April 1945.

Entered service at: Houston, Texas. Born: Texas.

G.O. No.: 81, 24 September 1945.

Medal of Honor
Medal of Honor

Citation: First Lieutenant Raymond L. Knight on 24 and 25 April 1945 in the northern Po Valley, Italy, piloted a fighter-bomber aircraft in a series of low-level strafing missions, destroying 14 grounded enemy aircraft and leading attacks which wrecked 10 others during a critical period of the Allied drive in northern Italy. On the morning of 24 April, he volunteered to lead two other aircraft against the strongly defended enemy airdrome at Ghedi. Ordering his fellow pilots to remain aloft, he skimmed the ground through a deadly curtain of antiaircraft fire to reconnoiter the field, locating eight German aircraft hidden beneath heavy camouflage. He rejoined his flight, briefed them by radio, and then led them with consummate skill through the hail of enemy fire in a low-level attack, destroying five aircraft, while his flight accounted for two others. Returning to his base, he volunteered to lead three other aircraft in reconnaissance of Bergamo Airfield, an enemy base near Ghedi and one known to be equally well defended. Again ordering his flight to remain out of range of antiaircraft fire, Lieutenant Knight flew through an exceptionally intense barrage, which heavily damaged his Thunderbolt, to observe the field at minimum altitude. He discovered a squadron of enemy aircraft under heavy camouflage and led his flight to the assault. Returning alone after this strafing, he made 10 deliberate passes against the field despite being hit twice more by antiaircraft fire, destroying six fully loaded enemy twin-engine aircraft and two fighters. His skillfully led attack enabled his flight to destroy four other twin-engine aircraft and a fighter airplane. He then returned to his base in his seriously damaged airplane. Early the next morning, when he again attacked Bergamo, he sighted an enemy plane on the runway. Again he led three other American pilots in a blistering low-level sweep through vicious antiaircraft fire that damaged his airplane so severely that it was virtually nonflyable. Three of the few remaining enemy twin-engine aircraft at that base were destroyed. Realizing the critical need for aircraft in his unit, he declined to parachute to safety over friendly territory and unhesitatingly attempted to return his shattered airplane to his home field. With great skill and strength, he flew homeward until caught by treacherous air conditions in the Apennine Mountains, where he crashed and was killed. The gallant action of Lieutenant Knight eliminated the German aircraft which were poised to wreak havoc on Allied forces pressing to establish the first firm bridgehead across the Po River. His fearless daring and voluntary self-sacrifice averted possible heavy casualties among ground forces and the resultant slowing of the drive which culminated in the collapse of German resistance in Italy.

1st Lieutenant Raymond L. Knight with a battle-damaged Republic P-47D Thunderbolt fighter bomber. (U.S. Air Force)
1st Lieutenant Raymond L. Knight with a battle-damaged Republic P-47D Thunderbolt fighter bomber. (U.S. Air Force)

Raymond Larry Knight was born 15 June 1922 in Houston, Texas. He was the third child of John Franklin Knight, a clerk, and Sarah Francis Kelly Knight. He attended John H. Reagan Senior High School in Houston, graduating in 1940.

Knight married Miss Johnnie Lee Kinchloe, also a 1940 graduate of Reagan High School, 5 June 1942. They had one son, Raymond Jr.

Knight enlisted as an aviation cadet in the United States Army Air Corps, 10 Oct 1942, and trained as a fighter pilot at various airfields in Texas. He graduated from flight school and was commissioned as a second lieutenant, May 1944. After advanced training, Knight was assigned to the 346th Fighter Squadron, 350th Fighter Group, 12th Air Force, at Tarquinia Airfield, Italy, in November 1944. He was promoted to first lieutenant in March 1945.

Lieutenant Knight flew 82 combat missions. He is credited with 14 enemy aircraft destroyed.

The Medal of Honor was presented to Mrs. Knight by Major General James Pratt Hodges at a ceremony at John H. Reagan Senior High School, 23 October 1945.

In addition to the Medal of Honor, Lieutenant Knight was also awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Air Medal with five oak leaf clusters (six awards).

The remains of 1st Lieutenant Raymond Larry Knight, United States Army Air Corps, are interred at the Houston National Cemetery, Houston, Texas.

1st Lieutenant Raymond L. Knight and crew chief Sergeant Marvin Childers, with Republic P-47D-27-RE Thunderbolt 42-26785. This is the fighter bomber that he flew on the final mission. (U.S. Air Force)
1st Lieutenant Raymond L. Knight (at right) and crew chief Sergeant Marvin Childers, with Republic P-47D-27-RE Thunderbolt 42-26785, marked 6D5. This is the fighter bomber that he flew on the final mission. It was named “OH JOHNNIE” after his wife. (U.S. Air Force)

The Republic P-47 Thunderbolt was the largest single-engine fighter that had yet been built. The first P-47D variant was very similar to the preceding P-47C. The Thunderbolt which Raymond Knight flew on his final mission was a P-47D-27-RE, serial number 42-26785. He had named it OH JOHNNIE after his wife. The Thunderbolt’s bubble canopy had been introduced with the Block 25 series, and Block 27 added a dorsal fillet to improve longitudinal stability which had been diminished with the new aft fuselage configuration.

The P-47D-27-RE was 36 feet, 1¾ inches (11.017 meters) long with a wingspan of 40 feet, 9-3/8 inches (12.430 meters) The overall height was 14 feet, 7 inches (4.445 meters). The fighter’s empty weight was 10,700 pounds (4,853 kilograms) and maximum gross weight was 17,500 pounds (7,938 kilograms).

The P-47D-27-RE was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged and turbocharged 2,804.4-cubic-inch-displacement (45.956 liter) Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp TSB1-G (R-2800-59) two-row, 18-cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 6.65:1. The R-2800-59 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).¹ 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. This supercharged air was then carried forward through an intercooler and then on to the carburetor to supply the engine. The engine’s mechanical supercharger further pressurized the air-fuel charge. The engine drove a 13 foot, 0 inch (3.962 meter) diameter four-bladed Curtiss Electric or Hamilton Standard Hydromatic propeller through a 2:1 gear reduction. The R-2800-59 was 6 feet, 3.72 inches (1.923 meters) long, 4 feet, 4.50 inches (1.340 meters) in diameter, and weighed 2,290 pounds (1,039 kilograms).

A flight of three Republic P-47 Thunderbolt fighters. (U.S. Air Force)

The P-47D had a maximum speed in level flight of 444 miles per hour (715 kilometers per hour) at 23,200 feet (7,071 meters) with 70 inches Hg manifold pressure (2.37 Bar), using water injection. The service ceiling was 40,000 feet (12,192 meters). It had a maximum range of 950 miles (1,529 kilometers) with internal fuel, and 1,800 miles (2,897 kilometers) with external tanks.

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. The amount of damage that the airplane could absorb and still return was remarkable.

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 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.

¹  A rebuilt R-2800-63 was run at War Emergency Power (2,600 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m.) for 7½ hours on a test stand, and was in running condition when the test was completed.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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21–25 April 1944

First Lieutenant Carter Harman, United States Army Air Corps. (U.S. Army)
Second Lieutenant Carter Harman, United States Army Air Corps. (U.S. Army)

21 April 1944: The first military helicopter combat rescue began with Lieutenant Carter Harman, 1st Air Commando Group, being ordered to proceed from Lalaghat, India with his Vought-Sikorsky YR-4B, 43-28247, 600 miles (965 kilometers) to Taro in northern Burma.

Technical Sergeant Ed “Murphy” Hladovcak, pilot of a Stinson L-1A Vigilant liaison airplane, had crashed in the jungle behind Japanese lines while transporting three wounded British soldiers. Lieutenant Harman was assigned to attempt to rescue the four men. It would be a marathon operation.

The first Stinson O-49 liaison airplane, 40-192. The type was redesignated L-1A Vigilant in April 1942. (U.S. Air Force)
The first Stinson O-49 liaison airplane, 40-192. The type was redesignated L-1A Vigilant in April 1942. The L-1A was expensive to manufacture, but had excellent short field performance. (U.S. Air Force)

It took Harman and his Sikorsky 24 hours to arrive at Taro. After a brief rest and dip in the river to cool off, he continued for another 125 miles (202 kilometers) to an airstrip in the jungle called “Aberdeen” which was well behind the enemy lines. It was from here that Sgt. Hladovcak had been operating, flying out wounded soldiers. From Aberdeen, Harman was led to the location of the downed men by another liaison airplane. The survivors were surrounded by Japanese soldiers who had found the crashed airplane and were trying to locate the four men.

Lt. Carter Harman hovering in ground effect with Sikorsky YR-4B Hoverfly 43-28247 at Lalaghat, India, March 1944. This is the helicopter with which he made the first combat rescue, 21–25 April 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
Lt. Carter Harman hovering in ground effect with Sikorsky YR-4B 43-28247 at Lalaghat, India, March 1944. This is the helicopter with which he made the first combat rescue, 21–25 April 1944. (U.S. Air Force)

Because of the high heat, elevation and humidity increased the Density Altitude, the YR-4B’s air-cooled radial engine was unable to produce its full rated power. Also, the helicopter’s rotor blades were not as effective as they would be at lower density altitudes.

Harman planned to lift one of the survivors out of the clearing in the jungle and fly a short distance to a sand bank where other L-1 or L-5 liaison airplanes could fly them back to Aberdeen. He would repeat the operation until all four men had been rescued. However, it took the rest of the day to airlift just the first two wounded and very sick soldiers.

Distinguished Flying Cross

On the second flight, the helicopter’s engine was overheating and on landing it seized and could not be restarted. Sergeant Hladovcak and the remaining soldier were still in the jungle, Lieutenant Harman was stuck by the river bank and Japanese soldiers were everywhere.

On the morning of 25 April Lieutenant Harman was able to get the helicopter’s engine to start, and again, one at a time, he rescued the two remaining survivors. A liaison plane flew out the wounded soldier while Hladovcak rode along with Harman back to Aberdeen. He had never seen a helicopter before.

For his actions, Lieutenant Carter Harman was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Sikorsky YR-4B 43-28247 was condemned 31 December 1944.

Lieutenant Carter Harman (standing, left), 1st Air Commando Group, with Sikorsky YR-4B-8-SI 43-28223, Burma, 26 April 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant Carter Harman (standing, left), 1st Air Commando Group, with Sikorsky YR-4B 43-28223, Burma, 26 April 1944. (U.S. Air Force)

The Sikorsky YR-4B was a two-place, single-engine helicopter with a single main rotor and an anti-torque tail rotor. The fuselage was 35 feet, 8.375 inches (10.881 meters) long with a main rotor diameter of 38 feet, 0 inches (11.582 meters). The tail rotor was 8 feet, 2.25 inches (2.496 meters) in diameter. Its overall length, with rotors turning, was 48 feet, 3.375 inches (4.716 meters). The helicopter had an overall height of 12 feet, 5 inches (3.785 meters). The empty weight was 2,020 pounds (916 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 2,540 pounds (1,152 kilograms). The helicopter’s fuel capacity was 30 gallons (113.6 liters)

The main rotor consisted of three tapered, fully-articulated blades built of chrome-molybdenum steel spars and spruce plywood ribs, with laminated spruce, balsa and mahogany forming the leading edge and a flexible cable forming the trailing edge. The blades were covered with two layers of doped fabric. The three-bladed semi-articulated tail rotor was built with a spruce spar and alternating laminations of maple and mahogany, covered with fabric. Both the main and tail rotors had a thin brass abrasion strip covering the leading edges. The main rotor turned counter-clockwise, as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right.) The tail rotor was mounted on the helicopter’s right side in a tractor configuration. It turned clockwise as seen from the helicopter’s left. (The advancing blade is below the axis of rotation.)

Lieutenant Carter Harmon in the cockpit of Sikorsky YR-4B 43-28223, Burma, 1945.

The YR-4B was powered by an air-cooled, direct-drive 555.298-cubic-inch-displacement (9.100 liter) Warner Super Scarab SS185 (R-550-3) seven-cylinder radial engine with a compression ration of 6.20:1. The R-550-3 was rated at 185 horsepower at 2,175 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 200 horsepower at 2,475 r.p.m (five minute limit) for takeoff. The engine was placed backwards in the aircraft with the propeller shaft driving a short driveshaft through a clutch to a 90° gear box and the transmission. The R-550-3 weighed 344 pounds (156 kilograms).

The R-4B had a cruise speed of 65 miles per hour (105 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 82 miles per hour (132 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 12,000 feet (3,658 meters) and range was 157 miles (253 kilometers).

The YR-4B was equipped with bomb racks. It could carry three 125 pound (56.7 kilogram) demolition bombs or one 325 pound (147 kilogram) depth bomb. The equipment was deleted for the R-4B.

Sikorsky built 27 YR-4Bs and 100 R-4B helicopters. Of these, 40 were assigned to the Army Air Corps, 19 to the Navy and Coast Guard, and 41 were sent to the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy.

Sikorsky YR-4B 43-28225 in the NACA full scale wind tunnel, Langley Field, Virginia, 1944. A technician is preparing strobes to take stop-motion photographs of the helicopter's rotor blades while they turn at normal operating r.p.m. (NASA)
Sikorsky YR-4B 43-28225 in the NACA full scale wind tunnel, Langley Field, Virginia, 1944. A technician is preparing strobes to take stop-motion photographs of the helicopter’s rotor blades while they turn at normal operating r.p.m. (NASA)

Carter Harman was born at Brooklyn, New York, 14 June 1918, the son of Steven Palmer Harman, a newspaper editor, and Helen F. Doremus Harman.

Before the war, Harman had been a musician and author. He assisted Duke Ellington write an autobiography. Harman earned a bachelor’s degree in music composition from Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey, in 1940. While at Princeton, Harman was a member of the Dial Lodge, American Whig Society, Princeton University Band, and the Princeton University Choir.

Harman enlisted as a private in the United States Army at Hew York City on 1 April 1942, and was assigned to the Air Corps. Enlistment records indicate that he was 5 feet, 7 inches (170.2 centimeters) tall and weighed 125 pounds (57 kilograms).

After World War II ended, Harman returned to his musical studies at Columbia University, New York City, receiving a master’s degree in 1949.

Harman worked as a music critic for The New York Times and Time Magazine, and also continued writing books, as well as composing for ballet and opera. He was also a music producer and became executive vice president of CRI Records (Composers Recordings, Inc.).

Harman was married three times. He married Miss Nancy Hallinan, 5 February 1946, however they later divorced. His second wife was Helen Scott. They had four children together. His third wife was Wanda Maximilien.

Carter Harman died at Berlin, Vermont, 23 January 2007 at the age of 88 years.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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