1:72 Republic P-47-D23 “Thunderbolt”, aircraft “46 (s/n 44-32551)” a.k.a. “The Big Fella”, mount of Lt. Col. Richard Caldwell; USAAF 89th FS, 80th FG (“Burma Banshees”), 9th AF; Nagahuli airfield (Assam, India), summer 1944 (What-if/Academy kit)

Nothing you see here is real, even though the conversion or the presented background story might be based on historical facts. BEWARE!

Some background:
The 80th Pursuit Group (Interceptor) was constituted on 13 January 1942 and activated on February 1942. It was redesignated as the 80th Fighter Group in May 1942. During World War II, the group was the first USAAF unit to be stationed in Burma after the Allied retreat in 1942. During its two years in combat, this group, which called itself the Burma Banshees, kept the supply lines open to China while clearing the way for Allied forces and US Army units such as Merrill’s Marauders to sweep Japanese forces from northern Burma.

The 80th trained for combat and served as part of the defense force for the northeastern United States from, 1942–1943. Its flying squadrons were the 88th, 89th, and 90th Pursuit (later Fighter) Squadrons, later augmented by the 459th Fighter Squadron.
The 80th sailed for India, via Brazil, the Cape of Good Hope, and Ceylon, in May 1943, commencing combat operations in the China-Burma-India theater in September 1943. The group supported Allied ground forces during the battle for northern Burma and the push southward to Rangoon, bombing and strafing troop concentrations, supply dumps, lines of communication, artillery positions, and other objectives.

Initial flying material consisted mainly of the P-40 and a few P-38 fighters. Using modified, so-called “B-40 fighter” bombers (P-40s fitted with a single 1,000-pound bomb), the 80th FG attacked Japanese-held bridges, sometimes demolishing their target with a single bomb. The 80th was assigned the defense of the Indian terminus of the Hump route, which it carried out by striking Japanese airfields and patrolling Allied air bases to safeguard them from attack. The 80th received a Distinguished Unit Citation for intercepting a formation of Japanese aircraft, preventing the destruction of a large oil refinery in Assam, India, on 27 March 1944. During this engagement, they shot down 18 enemy machines without losing any of their own.

After the capture of Myitkyina and the nearby airfield on May 17, 1944, parts of the 80th Fighter Group relocated to this location. During the heavy fighting around Kohima and Imphal, the British troops deployed there requested air support and the 80th Fighter Group was able to successfully thwart the Japanese advance. In the further course of the operations in Burma, the pilots of the 80th Fighter Group destroyed more than 200 bridges held by the Japanese and shot down around 80 Japanese planes.
Though its primary mission in Burma was the protection of the "Hump" cargo route, the group also played an important role in reopening the Ledo/Burma Road.

From mid-1944 onwards, the P-40s were supplemented and gradually replaced with the new, much more potent P-47 Thunderbolt. With their heavier machine gun armament (eight instead of six 0.5” machine guns) and a much higher ordnance load of up to 2,500 lb (1,100 kg) of bombs, unguided rockets and M10 “Bazooka” launchers, this new aircraft type proved to be very effective.

The Republic P-47 Thunderbolt was a World War II-era fighter aircraft produced by the American aerospace company Republic Aviation from 1941 through 1945. When fully loaded, the P-47 weighed up to eight tons, making it one of the heaviest fighters of the war. The Thunderbolt was effective as a short-to medium-range escort fighter in high-altitude air-to-air combat and ground attack in both the European and Pacific theaters. The P-47 was designed around the powerful Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp 18-cylinder radial engine, which also powered two U.S. Navy/U.S. Marine Corps fighters, the Grumman F6F Hellcat and the Vought F4U Corsair. The P-47 became one of the main United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) fighters of World War II and also served with other Allied air forces, including those of France, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union. Mexican and Brazilian squadrons fighting alongside the USAAF also flew the P-47. The Thunderbolt’s armored cockpit was relatively roomy and comfortable. Nicknamed the "Jug" owing to its appearance if stood on its nose, the P-47 was noted for its firepower, as well as its ability to resist battle damage and remain airworthy.

From October 1944 the operations of the 80th Fighter Group in Northern Burma concentrated on the destruction of the routes of the Burma Railway. Operations with army support (operating as "cab ranks" to be called in when needed) were very successful, with attacks on enemy airfields and lines of communication, and the aircraft flew a number escort sorties. An 80th FG squadron could finally be relocated to Shingbwiyang and was thus in the immediate vicinity of Ledo Street, which was under construction. The squadron flew many sorties against advancing Japanese forces and was instrumental in the capture of Myitkyina. Napalm bombs, a new weapon and initially improvised from drop tanks with makeshift fins, were also used with devastating effect, but some of them very close to the company’s own lines.

By the end of the war, the group had destroyed more than 200 bridges and killed scores of bridge repair crews. Air-to-air and air-to-ground sweeps by the group’s pilots claimed 80 enemy planes destroyed in the air or on the ground. The 80th Fighter Group was withdrawn from combat in May 1945 and inactivated in November.

General characteristics:
Crew: 1
Length: 36 ft 1.75 in (11.02 m)
Wingspan: 40 ft 9 5/16 in (12.429 m)
Height: 14 ft 8 1/16 in (4.472 m)
Airfoil: Seversky S-3
Empty weight: 10,000 lb (4,536 kg)
Max takeoff weight: 17,500 lb (7,938 kg)

1 × Pratt & Whitney R-2800-59 18-cylinder air-cooled radial piston engine, 2,000 hp (1,500 kW),
driving a 4-bladed Curtiss Electric C542S constant-speed propeller, 13 ft (4.0 m) diameter

Maximum speed: 426 mph (686 km/h, 370 kn) at 30,000 ft (9,100 m)
Range: 1,030 mi (1,660 km, 900 nmi)
Service ceiling: 42,000 ft (13,000 m)

8x 0.5” caliber (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine guns (3.400 rounds)
Up to 2,500 lb (1,100 kg) of bombs, drop tanks and/or up to ten 5” (130 mm) unguided rockets

The kit and its assembly:
This is a very modest what-if model – just a fictional livery on a stock model, and part of the ongoing plan to “build down” The Stash™ of kits during the ongoing Corona lockdown. The idea behind it was spawned by a number of decals for P-40s for the 80th FG I found in my scrap box, which all carried spectacular skull markings on their noses. I wondered if and how these could be adapted to another aircraft type – and the P-47 lent itself for this project due to its sheer “canvas” size, despite having a radial engine, and being the natural successor of the P-40 in USAAF service.

From that I spun the idea further and settled for an early Razorback P-47D, in the form of the very nice Academy kit. The kit was basically built OOB, it went together nicely without major fights – a trait that I really like about most Academy kits. The only true weak spot of the P-47 is the flaps’ undersides: they are pretty thick/massive, so that there are shallow sinkholes. These are easy to fill, though, even though I ignored this flaw and rather lowered the flaps, a mod that’s pretty easy to do.
An addition is a scratched D/F loop antenna on a streamlined socket behind the cockpit, a typical feature of P-47s operated in the BMI theatre. The loop was created with thin wire, the socket is a piece of sprue, integrated into the spine with some putty. As a late-production Razorback Thunderbolt I gave the aircraft a Curtiss Electric paddle-bladed propeller, which the Academy kit offers as an optional piece.

The ordnance was also taken from the kit: a pair of Bazooka triple launchers for ground attack duties and a drop tank under the fuselage.

Painting and markings:
A simple affair: as an early P-47, I gave the aircraft the standard USAAF livery of olive drab and neutral grey. I used Tamiya XF-62, IMHO the best interpretation of the tone, and ModelMaster 1740, actually FS 36231 instead of FS 36173, but the Dark Gull Grey is a bit lighter than Neutral Grey and looks IMHO better on the 1:72 scale model. AFAIK, no P-47 carried the earlier mid-green blotches on the wings anymore. The cockpit was painted in Interior Green, while the landing gear wells became zinc chromate yellow, very traditional.

The individual aircraft markings were more spectacular and also challenging. The real eye-catcher is pair of 80th FG skulls on the cowling flanks, even though these had to be completed with paint since they come from a Hobby Boss P-40N and feature empty sections for the exhaust stubs. The empty eye sockets had to be added manually, too, and since there was now a lot of white, I added – after consulting pictures of 80th FG P-40s – thin black lines to the skull with a felt tip pen. A real improvement, and it’s even authentic!

Furthermore, I added 1st Air Commando Group markings in the form of five white diagonal stripes around the rear fuselage. This group operated in the BMI area, e.g. P-51s, B-25s and even P-47s, but the 80th FG was not part of it. Nevertheless, the stripes suit the Razorback very well, and they were created with generic 2mm decal stripes from TL Modellbau. Each stripe had to be applied and trimmed individually, not an easy task on the conical tail with its concave and convex surface. The result is not perfect, but I am fine with it, and it looks very cool.

Pictures of early USAAF P-47s in the BMI are hard to find, but what I found suggests that Allied machines wore single bands on wings and tail surfaces as additional ID markings from 1943 on, much like the P-47s over Europe. On later NMF aircraft, these were dark blue (on both USAAF and RAF aircraft), and I was lucky to have a complete set of white P-47 markings left over from an Xtradecal set for SEAC RAF Thunderbolts, which comes with pre-cut bands in white and blue, very convenient! On the downside, the white fuselage stripes dramatically revealed that the P-47’s OOB decals, esp. the Stars and Bars, lacked opacity, so that I had to add some white paint manually to hide the resulting mess.

Typical unit markings of the 89th FS are a red spinner, and since the P-47 has only a small one, I added a thin red frame around the cowling, as carried by later real-world 89th FS P-47s, which were left in bare metal, though. As a gimmick I painted the wheel hubs in red, too. As a personal marking of the pilot I christened the aircraft “The Big Fella”, taken from an Irish pre-WWII armored car, and I added some air victory markings.

As usual, the kit received a black ink washing overall and some post panel shading with Revell 42 and 46 on the upper surfaces and ModelMaster 2105 (Dark French Blue Gray) underneath for visual drama and weathering. Some light soot stains around the gun muzzled were created with graphite, oil stains under the fuselage with Tamiya “Smoke”.

While this was not a complex build and even the livery is pretty close to real world standards, I like the outcome and how the skull markings stand out on the huge P-47. The array of fuselage stripes are an interesting visual extra, even though I was afraid that they were, together with the white ID stripes on the wings, a bit too much. The red highlights are an interesting contrast, too, and IMHO the whole decoration works fine. Everything fictional, but plausible and believable.

Posted by Dizzyfugu on 2021-02-25 08:30:07

Tagged: , 1:72 , republic , p-47 , thunderbolt , razorback , jug , juggernaut , whif , what-if , fictional , aviation , aircraft , fighter , usaaf , burma , banshee , 80thFG , skull , p-40 , india , wwii , olive , drab , neutral , grey , modellbau , dizzyfugu , white , stripes , Assam , Nagahuli , 9th , air , force , AF , The , Big , Fella , 1944 , SEA , birma

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