The Tank's Formidable Enemies

If the Allied Typhoons and P47s were friends of British and American armored forces, they also proved implacable enemies of German armored, mechanized, and infantry forces. This was an aspect of Warfare - the airplane as enemy of the tank - that even the formidable Fuller had failed to prophesy. In opposing offensive mobile armor, as in North Africa, the fighter-bomber was of limited use. Now, as German armor typically lay in defensive ambush, or retreated in tight columns, the rocket- or bomb-loaded fighter proved devastating.

The Ninth Air Force and the Second Tactical Air Force had vast quantities of fighter-bombers. IX TAC, for example, had twenty four squadrons of Republic P47 Thunderbolts, while 2 TAF had eighteen squadrons of Hawker Typhoons. Both were beefy, powerful aircraft, capable of absorbing considerable battle damage and still returning to base. Of the two, the P47 was the more survivable, in part because it had a radial piston engine. The Typhoon had a liquid-cooled engine and "chin" radiator installation that was vulnerable to ground fire. Affectionately known as the Jug, the P47, on occasion, returned to base not merely with gaping holes from enemy defenses, but with whole cylinders blown off its engine. Pilot memoirs reveal that while the P47 was regarded with affection and even fierce loyalty, the Tiffie (as the Typhoon was dubbed) had earned an uncomfortable respect and awe bordering on fear.

Both fighter-bombers had, for their time, prodigious weapons- carrying capabilities. Both could lug up to a 2,000-lb bomb load, one 1,000-lb bomb under each wing. Typically, however, both operated with smaller loads. A P47 would carry an external belly fuel tank and one 500-lb bomb under each wing; many were also configured so that the plane could carry air-to-ground rockets, typically ten 5-in HVARs (high-velocity aircraft rockets). P47s on an armed reconnaissance mission would usually operate three flights, two armed with a mix of bombs and rockets, and the cover flight carrying only rockets. Over 80 percent of the bombs dropped by P47s during the European campaign were 500-lb weapons; less than 10 percent were 1,000-lb bombs, and the difference was made up by smaller 260-lb fragmentation bombs and napalm. While acknowledging the spectacular effects and destructiveness of rockets, the AAF considered bombs more effective for "road work" due to accuracy problems in firing the solid-fuel weapons.

The British, on the other hand, preferred rockets, the Typhoon carrying eight having 60-lb armor-piercing warheads. Possibly this difference of opinion stemmed from launching methods; the P47s used "zero length" launchers while the Typhoons used launch rails. It could be expected that the rails would impart greater accuracy, stabilizing the rocket immediately after ignition until it had picked up sufficient speed for its tail fins to stabilize it. (There is, however, an interesting report from Montgomery's 21st Army Group that questions the alleged success that British air-to-ground rockets enjoyed against tanks and motorized transport.)

Besides their bomb and rocket payloads, the P-47 and the Typhoon both boasted powerful gun armaments. The Typhoon had four 20mm Hispano cannon. The P-47 carried eight .50 cal. machine guns with 400 rounds per gun, and it proved "particularly successful" against transports. The machine guns occasionally even caused casualties to tanks and tank crews. The .50 cal. armor-piercing bullets often penetrated the underside of vehicles after ricocheting off the road, or penetrated the exhaust system of the tanks, ricocheting around the interior of the armored hull, killing or wounding the crew and sometimes igniting the fuel supply or detonating ammunition storage. This seemed surprising at first, given the typically heavy armor of German tanks. Yet Maj. Gen. J. Lawton "Lightning Joe" Collins, Commander of First Army's VII Corps, was impressed enough to mention to Quesada the success that P-47s had strafing tanks with .50 cal. machine gun fire.

Of course, other fighter-bombers operated in Normandy and across Europe, notably the Lockheed P-38 Lightning, North American P-51 Mustang, and Supermarine Spitfire. With the exception of the Lightning (which had a concentrated armament installation that made it a formidable strafer), all of these proved disappointing. Their liquid-cooled engine systems were quite vulnerable to ground fire, and thus they were used far less for ground attack and much more for air superiority operations.

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