Another pilot’s opinion
veterans have argued about which was better: the P-47 or the P-51. Maybe my preference for the P-51 started with my first flight in a Jug when I learned how much runway it needed. As pilots always do in a single-seat fighter, I spent a few hours in the cockpit memorizing all instrument and control positions. Then I was ready and was told that one of those monsters had just finished a 100-hour check and needed a test flight. I decided to take it.
The field at A-66 was typical of advanced landing strips: carved from the countryside, cleared, somewhat leveled and covered with a metal mesh mat for its 2,700-foot length. It was adequate for Mustang operations.
The Jug, even with its water-injection feature, required every last foot of runway to get into the air. To make matters worse, the French had a custom of beautifying their roads by planting trees on each side in a geometric pattern, about 10 to 12 feet apart. It made for very pretty, shady country lanes, but unfortunately one of those crossed just beyond the end of our runway. When we flew the P-51, we were well airborne by that time, but in the Jug, it was a challenge to clear the treetops.
I had taken off in P-51s in half the distance this short runway offered. Now, I used every inch of the runway and still hadn’t felt the Jug leave the ground. With trees rapidly approaching, I almost had to physically lift it off to clear the trees. Once in the air, I couldn’t gain altitude and flew only feet above the treetops, using all my strength to hold it. Typically, I would hit the trim tab back to help me go up; however, I tried it, and it wanted to go down. I almost lost my life on that first flight. Later, I learned that the trim tab movement had been installed backwards.
That was enough to convince me: I wanted the P-51s that had been taken from our group back. We didn’t get them back for some time, though, and we flew P-47s from December 1944 through mid-February 1945.
The P-47 wasn’t nearly as maneuverable as the P-51, but it sure could take a beating.
During the Battle of the Bulge, the weather at last cleared to let us into the air near the besieged 101st Airborne Division. While I was dive-bombing, a cannon shell hit my forward fuselage and blew two cylinders completely out of the engine. I didn’t even know I had been hit.
When I landed, people were running alongside the aircraft pointing at it. I climbed out and saw that the entire right side of the aircraft was covered with oil. So the P-47 could take great punishment.
The hit that brought me down in a P- 51 near Metz wouldn’t have taken down a Thunderbolt; it was built like an anvil. Before jumping from the Mustang, I counted eight holes; the one through the engine brought me down. Still, to choose between a plane that could take punishment and one that wasn’t likely to be hit as often (the P-51), I would rather not get hit as often.
The P-47 could carry a huge load. We were flying shortrange missions, so we didn’t need the two 185 U.S.-gallon fuel tanks under each wing. Typically, we carried two 1,000-pound bombs, one under each wing plus one 500-pound bomb under the fuselage. We didn’t have the air-to-ground rockets that Thunderbolts in some units carried.
The eight .50-caliber guns in a P-47 had awesome firepower. I actually tipped over a boxcar while strafing in a Jug! Awesome! I also felt the impact of those eight guns while flying a P-51, when a P-47 mistook me for a Bf 109 like the one I was chasing and hit me with all eight. It blew my canopy off, made a four-inch indentation in the steel plate behind my head without penetrating, and nearly knocked me out. I did an involuntary snap roll and spin, but recovered. The two Jugs abruptly recognized me and left. One of my squadron mates escorted me home and I then flew up to Boxted to confront the guy who hit me. It was Maj. Francis S. “Gabby” Gabreski’s squadron, and he defended them until he finally brought in a new pilot who had “made a mistake.” They had destroyed the gun camera film.
The Mustang was faster, more maneuverable, had less firepower and was more vulnerable. The Jug climbed slower, flew slower, was less maneuverable, had more fire power and could take a lot of punishment. It might have dived faster as P-47 lovers claim, but
I thought the Mustang was as good.