Local paper headlines: “Laurel Flyer Drops Bombs from Thunderbolt Down Gun Turret of Nazi Tiger Tank”

Robert Campbell was a member of the 378th FS, 379th FG. The contemporary press reports may not be chock full of accurate detail, but they are entertaining! This was from the April 3 issue of the Marshalltown Times Republican:

Flying his P-47 Thunderbolt fighter-bomber, “Peg of My Heart,” Lt. Robert W. Campbell recently dropped a 500 pound bomb down an open gun turret of a Nazi Tiger tank during an attack in which his flight of three Thunderbolts destroyed 40 vehicles and six tanks near Bitburg, Germany. An account of some of the missions in which the flier has participated was sent to his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Bruce Campbell of Laurel by a public relations officer of the Ninth Air Force.

“We were on an armed reconnaissance in the area,” the release said, quoting Lieutenant Campbell. “I spotted a convoy of 50 trucks and tanks dispersed in a woods alongside a road. Peeling off in a steep dive, I aimed for five tanks near the edge of the road. One of my bombs went right down the middle of an open gun turret of a Tiger tank. As the bomb exploded inside, the tank seemed to jump right into the air. When it landed it was a burning mass of twisted steel.”

“I gained altitude quickly and came in on the deck at over 300 miles an hour strafing. I must have got 11 trucks on that first strafing pass for I could see my tracers hitting at least 20 vehicles. I circled and came back in knocking out six more trucks. German soldiers were running like mad for open foxholes in the woods and alongside the road.

When we left, my flight had destroyed 40 vehicles and six tanks in the attack that lasted about 20 minutes,” said Lt. Campbell.

Robert Campbell (left) and Roy Christian horse around on a captured 88. Christian would be KIA by flak, but Campbell completed his tour.

In another mission, Lt. Campbell dived out of the sun in his rocket-carrying Thunderbolt at over 350 miles an hour to attack and destroy a two story house used by the Germans as a command post, west of Bitburg, Germany.

“The ground controller called and told me the house was being used as a German command post.” said Lieutenant Campbell. “I went down to look it over for a good steep approach. Circling back up into the clouds, I rolled over on my wing with the sun behind me and dived 3,000 feet and fired two rockets that exploded in the house.

“It seemed to crumble in two and began burning. I released another rocket into the two story structure for good measure.”

Lieutenant Campbell shot up five armored vehicles and three gun positions several miles from the command post with one strafing pass on his way back to the base.

Flying barely 50 feet off the ground over American infantrymen advancing near Echternach, Germany, recently, Lieutenant Campbell led a squadron of Thunderbolts in pumping .50 caliber bullets into the German defenses less than a mile away despite adverse weather conditions.

“That day the weather was poor as we came in low over the heads of our boys who were less than a mile away from forward German positions,” described Lieutenant Campbell. “As they saw us the boys waved and two Yanks threw their helmets into the air.

Heavy small arms fire greeted us as we began firing into the Jerry positions. We made another strafing run and then attacked an enemy-held town and 12 vehicles. Climbing back up into the overcast we headed home.”

Lieutenant Campbell remembers well one particular day last August when his group was attacking Brest harbor where German light naval ships were attempting to evacuate German soldiers from the city of Brest. While dive-bombing the ships, word was received at his base that the lieutenant had become the father of a baby boy.

“When I landed and they told me the good news, I practically fainted,” grinned the Laurel high school graduate who helped sink five merchantmen and damaged a German cruiser in the harbor.

 

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Book Report: the Kamikaze Hunters

My commute to and from work involves a 20-minute ferry ride, which gives me time to catch up on some reading. The first book I polished off was one that had been staring at me from the book store shelves until I finally succumbed to it Will Iredale’s the Kamikaze Hunters (2016, Pegasus Books).

 

The title’s a little deceptive – you might be inclined to think it was about U.S. Navy or Marine Corps pilots. Not so – this deals with a much less thoroughly covered area of World War II, the Royal Navy and Fleet Air Arm’s operations in the later years of the war.

 

And it doesn’t just cover the Pacific – combat starts with the Home Fleet’s attacks on the Tirpitz in European waters. But really, the book starts much earlier, with the training of a handful of men who would go on to fly Corsairs from British carrier decks. Iredale mixes in contemporary letters and recent interviews splendidly to paint fully realized portraits of these men. One trick he accomplishes is to avoid tipping his hand that one of these men doesn’t survive the war. Usually, authors telegraph someone’s demise by quoting only their letters or third-person versions of their stories; Iredale deftly avoids this so when the pilot is lost it’s a genuine surprise.

 

The attacks on the Sumatran oil fields are discussed in depth, as are the raids capping the Japanese special attack airfields. Iredale does an excellent job of explaining these raids; I’m building a Firefly FR.I that flew during them, and I was unaware their primary task, improvised on the spot, was to bust barrage balloons (which they were not great at!).

 

Of grim interest are the accounts of kamikaze attacks on the British Pacific Fleet and its armor-decked carriers, which were more resilient in shrugging off suicide planes than their American counterparts (but paid for it in carrying fewer aircraft). Just the same, the crews suffered horrible injuries and death the same as any men exposed aboard U.S. carriers.

 

The book also touches on the incredible aircraft attrition rate for the FAA – only about 15 percent of it suffered during air combat. The rest owed to deck accidents and kamikaze damage.

 

There are a couple of boo-boos – Iredale repeats the myth about the Japanese carries at Midway having packed flight decks when they were bombed, and at one point says the carrier crews overpainted their aircraft’s camouflage with blue paint (in reality, attrition and a change in painting specs turned FAA carrier units blue all on their own).

 

Corsairs take center stage, but there are also Hellcats. Avengers, Barracudas, Fireflies and Seafires – a virtual airshow of types. But it’s the brave young airmen who are the stars of this excellent and eminently readable book. Strongly recommended for students of the Pacific War.

Advance praise for “Thunderbolts Triumphant” (blush!)

Sharing your manuscript around before publication is a good thing to do – other writers can help you improve the writing, or tip you to alternative sources you might not have run across. Later, you get to ask writers for their assessment for possible use in promoting the book. This is an exercise I recommend to any writer who’s feeling down about themselves – writers are good with words, naturally, and they’re generous in giving articulate praise.

I’m lucky – the two Toms are scale modelers I’ve known for a long time, and Leo Barron used my manuscript several years ago to add the aerial component to his latest work on the Battle of the Bulge!

Here’s what they had to say about the forthcoming book:

“Thunderbolts Triumphant presents the reader with a pilot’s-eye view of the dangerous, demanding and crucial ground support missions flown by the 362nd Fighter Group during World War II. Chris Bucholtz’s exacting research and writing skill add a new insight to this often forgotten part of the air war against Germany. I highly recommend this book to all World War II aviation buffs.”

Tom Ivie, author of Patton’s Eyes in the Sky: USAAF Tactical Reconnaissance Missions, North West Europe, 1944-45

 

Thunderbolts Triumphant is one of the best group histories I’ve had the pleasure of reading. A great story about a great group of guys whose story should have been told long ago, told from the ground up. Chris Bucholtz brings to this work a deep personal passion to get the story right and it shows. If you want to know the story of the guys who really won the air war in Europe, look no further.”

— Thomas McKelvey Cleaver, author, Fabled Fifteen: The Pacific War Saga of Carrier Air Group 15

“Thunderbolts Triumphant is an exhilarating day-by-day account of the brave pilots and airman of the 362nd Fighter Group. Chris Bucholtz puts you in the cockpit so that you experience the dogfights firsthand. If you want to learn more about the air combat over Europe in World War II, then this is the book for you.”

–Leo Barron, author, Patton at the Battle of the Bulge: How the General’s Tanks Turned the Tide at Bastogne


By the way, all three of these books are excellent reads – authoritative, exciting, and the beneficiaries of exacting research! I’m proud to have a copy of each on my library’s shelves. (See? I can write these little testimonies, too!) All are available via Amazon, so pick up a copy!

The cover of “Thunderbolts Triumphant”

A few weeks ago I promised you a peek at the cover art for my new book on the 362nd Fighter Group. Well, here it is:

 

 

It’s already available for pre-order on Amazon, or you can or see it on Casemate’s web page, too. It’s going to be a big book – but believe it or not, I cut down the manuscript by about 20 percent for publication. That means the “excerpts” you read here will have additional details over and beyond the book. What’s more, I plan to continue to update the manuscript as time progresses – my biggest frustration is that a book comes out, followed by a barrage of great information from people who saw the book was available. That information often goes for naught, but I want to use the blog to continue to share with you the information that efforts round the group surface.

The book will be out in late November, just in time stuff your oversized stockings!

This day, in 1944: “Memphis Rebel” crashes through a fuel dump – and Thurman Morrison survives

The above photo looks like a scene of tragedy – a wrecked P-47, flames, and firefighting foam everywhere. It very well could have been, except for luck and the rugged construction of the Thunderbolt.

On April 29, 1944, the 362nd group provided withdrawal escort for bombers returning from Berlin, on a mission led by Capt. Bill Flavin. The P-47s were each equipped with two 108-gallon pressed paper tanks. At this stage, the group had been flying two escort missions a day, and the P-47s were becoming mechanically worn. On take-off, Capt. Thurman Morrison’s P-47 “Memphis Rebel” failed to get airborne. “I recognized at the ‘go-no go’ point along the runway that he was not going to make it off the ground,” said Bob McKee, his wingman, who was also taking off at the time. “I clicked on my throttle’s water injection switch to give me extra power and eased off the PSP runway, to the right and over the sod area as I began to overrun Morrison’s aircraft.” McKee got off the ground in time to see Morrison’s plane skid into a gasoline dump containing 400,000 gallons of fuel, stored and camouflaged by the RAF right at the end of the runway. The dump erupted in a titanic fireball.

McKee’s plane was flipped onto its right side at 50 feet of altitude and very little speed, and only some frantic flying saved McKee from going in, too.

The non-flying personnel watching the take-off from “sweaters’ hill” “wrote him off as one dead fighter pilot,” said “Andy” Anderson, the 379th’s S-2. Even more shocking than this accident was Morrison’s appearance back at the operations tent later. “He walked in carrying his parachute, utterly unscathed,” Anderson said. “Memphis Rebel,” P-47D 42-75142, slid through a sheet of flame, then pivoted on its belly around 180 degrees, keeping its pilot safe until it emerged on the other side. “Two of the anti-aircraft GIs who dwelt in tents at the end of the runway had dashed to Capt. Morrison’s aid and, using a pickaxe, pried open his jammed canopy and dragged him out of the burning plane. Capt. Morrison. plane and all, had skidded right through the blazing inferno he had started, but he sat there, trapped in his cockpit, until the two brave GIs pried him out. You have to give credit to a couple of heroes there, to leap on to a burning airplane carrying a very volatile load of high-octane gasoline.”

 

That book on the 362nd I talk about? It’s coming this fall!

Now that I have a contract in hand, I can spill the beans: this fall, Casemate Publishers will be issuing my book “Thunderbolts Triumphant: the 362nd Fighter Group vs. Germany’s Wehrmacht.” It’ll be the first narrative history of the 362nd, and it’ll be very lavishly illustrated (150+ photos, color profiles, etc.). So, if you have any material you think might help the book (especially photos!) let me know -now’s the time!

I’ve been excerpting the manuscript here for a long time. The book will be shorter (and better written!) and a lot of nitty-gritty details, like aircraft serials, will be removed to an appendix at the back so the text is more readable.

I want to thank those of you who have helped with the over the years – I hope I can share the cover art with you all soon!

Gannet AEW.3: Wheel Wells, Wings and Wingtip Lights

When we last left the Gannet, the fuselage was detailed and all buttoned up. That’s where she sat for a long while as I worked on the Sikorsky S-38. But, once the S-38’s fuselage was closed up, I switched back to spend some quality time with the Gannet.

OK, so I have a hard time finishing anything. At least the A-3, F-106 and Fokker Triplane aren’t visible here…

The wings and horizontal tail were the next stage. I started with the tail; the stabilizers are provided in upper and lower halves. After trimming them from the sprues and cleaning them up, I cemented the first set together – and then realized they were handed, and that I’d glued two top halves together! I pried them apart and re-glued them, feeling lucky to have caught my mistake.

Next came the finlets. I found that on each stabilizer, one finlet – the top on one, the bottom on the other – didn’t really fit well. They all required repeated filling and sanding, to be honest, and then I needed to re-scribe the finlets. Between the original Gannet AS.1 and the AEW.3, Fairey had decided to add de-icing equipment to the finlets, so scribing could not be overlooked. Photos of the real plane showed a distinct dark panel boundary between the de-icing panel and the rest of the finlet.

As I was re-scribing, I noticed that the panel detail on the horizontals was different. I dawned on me: I had caught my error, then repeated it. Twice! After much blue language (said with a British accent in order to maintain the authenticity of this build), I realized that prying the halves apart was no longer an option. Instead, I sanded the detail off the top of one stabilizer and off the bottom of the second, and re-scribed the detail to match the opposite side. This was slightly difficult with the finlets in the way, but I accomplished it and happily set the horizontals aside for later.

Before I could add the wings, I needed to detail the wheel wells. The kit provides three sides for each well and a center bulkhead; the fourth side is the side of the fuselage on this mid-wing aircraft. These parts were all added to the upper wing, and the fit was not bad. Hunting for photos was a challenge – I found images strewn all over the internet of AEW.3s in Arizona in the U.S. and Yeovilton, Newark, Yorkshire and Gatwick in the U.K.  No one set captures the entirety of both wheel wells, so some mental jigsaw puzzling was needed to figure out where details went.

Basically, the wheel wells featured a ribbed plate (smooth in the kit) that covered a circuit box. Wiring runs led up the front side of the wells and fanned out toward a bus mounted against that center bulkhead. Other hydraulic lines and some woven bundles of wiring continued along the other sides of the inner wells. The detail here varied from side to side. The outer wells, where the strut retraction mechanisms were housed, were essentially the same, but mirrored, with an assortment of struts and hydraulic lines.

The right inner well had a large blue tank for nitrogen (I believe) mounted against its front corner, with and assortment of circuit boxes placed in sequence behind it. The left inner well had some significant ducting and couplers against it. In all, it’s a very busy area. By the way, the Gannet AS.1 and AS.3 have wheel wells that are much, much less crowded – don’t make the mistake of using an AS.1 well (or, maybe, trying to use Eduard parts intended for the AS.1 or AS.3) as the template for the AEW.3’s wells!

This was a lot to replicate. I did it in steps: first I added ribs to the plate at the center of the inner wells, then started in with the wire runs. These were made with fine lead wire; with careful folding, I could get five wires that bent at the same angles. A bit of thin CA in the back of the wires held them together, and they were secured inside the wheel bays. Initially, I mis-interpreted the runs that fanned out to the bus and later realized I had bent them 180 degrees in the wrong direction! Luckily, I was able to fix my mistakes and keep going. These runs also received retaining brackets made from flattened solder. The woven wire runs were made from fine copper wire that was twisted together and cut to shape. It was added where appropriate.

With the lower wing test-fit, the detail in the left inner bay starts to come together.

Preliminary work – note the ribs on the panel and the copper cable run.

The fuselage bulkheads were the trickiest part – none of the detail added here could impinge on the detail under the wing when the wings were added. Before I added any detail, I noticed the inner walls of the bays had very visible rivets. Using a rivet tool and Dymo label tape as a guide, I added rivets to the inner walls of the wheel bays.

The inner walls of the wheel bays were riveted and detailed as appropriate. This detail had to mesh with the detail on the upper wing.

Detailing started with the nitrogen tank, which was made by sanding a nub of .040 styrene rod round at the ends, then wrapping with short lengths of flattened lead wire. Styrene “valves” were added and the whole thing was glued into the wheel well corner. Circuit boxes stolen from HO train details and other boxes cut from styrene completed the detail on the left side. The right side received the valves and hoses for the fuel system, which were made from thicker lead wire, plus three more electronics boxes made from styrene strip.

Wheel bays looking back-to-front. Note the blue nitrogen tank.

The outer bays, featuring the retratction mechanisms, were detailed with lead wire, followed by some styrene rod for the various struts, one of which stands proud above the detail above it in the bay. The whole mess was then airbrushed medium gray, followed by careful detail painting of the brownish fiberglass ribbed panels, the blue tank, the orange fuel system fittings, and a few other items. A heavy wash followed and once that was dry, I dry-brushed with a lightened shade of gray. I added a couple of square data placard with a .005 black rapidograph pen, and decided to stop there.

Wheel bays viewed front to back

The lower wings snap into slots; the top wings rest atop these. I found that my detail fit together very well, although the wings themselves needed some sanding and filling – and shimming – to attach to the fuselage and stay in alignment to the rest of the model. The panel lines I obscured on the wings were replaced, with a scribing template and a sharpened thumbtack coming in handy for the square panels with rounded corners.

Note the wing root – styrene shims and Apoxie Sculpt helped blend in the wings.

 

The lights on the wings were treated somewhat carelessly. The landing lights have clear covers, but there’s no bulb inside them. The position lights on the wingtips are simply not there. I sanded a notch in each wing tip, then cut pieces of clear sprue and sanded a right angle into each to fit the notch. A tiny hole was drilled into each light and clear red and green-blue paint was inserted into the holes to represent the light bulbs. The styrene was CA-glued into the notches in the wingtips and carefully sanded to the original contours, then polished to transparency. The landing light openings were cleaned up and boxed off with .050 styrene; they would be painted gray later after the model was painted, then equipped with MV lenses and covered by covers made with clear packing tape.

The left wing showing the boxed-in landing light bay and the position light. If you look closely, you can see the red “bulb.”

The wheel wells aren’t totally done – the trailing interiors of the outer bays have vertical stanchions that I’ll add only after masking and painting – but at this point the wings are on and aligned, which a pretty good step forward from where the model was art this time last year.

Next, I’ll add the tail, the windscreen and the exhausts for the turboprop engines – and then, the plane will be ready for paint!