The dictionary defines “juggernaut” as: “any large, overpowering, destructive force or object.” Shorten it to “Jug,” and you’ve got the perfect nickname for the P-47 Thunderbolt of WWII. Renowned for its ruggedness, firepower and speed, the massive Republic P-47 was one of the most famous and important USAAF planes during the war. It became the principal US fighter bomber.
The P-47 was designed by Russian emigre Alexander Kartveli, considered one of the most important and innovative aircraft designers in history. Working with Alexander de Seversky, another Russian émigré (a prominent engineer and founder of Seversky Aircraft Corporation), the two designed the P-35 and later early prototypes of the P-47. It was Kartveli, though, who came up with the novel design for the final P-47 while working at Republic Aircraft Corporation.
Kartveli designed the plane around the massive and powerful 2,000 hp Pratt and Whitney Double Wasp XR-2800-21, eighteen cylinder, two-row radial engine coupled to a 12 ft. four-bladed Hamilton propeller. The Double Wasp was the largest and most powerful engine developed in the US. The unorthodox placement of the supercharger in the tail was efficient, and, it made the plane less susceptible to battle damage. Because of the large propeller diameter, and a problem with ground clearance, Kartveli also designed newly-innovative telescopic landing gear.
With an airspeed of over 430 mph at 30,000 ft, eight .50 caliber machine guns, (four in each wing), the P-47 was a potent fighter. The air-cooled radial engine could take hits yet keep on running. Its one major weakness was in climbing ability, but it could out-dive any other plane. At over 7 tons loaded (almost twice the weight of a P-40 Warhawk), it dove fast! Any plane that attempted to break off contact by going into a dive would soon be overcome by the remarkable speed of the P-47; that speed also provided the P-47’s own decisive method of breaking off contact when necessary. It was also capable of carrying an impressive 2500 lb. bomb load which was over half that of a B-17!
“Not very pretty on the ground, but every inch a powerful machine, rugged and sturdy with all the mass of a tank,” it was once observed, and another illuminating recollection: “The P-47 Thunderbolt was definitely the largest single seat fighter in the war…it was basically one gigantic engine and supercharger that had been armed to the teeth.”
The P-47D became the most produced and widely used model. Of over 15,677 Thunderbolts built, 12,500 were Model P-47Ds. The famous “bubbletop” canopy of the D Model, designed by yet another Russian, Murray Berkow, was first introduced with that model, and gave the pilot a far superior field of vision compared to earlier versions.
The P-47 was used in nearly every combat theater. As a long range escort it was eventually replaced by the P-51 Mustang, but the rugged and heavily-armed P-47D proved ideal for ground attack. Thus, it became the backbone of the fighter-bomber force in Europe. In the Pacific it served a similar role and the long range P-47N was used as an escort fighter for B-29s against the Japanese homeland.
Despite the monstrous size of the P-47, it would turn out to be one of the best three USAAF fighters of the war, the other two being the P-51 Mustang and the P-38 Lightning.
The airplane featured in this design is the P-47D Thunderbolt, flown by Colonel Francis “Gabby” Gabreski, while part of the 56th Fighter Group. Gabreski was one of the top Aces of WWII, with over 28 enemy fighters destroyed in air combat.