Michael McFadyen's Scuba Diving - P47-D Thunderbolt
In 1922 Alexander Seversky, a Russian who had migrated to the US, started an aircraft company called Seversky (Aircraft?). In the early 1930s another Russian, Alexander Kartveli joined the company. Over the next few years they designed and built a number of aircraft, the SEV-3 amphibian of 1933, the BT-8 trainer in 1935 and around the same time its first contract for 35 aircraft based on the SEV-3 design. In 1935 Seversky established or purchased an manufacturing base at Farmingdale, Long Island, New York. The early years were lean, with a few export contracts but little work for the USA. In 1936 Seversky gained a contract from Army Air Corps for 77 aircraft called the Seversky P-35.
In late 1939 while in Europe to promote Seversky aircraft to the nations now or soon to be engaged in conflict with Germany, Seversky was dumped as Chairman by the board of directors and later accepted a cash payment to leave the company. From this the Republic Aviation Corporation was formed with Alex Kartveli still as Chief Engineer.
In June 1940 the specifications for a new fighter were drawn up by the chief designer for the Republic Aviation Corporation, Alex Kartveli. The design was influenced by lessons being learnt in Europe about current Allied and German aircraft. Kartveli's idea was that to meet the targets set by Army Air Corps for fighter performance, he decided to use the 18 cylinder Pratt and Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp two row supercharged engine. To fit this engine, he had to produce an innovative designed for the engine placement and build the plane around the engine.
After some earlier experiments with aircraft based around the Allison V-12 engine (the AP-10 and XP-47), a further development was the design of a totally new aircraft that still bore remarable outward resemblance to the earlier planes. This first experimental prototype 40-3052 was called the XP-47B and finished on 2 May 1941. This was first flown (pilot Lowery L. Brabham) on 6 May 1941. The first flight was dramatic, with smoke filling the cockpit. Despite this, Brabham completed the flight safely, although he landed at Mitchell Field instead of Farmingdale, his starting point.
The original plane XP-47B was destroyed in an accident on 8 August 1942 when test pilot Filmore "Phil" Gilmore had a massive loss of control systems and just bailed out before the plane crashed into Long Island Sound. It was never recovered.
Production started in November 1941 and delivery of the first model P-47B started 18 March 1942. The fifth production aircraft 41-5899 (a P-47B) lost its whole tail section on 26 March 1942 and Republic's Chief Pilot George Burrell was killed when his parachute did not open in time. The new planes began to arrive in Britain in November 1942 and the first operation mission was on 10 March 1943 with the first combat on either 8 or 15 April 1943. The new plane was given the name Thunderbolt by the British (who interestingly, gave names to all US warplanes, none received their now well known names from the manufacturer or the US Air Force - although one web site says that it was C. Hart Miller, Republic's Director of Military Contracts who named it). It received the nickname, "Jug", apparently for the following reason. The 4th Fighter Group became the first squadron to fly Thunderbolts and they called them "the 7 ton milk bottle" which became "milk jug" and then "Jug".
After the P-47B came the P-47C (sent mostly in crates to Britain) and then the P-47D. There were a number of variations of the P-47D. The first ones were very similar to the P-47C but later ones varied dramatically. The P-47D was powered by an 18 cylinder Pratt and Whitney R-2800-59 2,300 hp Double Wasp two row supercharged engine driving a four-bladed propeller. It also had water injection, which gave a 15% increase in power for brief periods. This version was 11 metres long with a wingspan of 12.4 metres. It had the unprecedented weight of 4,853 kg empty and a maximum take-off weight of 8,800 kg. Its maximum speed was 690 kph with a service ceiling of about 43,000 feet and a range of 1,600 km or 3,060 km with external tanks. Armament was eight 0.5 inch Colt-Browning M-2 (four in each wing) as well as racks for fuel tanks, bombs or rockets. This was a formidable fighter, probably only exceeded in ability by the North American P-51 Mustang. It was the largest single seater propeller driven fighter ever built.
|A P-47 D in the United Kingdom - a razorback|
A total of 15,660 Thunderbolts were built, of which 12,602 were P-47Ds. Both these were records, more P-47s were built than any other US plane and the number of model Ds made was the greatest number of any fighter sub-type in history. It was used by Australia, Brazil, France, Soviet Union, UK and USA. The planes were built in a number of different locations: Farmingdale, Long Island; a new factory in Evansville, Indiana; by Curtiss-Wright at Buffalo, New York.
All the first P47-Ds (3,962 at Farmingdale and 1,461 Evansville) were what was called "razorbacks". This meant that the fuselage behind the cockpit started above the pilot's head and sloped back to the tail. The cockpit hood was a sliding affair that slid back over the "razorback" (see the photo above). All later models (except those made later at Buffalo) had bubble hoods over the pilot's head and the top of the fuselage was basically straight from the nose to the tail. These models were designated P-47D-1RE to P-47D-22RE where the 1 and 22 indicated the sub-sub-type and RE indicates Farmingdale and P-47D-2RA to P-47D-23RA with RA indicating Evansville.
The new planes were used for a lot of roles. Its main role in Europe was to escort bombers all the way into Germany and back. Other roles were strafing and light bombing.
In late 1943 (October or November) the Fifth Air Force's 348th Fighter Group acquired P-47D-2 and P-47D-4 models and was led by Lt Colonel Neel Kearby. In October 1943 the 36th Fighter Squadron of the Fifth's 8th Fighter Group received P-47Ds to replace its Bell P-39 Airacobras. Both groups were based in Port Moresby, probably at Wards Drome (also called 5 Mile). This is located to the north of the city proper and the Australian High Commission stands on part of the airfield and the runway is west of the High Commission and can still be seen as you drive towards the main football stadium.
I have been told a couple of different stories about how the plane was found. The first is that in 1992 an Air Niugini pilot spotted the plane when flying over on his way to or from Jackson International Airport. He and his dive buddy, Bruce McAnally, went searching for it and after a few dives, they found the wreck. Bruce tells me that they were certainly not the first to dive it as the gauges were already long gone.
Bruce says that they were told by the villagers nearby that the pilot was rescued by their ancestors after the crash.
The other story I have been told is that in June 1996, divers in Port Moresby were given some information by residents of the Vabukiri village, located on the south-eastern outskirts of the city. The information was that there was a wrecked World War II aircraft located a short distance off the shoreline to the south of the village. Divers soon located the wreck, a Republic P-47D Thunderbolt in relatively shallow water. It is an early model P-47D "razorback", but to date its serial number has not been identified as far as I know but is likely to be from one of the above fighter groups. It is probable that the plane was about to make an approach to Wards Drome from the south and was in the process of turning for its run when it crashed. I have made attempts to find out serial numbers of P-47s lost near Port Moresby but have not yet found anyrelevant information. If anyone can provide more details, please e-mail me using the Contact Me link on the main menu above.
The aircraft is located about 500 to 750 metres from the shore, to the east of Manubada Island (also called Local Island). It is on the south-western side of a reef (5-6 metres deep), lying in water 9 to 13 metres deep. The plane lies facing the reef.
|The huge four-bladed prop of the Thunderbolt||Another photo of the huge four-bladed prop|
After anchoring on the reef top, you descend and swim to the plane. You will come across the plane within a minute or two. The huge four-bladed prop stands almost square to the plane and sand, with each of the tips of the four blades bent back at right angles to show that the engine was running when the plane hit the water. Compare this to the Douglas A-20A Havoc located to the south-east at Loloata Island (I will bring this up later). This is about nine metres deep. The canopy is open, indicating possibly that the pilot survived the crash landing. This is highly likely as the plane is virtually fully intact, without much crash damage. The cockpit itself is interesting, with the seat, joystick, throttle controls and some gauges intact. Most gauges are missing, but from memory, some are there.
Have a look at the port wing. The four 0.5 inch machine guns have the classic barrel extensions for an aircraft, the outer gun's barrel barely extending out of the wing, then next 100 mm, the third 200 mm and the final gun perhaps 300 mm. A strange thing is that the flaps are not down, as would be normally expected of a plane that has crash landed, especially one that is relatively undamaged. The port wing tip is 8 metres.
|A photo of three of the four 0.5 inch starboard guns||The four 0.5 inch port guns and the cockpit|
There is a bit of growth on the plane, with some weed and hard and soft corals on the wings and props especially. The tail section is about 13 metres deep. You can see the intercooler exhaust doors clearly visible on both sides of the fuselage just in front of the tail. The starboard wing is about 12 metres at its tip. This wing is very interesting. If you look carefully, there are a number of holes in the wing. There are 8 or 10 small holes, most of which appear to be in two lines. These run from the rear section of the wing near the fuselage towards the middle of the leading edge of the wing. It appears to me that the plane has been strafed by another aircraft, possibly this is what caused the plane to crash.
Bruce McAnally advised me that when they discovered the plane, that around the cockpit area there were a number of bullet holes passing right through. He also recalls that there was also a run of bullet holes in the tail, wing and engine cowling. He told me "If you were the pilot the bullets would have taken your shirt buttons off!!".
I had been told that the plane had run out of fuel and this is why it crashed. However, the condition of the propeller blades shows that the engine was still running, quite strongly I feel, and the plane travelling quite fast when it crashed as the blades are bent back at 90°C. Compare this to other planes I have dived on that are known to have landed on water slowly have less angled blades - see the Havoc page. Perhaps the attack caused a sudden drop in fuel, but it must have been very sudden for the pilot to not use the flaps to slow the plane down.
|The tail of the plane||The fueslage of the plane and the cockpit|
After viewing my photographs of the wreck, I am of the view that the plane is probably a P-47D-22-RE or P-47D-23RA as the tailplanes on this model appear to be slightly "deeper" and squarer (that is, not as triangle shaped) than other models.
|The top prop blade showing it is bent||The cockpit|
This aircraft is located close to shore and as such, is prone to poor visibility as the sand around the small reef is quite fine and a little silty. Visibility was about four to five metres, water temperate about 27.5°.
The dive operation in Port Moresby does not dive this wreck as they have their boat based south at Bootless Bay. The only way you can dive the plane is if the Port Moresby Sub Aqua Club might take you out there.