How The U.S. Air Force’s Fork-Tailed P-38 Lightning Became Most Feared Aircraft Of World War II

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Senior Airman
Feb 9, 2007
Western United States
I've been unable to access Facebook for weeks now, but am fairly certain (up there with magnetism & gravity) that somewhere in the FB universe the Forktaileddevil is still being discussed alongside The Whole Nine Yards.

There seems zero doubt that FTD (no flowers!) originated with the Burbank PR shop the way Whistling Death originated with the Stratford F4U PR shop.
None of the Luftwaffe pilots I knew were aware of the FTD or Gabelschwanzwhatever moniker. Some experten snacked on P-38s for awhile before the US learned how to use 'em more effectively.

In researching the 15th AF book I found an undated letter from Col. Obie Taylor who rebuilt the 14th FG after N Africa. Long and detailed: he said that a 38 pilot needed about 50 percent more training than single-engines "after which he should be nearly unbeatable."


Major General
Jun 29, 2009
Central Florida Highlands
The first reference to this 'nick name' I have seen (maybe from newspaper or magazine articles ?) is in the pilots manual 51-127-1 published Aug 1 1945.
It is not in the 1942 manual. I don't know in between.
On page 6 of the manual with a bunch of short anecdotes how how tough the P-38 is this sentence.
" Dive-bombing, skip-bombing, and strafing became part of the day's work for "The Forked Devil" as the men of the Luftwaffe called the Lighting."
This is in the paragraph below this sentence " Said one bewildered Jap pilot: "two planes-one pilot!" "
Doesn't say forked-tail but it is close.

I would note the racial discrimination between the two quoted sentences.

Martin Caidin was 6 weeks short of his 18th birthday when that manual was printed.
However, one of his biographies says "Caidin started his literary career duing the early 1940s, working as a writer for several aviation magazines, including "Air News" and "Air Tech" (1943-1945)."

Did Caidin at 16 or 17 years old start the "forked devil" name in a magazine article or did he just copy it in later years?
He certainly has a few other things to answer for ;)


Generalfeldmarschall zur Luftschiff Abteilung
My Uncle Jimmy (USAAC/USAAF), in a letter to my Grandmother (his sister), stated he had completed his training in the "Fork Tail Devil".

It was sent to her in 1942.

By the way, for many years, I had his lapel pin that was a P-38 - it was silver and had the US insignia on one wing: a blue circle, white star and a meatball in the center.


Airman 1st Class
Aug 27, 2007
Melbourne, Australia
I.E., before any enemy had enough experience fighting it to nickname it even as Americans were already hearing it, is what this implies to me.
I did do a design for the P-38 a few years ago as a request, I didn't know the origins of the nickname, but it is what they wanted, I don't know where it was used, he was heavily into online gaming, it may have been used there.

The P-40 was also used in online gaming by another gamer



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Generalfeldmarschall zur Luftschiff Abteilung
I.E., before any enemy had enough experience fighting it to nickname it even as Americans were already hearing it, is what this implies to me.
My guess, is Caidin overheard the Americans (who have nicknames for everything) and created a story.

His greatest fiction happens to be about a P-38, by the way - the love story of Regia Aeronautica Lt. Rossi and his deadly P-38...


Generalfeldmarschall zur Luftschiff Abteilung
He also claimed he saw "F-38s" being chopped up in South Korea a few months before the North attacked
To be fair, there were rumors of an Italian P-38 seen in the Italian skies.
That coupled with the actual captured P-38 the Col. Tondi flew until the engines fried due to to the poor quality Italian AvGas had to have been the basis of Caidin's fantasy story.

Tondi did down an American bomber, but that was a one-off and the P-38 simply did not survive long enough to perform the exploits Caidin went on about.

Interestingly enough, at the time of all these "mystery P-38" sightings, the Savoia Marchetti SM.91 was being trialled, which probably led to the confusion.

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