P-47 Unit Markings

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by andrewd, Mar 8, 2012.

  1. andrewd

    andrewd New Member

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    I am researching the 78th Fighter Group USAAF flying P-47 Thunderbolts, initially from Goxhill and later from Duxford, during the first six months of 1943.

    From a pilot's contemporary log book, I know that from 6-17 March he was flying aircraft identified by a 4-digit Serial Number. For example, 6218 equals 41-6218.
    However, from 22 March - 9 April, he uses a 2-digit identifier, such as 22 or 24.
    Then, from 11 April onwards, he uses a single-letter abbreviation of the conventional Squadron Code. So, for example, 41-6218 which equals MX-G would be recorded in the log book as G.

    I understand the Serial Numbers and the Squadron Codes, but I am struggling with the 2-digit identifier. From the cover picture of "P-47 Thunderbolt at War" by Cory Graff, I see that 56th Fighter Group was using 2-digit identifiers. For example, the lead aircraft is "1" and the one behind is "24". I also note that the identifier of "1" is not based on the Serial Number, which is 16002 in this case.

    Clearly, some squadrons appear to be using a 2-digit identifier for a short period, before adopting the more familar Squadron Codes (e.g. MX-G).

    Will someone please clarify what was going on - either generally or with reference to 78th Fighter Group? Also, can anyone direct me to a source that correlates the 2-digit identifier back to the Serial Number (or Squadron Code)? Directions to more photographic examples would be good too.

    Thank you very much.
     
  2. Airframes

    Airframes Benevolens Magister

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    Far as I know, the two digit identifier would be the last two digits of the serial number; it was not common for 8th USAAF fighter units to number their aircraft, as they employed a similar system to that used by the RAF, with a Squadron code, and an individual aircraft letter. The serial number remained with the aircraft for its lifetime, but the code letter could change. Of course, as an aircraft was replaced, so the replacement would take on the letter, and this could again change, maybe completely, if transferred to another unit.
    Unfortunately, Pilot's Log Books and Squadron ORBs can be confusing, as often only the serial number or the individual code letter were entered, vary rarely were both entered. Also, at times, there could be two aircraft with the same individual letter, with the second of these being individually identified by a horizontal bar beneath the letter. In addition, as aircraft were lost, seriously damaged, rotated etc, it may be that a Log Book entry for, as an example, aircraft 'G' could refer to two different aircraft.
    Another consideration is the dispersal site number. Each dispersal pan had a number to ease locating it on the three or more miles of perimeter track. As, contrary to popular belief, pilots did not always fly the same aircraft, it was sometimes the case that an aircraft assigned to a pilot for a specific mission might be allocated by the number of the dispersal at which it was located. For example,"Captain Smith, you'll be flying 16 today". Add to this the turn-over in pilots and staff, with perhaps accompanying differences in 'standard practice', and other changes in procedures, then it is extremely difficult to pin-down a standard trend in recording identifications, other than serial number or code letter.
     
  3. andrewd

    andrewd New Member

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    Many thank to Airframes for the great summary. I, too, would have expected the 2-digit identifier to match the last two digits of the Serial Number. But the attached photograph (based on 56th Fighter Group) is clearly not the case. The Serial Number of the lead aircraft is 16002, but the code on the fuselage is "1", rather than "2". And they are clearly not using the usual Squadron Codes (such as AB-C).

    I'm still curious if someone can advise what was happening at the time, to drive this particular numbering system? Was it random? Was it seniority? Was it (as Airframes suggests) the dispersal site number? All ideas welcome.

    P47.jpg
     
  4. drgondog

    drgondog Well-Known Member

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    As Terry noted above - No. If you were able to find the Tower and Engineering logs (Tower logs did not 'belong' to the Fighter Group), you could reconstruct the entire geneology nicely and with great accuracy - but by and large they no longer exist - so you have to do it the 'hard way'. and reconstruct via photos with some time stamp, research MACR's, look at Squadron Histories and pick up tidbits about different ships assigned to different flights, etc
     
  5. Airframes

    Airframes Benevolens Magister

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    Good info Bill.
    Having now looked at the photo in question, there is a very simple explanation. The photo was taken 'Stateside', before the 56th deployed to Europe, and were still using the US type of identification, a similar system being employed, in general, in the PTO.
    In the ETO (and for the most part MTO), USAAF units employed the British code system, as previously described.
    Any references to the 78th (or 56th) FGs using a two-digit identifier will be before deploying to the ETO.
     
  6. andrewd

    andrewd New Member

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    #6 andrewd, Mar 9, 2012
    Last edited: Apr 1, 2012
    This is great stuff. Thank you all very much.

    It is now being suggested that the early 2-digit markings on 78th FG's P-47s related back to "Stateside" and before they were painted out and replaced by the more conventional MX-? Squadron Codes. They certainly seem to have been allocated on some sort of "batch" basis, as I have evidence for 21, 22, 24, 25, and 26. Have I got this straight?

    However, drgondog suggests that 78th FG were using "familiarization" ships at Goxhill, and received brand new machines at Duxford. That might help with the explanation, except ...

    During the first half of March, 6218 (later MX-G), 6220 (later MX-J), 6318 (later MX-K), and 6345 (later MX-R) were all being flown by 78th FG, presumably from Goxhill? Specifically, as an example, 6218 (later MX-G) was being flown on 9 March on Transition Duty.

    Then again, on 3 April, number 22 (old-style reference) was flown from Goxhill to Duxford. I suspect that this is 6222 (later MX-J).

    Perhaps drgndog (or others) will confirm whether 78th FG moved from Goxhill with their transition machines (as my evidence suggests) or whether they received new machines at Duxford (as drgndog suggests)?

    (In case anyone notices, MX-J has a Serial Number of 6222 and an "old-style" identifier of 22. Based on the above explanation, I think this is just coincidence that they're the same two last digits, as that theory doesn't hold up with other ships.)

    As an aside, www.yorkshire-aircraft.co.uk tells the story of F/O Graff from the 78th flying from Goxhill in 41-6384 on 8 March. He crashed the 'plane, but was himself uninjured. "Graff had only 10 hours of flying time on this aircraft type when the crash occurred" and "This aircraft was new, it had just less than 32 hours use." Doesn't this also suggest that 78th FG was transitioning on brand-new aircraft that they would later take with them to Duxford?

    Thank you all for helping me get nearer to the answers.
     
  7. Airframes

    Airframes Benevolens Magister

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    At the time, the Group would be receiving later production block P47s and, of course, changed from the P47C to the P47D (razorback) as it became available. The use of the two-digit code is strange, and I suspect this might have been a 'hack', or a reference to the engineering log number. Note that the MX code is for the 82nd Fighter Squadron (of 78th FG), not 78th FG. The other Squadrons within the Group were 83rd, code HL, and 84th, code WZ.
    There is a good history of the unit available in the book 'Duxford Eagles', but I can't remember the author or publisher!
     
  8. drgondog

    drgondog Well-Known Member

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    #8 drgondog, Mar 9, 2012
    Last edited: Mar 9, 2012
    I agree that the P-47s assigned to replace the departed P-38s at Goxhill probably were a.) immediately assigned their respective squadron codes and b.) they flew them to Duxford from Goxhill... but I haven't dug deeply enough. For the practice of assigning numerical codes to make sense it would imply that the 4th FG also performed the same identification practices at Debden when they transitioned from Spitfires to P-47s - but they did not.

    Having said this I have seen pics of 78th FG P-38's with numerical squadron codes on Nacelle and tail boom so it is definitely possible for the 47s at Goxhill to be so coded.

    As to 'blocks' of sequential serial numbers - yes. They were offloaded, transported assembled then disbursed to the Groups in lots. When they reached the Group they were inventoried, logged out to the different squadrons and the Engineering staff kept track of them thereafter via tail number. As Terry noted there were many reasons for the specific squadron code ship designator (i.e "C") to change to another code. Damage, time for repair, in the meanwhile a new ship arrives to replace "C" and the old "C" is re-coded to "R" (etc, etc). It also happened that the newly repaired ship (old MC*C) gets re-assigned to another squadron, the 84FS, and gets WZ-D..

    Terry, Gary Fry wrote Eagles of Duxford
     
  9. Airframes

    Airframes Benevolens Magister

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    Thanks Bill, I've been wracking my brains (what there are of them!) trying to remember the author's name!
    Like yourself Bill, I haven't done any digging, but the 78th arrived at Goxhill in December 1942, and underwent operational training (not operations) with their P38s, which they had brought from the USA. It may be that these aircraft, being non-operational, carried numeric identifiers, but, without further searching, I can't remember seeing any evidence of this.
    The Group re-equipped with the P47, then moved to Duxford,working up and becoming operational in April 1943 when, at this time, Squadron codes were definitely in place.
     
  10. andrewd

    andrewd New Member

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    #10 andrewd, Mar 9, 2012
    Last edited: Mar 9, 2012
    This is a summary of my current understanding.

    At the beginning of the war, no system of Group identification was used. Some aircraft were identified by numbers painted on their fuselage. (Source: Wikipedia. USAAF unit identification aircraft markings.)

    Initial deliveries of the P47 were to 56th Fighter Group, serving as an operational evaluation unit for the new fighter. Note the numeral "5" in the picture below. Also, the picture in my earlier post above, which Airframes confirms was taken Stateside.

    According to "Duxford Diary" (available on the web), around March 1943, the P38s at Goxhill moved to Africa, and new pilots and P47s were rushed to Goxhill. The second picture below shows the first P47, which appears to be still in its olive drab delivery colours, with no visible markings. When flown in early March, the aircraft were referred to in the pilots' logs by the Serial Number (tail number) such as 6218 or 6345, as there was nothing else to refer to them by! However, from late March into early April, it appears as if numbers have been painted on (24, 25, 26 etc.) in accordance with previous practice (as evidenced by 56th FG when Stateside, and also by 78th FG at Goxhill on their P38s - see third photo below, from Duxford Diary).

    The USAAF then switched to the RAF system, and by the beginning of April, now at Duxford, the regular squadron markings have been adopted. Aircraft have been individually assigned and personalised. So, 6266 for example was coded MX-T, assigned to Lt. Lambe in 82nd FS, personalised as "Buzz", and referred to as letter "T". This much is familiar territory. What was less clear was what was happening during the brief period before this system became established. I think I now understand the previous practice much better. Thank you all for contributing.

    220px-P-47b.jpg
    Goxhill.JPG
    P38.JPG
     
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