Robert Johnson "Thunderbolt" question

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by pinsog, Nov 17, 2010.

  1. pinsog

    pinsog Member

    Joined:
    Jan 20, 2008
    Messages:
    686
    Likes Received:
    17
    Trophy Points:
    18
    In the post Tempest vs Thunderbolt someone said that many people questioned the Robert Johnson story about the German fighter that raked his P47 with bullets until he ran out of ammo.

    What is the alternate version told by those that discredit Robert Johnsons story?
     
  2. renrich

    renrich Active Member

    Joined:
    Jan 19, 2007
    Messages:
    4,542
    Likes Received:
    6
    Trophy Points:
    38
    Occupation:
    real estate
    Location:
    Montrose, Colorado
    I don't necessarily question his story. I have his book and have read it several times. My thought is that the FW had no more cannon ammo and was probably low on ammo for the two 30 cal MGs. If the pilot of the FW had made a full deflection gunnery run and got a burst into the cockpit and killed Johnson, the story would have been different. The FW was not well suited for that type of gunnery run and the pilot may not have been trained for it so the runs were low or no deflection runs from directly astern and nothing vital was hit. The Wildcats in the PTO were known to use the "pincushion" tactics against Japanese fighters with only two 7.7 Mgs which amounted to the same thing. A radial engined fighter with good armor was difficult to bring down from directly astern with rifle caliber Mgs.
     
  3. billswagger

    billswagger Member

    Joined:
    Mar 12, 2009
    Messages:
    256
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    16
    #3 billswagger, Nov 18, 2010
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2010
    I would also question the range.
    Its presumable that the softer HE 20mm cannon fire was not able to penetrate effectively at longer ranges. It might only blow a small hole or dent aircraft skin, if it didn't bounce off all together. Its one thing to blow out a piece of skin, than to penetrate the turbo housing.
    If i remember correctly, the aircraft was not with out severe engine damage.
    Is there any other sources that would be able to validate the 21 20mm cannon shell impacts and 200 bullet holes found before he stopped counting?

    I know that stories like Johnson's are not that unique to the P-47, but are actually some what rare given the broader picture. There are other stories of the P-47 taking several hits from large caliber flack shells and still being flyable. My guess is that if it wasn't hit in a vital area that the airframe held together fairly well.
     
  4. pinsog

    pinsog Member

    Joined:
    Jan 20, 2008
    Messages:
    686
    Likes Received:
    17
    Trophy Points:
    18
    There is no doubt the German fighter was out of cannon shells, but what I read in the other thread seemed to cast doubt of the validity of the whole story. I agree on the deflection shooting killing the pilot also, I had thought the same thing myself. The German probably figured if he sat there 50 feet behind a helpless fighter and dumped his entire load of machinegun bullets into it without missing a round, the other fighter should fall from the sky. A very good assumption given that probably any other fighter in the theater on either side would have.

    But, does anyone here have an actual alternate story of what supposedly happened that discredits Robert Johnsons story?
     
  5. TheMustangRider

    Joined:
    Dec 22, 2008
    Messages:
    340
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    16
    Location:
    United States
    One thing that I have found out is that Johnson's story is not completely covered in some books and TV shows and perhaps that's what has led people to doubt its authenticity.

    For example in the episode "Thunderbolt" of the Dogfights series, Johnson's story begins when his flight of P-47s is ambushed by Fw-190s, he is caught up by enemy fire and immediately thrown into a spin, he managed to recover only to encounter the lone Fw-190 flown by Egon Mayer if I'm not mistaken that pours all its ammo into the wounded Thunderbolt but manages to survive and makes it back to England.

    In the book "The mighty eight" That I just recently read, Johnson's hair-raising experience comes up and with it a part of the story unknown to me.
    The book relates that after being shot up near the the Dutch coast I think, Johnson, aware by the advice of intelligence officers that enemy-held coasts are heavily protected by enemy troops on the likely scenario of a Allied invasion, turns his wounded P-47 into France and decides to fly south as long as his he can keep his Thunderbolt airborne, crash land his plane near the Pyrenees mountains and cross into Spain and evade captivity; but flying near Paris, he reconsiders his decision, turns to the French coast in a attempt to cross the English Channel on his own power and eventually encounters the Fw-190 which takes some photographs -important for German intelligence since by this time frame, the P-47 was a relatively new weapon in the Allied arsenal- before pouring his ammunition into the Thunderbolt which manages to survive, cross the English Channel and land a grateful Johnson which kisses the ground as soon as he gets out of the plane.

    In the book "8th Air Force USAAF 1942-45", Johnson's experience is once again covered and the writer on this book states that five P-47s if I'm not mistaken are lost in the initial moments of the fight when the flight is ambushed by Fw-190s and two Thunderbolts are blown up in quick succession before Johnson's P-47 is damaged and goes into the spin.

    So my best guess is, as everyone has stated, that Johnson was damaged by cannon shells during the ambush but later in his odyssey, he only received 30. caliber machine gun fire from the lone Fw-190.
     
  6. Milosh

    Milosh Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Aug 10, 2009
    Messages:
    1,935
    Likes Received:
    100
    Trophy Points:
    63
    Good old History Channel.:rolleyes: I read someplace where Mayer wasn't even in the area. (substantial proofs given) Makes for a good story being shot up by a Lw ace and surviving. ;)
     
  7. Pong

    Pong Active Member

    Joined:
    Sep 2, 2007
    Messages:
    1,333
    Likes Received:
    4
    Trophy Points:
    38
    Location:
    Manila, Philippines
    A few days after viewing that episode, a thought came to me: "How does a P-47 survive an FW-190 firing 20mm shells and 7mm rounds being piloted by a German ace?"

    Though, thanks for sharing this and clearing up the story. :thumbleft:

    -Arlo
     
  8. davebender

    davebender Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jan 18, 2009
    Messages:
    6,422
    Likes Received:
    65
    Trophy Points:
    48
    Location:
    Michigan, USA
    20mm and 30mm mine shells aren't supposed to penetrate far. They rip big holes in the aircraft skin. There is no effective defense against such explosive cannon shells as you cannot armor the aircraft wings and fuselage.
     
  9. Timppa

    Timppa Active Member

    Joined:
    Apr 3, 2007
    Messages:
    405
    Likes Received:
    41
    Trophy Points:
    28
    Location:
    Finland
    #9 Timppa, Nov 19, 2010
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2010

    Attached Files:

  10. billswagger

    billswagger Member

    Joined:
    Mar 12, 2009
    Messages:
    256
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    16
    True, i think its more a point of fact that a large hole in the aircraft skin will not in of itself bring a plane down.
    To temper the argument, it makes the idea of a plane absorbing 21 20mm impacts more conceivable if the cannon shells never effectively penetrated and hit a vital part.

    However, a round that effectively penetrates causing an explosion inside the framing could sever cables or hydraulic lines, impact fuel tanks which explode, or even damage the turbo housing which could also lead to fire, and all such scenarios could end the fight much sooner than a hole(s) in the aircraft skin.

    I don't gather that HE rounds are that capable against armored plating either.
    In fact, the Hispano testing verifies this, showing only 8mm penetration at 200 yards for the Mk I HE rounds. At slight angles of impact, there is no measurable result on armor.
    I think its also why they used mixed belting.

    When the Luftwaffe found itself taking on large bomber formations, they had the hurdle of getting effective hits with large caliber cannons while flying inside the effective range of 50 caliber machine gun fire.
    Head on attacks were favored because the plane was less protected and firing into the path of the plane meant the added closing velocity would facilitate penetration of the round on impact.
    I often wonder what the penetration of the mk103 and 108 was beyond 200 yards?
    Jets were said to have used the weapon with more efficiency because their added speed helped fly the shells into aircraft with the added velocity of the jet.
    Otherwise, heavily armored fighters like the Sturmbock were developed to fly in close enough to the bombers and get effective hits.
     
  11. davparlr

    davparlr Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Mar 23, 2006
    Messages:
    2,937
    Likes Received:
    108
    Trophy Points:
    63
    Occupation:
    retired avionics engineer
    Location:
    Southern California
    Let’s establish some facts.

    1. Robert Johnson has an established and well documented reputation for being an effective and honored fighter pilot.
    2. The P-47 has an established and well documented reputation for being a rugged fighter.
    3. This episode as related by Johnson has absolutely nothing to do with Johnson flying ability. In fact, if he had his way he would probably would have been a POW and never heard from again in history.
    4. The assumption that the encounter with the lone Fw-190 was with 7.92 mm machine guns is quite reasonable. In fact the Dogfights episode said nothing about the fighter using 20mm.
    5. Item 4 is not relevant to the story. The ruggedness of the P-47 is related to the total number of weapons strikes on the aircraft on this mission.

    The only person surviving the war to witness this event was Johnson. So, in absence of supporting or countering Johnson’s counting of bullet and cannon holes in his aircraft, we have to accept that he was reasonably correct and maybe counted entry and exit holes a two strikes, didn’t know how to count, or lied.

    I don’t think Johnson lied; he had no reason to do so. He could have miscounted. However, I think it is well established that one, the Thunderbolt was heavily damaged over a period of time and, two, it still flew quite a while to get home. Arguments otherwise see petty.
     
  12. Kryten

    Kryten Member

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2010
    Messages:
    436
    Likes Received:
    11
    Trophy Points:
    18
    Location:
    Llantrisant
    a 20mm explosive round detonating on the wing skin will cause considable damage inside the wing structure as well as the skin, fragmentation can cause considerable damage and aircraft are not built like tanks!, you have to keep the weight down so internal spars and struts are as heavy as they need to be and no more!
     
  13. Maximowitz

    Maximowitz Active Member

    Joined:
    Jun 30, 2008
    Messages:
    1,971
    Likes Received:
    4
    Trophy Points:
    38
    Occupation:
    Railwayman
    Location:
    London, England.
  14. renrich

    renrich Active Member

    Joined:
    Jan 19, 2007
    Messages:
    4,542
    Likes Received:
    6
    Trophy Points:
    38
    Occupation:
    real estate
    Location:
    Montrose, Colorado
    As far as the story is concerned, I am sure that Johnson said the FW had only ammo for the two 7.9s. I also recall that he said the FW had a beautiful new blue paint job.
     
  15. billswagger

    billswagger Member

    Joined:
    Mar 12, 2009
    Messages:
    256
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    16
    aside from what dogfights says or doesn't say, Johnson says his plane absorbed a burst of 20mm fire when he was first bounced.
    A cannon shell had entered the cockpit and damaged the throttle quadrant.
     
  16. davparlr

    davparlr Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Mar 23, 2006
    Messages:
    2,937
    Likes Received:
    108
    Trophy Points:
    63
    Occupation:
    retired avionics engineer
    Location:
    Southern California
    The main emphasis of the Dogfight episode was the lone Fw-190 where it did not say anything about 20 mm shells, which is apparently correct. It did mention an explosive shell in the initial onslaught, which is also apparently correct, so I don't really understand what the criticism all about in this thread.
     
  17. beaupower32

    beaupower32 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jun 10, 2007
    Messages:
    1,840
    Likes Received:
    42
    Trophy Points:
    48
    Location:
    Lancaster, California
  18. bobbysocks

    bobbysocks Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Feb 28, 2010
    Messages:
    3,841
    Likes Received:
    188
    Trophy Points:
    63
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    the 20mm round that came through the canopy happened in the earlier engagement. it kinked the tracks or somehow made the canopy unable to be opened. johnson tried to bail and IIRC thought about bellying it in until he realized he couldnt get out. then he decided to fly home. along the way he met a lone fw who stalked him for awhile prior to trying to smoke him. whether that fw had any 20 ammo left...who knows...but he sure had a lot of other round left. he peppered that 47 several times and if i remember the story right even came up to looked it over once before pumping more rounds in it. he was right...it wasnt his day to die.
     
Loading...

Share This Page