The Fork-Tailed Devil..History of the P-38

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P38 Pilot

Tech Sergeant
Jun 19, 2005
Auburn,Alabama; USA
The Lockheed P-38 Lightning became an important fighter of the Second World War, providing air support, bomber escort and interception capabilities. It earned its value through its long-range capabilities. It did not possess the agility of most of the single-engine piston fighters of the time but found its own place in the history of Classic Warbird aviation.

The Lockheed P-38 Lightning was designed in 1937 as a high-altitude interceptor. The first one built for the U.S. Army Air Corps, the XP-38, made its public debut on Feb. 11, 1939 by flying from California to New York in seven hours.

The unconventional layout resulted from the high-demand specifications for a high-altitude, high-performance aircraft capable of heavy armament roles, good climbing rate and exceptional range. These requirements thusly eliminated the possibility that any single engine aircraft would be the solution. The design team (led by Clarence 'Kelly' Johnson of Lockheed) opted for a twin-engine design centered around a central cockpit 'tub', or nacelle, sided by two 'booms' on either side housing the engine components. The wide design also added stability in the extra surface features and provided the aircraft with two vertical rudders instead of a traditional single one.

Because of its unorthodox design, the aircraft evolved for several years before becoming the fighter destined to see combat in all theaters of World War II. The P-38 Lightning introduced a new dimension to American fighters - a second engine. The multi-engine configuration reduced the Lightning loss-rate to anti-aircraft gunfire during ground attack missions.

Late in 1942, it went into large-scale operations during the North African campaign where the German Luftwaffe named it "Der Gabelschwanz Teufel"--"The Forked-Tail Devil."

Equipped with droppable fuel tanks under its wings, the P-38 was used extensively as a long-range escort fighter. A very versatile aircraft, the Lightning was also used for dive bombing, level bombing, ground strafing and photo reconnaissance missions.

As with any long-term production aircraft, the P-38 underwent many modifications. The fastest of the modifications was the P-38J with a top speed of 420 mph, and the version produced in the greatest quantity was the "L," of which 3,735 were built by Lockheed and 113 by Vultee. The P-38J intakes under the engines were enlarged to house core-type intercoolers. The curved windscreen was replaced by a flat panel, and the boom mounted radiators were enlarged. Some were fitted with bombardier type noses, and were used to lead formations of bomb-laden P-38s to their targets. The P-38M was a two-seat radar-equipped Night Fighter, a few of which had become operational before the war ended.

By the end of production in 1945, 9,923 P-38s had been built. Only 27 of the aircraft exist today. The P-38 Lightnings were used to great success in the European and Pacific Theaters of War, and were gradually resolved to the role of close support bomber craft and nightfighters upon the introduction of sleeker and faster aircraft such as the P-51 Mustangs.


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"Der Gabelschwanz Teufel" aka "Fork Tailed Devil"

I thought that was a post war myth.
P38 Pilot said:
Yes, but originally Rommel's troops gave it the nickname when P-38s targeted convoys and wreaked havoc of fuel depots and artillery postions

Its a myth only. In N. Africa someone may have called it that, but it was never called that by pilots or anyone else in the Luftwaffe. As jank put it is a misinformed post war myth.
P38 Pilot said:
Probably the Forked-Tailed Devil.

And who's Martin Cadin?

He's an aviation author who wrote the book "The Fork Tailed Devil." Although his books are entertaining for the novice, I personally find in many occasions he over-exaggerates and putting it simply, full of sh*t, after all he is a writer! I think he's the one who came up with he name The Fork Tailed Devil so he could sell his book but in reality it seems the Germans never really called the P-38 "Der Gabelschwanz Teufel."
Here is what I know about the German fliers and P-38. While I have read first hand accounts from German pilots meeting P-38's they never called it a "Fork tailed Devil". Most German pilots thought at most that the P-38 was a average plane at best. Most accounts that I have seen is that they thought it was unfit for flying in Europe. I have never seen any German pilot speak about the P-38 with fear, like the name "Fork Tailed Devil" sort of implies.

I think that the P-38 fairly or not was over shodowed in Europe by other planes in the allied arsenal like: Spitfire, P-47, P-51

P-47, P-51, Spitfire all demanded respect and received it from German pilots, admittedly b/c of different reasons. Sometimes b/c of shear numbers (P-51), toughness(P-47), flying ability (Spitfire). I like all of them ( including the P-38 )for different reasons and different roles.

P38 Pilot said:
Probably the Forked-Tailed Devil.

And who's Martin Cadin?
Caidin wrote a lot of aviation stuff in the 50s/60s I believe he co authored Saburo Sakai's book . his books were always readable some of his work on the early years of flight in the 20's and 30's are good reads
P38 Pilot said:
Well, from what I know, the P-38 became known to the Germans as "The Forked Tailed Devil" and put a hurt on the German Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe.

Not trying to pick on you now (have to say this because you will problably flip out by the way I am wording it :lol:). But you are wrong. As FBJ stated with the author that penned it, it was a myth and is not true.

Here is some more info on it:

Luftwaffe did not call the P-38 a fork-tailed devil. They called it a preferred target, thanks to it's size and lack of maneuverability. P-38 was a much feared ground attack plane, and it's possible German ground forces called it that, but not Luftwaffe. The term first appears in a Stars And Stripes article about P-38Gs in North Africa, so it's possible the term has been coined for propaganda purposes by a journalist working for the magazine, or it has been heard from a German POW.
Talk:p-38 Lightning - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

From the above article the only thing that I dont agree with is the comment about the P-38 having lack of maneuverability. She may not have been the most maneuverable but she was certainly not lacking.
pbfoot said:
Caidin wrote a lot of aviation stuff in the 50s/60s I believe he co authored Saburo Sakai's book . his books were always readable some of his work on the early years of flight in the 20's and 30's are good reads
His books were entertaining but filled with a lot of exaggerations and inaccuracies. He does tell an interesting story claiming that the 5th AF had 150 P-38Ls in Korea, 1949. The 5th received orders to transfer to P-51Ds. There was talk about transferring the P-38s to the South Koreans but the US State Dept. nixed the idea, so they were chopped up with axes and buried. Cadin claims he witnessed this along with several hundred other men. If true things at the opening months of the Korean War might of been a little different, especially when only communist recip aircraft were on scene.
Preferred target? I find that hard to imagine...

I'd bet the Japanese would have a much different nickname for this beauty!

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