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Tom Cleaver
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Witold Lanowski’s P-47M of the 56th fighter Group

February 18, 2018 · in Aviation · · 6 · 4.4K

Writing in the "Flight Journal," special issue, famed Grumman test pilot Corky Meyer - the last actual "airplane guy" to head a major airplane company - named the P-47 the "best fighter of World War II - ETO." As he pointed out, it had high performance, yet a wartime-trained 200-hour pilot could fly it. It had a well laid-out cockpit in which all the controls, switches, and instruments were handily located. It exceeded at three of the four performance parameters he established: air combat capability, fighter escort capability, ground support capability and photo-reconnaissance (it only missed on the latter).

With 15,683 Thunderbolts produced between 1941-45,the P-47 is the most-produced American fighter ever. Republic delivered one in 1941, 532 in 1942, 4,428 in 1943, 7,065 in 1944 and 3,657 in 1945. 730 were operated by the RAF in Southeast Asia, while 446 flew for the French Air Force in Europe. The only theater of war in which the Thunderbolt did not fight was the Aleutians. It is telling that the two top-scoring American fighter pilots in the ETO both flew P-47s exclusively, and all 10 of the top P-47 aces in the ETO survived the war. When the 78th FG pilots were told they would be changing over to the P-51D, the Mustang was sold as "the airplane that can get you to the fight," to which one pilot yelled back "Yeah, but the P-47 will get you home!" By D-Day there were 17 P-47 Fighter Groups stationed in England, most with the tactical 9th Air Force, and over the next eleven months, they swept across western Europe like an aerial scythe.

When Don Blakeslee scored the first victory for the Republic P-47, diving from 23,000 feet on a Fw-190 flying at 12,000 feet, he was asked about the dive performance of the airplane. “It certainly ought to dive,” he replied, “since it can't climb for a damn.” This encapsulated the fact that the P-47 - originally designed as an interceptor - did not in its early stages have the real performance it needed to be an air superiority fighter. Changing the propeller from the “toothpick” to the “Paddle Prop” in early 1944 went a long way to improving the Thunderbolt's performance in the vertical plane, but there were other attempts made by Republic to turn the P-47 into a performer.

By the summer of 1943, it was obvious that even with the technical fixes Republic was coming up with, the P-47 would always be outperformed by the Focke-Wulf Fw-190 as an air superiority fighter. Republic's answer was to develop the XP-47J during the course of 1943, utilizing the C-series R-2800-57 engine, which gave 2,800 hp at 2,800 rpm at 35,000 feet in War Emergency Power, which was 133% of rated power. With this engine, the XP-47J achieved 507 mph at 34,300 feet. At Military Power, the XP-47J hit 470 mph, and could achieve 435 mph at 81% of rated power - 1,700 hp. Not only was the airplane faster than just about any other piston-powered fighter, it had a sea level climb rate of 4,900 fpm, and did 4,400 fpm at 20,000 feet, an altitude it achieved in 4 minutes, 15 seconds, with time to 30,000 feet only 6 minutes, 45 seconds. Not only could it fly and climb fast, it had a range of 1,075 miles, which would have made it an excellent escort fighter. And all this was achieved with a full 8-gun armament load. Had the XP-47J been in service when the Me-262 appeared, with its critical Mach of .83, it could have chased down the German jet with a shallow dive, using the advantage of its superior service ceiling, which was 46,500 feet.

Unfortunately, the XP-47J was seen by the USAAF as little more than a technology demonstrator, since putting it into production would have involved enough changes to disrupt the output of Thunderbolts, while the P-51 was seen as being able to provide the range necessary for escort in the European Theater.

Concurrent with the development of the XP-47J, Republic stuck a C-series R-2800-57 in a P-47C to see what kind of extra performance could be achieved while making a minimum of changes to the basic airframe. The performance increase was sufficient to lead to further development of what ultimately became the “hot rod” P-47M. The need for this performance increase was the realization that the P-47D did not have a high enough performance lead over the Fi-103 “buzz bomb” or the new Me-163 and Me-262 fighters whose operational deployment was expected at any time.

Four P-47D-27-RE airframes were taken off the Farmingdale production line at Farmingdale and fitted R-2800-57(C) engine and a larger CH-5 turbosupercharger. The new engine provided WEP of 2800 hp at 32,500 ft using water injection. The aircraft also had the dive flaps introduced on the P-47D-28. These four converted P-47Ds were designated as YP-47Ms.

Performance was sufficiently superior to the P-47D that the new engine and airframe combination was ordered into production in September 1944. The last 130 P-47D-30-RE aircraft delivered by Farmingdale were fitted with the different engine and redesignated P-47M-1-RE. Performance included a 400 mph maximum speed at 10,000 feet, 453 mph at 25,000 feet, and 470 mph at 30,000 feet. The initial climb rate was 3,500 fpm at 5000 feet and 2,650 feet per minute at 20,000 feet, while range without drop tanks was 560 miles at 10,000 feet. This was nowhere close to the XP-47J but it was vastly superior to the P-47D series.

The first P-47Ms, delivered in December, 1944, were rushed to the 56th Fighter Group, the last Eighth Air Force fighter unit equipped with the P-47. The P-47Ms began arriving on January 3, 1945. The 61st Fighter Squadron quickly converted to the new Thunderbolt, and immediately began to experience the same kind of engine problems they had confronted with the P-47C in January 1943. Three crashes due to engine failure, one fatal, led to the P-47M being grounded in late February, putting the 56th out of business. Dave Schilling's extended tour as Group CO ended on January 27, and new CO Colonel Lucian Dade - who had been one of the original pilots in the 56th and who had served as squadron commander, operations officer, and deputy group commander - had to deal with the engine problems. When war-weary P-51Bs arrived for conversion training, Dade was able to stave off the dread Mustang when the engineers discovered the engines had been incorrectly “pickled” for overseas delivery, and the electrical harnesses had been corroded by exposure to salt air. With each engine completely overhauled by March 24, 1945, the engine problems were over and the group as a whole was ready to re-commence operations. P-47Ms were not fitted with underwing racks at first, since they were strictly fighters; they did however used the wing racks in the final two weeks of the war when they were primarily attacking German airfields.

With only a few weeks of war left, the 56th demonstrated that the P-47M was indeed a “hot rod” that turned the Thunderbolt into an air superiority fighter. The unit was chosen to test the new T-48 incendiary round, designed to explode the low grade/high flash point fuels the Germans were using, which resisted ignition by .50-caliber strikes. In April, the 56th flew a series of airfield strafing attacks using the T-48 round, ending with Dade leading 49 P-47Ms to Eggebek airdrome on April 13, 1945, where they found 150 to 200 aircraft parked on the main field and two nearby satellite strips. With the 62nd Fighter Squadron flying top cover at 15,000 feet and the 61st Fighter Squadron orbiting at 10,000 feet, the 63rd Fighter Squadron made the attack. After a pass to suppress ground fire, the squadron made 140 individual passes, claiming 44 destroyed. This was followed by the 61st who made 94 passes and claimed 25 destroyed, with the 62nd then making 105 and claiming 26. One P-47M 44-21134 of the 63rd FS, UN-P, Teacher's Pet, flown by 1st Lt. William R. Hoffman, was shot down; Hoffman was killed when his parachute failed to open. The mission total was 339 passes, 95 aircraft destroyed, 95 damaged, and more than 78,000 rounds of ammunition expended. Top scorer was 2nd Lt. Randall Murphy of the 63rd FS, who was credited following review of his gun camera film with 10 destroyed. Another strafing mission on April 16, saw the group's final combat loss when Capt. John W. Appel of the 62nd FS was shot down, though he successfully returned to Allied lines the next day. On April 21st the group flew its final combat mission.

The group's final aerial victory was an Me-262 of JG 7 shot down April 10, 1945 by 2nd Lt. Walter J. Sharbo of the 62nd FS, near Wittstock, Germany. Five other jet kills were made with P-47Ms. Maj. George Bostwick and 2nd Lt. Edwin M. Crosthwait - also of the 63rd FS - shot down an Me-262 on March 25, 1945, over Parchim, while Capt. William F. Wilkerson of the 62nd FS, shot down another Me-262 on April 10, moments before Sharbo's final score. Additionally, two Ar-234 jet bombers were shot down on March 14, 1945 by pilots of the 62nd FS - one by 1st Lt. Norman D. Gould and the other shared by 1st Lt. Sandford N. Ball and 1st Lt. Warren S. Lear. Mike Gladych also claimed an Me-262, though it was not officially credited to the 56th.

The 56th Fighter Group was credited by the Eighth Air Force with 674½ claims for German aircraft destroyed in air-to-air combat. U.S. Air Force Historical Study No. 85 gave 665.5 aerial victories to the unit, second in the ETO behind the 354th Pioneer Mustang Group with 701, and the highest aerial score among all Eighth Air Force groups. This is also the highest score of all P-47 groups of the USAAF in all theaters. The 61st Fighter Squadron was the top-scoring squadron with 232 shot down by 68 pilots. The 62nd Fighter Squadron was credited with 219.5 kills by 79 pilots, the 63rd Fighter Squadron with 174.25 kills by 64 pilots, and group headquarters with 39.75 kills by 4 pilots.

Witold Lanowski:

Witold Lanowski was born in 1915 in the city of Lwow. In 1935 he joined the Cadet Military Aviation School in Deblin. After graduation, he became a flying instructor. Lanowski flew one operational sortie during the German invasion, in defense of the Deblin airbase. Hoping to avoid capture, the cadets, instructors, and mechanics evacuated to southern Poland. Just before crossing the Romanian border on September 17, they were captured by Soviet cavalry. Lanowski and a few escaped from the column of POW's and on September 27 they arrived in Romania. A month later, Lanowski headed for France, where new Polish units were being organized.

Unfortunately, Lanowski dared to criticize the French military command and was imprisoned in May of 1940. He escaped again and landed in Great Britain in July 1940, where he was assigned to retrain on British planes in April 1941. That November he was posted to 308 Polish Fighter Squadron, "City of Krakow". In January 1942, he moved to 317 Fighter Squadron, "City of Wilno." In December 1942 he arrived in 302 "City of Poznan" Squadron, assigned as leader of A Flight.

After being grounded for criticizing the Polish government-in-exile, Lanowski managed to get an assignment to the 353rd Fighter Squadron of the 354th Fighter Group, where he flew P-51 Mustangs and got the nickname “Lanny.” After learning that Boleslaw “Mike” Gladych and Stefan Laszkiwicz had found a new home with the 61st Fighter Squadron of the 56th Fighter Group run by "Gabby" Gabreski, Lanowski wangled a transfer. After 98 scoreless missions with the Polish Air Force, he scored 4 victories during 1944 with the 56th FG. Lanowski flew mission 179, his last of World War II, on April 19, 1945.

After returning to Poland and discovering the fate at communist hands that awaited Poles who had fought in the West, Lanowski once again escaped his homeland and returned to England, where he rejoined the RAF, in which he served until 1957. In 1962, Lanowski joined his wartime comrade Jan Zumbach in a mercenary squadron Zumbach had organized to fight for the breakaway province of Katanga in the Congolese Civil War. Flying for Katanga until the Katangese Air Force was destroyed in 1964, he returned to England via Angola. Lanowski never received any payment for his combat in Africa. He died in September of 1993.

The kit

When 's series of P-47s were released, they were quickly recognized as the best Thunderbolt kits. A “razorback,” a P-47D “bubbletop” and a P-47M were released over a period of a few years.

I was able to pick up this particular kit at the original price for around $40 at one of the LHS “estate sales.” It sat for awhile, and then I ran across the old Aeromaster P-47D and P-47M sheet for the 56th FG as part of another estate collection (yes, I'm a ghoul 🙂 ). I also picked up a Hasegawa P-47D kit. That kit includes the dorsal fin extension as a separate part, which made converting the Tamiya kit to a P-47M a snap.


Construction was typically Tamiya-easy, other than I used the extended fin and assembled the flaps in the down position as an exercise to see if they could be put in that position successfully. One also uses different lower wing inserts that include the dive flaps and the landing light in the outboard position.

I did the cockpit “stock,” which is actually incorrect for a P-47M, which does not have the corrugated floor of the P-47D-25, but I doubt there will be complaints from the few who may see the model in person.

Colors & markings

I was very glad to make use of the article over at HyperScale that shows a model made for Mike Gladych by his crew chief, using the original paint used on the upper surfaces of this airplane. The 61st Fighter Squadron is supposed to have had the upper surfaces pained black, though research has shown these airplanes all differed, with color ranging from a super-dark cobalt blue to a purplish tone. I chose the purplish "plum" color.

I first painted the gloss red engine cowling and rudder, then masked those off and painted the rest of the model with Tamiya gloss black as a primer for the Vallejo metal paints. The natural metal surfaces were painted Vallejo acrylic Aluminum. Once dry this is a hard paint that can be masked on using low-tack drafting tape or Tamiya tape without problem. I went with the dark purplish color, which I created by mixing Tamiya “Gloss Red” with “Gloss Black” till I achieved the desired shade. I don't know how well this color will come across in photos on the net, but in person it is indeed the “very dark plum” color described in that article.

The Aeromaster decals went on without problem, despite being some 20+ years old.


Tamiya P-47s are “comfort food.” Follow the instructions and assemble with care and the result is as close to a “perfect model” as you can get; they're fine for any modeler from beginner to expert. There's lots of resin and photoetch aftermarket detail out there for those who need it, but they look just fine out of the box also. There's a plethora of markings, old Aeromaster and SuperScale, modern Kits World, whatever. It's impossible to run out of possibilities.

There is only one P-47M still in existence, one of the four YP-47Ms. It is on (non-flying) display at Yanks Air Museum in Chino, California.

Reader reactions:
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7 additional images. Click to enlarge.

6 responses

  1. Nicely done, TC...I like it.

  2. This is another great build Tom. The article is full of a lot of facts I hadn't read before.

    I have a few Tamiya T-bolts in the stash. Hopefully later this year I can build one (or more of them). I have been wanting to build one as flown by Maj. Eagleston with the big yellow nose and skull markings. Another one I wanted to build was "Tarheel Hal", and possibly one of "Gabby's" planes...

    Thanks for sharing these with us.

  3. Tom, Nice "M". Having a relative that flew with the 56th, I always have a particular interest in anything 56th.
    Good info on the black paint, I always speculated that the black paint, painted over bare aluminum, if thin enough would reflect sun light back through the paint and give off an obscured color and therefore would explain the strange plum or purple color so many talk about. I've seen plenty of photos that give more questions than answers on this.

  4. Great looking T-Bolt - very unusual with those light-blue outlined stars-n-bars.

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