Gabreski’s P-47 – another take
Following the iModeler Rule- don’t post your take on the same model on top of someone else’s on the same page – I waited over the weekend from my planned Friday post, so as not to detract from Scott Nelson’s very nice take (now two pages away) to post my take on this well-known airplane.
To start, for an airplane as well-known as this, it is very poorly documented pictorially, which has meant over the past 50 years – since Monogram first released their “bubbletop” with these markings and the airplane as the boxart – that many modelers have tried and many have not been successful at cracking the mystery of Gabreski’s Thunderbolt. From my first attempt to do this back when that kit was new through three other tries, I didn’t get close. But over the past 15-20 years, more research has become available. Plus I got to talk first-hand to The Man Himself 20 years ago, who turned out to be one of the few pilots I’ve ever interviewed who had any detailed personal knowledge of what his airplane looked like.
In May, 1944, the 56th Fighter Group began applying in-the-field camouflage to their NMF P-47s in anticipation of the coming invasion. All were done with RAF paints (as were all other in-the-field camo jobs in other groups; it was what was available) and most were done in an “RAF style” two-color disruptive pattern of either Ocean Grey and Dark Green or Sea Grey Medium and Dark Green. It has been fairly established by researchers (I confirmed this talking to Hub Zemke in 1984 and Gabreski in 2001) that the undersides were left unpainted. That’s because painting an airplane “in the field” sitting on its gear isn’t easy, as Merle Olmstead once pointed out in talking about the painting of 357th FG P-51s. Mistaking the lower surfaces as being painted a light grey is easy if you consider that aluminum exposed to the elements does “go grey” over time, and a black and white photo can easily lead to an incorrect analysis. Vallejo has brought out an interesting metallic color “Dull Aluminum,” which does indeed dry with a “grey tinge”, which I used on this project. I think it proves the point when viewed.
While everyone else was doing “RAF style,” Gabreski asked his painters to do a “Luftwaffe style” camouflaged with one of the colors “blotched.” Study of the available photos will clearly show this, most obviously the close-up shot of him getting out of the cockpit. Study of the two shots from the left side also show that the grey paint that was applied over the dark green was applied around the ID letters (I had to go back around the decals once applied to insure this). Study of the shots the Germans took of the airplane after it crashed, when the upper D-Day stripes had been removed, also show the area where they were to be Dark Green originally, with some new areas of Ocean Grey blotched over; this is useful in determining that it is indeed the case that the fuselage stripes did not include black – at least initially – as is also shown in the two shots of the airplane from the left with the stripes applied. Also, the one color shot of the airplane does confirm that the upper grey is dark enough to more likely be Ocean Grey than the Sea Grey Medium some decal manufacturers have called out.
There is only a short roll of motion picture film that reveals the markings on the right side of the airplane. One reveals a larger area of Ocean Grey blotching on the fuselage than many assumed. The other, which shows the upper right wing, reveals that there were (at that time) no black areas of the upper stripes, since the area between the stripes is the same tone as the areas inboard and outboard of the stripes. The lack of upper wing black stripes is also indicated by looking at the “famous” shot of the airplane, taken from 10 o’clock low, which shows on closer examination a line of “dark and light” along the leading edge of the wing for the area of the black lower stripes.
Unfortunately, most decal makers haven’t gotten all this in their painting and marking instructions. The Techmod sheet (the first to get it right about natural metal) that I used calls out Sea Grey Medium for the upper grey, and the upper camouflage pattern they provide is not congruent with the photos (not to mention, their national insignia decals for the fuselage are too big, something “discovered the hard way” in this project – thank goodness for the kit decals).
Another small but important thing is that the serial number on the vertical fin was done with a stencil, and a narrow “overspray” of yellow around the stencil can be seen outlining the serial. I did this by taping over the decal with drafting tape, then”spotting” yellow around the edge with a 0000 brush.
The important thing to remember is that the airplane was “a work in progress” during the eight weeks Gabreski flew it before he downed himself on July 20, 1944. Thus, the closest anyone can get to anything “definitive” is a representation of the airplane at a particular point in time so far as the markings are concerned.
One final interesting point was made to me by a good friend who pays attention to such details – that unlike almost all other 56th Group P-47s that show up in Jeff Ethell’s “World War II in color” books, Gabreski’s airplane wasn’t polished. I have since “dulled” the model in light of this information.
So, here’s my take on the airplane, with the research photos included for review.
22 additional images. Click to enlarge.