WarbirdsNews has just received the June/July, 2019 report from Chuck Cravens concerning the restoration of the Dakota Territory Air Museum’s P-47D Thunderbolt 42-27609 at AirCorps Aviation in Bemidji, Minnesota. We thought our readers would be very interested to see how the project has progressed since our last article on this important project. So without further ado, here it goes!
This month we fitted the engine mount and work continued on the unique radio installation necessitated by the Christmas tree tank field modification. We added wing structure to the fixture and parts fabrication continued. We will also examine the missions that took place during 42-27609’s time in the Papua New Guinea combat zone.
An exciting and visible sign of progress is the motor mount attached to the firewall for trial fitting. It is still wrapped in protective plastic foam sheet.
Christmas Tree Tank Radio Relocation
One of the unique features of this Thunderbolt is that it had a wartime field modification from the 5th Air Force to increase the fighter’s range. The modification is nicknamed a Christmas tree tank because of its shape. Most aircraft had them removed by the late summer of 1944, but 42-27609 still had its tank in place.
The 42 gallon tank is located right behind the pilot and occupied the space where the supercharger oil tank and the communication receiver originally sat. Consequently, those installations needed modifying to make space available for the new tank.
Without having the original parts to either duplicate or repair and use, as we have been fortunate to have, installing this unique modification would have been impossible because engineering drawings simply aren’t available.
We’ll take a look at how the original installation was configured and then show the modifications.
Fabrication and Parts
Progress continues on both wings. This month, the work was mainly related to the spars.
The Southwest Pacific War, May and June, 1944
Early in the Papua New Guinea campaign, the US and Australian ground forces, the US 5th Air Force, and the RAAF had worked together to defeat the Japanese attempt to take Port Moresby by attacks on the Kokoda Trail and amphibious landings at Milne Bay. The Kokoda Trail leads over the Owen Stanley Mountains from the northeast coast of Papua.
In 1943, the Army and its air arm went on the offensive and pushed the Japanese out of most of eastern Papua New Guinea. In the process, airfields at Dobodura, Finschaven and Nadzab were either recaptured from the Japanese or built to expand allied operations on the northeast part of Papua New Guinea.
The early air operations for this period were designed to eliminate the Japanese air threat in the area from Wewak to Hollandia in western New Guinea. By March, Hollandia had been reinforced and had 250 Japanese aircraft. About half were combat ready at any one time. Allied air superiority had been attained in the Wewak area after months of pounding the Japanese stronghold with B-25s, A-20s and P-47s. However, the Japanese were still able to use it as a staging base [Ref. Thomas E. Griffith Jr., MacArthur’s Airmen. Lawrence, Kansas, 1998, p.161].
General Kenney ordered attacks on both Hollandia and Wewak. The attacks in late March eliminated the threat of Japanese air attacks on the coming invasion of the Holandia area and allowed the use of carrier air forces to aid in the invasion.
Sunday April 16, 1944 was a bad day for the 5th Air Force. By this time the Japanese air resistance was eliminated, but weather hazards were not. 130 bombers and 40 fighters set out to attack Tadji in the Hollandia area, but bad weather contributed to the loss of 32 crewmen and 31 aircraft.2
42-27609 Arrives in the Southwest Pacific
On May 8th, 1944 P-47D 42-27609 arrived in Townsville, Australia on the carrier CVE 31, USS Prince William.
The 15 P-47s, 17 P-38s, 16 A-20s, and 3 P-61s on the USS Prince William were all unloaded by the end of May 8, 1944. They were readied for combat quickly and flown to Papua New Guinea.
It is interesting to note what missions the 5th Air Force was flying during 42-27609’s combat career. From a publication by the Center for Air Force History, Kit Carter and Robert Mueller’s, Combat Chronology 1941- 1945, I have taken the 5th Air Force’s missions for the dates that our P-47 could have been in combat.
Note that on 15 June, 1944 the 5th Air Force was incorporated into the Far East Air Force (FEAF). FEAF was formed with jurisdiction over the Fifth and Thirteenth AFs with General Kenney in overall command.
The following list of missions are those that either definitely included P-47s (by naming the type), or possibly included Thunderbolts because either the acronym FB for fighter bombers or fgtrs (fighters) was used. There were other missions in this busy period that only listed HB (heavy bombers) or MD (light bombers) as participating aircraft. Acronyms, punctuation, abbreviations, and grammatical choices in the listing are those of the original authors. The bolded dates are an addition by me, in the interest of visual clarity.
The mission list for 42-27609’s active period is long, so this month we will list the missions that took place in May and June of 1944. Later updates will have missions from July through September 18, 1944; when 42- 27609 was finally struck from flying status.
5th Air Force Missions of May and June 1944 [Ref. Kit Carter, Robert Mueller, Combat Chronology 1941-1945, Center for Air Force History, Washington D.C., 1991]
5/8/44 Fifth AF B-24’s and P-40’s operating in Geelvink Bay area attack Mokmer A/F and nearby shipping. A-20’s and FBs continue to pound T/Os along NE New Guinea coast from Wewak to Hansa Bay and along Sepik.
5/9/44 Fifth AF More than 50 B-24’s and B-25’s bomb Langgoer and Faan airstrips, and Bosnik supply area and Mokmer A/F. 220-plus A-20’s and FBs continue to blast numerous T/Os along NE New Guinea coastline from Wewak to Hansa Bay area. 12 B-24’s of Thirteenth Air TF bomb Woleai.
5/10/44 Fifth AF 120-plus B-24’s, A-20’s, and FBs, along with RAAF airplanes, maintain attacks on T/Os along NE New Guinea coast from Hansa Bay area to Wewak. 2 B-24’s hit Mokmer A/F. 45 B-24’s of Thirteenth Air TF bomb A/F on Eten I and warehouse area at Dublon.
5/11/44 Fifth AF 130-plus B-24’s and B-25’s bomb gun emplacements and supply areas on Wakde and Mokmer A/F and T/Os on Biak. 220-plus FBs, A-20’s, B-24’s, and B-25’s continue to pound coastal bridges and villages, fuel dumps, vehicles, gun positions, supply areas, bivouacs, and various tgts along the shoreline from Hansa Bay to Wewak.
5/12/44 Fifth AF B-24’s bomb Mokmer A/F and attack tgts on Ceram, Amboina and Timor. A-20’s, B-25’s and FBs blast villages, coastal bridges and roads, vehicles, airstrip at Boram, and other tgts throughout WewakHansa Bay region.
5/13/44 Fifth AF B-24’s hit dispersal areas on Japen I, supply areas and AA guns at Bosnik, and A/Fs at Sorido, Namber, and near Moemi R. B-24’s and B-25’s hit A/Fs in the Wakde-Maffin-Sawar-Arare area. More than 200 FBs, A-20’s, and B-25’s thoroughly pound A/Fs, bridges, fuel dumps, vehicles, villages, AA guns, and supply areas in Wewak/Hansa area.
5/14/44 Fifth AF B-24’s bomb Bosnik supply areas and Sorido runway. In Wakde-Sawar-Maffln Bay area, villages and AA positions are pounded by B-24’s and B-25’s. FBs, A-20’s, B-24’s, and B-25’s maintain strikes against A/Fs, bridges, trucks, villages, and other tgts in Wewak-Hansa Bay area.
5/15/44 Fifth AF Wewak-Hansa Bay area is again hit by A-20’s, B-24’s, and FBs. B-24’s and B-25’s attack numerous tgts in Wakde-Sawar-Sarmi-Maffin Bay areas and on Biak I. Thirteenth Air TF B-24’s from the Admiralties bomb supply and bivouac areas on Mariaon and Tagaulap Is and AA guns on Woleai and Paliau Is.
5/16/44 Fifth AF Fifth AF aircraft continue to pound a variety of tgts in Netherlands New Guinea and NE New Guinea. Tgts include A/Fs and supply areas on Noemfoor and Biak Is, AA guns, supplies, and occupied villages in Wakde I-Maffin- Sawar c.
5/17/44 Fifth AF Allied forces land without opposition near Arare after naval bombardment. Fifth AF B-24’s and B-25’s hit tgts in general vicinity at Sawar, Sarmi, and mouth of Orai R. More than 100 B-24’s, with P-38 escort, pound AA positions on Bosnik, Sorido, and Mokmer, and supply areas and A/F on Noemfoor. 120 plus FBs, A-20’s, B-25’s, and B-24’s continue to hit Wewak-Hansa Bay area.
5/18/44 Fifth AF More than 100 FBs, A-20’s, B-25’s, and B-24’s pound T/Os in Wewak-Hansa Bay area throughout the day. B-24’s hit T/Os on Halmahera I and bomb Bosnik. B-25’s hit Larot and Saumlakki.
5/19/44 Fifth AF B-24’s, A-20’s and P-38’s hit A/Fs and shipping in Manokwari-Noemfoor I area. Other B-24’s pound beach defenses at Bosnik on Biak I and hit area between Bosnik and Mokmer. 270-plus A-20’s, P47’s, P-38’s, and B-2B’s continue to blast Wewak, knocking out radar and radio stations, and attack T/Os from Wewak to Hansa Bay area.
5/20/44 Fifth AF B-24’s, A-20’s, and B-25’s hit airstrips, revetments, supply areas, AA positions, and shipping at Manokwari, Noemfoor and Biak Is, and Mawi Bay. A-20’s, B-25’s, and FBs continue to pound A/Fs, coastal villages, bridges, supply dumps, trucks, and various other tgts at Wewak and from Wewak to shore of Hansa Bay.
5/22/44 Fifth AF B-24’s and B-25’s bomb Manokwari, shipping E of Cape Manggoear, and storage areas and Sorido village on Biak I. P-40’s hit supply and fuel dumps, trucks, and other T/Os in area of Wakde Is. B-24’s, B-25’s, and FBs continue to bomb and strafe various tgts in Wewak-Hansa Bay area.
5/24/44 Fifth AF A-20’s hit A/Fs at Namber and Kamiri. More than 200 A-20’s, P-38’s, P-47’s P-39’s, and B-25’s continue to blast T/Os in WewakHansa Bay area throughout the dayoastal area, and bridges, villages, troop concentrations, and AA positions.
5/26/44 Fifth AF B-24’s bomb Biak I while B-25’s hit Wakde I and nearby coastal areas. Other B-25’s bomb a variety of tgts in Aroe Is. 100-plus A-20’s, B-25’s and FBs continue to blast coastal region around Wewak. Villages and gun positions on Hansa Bay are also hit.
5/28/44 Fifth AF In spt of ground forces on Biak I, B-24’s and B-25’s hit villages, supply areas, troop concentrations, and gun positions on Biak, Noemfoor, and Japen Is. A-20’s, B-25’s, and FBs blast troop concentrations, AA positions, and supply dumps in Wewak area. A-20’s supporting ground forces in heavy fighting in Sarmi area, hit positions with minimum-level strikes. B-24’s bomb Boela. Thirteenth Air TF B24’s bomb A/F on Woleai.
5/29/44 Fifth AF B-24’s pound gun positions, defense areas, and troops, as first tank battle of SWPA is fought W of Parai on Biak I. Other B-24’s pound A/Fs on nearby mainland at Timoeka and Babo. A-20’s, B-25’s, and P-47’s, along with RAAF airplanes and a few HBs from the Biak strike, saturating Wewak area with continuous air strikes. In WakdeSarmi battle zone, B-25’s and P-40’s hit forces in Mount Saskin area. B-24’s of Thirteenth Air TF bomb Woleai and other nearby islands in the Carolines.
5/31/44 Fifth AF B-25’s and A-20’s hit Babo area, bomb A/F near Ransiki R, cover beachhead on Biak I, and attack fishing boats on shore of Japen I. P-47’s and B-25’s pound villages, barges, and gun positions in WakdeSarmi battle area. B-24’s, P-39’s, and RAAF airplanes continue to hit Wewak and Hansa Bay areas.
6/3/44 Fifth AF B-25’s, A-20’s, and B-24’s hit Timoeka A/F and nearby villages, shipping off Manokwari, Seroei Village on Japen I, and positions N of Mokmer, and strafe Mokmer, Sorido and Kamiri A/Fs. P-38’s and P-47’s battle ftrs over Biak I and over Babo area. P-47’s and P-40’s hit Sawar A/F, supplies and fuel dumps in Sarmi and Orai R areas, and hideouts and occupied areas along coast. B-24’s and FBs maintain consistent pounding of numerous tgts in Wewak-Hansa Bay coastal region. B-24’s of Thirteenth Air TF bomb Eten and Dublon.
6/4/44 Fifth AF A-20’s bomb town and harbor at Manokwari and shipping to the E in Geelvink Bay. B-24’s bomb Namber and Borokoe A/Fs while ftrs battle enemy airplanes in general area. B-24’s bomb area near Orai R mouth while A-20’s hit Wewak and FBs pound Hansa Bay coast.
6/7/44 Fifth AF B-25’s bomb Biak I, hitting gun positions near Bosnik, airstrip at Sorido, and Borokoe road. A-20’s hit shipping in Manokwari area. B-25’s blast supply areas near Orai R. FBs and A-20’s continue pounding Wewak-Hansa Bay coast. Thirteenth Air TF B-24’s hit various tgts on Truk Atoll (weather permits only 10 of 48-airplane force to reach tgt area).
6/11/44 Fifth AF B-24’s bomb Sorido A/F and surrounding areas as US carrier forces attack Saipan, Tinian and Guam. B-25’s, A-20’s, and P-47’s continue to saturate Wewak-Hansa Bay coastline with bombs. Other B-24’s bomb Dublon and Peleliu A/F.
6/12/44 Fifth AF Fierce ground fighting continues on Biak I while Japanese airplanes attack Allied ground forces and shipping offshore; P-47’s battle attacking aircraft, shooting down several. P-47’s and A-20’s hit troop concentrations, comm, and various other tgts in Wewak and Hansa Bay areas. B-24’s bomb Peleliu A/F and Dublon I.
6/13/44 Fifth AF More than 100 A-20’s and a few B-25’s and P-39’s attack miscellaneous tgts in Wewak area. P-39’s hit area around Hollandia and P-47’s bomb bridge over Orai R and fuel dumps near Sarmi. A-20’s blast enemy positions N of Borokoe. B-24’s bomb airstrip at Liang. B-24’s from Admiralty Is bomb Woleai, Dublon, and Satawan.
6/15/44 FEAF, FEAF is formed with jurisdiction over Fifth and Thirteenth AFs. Gen Kenney becomes CG FEAF, with HQ in Brisbane. FEAF HBs, MBs, LBs, and ftrs attack barges in Manokwari area, village in Wakde area. Also bombed are A/ Fs on Timor and Truk. Thirteenth AF airplanes still in Solomon-Bismarck area hit Tobera A/F and forces on Bougainville. Amphibious forces of US Marines land on Saipan.
6/16/44 FEAF Bmrs and ftrs hit widespread tgts in SWPA and in SOPAC. Personnel areas and barges along coast in Wewak and Hansa Bay areas are hit throughout the day. A/Fs and shipping at Efman and Samate Is and at Babo and Sorong are attacked. Dublon and Yap are bombed. HBs hit Vunakanau A/F at Rabaul. HBs, MBs, LBs and ftrs attack a large variety of T/Os on Gazelle Peninsula from Tobera A/F to Rabaul.
6/17/44 FEAF MBs, LBs, and ftrs hit shipping in Sorong harbor and airstrips in Babo area. In Wewak area, A-20’s, B25’s, and ftrs continue to pound barges and villages. HBs again bomb Truk, hitting tgts on Eten and Dublon. HBs hit Lakunai A/F while A-20’s, B-25’s, and ftrs attack numerous tgts between Rapopo and Tobera.
6/18/44 FEAF A-20’s, B-25’s, and ftrs, along with RAAF airplanes, continue to pound supplies and occupied areas along coast in Wewak area. B-24’s hit tgts in Truk. A variety of ftr and bmr aircraft unload 18 tons of bombs on numerous tgts around Rabaul. Ftrs continue sweeps against T/Os along coastal areas of Bougainville
6/19/44 FEAF Over 100 A-20’s and FBs maintain strikes along coast around Wewak, hitting supply and bivouac areas, roads, personnel, and a coastal gun position. A-20’s hit A/Fs at Manokwari, Noemfoor I, and Moemi. B-25’s hit forces in Cape Orford region. HBs bomb Dublon and Eten.
6/20/44 FEAF A-20’s, P-39’s, and RAAF aircraft, pound areas along coast in general area of Wewak. B-24’s bomb Kamiri A/F and attack Woleai and Dublon. B-25’s, P-38’s, and other Allied airplanes (including some of RNZAF) blast AA positions S and SW of Rapopo.
6/22/44 FEAF B-25’s, A-20’s, and P-47’s hit shipping at Efman I and A/Fs and T/Os on Noemfoor, attack Manokwari, and hit villages in the Sarmi area. Attacks by A-20’s and ftrs, along with RAAF airplanes, on wide coastal area around Wewak continue. B-24’s bomb Yap, Sorol, and Woleai. B-25’s join the Allied aircraft in pounding Nordup and Ralum.
6/23/44 FEAF Wewak area is again pounded throughout the day by A-20’s, P-39’s, P-47’s, and RAAF airplanes. A few A-20’s and A-26’s on barge search bomb offshore islands near Manokwari. This marks SWPA debut of the A-26. P-47’s on sweeps strafe areas E of Maffln. B-24’s hit A/F at Yap and Woleai. HBs on armed rcn bomb Dublon, Koror, and Peleliu. B-24’s bomb Tobera A/F. B-25’s along with other Allied airplanes, hit AA positions S and SW of Rapopo.
6/24/44 FEAF Fifth AF and RAAF airplanes continue to blast stores, personnel areas, roads, and bridges in general area of Wewak. B-25’s, A-26’s, and A-20’s hit enemy positions in caves E of Mokmer A/F, attack shipping in Babo area (on MacCluer Gulf), and bomb Kamiri and Kornasoren A/Fs. HBs, MBs, and ftrs, along with other Allied airplanes, hit Tobera A/F, AA guns at Wunapope, and buildings at Nordup.
6/25/44 FEAF Wewak area continues under attack of Fifth AF and RAAF aircraft. Personnel areas at But, Dagua, and Suain and barges at Mushu and Kairiru Is are hit. P-40’s and B-24’s strike Kamiri A/F while A20’s, P-47’s, and B-25’s hit villages along Tor R and P-47’s hit tanks along Wiske R. B-24’s pound Yap and Sorol. MBs and ftrs, along with other Allied airplanes, hit AA positions near Wunapope and blast plantations along Wide Bay.
6/26/44 FEAF Wewak area is hit throughout the day by Fifth AF B-24’s and P-39’s, along with US Navy and RAAF airplanes: P-38’s, P-47’s, A-20’s, A-26’s, B-24’s, and B-25’s attack A/Fs, shipping, villages, town areas, roads, and numerous other tgts at Efman, Noemfoor, Japen, and Biak Is, at Manokwari and Ransiki, and near Sarmi. B-24’s bomb tgts on Yap and Sorol Is; others on armed rcn bomb airstrips at Woleai and Peleliu. AAF and other Allied aircraft hit A/Fs, AA positions, and other tgts in Rabaul and Cape Orford areas.
6/27/44 FEAF Fifth AF and RAAF LBs and FBs continue to attack Wewak area, hitting troop concentrations, villages, ammo dumps, and warehouses. B-24’s, B-25’s, A-20’s, A-26’s, P40’s and P-47’s hit A/Fs, gun positions, and various other tgts in or near Babo, Manokwari, Biak I, Noemfoor I, Ransiki, Waren, and Moemi. B-24’s bomb Yap and Sorol; others on photo rcn flight bomb Woleai and Ifalik Is. Thirteenth AF ftrs and bmrs join other Allied airplanes from the N Solomons in bombing AA positions at Ralum and other tgts in Rabaul area.
6/29/44 FEAF Japanese concentrations at Aitape and a variety of T/Os including barges, villages and bivouacs in Wewak area are hit by A-20’s, B-25’s, and FBs. B-24’s, B-25’s, A-20’s, and FBs attack A/Fs and AA guns at Babo, Manokwari, Waren, and Moemi, barges at Noemfoor, and villages E of Maffin Bay. AA positions S of Ralum are bombed.
Here are a few additional images…
And that’s all for this month. We wish to thank AirCorps Aviation, Chuck Cravens (words and images) as well as John LaTourelle and Aaron Prince (images) for making this report possible! We look forwards to bringing more restoration reports on progress with this rare machine in the coming months.
Is the P-47 Thunderbolt your favorite airplane? Make sure to purchase issue #73 of Warbird Digest featuring the beautiful “Dottie Mae