Major John R. Young describes maximum range mission tactics in Ray Merriam’s book Fighter Tactics in the Southwest Pacific Area. The mission Young describes involved a long-range fighter sweep to clear a target area ahead of a B-24 Liberator bomber force. The target was 835 statute miles from their base at Morotai, Netherlands East Indies. This necessitated hanging three external drop tanks on the unit’s P-47s: two wing-mounted 165 gallon tanks and a 75 gallon centerline tank.
The Thunderbolts on this extreme range mission drew fuel from the large wing tanks until they were emptied or combat necessitated dropping them. Interestingly, to return home from a long range mission like this, the pilots would not drop their centerline 75 gallon tank during combat. This was a highly unusual practice because, in almost all other cases during WWII, aircraft punched their drop tanks immediately when combat was imminent. Dropping tanks had several desirable outcomes; it improved flight performance and maneuverability, and also greatly reduced vulnerability to fire or explosion should these tanks take hits from enemy munitions. In fact, if a drop tank failed to detach during such circumnstances, the pilot was usually ordered to return to base rather than engage in combat with the tank still attached.
However, on a maximum-range mission, it would prove impossible to return to base without using the remaining fuel in the P-47’s centerline tank, so the risk was deemed worth taking. It is also likely that opposition to such protocol at this late stage in the war was far less fierce than it had been when Japan’s cadre of fighter pilots comprised a force of experienced veterans. By late 1944, many of Japans remaining fighter pilots were very green, and therefore less of a threat.
While it isn’t clear from Major Young’s account as to precisely which P-47 variant he was flying at the time, it was most likely a D-25, with slightly increased internal fuel capacity in comparison to the D-23 version.
In the same book, Captain Leroy Grosshuesch of the 39th Fighter Squadron describes another mission. He specifically mentions the P-47D-16, D-21, and D-23s as having their range stretched to a 750 mile radius of action, with about 15 minutes available for combat in the target area.
The comparison between the superior maneuverability and inferior armament and pilot protection of the Japanese fighters along with the P-47’s superior armament, its ability to dive, to survive significant damage, to protect the pilot, and the achieve high speed in level flight dictated the tactics in the arena.
Grosshuesch explained that once the enemy was sighted, he always tried to position himself and his formation above and behind the target aircraft. The P-47s would then make a diving pass on the enemy, firing as they went. Capt. Grosshuesch told his men to maintain speeds up to 200 miles an hour at all times in combat and to never chop the throttle.
“One good burst will finish him anyway. My advice is if you don’t get him on your first pass, pull off to the side and climb at 200 mph. After you have altitude, come back and do it again.”
Grosshuesch also mentioned that he would never refuse a head-on pass, because the P-47’s superior firepower of eight .50 caliber guns “would take care of that”.