Air Classics, Feb 2002 by Hahn, William W
In reading most of the literature published through
the years on the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, I feel
that Lieutenant Colonel Gilbert 0. Wymond, Squadron
Commander of the 65th Fighter Squadron, 57th Fighter
Group, has never been fully recognized. I find nothing
that commends Wymond for his ingenuity -and one
must realize that the British Eighth and the American
Fifth Armies, together with their support segments,
owe much of their success in the Italian campaign
to the development of the Thunderbolt into a dive
bombing, close support platform.
Amendola Airfield was situated just off the end
of Foggia Main. The 57th FG had given up Foggia
Main to occupy this little 3600-foot strip of mud
and hard-- stands. The place was a mess as landing
fields go, but it was our little home. The B-17s
had moved to Foggia Main and they could be constantly
heard warming up and taking off, roaring almost
The 57th had received four new P-47s in mid-December
1943 for training purposes. Pilots returning from
the States were not overly complimentary about the
P-47, complaining that it was too big, too slow,
and too heavy. The P-47 had seen action in Europe
as a long-range, high-altitude escort for the bombers
and it had achieved some recognition. It was not,
however, a close support aircraft.
There was little enthusiasm when the P-47s were
first flown by the pilots of the 65th. The P-47
could not dive bomb and the eight .50-caliber machine
guns did not seem to get down to the ground for
good low-level strafing. Our pilots were used to
harassing the enemy by strafing rail and truck areas,
infantry and anything that moved. They were expert
On 12 January 1944 at about 1700 hours, the flap
on the doorway of our pyramidal tent flew open.
Standing there wet and cold, was Lt. Col. Wymond.
"Hahn, we are being transferred to the 9th
Air Force in England to do high-altitude escort.
I ain't going and you are the reason for us not
going." I sat there with my four bunkmates
- Bob Furman, Utica, New York; Harmon Alley, Albuquerque,
New Mexico; Robert and Elbert Adams (twins), Tyler
Texas - not knowing what the hell Wymond was talking
about. "Hahn, come with me," he said as
he headed out of the flap.
Wymond climbed into the cockpit of his Thunderbolt,
received just that week, and pointed to the wing
tank and the belly tank fuel releases (all drop
tanks). He told me he wanted to be able to dive,
move his left hand off the throttle, pull the wing
releases (supposedly with bombs), and never lose
sight of the target.
This was not possible with the poorly designed
tank releases. The thought of this monumental change
in-field, with engineering help, was a stunner.
How would we do it?
Wymond and I sat on the wing until 0130 hours discussing
potentials. We finally decided we could not spare
any armorers from the line and missions could not
be interrupted. I chose one helper, Charles Apell
(Grand Haven, Michigan), and we began next morning
to devise a temporary release. It was a real sorry
excuse for a solid release but we had it accomplished
in two days.
One could see how awkward it would be to pull the
left and right wing release simultaneously. We needed
to combine the release handle for the two wing tanks
in some manner. We did this on the prototype by
laying a flat steel bar across the three releases,
applying a fulcrum to the floor to enable the pilot
- with one pull - to release the two wing bombs.
This was not a satisfactory application because
the belly tank could not be used.
Appel and I devised a method of laying the two
wing releases on the floor. Connecting them with
a cable that we ran forward up the firewall and
back to the instrument panel, we then added the
belly tank release. The pilot had only to lean forward,
watch his target and pull the two small toggles
on the instrument panel to release the bombs. This
was eventually duplicated in most of the squadrons.
It was crude but effective and later improved upon
by Republic with the P-47D-30 series.
Wymond came along to tell us Generals Strickland
and Brereton would arrive next day to see a demonstration
of the conversion. Not certain the contraption would
work successfully, we loaded two 500-pound bombs
and applied fins but no fuses. This would prevent
an explosion or, if there was one, it would be of
low order. No problems. We had difficulty with braces
to keep the bombs from swaying but be finally rigged
a sway brace. We were ready.
Wymond took off shortly after noon and climbed
to 6000 feet, rolled over and began his dive. He
dropped to about a 1000 feet before pulling the
release. The bombs fell perfectly, landing just
short of the runway and burying about 30 feet into
the ground. The Generals were impressed and told
Wymond to go ahead and equip all 24 aircraft in
the squadron for dive bombing. Appel and I were
far from convinced that this was the way to go.
We kept working on ideas and finally we decided
to run a copper tube forward on the floor of the
cockpit and up the firewall and then back to the
instrument panel just in front of the stick. This
would allow the pilot to lean forward into the gunsight,
find his target and, without moving anything but
his left hand, he could pull the releases. Appel
and I were satisfied this was the way to go. We
converted all 24 Thunderbolts to this release. We
had to devise new sway braces to keep the bombs
steady under the wings. A loose bomb swinging out
there could play havoc with the pilot. Same for
the belly tank/bomb shackle.
There was no thought that we could make electrical
impulse releases. That would complicate the situation
overly much. We stayed with the mechanical idea
and, suddenly, the 65th/57th was doing the usual
bombing, strafing, and harassing of the enemy. We
found we could replace the American gunsight with
a British type used in Spitfires to better advantage.
We could also raise the sight four inches and that
would allow us to boresight the guns in a slightly
more depressed position, better for strafing. We
boresighted the eight .50s to converge at 300 yards.
This concentrated fire power could destroy a house,
a truck, or a rail car with one short burst.
Wymond was so excited about the potential for the
Thunderbolt that he had us hang two 1000-lb bombs
under the wings and he took off and dropped them
on a target in Yugoslavia. From that point, it was
determined that the P-47 could carry two 1000-pounders
under the wings and a 500-- pounder on the center
line rack. The P-47 became a weapon of serious destruction.
The Group went forward to Cercola, near Naples,
then was moved to Corsica to commence Operation
The idea was to cut every railhead, tunnel, and
bridge the pilots could find. They would starve
the German army. No ammunition, no fuel, no food.
Things were going well when suddenly planes began
returning with bombs hanging loosely from their
shackles. The pilots, low on fuel, could not get
rid of the things and were forced to land. Often,
the jolt of the landing would cause the bomb to
drop onto the runway and tumble nose to tail down
Fins would break off. The nose fuse safety would
fly off, the tail fuse would break off about halfway
- exposing a live detonator. What to do? The bomb
demolition crews were in Bastia, 30 miles away.
With planes still in the air running on empty, it
was necessary for the armorers to rush out to the
bomb and very carefully unscrew the fuses - trying
to prevent the exposed detonator from driving home.
We found little enthusiasm among armorers to do
this. They felt it could lead to a very short life
It fell upon the armament chief to sit by the runway
and when one of the bombs fell off, he drove out
to the bomb, carefully removed the fuse and dragged
the bomb off the field. This probably happened two
dozen times during a short period. The cause could
not be determined. We knew the bomb shackle was
of a different model than on our faithful P-40s.
The P-47 had a new B-10 shackle and the P-40 used
a B-7. The only difference appeared to be the fulcrum
point of the rear lug on the B-10. The front lug
was a short pull, the back lug had a six-inch arm
to the release. When the bomb was attached, this
put an even pull on the arm.
We could never be certain that this was the cause
of the hung bomb, but we were suspicious. We tried
every way to ease the pull on that fulcrum but met
with little success. Two pilots had been killed
when a bomb exploded on the runway and the shrapnel
had flown into unsuspecting bivouac areas. One bomb
had exploded just opposite the control tower. The
force of the blast was horizontal. The first section
of the tower was destroyed - the second section
dropped straight down and then slowly began to topple
onto the runway. The two men in the tower were unhurt
but badly shaken. We needed to find an answer.
One cold and soggy morning about 0400 hours, we
received word to change the bomb loads from 500-pounders
to fragmentation bombs. This meant we would defuse,
defin, and drop the bombs onto the ground. Suddenly,
while in the process of dropping these bombs, one
hung. Miracles do happen! We were able to determine
that the fulcrum of the B-10 was indeed the culprit.
We immediately requisitioned all of the available
B-7 shackles in the theatre.
We found very few. Most had left the theatre with
the P-40s. We flew back to Africa and searched all
the repair areas. Finally, we had enough for the
24 planes in the squadron. The mounts had to be
modified to handle the wider B-7 but this was accomplished.
Things began to improve after that.
Armament received a shipment of ten-foot-long paper--
wound tubes equipped with an electrical exciter
on one end. We were to learn that these were rocket
tubes to be mounted under the wings, between the
gear leg and the gun ports. A cluster of three was
installed under each wing. The P-47 then became
the most feared fighter-bomber of the war since
it could carry six 4.5-inch rockets, 2500 pounds
of bombs, and eight .50-caliber machine guns.
Once the shackles were changed and pilots became
confident of their ability to release the bombs,
they began "skip" bombing into tunnels
and against shipping. There is little doubt that
the conversion of the P-47 into a fierce ground
support aircraft was an instrumental part of the
success of the Normandy Invasion as well as the
defeat of the German army in Italy. The German infantry
feared the P-47 as much as the Allies feared the
Stuka dive bomber earlier in the war.
The unfortunate part of this whole episode is that
Lt. Col. Wymond was never recognized for forcing
this development and for taking the risk of dropping
the first test bombs. He never gave up interest
in perfecting the P-47 as a ground support aircraft.
He and the enlisted armorers of the 65th deserve
much credit which has never been forthcoming. Colonel
Wymond was killed in a Republic P-84 shortly after
the end of the war. I feel he deserves recognition
for developing "in-field" the best air
weapon the Allies had during World War Two.
Copyright Challenge Publications Inc. Feb 2002
Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company.
All rights Reserved
"Cockpit#65 - my P-47 - note the three tee
handles on center console -
This was an in-field modification - the brain child
of 65th CO Gilbert
O. Wymond and our Armament chief Bill Hahn - two
handles released the
bombs and the third released the belly tank - These
mods along with
raising the optical gun sight a little made the
P-47 the efficient
ground attack weapon it proved to be." - Dwight