The Mighty “Jug” – 11 Cool Facts About the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt

P-47D Thunderbolts of the 345th Fighter Squadron. (Image source: WikiCommons)

P-47D Thunderbolts of the 345th Fighter Squadron. (Image source: WikiCommons)

“More than 15,600 Thunderbolts were manufactured between 1941 and 1945 and they served in every theatre of the war.”

WITH ITS SLEEK LINES, nimble handling and lightning-fast speed, the North American P-51 quickly became a symbol of American air power in World War Two. But while the Mustang certainly helped win control of the skies over Europe and the Pacific, it was the less glamorous Republic P-47 Thunderbolt that was the real workhorse of the Allied victory. Nicknamed the “Jug” (short for “Juggernaut”) by adoring pilots, the P-47 was a heavyweight warbird — and one that packed a devastating punch. More than 15,600 Thunderbolts were manufactured between 1941 and 1945 and they served in every theatre of the war performing a variety of missions from bomber escort to close air support. Here are some amazing facts about this remarkable aircraft:


The short and stubby P-43 Lancer - the precursor to the Thunderbolt (Image source: WikiCommons)

The short and stubby P-43 Lancer – the precursor to the Thunderbolt (Image source: WikiCommons)

The P-47 was supposed to be a ‘light’ fighter

Conceived by Georgian-born aircraft designer Alexander Kartveli, the plane that would eventually become the P-47 was originally intended to be a featherweight interceptor. Based on the small P-43 Lancer, which saw limited service in the U.S. Army Air Corps before 1941, Republic was hoping to develop an improved version of the fighter. But as the war in Europe demonstrated the need for much more robust warplanes, the company was forced to rethink its plans. Designers soon came up with bigger, more rugged machine: The P-47. A prototype Thunderbolt first took to the skies on May 6, 1941.

The Thunderbolt was a flying tank

Hard to kill -- The P-47 made a large target but proved to be a durable opponent. (Image source: WikiCommons)

The P-47 was a large target, but solid construction made to be a durable opponent in combat. (Image source: WikiCommons)

The P-47 was a big plane. It was three feet wider than the P-51 and four feet longer. And at more than 10,000 pounds empty, it was about 50 percent heavier than the Mustang and nearly twice the weight of of the British Spitfire. In fact, along with the three-seat Grumman Avenger, the P-47 was among the heaviest single-engine aircraft of World War Two.

… but it could move fast

Although big and heavy, the Thunderbolt could keep up with the fastest fighters of the war. (Image source: WikiCommons)

Although big and heavy, the Thunderbolt could keep up with the fastest fighters of the war. (Image source: WikiCommons)

Despite its considerable mass, the P-47’s 18-cylinder, 2,600-horsepower Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp engine (the same power plant used by the Vought Corsair and Grumman Hellcat) enabled the unwieldy Jug to keep pace with the Mustang. Both had a top speed of around 440 mph (700 km/h). And while the P-47 could reach altitudes in excess of 40,000 feet (12,000 meters), its range of just over 800 miles (1,300 km) gave it half the legs of the P-51.

It packed a killer punch

The P-47 carried eight .50 caliber machine guns. (Image source: WikiCommons)

Point and Shoot — The P-47 carried eight .50 caliber machine guns. (Image source: WikiCommons)

With four .50 caliber machine guns mounted in each wing, the Thunderbolt could shred both enemy warplanes and ground targets alike with equal ferocity. Its internal stores were capable of holding 3,400 rounds (the Mustang’s six guns could pack only 1,800 bullets), which enabled the P-47 to unleash a torrent of lead for 30 seconds straight. While the Jug did poorly in fast turning dogfights against smaller planes, it was at its best when diving on (or “bouncing”) enemy fighters with all guns blazing. It was even more effective as a ground attack aircraft; it was capable of carrying as much as 3,000 pounds of external ordnance. In fact, when fully armed, a P-47 Thunderbolt could deliver about half the payload of a B-17 Flying Fortress. When equipped with 4.5-inch M8 rockets, the Jug had the firepower equal to a battery of 105 mm howitzers.

Late-model Jugs patrol the skies over the Pacific. (Image source: WikiCommons)

Late-model Jugs patrol the skies over the Pacific. (Image source: WikiCommons)

… and was very hard to kill.

The P-47 was a popular plane with pilots. Not only was it capable of absorbing staggering amounts of punishment, the cockpit was roomy and comfortable. Some fliers likened the aircraft’s seat to a lounge chair. Plus, the bubble canopy, which was added to D-model variants, afforded aviators enhanced visibility. The plane’s safety record was nothing short of astounding – only about 0.7 percent of Thunderbolts were lost in action. [2]

P-47s weren’t cheap

American factories pumped out one P-47 Thunderbolt every two hours for the duration of World War Two.

American factories pumped out one P-47 Thunderbolt every two hours for the duration of World War Two.

Republic Aviation factories in Long Island, New York and in Evansville, Indiana, along with a Curtis plant in Buffalo, assembled 15,600 Thunderbolts between 1942 and 1945 — that’s an average of 360 a month for three and a half years. Each plane cost $85,000 (about $1.1 million in 2015). All told, the War Department spent $1.2 billion on P-47 Thunderbolts before VJ Day. That’s roughly equal to $15.5 billion today.

… but they were worth the investment

A Thunderbolt was a potent bomber.

A Thunderbolt was a potent bomber.

The P-47 made its combat debut in April 1943, when a Thunderbolt with the U.S. Army’s 4th Fighter Group brought down a Focke Wulfe FW-190 over France. Over the next two years, the planes would fly more than half a million sorties in Europe and the Pacific and would claim nearly 4,000 enemy aircraft, 9,000 trains, 86,000 trucks and 6,000 armoured vehicles.

Many aces preferred the Thunderbolt

Francis "Gabby" Gabreski, America's top P-47 ace.

Francis “Gabby” Gabreski, America’s top P-47 ace.

A number of American aces achieved impressive records while at the controls of P-47s. Thunderbolt top guns included Francis “Gabby” Gabreski (28 kills), Robert S. Johnson (27 kills) and David C. Schilling (22.5 kills).

Improved P-47s broke speed records

A N-model P-47. (Image source: WikiCommons)

A N-model P-47. (Image source: WikiCommons)

Numerous attempts were made to improve the performance of the mighty Jug. One experimental model set a speed record of 505 mph (810 km/h). No piston engine aircraft would top that until 1989. In 1942, Republic reported that its plots had broken the then-elusive ‘sound barrier’ during P-47 dive tests although that record has been disputed. [3] However, two years later, the company produced a limited number of M model Thunderbolts with supercharged engines that could reach emergency speeds of 473 mph (760 km/h). These were sent to the United Kingdom to intercept V1 rockets and were later used against German jets.

More than 20 nations used the P-47

A RAF Thunderbolt in Burma. (Image source: WikiCommons)

A RAF Thunderbolt in Burma. (Image source: WikiCommons)

While the United States was the P-47’s principle operator, Thunderbolts served in a number of other countries’ air forces as well. More than 800 went to Britain and Commonwealth powers during the war. Free France operated nearly 500 of the aircraft too. As many as 400 Jugs were also transferred to the Soviet Union under Lend Lease, where they largely served in interceptor roles.

Thunderbolts became Cold Warriors

Iranian P-47s. (Image source: WikiCommons)

Iranian P-47s. (Image source: WikiCommons)

Although P-47 production ceased just weeks after Japan’s surrender, Thunderbolts (re-designated as the F-47) continued to serve for years (and in some cases decades) after World War Two. America pulled the plane from front line service in 1949, but NATO allies like Turkey, Portugal and Italy maintained squadrons of Thunderbolts into the 1950s, as did Iran. Taiwanese F-47s routinely engaged communist fighters off the coast of China. Surplus models were also liberally distributed throughout Latin America during the same period. Bolivia, Brazil, Columbia, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic all maintained fleets for years. Peru didn’t retire its Jugs until 1966. When designing its formidable A-10 tank buster in the early 1970s, engineers at Fairchild Republic tore a page from history and dubbed their new twin-engine attack jet the Thunderbolt II in honour of the P-47. Today, at least 15 original wartime Jugs are still airworthy and can be seen on the North American air show circuit each summer.

The Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II was inspired by the P-47. (Image source: U.S. Air Force)

The Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II was inspired by the P-47. (Image source: U.S. Air Force)


23 comments for “The Mighty “Jug” – 11 Cool Facts About the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt

  1. Frankie
    5 October, 2015 at 9:19 am

    Actually P-47, just like all the other WW2 ground attack aircraft were very poor destroying enemy tanks.

    • Tony LLoyd
      26 June, 2016 at 12:58 pm

      Hurricane 2D desert tank buster ???

  2. Glen M DePasse
    5 February, 2016 at 10:15 pm

    Seven out of the top ten U.S. fighter aces in the European theatre flew P-47’s.

    • Tom Wolak
      11 February, 2017 at 6:06 pm

      Yes they did’ this plane still does not get the credit it deserved’ in no way shape or form did the mustang win the war for the U.S’ the p47 and it;s pilots were there from the start shooting down the best germany had ‘many tell stories of pilots coming home with no flaps’ no hydraulics ‘entire cylinders shot out and yet the big beautiful and tough p47 landed like it was a training better testimonial to how the jug pilots felt about their steed was ever given than gabreski himself’ he said IF YOU WANT TO GET THE GIRL FLY A P51′ IF YOU WANT TO GO HOME TO YOUR GIRL STRAP INTO A P47. NUFF SAID

      • eric
        25 May, 2017 at 8:15 pm

        My dad flew two missions from England on D-Day in his P-47; He loved flying but said in a retrospective at age 90 that he didn’t like the killing of his fellow humans, even though they were German.. This guy was awarded the DFC by his commanding general and after surviving 92 missions in Europe followed by spearheading Patton’s drive across Europe to Germany, decided to turn down a promotion to captain and return to the states to become an instructor in Texas.

        Dad was a special guest at the WWII memorial dedication weekend in Washington in 2004 and our family was seated within a stone’s throw of George Bush(41) and Bill Clinton who were on the podium. Next day we went out to the Air and Space museum at Dulles…there is a vintage p-47 under the left wing of the Enola Gay. Dad is hanging around the kids who were amazed at the P-47 and one of the youngsters asked Dad if he piloted that plane. Dad, never one to be in the spotlight, said yes and the kids starting gathering and sitting down on the concrete floor asking dad what it was like to fly the “jug”.

        After a few minutes of the kids’ fascination, a really old guy who could barely walk comes up to dad and says that a p-47 squadron saved his bomber group of b-24s from certainly being shot down by the german fighter planes on several occasions. They hugged and both cried. the Kids there were so quiet watching these two heroes.

        • Rob
          11 September, 2017 at 7:28 am

          Thanks for that story. Brought a tear to my eye. My dad was a b-24 pilot. Flew out of Lecci , Italy and England. Made it home alive and went on to serve 23 years.

  3. James
    19 June, 2016 at 6:10 am

    Hi Frankie,
    I respectfully disagree with your statement. It is true that aircraft designed for air to air combat such at the P-47 and the Fw 190 that were converted to the attack role were not great at tank busting. However true attack aircraft such as the German Stuka and the Russian Sturmovik damaged or destroyed many tanks. For example, Ace Stuka pilot Hans Rudel is credited with destroying 519 tanks, and ace Sturmovik pilot Nelson Stephenyan is credited with destroying 80 tanks. Even taking into consideration that these pilots were the best of their kind and inflated kill credits, on average many tanks were put out of actions by these two WW2 ground attack aircraft.

    • rick usaf
      18 September, 2016 at 7:13 pm

      we were very slow at powering up with some of our best A/C F4u as well as P47 and the F6F hellcat.

    • pooplag
      21 February, 2017 at 3:58 pm

      thank you

  4. robert boyette
    20 December, 2016 at 3:16 pm

    they never said the p47 was a tank buster they said it was a flying tank!
    THE A10 thunderbolt2 is the tankbuster!
    read it again before you dissagree!

  5. Doug
    21 February, 2017 at 6:56 am

    My Dad worked for Republic Aviation for 32 years in Farmingdale NY
    He was a foreman in the Jig shop.

    He loved the P47 and over the years related many stories to me.

    Female “ferry” pilots used to fly them out of the plant, and quite often crash a few !!!

      27 February, 2017 at 10:54 am

      As a young boy watched P-47s in mock combat with Hellcats over Great South Bay. I also saw those clip wing P-47s as well which could go like hell.

  6. pooplag
    21 February, 2017 at 3:59 pm

    im watching you

  7. Rich Keller
    1 April, 2017 at 7:20 pm

    For all those men that fought on my behalf before I was born, I’m so proud that you fought for my freedom

    I owe you

    For all those that served as mechanics and ground crew and those wonderful ladies that broke through barriers to serve like none others

    • Charlie
      7 January, 2018 at 3:52 am

      Spot on Rich and I join you in thanking these people we owe them our freedom and our freedom of speech. They fought, got tortured and died so that we could enjoy our freedom. Lost three of my great uncles in the Second World War, two served with the Royal Navy and one in the US Marines

  8. James W.
    6 May, 2017 at 5:51 am

    P-47s never took any speed records – & never won at Reno,
    nor did the RAF use theirs to shoot down V1 missiles, because
    the Thunderbolt is too slow at low altitude where these things happened..

    The P-47 was expensively fitted out with a huge turbo to feed its massive
    P & W R-2800 radial engine plenty of gas at high altitude, but it was a
    massive gas-hog too, & even filling every available space ( inc’wings)
    with fuel didn’t make it better than a Mustang..

    In fact, fully laden the P-47 took nearly a mile to take-off, & became a
    rolling crematorium – if it didn’t get airborne.

    Because so many had been built, yet they were largely unwanted by the 8th
    AF for defeating the Luftwaffe high over Germany ( the Mustang took its job!)
    they were relegated to the dangerous ground attack role, & the German
    109/190 fighters could out-perform the ordnance-laden ‘bolts at low levels
    where they had to operate..

    Just look up the list of P-47 losses after D-day, hundreds were lost before Xmas,
    & hundreds more until VE-day.. pity the poor buggers who had that gig..

    • Capt.Leon Pesche ret'
      20 May, 2017 at 9:03 pm

      and technical engineer. Another fact you might not know? The Pioneer Mustang Fighter Group (354th) had to fly P-47 from 1st DEC 44 to FEB-MAR 1945 P-47D’s. One of them belly landed behind our house the 2nd of JAN 1945. The day after OPERATION “BODENPLATTE” where the Germans lost most of their ownairplanes:

      When the P-51 model after B was brought out, with 8 M.50 like the Thunderbolt (JUG) they lost 8 Mustangs the first day, due to folding up wings by pulling out of the dives. Told to me by Capt. Clayton Kelly Gross (Book “LIVE BAIT”) 1997 during the 10 days I had them in Luxembourg, as guests. Lt. DICK HARRISON told me, that he flew nearly an hour without oil pressure, and made it back to home base.
      Capt. Gross came in for landing in “NANCY “ROSIERE EN HAYE”
      There first mission on P-47 was on the 5th DEC1944..

    • John
      11 June, 2017 at 10:11 pm

      The P-47 was a high-altitude fighter…its giant turbocharger meant it performed best at ~30,000′. It is not and never was a dogfighter-like most American planes of the war, it was a speed fighter. (Though, surprisingly, it could barrel-roll amazingly well, sometimes able to ROLL inside a turning enemy plane.)

      Ground attack is inherently dangerous…more P-47s were lost after D-day simply because they were used in that role. P-51s were not, simply because they weren’t very good at it…and could be brought down by one hit in the right spot.

    • Jennifer Knol
      16 June, 2017 at 10:15 am

      My father said he was”honored” to fly the P-47. I wish he was around to ask about your statements. He flew 104 missions earned the DFC along with many other honors came in a Tail end Charlie and finished a Squadron Leader. He took damage on many missions and always made it home. He loved his jug.

  9. alan skelly
    31 August, 2017 at 2:25 pm

    In Burma My Dad thought his Hurricane was a cramped cockpit and when you pressed to fire the guns that it would shake itself to pieces. They converted to P47’s and he loved it, spacious cockpit and like sitting in an armchair, flip up the cover at the end of the arm rest and press the button and the guns, “purred like a cat” and the airplane didn’t shake.
    He said he felt like artillery because they were being used to drop T.N.T. on targets in the jungle. He wore an R.A.F. suicide pill around his neck with the instruction,” if you come down and capture is imminent, take the tablet, as a captured R.A.F. pilot the death will be far less painful.” – He flew against the Japs for 4 years, he was 23 on V.J. Day, what a life. !
    Went on to fly the Meteor jet till 1957.

  10. Isaac David Warren
    19 November, 2017 at 5:33 pm

    Hello, I loved reading all these comments! I am a student in Evansville, Indiana. I am working with the Evansville Wartime Museum (EMW) building memorials throughout Evansville and since a large number of P-47 Thunderbolts were produced here we are making a memorial for those that helped build them and the pilots that flew them.
    The EMW’s mission is sharing our history from WW2 with the people of Evansville and if any of you wish to share your story or a relative’s story we would really appreciate it. Also, I’m researching the P-47 because my school is building a 1/3 scale model and I have to present about the project quite often so if there are any other facts you could share with me about these plane I would love to listen!
    Contact me at:

  11. Terrance Pardee
    19 December, 2017 at 1:46 am

    What a terrific site. My Father-in-law, Eugene Armstrong, flew the “Jug” too was shot down on his 43rd mission just before Christmas 1944. Passed in 1992. Built a 40,000 acre farm/ranch in South Dakota, lived the life he always wanted. RIP

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