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Aces of Aviation

Republic P-47D Thunderbolt of Robert S. Johnson

Republic P-47D Thunderbolt of Robert S. Johnson

Republic P-47D Thunderbolt from the 61st Fighter Squadron of the 56th Group, piloted by Lieutenant Robert S. Johnson, from June 1943 to March 1944.

Wingspan: 12.43 meters.

Length: 11.02 meters.

Height: 4.45 meters.

Engine[s]: Pratt and Whitney R-2800 of 2300 horsepower.

Maximum speed: 697 kilometers/hour.

Service ceiling: 12190 meters.

Range: 1030 kilometers.

Armament: Eight Browning M2 12.7-millimeter machine guns; three 227-kilogram bombs.

Francis S. Gabreski and Robert S. Johnson shared the first place in the list of American pilots with a high record of victories in Europe during the Second World War, both pilots flying the P-47 Thunderbolt in the 61st Fighter Squadron. Bob Johnson was 22 years old when he arrived to England in January 1943, as Lieutenant with the 56th Fighter Group, which was initially based in King's Cliff, Northamptonshire, and where a P-47C nicknamed "Half Pint" was assigned to him.

Despite the disfavorable opinions from the veteran RAF pilots, who believed that the P-47 would be unsuitable for fighting against the agile German fighters, the pilots from the 56th Fighter Group spent several months training in Great Britain before starting the operations. After Lieutenant J. Curtis had crashed the "Half Pint", Johnson piloted another P-47C nicknamed "All Hell" until the 26th June 1943, when he switched to his first P-47D, which he nicknamed "Lucky". By then, the 56th Fighter Group had its base in Horshan St. Faith, Norfolk, but in the early July it was transferred to Halesworth, in Suffolk.

Johnson's first victory was achieved with the "All Hell", against a Focke-Wulf Fw 190 downed the 13th June, but it was with the "Lucky" that he achieved most of his victories. He destroyed one Messerschmitt Bf 109 the 19th August, one Fw 190 the 8th October, one Fw 190 and one Bf 110 the 10th October, one Bf 109 and two Bf 110 in November, and one Bf 109 and two Fw 190 in December. One of the Messerschmitt downed the 26th November was regarded only as possible, and later it was known that it had indeed crashed.

Johnson's twelfth victim was one Fw 190 downed the 5th January 1944, followed by another one the 21st January, plus one Me 410 and one Bf 109 the 30th January. Subsequently he downed two Bf 110 the 20th February, one Fw 190 the 6th March, and two Fw 190 and one Bf 109 the 15th March. These were the last of the 21 victories achieved by Johnson with the "Lucky" before the aircraft, piloted by Lieutenant D. Stream, were lost in the sea the 22nd March. From that time on Johnson destroyed four Fw 190 and one Bf 109.

In May 1944 Johnson was promoted to the rank of Major and appointed Operations Officer of the 62nd Fighter Squadron. He did not achieve any subsequent victory, but his rival and friend, Francis Gabreski, whose record equated that of Johnson back then, crashed in Germany and was made prisoner the 20th July. But while Johnson had achieved his 28 victories in only 91 combat missions, Gabreski had to take part in 153 to achieve that same record. The condecorations awarded to Johnson included the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal and the Purple Heart.