P-47 Thunderbolt vs German Flak Defences: Western Europe 1943-45, Jonathan Bernstein

P-47 Thunderbolt vs German Flak Defences: Western Europe 1943-45, Jonathan Bernstein

We start with a look at the development of the P-47, from its original design as a light weight interceptor, through its development into a rather heavyweight escort fighter and on to its conversion into an excellent fighter bomber. This includes some interesting details, such as the need to move the bomb release level from its original position on the cockpit floor into one that was more convenient for the pilot.

We then move on to the German anti-aircraft guns, looking at the 2cm and 3.7cm guns, the two types that could be traversed quickly enough to have a chance of hitting a fighter, the later use of the 1.5cm MG 151/15 and 2cm MG 151/20 aircraft guns in the anti-aircraft role, where their belt feed allowed them to produce a higher weight of fire than the box fed Flak guns and the Mk 103 3cm cannon, which was pressed into use in 1945.

We get a great deal of information on both side’s weapons, although I’m not sure why it’s been split into two chapters – Design and Development and Technical  Specifications – a decision that breaks the flow somewhat and means that the P-47s weapons are in a different section to the aircraft, followed by the section on Flak ammo.

We then move onto the strategic situation, looking at the layout of German Flak defences before D-Day, and the organisation of the Allied air forces, and in particular the P-47 units within the US Ninth Air Force, the tactical wing of the USAAF in Britain. Next comes an overview of P-47 operations focusing mainly on the period from D-Day onwards, including Operation Dragoon, the battle of Normandy, the battle of the Bulge, and the advance into Germany. If I’m honest too much of this section reads like a standard brief history of the campaign with not enough focus on the topic.

After this section on the campaign we move back to the main topic, this time with a look at the organisation of the relevant units on each side. This is organised by role within the organisation, so we start with a look at the organisation of the flak batteries and fighter groups, then their support services.

I’m not entirely convinced by the structure of the first part of this book. I’ve have put the Strategic Situation chapter after the chronology, then had all of the technical chapters together. The Design and Development and Technical Specifications chapters would have worked better for me as a single chapter.

I do like the structure in the Combatants section, which allows us to directly compare the organisation of the flak batteries and the fighter groups and their tactics.

We reach the Combat chapter about two thirds of the way into the book. This brings all of the previous material together and adds eyewitness accounts of the fighting, starting with armed reconnaissance missions before D-Day. Particular parts of the campaign are picked out, including D-Day, the Falaise Gap, clashes with coastal flak defences during the advance east along the coast, the dash east towards Germany, the battle of the Bulge and the final advance into Germany. Each section is supported by at least one eyewitness account from P-47 pilots, each of which make you realise that the Americans didn’t have everything their own way. The Germans were very skilful at setting up ambushes for the P-47s, putting tempting targets out in the open near hidden flak guns

We end with a look at the statistics. This is a difficult task – we can be sure how many P-47s were lost, but less so about how many were shot down by Flak guns. German losses are less sure, and many of them will have been to other sources – getting caught up in the land battle, medium bombers, RAF fighter bombers etc. However we can say that P-47 losses were comparatively low for the number of sorties flown, with around 1,300 lost in total, and 40% of them probably shot down by the Flak batteries. Any account of the fighting (including German memoirs) will tell you that Allied fighter bombers roamed the battlefield with relatively impunity, making it clear that this is one duel with a clear winner.

Overall this is a useful book, providing useful histories of the German flak batteries and the P-47 groups, how they were organised and how they performed in combat.

Design and Development
Technical Specifications
The Strategic Situation
The Combatants
Statistics and Analysis

Author: Jonathan Bernstein
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 80
Year: 2021

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