July/August Dakota Territory Air Museum P-47 Update

The sheer size of the P-47 is clear when you compare it to the work table under the airframe.


This month, work continued on fuselage systems, the ailerons were riveted, and work was begun on the exhaust system. Some of the ducting for the turbosupercharger was fitted in conjunction with the exhaust system.


Systems work continues on the fuselage.


In any restoration, the various assemblies are put together with clecos, skins are fitted and drilled, then the assembly is taken apart for painting, deburring the rivet holes, and any other needed adjustments. Finally, the parts are actually riveted together to complete the component. The ailerons have reached the final riveting stage this month.

Landing Gear

The landing gear on the P-47 is massive, as befits such a large fighter. Most of the work restoring the gear has been completed.

Turbosupercharger System

Small Parts Fabrication

Even at this stage of the restoration, small parts are still being fabricated. One example is the cover for the gun bay heat baffle.

Exhaust System

There are so many complex systems on the P-47, and the exhaust system is no different. It has to flow back through the turbosupercharger to power that assembly before the exhaust gases are finally expelled.

35th Fighter Group, 39th Squadron during the service period for 42-27609.

42-27609 was operational in the combat area of Papua New Guinea from late May to the first part of September of 1944.

The 35th Fighter Group first received P-47D-23RAs in late June. They were the first Fighter Group to list the D-23 in their squadron history inventory pages. The 35th experienced a quiet period for combat during June and July of 1944, but combat missions increased greatly with the beginning of August.

Captain Leroy Grossheusch in his P-47D-23RA
Captain Leroy Grossheusch in his P-47D-23RA, he would later command the 39th FS beginning on November 7, 1944. Photo from 39th Fighter Squadron Association website http://cobraintheclouds.com/colonelleegrosshuesch.html, accessed 8/31/2021

“On June 25th, 7 new P-47D-23RAs arrived from Finschaven. Seven more were added two days later but no missions were flown until August 3rd, when glide bombing was introduced against Japanese positions on Noemfoor Island and the Vogelkop Peninsula. For the first time, 500 pound bombs were used on the underwing shackles, doubling the P-47’s offensive load.”1

42-27609 was very possibly one of those first 27 D-23s.

The 39th Fighter Squadron experienced a change in command during this period. Major Harris Denton turned the squadron over to Major Richard Cella. The first mission Major Cella commanded was a 900 mile flight of 26 P-47s from Nadzab to Noemfoor to cover the building of airfields on Middleburg Island. Over the next 6 weeks, the 39th guarded against the occasional raiding of Japanese soldiers during their tenure on the island.

On August 9th, their first operation from Noemfoor took place as two flights of P-47s covered a convoy off Cape Sansapor. Similar missions filled the next few days until August 20th when the squadron went out on a fighter sweep to the Moluccas, led by Captain Gordon Prentice. “With a flight duration of 5 hours and 20 minutes, it was the longest P-47 mission flown by the 39th (and probably any other Fifth Fighter Command unit) up to that date. No longer would the skeptics berate the P-47’s range. Later in the year, with three external tanks and a technique of controlling their cruising speed with propeller pitch, as demonstrated by Charles Lindbergh, the squadron registered missions up to eight hours.”2

The 39th and the rest of the 35th Fighter Group had moved 900 miles west during this time. The next big jump would be to the Philippine Islands later in 1944.

1 John Stanaway, Cobra in the Clouds, Historical Aviation Album 1982, Temple City, CA, p.28
2 John Stanaway, Cobra in the Clouds, Historical Aviation Album 1982, Temple City, CA, p.29

Lt. Billy Richards
Lt. Billy Richards, killed over Jefman Island during a dive bombing attack, August 23, 1944. Photo from Cobra in the Clouds3

On August 23rd of 1944, the squadron sustained its first operational combat fatality, when First Lieutenant Billy Richards was shot down by enemy anti-aircraft fire over Jefman. Lt. Richards was flying P-47D-23RA, AAF serial number 42-27620. Richards’ P-47 is only 11 numbers after our restoration airframe in the Evansville sequence, and it arrived in Townsville, Australia on the same day. Both aircraft were shipped to the SW Pacific on the carrier Prince William, CVE 31.

On September 5th, a glide bombing operation was carried out on Halmahera. The P-47s made the 800 mile round trip with no difficulty and all returned safely with fuel to spare.

Air operations were halted briefly while the 39th began a move from Owi to Morotai on September 12th, the ground contingent arriving by ship four days later.

42-27609 was abandoned at Dobodura on September 18, 1944.

3 John Stanaway, Cobra in the Clouds, Historical Aviation Album 1982, Temple City, CA, p.29

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