(10) P-38 Lightning at War

(10) P-38 Lightning at War

Color profiles: Andrzej Sadło, captions: Mariusz Łukasik, Tomasz Szlagor
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Lockheed P-38 Lightning was the first representative of the new idea of American air force - the idea of a modern war in the skies. It was also an answer to the contest of the US Army Air Corps from 1937 for a high-altitude interceptor fighter. The high standards were set according to the X-608 directive that specified the maximum speed at the altitude of 6000 m for 580 km/h and 460 km/h for an altitude just above the ground level. The specified range should exceed 500 km while the length of a landing run, after clearing a 15 m high obstacle, and the length of a take-off run were set for 500 m and 650 m respectively. Those high expectations discouraged most of the contestants. Lockheed company that was slowly rising up from a recent downfall was unable to sustain its big production plants together with 50 people of engineering department, despite the good sale of their export blockbuster – Electra passenger aircraft. It is no wonder, therefore, that Lockheed treated the contest as its last hope. On the 23rd of June the contract (AC 9974) for a prototype called XP-38 was signed. The very promising calculations of the performance of the aircraft were a decisive factor in the contest. The theoretical speed was expected to reach 710 km/h at the altitude of 6100 m. Also the aircraft’s reach and climb were expected to be excellent. The designing team led by Hibbard and Johnson prepared a very modern twin-boom, twin-engine airframe with a tricycle landing gear. The aircraft was equipped with counter-rotating propellers, turbo supercharged engines with an advanced colling system, Fowler flaps and armament grouped in the forward part of the central nacelle of the airframe. At first the use of Allison engines was proposed, since at that time they were the most powerful engines available in mass-production. The first flight of the new prototype took place on the 27th of January, 1938 while on the 27th of April, 1939 Lockheed signed a contract for the production of the YP-38 test series of 14 aircraft including one for static ground tests. The same year, in September, another order was placed, this time for 607 aircraft of mass-production series. This was the beginning of the epic history of P-38 that ended with the construction of 9923 of these fighters. During the production period the aircraft underwent 700 major changes and as many as 2000 smaller changes of its construction never leaving the avant-garde of the best machines of the World War II. Easily recognizable thanks to its twin tail booms it was nicknamed “the Fork-Tailed Devil”, while the production name “Lightning” was first given to one of the mass-production series of P-38 D by the end of 1941. The aircraft flew in every war theatre except for the Eastern Front, where the Russians, taking into account the complexity of the maintenance and the need of concrete runways, resigned from supplies under Lend-Lease program. Also the British RAF, despite initial declarations, did not come to like the aircraft and did not use it in its units. It was, however, flown by the French, Italian, Chinese, Portugal and Australian pilots, not to mention the Americans, of course. Although, comparing it with other American aircraft, as far as the total number of produced units is concerned it must be placed on the sixth place and, although it was used by merely 27 Fighter Groups, its spectacular achievements made it, arguably, the most famous in this elite circle. The eminence of the top flying aces, like Richard J. Bong and Thomas B. McGuire who had flown the aircraft increased its renown even more. The group of famous Lightning pilots includes Charles A. Lindberg and Antoine de Saint Exupery, it was also on Lightnings that a spectacular mission of shooting down the Japanese commander-in-chief, admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, was conducted. Except for the interceptor fighter version, a reconnaissance P-38, a bomber version of the J model, often called Droop-Snoot, as well as a small number of the double seat version of the P-38M night fighter was constructed. After the war, under the military aid program, many countries received the Lightnings which had been withdrawn from service. They continued flying until 1955, when they often returned to the USA after being bought for private collections. Back in the States they were widely used in races and air shows.
Camouflage and markings

At the beginning of the mass-production P-38 already fell under the 24114 specification which stated that aircraft were to be painted in Dark Olive Drab no.41on the upper surfaces and Neutral Grey no.43 on the underside with a fluent wavy contact line of the colors. The colors were satin and they were spray painted without stencils. Since the 9th of May, 1942, propellers, which were initially unpainted, according to the appendix no.3 of the previously mentioned specification, were ordered to be painted flat black, while according to appendix no.4 they also received the Identification Yellow no.48 color tips. Theoretically since April but practically since September, 1943 the Dark Olive Drab no.41 was replaced with lighter Olive Drab no.613. More or less at the same time the Neutral Grey no.43, which was produced for the British, was replaced with a similar shade of Sea Grey. On the 2nd of January, 1944, so during the production of P-38 J, the instruction T.O.07-1-1 was enforced and ordered to leave aircraft in their natural color which was officially called the Natural Metal Finish. In the case of P-38 it meant the use of putty and painting some parts of the aircraft silver. The other surfaces were left unpainted, yet they were polished and plated very precisely and at a very high esthetic level. The whole surface of the aircraft was additionally coated with one or more layers of nitrocellulose varnish. The inside of the engine compartment, landing gear chambers and the elements of the landing gear as well as the armament compartment that, until that time, had been painted in Zinc Chromate Primer or Interior Green were left in their natural metal color. To eliminate the effect of blinding the pilot by the light reflected from the smooth metal surfaces the inner, top surfaces of the engine cowlings and the front part of the fuselage, in front of the windshield, were covered with the left-over Olive Drab or in some instances black paint. On the inner sides of the engine cowlings, just like in the previous camouflage, elliptical, mirror polished part of the plating was left, which allowed the pilot to visually control the lowering of the forward landing gear. The reconnaissance versions of Lightning were at first covered with an experimental “hazy” camouflage. In order to achieve this effect, the aircraft were painted with semi-transparent, oil based paint of light blue color which was sprayed over a flat black base. The distinctive “haze” was reached by spraying on the paint with different intensity. The aim of this camouflage was to make the upper surface of the aircraft darker and the undersurface lighter. Sometimes the standard Olive Drab/Neutral Grey camouflage was used as the base. In the later period synthetic paints were used with Sky Base Blue as the base and Flight Blue as the second, sprayed on layer. In some photographs one can notice that a certain number of the aircraft were camouflaged with British PRU Blue paint. P-38M night fighter had all its surfaces painted with glossy black Jet no. 622 paint.

At the time when Lockheed P-38 was introduced to the service, the specification 24114 was in force and determined the aircraft to carry American insignia only on the left wing, looking in the flight direction, and on both sides of the fuselage. The old system of painting the insignia in six positions, together with 13 horizontal red and white stripes on the rudder, completed with the letters “US” and “ARMY” painted on the port and starboard wing undersides respectively (this system was still present on the pre-production YP-38), was discontinued. The insignia was painted in the distance of one and a half of its diameter from the tip of the wing so that it would not reach the aileron. On the fuselage, or the twin-booms to be more precise, (due to the unique construction Lockheed did not comply with the standard specifications which stated that the star should be placed in the middle of the distance between the horizontal stabilizer and the trailing edge of the wing, and placed the star in the middle of the distance between the cooler covers and the trailing edge of the wing) a white five-pointed star (Insignia White no. 46) inscribed in a navy blue (Insignia Blue no. 47) circle with an additional red (Insignia Red no. 45) circle inscribed in the star. After the first months of the war in the Pacific theatre, considering pilots requests, the red circle inscribed in the star was resigned from since in the heat of a battle the red sign was often mistaken for the Japanese Hinomaru. Another modification of the insignia was introduced in Africa during the operation “Torch” that was the debut of the Americans in that theatre of war. To make the insignia look similar to the RAF insignia and to make it easily recognizable a yellow, two inch wide outline was added to the circle with the star. The ongoing confusion in the system of painting the insignia caused by its frequent changes and by the lack of basic unity in the three national colors used in the insignia caused the enforcement of the document AN-1-9a from March 1943. The document cancelled all of the previous orders concerning the insignia and introduced a new design of the insignia in which a white, horizontal bar was added to the white star inscribed in the navy blue circle. The stripe was to have the width of a half of the navy blue circle’s diameter and the length one diameter of the circle. The whole insignia was to be outlined with a red line 1/8 diameter wide. Also the location of painting the insignia was slightly changed and unified. However, some protest were again raised by the pilots fighting in the Pacific region who kept pointing at the same problem as in case of the red circles. This led to a new directive AN-1-9b, from the 14th of August, in which the red rim was replaced by a navy blue rim of the same size. Another marking painted on American aircraft was their Radio Call Number, which was placed on the vertical stabilizer and in fact was the machine’s serial number without the first two digits and the dash after the year of production. It was painted in yellow (Insignia Yellow no. 48) and since 1942, Orange Yellow no. 5, black, red or blue. In March, 1944 it was decided that on the light surface it was to be painted in black (Jet no. 604), while on dark surface in International Orange no. 508. A very important element of aircraft’s painting was also the aircraft’s data plate, placed on the left side of the cockpit nacelle, below and forward from the cockpit. It included such information as a number of the model, aircraft’s serial number and the crew’s weight. In the case of Lightnings it also included the name of the pilot and the names of the servicing crew, most often with white letters on a black rectangle. It was also ordered to repaint all of the factory stencils after the aircraft was repaired, however under field conditions it was not always done. Also important were the identification markings and the unit markings of the aircraft. In Europe the unit markings were adjusted to the RAF standards by introducing a three character code where the first two characters stood for the squadron while the third one identified a particular aircraft. Additionally the Lightnings relegated to escort duties were also marked with a system of geometrical figures that were placed on the outer surface of the rudder together with letters that were placed on its inner surface. In the Pacific theatre, tactical number placed on the rudder and nose sufficed throughout the war. Moreover the system of identification was widely based on the colors used on the characteristic elements of the aircraft like: spinners, tips of the rudder, nose caps or coolers which were common for all aircraft of a group and squadron. The extremely rich material concerning the discussed issues exceeds the boundaries of this publication. This also applies to the individual aircraft marking in the form of nose-arts, which were often placed on the sides of the cockpit nacelle, ahead of the cockpit or on the engine cowlings, as well as the scoreboards of victories and combat missions of individual machines. However, some of them are shown in the published color profiles

P-38F-15 (s/n 42-7781) coded UN-G and named Bat Out of Hell, flown by Lt. James J. Hagenback of 94th FS/1st FG (15th AF); Italy, late 1943. The aircraft in standard OD camouflage. Promoted to the rank of Captain, Hagenback served as the CO of 94th FS from September 1943 to January 1944.

P-38J-10 (s/n 42-67916) coded (KI)-S and named California Cutie, flown by Lt. Richard O. Loehnert of 55th FS/20th FG (8th AF); Kings Cliffe, England, June 1944.

P-38J-10 (s/n 42-67988) coded MC-J and named Jack, flown by Capt. Carl Jackson of 77th FS/20th FG (8th AF); Kings Cliffe, England, winter of 1943/44.

P-38H-5 (s/n 42-67060) coded CG-S and named Skylark IV, flown by Capt. Mark K. Shipman of 38th FS/55th FG (8th AF); Nuthampstead, England, November 1943.

P-38J-10 (s/n unknown) coded CG-O and named Journey’s End, flown by Capt. Joseph Myers of 38th FS/55th FG (8th AF); Nuthampstead, England, November 1943.

P-38J-15 (s/n 43-28650) coded 5 and double-named Sweet Sue/Nellie Ann, flown by Lt. Phillip E. Tovrea of 27th FS/1st FG (15th AF); Salsola, Italy, summer 1944.

P-38J-15 (s/n 43-28444) coded E6-T and named Vivacious Virgin II, flown by Lt. Ian B. Mackenzie of 402nd FS/370th FG (9th AF); Florennes, Belgium, winter of 1944/45.

P-38J-15 (s/n 43-28714) coded (L2)-L and named Lucky Lady, flown by Lt. Arnold G. Helding of 434th FS/479th FG (8th AF); Wattisham, England, June 1944.

Lockheed P-38J-15 (s/n 42-104012) Down Beat of 80th FS, flown by Maj. Richard ‘Dick’ Bong; April 1944, Nadzab, New Guinea.

Lockheed P-38J-15 (s/n 42-104012) Down Beat of 80th FS, flown by Maj. Richard ‘Dick’ Bong; April 1944, Nadzab, New Guinea.

Lockheed P-38H-1 (s/n 42-66683) Pluto, 12th FS/18th FG (13th AF); New Guinea, 1943.

Lockheed P-38J-10 (s/n 42-104391) St. Louis Blues, flown by Lt. Gene Sommerich of 12th FS/18th FG; Philippines, 1944.

Lockheed P-38J-25 (s/n 44-23???) Seattle Slugger − Eleanor, flown by Capt. R.S. Corbett and Capt. J.F. Roehm of 44th FS/18th FG; New Guinea, 1944.

Lockheed P-38F-5 (s/n 42-12645) The Flying Dutchman, flown by Lt. Edward W. Randell of 39th FS; 11th April 1943, Milne Bay.

Lockheed P-38L-5 (s/n 44-27121) Charlcie Jeanne, flown by Maj. James A. ‘Duckbutt’ Watkins of 7th FS/49th FG; Lingayen (Luzon, Philippines), 1945.

On the port side, under machine gun barrels, two rising-sun flags symbolizing two air victories, and a symbol of sinking a ship. On the fin a yellow serial number 32264.


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