One Pilot, Two Planes – P-38 Lightning with 38 Photos

Nicknamed as the Fork-tailed devil by the Germans and One pilot, two planes by the Japanese, the P38 Lighting was one of US Air Force’s most effective interceptor aircraft, with 10,037 units built and a service history spanning from 1941 well into the 1960s.

Assuming multiple roles such as intercepting enemy aircraft, level, and dive bombing, attacking ground troops, and participating in photo reconnaissance missions, the P38 led a prolific life during the war years, both in Europe and in the Pacific.

Lockheed P-38J-20-LO Lightning airplane “Yippee”
Lockheed P-38J-20-LO Lightning airplane “Yippee”

It’s characteristic twin booms, together with a nacelle containing the cockpit and the armament, made it one of the most easily recognizable aircraft of the war.

What made it even more immune to misidentification and friendly fire was the distinctive and rather quiet sound its engines produced while flying, due to the exhaust being muffled by its turbo-superchargers.

https://youtu.be/yXniBMzgS_A

Manufactured in great numbers from 1941 onwards, the Lightning took its time to enter combat. The first squadrons of P38s were deployed to Iceland and Britain in 1942 but saw little action.

P38 Lightning Photo: CindyN CC BY-SA 4.0
P38 Lightning Photo: CindyN CC BY-SA 4.0

As the US Army prepared for its long march to Europe via North Africa, most of the P38s were transferred to provide aerial support. After the landings in North Africa, the Lightning would remain a common sight in the Mediterranean during the course of the war.

Still, its greatest achievements occurred not in the African and European theaters of war, but in the Far East, in the struggle for air superiority over Pacific.

With aces like Richard Bong (40 victories), Thomas McGuire (38 victories) and Charles H. MacDonald (27 victories), the P38 Lightning, with its compressed sound, was sure to strike fear into the hearts of Japanese pilots.

Barely visible beneath the wings of a Lockhead P-38 Lighting are the deadly bombs with which this multi-purpose plane can blast enemy troops, ships and gun emplacements. As shown in recent demonstartions at the AAF Tactical Center, Orlando, Fla., the Lockhead P-38, now being used as a fighter-bomber, is capable of carrying bomb pay loads up to 2,000 pounds, thus affording the Allies another potent weapon for use against Germany and Japan in coming offensive.
Barely visible beneath the wings of a Lockhead P-38 Lighting are the deadly bombs with which this multi-purpose plane can blast enemy troops, ships and gun emplacements. As shown in recent demonstartions at the AAF Tactical Center, Orlando, Fla., the Lockhead P-38, now being used as a fighter-bomber, is capable of carrying bomb pay loads up to 2,000 pounds, thus affording the Allies another potent weapon for use against Germany and Japan in coming offensive.

But perhaps the most notable mission in which P38s were heavily involved was Operation Vengeance – the plan to assassinate Isoroku Yamamoto, the main architect of the Pearl Harbor surprise attack.

When American codebreakers intercepted a message announcing that Admiral Yamamoto would be inspecting the troops in the Solomon Islands on 18th of April 1943, 16 P38s were dispatched with the mission to shoot him out of the sky.

One of 13 YP-38s constructed
One of 13 YP-38s constructed

The group flew extremely low, just above the ocean, to avoid radar detection and managed to catch up with Yamamoto and his escort consisting of six Zeros and two Mitsubishi G4M fighter-bombers, one of which was Yamamoto’s transport, while the other transported his staff.

View of a P-38G cockpit. Note the yoke, rather than the more-usual stick.
View of a P-38G cockpit. Note the yoke, rather than the more-usual stick.

After a short dogfight, both Mitsubishi fighter-bombers were downed, together with two Zero fighters. Only one P38 was shot down during the air battle.

Reconnaissance P-38 with bold black and white invasion stripes participating in the Normandy Campaign
Reconnaissance P-38 with bold black and white invasion stripes participating in the Normandy Campaign

The operation was a huge morale boost, both for the troops and for the citizens of the USA, as it symbolically ended a story of defeat which had haunted the American public since the disastrous humiliation at Pearl Harbor.

Additional Photos –

22nd Photo Recon Squadron.
22nd Photo Recon Squadron.

 

38th FS of the 55th FG – P-38Js in formation.
38th FS of the 55th FG – P-38Js in formation.

 

Aiming point camera on the bomb rack of P-38.
Aiming point camera on the bomb rack of P-38.

 

Arming a P-38.
Arming a P-38.
Colorized P-38 of the 392nd FS with a Schwimmagen in the foreground – 1944 France.
Colorized P-38 of the 392nd FS with a Schwimmagen in the foreground – 1944 France.

 

Crashed P-38J of the 383rd FS.
Crashed P-38J of the 383rd FS.

 

Formation of P-38Ls of the 27th FS 1st FG.
Formation of P-38Ls of the 27th FS 1st FG.

 

Georgia Peach II in Panama.
Georgia Peach II in Panama.

 

Lt Ford of the 36th FS walks away from a crash landing in his P-38L – December 1944.
Lt Ford of the 36th FS walks away from a crash landing in his P-38L – December 1944.

 

Lt Fred Eberle – January 1945 in his P-38 named “Ripper”.
Lt Fred Eberle – January 1945 in his P-38 named “Ripper”.

 

Lt Robert Amon inspecting damage to the tail boom of his P-38.
Lt Robert Amon inspecting damage to the tail boom of his P-38.

 

Medal of Honor Recipient Richard Bong next to his P-38J named “Marge”.
Medal of Honor Recipient Richard Bong next to his P-38J named “Marge”.

 

Over the coast of Belgium – May 1945.
Over the coast of Belgium – May 1945.

 

P-38 Boneyard in Panagar, India – October 1945.
P-38 Boneyard in Panagar, India – October 1945.

 

P-38 during napalm bombing in Philippines.
P-38 during napalm bombing in Philippines.

 

P-38 Formation over Yugoslavia – 15th Air Force.
P-38 Formation over Yugoslavia – 15th Air Force.

 

P-38 Landing in Algeria.
P-38 Landing in Algeria.

 

P-38 Lightning Formation in 1941.
P-38 Lightning Formation in 1941.

 

P-38 Lightning in Flight – World War II.
P-38 Lightning in Flight – World War II.

 

P-38 Lightning of the 94th FS 1st FG in Africa.
P-38 Lightning of the 94th FS 1st FG in Africa.

 

P-38 Maintenance Facility – England.
P-38 Maintenance Facility – England.

 

P-38 on Captured Airfield on Luzon – 1945.
P-38 on Captured Airfield on Luzon – 1945.

 

P-38 Recon – K-22 Aerial Camera Installation and Intervalometer – Italy.
P-38 Recon – K-22 Aerial Camera Installation and Intervalometer – Italy.

 

P-38 Recon with escort – 8th Photo Recon Squadron.
P-38 Recon with escort – 8th Photo Recon Squadron.

 

P-38F “Dear John” with Capt Newbury and ground crew.
P-38F “Dear John” with Capt Newbury and ground crew.

 

P-38J – “Sweet Sue” of the 27th FS 1st FG.
P-38J – “Sweet Sue” of the 27th FS 1st FG.

 

P-38J being armed with rockets – 459th FS.
P-38J being armed with rockets – 459th FS.

 

P-38L Lightnings of the 96th FS 82nd Fighter Group.
P-38L Lightnings of the 96th FS 82nd Fighter Group.

 

P-38M Night Fighter with AN/APS-4 Radar.
P-38M Night Fighter with AN/APS-4 Radar.

 

P-38J Lightning with D-Day Stripes – 392nd FS Normandy.
P-38J Lightning with D-Day Stripes – 392nd FS Normandy.

 

P-38J of the 485th FS in Florennes Juzaine Airfield – Belgium.
P-38J of the 485th FS in Florennes Juzaine Airfield – Belgium.

 

Pilot Ward Kuentzel and ground crew of the 96th FS.
Pilot Ward Kuentzel and ground crew of the 96th FS.

 

P-38s under construction at Lockheed in Burbank, California 1941.
P-38s under construction at Lockheed in Burbank, California 1941.

 

P-38s of the 449th FS – Chengkung 1945.
P-38s of the 449th FS – Chengkung 1945.