World War II Pilot Reunited with his P-47 Thunderbold, 71 Years Later

When they told WW II pilot Charlie Screws that they had located the tail- fin from the Thunderbolt P-47 that he flew in the war, he told them: “You better hurry up. I’m 93.”

As a 22 year-old pilot serving with the USAAF in 1944, Screws was forced to crash-land the plane behind enemy lines in Nazi-occupied France after being hit by enemy guns.

“I dug in there and waited until night time,” Screws said. “I buried myself in brush and everything.”

It was a French family that provided him shelter and helped him to cross the border to safety in Spain, where he was able to make contact with Allied forces and eventually get back to England and finally home to Texas after the war.

An interesting coincidence came to light when the museum director for an aviation museum in Lubbock, Texas, Malcolm Laing, was discussing a recent find made by a colleague historian named Michael Fuller.  Fuller mentioned that he had located the tail-fin from a P47 and from the serial number he was able to track the name of the pilot, who he had learned was from Texas.  As it turned out, Laing had known the former pilot for many years through the interest that Mr. Screws had shown in the work of the museum, and from mutual pilot friends.

The P-47 was the mainstay of the USAAF efforts in Europe during World War II.  It is credited with breaking the back of the Luftwaffe during January to May 1944.  With its eight .50 caliber machine guns (four on each wing) as well as an ability to carry bombs of up to 2500 lbs., it out-matched anything the Germans had, the Everything Lubbock reports.

This plane could be used in a number of ways, such as escorting bombers on long bombing runs or in close ground attack combat roles where it was able to destroy a large variety of enemy vehicles and equipment.

But for all its firepower, the P-47 was a favorite of pilots because of its roomy cockpit and a captain’s seat that was like a lounge chair.  After a few adjustments, it also offered very good visibility both in front and to the rear.

For Charlie Screws , the reunion with his old plane was a complex moment.  He is quoted at the time as saying:  “It brought up a lot of emotions, some of them good, some of them not so good.”

The P-47 Thunderbolt

The Republic P-47 Thunderbolt was one of the largest and heaviest fighter aircraft in history to be powered by a single piston engine. It was heavily armed with eight .50-caliber machine guns, four per wing. When fully loaded, the P-47 weighed up to eight tons, and in the fighter-bomber ground-attack roles could carry five-inch rockets or a significant bomb load of 2,500 pounds; it could carry more than half the payload of the B-17 bomber on long-range missions (although the B-17 had a far greater range).

The P-47, based on the powerful Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp engine—the same engine used by two very successful U.S. Navy fighters, the Grumman F6F Hellcat and Vought F4U Corsair—was to be very effective as a short-to-medium range escort fighter in high-altitude air-to-air combat and, when unleashed as a fighter-bomber, proved especially adept at ground attack in both the World War II European and Pacific Theaters.

The P-47 was one of the main United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) fighters of World War II, and served with other Allied air forces, notably those of France, Britain, and Russia. Mexican and Brazilian squadrons fighting alongside the U.S. were equipped with the P-47.

The armored cockpit was roomy inside, comfortable for the pilot, and offered good visibility. A modern-day U.S. ground-attack aircraft, the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II, takes its name from the P-47.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE