“The Great Crusade” was how General Dwight D. Eisenhower titled the Normandy invasion of Hitler’s “Fortress Europa.” An event of historical purpose, almost sacred in it’s importance. On June 6th, 1944, the greatest armada of ships ever seen in history left their ports in England and sailed across The Channel to Nazi-held beaches in Normandy on the northern coast of France.
Protecting the ships from the air were British Spitfires and the USA’s top fighters, the sleek P-51D Mustang, the “flying tank” P-47D Thunderbolt and the unique twin-boomed P-38L & M Lightning. To help the understandably anxious Allied anti-aircraft gunners to identify friend from foe, all of the Allied aircraft were given bold black and white stripes on their fuselages and underwings. This was so successful that the stripes were left on after D-Day and were on many fighters right to the end of the war in Europe.The “Invasion Stripes” were also, in my opinion, an interesting psychological weapon against the Germans. Luftwaffe aircraft were all covered in dull camouflage paint schemes to hide them from sight, while the U.S. planes were left bright, flashy aluminum, with colorful “nose art,” and those big, ol’ stripes basically telling the Germans, “Here we are. WE own the sky. Let’s dance.”
With it’s efficient and powerful V-12 inline, water-cooled, Packard-built Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, ‘clean’ aerodynamics, and wing-mounted drop tanks holding hundreds of gallons of extra fuel, the P-51 had the proverbial “Seven League Boots,” allowing it to escort the big four engined B-17 and B-24 strategic bombers all the way from their bases in England to their targets in Germany and back home again. The “Little Friends” protected the bombers and kept their losses down so they could cripple many of the German industrial bases, especially crucial synthetic fuel production. Arguably the best fighter of WWII, it was undoubtedly the best escort fighter of the War.
The P-47 Thunderbolt was affectionately nicknamed “The Jug.” Some say if was for “Juggernaut,” some because it had all the grace, nimble elegance, and aerodynamic dimensions of a flying milk bottle. The P-47 was a huge plane, almost twice as large as the BF109 and FW190’s it battled. Armed and armored like a tank, and propelled by a gigantic 2800 cubic inch, almost indestructible, Pratt & Whitney R-2800 air-cooled radial engine, the Thunderbolt was famous for bringing it’s pilots home, even after sustaining damage more brutal than a beating from Bruce Lee! Armed with 8 .50 caliber machine guns, and with additional wing-mounted 5 inch rockets and bombs, this monster was not only the mount of the top scoring air-to-air aces and squadron in Europe, but the #1 ground attack aircraft as well, able to deliver the firepower of a Destroyer’s broadside to within 25 yards of a forward air control. It was the weapon that held the line before the P-51 showed up in any numbers, and the plane that won air superiority from the Luftwaffe in ‘43 and early ‘44, making D-Day possible.
The P-38 Lightning is one of the most loved planes of WWII and the word unique is not overused when describing this graceful fighting machine. It was a Lightning that shot down our first German plane of WWII, our first with tricycle landing gear, and it’s dual turbo-supercharged Allison engines with counter-rotating propellers eliminated the torque that could make a fighter tough to fly. It had it’s 4 .50’s and 20mm cannon in the nose, giving it devastating concentrated firepower. It served in all theaters and became the plane that our ace of aces, Dick Bong flew. It was a large and complicated aircraft to build, but a dream to fly, and even though it’s early service in Northern Europe was hard, it became one of the most effective weapons of the War.
The drawing is a compilation of 3 of Pete’s individual fighter portraits, and the toughest part of the drawing was the rivets and reflections on the P-38’s fuselage. (And that darn Moose head. A lesson for all you future artists: you think you'll never have to draw a moose head? Wrong-o, Junior! The soup lines are full of aviation artists that couldn't draw a cartoon moose head!)
“Dedicated to my resident Oshkosh P-51 experts, Al and Cary (and their growing posse).”