Warplane Wednesday

Warplane Wednesday: Lockheed P-38 Lightning

I was closing quickly on a single Fw 190 that was climbing, and again came up close behind and inside him. Behind me was another P-38 with a Focke-Wulf on his tail, and a P-38 on the Fw 190’s tail. We were all playing follow-the-leader. I was very close to the Fw 190 in front of me and hit him with three quick bursts. He went over on one wing and then fell into a spin, before crashing in Sicily.

– Flight Officer Frank D. Hurlbut, quoted in Eagles over Husky

USAAF 82nd Fighter Group ace Col. Ernest “Hawk” Osher rises over the skies of Sicily in his regular mount “Sad Sack”. Osher is thought to have claimed all of his aerial victories in this particular P-38 Lightning throughout mid-1943. “Sad Sack” was considered to be the most decorated of its type, with 11 victories, 86 missions and 280 combat hours amassed by the various pilots who flew it. (Image: “Best of the Breed” by Mark Donoghue @Hangar7Art)

The P-38 Lightning was the only American fighter in mass production from Pearl Harbor to the end of the war. It was particularly popular as a long-range fighter. Its two engines improved the chances that a pilot would make it home in a damaged plane. For Operation Husky, the Lightning provided long-range escort to American medium and heavy bombers targeting Axis airfields and lines of communication in Sicily, Sardinia, and Italy. The Allies also used them in the fighter-bomber role, trolling behind enemy lines in search of Axis motor transport. Finally, the Americans flew a photo-reconnaissance version, the F-5, with the Northwest African Photographic Reconnaissance Wing.

Specifications (P-38L)

Type: single-seat long-range fighter and fighter-bomber

Powerplant: two 1193kW (1600hp) Allison V-1710-111/113 (F30) 12-cylinder Vee engines

Performance: maximum speed 666km/h (414mph); climb to 6095m (20,000ft) in 7 minutes; service ceiling 13,410m (44,000ft); range 4184km (2600 miles)

Weights: empty 5806kg (12,800lb); maximum take-off 9798kg (21,600lb)

Wingspan: 15.85m (52ft)

Length: 11.53m (37ft 10in)

Height: 3.91m (12ft 10in)

Armament: one 20mm (0.79in) fixed forward-firing cannon and four 12.7in (0.5in) fixed forward-firing machine guns in the nose, plus an external bomb load of 1814kg (4000lb)


The following units in the Northwest African Air Forces flew the P-38 Lightning during Operation Husky:

Northwest African Strategic Air Force

  • US 1st Fighter Group
    • 27th Fighter Squadron
    • 71st Fighter Squadron
    • 94th Fighter Squadron
  • US 14th Fighter Group
    • 37th Fighter Squadron
    • 48th Fighter Squadron
    • 49th Fighter Squadron
  • US 82nd Fighter Group
    • 95th Fighter Squadron
    • 96th Fighter Squadron
    • 97th Fighter Squadron

Northwest African Photographic Reconnaissance Wing

  • US 3rd Photo Reconnaissance Group (F-5 Lightning)
    • 5th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron
    • 12th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron

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