55 - Lockheed P-38 over Europe

The “Loco Busters” of the 20th Fighter Group

 

When the Lockheed P-38 arrived in Europe at the

end of 1943, the long-range escort mission of

American bombers began in earnest.

 

As mention above, the P-38 was ill equipped to

deal with the extreme cold and high moisture

conditions when operating at altitudes of 20,000

to 33,000 feet over Germany. A high number of

group casualties resulted from engine failure at

altitude.

 

The P-38 was equal to any German fighter at

altitudes below 15,000 feet, but was usually at a

disadvantage above that altitude. This resulted in

less than a break-even rate in enemy aircraft

downed versus aircraft lost. Within a 90-day span,

from December 1943 to March 1944 the 20th

downed 52 German aircraft while their own losses

amounted to 54 pilots.

 

From the outset of its World War II operations, the 20th’s mission concentrated on escorting bombers, but when an escort mission was completed, the group routinely began to strafe targets of opportunity while flying back to England.

 

In March 1944, the Group began to fly pure fighter-bomber missions, which became almost as frequent as escort operations. The P-38’s superior payload radius performance easily outclassed the single engine aircrafts and the results was significant.

 

It did not take long before the German ground troops named the

P-38 "Der Gabelschwanz Teufel” (the fork-tailed devil)

 

The squadrons strafed and dive-bombed airfields, trains, vehicles, barges, tugs, bridges, flak positions, gun emplacements, barracks, radio stations, and other targets in France, Belgium, and Germany.

 

The 20th soon became known as the "Loco Group" because of its numerous and successful attacks on locomotives.

 

In July 1944, the P-38 era of the 20th FG ended when the Group transferred to P-51 Mustang.

 

P-38 attacks a German train

Lockheed P-38 “Lightning”

the “fork-tailed devil” over Europe

 

the “Loco Busters” of the 20th Fighter Group

 

model and diorama by Bjørn Jacobsen

Building the P-38

 

The kit is a 1/48 Hasegawa

 

The plan was to photograph the model in not only on the airfield, but in escort situations and as a fighter-bomber attacking ground installations and trains by rockets and bombs.

 

This required a model with wheels extended and with the wheels retracted.

 

I therefore decided to build the model with closed wheel doors, and then, after it had been photographed in the air, I would open the wheel doors, put on the undercarriages and photograph it on the airfield.

 

 

The building of the model was straightforward.

 

 

The only problem was to adjust the wheel doors to fit the openings. It seems that the model sculptors not had considered that someone wanted to build the model with closed doors, so quite a lot of adjustments had to be done.

 

 

 

The 20th FG camouflage was not very fancy:

 

Olive Drab on upper surfaces and Neutral Grey underneath.

 

For whatever reason, the 20th FG never used squadron colours, but opted for geometric tail symbols instead.

 

When the symbols were painted on the tails, the aircrafts ID Number was often over-painted.

 

Instead the last three ID-digits were painted on the nose.

 

The letter on the inside of the rudder is the plane's ID-sign.

 

 

I wanted to show the “Loco Busters” at what they did best and prepared a couple of backgrounds with trains and explosions.

 

Then I just pasted pictures of the model on the background pictures and had some nice action photos of the P-31 in action.

 

For this purpose, I needed the P-38 to fire rockets at the train.

 

The rockets were glued to a thin brass rod, which again was covered in cotton to simulate the smoke trail.

 

The brass rod was glued to the underwing rocket pylons.

 

 

As always, I wanted the propeller to turn freely, and in this case, it was very easy.

 

Hasegawa had made the propeller connection in a way that when put correct together the propeller would spin without any problem.

 

I just used å hair blower and voila, the propeller spins!

 

Great for photographing the plane in the air.

 

 

The Lockheed P-38 Lightning was originally

designed as a bomber-interceptor and was never

intended to be a fighter, but when first introduced

in 1939, the P-38 was able to fly a steady course

at 413 mph (665 km/h) making it one of the fastest

production airplane in the world at that time.

 

The Bf 109 and the Spitfire had a top speed of

around 350 mph (563 km/h) with a ceiling over

30,000 ft. (9,144 m) and suddenly the US Army

had a competitor that exceeded their performances

by 40 mph (65 km/h).

 

With external fuel tanks, the P-38 had longer

operational range than any other fighter did at that

time and US Army saw the P-38 as ideal for escorting their bombers over Germany.

 

The P-38 was successful in the warm climates of the Pacific and the Mediterranean where operations usually were conducted at medium to low altitudes.

 

Over Germany however, the bombers and fighters often operated at 30,000 ft. (9,144 m). At that height, the Allisons engines in the P-38 misbehaved quite consistently, 'throwing rods, swallowing valves and fouling plugs' while the intercoolers often ruptured under sustained high boost, and turbocharger regulators froze, often resulting in catastrophic failures

 

Besides, the cockpit heating was poor and resulted in extremely cold cockpits. The twin booms made it easily recognizable for enemy fighters and the roll rate was poor.

 

All things considered, the P-38 was not well suited for European conditions.

 

Nevertheless, regardless its shortcomings,

the P-38 was introduced in the 8th Air Force in t

he last part of 1943, but after twelve months of

operation, the 8th AF pull all P-38 out of Europe

and replace it with the P-51 Mustang.

 

When the P-51 took over, the kill ratio went

from 1.5: 1 to 7:1

 

During its time in the European Theatre (ETO),

the P-38 flew over 130,000 sorties and had a

significant role both in escort and ground attack

operations.

 

When looking at the P-38 achievements in ETO,

we have to consider that in 1943/44 the Allied

aircraft were vastly outnumbered by a very determined and skilled enemy.

 

Besides, they operated in the period prior to Allied air superiority in Europe and suffered from poorly thought-out tactics.

 

A total number of 451 P-38s were lost over Europe.

 

In the Pacific, the situation was very different (as said above) and the P-38 downed over 1,800 aircraft in the Pacific theatre.

 

On this chart, you can see the short period the P-38 were in use before replaced with the Mustang.

And here is the Loco Buster:

And now we need to have some action!

Some of you have asked me how I make the pictures.

 

It is not hard to see that in some pictures, I have pasted the model on a photographic background.

 

In others, I have photographed the model in front of a backdrop, like in the picture to the right:

 

A painted background (on a cardboard), a grass carpet (partly sprayed with yellow paint) and the model.

 

That’s all.

 

I hope you enjoyed this website!

Thank you for visiting!

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have questions or comments

(bjorn@dioramas-and-models.com)

Bjørn Jacobsen

October 2016