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The Other Side of Time: P-47 Thunderbolt Men, the Hell Hawks February 26, 2009

Posted by skywalking1 in History.
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Brendan Phibbs, a combat surgeon in Europe in the winter of 1944-45, wrote a superb memoir of his wartime experiences with the 12th Armored Division of the Seventh Army, called The Other Side of Time. His account includes several eyewitness descriptions of Thunderbolt strikes against German positions. Here are a couple of excerpts from his fine memoir:

Excerpts from “The Other Side of Time” – Brendan Phibbs – New York: Pocket Books, 1987.

Page 149: January 22, 1945 Herrlisheim, Germany

Air strikes on the way; we watch from a top window as P-47s dip in and out of clouds through suddenly erupting strings of Christmas tree lights, before one speck turns over and drops toward Earth in the damnedest sight of the Second World War, the dive-bomber attack, the speck snarling, screaming, dropping faster than a stone until it’s clearly doomed to smash into the earth, then, past the limits of belief, an impossible flattening beyond houses and trees, an upward arch that makes the eyes hurt, and, as the speck hurtles away…WHOOOM, the earth erupts five hundred feet up in swirling black smoke. More specks snarl, dive, scream, two squadrons, eight of them, leaving congealing combining, whirling pillars of black smoke, lifting trees, houses, vehicles, and, we devoutly hope, bits of Germans. We yell and pound each other’s backs. Gods from the clouds; this is how you do it! You don’t attack painfully across frozen plains, you simply drop in on the enemy and blow them out of existence.

Post-war F-47 Thunderbolt strike -- Eglin AFB, FL, 1948 (Life)

Post-war F-47 Thunderbolt strike -- Eglin AFB, FL, 1948 (Life)

Page 205 Early February, 1945 Along the Moselle, cutting off the Saar

Design for eruption. Messages oscillate back and forth along the column from air-strike officer in the half-track ahead of me to the battalion CO somewhere on a flank, back to air-strike officer, out to artillery, who will mark the target, back to air-strike officer again, and finally vertically, up some thousands of feet to the P-47 squadron droning, roaring, tilting circles in and out of vision through clouds.

The air strike is directed in the voices of tired derelicts slumped against Bowery walls.

The groan from the clouds says OK; uuuhhh, the noise comes; somebody up there is scrabbling at boredom; uuuhhh, he guesses he’ll go downstairs first; orange two will cover, okay? Sequence will be thus-and-such, uuuhhh, well, now. No emphasis, dying fall…

Tone and event flee to opposite ends of comprehension as the speck tips its wings and becomes a fury, snarling toward earth, toward the red smoke the artillery puts on the target, screaming in that plunge to death I never quite believed before the flattening behind trees and houses and the soaring up and away, leaving behind a tower of black smoke and parts of those same trees and houses floating, turning, turning, crashing. Four times the specks drop, scream, thunder, and disappear, swift verticals up through sparkles of fire into fleece.

(Those voices; by now we know they’re the voices of men hiding in tonal entropy from chronic closeness to dismemberment. Any emotion would rip the edges of clenched control.)

Panzer overturned by air attack. Dec 1944. (Life)

Panzer overturned by air attack. Dec 1944. (Life)

As of 2005, Dr. Phibbs was still practicing in Tucson, Arizona, at Kino Hospital. Find a used copy of The Other Side of Time, or borrow one from the library. This is as fine an account of the fighting man’s experience in WWII as you’ll find anywhere.

Oh, and read Hell Hawks! first!

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