The above movie is a 5 part series entitled "Thunderbolt" (1947) (Part 1 of 5) featuring "Operation Strangle"
Director: William Wyler, John Sturges
Production Company: Carl Krueger Production
Introduced by the famous actor James Stewart
Filmed in 1944 and early 1945 but edited only in 1947, this 45 minutes well preserved and almost forgotten documentary (by the great William Wyler) is about the P-47 Thunderbolt fighter bomber and its use in missions over Italy. In the prologue outstanding shots showing various placements of 1944 late model automatic color movie-cameras on board of the planes.
This post is a tribute to 1st Lt Bill Smith, P-47 pilot, filmed in this movie “Thunderbolt.“ He is mentioned in the second movie at time frame 8:06 as he lifted off the runway with his wingman. Bill is a neighbor and personal friend living in the Charlotte, NC, area. He has long been considered a walking encyclopedia of WWll Aviation. Bill is also pictured in our EAA 309 B-17 Album.
His fighter group, the 57th, was providing air support for ground troops in the PO valley of Italy in 1944. There were many peach orchards in the area. They received a request for help from the ground commander:
"We are pinned down by Germans and can't move, can you boys help us?" We'll try, where's the fire coming from?" "Mostly from that church steeple over there." "We could see the church and my wingman and I started strafing it with our 50 caliber machine guns." (The P-47 has four guns in each wing.) "After several passes we sawed that steeple off. After that, the ground fire got so heavy we needed to leave the area. "I said to my wingman, we've got to get out of here, it’s getting too hot!" and he replied, "My engine's down on power and not running right. I got the pedal to the metal and it just won't go."
Bill followed his wingman back to base, landed safely and the ailing fighter was given a thorough inspection by the Crew Chief. The engine checked out okay and finally the air intake for the turbocharger was removed.
"About a wheelbarrow load of green limbs and peaches came rolling out of that inlet and that was the reason for the power loss."
The pilot had flown into peach trees and sucked them up and in the process bent all four tips of his large propeller. Bill added, “In the heat of combat a pilot’s adrenalin is so high he sometimes doesn’t really know how low he’s flying. A major cause of fighter fatalities happen when pilots forget to pull up in time and fly into the ground.”
Bill was also shot down by enemy ground fire and ditched his fighter in the ocean near the Yugoslavian coast. He said,
"That ocean was as smooth as glass. I loosened everything but my seatbelt so I could get out fast, then brought my plane down and flared the nose up just before I hit. I got bruised up a little bit but my May West inflated okay and I was picked up pretty soon by a British PT boat. They took me to a larger ship and treated my injuries.