The Story of 42-26860 L3-O

I have done a great deal of research and uncovered quite a bit of documentation of the life history of this aircraft.  On this website there are five complete color pages in the 512th aircraft roster plus a monograph and a children's story all devoted to this plane and its pilots.  New information still surfaces from time to time which sheds more light on the story.  When this happens, I will first update this page you are now reading.  I will update all the other the references as time permits, but I will update the story on this page first.  Note that all photos on this page are from the 406th Fighter Group WWII Memorial Association's archive at the Pima Air and Space Museum unless otherwise stated.  So here is the story as I know it today, or at least as I believe it to be today:

The P-47D-27-RE 42-26860 was delivered to the USAAF at Farmingdale, NY on 24 May 1944.  It was placed on a ship sailing for England almost immediately, arriving on 10 June 1944.  It appeared in full D-Day markings and coded L3-G in two photos taken at ALG 417 Ashford, Kent, UK.  In Europe, D-Day markings were partially removed from most aircraft starting in late June 1944, and the 512th Fighter Squadron (squadron ID L3) moved to France at the end of July, so the photo was likely taken in late June or early July.  The Commander of the 406th Fighter Group, Colonel Anthony Grossetta is posing with the aircraft in these two photos, the 512th FS maintained his aircraft throughout the war, and "high rollers" like him usually were assigned the aircraft ID letter corresponding to their last name, so I believe this was his assigned aircraft at the time of the photo.  The plane was delivered with a Hamilton-Standard hydromatic paddle-blade propeller, and this propeller is shown in the two photos.

The aircraft was grounded from 18-24 June 1944, and again for a day on 31 July 1944.  There are two possibilities for the initial one-week grounding.  This may just be the time spent on the initial setup and checkout of the aircraft.  It may have not been flown in combat until after that date.  Or, it may have been damaged on one of its first combat sorties and the week of grounding was spent repairing it.  In either case, by November 1944 the aircraft had been extensively repaired.  Photos taken of William Cunningham seated in 42-26860 show that it had a replacement right wing, taken from an older olive-drab-painted P-47.  The aircraft in the background of this photo, 42-28918, was totally destroyed on 2 December 1944, so the wing repair occurred before that date.  Other photos taken the same day make a nice walk-around of the aircraft. 

Note that the yellow nose flash had been painted on 42-26860 by this date, but that the name "Angie" had not yet been applied.  The third photo of the walkaround shows that the yellow, blue, and red stripes of the group marking had also been painted on the vertical tail by this date.  In the fourth photo, 1Lt Walker Diamanti is shown standing with Cunningham in front of the plane.  Most likely 42-26860 had been assigned to him by this date.  In that photo, the aircraft has a Curtiss-Electric asymmetric paddle-blade propeller, not the Hamilton-Standard which it had in June 1944.  Major Jack Bronson, who commanded the 512th at the time, stated that his personal aircraft (not 42-26860) also initially carried a Hamilton-Standard propeller, but it experienced repeated propeller runaways.  He flew the plane to a depot near London and in very short order they substituted a Curtiss-Electric prop and governor.  No propeller problems after that.  It is likely that "Angie" was given a similar "upgrade," perhaps for similar reasons. 

Back to the third photo, note that one black fuselage invasion stripe has not been removed, and that when the ones aft of it were removed, the OD anti-glare paint also came off. The white stripe forward of the black one was partly removed, but the black one is all there.  The third photo also shows that L3-O sports replacement horizontal and vertical tail parts taken from an olive-drab-painted P-47.  The following three photos show how the replacement parts were probably installed, though in this case the plane shown being repaired is 44-32749 L3-N.

A later photo, showing Lt Diamanti in front of the plane on a snowy background, was obviously taken in late December 1944 or early January 1945.  In this photo, the name "Angie" has been applied.  However, the well-known pinup artwork was not present.  Diamanti stated it was never carried on the plane while he flew it.  He also said that he had the name "Angie" painted on the plane to honor a girl he admired back home, but that although they remained friends after the war, they did not marry.  The photo was donated to the 406th FG archive at the Pima Air and Space Museum (PASM) by Walker Diamanti.

Lt Diamanti left the 512th for the States on 12 January 1945 and most likely, L3-O was assigned to 2Lt Fred V. Brandt.  Brandt stated that he shared the plane with Col Grossetta, but the colonel was seldom around so he had the plane mostly to himself.  From 6 December 1944 to 23 February 1945 Col Grossetta was on leave which included 30 days in the USA, so Brandt probably had the plane totally to himself from 12 January to 23 February.  It is likely that the following, most famous photo of 42-26860 was taken during this time:

In the photo, also from PASM, the name "Angie" is still visible, but the famous pinup is also now in place.  It appears that the pinup was added to the aircraft by the simple expedient of replacing the side cowling panel with one on which the pinup had been painted.  This panel most likely came from another aircraft, since the squadron's yellow cowling flash had not yet been painted on it.  One must conclude that Brandt and/or his crew chief somehow acquired the panel, perhaps from the squadron's extensive boneyard of P-47s damaged beyond economical repair.  The plane still has the Curtiss-Electric propeller, which apparently proved less troublesome than the Hamilton-Standard.  The aircraft ID code letter "O" is clearly visible. 

Another photo taken on approximately the same date was provided by Peter Celis, author of "Runways to Victory" published by MARHAV.  This photo appears in that book attributed to A. Smith.  Note that L3 and O are on the same level with each other, which level is higher than the centerline of the national insignia.  Only the first few P-47D-25s and -27s had the national insignia painted low on the fuselage like this.

The next photo of interest was extracted from a movie shot by an AAF film crew, and apparently dated 16 February 1945.  It shows yet another evolution of the markings on the plane.  In this photo, the black ID ring segment of the cowling panel containing the pinup has been painted over in yellow, and in fact the correct outline of the yellow squadron nose flash has been painted around the pinup to match the rest of the cowling. The name "Angie" is no longer present.

The olive drab right wing and empennage visible in the photo eliminate any doubt that this is the same aircraft.  In my extensive research, I have found no evidence of any other 512th FS Thunderbolt with this particular combination of replacement parts.  Note in the photo that the metal panel covering the gun barrels on the olive-drab-over-neutral-gray right wing is bare metal and that both the right and left wing pylons are painted neutral gray.  The dust cover on the right main gear wheel hub is also painted neutral gray.  Finally, note that invasion stripes are visible on the underside of the extended left flap, but not on the underside of the left wing.  This plane was quite a collection of parts!

If the 16 February 1945 date for the movie is correct, then it is likely that Lt Brandt is the pilot shown.  His logbook indicates that he flew a combat sortie that day.  It is also likely that the changes to the markings were made while Lt Brandt was the primary pilot.  It seems reasonable that he would have ordered the name "Angie" removed since he didn't know that girl.  The 406th Fighter Group with its 512th, 513th, and 514th Fighter Squadrons moved to airfield Y-29 near Asche, Belgium in early February, with the planes arriving on the 8th.  Both the famous photo and the movie were taken at Y-29, so the photo must have been taken almost immediately after the plane arrived.  This leaves only a few days for the cowling panel to have been repainted in time for the plane's 16 February movie appearance.  Records show that 16 February 1945 was a sunny day, so if the movie was actually taken at a later date then perhaps the famous photo was taken on the 16th.  Sunny days were not very common at that time.

Col Grossetta returned from his leave on 23 February 1945, and the next day Lt Brandt was wounded during an attack on a marshalling yard near Dusseldorf, Germany.  Brandt was not flying 42-26860 that day.  An explosion in the marshalling yard threw up debris that shattered his plane's windscreen, temporarily blinding him with glass shards in his eyes.  He somehow managed to maintain aircraft control and return for a landing at Y-29.  He spent the rest of the war recuperating from his wounds.  One can assume that at this point 42-26860 was assigned to Col Grossetta again, and that after Brandt returned to the squadron on 15 May 1945, they shared the aircraft.  The aircraft ID code remained L3-O.  On 23 May 1945 Col Grossetta passed command of the 406th FG to Lt Col Converse B. Kelly, so after that date Brandt probably once again had the plane all to himself as he served as part of the occupation forces.

Two more photos, both of relatively low quality, give additional details of the markings on L3-O and their evolution.  One was taken at airfield Y-94, Handorf, Germany and the other at R-56, Nordholz, Germany.  The 406th FG moved to Y-94 on 15 April 1945 and to R-56 on 8 June.  Of particular interest in both photos are the two stripes, one white and one black, painted over the anti-glare panel aft of the cockpit of L3-O.  These are apparently remnants of the invasion stripes.  It also appears that when the rest of the invasion stripes were removed the olive drab anti-glare panel paint also came off.  Perhaps that is why removal of invasion stripes from this area was aborted.

Note in the second photo that the squadron code letters L3 are placed relatively high on the fuselage.  The top edge of the crossbar of the L is just below the panel line between the upper and lower fuselage halves.  Most later bubble-canopied P-47s had their national insignias painted on their fuselages higher than the ones on this aircraft.  For those planes, the high placement of the L3 caused it to be centered on the horizontal bar of the insignia.  For L3-O on the other hand, the lower placement of the insignia makes the L3 look like it is "riding high." The O on 42-26860 appears more nearly centered on the horizontal bar of that plane's insignia, but this is apparently an illusion created by the low resolution of the photo.  Also note in the second photo that the rudder shows bare metal, and the plane sports a bare metal dorsal fin.  More parts changes!  The dorsal fins were added to all the squadron's bubble-canopied P-47s starting in February 1945 to prevent an occasional  "rudder lock" phenomenon where the aircraft alternated between extreme left and right yaw with the vertical tail stalled.  This condition was made possible when some of the P-47's rear fuselage area was removed when the design was modified to use a bubble canopy.  L3-O apparently had received the dorsal fin mod to prevent the stability problem by the time of the final photo.

Very recently, I had an "Aha!" moment while gazing at the next photo: 

I suddenly realized that the aircraft named "Patty" had an OD/gray right wing.  Either this was the only other 512th FS P-47 I had ever seen with an OD/gray right wing, or this was L3-O 42-26860!  I checked for features that would disqualify this aircraft as L3-O.  L3-O had an OD/gray rudder, and so does this one!  L3-O had a single round mirror painted black mounted on its windscreen, and so does this one!  L3-O had its fuselage insignia painted on low, with the line between the white bar and the blue outline right at the top edge of the intercooler doors, and so does this one!  If this plane is L3-O, the ID letter O would be partly visible, and the part of an ID letter visible in the photo matches with what we would see of an O on L3-O.  No photos show L3-O with a black outline to its nose blaze, and this plane also doesn't have one.  I really believe the plane in the photo is 42-26860 L3-O. 

But wait,  L3-O had a Curtiss-Electric asymmetric paddle blade propeller in February 1945.  The plane in the photo has a symmetric paddle blade.  Not the same plane?  Maybe, but L3-O had a landing accident on 9 March 1945 which ended with it running off the runway and nosing up in the mud.  The damage from that accident required a propeller replacement.  The replacement propeller could easily have been a symmetric paddle blade. 

One last bit of evidence.  My father had another picture of "Patty."  The photo was not taken by his camera and he is not in it.  One explanation for why he had the photo is that someone gave him the photo because it was of his plane.  I have summarized all this rationale on an updated slide for "Patty."

42-26860 was stricken from 9th AF records on 23 May 1946.  Some stories suggest that many P-47s were bulldozed into a large pit at R-56.  But the famous color photo began appearing in books and magazines in the 1990s and it caught the attention of many P-47 lovers.  In 1996 the Hasegawa model company released a kit of the P-47 and they chose to model L3-O.  Unfortunately, they misinterpreted the photo and gave their version of L3-O a glossy black empennage.  Since the right wing is not visible in the famous photo, they assumed it was bare metal.  They also incorrectly placed the L3 code too low on the fuselage and left off the black and white invasion stripe segments behind the canopy, since none of those details were visible in the photo.

All of these errors were duplicated in 2003 when the Armour model company issued a version of their 1/48 scale diecast P-47 painted as "Angie."  In addition, Armour assumed another pinup panel and Angie name appeared on the aircraft's right side.  This error was duplicated by other companies on their ready-made models of Angie, but not by Armour on its 1/100 scale version of the plane.

In 2005 a most gratifying honor was accorded 42-26860 when it was chosen to represent all P-47s in the U.S. Postal Service's American Advances in Aviation stamp series.  The artist correctly omitted a pinup and name from the right side of the plane and also correctly placed the L3 and O high on the fuselage. Unfortunately, he duplicated the other errors in the Hasegawa kit and also placed the fuselage insignia too high on the fuselage.  Nonetheless, the painting and stamp are gorgeous, fitting tributes to the P-47 in general and L3-O in particular.

So there you have it, the story as far as I know it today.   Lt Fred Brandt passed away  in 1999, Col Anthony Grossetta passed in 2003,and Capt Walker Diamanti in 2009.  No one who remains actually remembers 42-26860.  But the photo record of this historic aircraft is gradually growing as archives are opened and family collections are donated.  Each new photo adds more evidence of just how brutal  was the combat between Thunderbolt pilots and German flak gunners and tank crews during the last year of World War II in Europe.  Almost half of 42-26860 was replaced during its 1-year combat tour!  The ground crews did an amazing job keeping those planes in the air, and the pilots were heroes.  We owe than a lot, and documenting this airplane is one way I can honor them.

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