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Fri, Jun 17, 2005

Historic P-47 Recovered In Austria

Lake-Bound Plane In Decent Shape - To Be Restored

There's a new tail number in the too-short list of P-47 survivors. According to the Salzkammergut newspaper in Austria's Tirol, warbird recovery experts, working in the tightest secrecy, raised a forgotten P-47D Thunderbolt to the surface of Traunsee, a lake in Traunkirchen, in the late afternoon and early evening of June 13th, after sixty long years on the lakebed.  Sixty years, one month and five days, to be exact.

Apart from the damage caused by its ditching in the lake on V-E day, the "Jug," as pilots nicknamed the stout, dependable fighter, is little the worse for its long immersion. After bringing the machine to the surface, inverted, they carefully raised it, allowing water to drain, and set it upon a cradle made of wood. The machine will be restored, probably in Austria, before going to its permanent home in the USA. Evansville, Indiana, where Republic had a plant during the war, has expressed interest in displaying the plane -- if it's an Evansville-built machine, which is not known at press time. (The Republic plant is now used by... wait for it... appliance maker Whirlpool).

Who exactly raised the machine is a matter of some speculation in the warbird community, and one website suggested that it was the Austrian government.

This machine was one of 12,602 P-47Ds produced during World War II. (A total of  15,683 P-47s of all models were built between 1941 and 1945). Not one in a thousand of the mighty R-2800-powered fighter-bombers survive in airworthy condition; most of the survivors soldiered on into the 1950s and 1960s with Latin American air forces. This recovery is from the most common source for new warbird projects in the 21st century: deep freshwater lakes. But it's unusual in that it comes from a Western European country; most of the lakebed relics are turning up in former Communist lands, where everybody was so busy trying not to be shot by the secret police for fifty years that they had no time for frivolities like aviation history or wreck recovery.

A look over the photos show that the machine is eminently restorable, especially by today's standards. The markings still are boldly visible, including the nose art and name (Dottie Mae); the propeller is gone, and the oil cooler seems to have torn out violently, tearing up the keel with its fuel-tank plumbing on its way back. Mohr must have had full-flaps on to ditch; water contact removed them violently. Some other sheet metal is torn; you can see that the horizontal stabilizer spar is shot. The canopy is missing; jettisoned before the ditch, probably, and likely to be on the bottom of the Traunsee. But all in all this machine is in good, restorable shape.

 From experience with engines immersed in freshwater, magnesium parts will be corroded to the point of being completely gone, but aluminum alloy parts may be serviceable with a polish, and steel parts will need careful removal of surface rust. Parts made of wood and fiberboard will be intact (depending on the aquatic fauna in the lake) but are all but certain to be unserviceable.

Many Austrian people have stopped to marvel at this relic from a bygone time -- for most Austrians living today, who have known nothing but peace and neutrality for these sixty years, it's as remote as a Tyrannosaurus, with its eight .50-caliber guns standing in for T-Rex's rows of jagged teeth.

A German team filmed the recovery for a television special, although no word on English-language rights or release is available at this time.

World War II warbird experts have already identified the airplane. It was "Dottie Mae," of the 511th Fighter Squadron, 405th Fighter Group, 9th Air Force.

On V/E Day, pilot 2nd Lt. Henry G. Mohr, Jr. was making a "presence patrol" near a POW camp or concentration camp (there are multiple stories) with another Jug. This was to lift the morale of the prisoners, and to discourage the guards from doing anything stupid, while Nazi Germany was collapsing all around them (Austria was incorporated in the German Reich from 1938-1945). Buzzing the lake, he tied the world's low-flying record, damaging his prop and leading to an emergency ditching.

The war might have been over, but Mohr (right) celebrated its end in the same prison camp whose morale he'd been sent to raise. Obviously, he was soon liberated. Mohr is reportedly alive and well in the USA. It's only a matter of time before he is reunited with his plane.

Meanwhile, the editors of the Salzkammergut Internet Newspaper, the Austrian paper that initially reported the rare warbird's recovery, were overwhelmed with thousands of visits to their website -- most of them from the USA. But the tourism aspect was positive: "proven by a few emails that noted the impression: 'What a wonderful lake!'" A wonderful lake indeed.

FMI: www.p47pilots.com

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