Why Nose Art Photos Cause Problems!

(NOTE: This analysis first appeared on my TIDAL WAVE/Ploesti website at www.Low-Level-Ploesti.org, and is reprinted here in its entireity).

Why Thar She Blows (Again)
Did NOT Go To Ploesti

Literally every book on TIDAL WAVE claims B-24D-30-CO 42-10127, a verified Ploesti participant, was named either “Thar She Blows” or Thar She Blows (Again).

The confusion is understandable since the 93rd Bomb Group’s 1 July 1943 letter listing the nicknames for all 93rd ships present in the desert, clearly states 42-40127 was named “Thar She Blows.” Further confusion has arisen since it’s also conclusively documented that Capt Chuck Merrill flew 42-40127 to Ploesti, and he’d previously flown a ship named “Thar She Blows.” Official letter and all that, right?

But the name is not correct, and here’s why. The actual proof is immutable, but there are still some open questions at the bottom of this article.

The Documented Facts

42-40127 is clearly identified as “Thar She Blows” in the 93rd’s 1 July 1943 letter.

She is clearly identified by her full serial number in numerous 93rd and 201st Combat Wing documents as a ship that flew the TIDAL WAVE mission with Capt Merrill as her pilot. 127 returned from Ploesti and eventually became the 458th Bomb Group’s “assembly ship,” nicknamed the First Sergeant and painted white with large blue and red polka dots.

We can easily confirm First Sergeant‘s identity using this photo, taken early during the “assembly ship” repaint. The serial number is clearly visible on the fin:

Here the thot plickens.

127’s post-TIDAL WAVE history is not in my area of concentration, but identifying the correct nickname at the time of TW is. I’m so busy with other important aspects of the TW mission that I didn’t intend to get drawn into a protracted discussion about one particular airplane that everybody thought was fully identified.

I initially assumed the 93rd’s 1 June 1943 letter was accurate and her nickname was “Thar She Blows.” However, my good friend Andy Gaster pointed out that 127 was variously identified as either “Thar She Blows” or Thar She Blows (Again). Since my photos of both sets of nose art confirm they were different ships, I needed to confirm which was correct . . . still assuming it was one or the other.

Knowing 127 ended up in the 458th Bomb Group, I recently had an interesting exchange about 42-40127 with Darrin Scorza, the HMFIC at www.458BG.com. I wondered whether he had documentation of the ship’s nickname prior to her assignment to the 458th.

He does not, but had been told the previous name in the 93rd was either Thar She Blows (Again) or Bucket of Bolts (which was a nickname new to me). According to information provided to Darrin by Pat Schenk in 2006, “Thar She Blows” was Chuck Merrill’s first B-24, serialed 41-23658. He believed that 42-40127 was Thar She Blows (Again) when Merrill flew the ship to Ploesti.

However, Tom Brittain chimed in with the assertion that 127 was named Bucket of Bolts in 93rd service, although not necessarily assigned to Capt Merrill.

Who? What? When? Where? Huh?

Darrell went on to point out a very interesting issue. Comparing the well known photo of First Sergeant:

And the photo of Thar She Blows (Again):

Darrin noted that :

  1. “The gun port housing on TSBA is larger than the one on First Sergeant.
  2. The gun port window on TSBA is rounded on the bottom rear, where the window on FS appears to be square.
  3. Also, the side (navigator’s window) on TSBA appears to have armor plating where the one on FS does not. That could have been removed to save weight I guess.”

Damn. Now he got me back into my old “Cutting Edge Modelworks/PYN-ups Decals” mindset and I couldn’t rest until I tracked this SOB down.

Back To Facts . . . Proof 127 was NOT
“Thar She Blows” OR
Thar She Blows (Again)

42-40127 was a B-24D-30-CO, a Consolidated-built ship in the 42-40058 to 42-40137 range (Block 35 started at 42-40138). Aside from mods that may have been made a various mod centers, we need to stay within the same block as much as possible when doing photo comparisons.

Both 42-40126 and 42-40130 (in the same Block 30 construction group) were assigned to the 44th BG (neither a Ploesti veteran) and I have several excellent photos of each. Unfortunately not one of them shows the left side nav window/.50 mount. Damn. Luckily many photos are available of other ships in the Block 30 serial series, so we can pin this down.

The first thing to know about Block 30 is that it initiated installation on the Consolidated production line of the .50 socket in the bombardier’s left side sighting window (directly behind the nose greenhouse). Prior to this Block all .50 “cheek” mounts were installed at the mod centers, and all had separate framing around each Plexiglas window.

Once the .50 socket was introduced on the production line (with Block 30), a single large external reinforcing panel framed both windows. In addition, the Block 30 introduced an external stiffener across the bombardier sighting window for the .50 cheek socket. All prior mounts had only an internal mount visible through the bombardier sighting window.

In the scale model airplane builders’ world, the first objection would be: “but, but, maybe it was a field mod.” No, it was not. These particular widows remained the same for these early B-24Ds throughout their combat lives. There were field mods for other items on later B-24s, but these remained as issued to the combat groups.

So:

  • Separate frames surrounding the navigator window and bombardier window before Block 30, but one single large external plate reinforcing both windows starting with the Block 30.
  • A short internal horizontal .50 socket reinforcing frame, visible underneath the Plexiglas, on pre-Block 30; an external support bar integral to the window reinforcing panel starting with the Block 30.

The following pics help us follow these threads.

ORIGINAL “Thar She Blows” (serial unconfirmed)

Not much of the bombardier’s side sighting window can be seen and none of the nav’s window, but it’s very clear they had separate frames. This confirms “Thar She Blows” was earlier than Block 30. While I cannot confirm the 41-23658 serial stated by Pat Schenk, it’s at least reasonable.

Thar She Blows (Again) (serial number unconfirmed)

As with “Thar She Blows,” we can clearly see separate frames around the nav and bombardier sighting windows. Furthermore, we can clearly see the horizontal .50 support frame is inside the Plexiglas bombardier sighting window. Both features confirm this is also a pre-Block 30 ship. TSBA has been claimed to be 42-40130, but this is clearly incorrect as 130 was also a Block 30 and would have had the single exterior reinforcing plate surrounding both windows. In any case I have photographic documentation that 130 was assigned to the 44th Bomb Group as Avenger II. Though possible she eventually went to the 93rd, it does not seem likely. I doubt 130 was ever named TSBA.

42-40127 Nose After 458th Partial Repaint

Although the photo is not that good, we can see a large unitary plate surrounds both the nav and bombardier windows, and the .50 socket frame support is clearly external to the Plexiglas.

Since this is could be somewhat difficult to see in the photo above, here’s a much better pic of another Block 30 ship, 42-40060, The Champ:

And an even better pic of B-24D-30-CO 42-40082 showing the single reinforcing plate:

If you carefully compare the panel lines on 40127 the two pics above, you’ll see they match.

It is now very clear that neither “Thar She Blows” nor Thar She Blows (Again) were ever the same ship as 42-40127.

The window frames are completely wrong, and “frames don’t lie!”

While this analysis unfortunately cannot address what name 40127 carried in the 93rd Bomb Group before going to the 458th Bomb Group, it does leave me in a quandary. The 1 Jul 43 93rd name list definitely lists 40127 as “Thar She Blows,” and many documents prove that 127 definitely flew the TIDAL WAVE mission. We’ve now gone from a possible “typo” on the 93rd letter to a gross error. I can’t even state with authority whether TSB or TSBA flew or did not fly on the TW mission, although obviously not serialed 40127.

Now I have to dig deeper to see whether I can accurately name 40127 at the time of TW; it’s possible it carried no name at the time, but this seems unlikely since it was in the original complement of 93rd ships to come down from the UK.

Please let me know if you have photographic proof of:

  • The correct serial number for “Thar She Blows”
  • The correct serial number for Thar She Blows (Again)
  • The correct nickname applied to 42-40127 at the time of TIDAL WAVE

I hope you found this analysis interesting!