The Cumberland Post

The Cumberland Post
My Backyard, Six Miles from the Cumberland River

Monday, January 21, 2013

Rocks, Carl Sawatski, and P-47 Jugs

Our family moved from the small town of Watertown to East Nashville in 1947. At first our house was one of only a few on the street, and there were no other kids around. The first couple of years we lived there, the street was unpaved, and since the street went up a steep hill, ruts formed and rocks and gravel would wash down the hill. We lived in the second house on the left at the bottom of the hill, and from '47-'49 there were no houses across the street and down the hill from us. I frequently took an old baseball bat out there and picked up rocks and knocked them down the hill into the vacant lot on the corner.

In my mind, I played out various scenarios with the bat and the rocks. Sometimes I was Joe Dimaggio or Stan "the Man" Musial. Many times I was local Nashville Vols hero, Carl "Swish" Sawatski, a journeyman catcher who later played with the Cubs and Braves and several other major league teams. 1949 was his glory year in the minors; he led the Southern League with 45 homers and hit .360 for the Vols. My aunt Katy had a big crush on him and took me to see him in a game at Sulphur Dell that year.

In my daydreams, the bases were usually loaded in the bottom of the 9th and I would knock the rock out of the park.

Sometimes I would be looking up at the rock in its flight and see some fast fighter airplanes flying over from the National Guard Unit at Nashville's Berry field.

When that happened, my baseball daydream scenario ended, and I immediately sat down in the grass and watched the planes. In those years the Guard mostly flew these babies.

P-47 Thunderbolts

They did sound like their Thunderbolt name -- an interminable cracking rumble of thunder -- and I could imagine what the Japanese or Germans felt when they heard that sound. More on the P-47s in a moment.

In those days, there was another military airfield fairly close by in Smyrna, TN (Sewart AF Base), and frequently I saw all of the following aircraft flying over or circling the area:

C-46 Commando 
C-82 Packet (first of the "flying boxcars")
C-119 Flying Boxcar
 And or course I saw lots of these: C-47s (military version of the DC-3)

Hitting rocks with a baseball bat was great fun, but watching the planes from the nearby airbases was sometimes even better, especially when three or four P-47s flew over in formation. I didn't know much about  the Guard unit at Berry field then or about the planes themselves.

Today, of course, wiki answers all my old questions about stuff like this. For example, here's what wiki says about the Guard unit at what was then called Berry field:

The Air National Guard presence at BNA dates back to 1937, when the 105th Observation Squadron, a U.S. Army Air Corps-gained element of the Tennessee National Guard initially took up residence at the airport. With the advent of World War II, the squadron was called into active Federal service as a U.S. Army Air Forces unit and transitioned to a bombardment mission flying the B-25 Mitchell medium bomber in the Pacific theater. At war's end and into the immediate postwar period, the unit transitioned to a fighter mission flying the P-47 Thunderbolt. With the establishment of the U.S. Air Force as a separate service in 1947, the unit was redesignated the 118th Fighter Group. Subsequent redesignations occurred in 1950 as the 118th Composite Wing and in 1953 as the 118th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, during which time the unit operated the F-51 Mustang, RF-80 Shooting Star and RF-84 Thunderflash while operationally gained by the Tactical Air Command (TAC).[1]

As to the Thunderbolts, wiki explains that pilots called them "Jugs" because their profile resembled a popular milk jug at the time. And there's this:

The Republic P-47 Thunderbolt was the largest, heaviest, and most expensive fighter aircraft in history to be powered by a single piston engine.[3][verification needed] It was heavily armed with eight .50-caliber machine guns, four per wing. When fully loaded, the P-47 weighed up to eight tons, and in the fighter-bomber ground attack roles could carry five inch rockets or a significant bomb load of 2,500 pounds; over half the weight the B-17 bomber could carry on long-range missions (although the B-17 had a far greater range). The P-47, based on the powerful Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp engine, was to be very effective as a short-to-medium range escort fighter in high-altitude air-to-air combatand, when unleashed as a fighter-bomber, proved especially adept at ground attack in both the World War II European and Pacific Theaters.

I won't get into the debate as to which was better, P-51 Mustang or the heavy and heavily armored Thunderbolt, except to repeat this from wiki:

In Europe, Thunderbolts flew more sorties (423,435) than P-51s, P-38s and P-40s combined. Indeed, it was the P-47 which broke the back of the Luftwaffe in the critical period of January–May 1944.[20]

As wing fuel tanks increased the Thunderbolts' range, the AF recognized that the plane could serve as a fighter bomber, escorting larger bombers to their targets and then bombing and strafing targets on their return home.

Here's a video of P-47s in actual World War II combat footage.

I still remember knocking the crap out of those rocks in front of our house back in the late '40s, and I still remember Carl Sawatski and the other Nashville Vol baseball players I admired in those innocent times. And sometimes now, if I'm out in the backyard on a summer evening and hear the sound of a piston engine plane, I think of those old P-47s flying fast across the summer sky.


  1. I commented on this yesterday, Dan. Did I get caught in the spam trap?

    1. Sorry, Buck. I don't know what happened. If it is the spam trap, can I get it out?

    2. Yes. There's an option to check the box next to the comment and then click the "not spam" buttone at the top of the page. I do that for Moogie ALL the time coz Blogger hates her.

  2. Dan, from what I have read in the past about the P-38, it was a wild tiger to taxi. Take off rolls were about as exciting, with that big P&W out front.
    A great plane. Too bad more of them were not brought back to the states after the war, but the cost and the new P-51 were big factors.

  3. Scooney, good to hear from you again. I can imagine how difficult taxiing would be with that big P and W. The ones I remember seeing that flew from Berry Field were loud, very loud.