Some thoughts on the availability and usage of 108 Gal. Drop Tanks during the first three months of the 357th Fighter Group Operations. By Merle Olmsted.
In photo #1, a B-17 and a P-51B, C5-Z, Bat Cave, note that there is a large stack of 108 gallon paper tanks in the blister hangar, seen under the #1 engine of the B-17. The P-51 is carrying 75 gallon steel tanks.
The next series of four photos, all taken by this writer, are of P-51B, serial number 43-12173, which we had rec'd from the 354th Group where it had been Peg-O-My Heart. (see remains of Peg on nose). It is 362nd FS code G4-Z.
In Photo #2, the date is 11 February, 1944, the Group's first combat mission. Crew Chief Bob Raffen is standing on the wing, and pilot Ken Hagan is in the cockpit. Photo #3 shows Hagan about to taxi. After having these photos for some 60 years, I recently noticed that there is a 108 gallon steel drop tank (although paper 108 gallon tanks were the most prevalent, steel tanks were also made. It is not known which came first. It is easy to tell the paper from the steel, as the steel tanks were painted gray and the paper ones were silver) on the ground to the right of Raffen's knee. (there is a 75 gallon tank to the left). The airplane is carrying 75 gallon tanks.
For all these years, I assumed that I had taken photos #4 and #5 on the same date, 11 Feb. However, notice in these two photos, the airplane now has 14 mission symbols. The group flew it's 14th mission on 6 March, 1944, so assuming that G4-Z flew all of these, which is unlikely, then photos 4 and 5 had to have been taken after that date. It still has 75 gallon tanks, but notice that the same 108 gallon tank is still lying in the same place! (It was undoubtedly unserviceable.)
To sum up, we now know that 108 gallon tanks were available on base at the time of the first mission. Yet the group continued to carry 75 gallon tanks for another three months until mid May. Why was this so?
The answer was found in Roger Freeman's book THE MIGHTY EIGHTH WAR MANUAL (which every 8th AF enthusiast should have). To sum up as briefly as possible; There was in England, an ample supply of steel 75 gallon U.S. made tanks, which were allocated to the P-51 groups, with the 108 gallon tanks, just coming into production, reserved for the P-47 groups. By mid May, the supply of 75 gallon tanks was exhausted, and P-51 units were cleared to use the 108 gallon British tanks, which were now available in sufficient numbers and used for the rest of the war. The drop tank was a humble piece of equipment, but vital to the success of Fighter Command, so it is satisfying to be able to solve this very minor mystery in the Group's History. Merle Olmsted November 2002.