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Allied aircraft & Their nicknames, what is the truth?


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#1 TheArtOfFlight

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Posted 07 January 2017 - 07:05 PM

Something that has been bothering me for a while is the general accepted claim that certain aircraft were nicknamed either rightly or wrongly during ww2.

 

Two cases in point.

The F4U Corsair "Whistling death"

 

First up is a name usually applied to the American F4U Corsair naval fighter (I’ve found no reference to those operated by the British Fleet Air Arm attracting this honour). The claim (for example here) is that it was the Japanese who came up with the name as a mark of respect and fear for its capabilities. The usual explanation for the specific name is that the fighter made an unusual whistling sound thanks to the position and design of its oil cooler intakes, which is quite true, though not a unique feature. This always sounded more like a Western expression to me, and a trawl of Google Books shows that variations on the theme go back pre war, and indeed pre ww1. Just as interestingly, the same source shows that the US Army and the Coast Guard were both still referring to falling artillery shells using the term, throughout WW2. I’ve yet to find any Japanese reference or source – I could blame the language barrier – just because I can’t find it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not out there in Japanese script, or even buried offline somewhere. But this author HAS had access to Japanese speakers, and he at least seems sure that it was an American idea, not a Japanese one:
 

And in fact it’s that very difference in both language and culture that would make it surprising if the same expression/context had arisen independently for both. What would make more sense is if, as with the infantry nicknames, the nickname was one coined by the Allies themselves. Lending weight to this idea is this reference to a quite different (but equally whistly) machine, the B-26 Marauder – being given the same nickname. And with shades of the journalistic flair of “Devil Dogs”, sure enough, the earliest source I can find is from a gung-ho home front propaganda piece in Time magazine , October 1943;

“Soon after the Corsair went into action in the Solomons, the Japanese had given it a nickname worthy of their language’s tradition of poetical allusion: “Whistling Death.” They had reason.”

Notwithstanding this unsubstantiated claim, “Whistling Death” is most likely a part of the poetic tradition, but of the English-speaking nations. If you have evidence to the contrary, please do leave a comment below!

 

Bristol Beaufighter "Whispering death"

Next, an alliterative variation on the same theme. “Whispering Death” was applied to the British Bristol Beaufighter fighter-bomber from, as far as I can determine, April 1943. Again the source is the press, though given the slightly sceptical tone, they seem to have picked it up from elsewhere as a rumour. There then followed, also in Flight magazine, a series of written-in post-hoc rationalisations for the name, which seems to have mystified some readers. The most popular explanation, even now, is that any high performance aircraft of the day might quitely suprise the enemy at low level. If so, why was the Beau the only one to receive it? Again, no sign of a Japanese source to back this up. For me, the most interesting thing is that though similar-sounding, Whistling and Whispering death respectively in fact express opposite sentiments/fears about attacking aircraft. Whilst different elements of the Japanese forces might hold these seemingly mutually exclusive opinions, it’s worth noting the stereotypical mindset of the US and British fighting man. The former is often thought to be aggressive, fiercely patriotic and proud of his country’s technological achievements (look, for example, at US nose art). The latter traditionally is more quietly confident in either his military hardware or his ability to overcome its limitations (witness the Fairey Swordfish being nicknamed “Stringbag”). I had thought it likely that journalists coined the phrases as bellicose and stoically effective expressions, respectively, of their nation’s fighting prowess. But in the case of “Whispering Death”, it’s likely that British aircrew did name it – but in that characteristically ironic sense. A 1949 official publication, and latterly, authors including Chaz Bowyer have suggested that it originated as a mockery of the very press practices that I’ve been talking about. I won’t quote from this excellent write up summarising the evidence for this – I recommend reading the whole thing (scroll down). I think that the nickname might also have been a sarcastic reference Beaufighter’s design pretensions as a dogfighting machine. If this origin is correct, it’s equally ironic that “Whispering Death” had become a marketing tagline for Bristol Aircraft by 1945!

 

I could go on with the "Fork tailed devil" etc.....

But it would be a little long. Anyones thoughts please?


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#2 [email protected]

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Posted 07 January 2017 - 08:17 PM

Interesting facts,I knew that the Corsair had the the nick name the WHISTLING DEATH, for obvious reasons, but was not aware of the Nick name for the Beaufighter "The. Whispering Death" ,Thankyou for your input ,I Knew that the Fairy Sword Fish had Earned the nickname the Flying String Bag for obvious reasons,however I have nothing but admiration for the aircrews that flew them, especially the brave pilots that flew against the German Battleship The Bismark, Fliying these biplanes at that time against great odds achieved in my opinion the impossible .Thankyou again for sharing your thoughts,very interesting.
Best regards
Keith.....
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#3 Armand

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Posted 07 January 2017 - 09:17 PM

As heard on Youtube I find the Mustang making the most whistling passes, however cheap microphones might have problems with some high pitching sounds :-/
Most lately have the F117 been denounced as 'Sawoosh' - alledgly the Arabic word for 'whistling ghost'! One shall not be blind by the possibility of simple propaganda: By the help of a lie can the naming possible transfer to the enemy and thereafter build up a fear!
Additional will it strengthen own populations perception of the hardware!
There must bee some who loves the B-58 Hustler for it's amazing records, however time have shown that the Hustler might have the spoken capabilities, but it was such a troublesome aircraft that it possible would have had trouble with fullfilling it's mission If the situation had become serious - Seen with sceptic eyes: Everything We consider about the Hustler might just be outspoken propaganda :-/
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#4 Armand

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Posted 07 January 2017 - 09:34 PM

Being denied possibility of editing the posting above, wich have never happened in this way before, I consider if Ive used some words wich hurts too much some place :-/
Well possible not. I will lean back and feel safe here under My tinfoil hat ;-)

#5 Ricky

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Posted 08 January 2017 - 10:13 AM

Stringbag isn't really about the fact that the Swordfish is a biplane - it also relates to its ability to carry almost anything, named after the common string shopping bags of the time.

Or so I've heard... ;)
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#6 Wuzak

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Posted 08 January 2017 - 11:18 AM

I believe the "wispering" part of the Beaufighter's nickname was related to the Bristol Hercules and its exhaust manifolding.

 

The sleeve valve engine was generally quieter than poppet valve engines and the exhaust manifolding would have quietened the sound even further compared to ejector exhausts.

 

http://447.insidetra...m-2008-0922.jpg

 

As to the Mustang whistling, I believe this is to do with the Rolls-Royce Merlin primarily, and can be also heard on Spitfires.



#7 GregP

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Posted 08 January 2017 - 11:49 AM

In the 1960s I read many times that "Whisting Death" was coined by US propaganda people, and that the Japanese never heard of it before reading about it after the war.

 

The same can be said for calling the P-38 the "Forked Tail Devil," or German equivalent of same ("Der Gabelschwanz Teufel"). A US propaganda name, if ever there was one.

 

I bet the Germans would have called it something else than a convenient American-type phrase. They called the IL-2 "Cementers" because piercing the main armor was a hard as peircing cement. However, "Cementers" doesn't have that "Hollywood" ring to it, at least for us Americans. Perhaps if you are dropping it from a mile high?

 

Whisting Death and Forked Tail Deveil certainly DO have a Hollywood ring..

 

I bet the Japanese had a name for US planes, but we never knew what it really was and, if we did, it wasn't all that flatering. Ditto the Germans. You don't tend to revere the planes that are getting the best of you, and REALLY don't tend to rever the planes you can shoot down frequently without too many losses. We had a few of those at first.

 

Early P-38s weren't really combat ready, and the pilots had NO training, and did a less-than-wonderful job in the ETO until the 4 mains flaws were fixed. The 5th flaw, low critical Mach number, was never fixed, but the P-38L could have done just fine in the ETO in 1944 with good pilots aboard. By that time it was firmly entrenched in the PTO and the P-51 and P-47 were the main ETO fighters from the U.S.A. .

 

We called the Bf 109 the Me 109 and so did the Germans, even in official documents. We didn't call it "The Nazi Killer," "The Assain," or any other nickname that might be German-sounding for something respectable. Why would they do anything comparable in reverse? It doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

 

I am firmly convinced these names were U.S. fabrications that were publicized to help morale in the country, when the public wasn't all THAT sure they wanted to get into a war being fought in Europe / Japan, even after Pearl Harbor. But that was a definite rallying cry .... for sure. It worked!


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#8 CORSNING

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Posted 08 January 2017 - 01:14 PM

Remember the Alamo! :o



#9 GregP

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Posted 08 January 2017 - 10:18 PM

Definitely a Texas motto! And I can fully understand why.

 

Most popular rallying movements have a catch phrase that ignites the crowd.

 

It usually works MUCH better to shout, "Death to the Foreign Invaders!" than to shout, "Oh crap! What are we gonna' do?"



#10 F7Ftigercatlover

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Posted 09 January 2017 - 12:27 AM

My Favorite warbird nickname is for the SB2C Curtis Helldiver which replaced the SBD Douglas Dauntless, It's nickname was 'Son of a Bitch, second class'. Apparently a lot of navy flyers did not like the helldiver!






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