Milk Jug or Unstoppable Force? The Origins of the P-47’s “Jug” Nickname

March 3, 2023

My recent video on the XP-47J threw up a couple of controversies in the comment section. One was the outrage amongst those that INSIST that the Do-335 was the fastest piston engine fighter of the Second World War.

I’ll say this again, it wasn’t.

But the other, even more vocal section was over my saying this that the P-47’s “Jug” nickname was a derived from “Juggernaut”. This caused a lot of folks, mainly American, to get very insistent that the nickname in fact came about because, duh, the P-47 looked like a traditional milk jug.

And that got me thinking. Just what IS the origin of the P-47’s “Jug” nickname?

The answer is rather opaque and to be honest, now it would probably be impossible to absolutely confirm the original meaning of the nickname. But as it is still, apparently, a subject of some interest and indeed vitriol, that makes it worth taking a look at.

And in fact, there is one other answer that doesn’t generally make it into the history books, but which I think might be correct.

As said, for Americans, the name derives from the fact that the P-47 has a profile, when on its nose, similar to a contemporary milk jug of the time, pretty straight forward. Indeed, there is a quote from famed pilot James Goodson who described the P-47 as “seven-ton milk bottles”. But there is I think more to that description than at first meets the eye, but I’ll get to that later.

As for the “Juggernaut” nickname, that has appeared in British publications on the aircraft for many years now, which explains why I thought it was the accepted definition. And as a nickname for the P-47, it would certainly be apt.

The English term “Juggernaut” originates from a Hindu tradition where huge carts were built for important festivals and then dragged through the streets. European witnesses to these events reported that it was far for unusual for festival participants to get crushed under these massive vehicles, as when they started rolling, they were so heavy that almost nothing could stop their inevitable progress.

Hence, we now have in modern English the term “Juggernaut” for a large articulated truck, but also as a figurative word to describe an unstoppable force. And the P-47 basically fits both those descriptions.

The Thunderbolt, to give it it’s official service name, was truly massive for a Second World War fighter, dwarfing just about every other single engine aircraft of similar type.

For perspective, the P-40E Warhawk, an aircraft the P-47 largely replaced in service was 31 feet 8.5 in (9.665 m) in length, had a wingspan of 37 feet 3.5 in (11.367 m) and an empty weight of 5,922 lb (2,686 kg).

 

The British Spitfire Mk.VB, again an aircraft a little earlier than the Jug but broadly of the same age, came in with a length of 29 ft 11 in (9.12 m), wingspan of 36 ft 10 in (11.23 m) and empty weight of 5,065 lb (2,297 kg).

 

The FW 190A-3, one of the P-47s principle opponents over Europe as well as another radial engine aircraft like the Thunderbolt; Length 28 feet 10 in (8.788m), wingspan 34 feet 5in (10.49m) and an empty weight of 6,393lb (2,899.8kg).

 

The P-47D, by contrast: 36 ft 1 3⁄4 in (11.02 m) long by 40 ft 9 5⁄16 in (12.43 m) wide and weighing 10,000 lb (4,536 kg) empty.

You can see why some pilots joked that if they got attacked while flying the Jug, they could save themselves by running around inside the fuselage until they found somewhere to hide!

But this sheer size and weight meant that the P-47 well fit the description of an unstoppable force as it could out-dive anything out there at the time. Combine that with its heavy armament of eight 0.5-calibre Browning heavy machine guns, and an ability to just suck up ridiculous amounts of damage and keep flying, well, the “Juggernaut” description seems more than apt.

So, it is understandable to see why some folks thought that was the meaning of the “Jug” nickname. Certainly aviation writer Sam McGowan states that is the correct explanation.

But which is right? To be honest, trying to figure out which was correct was going to be nigh on impossible.

First, I thought the way might be to try to find the earliest reference to both in printed publications, with whichever came first being the right explanation. But that would probably be impossible without huge amounts of effort. Besides, if the pilots named the aircraft, it would probably be better to go through pilot’s journals and squadron records to see where the first reference to the name is to be found.

But again, that would be a huge effort and, quite frankly, far more research than would really be justified for what is, after all, a niche talking point. The whole thing for me became more of a mental exercise on how you would go about trying to research something like this, rather than an actual reality.

And while mulling it over, I mentioned the whole topic to JD at the Dinger Aviation website. Long-time readers might recall that name, as I have collaborated with JD in the past and drawn on his research on several of my videos and articles. And JD said research wasn’t necessary as he already knew the answer!

Apparently, the issue was one of some discussion in the letter’s columns of various British aviation magazines in the 1970s and ‘80s. Of course then there were still plenty of pilots and ground crew around who remembered the origin of the nickname, and were able to explain it.

Because also bear in mind, though the term “Jug” is now largely synonymous with the P-47, for many of those who served on the aircraft that was not a known nickname, and in fact there were several others that were applied to the aircraft.

But the “Jug” name apparently originated in the earliest days of it entering service with the USAAF in England, and is, according to JD, a crude and round-about pun.

Sorry if you are squeamish about such things, but I am now going to talk about a range of bodily functions.

In Britain, “to Thunder” is a euphemism for passing gas, or farting to be blunt. The expressions usage has declined somewhat in recent times, but during World War Two it was a common expression. From this the British got the term “Thunder Box”, which originally was the sort of outdoor toilet that was standard for most houses prior to the War and which would often be a small shed with the toilet being a wooden box with a circular hole cut in it.

Having used outhouses of this very same design in various parts of the world, I can indeed confirm that they do indeed enhance your personal thunder.

The use of the term “Thunder Box” was also applied to small portable toilets, equivalent to the American term “porta-potty”, but also as reference to the small toilets that were fitted in large military aircraft that engaged in long endurance missions.

It was also a vernacular name for a chamber pot, a receptacle that people would take to bed with them and, if they had need of during the night, would allow them to avoid making a potentially freezing cold and damp trek up the end of the garden to use the bathroom. And this in turn led to the creation of another vernacular term – the “Thunder Jug”.

This was a utensil which a man could use to urinate in, thus avoiding a similar need to go outside on a cold night. And said utensil was often a jug…or a milk bottle.

Starting to see the connection, right?

Aircrew in the UK during the War were often housed in basic Nissen huts or tents, and their ablution blocks, which housed their communal toilets, were separate structures. Thus, the use of Thunder Jugs was practically a standard with personnel who would not want to stray too far from their warm bed, especially if it meant wandering in a freezing cold rain across a blacked out muddy airfield to a toilet tent or shack that probably wasn’t very pleasant in the first place.

And no doubt American personnel came across the term Thunder Box while serving with British personnel, especially those that had volunteered to serve in the Royal Air Force before the United States entered the war.

Pilots such as James Goodson, who served in the RAF Eagle squadrons before transferring to the USAAF.

 

The veneration that the P-47 is now held in often overlooks the fact that pilots initially were extremely dubious of the aircraft, it being impossible to imagine that the monster would ever be an effective fighter when compared to the much smaller standard of its contemporaries. And most vocal in these first critics were the 4th Fighter Group, which was formed from the three former Eagle squadrons.

Indeed, Goodson freely admitted that he was not at all happy about being forced to give up his slim and elegant Spitfire for the hulking Thunderbolt, hence his later comment about it being a “seven-ton milk bottle”.

But considering the likely usage that Goodson had been employing milk bottles for, I must wonder if he was being polite in his book by not referring to the real meaning for the nickname – “a seven-ton piss pot”.

Goodson would come to greatly admire the P-47, but I suspect by then the name, granted by the thoroughly annoyed pilots of the 4th Fighter Group, had stuck.

So, in conclusion, we have an aircraft that has the term “Thunder” in its name already, looks a bit like a milk bottle (apparently) from a certain angle and which really wasn’t popular with it’s first users, who had been exposed to a particular form of vernacular language.

 

The “Juggernaut” nickname seems to have originated, according to JD, from British aviation publications in the 1960s as an explanation for the “Jug” name, something that lines up with the thinking of one American commentator I read on an online forum who reckoned that this was the British giving his fellow countrymen too much literary credit.

Now. I must add a proviso to this. While JD recalls the details of this distant discussion very well, he admits that, despite searching his archives, he hasn’t been able to locate the actual magazines that hold the evidence. So, we have to rank this bit of history as “unsourced and unverified” at this time.

But it would, considering the mentality of military personnel throughout the ages and their pretty much universal fixation with toilet humour, make for a perfectly feasible explanation.

If anyone has any additional information, either backing this up or otherwise countering it, feel free to post it in the comments, and I have to say thanks to JD for amusing me greatly with all the details.

 

Sources/Related:

https://dingeraviation.net/

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