Colonel Neel Kearby – Pacific Thunderbolt Ace

This article covers American ace Neel E. Kearby, who flew the Republic P-47D “Thunderbolt” in the Southwest Pacific (SWP) Theater of Operations, and the build of his “Jug” in 1⁄72 scale. I have not written one of these “aces articles” since I was the ASM President back in 2018, and my plan is to try to continue to do a monthly installment for the ASM Newsletter and the ASM Website.

Colonel Neel Kearby is the 13th-ranking (tie) American ace, 9th-ranking (tie) USAF ace, and the top ace of the 348th Fighter Group (FG). He scored 22 confirmed victories and had three probable victories and was the highest scoring P-47 ace in the SWP. Kearby took the 348th FG (“Kearby’s Thunderbolts”) into combat in the SWP determined to show that the heavy P-47 could hold its own against the more nimble Japanese fighters. Kearby was a great combat leader and his theories were proven correct. The 348th used the Jug’s diving advantage to attack from high altitude in slashing attacks and to then zoom back to height ready for another high speed pass. Kearby scored his victories in bunches. He scored four “doubles” and a “triple” on 3 Dec 1943 (3 Zekes). His biggest day was on 11 Oct 1943, when he scored six victories (2 Zekes, 2 Tonys and 2 Haps) near Boram, New Guinea. This feat earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor. Kearby was killed in action on 5 Mar 1944 in a dogfight over Annanberg, New Guinea. A P-47D Razorback is on display at the National Museum of the US Air Force painted in the scheme of Kearby’s “Fiery Ginger IV.” The vertical tail fin of Kearby’s actual “Fiery Ginger IV” is displayed next to this aircraft. It was recovered from the crash site in the 1990s and came to the museum in 2004. Seeing these two displayed together when I visited the museum in May 2008 was a very moving experience.

The Build

The model build of Kearby’s first P-47D named “Fiery Ginger” is depicted in October 1943 when based at Port Moresby, New Guinea, while he was the commander of the 348th FG. It displays ten victory markings at this time. “Fiery Ginger” was named after Kearby’s wife Virginia. The build used the Hasegawa P-47D Razorback kit in 1⁄72 scale. The kit went together very well but it has a sparsely detailed cockpit and no wheel well details. Decals were used for the instrument panel and seatbelts. The kit was painted in Model Master Faded Olive Drab on the upper surfaces and Model Master Neutral Gray for the lower surfaces. The aircraft is painted in the standard SWP recognition markings of a white tail and white wing leading edges. There were no blue surrounds yet for the white bars of the “stars and bars” markings in October 1943. Pastel chalks were used for the weathering and gun smoke streaking. AeroMaster decal sheet 72-008 Pacific P-47 Thunderbolts was used for Kearby’s scheme. This build occurred in 1997 for the USAF Academy Aces Gallery Model Display. More detailed 1⁄72-scale Thunderbolt kits have come out since then, in particular the Tamiya Razorback and Bubble-Top, but the Hasegawa kit holds up well. Pictures of Kearby and his P-47s and of the model are include with this article.

Decals for Kearby’s scheme can be found on:

  • MicroScale/Superscale 72 122 Thunderbolt Razorbacks (Fiery Ginger)
  • Aeromaster 72-008 Pacific P-47 Thunderbolts (Fiery Ginger).
  • Print Scale 72-173 P-47D Thunderbolt Razorback Aces Over the Pacific (Fiery Ginger IV).
  • Mike Grant Decals 48048 P-47 Thunderbolts Set 1 (Fiery Ginger IV).
  • Thundercals 48-002 Thunderbolts PTO Part 2 (Fiery Ginger IV).
    One version of the Hasegawa 1⁄72-scale P-47D Razorback kit does come with decals for Kearby’s “Fiery Ginger IV.” It has Lt Col Robert Baseler’s (six victories) “Big Stud” checker-tailed aircraft #88 on the box cover.
  • “Fiery Ginger IV” displayed his final score of 22 victory markings.

Next Up

Two other aces of the 348 FG have already been covered by this series of ace’s articles: George Davis in the Aug 2019 ASM Newsletter, who scored seven victories in WW II and fourteen in Korea and received the Medal of Honor; and William Dunham in the December 2017 ASM Newsletter, who scored sixteen victories in WWII. I have three other 348 FG aces in my sights and hope to build another one soon. These include William Banks with nine victories in the P-51D “Sunshine;” Rowland Grant with eight victories in the P 47D “Miss Mutt/Pride of Lodi;” and Marvin Grant with seven victories in the P-47D “Sylvia.” You are likely familiar will all of those. Stand by!