Northrop's Lethal Spider: The P-61 Black Widow
Part One: The European Theatre

By Chris Banyai-Riepl

At the time of introduction the Northrop P-61 was the largest fighter in US inventory. It was also the first twin-engined dedicated night fighter designed by Northrop and proved to be an excellent weapons platform. The heavy armament of fixed cannons in the belly and machine guns in the top turret made getting kills easy, when they could be found, that is. By the time the P-61 entered service, the skies were pretty much owned by the Allies and pickings were pretty slim for the night fighter units.

P-61A "Lady GEN"
422nd NFS, France, 1944
Lt. Paul A. Smith

"Lady GEN" was a popular P-61A and was flown by at least two crews. This example is the first crew that racked up the rather impressive scoreboard seen here. Later it was flown by Captain Leonard F. Koehler, but it didn't add anything to its score under his command. Perhaps that was because they removed the upper turret with the new crew, but more likely it was because of the total lack of Luftwaffe opposition at night during the last stages of the war.

P-61A-10 "Wabash Cannon-Ball IV"
425th NFS, A-58 (Coulommiers), France, 1945
Major Leon Gilly Lewis

Yes, this Black Widow was named after the train that ran between Detroit and St. Louis and for which that country song was written. It was flown by the 425th NFS Squadron Commander, Major Leon Lewis.

P-61A "Tabitha"
425th NFS, France, 1944
Capt. Hardin Ross

"Tabitha" was one of the 425ths P-61s that met with an early fate, crashing on October 27, 1944. At the time it was being flown by Lt. Bruce Hefling and F/O Bill Broach, both of whom were killed in the crash.


P-61B-6-NO "Markey"
417th NFS, Giebelstadt, Germany, 1945

"Markey" was a P-61 flying mainly in the MTO, finally ending up in Germany in summer of 1945. The name "Markey" was carried on both sides, although the starboard side was smaller than the port. The name "Hade's Lady" was given by a Northrop employee as part of a War Bond drive. The last two numbers of the s/n are carried on the engine nacelle.

P-61A "Double Trouble"
422nd NFS, France, 1944
Lt. Bolinder & Lt. Graham

Lts. Bolinder and Graham scored their first of four kills flying this P-61A named "Double Trouble". This particular P-61 is one of the most photographed Black Widows and clearly shows the application of invasion stripes. Contrary to most other P-61s, this one had the data block and tail number in white rather than red.


References:

Northrop P-61 Black Widow, Warren Thompson, Wings of Fame Volume 15
Black Widow, Warren E. Thompson, Combat Aircraft, November 1997
P-61 Black Widow in Action, Squadron-Signal Publications
Part Two: Pacific and China Widows

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