Special 460 Squadron coins flown in BBMF Lancaster

 

Coin presentation Gary Eason _DSC8914

RAF Coningsby, 30 October 2017

Squadron Leader Andy "Milli" Millikin, Officer Commanding the RAF Memorial Flight presenting a special commemorative coin to Australian visitor Richard Munro of the 460 Squadron Veterans and Friends Group, at RAF Coningsby.

460 Squadron commemorative coin and certificateThe coin is one of only 12 that were flown on board the memorial flight's Lancaster, PA474, on its return to Coningsby from Duxford on 4 July 2017 in its new colour scheme as AR-L for Leader of 460 Squadron RAAF.

Richard was a key member of the small team that researched the details of the original aircraft and its distinctive nose art of a kangaroo in Wellington boots playing bagpipes.

In his association newsletters, he has described Milli's decision to opt for the AR-L scheme on the Lancaster's port side as honouring all who served in 460 Squadron during World War Two. He aims to organise a visit to RAF Coningsby for veterans and relatives. 

Having the coins flown in PA474 was the idea of another member of the team, Darryl Fell of the current 460 Squadron RAAF, and was arranged by BBMF historian and publications editor (and former OC), retired Squadron Leader Clive Rowley. 

I am proud to say that, having also helped to research the colour scheme, I too have one of them – which is currently being mounted and framed with its certificate, signed by the Lancaster skipper, Flt Lt Tim Dunlop, to go on my office wall.

 

 


Mid-air collision between Lancaster bombers

Lancaster ND968-G mid-air collision Gary Eason _DSC9312

Colchester, 12 October 2017

The airscrews on an Avro Lancaster's engines are about 13ft (4m) across. Spinning at, say, 2,700 rpm, they constitute an awesome power saw.

Apply it to the thin alloy skin of another Lancaster and . . . it makes me cringe even to think about it. The noise alone would be terrifying.

But that is what happened at 14,000ft over Alsace when Lancaster ND968/G, AR-O "Oboe" of 460 Squadron RAAF was hit by another Lancaster, thought to have been NN766 of 103 Squadron.

NN766 crashed in a snowstorm and all seven crew were killed.

Incredibly, ND968 made it back to England, was repaired and returned to service, and indeed saw out the war.

An account of the collision appears in the RAF Memorial Flight Club's autumn journal and I was asked to create a Flight Artworks depiction of the event to span the opening two pages.

You can see what it looks like here; the proper version of the picture itself, with print options and prices, is on the Flight Artworks website here.  

AILERONS JAMMED

Lancaster O for Oboe WIP detail screenshots Gary Eason

The account was written by the late Dave Fellowes, Legion d'Honneur, who was the rear gunner on "O for Oboe", prior to his death in June at the age of 93.   

He described how – along with those in other bombers, as it turned out – his crew had chosen to climb above their briefed altitude to escape thick cloud and bad turbulence on their way to attack Munich on 7 January 1945.

They had just emerged from the cloud when there was a rending crash and the Lanc lurched violently leftwards into a downward spin.

It had been ripped apart along the trailing edge of the starboard wing, jamming the ailerons, and through the middle – obliterating the H2S radar and its dome and almost severing the whole tail section with Dave in it, which started swaying alarmingly.

Remarkably it held together as they jettisoned their bomb load, returned to England and made a long, flat, flapless approach to the emergency field at RAF Manston in Kent.

Years later Dave established that the other Lancaster was most probably NN766, PM-R of 103 Squadron, which crashed that night about 23 miles away from the estimated collision point.

TECHNICAL CHALLENGES

Sketching out my intended composition was something I was able to do quite quickly. I already had a suitable photograph looking down onto thick clouds which I thought would perfectly frame the scene.

I also already had a Lancaster photograph at just the sort of angle I wanted, from the starboard rear quarter and a little below. What took the time was figuring out how to take this splendid machine and rip it open.

I worked on the ailerons and flaps first, creating just enough of the internal mechanism in Photoshop to enable it to be seen through torn fabric and metal, then using what is known as the warp tool to twist it out of alignment, and using the built-in brushes to rip the edges of the metal. While awful to contemplate in real life, this was rather enjoyable to do on screen.

Screen Shot 2017-10-13 at 17.21.37

By far the bigger problem was how to portray the interior of the Lancaster fuselage from an angle that normally you cannot see because it is behind the outer skin and the radome suspended below the mid-upper gun turret.

The last time I visited the BBMF at RAF Coningsby I had taken a couple of photographs of the interior of their Lancaster, PA474. So I knew what it looked like – but from the wrong angle to use in my compilation.

Happily I was able to get their publications editor, Clive Rowley, who had commissioned the picture, to go and stick his camera in from the rear crew door to give me a better idea of the required perspective.

Once I had it clearer in my mind's eye, I then basically built the various pieces of equipment either by adapting the pictures to hand or simply creating elements from scratch - such as the outer and inner parts of the H2S radome, the ribs that frame the aircraft, and the pipework, wires, ammo boxes and runs.

NIGHT

There was also the lower portion of the mid-upper turret to be glimpsed. Its occupant that night was Sgt Ken De La Mare. After exclaiming that the floor below him had gone and the starboard side of the fuselage was missing for about 10 feet, Ken was helped out by the wireless operator, Flt Sgt J Wilson, and moved forward to the "relative safety" of the flight deck.

During this whole process I realised that the damage must have gone through the main joint between the centre and rear sections of the aircraft, which forms a ring just aft of the mid-upper turret. No wonder the tail was swaying.

The "G" suffix that ND968's serial number at the time was a security symbol: it carried the secret AGLT radar equipment on the rear turret, codenamed "Village Inn".

From my point of view this presented essentially another, smaller radome and mounting brackets, and I simply painted these on between and below the spent ammunition chutes on the FN-20 turret with its four Browning .303 machine guns. I made a point of checking that "Oboe" did not have the later, Rose turret with its two heavier weapons.

And then – it was night time. With these wartime operation pictures there just is no satisfactorily realistic way to portray a black aircraft at night so that you can see anything.

Before starting work I had checked that my Artistic Licence permit was still current so, under the pretext that there was quite a lot of moonlight, I splashed light onto the airframe in such a way as to highlight key aspects of the outline.

My rationale for being able to see the interior at all, having done so much work to create it, was that the moonbeams were coming in through the dinghy hatches and gun turret on the top of the fuselage.

I was pleased with the picture, but just to add a sense of drama and dynamism I scattered some debris around, coming off the wing, torn fuselage and smashed H2S. In reality this would probably already have dispersed, but we liked the effect so it stayed in.

And there you have it: a portrayal of a subject I had had in mind for some time, since reading about the fear that stalked bomber crews (one of many) of the risk of collisions in a loose formation of heavy aircraft flying at night, often in reduced visibility and poor weather, without proximity warning radars.  

I hope it stands as a tribute to their bravery and to the sacrifice of the seven men who did not come back from this particular encounter.

UPDATE: 21 November 2017

I was contacted overnight by former ice pilot "Doc" Knight in Calgary, Western Canada, who wrote: 

"I was reading your notes on the mid-air of these Lancs on the night of 7-8 January 1945. My wife's great uncle, Donald Campbell from Kelowna, was one of the air gunners in NN766, now buried in a collective grave with the other six of his crew. He had been briefly in the RCN in 1940, released on a medical after only four months in. Then, through the summer of 1943, he was working in Vancouver at Boeing and serving in the Seaforth Highlanders (Reserve)...I think he had to lie to get into the RCAF that autumn (re: previous medical discharge).
 
"The fellows are not forgotten...Meyer Greenstein was the Bomb Aimer; his sister, Rose Greebler, passed away in Toronto in 2014, made sure that a lasting scholarship in her brother's name carries on at University College, at U of Toronto.
 
"The Nav was Ralph James Lougheed of Winnipeg; his brother Lawrence became a doctor - as their father was - and passed away this spring out in British Columbia.
 
"An article was written this spring in a Wolfe Island, Ontario paper, remembering Millard Horne, the wireless air gunner in NN766; he left behind a wife, Betty Huff of Prescott, Ontario.
 
"I'm still hunting for info on the others, particularly the RAF member of the crew, #2220467 Sgt. R.P. Candy."
 
If anyone has any more info I will pass it on. - GE

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To buy prints of any of my works please visit www.flightartworks.com.

I also do private commissions, for individual aircraft or bigger scenes.  To get in touch visit the Contact page on my website. Find Flight Artworks on Facebook, on Twitter @flightartworks, and on Instagram @flight.artworks.


Photographs from Duxford's 2017 autumn Airshow

Colchester, 7 October 2017

I know Duxford Airshow was a couple of weekends ago but I then went almost immediately up to Scotland for a short holiday with my wife - ok and some landscape photography - so I am now catching up with the processing.

The billed highlight of this year's Battle of Britain Airshow, to give it its proper title, was the bringing together of lots of restored Hawker Hurricanes of various types.

Six Hurricanes Duxford Gary Eason _DSC1981How fantastic to see (and hear) half a dozen of them in the sky at the same time, recalling Duxford's heyday. 

There were several other highlights for me. By a string of circumstances,  including the temporary grounding of the BBMF's Merlin-engined fleet, this was the first, rather belated chance that I had had to see Lancaster PA474 in its new liveries, in particular, the port side scheme of AR-L with its colourful nose art of a kangaroo playing bagpipes. 

Regular readers will know I was first with the news of this proposed scheme, almost a year ago now; commissioned to depict the original Lancaster that wore it, W5005 of 460 Squadron, (now a poster for Memorial Flight Club members); and involved with the search for the guy who had painted it

So having it down my camera lens was a real treat, spoilt only by the wretched bright overcast backlighting that can plague Duxford as an airshow venue. 

"IMPROBABLY ELEGANT"

I also met the author of WK275, being launched at the show, Guy Ellis, as well as the owner of this unique Supermarine Swift F.4 variant, Tim Wood. Guy contacted me earlier this year to ask if I could make the cover artwork. I hope the book does well: Grub Street Publishing have produced it beautifully.

And another was also finally getting to see the Shuttleworth Collection's splendid Westland Lysander in flight. I had seen it before in the hangars at Old Warden Park in Bedfordshire, but not flying. 

Westland Lysander  Gary Eason _DSC2984It is such an extraordinary-looking creation, improbably elegant in flight, and with a terrific history. I had taken a professional interest this year because a depiction of a Lysander on a clandestine operation in July 1944 has proved to be one of my more popular pictures (details here about prints).  

One of the more striking aspects was being reminded just how big it is, for a single-engined airframe, when seen alongside the WW2 fighters on the flight line.  

But if there was one aircraft performing at Duxford that I could have watched all day, it was the beautiful bare-metal Curtiss-Wright P-40C Warhawk of The Fighter Collection (TFC). 

Photography is all about light and nothing revelled in the shifting blue-sky-and-clouds backdrop so admirably as that polished alloy skin. 

I made up the slideshow (above) from a series of frames just as I shot them, not yet cropped for publication. Sigma 150-600mm f5-6.3 DG OS HSM / S on Nikon D750, ISO 100, f10, 1/320 typically. 

It was lovely again to revisit the constantly-interesting display by (I believe) TFC's chief pilot, Pete Kynsey, as the raw images resolved themselves in Lightroom. 

Glorious. 

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To buy prints of any of my works please visit www.flightartworks.com.

I also do private commissions, for individual aircraft or bigger scenes.  To get in touch visit the Contact page on my website. Find Flight Artworks on Facebook, on Twitter @flightartworks, and on Instagram @flight.artworks.


New Supermarine Swift WK275 artwork

Swift WK275 pictures Gary Eason

The Flight Artworks depictions of WK275: book cover (left) and in flight over the English countryside.

Colchester, 21 September 2017

If you are going to Duxford Airshow this weekend, look out for aviation author Guy Ellis who tells me that he will be signing copies of his new book about Supermarine Swift WK275 in the Aviation Bookshop marquee.

It is being formally published by Grub Street Publishing next week but is being launched at the show. I am excited to see it because I did the cover art.

Guy first approached me back at the start of January to see if it was something I could take on. Following my usual practice I drafted some initial ideas and he chose the sort of picture he wanted.

We then refined the precise angles in the composition - working by this time also with the publisher and their designer - showing the unique aircraft "almost as if it were 'climbing'  the cloud", as he put it, in my background photograph. 

SWIFT BY NAME . . . 

It is only fair to say the Swift was not the most successful aircraft the RAF ever got involved with - but from my point of view it is certainly not unattractive, perhaps quite a perky looking number whose lines live up to its name. As did its performance: an F.4 like this was, briefly, the holder of the world airspeed record, having attained 737.7 mph (1,187 km/h) over Libya, 64 years ago this week, in the hands of Vickers Supermarine's chief test pilot, Mike Lithgow. 

I say that WK275 was unique because as I understand it no other Swift airframe ever had its precise configuration, and it is the only fighter variant still in existence.

It was used as a test frame for various developments, including what they call a slab-type tailplane - in other words with wholly moving horizontal stabilisers instead of fixed ones with moving elevators on the trailing edges. Later, no longer flying, it was used for noise research.

By this time, the 1960s, it was already a very faded, tired and sorry looking specimen. It then became a "gate guardian" at an outdoor clothing and camping store in Herefordshire. Up on bricks in all weather, it was rotting away. 

It was rescued in 2012 by a private buyer, Tim Wood - who set out to buy his son an ejector seat and ended up with an entire aircraft - and he got the remarkable guys at Jet Art Aviation to do the seemingly impossible job of restoring it to (non-flying) splendour.  

I asked Tim whether getting it flying again had ever been on the cards. He had inquired, he said. It would have cost another £3m. 

DETAILS, DETAILS . . .

Not knowing anything about the Swift before I started on this project I had to get up to speed on the general outlines to begin with, then the peculiarities of WK275. 

For example, there is a stub on the top of the nose where you might expect to find a pitot-static tube, but the instrument itself had been moved to the starboard wing.

I was also keen to get the subtleties of such things as air vents and the various warning labels as correct as I could. Jet Art kindly answered some of my questions about specifics and sent some close-up snaps for reference. 

To create the picture I worked initially from a small model I commissioned of an F.4 converted from an FR.5, the more successful low-level reconnaissance version. But there was a great deal of pixel painting to do. 

My work on this as on everything else was interrupted by a delightful few weeks travelling around New Zealand and making landscape photographs

But eventually the finished picture was completed, tweaked and signed off in April, five months ago, and my job was done. Meanwhile, of course, the publishers had a book to make! 

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To buy prints of any of my works please visit www.flightartworks.com.

I also do private commissions, for individual aircraft or bigger scenes.  To get in touch visit the Contact page on my website. Find Flight Artworks on Facebook, on Twitter @flightartworks, and on Instagram @flight.artworks.


Remembering those who never made it into battle

Fairey Battle enclosed Gary Eason _DSC7884

Colchester, 23 August 2017

Two stories in one this time related to my latest picture (above), Fairey Battle Mk I K9472, WT-N of 35 Squadron - and in fact two pictures.

The most obvious story involves the aircraft itself, depicted in flight near RAF Carew Cheriton in Pembrokeshire.

I have shown the crew in a happier moment, but K9472 was departing for some air firing practice on 29 October 1939 when the engine failed shortly after take-off.

The handwritten notes on the Air Ministry accident report card say the young pilot, Geoffrey Arthur Cyril Rhind, turned downwind towards the aerodrome, lost height and flew into a "cliff face".

"Should have landed straight ahead - not attempt to turn back on failing engine," it adds.

The Battle crashed and caught fire near to the tidal mill on the bank of Carew River, by Carew Castle.

All three on board were killed: Rhind, the pilot, plus his two crew: Bernard Connor and Ewart Wynne Looker. My picture was commissioned by Ewart Looker's brother, who has generously donated a print to the museum at Carew Cheriton Control Tower: look out for it if you are visiting.

The version of this picture that I made for him depicts the rear cockpit open and his brother manning the .303 Vickers K machine gun, which swivelled up into position from its stowed space in the fuselage.

OBSOLETE

It was interesting to research the aircraft. I had paid barely a passing glance to the restored one in the RAF Museum in London – which, I know now, had been recovered from a crash site in Iceland.

Fairey Aviation Company's design probably seemed like a good one when it was drawn up in the mid-1930s, with two little bomb bays in each wing, a .303 machine gun (just one) in the starboard wing and provision for a gunner with a similar size weapon at the back. The RAF ordered more than 2,400 of them, with I believe some 2,100 being delivered.

The heat and rapid pace of war however showed the Battle to be vulnerable: overloaded, underpowered and lacking defensive armament.

This has tended to make it a prime candidate for lists of "worst aircraft of WWII", but I think there is merit in the argument that its use as a light bomber in daylight and often unescorted doomed it to fail: no aircraft would have fared better.

During the Battle of France in 1940 Battles were deployed on low-level attacks against German troops and were shot to bits by ground fire and by Messerschmitt Bf 109s – much as the Germans' apparently successful blitzkreig dive bomber, the Ju-87 Stuka, was by the RAF's fighters when it crossed the English Channel.

So arguably it was not the aircraft that was wrong but the tactics.

UNRELIABLE

It is worth remembering that thousands of aircrew died during WWII not as a direct result of enemy action but in bad weather or in training or other non-operational flying like this.

The obvious perils of inexperience were compounded by the pressing need to get aircraft and aircrew into service as rapidly as possible, once the threat of war turned to actual conflict.

According to the RAF Museum, courses were shortened and capacity increased at flying training schools – except that equipment was in short supply, as were qualified flying instructors.

It was not until 1943 that the RAF really caught up with itself in terms of training enough aircrew.

Our pilot in this case had done his basic training in Perth then at No.10 Flying Training School at Ternhill, Shropshire, and had held his 'wings' for five months. The Air Ministry Form 1180 reporting the accident records that he had flown 204 hours solo, 37 on this type of aircraft.

Whatever its shortcomings as a fighting machine the Battle reportedly was straightforward to fly; a good training platform. This particular one, K9472, had been in service for nine months.

It also used the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, a Merlin II in this case. Merlin variants would become legendary in Hurricanes, Spitfires, Lancasters and Mosquitos, but the early ones had reliability problems, as our three young men on the training flight found to their cost.

Had they not been killed that October and had gone on to operational squadrons in Bomber Command, losses there were so high they would have had about a one-in-two chance of surviving the war.

MARKINGS

When it came to making my picture, I had to plump for one of at least four possible camouflage schemes, if I understand it correctly.

Fairey Battle camo schemes
A scheme (left) and B scheme

The Battles carried what was known as the temperate land scheme of dark earth and dark green, so that much is certain. And this was drawn to a pattern – but the pattern had two versions, A and B, which mirrored each other (right).

In addition, each of those could have the colours swapped. So that's the basic four possibilities. But from the photos I have seen, there seemed also to be variants within those patterns.

In the absence of actual photographs of the specific aircraft it boiled down to artistic licence.

I spent a good while studying the various markings that were applied to Battles in terms of wing and fuselage roundels, fin flash (or at this time, the absence of one), serial number (K9472) in black, most probably duplicated on fuselage and rudder, and squadron code letters in grey – WT-N in this case, but following the practice of having the individual letter towards the front and the squadron pair of letters (WT) aft of the roundel, so N-WT in my port side composition.

Not only did policy on all of these evolve as the RAF approached and went into actual combat, practice varied from squadron to squadron and, on any given squadron, between aircraft depending on newness, state of repair and repainting and so on.

I have not seen a single photograph of any 35 Squadron aircraft of this type, so I just gave it my best shot. If anyone has any photos, by the way, I would be delighted to get sight of them.

Whatever else you might say about the Fairey Battle's performance I think it looked good from any angle and makes for a fine portrait of an early WWII RAF fighting machine.

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To buy prints of any of my works please visit www.flightartworks.com.

I do private commissions, for individual aircraft or bigger scenes.  To get in touch visit the Contact page on my website. Find Flight Artworks on Facebook, on Twitter @flightartworks, and on Instagram @flight.artworks.


WW2 aircrew: heroism at such a young age

  Screen Shot 2017-07-27 at 15.32.58

Colchester, 27 July 2017

Listening to and reading about events in the air in World War 2, I never cease to be amazed by the youth of most of those involved. There is an example in one of my latest commissions, Lancaster KB799 Under Fire (above).

Usually, when people ask me to make a picture for them, we discuss some ideas and I start with a rough 'sketch' of a proposed composition.

In this case however, the sketch was provided by the client – because it had been made by the man whose aircraft I was being asked to depict, 419 Squadron's VR-W – known as "The Moose".

That's a spoiler, then: you now know that bomb aimer Norman V. "Norm" Hoas obviously survived his wartime service as a Flying Officer in the Royal Canadian Air Force Squadron and the loss of his Lancaster in January 1945, after which he was interned as a prisoner of war in Stalag XIII-B and in Stalag VII-A, Germany's largest prisoner-of-war camp, ironically near the town of Moosburg in southern Bavaria.

Here's his sketch, entitled Final Run (used with kind permission of the family):

Final Run by Norm Hoas courtesy of his familyHe also made a handwritten book about the events with maps and photographs – including scowling "mugshots" of himself taken by his German captors, on which he wrote: "My 'record' filched from the files at Moosburg" after the camp was liberated when a US tank drove through the gates. 

The Moose, an Avro Lancaster B.X, was the one-hundredth airframe of a batch of 300 built by Victory Aircraft at their plant in Malton, Ontario, and as a result became a bit of a media star as it was rolled out of the factory doors, with its Merlin 38 engines and paddle-bladed airscrews.

It was flown across the Atlantic, entering 419 Squadron's use in 1944 at RAF Middleton St George in the North East of England – now Durham Tees Valley Airport.

The Lancaster was formally named by Marguerite Ross, wife of Air Commodore Arthur Dwight Ross. It had distinctive nose art of a moose's head on either side of the fuselage below the cockpit. 

DETAILS

Norm had drawn it with a long pitot static mount, the only thing in his sketch I had good reason to doubt because a photograph of the aircraft showed it with the more compact, later style.

Usefully, from my point of view – because it was not in the photo – he also depicted the Standard Beam Approach aerial on the rear port fuselage. If you are not familiar with this, it was a development of the pre-war German Lorenz system, designed to guide aircraft safely to a runway in the dark and/or in poor weather.

Norm had the late-war, more bulbous nose blister to look through while lining up his bombsight. It had Z-gear fitted (the "spectacles" in the perspex, part of the IFF system).

There was an FN-50 mid-upper gun turret and not the Martin turret you might expect on a B.X Lancaster; and an FN20 rear turret with its four .303 Browning machine guns.

CONCENTRATED FLAK

Norm was part of a crew skippered by Norman Roger Vatne from Vancouver, British Columbia (who had been born in Minnesota USA). With their training completed at No. 22 Operational Training Unit and No. 1664 Conversion Unit, the crew were posted to 419, arriving in North Yorkshire in mid-1944. 

Let's jump forward to the operation I was concerned with. At 6.47pm on the evening of 14 January 1945 they set off, with 12 other aircraft from their squadron, to bomb the German synthetic oil factories at Merseberg, 60 miles south-east of Berlin, near Leipzig.

Over the target they were hit by concentrated anti-aircraft "flak". One burst punctured the starboard wing fuel tanks and fuel lines and started a fire.

Flying Officer Vatne put his aircraft into a series of dives to try to extinguish the spreading flames, and headed for the relative safety of Allied lines to the west. This is the point I have depicted.

DITCHING HATCH

The effort proved futile, however, and Vatne ordered his crew to bail out. At this point, the Lancaster was still at about 12,000ft (3,660m).

As he worked to hold the burning bomber steady the pilot had jettisoned the top hatch, above his head, ready to go himself.

As an aside, RAF training held that the Lancaster's three top hatches – of which this was the most forward – were intended to be used only if the aircraft were "ditched" into water. They explicitly were not supposed to be used as parachute exits.

For one thing they were too small. The considerable difficulty of trying to get out of them while wearing a parachute pack is illustrated in another picture of mine, showing Wireless Operator Bill Viollet's struggle to escape Lancaster LL743 after the attack on Mailly-le-Camp.

KB799's crew, descending under their parachutes, saw their Lancaster blow up in mid-air.

They discovered a couple of weeks later, after becoming prisoners of war, that their skipper had still been in it. 

KB799 was one of two Lancasters from this unit that failed to return from this operation. Noting its loss, 419 Squadron's operations record book says, "This was F/O Vatne's 31st sortie and would normally have been the last trip of his tour." He was 21. 

You might raise an eyebrow at that, because a normal tour for British and Commonwealth bomber crews was 30 'ops'. 

Norm Hoas, in his recollections, wrote: "Incidentally, we had completed our 'tour of operations' (30 trips). The 31st was only because there was a shortage of experienced crews." 

Compiled with information provided by the Hoas family. Further reading can be found on the 419 Squadron website.

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To buy prints of any of my works please visit www.flightartworks.com.

I do private commissions, for individual aircraft or bigger scenes.  To get in touch visit the Contact page on my website. Find Flight Artworks on Facebook, on Twitter @flightartworks, and on Instagram @flight.artworks.


The search for the Lancaster bagpipes kangaroo artist

PA474 photo and W5005 artwork
Left: PA474 this week (Photo: Clive Rowley). Right: detail from my depiction of W5005 in September 1943.

Colchester, 30 June 2017

The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight's much-loved Avro Lancaster, PA474, is back in the air after its long layoff for major maintenance and a repaint – which features a new livery and some striking nose art. 

My involvement in this story began last autumn with an invitation to create one of my Flight Artworks featuring the new paint scheme.

The BBMF needed publicity materials featuring pictures of their new-look aircraft, before the aircraft themselves had been repainted. This year two of their Spitfires were also getting a makeover – but those are separate stories.

In the Lancaster's case, the Flight's commanding officer, Squadron Leader Andy "Milli" Millikin, had decided the aircraft would have not one but two new identities.

Its port side would represent 460 (RAAF) Squadron Lancaster W5005 when it was coded AR-L and named "Leader". On starboard it would be VN-T of 50 Squadron, which Milli's grandfather, F/O Douglas Millikin, flew on most of his first tour of operations in WWII.

My brief however was to depict W5005 in 1943 – which had nose art of a red kangaroo in Wellington boots playing some bagpipes, supposedly indicating the origins of one of its crews: Australian, Welsh and Scottish.

I subsequently learnt that the 460 Squadron Veterans and Friends Group had been sounded out on possible aircraft as long ago as January 2016. They were delighted that their squadron was going to be honoured in this way.

Over the winter I found myself in an ad hoc project team that included the BBMF's indefatigable historian and publications editor, Sqdn Ldr Clive Rowley MBE (ret'd); the equally tireless Richard Munro of the 460 Veterans and Friends; and Flt Sgt Daryll Fell of the newly reformed 460 Squadron, now a Royal Australian Air Force intelligence unit.

BOMB TALLY

Clive had determined already through his researches that the Lancaster described in various sources as being the one that had carried this nose art, JB607, could not have done so. The tally of bombs painted alongside the kangaroo in various surviving photographs showed its aircraft had completed at least 30 operations – and JB607 had been shot down after only nine.

The 30 ops did match W5005's record – sort of. Painstaking reading through 460 Squadron's operational records books had thrown up a problem, however, until Clive realised how the three rows of yellow bomb symbols must have been painted: middle row first, then the third row (with ice cream cones signifying trips to Italy), then the partially completed top row, with red bombs denoting attacks on Berlin. 

One thing I was keen to know from the outset was who had painted the original nose art, which is of a good quality as these things go. As it turned out, this would prove to be a key piece of the jigsaw in identifying which crew had been flying W5005 when the kangaroo was painted – and, therefore, had probably 'commissioned' it.

Zooming in on a picture in the Australian War Memorial (AWM) archive suggested that, unusually, the work had been initialled: it looked to me like "F.W." but it was not clear on the low-resolution version available at the time. Rummaging around in aircrew and groundcrew records was not turning up any name that would definitely fit that.

CLINCHER 

Richard Munro had mentioned a newsletter article he had written in June 2009 about a 460 Squadron veteran who had made nose art and painted the bomb symbols recording aircraft operations. This was Fl Lt Thomas Victor ("Vic") Watts DFC & Bar. Richard contacted his daughter on the off-chance that he might have left a portfolio of some sort.

We agreed the initials might perhaps be "T.W." (Thomas Watts). Searching for that name in the AWM image collection I found a photo of Watts himself at work on another Lancaster.

Then the penny dropped. What if those indistinct initials were "V.W." ("Vic" Watts)? This picture on the left, which was not signed, showed Watts at work, according to the caption in the AWM archive. I reckoned the same artist might well have painted the nose art on the right – which was signed. 

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The clincher came from Vic Watts's daughter, Robyn Jackson. Based on my idea that the same artist had painted several aircraft, Richard contacted her and she sent him a scan of a photo – previously unpublished – of her father working on the kangaroo nose art. Richard thought it showed Watts doing a touchup job on the artwork, which might have been made earlier by someone else. 

I immediately realised this was Watts actually making the original painting. The reason I was so certain was that it was unfinished: the final version has musical notes floating up from the bagpipes - and they were not yet there in this photo. On a closer look, the bag on the pipes also lacked detail at this stage. 

All we had to do was count the bomb symbols alongside the picture and we would have a date.  Vic Watts painting kangaroo courtesy Robyn Jackson Unfortunately, real life is rarely that neat. As you can see, Vic Watts's arm gets in the way, as does one of the propeller blades of the aircraft's Number 2 engine.

Nevertheless the picture was 'gold dust', and Richard made a six-hour round trip to her farm to collect the original, in order to make a high-resolution scan. 

It was apparent that it showed certainly 12 operations, and because they were in rows of 12 there might be (out of sight) as many as 18. Either way that placed the likely commissioning crew as that of a Scotsman, Sergeant J D Ogilvie – unusually, a British pilot on an Australian squadron. 

Ogilvie's regular crew included three more Brits: wireless operator Sgt P W Moore, mid-upper gunner Sgt S F Hare, flight engineer Sgt John (Jack) "Mad Mac" Mckenzie, who came from Wales but had a Scottish father and a Welsh mother. The other three crew members were all Australians: navigator Sgt R J Garrett, bomb aimer F/O H G D Dedman and rear gunner Sgt J E Atherton.

Incidentally, although Vic Watts sang well and played several instruments, it seems he did not know much about the bagpipes. The Scots version he was presumably depicting usually has five pipes: the one you blow into, the "chanter" that you play the tune on, and three drones, as they are called, which sound constant notes – one much longer than the other two. His kangaroo has four drones the same length. Artistic licence.

TARTAN

There remained one glaring issue that our photographs could not help with: what colours he had used. An educated guess could be made on the kangaroo, given the orangey red hues of the real animal and the sort of paints Watts would have had available.

Wellington boots in those days were any colour you wanted, as long as it was black. I have never been convinced from interpreting the greyscale of the original photos that he had painted them black, but in the absence of any evidence, I went with the obvious solution.

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But then, crikey, the tartan on the bagpipes' bag cover. I ended up with some educated guesses based on various Ogilvie tartans, and experimented with converting these to greyscale images to see which most closely matched the originals – although anyone who has researched wartime images knows that interpreting colours is made tricky by variations in film, lens filters, processing techniques and developer filters.

I gave it my best shot. As PA474 was unveiled in the restoration hangar at Duxford, I was pleased to see that the 'official' version looked remarkably similar. Job done.

The wider search for information about the aircraft and its crews threw up errors in various official records and – to my surprise – logbooks in which the aircrew had written down incorrect serial numbers for aircraft they had been in, sometimes more than once. 

We also discovered why W5005's pilot at the date depicted in the bomb tally on PA474 (September 1943), 21-year-old William Edward Maxwell Bateman, was known by all as Jerry – and with that something of the troubled history of the pearl fishing industry in his home town, Broome in Western Australia. 

It had been a fascinating exercise that reminded us yet again of the enormous sacrifices made by these young men. 

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To buy prints of any of my works please visit www.flightartworks.com.

I do private commissions, for individual aircraft or bigger scenes.  To get in touch visit the Contact page on my website. Find Flight Artworks on Facebook, on Twitter @flightartworks, and on Instagram @flight.artworks.


Flight Artworks RAF Memorial Flight depictions unveiled

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Colchester, 26 April 2017

Three recent commissions of mine have now been published in full colour in the RAF Memorial Flight Official Club Yearbook: a terrific read, by the way, and well worth getting hold of even if you are not a member of the club. 

They are all available as prints in various formats, sizes and prices through the Flight Artworks website and authorised print partners. 

As you can see above I put together a loose 'finger four' of Desert Air Force Spitfire Mk IX fighters from 92 Squadron over Tunisia, which forms the top of a double-page spread. In the foreground is EN152 QJ-3 - the scheme that the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight's MK356 is going to represent (even though it is a different mark). I wrote previously about the research that went into the colour scheme for that. 

NOSE ART

Another is my dive bombing scene featuring low-back, clipped-wing Supermarine Spitfire XVI TD240 when it was the aircraft of the Officer Commanding No 131 (Polish) Wing, Gp Capt Aleksander Gabszewicz in 1945. It carried his colourful boxing dog nose art. This is the scheme that the BBMF's XVI, TE311, is being repainted to represent. 

Kangaroo nose art Gary Eason after Vic WattsThere is more colourful nose art for BBMF Lancaster PA474 as it morphs into W5005, AR-L for Leader of 460 Squadron RAAF at the end of September 1943. 

This showed a kangaroo in Wellington boots playing bagpipes - a reflection of the tri-national Australian, Scottish and Welsh crew who commissioned it from squadron artist Vic Watts.

The story of how we pinned down the details of who created the original nose art, and when, and what the colours might have been (only black and white photos exist) bears telling separately in full. Look out for a future blog on the subject. 

PA474 is being repainted to depict W5005 on its port side although, following convention, it will retain its own serial number I understand. On starboard PA474 will be the 50 Squadron Lancaster LL922 / VN-T. I have now also depicted that reincarnation. 

COVER PICTURES

The latest piece out of the Flight Artworks studio is an air-to-air visualisation of the only extant Supermarine Swift F4, WK275. Its restored (but not airworthy) airframe currently resides alongside Avro Vulcan XH558, sadly no longer flying either. 

Swifts were not the most successful aircraft ever deployed by the RAF and not many were made but they had a certain style, I think you'll agree. A very different version of the picture will be appearing as a book cover later this year. 

Talking of covers, if you wondered who created the Sea Harrier artwork for the cover of the May issue of The Armourer magazine about the Falklands War - that would be me

[A version of this article, with a special discount offer, appeared in a newsletter to registered users of the Flight Artworks website]. 

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To buy prints of any of my works please visit www.flightartworks.com.

I do private commissions, for individual aircraft or bigger scenes.  To get in touch visit the Contact page on my website. Find Flight Artworks on Facebook, on Twitter @flightartworks, and on Instagram @flight.artworks.


Westland Lysander on clandestine operation

Westland Lysander secret ops Gary Eason

Colchester 18 April 2017

On a moonlit night in July 1944, an RAF Westland Lysander IIIA comes in low over a field of lavender in the South of France, to land on the makeshift grass airstrip beyond.

On board are three passengers, who disembark down the Lysander’s fixed ladder, while three others get in for the trip back out to its forward operating base in the Mediterranean island of Corsica.

This was the second attempt at the secret operation codenamed Tamise. The first run, two nights previously, had had to be abandoned because of heavy cloud and electric storms - as well as flak and a night fighter to evade, according to the book We Landed by Moonlight (Secret Landings in France 1940-1944) by another Lysander pilot, Group Captain Hugh Verity.

There should have been two Lysanders but the other was unable to locate the landing zone, which was codenamed “Spitfire”. It went back successfully two nights later to finish the job.

Their contact on the ground was the Service d'Atterrissages and Parachutages (SAP) officer “Archiduc” - real name Camille Rayon. Among the agents brought out on the first trip was Neil Marten, later the MP for Banbury, who worked with the Resistance in France and in Norway during the war.

SEARCH FOR INFORMATION

His pilot, the subject of my depiction (right), was Flying Officer Henri “Frankie” Franklin of 148 (Special Duties) Squadron - but he knew nothing about the individuals in the back of his aircraft. Following standard protocol they were all - men and women - just “Joes” to the RAF aircrew who transported them.

Frankie Franklin detail Gary EasonThe squadron, comprising mostly Handley Page Halifax aircraft, was at this time in WWII based in Brindisi in Italy, reaching out to partisan fighters in Northern Italy, Yugoslavia and Poland. But the Lysanders of ‘C’ flight were detached to Corsica.

My picture was commissioned by one of F/O Franklin’s nieces. My researches into the details of the aircraft - such as whether it carried the squadron's identification letters, FS - led me via the Operation: Dark of the Moon website about 148 Squadron, and its associated forum, where Bill Pogson kindly passed on my request for information and I was contacted by the author Oliver Clutton-Brock. By chance he has just completed a history of 148 Squadron, which is due to be published shortly.

He had been in touch with Franklin’s daughters and had a copy of the pilot’s logbook.

"Nothing interesting, I’m afraid, Gary. Just that he took in 3 Joes and brought 3 out in Lysander IIIA '9498'. The Tamise trip, at night, took 4 hrs 35 mins," he reported.

"As to whether or not the Lysanders carried FS on their fuselage or not I can’t say for certain one way or the other, but the evidence would suggest that they didn’t."

One of Franklin's daughters very kindly provided me with photographs she had taken - one of which forms part of the background in my picture - and a map compiled by Air-Britain historian Serge Blandin, which had helped her to pinpoint the site on a recent visit.

LAVENDER FIELD

This is remote countryside. Even to this day the roads in the immediate vicinity are just dirt tracks. The grass landing field, now marked by a small information board, was approached over a field of lavender.

The board commemorates an action a month later on the same field when a much bigger, twin-engined RAF Dakota aircraft from 267 Squadron dropped key French personnel ahead of the Allied landings on the south coast.

It tried to bring out 31 passengers, including US airmen who had been evading the Germans and Vichy French forces after being shot down. But its undercarriage became entangled in the lavender strip that you see in my picture, which had been planted across the middle of the grass to disguise its use as a runway. Eight of the passengers had to be ordered out by “Archiduc” before the Dakota could manage the take-off from the shortened field.

The Dakota and its crew went back the following night as they had promised. But if you need an indication of just how dangerous these operations were, no-one was there to meet them and the isolated farm adjacent to the field - Le Castellet - had been burnt down, its occupants shot by the Germans.

This Dakota operation formed the basis of a fictionalised account by English author Deborah Lawrenson: it forms the starting point for The Lavender Field, the mid-section of her triptych novel The Sea Garden.

Ms Lawrenson, who lives in the south of France, also kindly passed on to me what she knew about the scene.

TOUGH JOB

The quirky-looking but rugged Lysander, with its automatic wing slats, variable incidence tailplane and solid undercarriage, and a fixed ladder on the port side for rapid access by passengers, was perfect for these clandestine operations on short, makeshift strips in occupied territory.

It had been designed in the 1930s to be an army co-operation aircraft, providing photographic reconnaissance and eyes in the sky for artillery units. It proved too slow for that, but splendidly capable for these secret ops - and for its other main niche role, air-sea rescue.

The pilots who undertook the missions behind enemy lines performed brilliant feats of navigation, alone and at night with only the most basic equipment.

Grp Capt Verity, speaking to the RAF Historical Society in the late 1980s, described how the planning process involved picking good landmarks along the way.

Pilots would then cut up 1:500,000-scale maps to cover 50 miles on each side of the  planned track and fold them like a concertina, with a larger scale section for the target area.

They memorised the key features and compass bearings. They then flew the planned headings and speeds very accurately until any error in the forecast wind showed up as they drifted off course - after which some mental geometry was used to adjust accordingly.

The final, short leg was a timed run to where the target should be "when, lo and behold, you would see the agreed Morse letter flashing up from the dark ground - and that was really quite a thrill".

Remarkable.

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To buy prints of any of my works please visit www.flightartworks.com.

I do private commissions, for individual aircraft or bigger scenes.  To get in touch visit the Contact page on my website. Find Flight Artworks on Facebook, on Twitter @flightartworks, and on Instagram @flight.artworks.


Desert camouflage Spitfire EN152

Spitfire EN152 over Gulf of Tunis Gary Eason

Colchester, 30 January 2017

Maybe it is the relative unfamiliarity but I think there is something undeniably cool about the desert camouflage the RAF and Allies used in their combat operations in North Africa and the Mediterranean during WWII. 

Dark earth and mid stone paintwork, scuffed by the sand and faded by the heat and dust, blends perfectly with the landscapes they were operating over. My latest picture highlights it by isolating the aircraft over water, but with complementary light on the horizon. 

The guys who had to fly, maintain and live alongside these aircraft in such inhospitable conditions might take a different view but to me, the grit of their endeavours as the battle ebbed and flowed across North Africa only adds to the drama.

You might have seen my picture on the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (Official) page on Facebook.

My commission was to recreate a particular Spitfire: a Mk IXc, EN152 - QJ-3 as it was coded with No 92 (East India) Squadron in the Desert Air Force. This is the scheme that their IXe, MK356, is going to be repainted to represent - while retaining its very different broad chord rudder and cannon configuration. 

As so often I was working with a fuzzy, black-and-white photograph as the basis for my artwork. But it did mean I knew for sure what the aircraft looked like. Anyone familiar with the tropicalised "lantern jaw" Mk V Spitfires, with the hulking great Vokes dust filters under their chins, might be surprised to find that these Mk IX variants had nothing like that, just the short carburettor air intake tucked under the fuselage.

Their impact on the air warfare was inspirational though. Whereas the Allied pilots had found their mounts completely outclassed by the latest German Me 109 and Fw 190 fighters, they were now right back in the game. 

Having a photograph also meant educated deductions could be made about colours - but a red herring (or should I say, yellow one) had to be dealt with too. 

YELLOW

From what I can glean, 92 Squadron used either red or a sort of blue-grey colour for its identifying letters, QJ, depending on the flight of aircraft. In the photo they were obviously dark, so much so they are all but illegible. Probably red, then. The '3' on the other hand was clearly white.

In Tunisia in the spring of 1943 you might expect the airscrew spinner to have been red. But it very obviously is much darker than the grey shade of the known reds: those in the red, white and blue (and yellow) fuselage roundel and fin flash in the photograph. Almost certainly it was black - or more likely 'night'.

The only caveat was that the photo had no date but there is another photo of another 92 Squadron aircraft,  EN458 (QJ-10) captioned Bou Goubrine, Tunisia, spring 1943, which has the same colouration. 

The yellow herring: the standard C1-type RAF roundel these aircraft wore at this time had a yellow outer circle. The trouble was that in our fuzzy photo there was no sign of it. Had it been omitted for some reason?

In the end I reckoned a more likely explanation was the nature of the film and/or the filtering used in the camera or processing, making the yellow invisible. I soon found other photos of 92 Squadron aircraft in which the same thing had happened - including two photos of one particular aircraft, Squadron Leader Jefferson Wedgewood's Mk V, BR476, both taken in Libya in late 1942. In one of these there is almost no discernible yellow and in the other it is plain as day (albeit in monochrome obviously).

CAMOUFLAGE PATTERN

The overall desert camouflage scheme itself was not something I have had dealings with before. Having looked into the subject, it throws up the old familiar can of worms you get with almost anything about WWII aircraft. A reasonable assumption would be that EN152 had had its desert colours applied at the factory, in what was known as the A fighter scheme.

Yet that very obviously did not fit with what I could see in the photo, and it soon became apparent that various desert schemes were in use: not just the A scheme but with its colours reversed (that is, swapped over - not mirrored, as in the defunct B scheme). The key, as so often, was to have a photo of the aircraft in question. I had one, so I went with what I could see.

For now I am offering a solo portrait of EN152 as QJ-3, depicted over the Gulf of Tunis. It is available in the WWII Fighters gallery on my website, and through authorised print outlets. A bigger picture will follow in due course. 

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To buy prints of any of my works please visit www.flightartworks.com.

I do private commissions, for individual aircraft or bigger scenes.  To get in touch visit the Contact page on my website. Find Flight Artworks on Facebook, on Twitter @flightartworks, and on Instagram @flight.artworks.