History

Topsy turvy new Flight Artworks picture published

 

Spitfire PS915 Clive Rowley inverted Gary Eason 1000
Spitfire PR XIX PS915 inverted


Colchester, 24 April 2018

It is always a bit of a strange feeling when pictures that you finished some months previously under embargo are finally published and suddenly now in the public eye.

I was delighted to find a copy of the latest RAF Memorial Flight Yearbook waiting for me on my return from a wonderful week in the remote Mani peninsula in the Greek Peloponnese - there'll be more photos from there on the photography side of my website shortly.

I was asked to make two pictures for the 2018 Yearbook. One is a fairly straightforward depiction of a Battle of Britain Spitfire - except that, of course, every picture has a story to tell.

In this case it's about "nine lives" Al Deere, the New Zealand fighter pilot who, one way or another, by his own account should have lost his life in multiple scrapes.

I was called on to portray the Spitfire he named "Kiwi III" during one of those sudden lulls in a hair-raising aerial combat maelstrom, off the North Foreland of Kent in the summer of 1940.

IN THE CAN

The reason for it, I was told last October, was that one of the BBMF's Spitfires, venerable P7350, would be going in for a major servicing and would emerge in a new colour scheme: Al Deere’s 54 Squadron Battle of Britain Spitfire Mk1 R6981, which carried the codes KL-B.

 

Al Deere Spitfire Kiwi III North Foreland Gary Eason
Al Deere in Kiwi III

As usual, they would not have any photos of the new scheme until the Yearbook had appeared, which is where I came in. And of course - no surprise - there were no actual photos of the original aircraft. Got that T-shirt.

By a brilliant bit of happenstance, from my point of view, I had shot some photographs of that precise location at about the right altitude a few months earlier - rather bizarrely (in the circumstances) as my wife and I were returning from ... Deere's home country, New Zealand.

Background sorted, with the addition of some weather to suit the reports from that day, I screwed the rivets and painted the codes onto his Spitfire - along with my best guess at what his Kiwi logo might have been like. You can find the finished version here on the Flight Artworks website

The next request was, technically, much more interesting. It was to illustrate a very personal anecdote by the memorial flight's sometime commanding officer, now historian and publications editor, Squadron Leader (Rtd) Clive Rowley MBE, about the time he was displaying Spitfire PR XIX PS915 in the Isle of Man and the undercarriage jammed up.

Cutting it short: the techies advised that he would have to fly straight and level upside down to get it to deploy.

I learnt more than I thought I would ever need to know about Spitfire landing gear in making this one. For example: those little loops sticking out from the main "oleo" legs? I had never really noticed them before - but those are where the locking pins go that hold the gear up when retracted. And thereby hangs the whole story.

OLEO LOADING

Gear deployment? It's a close thing but the port wheel travels first, then the starboard - so it needed to be shown "legs akimbo". I hope I got the differential about right.

And artistic licence, frankly, on what the oleos look like when not under load but upside down and therefore under their own, unaccustomed, gravity loading.

Short of getting someone to do it again so we can watch, I daresay no-one knows what this actually looks like so my picture might be unique in that regard.

In other details: at the time, PS915 was wearing the 152 Squadron South East Asia Command (SEAC) colouring of UM-G, which had the squadron’s leaping black panther on the fuselage.

I love those five-bladed props, by the way. 

Well, probably not a best seller as a picture but a fascinating one to work on. Here is my finished version.

Enjoy the Yearbook: it's a terrific read.

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

As well as commercial assignments 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.


Lancaster pilot recalls first operation 73 years later

Lancaster LM227 I-Item above clouds in September 1944
RAF Lancaster LM227 I-Item in September 1944

Colchester, 3 April 2018

This is a picture I made a while ago – almost exactly a year, in fact – but I'm returning to it after a fascinating e-mail exchange.

The picture originally showed RAF Avro Lancaster LM227 which carried the codes UL-I2 "Item" of 576 Squadron based at RAF Elsham Wolds in Lincolnshire.

I wanted to depict a Lancaster in daylight, as if returning from an operation perhaps. As you probably know by now, I usually try to make my Flight Artworks about actual events or at least actual aircraft.

Any aircraft is going to have serial numbers on it, and they are going to relate to a real airframe, and that is going to have had real people on board, who went on actual operations, and so on.

I settled on this one because there were a few old photographs in existence of the original, from which I could discern various details: what type of pitot static tube, what aerials were or were not fitted, whether it had an H2S radome, 'window' chute, etc.

Once I had published my picture I was contacted by the son of one of the aircraft's mid-upper gunners, Sgt Kevin Oliver, who said it was a pity I hadn't shown it in its colours from the autumn of 1944 by which time it carried rather striking nose art showing a ringed planet and some stars.

As a result, I made a version that includes that artwork – acknowledging its creator, engine fitter Norman Bryan, who was part of LM227's regular ground crew. I chose to imagine it returning from an operation to Calais on 27 September 1944. This was the Oliver crew's first trip in it.

BAPTISM OF FIRE

Fast forward to the other day when another e-mail arrived – from none other than the pilot of the Lancaster that I had depicted, Derek Till, now aged 95 and living in Massachusetts, USA.

"We added 28 sorties to 'Item' and completed our 35 op tour on 576 Squadron," he told me.

I asked if he could remember any more about that operation, so I could add it to the information accompanying my picture.

"Our first trip was supposed to be a Calais raid on September 24th, but 'Item' blew a tyre as we were taxiing out for take-off and we had to abort," he told me.

"Thus we were anxious to go on the 27th. Calais promised to be a short and relatively simple trip for our baptism of fire, nonetheless we took off nervous and bit scared!

"Fortunately, the adrenaline kicked in as we approached the target and saw the bomb bursts from the Lancs ahead of us. As we had hoped, we saw no fighters, the flack was relatively light and we dropped our bombs according to plan.

"We returned to Elsham in good weather, very happy and relieved after our 3½-hour trip. (Incidentally, the average time for the 35 ops of our tour was 6½ hours.)"

LOST TOUCH

Derek Till said he was "brought up short" when I mentioned the connection with his air gunner, Kevin Oliver.

When his crew completed their tour of operations they celebrated in the pubs of Lincoln then went on two weeks' leave.

He was recalled after one week, however, and put on a troopship for India. He learned later that he was destined to become part of the so-called Tiger Force being established to bomb Japan from Okinawa – which, in the event, never happened.

As a result he never saw his old crew again to exchange addresses and completely lost touch with all but one of them (the flight engineer, Derek Holland).

So I was pleased to be able to put him in touch with Sgt Oliver's son, Gordon.

If anyone has any information on the others, I am sure he would love to hear it and I will be delighted to pass it on.

THE CREW

Pilot: F/O Derek Till

Flight engineer: Sgt Derek Holland

Bomb aimer: F/O John Shorthouse

Navigator: F/O Charles Bray

Wireless operator: F/O Geoff Griggs RAAF

Mid-upper gunner: Sgt Kevin Oliver

Rear gunner: Sgt Bob Hamilton

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

As well as commercial assignments 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 challenge: two-seat Spitfires and a Hispano Buchon

Spitfire TR 9 and Buchon Gary Eason
Spitfire TR9s and Buchon fighter affiliation experience

Colchester, 27 February 2018

This one turned my usual work upside down.

The normal Flight Artworks brief is to use the 'time travel' button on my custom-built Nikon camera (cough) to create high-resolution colour pictures of aircraft – mostly from WWII, when there was a lot of aerial combat and very few photographs.

A client who has been lucky enough to have made several flights in various warbirds, including three Spitfires, asks if I can recreate the "untoppable experience" of a fighter affiliation trip with another two-seat Spitfire and a Hispano Buchon in Messerschmitt Bf109 markings.

He has some photographs from the day, taken on the ground and in the air. In which case, I wonder, what does he want me to do?

When I see them I get the point. It was a dull day with low cloud, and possibly rain – and it is very hard to convey the overall experience when you're in the back of one of the Spitfires. He is looking for something that reminds him of the overall sensations.

The essential set-up was a tailchase. Following my usual practice, I sketch something that has the Spitfires up front - with 'his' in the foreground - and the Buchon off to the rear. I substitute a sunny day with fluffy clouds.

He would prefer to have them all in the front of the frame and after juggling various ideas my fifth sketch hits the spot: "That's it - you've nailed it - that will look glorious."

And so to work.

REFLECTIONS

Which brings me back to where I started. The gloriously restored and maintained 'warbirds' that we see flying around are, understandably, so lovingly cared for that they positively gleam. Under wartime constraints that had to come low on the list of priorities.

There is a theoretical debate to be had about the nature of paint finishes, cleaning, polishing-for-speed and so on – but in practice, in general terms, working aircraft looked up-close ... well, rather like the boot sill of my car on a February weekend after the dogs have been tearing around in the muddy woods all afternoon.

To that end, I keep a stock of textures in Lightroom that are layered onto pictures I'm making as "grime", "grubbiness", "smears", "streaks" and so on.

For this picture, with three beautifully presented, preserved aircraft to depict, I was instead having to find out much more about applying reflections – which proved to be a very useful exercise in both observation and Photoshop work. 

In the final composition, all three are turning in the same direction but the centrepiece, with my client in the rear seat, is coming in over the top and partly inverted.

THE AIRCRAFT

His mount for the day was Supermarine Spitfire MJ627 in the markings of 9G-P of 441 (Silver Fox) Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), the unit it first served with as a Mk LF.IXc in 1944. 

Spitfire TR9 MJ627 cutout Gary Eason
Tandem Spitfire MJ627

From what I have read, after the war it was converted to a two-seat trainer for the Irish Air Corps, but subsequently pillaged for spare parts until it was purchased for restoration in the 1970s, eventually flying again in 1993. 

It has continued in flying trim ever since, apart from repairs after a forced landing in the late 90s, and is now operated by Warbird Experiences Limited at Biggin Hill. Since the flight depicted here - which was in 2014 - it has been re-coded as 9G-Q, its first operational designation, with its D-Day stripes pared down to the undersides only.

Spitfire TR9 SM520 Gary Eason
Spitfire TR9 SM520

The other Spitfire is SM520, built in 1944 but not used operationally until being sold to the South African Air Force (SAAF) four years later. It suffered two accidents and was sold for scrap in 1954.

A quarter of a century later some of its major parts were recovered and eventually returned to the UK as a restoration project, involving conversion to its current TR 9 two-seat configuration. It is now owned by Boultbee Flight Academy and flies in the markings of an RAF two-seater that was converted from a 4 Squadron SAAF Mk V Spitfire in Sicily: KJ-I.

The Buchon is a film star. HA-112-M1L wears the 'Yellow 10' markings it wore as one of the stand-ins for German Luftwaffe Messerschmitt Bf 109s in the 1969 film Battle of Britain.

Hispano Buchon G-BWUE Gary Eason
Hispano Buchon G-BWUE

These were Spanish-built versions of the 109 which used Rolls-Royce Merlin engines, like the early Spitfire marks.

This machine, built in 1959, was one of a batch of aircraft given to the American pilot Wilson 'Connie' Edwards for his work on the Battle of Britain film. Sold back to UK owners in the 1990s it is now operated by Historic Flying Ltd, based at Duxford airfield in Cambridgeshire, with the UK registration G-BWUE.

Not having a model of a TR.9 to hand to work from, my starting point was a Mk IX which I then had to cut up and rebuild digitally. This is not just a case of shoehorning in the extra rear seat, but also involves moving the front cockpit forwards by just over a foot (0.3m).

So, not my usual cup of tea but very interesting to work on. When I began the picture I was not particularly fond of the tandem Spits; they just looked messed about, to my eye, a corruption of the superbly elegant lines of the Spitfire airframe.

But I have to say they grew on me, and now I think the shape works rather well. And I should think none of us would object to being put in one!

I learn from the fascinating Two Seat Spitfire Page on Facebook that there are currently eight airworthy two-seaters in the world and no fewer than six in various stages of repair/restoration and construction. So whatever you think of them, we are going to be seeing more in the skies.

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To commission something or to buy prints of any of my works please visit www.flightartworks.com: this is the Contact page. Find Flight Artworks on Facebook, on Twitter @flightartworks, and on Instagram @flight.artworks.


Beaufighter strike on "butterfly bombs" raid

Beaufighter_VI_NF_attack_Gary_Eason sm
"Moonlight Predator": Bristol Beaufighter VI

Colchester, 13 January 2018 

My most recently completed commission gives us an insight into the nature of radar-driven airborne interception in WWII, and the rapid progress in this field that had been made by British scientists.

But it also highlights the Germans' use of a sinister weapon that I had not known about until now.

It's 14 June, 1943. Bristol Beaufighter VI nightfighter V8738, WM-L of No 68 Squadron - seconded to 604 Squadron at RAF Scorton in North Yorkshire - is off the coast of Scarborough liaising with a radar station at Goldsborough, a little further up the coast.

The "Chain Home Low" radar is part of the system used to detect low-flying (down to about 500ft) Luftwaffe attackers since the Battle of Britain, two years earlier.

In the meantime however there has been a quantum leap in RAF night fighter capability. Not only is the Beaufighter equipped with its own airborne radar, it is sporting the latest Mk VIII version that has shifted up a gear into microwave frequencies, vastly improving the accuracy of the system and giving it a range of about 5.5 miles (8.9 km).

Having dispensed with the need for external aerials, this is now housed in a cone-shaped dish within the dolphin-like nose extension fitted to the Bristol Aeroplane Company's twin-engined aircraft.

The pilot, Flying Officer DB "Bernie" Wills and his navigator, Flying Officer GA "Peter" Ledeboer, have been operating at about 3,000ft above the North Sea.

At about 0130 they are suddenly diverted to try to intercept raiders approaching from the east and south-east at about 5,000ft. Their sector controller directs them for about 15 minutes then hands them back to CHL Goldsborough and a Flight Lieutenant Ross.

"I have some trade for you," he tells them, according to the secret RAF Intelligence Form F and their combat report, filed later.

After a few slight adjustments to their southerly course, they get a radar "contact" about 3.5 miles away at their 4 o'clock, on a bearing of 280 degrees (back towards the coast), doing 230 knots (about 264mph). 

INCOMING RAID

German pilot Oberleutnant Friedrich Fritz Sünnemann, 33, hails from the little medieval town of Aschersleben in Saxony-Anhalt. Over the past four years he has flown Junkers Ju 52 and Ju 86 aircraft, Heinkel He 111s and Dornier Do 17s.

He is now flying Do 217s with 5./KG-2, based at Soesterberg in The Netherlands. He and his three crew - observer Heinz Orchel, wireless operator Gerhard Duwe and gunner Heinz Oesterle - are part of a raid comprising six other KG-2 Do 217s and 33 Junkers Ju 88 bombers from KG-6 that are intending to hit the port of Grimsby in three waves.

But their Do 217E-4 aircraft, works number 4376, coded "U5 + BN", is now being stalked invisibly by Wills and Ledeboer.

Wills swings the RAF night fighter onto a south-westerly heading and closes gradually to about 1,000ft behind the Dornier, when he can see its silhouette against the clear, brightly moonlit sky.

At a range of 600ft, directly behind it, Wills thumbs the cannon firing button and the four 20mm Hispanos under the Beaufighter's nose send 118 rounds towards the Dornier.

The front of it explodes. Bits "flew off in all directions". Taking no evasive action, the enemy aircraft falls away to their starboard "in a mass of flames" and they see it hit the sea, debris burning on the water for some time.

CASUALTIES

My depiction of these events was commissioned by the son of Flying Officer Wills, who has his logbooks covering his first training flights at Moose Jaw in Canada in 1940, right through until he retired from flying in the RAF in the early 60's.

His entry for this night notes the enemy aircraft as, he thought, a Junkers Ju 188 – although the intelligence report says it was "thought to be a Heinkel He 177".

It is only with the benefit of post-war research, the assistance of a Luftwaffe and Allied air forces discussion forum, and various databases, that I was able to point to the only likely casualties of the night's events.

I was struck by the clinical precision with which the intercept was carried out on the RAF side. We expect this sort of technology-driven warfare these days; perhaps not so much in 1943.

But there is a horrible twist to this story that you might not have heard about. I hadn't.

CLUSTER BOMBS

Although Wills brought down one of the raiders, most got through – and inflicted terror on Grimsby that people still remember. As well as high-explosive and incendiary ordnance, the German aircraft were carrying so-called "butterfly bombs". 

These Sprengbombe Dickwandig 2kg, or SD2, were - in modern parlance - cluster sub-munitions. The aircraft dropped a casing that burst open to deploy 23 of the "bomblets": 76 mm (3 in) long iron cylinders that flipped out "wings" - hence the name. These spun in the airflow to arm a fuse. They had only 225g of explosive but could kill people within at least 10m (33ft) and maim over 10 times that area.

Even worse, their fuses were often delayed. So they were strewn around and looked like objects of curiosity – especially to youngsters. And there were several thousand of them all over Grimsby and Cleethorpes.

The result was that 14 people were killed during the raid – and some 47 over the next day.

I cannot say whether the Dornier that Wills and Ledeboer shot down was carrying these munitions. Are they what scattered in all directions so explosively when their cannon shells struck it?

Circumstantial evidence suggests that might have been the case and that the RAF airmen, with their airborne radar technology, prevented at least some of them being dropped on the port.

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

As well as commercial assignments 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.


RAF Mosquitos in Norway fjord are latest Flight Artworks depiction

© Gary Eason: image from www.flightartworks.com
"RAF Mosquitos in Norway fjord attack"

Colchester, 16 December 2017

Firstly a big 'thank you' to all the new Flight Artworks customers as a result of a surge of orders recently: your business is very much appreciated.

Note that Monday 18 December is the last ordering date for photographic and canvas prints in time for pre-Christmas delivery in the UK – although you can now order Gift Vouchers electronically at any time.

I am working on a series of commissions, which I will have more to say about in the new year. If the idea of having a relative's (or your own) aviation experience feature in a unique picture to hang on the wall is something that might appeal, do get in touch for a no-obligation quote. My last client did just that and is now eagerly awaiting a 36x24" canvas print of one of his father's Beaufighter night fighter exploits. 

DARING

Otherwise my latest picture(above) leads on from one I made this summer and features a cluster of DH98 Mosquito fighter bombers opening their attack in a Norwegian fjord. As usual there is also a black-and-white version. 

Rather than depicting any specific action, this features the sort of daring, low-level operation that the Banff Strike Wing was undertaking – at great risk – in 1944/45.

I have shown a typical mix of squadrons. Opening fire is a Mosquito from No. 333 (Norwegian) Squadron, accompanied by another from No. 143 Squadron, with others beyond.

Following my customary practice, the aircraft are ones that did actually fly together, and the composition gave me the opportunity to show their mixed weapons loads and aircraft camouflage schemes.

I hope it appeals to fans of the Mosquito – and who isn't?

By the way, if you are on Instagram do look me up at @flight.artworks

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

As well as commercial assignments 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.


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 MBE. 

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.

 

 


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
Fairey Battle in flight

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

 

Lancaster_KB799_under_fire © Gary_Eason
"Lancaster KB799 under fire"

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 family
Final Run by Norm Hoas: courtesy of his family

He 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. 

 

AWM: photographers unknown
Vic Watts at work (left) and another of his nose art paintings. AWM: photographers unknown

 

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
Vic Watts painting the kangaroo, courtesy of Robyn Jackson. Photographer unknown

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. (Incidentally, I have no idea who took the photograph: if anyone does know, do please get in touch.) 

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.

 

Screen Shot of some of my tartan colour tests
Some of my tartan colour tests


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.