History

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.

---------------------------

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. 

Screen Shot 2017-07-06 at 11.25.50

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.

Screen Shot 2017-07-06 at 11.54.47
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. 

---------------------------

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

34283731135_b76a35a2a7_b

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]. 

---------------------------

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.

---------------------------

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. 

---------------------------

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.


Polish 'boxing bulldog' Spitfire TD240

Screen Shot 2017-01-05 at 20.47.36

Artwork © Gary Eason 2017 / Flight Artworks

Colchester, 4 January 2017

Let's get the new year off to a flying start with this new depiction of what is going to be the new paint scheme for the RAF's Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Spitfire TE311.

When eventually their Mk XVI emerges from its repaint it will be sporting the colours of TD240 when it was the aircraft usually flown by the Officer Commanding No 131 (Polish) Wing, Group Captain Aleksander Gabszewicz VM KW DSO DFC, during the last weeks of the Second World War and into the summer of 1945.

It was common practice among RAF officers of his rank to have their own initials on 'their' aircraft, but his was coded SZ-G as if it were still part of his old unit, 316 Squadron.

It did have his group captain's pennant on the side of the cockpit, and the red and white Polish checkerboard emblem (szachownica lotnicza), with the word POLAND beneath it, on the nose.

But far and away its most striking feature was the colourful boxing bulldog artwork alongside these, the last and largest of similar artworks he had on his various aircraft.

DISNEY

I had been under the impression until I researched this that the "boxing bulldog" - wearing Polish national team colours and a flying helmet - had been created by a member of Gabszewicz's ground crew who was an accomplished boxer.

But the story has been muddied by the existence of another, celebrated and very similar artwork by none other than Walt Disney, of the legendary cartoon studios.

It seems Disney created a boxing bulldog in an almost identical pose, and set up a team that made numerous other insignias, as a contribution to the US war effort - in this case as the emblem for the 62nd Fighter Squadron, 56th Fighter Group, as this Luke Air Force Base article shows.

Gabszewicz flew with the 56th on secondment in late 1943/early 1944 when it was suffering from a shortage of pilots.

I cannot say at this stage who first came up with the design. I am sure the BBMF will have the full story in due course.

But another version of the nose art was adopted by No. 135 (Fighter) Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force as its emblem.

PREVIOUSLY

I believe TD240 was next flown by Squadron Leader Boleslaw Kaczmarek with of RAF No. 302 (Polish) Squadron, until August 1945, whereupon it was re-coded as WX-V.

Those with longer memories might recall having seen a version of the scheme before on another Spitfire, MH434 operated by the Old Flying Machine Company. It carried a smaller artwork and SZ-G codes for just over a year between 1997 and 1998.

Now the full size, final iteration will be appearing on the same type of airframe as Gabszewicz's original: the Memorial Flight's clipped wing LF Mk XVIe (MH434 is an elliptical wing Mk IX).

I am portraying TD240 as it was in 1945 in this air-to-air depiction; in keeping with their usual practice, I believe TE311 will continue to bear its own serial number. I am sure many other images will follow once the real thing is unveiled later in 2017.

---------------------------

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 Halifax, the night fighter ace, and the crew that got away

Halifax III above clouds Gary Eason

Colchester, 3 December 2016

My latest picture features a Handley Page Halifax III of 158 Squadron. On the night of 12 May 1944 it headed for a target in Belgium – and did not come back.

But the crew all did, eventually.

The story was not one I knew about when I started making the picture, which is the opposite of how things normally go.

More often than not I am either working on a scene that I have had on my lengthy 'to do' list for a while, or I have been commissioned by a relative or an editor to make a picture focusing on a particular event.

In this case there was a peg of sorts - just a suggestion from someone whose parents were both in 158 Squadron during the Second World War. As she put it, "my dad was with the 'u bend em we mend' group, and mom was a cook in the sergeants' mess".  

In that sense they were not affiliated with any particular aircraft. As I was minded to make a Halifax III anyway I set about browsing my books and the internet for a likely candidate.

By and by I stumbled across HX334, based at RAF Lissett in Yorkshire, which carried the NP-C codes of 158 Squadron.

It was shot down by a Luftwaffe night fighter over Belgium early on 13 May 1944 after bombing the railway yards at Hasselt - one of some 15 attacks on the same target in less than two months, as the Allies attempted to degrade the transport infrastructure in German-occupied Europe ahead of the planned invasion a few weeks later (D-Day, 6 June).

This was not the most successful operation as much of the ordnance apparently landed in adjacent fields and only a few bombs hit the marshalling yards.

Halifaxes formed the majority of the 111 aircraft taking part, and of the losses. Unopposed on the way to and over the target area, the bombers were however harried on the way out.

HX334, piloted by Fl/Sgt John Haydn Evans, was one of three shot down by a Messerschmitt 110, the others being LK883 of 426 Squadron and LV919 of 466 Squadron. Their attacker was not just any night fighter, but that of Oblt Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer, recently appointed Gruppenkommandeur IV./NJG 1: the Evans Halifax was I believe his 63rd victim.

Schnaufer would go on to nearly double that number of 'kills' by the end of hostilities in 1945. As an aside, he became a wine merchant after the war until he was seriously injured in France a few years later when his car was hit by a lorry which spilled its cargo of metal gas cylinders. He died from a fractured skull two days later.

On the Hasselt operation the crew of HX334 all took to their parachutes. They were gathered, fed and sheltered by members of the Belgian resistance - a number of whom were subsequently arrested by the Gestapo.

The gunners, both Australians, were picked up by the Germans and became prisoners of war.

The other five, four Brits and a Canadian, all continued to evade capture until the advancing Allied forces swept over them.*

So there you go. It started out as 'just' a portrait of a Halifax. But as we know, every picture tells a story.

---------------------------

*If you want to know more about the pilot's story there is a book by Greg Lewis called Airman Missing: The True Story of WWII Bomber Pilot John Evans' 114 Days Behind Enemy Lines. Newman Books (April 2008). ISBN: 978-0955869907. Out of print but available secondhand. 

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 on Instagram @flight.artworks.


Two new paint schemes for BBMF Lancaster

Avro Lancaster PA474 Gary Eason _DSC2837

Colchester, 23 October 2016

I gather that the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight's Lancaster, PA474, will have not one but two new paint schemes following its winter service.

The left-hand side will be painted as 460 (RAAF) Squadron Lancaster W5005, coded AR-L "Leader", which had nose art of a kangaroo playing bagpipes, indicating the Australian and Scottish backgrounds of one of its crews. (Some sources say this was on JB607 AR-N, but I am reliably informed this is a case of mistaken identity).

The right side will carry the 50 Squadron code letters VN-T, representing the Lancaster flown by FO Douglas Millikin DFC – grandfather of the BBMF's current Officer Commanding, Squadron Leader Andy "Milli" Millikin, on 27 of his first tour of 30 operations.

PA474, the only Lancaster currently still flying on this side of the Atlantic, recently moved from its base at RAF Coningsby to the Aircraft Restoration Company's magnificent newly-opened Stephenson Hangar at Imperial War Museum, Duxford, for a major service, following which the repaint will also be carried out.

The decision on the new colours was confirmed this week and announced at the flight's end-of-season guest dinner by Sqn Ldr Millikin. His grandfather's crew's wireless operator, John Tait, was at the dinner. 

LONG SERVICE

The original Lancaster W5005 completed at least 44 operations while it was with 460 Squadron at RAF Binbrook in Lincolnshire, including four to Italy and four to Berlin, between 1943 and 1944. 

It was then transferred to 550 Squadron, where it kept its nose art but was recoded BQ-N.  It made another 50 trips and was well on its way to becoming one of the rare 'centurions' (more than 100 operations) when it was ditched in the Humber Estuary as it was returning to RAF North Killingholme from an attack on Kiel in August 1944. No-one was injured but the aircraft was lost. 

The Australian War Memorial's collection has a photo of its nose art as it was in August 1943. The chap in the pilot's seat is Flight Lieutenant Alexander Stuart MacWilliam DFC, who was the squadron's gunnery officer: he had no direct connection with the aircraft. 

Australian War Memorial collection PD image UK0396


 

 

---------------------------

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 on Instagram @flight.artworks.


Spitfire and Heinkel in Battle of Britain running fight

The-chase-Gary-Eason-_DSC9326-sm

Colchester, 7 September 2016

It was a day of huge engagements involving hundreds of aircraft, but time and again it broke down into deadly individual aerial combat encounters.

During the Battle of Britain, RAF Fighter Command's ideal was to knock down the German bombers before they got anywhere near their targets. But the next best thing was to knock them down on the way back, so that the aircraft and their crews could not return.

On 15 September 1940 – subsequently known as Battle of Britain Day – the Luftwaffe mounted two massed raids against London's docklands.

The second, and largest, came in the afternoon and was engaged by more than two dozen squadrons of Hawker Hurricanes and Supermarine Spitfires. Air Vice-Marshal Keith Park, in charge of No. 11 Group RAF, responsible for the fighter defence of London and southeast England, had thrown everything into the action.

By chance, the Prime Minister Winston Churchill was watching that day in the operations room at RAF Uxbridge. Famously the PM broke his silence to ask: "What other reserves have we?"

"There are none," Park replied.

Despite this onslaught more than 100 German bombers got through to their target areas, to Park's intense annoyance, but the almost complete blanket of cumulus and strato-cumulus clouds meant they could not find them, and bombs were scattered over a wide area of London.

The Heinkels and Dorniers then turned for home. Inevitably some aircraft became separated from their units and began cloud hopping as they made their way back over Kent in an effort to escape attention. They were harried all the way by a succession of RAF squadrons. 

One of the extraordinary features of this kind of fighting was that the Luftwaffe aircraft returned across the Channel sometimes riddled with holes from the .303 rifle calibre ammunition used by the British fighters. But they were not always so lucky.

Repeated attacks

My picture shows one of these running fights. Heinkel He 111 H-1, A1+An of 5./KG 53 based at Lille in France.

Piloted by Fw Kurt Behrendt EKI, it was attacked by numerous Hurricane and Spitfire fighters. The one I have shown is a 66 Squadron Spitfire, X4322, LZ-R, flown as Green 2 in 'B' flight by Flt Lt Robert Oxspring.

In his combat report Oxspring said he made a stern attack, opening fire at 250 yards and closing to 50 yards. He broke right  and carried out a quarter attack following to stern attack on the starboard engine, which started to smoke immediately – the action shown in my picture.

He crossed over again and shot up the other engine, passing through some cloud in the process, and finally running out of ammunition. He watched the Heinkel glide down – left engine eventually stopping, the other trailing smoke – and land at RAF West Malling aerodrome in Kent still under attack by other fighters, some of which also landed there.

The Heinkel slithered to a standstill in a cloud of dust and smoke with two of the five crew dead and two wounded.

Pink bars

You might wonder about the pink bars I have shown on the Heinkel's rudder and wings. Some, but not all, Luftwaffe bombers displayed similar markings in the later part of the Battle of Britain – coinciding with these massed raids, which has prompted the general assumption that they were formation markings of some sort although the subject has exercised historians, who are unsure as to their purpose.

One, two or three white or very often pink bars are described in RAF intelligence reports. The crash report on this Heinkel mentions three vertical pink bars on the rudders but oddly makes no reference to the wings, possibly because they were fire damaged? I say oddly because Oxspring, in his account, referred to the enemy aircraft's camouflage as being "olive green with black crosses, and two square painted panels on top surface of the wings, of a pink colour."

I have had to interpret this in light of other photographic and documentary evidence, and bearing in mind that his report was almost certainly dictated to and typed by someone else so it has that "proceeding in a westerly direction", stilted tone familiar from police witness statements. I have depicted rectangles rather than actual squares, because Heinkels are known to have had these.

One thing that is clear from contemporary photographs is that the markings appear often – though again, not always – to have been hastily applied, with sometimes a lot of overspray around the bands.

Even then, did Oxspring mean two squares on each wing, one on each wing, or two on one wing (and if so, which?). This is a classic case where the destruction of Luftwaffe records at the end of the war leaves us with a mystery. If you know of a German account that explains these markings definitively, I would not be the only one that would very much like to see it.

---------------------------

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 on Instagram @flight.artworks.


Strong by night: battling Short Stirling LK386

Short-Stirling-LK386-battling-through-Gary-Eason-sm

Colchester, 3 August 2016

They were known in WW2 RAF parlance as "gardening" operations: using heavy bombers at low level to drop mines in the sea lanes of Germany and the occupied territories.

It would be a mistake to think they were a picnic, as you will gather from my picture.

This depicts a Short Stirling Mk III that was coned by searchlights and hit by flak while minelaying at Brest on the Brittany Coast on the night of 23/24 June 1944.

The aircraft is LK386, OJ-O of 149 Squadron whose motto was Fortis nocte ("Strong by night").

Four years earlier in his wartime RAF career the pilot, Pilot Officer Sidney Edward Lucas RAFVR, had flown Hurricane fighters in the Battle of Britain.

The Short Stirling, ungainly on the ground and relatively slow flying, was however remarkably manoeuvrable in the air. Usually this was a redundant, even undesirable quality in a heavy bomber but on this occasion – coupled no doubt with Lucas's previous experience – it probably helped them to escape. He dived the big airframe almost to sea level to shake off the Germans' attention, then headed back to England.

My picture was commissioned by the son of the flight engineer that night, who was Sgt Ronald Vivian French RAFVR. He and the bomb aimer had been wounded by shrapnel but the rest of the crew did not realise how badly Sgt French had been hurt until he collapsed when he tried to return to his instrument panel.

Shot down

After regaining the south coast of England they made for RAF Hartford Bridge (now Blackbushe aerodrome) in Hampshire. On touchdown at 0357 the hydraulic brake pressure was insufficient to prevent the Stirling from running off the end of the runway: the tall undercarriage collapsed and the wreckage caught fire.

Sgt French was too badly injured to make his escape with the other six. The Wireless Operator, Flt Sgt Donald Houssemayne Du Boulay* of the Royal Australian Air Force, dragged him through the fuselage and passed him out through the rear door, and he survived.

Du Boulay was awarded the British Empire Medal (Military Division) for this action,  Sgt French the Distinguished Flying Medal and Pilot Officer Lucas the Distinguished Flying Cross.

In my research I could not be absolutely sure from the given co-ordinates which German gun batteries were involved so I had to use some artistic licence in the depiction. But this was a very heavily fortified coast.

There were two batteries just to the west on the Crozon peninsula to protect the approaches to the major naval base at Brest. As well as these, mobile searchlight and anti-aircraft units were deployed.

OJ-O was one of four 149 Squadron Stirlings that were sent on the operation. According to 149 Squadron historian Alan Fraser, it followed a bombing raid on the Brest harbour area, so the flak gunners had had plenty of time to "get their eye in". 

The Stirlings were led in by OJ-C, which had a clear run according to the wireless operator in OJ-B, which went in next, Sgt Ted Sweet. In his book, Enemy Below! (Square One Publications, 1991), he described their approach height of 3,000ft as "suicidal".

He wrote: "The sky suddenly lit up brilliantly with a score of searchlights, which could not fail to lock onto us accurately. All around us erupted into Flack bursts. Dull red flashes were followed by black smoke."

Sweet witnessed Stirling EF188, OJ-M, streaming flames and going down. According to French observers, it lit up the church steeple as it flew low over the village of Ploumoguer, west of Brest, before crashing into the first floor of a farmhouse nearby.

The bomber's fuel tanks erupted in a fireball. The seven crew were all killed as were three small children and a young farmhand. The farmer, Jean-Francois Bleas, was badly burned and died the next night. 

Footnote:

* While researching this work I came across a terrific, characterful portrait of Du Boulay by Wayne Dowsent. According to him, the wireless operator survived the war but died of cancer aged just 35. 

---------------------------

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 on Instagram @flight.artworks.