World War Two

Flight Artworks RAF Memorial Flight depictions unveiled

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Colchester, 26 April 2017

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

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

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

NOSE ART

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

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

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

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

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

COVER PICTURES

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

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

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

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

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

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


Westland Lysander on clandestine operation

Westland Lysander secret ops Gary Eason

Colchester 18 April 2017

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

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

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

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

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

SEARCH FOR INFORMATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LAVENDER FIELD

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

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

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

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

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

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

TOUGH JOB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remarkable.

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

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


Desert camouflage Spitfire EN152

Spitfire EN152 over Gulf of Tunis Gary Eason

Colchester, 30 January 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YELLOW

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

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

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

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

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

CAMOUFLAGE PATTERN

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

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

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

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

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


Polish 'boxing bulldog' Spitfire TD240

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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.

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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 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.

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*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.