World War Two

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.


Mid-air collision between Lancaster bombers

Lancaster ND968-G mid-air collision Gary Eason _DSC9312
"O for Oboe takes a hit"

 

Colchester, 12 October 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AILERONS JAMMED

Lancaster O for Oboe WIP detail screenshots Gary Eason

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

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

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

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

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

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

TECHNICAL CHALLENGES

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2017-10-13 at 17.21.37

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

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

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

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

NIGHT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE: 21 November 2017

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

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

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

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.


Photographs from Duxford's 2017 autumn Airshow

Colchester, 7 October 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

"IMPROBABLY ELEGANT"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glorious. 

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

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


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.


Is it a bird, is it a drone ... ?

Commando Memorial two views Gary Eason

Two views of the memorial © Gary Eason

Colchester, 29 August 2017

A very well known statue, this: the Commando Memorial just outside Spean Bridge in the Highlands of Scotland. 

Three giant commando soldiers look out over the landscape that was their training ground in WWII.

The statue, created by the Scottish sculptor Scott Sutherland (1910 - 1984) using actual former commandos as the models, was unveiled in 1951.

An earlier photograph of mine created in 2010 is one of my best selling pictures. But the location is one I pass regularly on my forays into the far north and in sunnier weather four years later I made a few more photographs there. 

Striking though the location is, the sheer monumentality of the bronze on its plinth, at 17ft (5.2m) high and on an elevated paving platform, means that unless you stand a long way off then the view of it is very much looking upwards. 

I also wanted to try to get a more eye-to-eye depiction, which resulted in the second of the photographs at the top of this page. 

There are very many photographs of this statue but mine is the only one I have come across that offers this perspective on it. Here's how it was done.

I was on this trip to make landscape photographs so I had not taken along my monopod, but I did have my lovely Giotto GTMTL9271B tripod (which was stolen a couple of weeks later when my car window was smashed).

Onto that went the D700 with 24-70mm zoom set at 24mm, on its side, and the whole package was hoisted at arm's length into the air to get the shot, framed using live view on the rear LCD screen.

Screen Shot 2017-08-29 at 16.04.08
Easier said than done. The camera, lens and tripod combination came to well over 5kg in itself. But this is a very exposed location at the best of times, and what you cannot tell from the sunny aspect is that it was blowing a hooley at this particular time. So hoisting the rig was one thing but holding it steady up there was quite impossible.

Incidentally, if you are thinking a drone would have made easy work of this job, there are two problems with that: I doubt it could have been launched that day because of the wind strength; secondly - I don't have one! 

Screen Shot 2017-08-29 at 15.18.20
So it was a grab: I set the self-timer for 5 seconds, made ready, and hoisted just as it was about to fire. ISO 100, f8, 1/350. I got everything nicely framed and exposed, as the sun dodged in and out behind the clouds, on the fourth attempt, which felt like good going in the circumstances.

Finally however, if you compare the shot and published versions shown here, you can see that I tweaked the lens distortion, warmed up the colour balance - and removed the distracting vehicles from the background. 

For this portrait-shaped view I kept in the remembrance wreaths at the base of the plinth. There is also a wide version where the statue itself dominates the scene. 

I hope you like them. 

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 TO BUY PRINTS  of any of my landscape works please visit the Places galleries on my website.

To get in touch visit the Contact page. Find Gary Eason Photography on Facebook, and on Instagram @gary.eason.


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.