Luftwaffe ace Helmut Wick shot down over Poole Bay

Helmut_Wick_shot_down_Poole_Bay_Gary_Eason_Flight_Artworks sm
Wick jettisons the cockpit canopy on his Messerschmitt Bf109 © Gary Eason / Flight Artworks

Colchester, 8 October 2020

I know, months have passed since an update! I've been busy. So I have several new images to talk about. 

In making this picture as part of a commission for a commercial client, I learnt about an extraordinary encounter between German and British fighter aircraft in 1940; and about how the cockpit canopy jettison mechanism worked on the Messerschmitt Bf 109 - which might not be what you think. 

In the foreground, Major Helmut Wick, arguably* the most famous Luftwaffe fighter 'ace' at the start of WWII, prepares to bail out high over Poole Bay off the Isle of Wight on the south coast of England, after being shot down by a Spitfire.

His downfall came during an aerial melée on 28 November 1940 as he led Jagdgeschwader 2, of which he was the Kommodore, in its second cross-Channel attack of the day and came up against defenders from 609 and 152 Squadrons.

It is late afternoon; the weather is fine but it is winter, they are high over the sea, and the sun is about to set. The chances of this ending well were never good. Sure enough, despite a huge search by German air and naval units, Wick was never seen again. 

WHO KILLED HELMUT WICK?

The story as typically told is that Wick was hit by the RAF ace John Dundas of 609 Squadron, who was heard to call over the radio, "I've finished a 109 – whoopee!", before he was himself shot down by Wick's wingman and also lost without trace. 

However even Dundas's own squadron doubted that version: 609's operations record for that day says, "No. 152 Squadron was also engaged at the same time and place, and it is considered possible that either one of their pilots, Sgt. Klein (Poland) or Dundas may have been responsible for bringing down the German Ace...". 

You can see why I have fudged the issue of which Spitfire it was by opting for an angle that doesn't show its markings.

A few other people have raised doubts over the years. The most thorough investigation I have seen is by Franciszek Grabowski and is published as an electronic pamphlet by Air War Publications: The Demise of the Luftwaffe's Top Gun.

I'm persuaded by his analysis and my own sketch map of the events that the Spitfire that shot down Wick was indeed most probably that of Sgt Zygmunt Klein from 152 Squadron – and it was he who was then killed by another member of the Luftwaffe schwarm, Wick's old friend Rudolf Pflanz. Pflanz was not actually his wingman on that operation: that was Erich Leie. 

RAF LOSSES

Incidentally if you are interested in Wick, I'd recommend getting a copy of the definitive work on him: Helmut Wick, An Illustrated Biography, by Herbert Ringlstetter (Schiffer 2005), which has a quite remarkable collection of photographs of Wick, his evolving aircraft markings, and fellow pilots. 

That book is based on the writings of his friend Franz Fiby, who flew 110 missions with him. Fiby was in the fateful final dogfight but did not know for certain what had happened - presuming that Wick must have had engine trouble for anyone to have caught him out.

Wick's was the only German aircraft shot down, but he was not the only one to take to his parachute or end up in the water. As well as Dundas, another 609 pilot, Paul Baillon, also "failed to return"; his body was recovered later on the French coast. 

And as well as Klein 152 Squadron also lost Arthur Watson, who bailed out over land but whose parachute failed to deploy properly. He fell near Wareham in Dorset with his aircraft, Spitfire R6597, coded UM-V.  

COCKPIT CANOPY JETTISON

Which brings me to the cockpit canopy on Bf109s. In normal use, the main part of the hood hinges to the right, in a rather ungainly fashion, where is held open by a wire. 

Attempting to do that in an emergency, in a slipstream, and have it stay there while you clamber out is all but impossible. I had always wondered about this. I couldn't find any depictions of the event – but there are written accounts, the oldest I could find being an RAF report on a captured 109, written in late 1939: 

"The cockpit hood does not slide back. It is hinged at the starboard side for entry and exit, and cannot thus be opened in flight. ... The hood jettisoning arrangements for emergency exit are interesting. The hood is spring loaded, and on pushing the jettison lever the whole of the hood and the wireless mast behind it are flung clear backwards."

RAF gun camera film screenshot by Gary Eason with permission of the IWM
RAF gun camera film screenshot by Gary Eason with permission of the IWM

So the windscreen remains in place at the front, but the hinged part of the canopy and the rear glazed part behind it are thrown off, the latter complete with the antenna. 

The bail-out procedure in the 109's operating notes urges pilots to bend forward as they do this, so their head isn't hit by the canopy as it comes off.

REMARKABLE CINE FILM

Having read about it, I realised that many of the photographs of crash-landed 109s from the war show the cockpit with the whole caboodle absent, presumably because it had been discarded by the pilot in case he had to make a rapid exit once he was on the ground. 

My picture is the only artwork I am aware of that shows this (do correct me if you know of any!). So I had to imagine what it would look like. But I have just this week seen some remarkable footage from the gun camera of Hawker Hurricane pilot George Smythe as he shoots down a 109 in August 1940, in which you can see this as it happens.

The spring loading of the canopy is clear from the way it is ejected rapidly several metres above the airframe before falling down behind it, in two obviously connected but separate parts - almost exactly as I've shown it. 

If you would like to view his film it is in a compilation of RAF gun camera clips on the Imperial War Museum website: spool through to about 9'07" and look for the title frame announcing Combat Film No 86. 

Much of the other footage on that reel is well worth a look as well, bringing these historical descriptions vividly to life.

* Bring it on!

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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.


Heroic struggles against overwhelming odds

The Few Gary Eason Flight Artworks sm
"The Few" © Gary Eason: available in the Battle of Britain gallery on the Flight Artworks website

Colchester, 8 April 2020

I was wondering how to start this article when Hylton Murray-Philipson came up with the answer. 

Mr Murray-Philipson spent 12 days in Leicester Royal Infirmary and five days in intensive care with coronavirus disease. Speaking to the BBC as he was finally discharged, he compared the NHS staff to "the Spitfire pilots of 1940".

Any of us with even a passing interest in historic aviation will be well aware that 2020 marks the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, characterised by "The Few" Spitfire and Hurricane pilots fighting a heroic struggle against apparently overwhelming odds for months on end. 

That conflict would have been my own main focus for the next few months, but events have rather overtaken us all. 

It's striking how the crisis engulfing the country - indeed the world - has left people struggling for comparisons, and typically falling back on WWII in terms of the scale of this, its life-threatening nature, and the indiscriminate impact on ordinary people. 

We're living through probably the most extraordinary times most of us have ever known, and obviously this has had a huge impact on businesses of all sorts. 

I am extremely lucky - and well aware that I am - in that I work from a home studio anyway, mostly on my own, and lead a rather lockdown sort of life in that respect, so I can carry on doing so (health permitting) without too much interruption. 

The print companies who supply my customers however have been impacted to a greater or lesser extent. Some of them have lost a huge amount of regular trade from larger clients. So I am keen to support them where I can by continuing to send them orders.

I'm acutely conscious for close family reasons that many people have less money at the moment, and possibly uncertain futures. But an ideal pastime if you're stuck at home is to browse through this blog and the Flight Artworks website. They're not just pretty pictures: most of the stories they tell involve specific people, aircraft and events, and contain lots of interesting information – and of course they're all free to read.

NEW IMAGES

It might appear that I have not produced much new work recently but I have been steadily busy behind the scenes. 

Anyone belonging to the RAF Memorial Flight (BBMF) official club would have been getting their yearbook through the post shortly. Instead, publication has been postponed because of the pandemic. 

Having created a couple of new pictures for it and seen advance copies of the articles they illustrate, I know it'll be well worth waiting for. But I'm continuing to respect their embargo so I haven't published the pictures myself yet. 

Recent licensing deals include two of my pictures for the end pages in a forthcoming book about a certain well-known aircraft type. I am reliably told by someone who's read a proof copy that the book is "completely brilliant". 

Another features an aerial melée from November 1940 (after the official end of the Battle of Britain) which involved some very famous names. I had not known about it until I began researching it for the picture I've been making for a client, but it's a fascinating story. Still, that's for a forthcoming blog article.

For now: stay home, keep safe - and if you are one of the frontline NHS staff or other key workers who are putting yourself in harm's way to look after us and keep things going: thank you, on behalf of all of us. 

  • I always like getting emails from people but now especially, if anyone reading this is stuck in on their own and wants to drop me a line, I'd be delighted to hear from you on gary@easonmedia.com.

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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.


With two engines out, this B-17's crew were lucky to make it back

Damaged B-17 bomber with two engines stopped heading for a crash landing over a snow-covered field in England in 1944
B-17 "Hell's Halo" comes in for a crash landing © Gary Eason

Colchester, 16 October 2019

Sometimes you need to get lucky. 

So it was for the 10 men on board B-17F 42-5804, nicknamed Hell's Halo, on 11 January 1944 when they took part in a USAAF 8th Air force daylight mission to bomb the Focke-Wulf fighter assembly plant at Oschersleben in the heart of Germany. 

On the face of it, as you can see from my latest picture (above), the day was not going well. The bomb wing had almost no American fighter escort over the target – with a notable exception that I'll come back to. 

They were repeatedly attacked by hundreds of German fighters in the most ferocious, sustained onslaught since the notoriously disastrous second Schweinfurt raid the previous October. 

Of the 177 B-17s that were sent to this primary target, 34 (almost a fifth) failed to return, with 122 men aboard killed and more than 200 becoming prisoners of war.

BAD WEATHER

Hell's Halo was hit by cannon shells that wounded the pilot, Leroy Everett, and his co-pilot, Theodore Milton. Lt Col Milton was leading the whole operation. 

The aircraft lost two of its four engines, and it is a tribute to the survivability of the Flying Fortress that it still made it back to England. 

The wing was scattered on its return among a number of diversionary airfields by bad weather. Hell's Halo's home base of Bassingbourn, near Cambridge, was unattainable so they were sent instead to RAF Hethel, just south of Norwich in Norfolk. 

It is said that despite his wounds, Milton insisted on waiting for all the other B-17s to land before his put down. 

I have not seen a comprehensive account of the circumstances but the terse official record sums up what happened as "no brakes so crash landed" – and in spite of all this, luckily, all 10 on board returned to duty. 

In a write-up on Milton's illustrious career that appeared in Air Force Magazine some years ago, his son, Theodore Ross Milton Jr., was quoted as saying that his recuperation from the mission had been "speeded by a friend who smuggled a bottle of Scotch to him at the hospital".

CHRISTMAS CARDS

How did I come to feature this? By chance, really. 

I have probably said before that often I carry pictures around in my mind's eye for some time before getting around to making them, and this is one such.

I was finally nudged into it by the shortening days and a Christmas cards order from a regular customer in Canada, who always asks if I have anything new that might interest him.

Just occasionally I do publish generic aircraft pictures in which the circumstances are anonymous. With this one, I might have got away with a viewer not being able to read the actual serial number and squadron code letters, but most Fortresses had some form of nose art – and anyway I prefer to depict real events when I can. 

Casting around for a suitable candidate, I drew up a shortlist in the American Air Museum records and eventually settled on "Attacked by several enemy aircraft KO’d #2 & #3, no brakes to [sic] crash landed Hethel, Nfk. 10 RTD". 

I can see from the Met Office archives that although it was fairly mild for the time of year, the forecast that Tuesday was for general rainfall spreading eastwards, preceded by snow in the East. 

What I don't have are any eyewitness accounts of what the landing actually was like. Beyond feathering the number 2 and 3 engines, I don't have details of the damage. So that's artistic licence. 

But I hope I have done justice to the heroism of this particular crew and, by extension, all those who flew from England with the US Army Air Corps in the Second World War. 

As luck would have it, I happened to depict not only an aircraft on such a notorious mission, but the one with the mission commander on board, and on which everyone survived. 

And – this is what I mentioned at the start – in selecting this operation I also stumbled across one of the most celebrated fighter pilot exploits of the war.

What was that? Watch this space: I feel another picture coming on. 

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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.


Courage of the paratroopers who jumped into D-Day

Dakota skyfall crop Gary Eason
D-Day Paratroop Dakotas © Gary Eason

Colchester, 28 May 2019

Have you ever jumped out of a perfectly serviceable aircraft?

I have. Back in 1988, a younger, fitter and more adventurous version of me made a sponsored parachute jump to raise money for the mental health charity Mind. This was at Ipswich Parachute Centre, based at the former Ipswich Airport in Suffolk.

In those days tandem jumps, where you descend strapped to an experienced parachutist, had only recently been invented - although I didn't hear about them until years later. The standard way of doing it as a novice was the static line jump, where you are attached to the aircraft on a long webbing strop that pulls open the parachute for you as you drop away.

This required a full day's training in the basics, including jumping off a shoulder high platform and learning to keep your knees and feet together, bend your legs and roll as you hit the ground. Most of the tuition was about what to do if things went wrong, such as you jumped out and did not separate from the aircraft as intended, but instead found yourself dangling in the slipstream, or if your main 'chute did not open – or did, but was tangled up.  

The whole experience was so off-putting that the friend I had gone with bottled out overnight and did not turn up for the actual jump the next day.

TUMBLED

Climbing to 2,000ft in the Britten-Norman Islander jump plane allowed plenty of time for the nerves to build up. It was made clear in a good-natured but firm way that if we hesitated for too long with our feet dangling over the threshold we'd be 'helped' on our way. 

The instructor's comments on my first descent are recorded in my jump log, which I came across earlier while looking up something else:

"Weak exit. Good spread and recovery. No count heard."

Parachute jump log book Gary Eason

You were supposed to count for a few seconds then check that the parachute had opened satisfactorily. As I recall I basically tumbled out and, with an utterly sickening sense of falling rapidly from a great height - not a natural thing to do - flailed and, well, yelled for my mum.

But once I had been hoicked the right way up by the blossoming canopy, it was the most marvellous experience. The weather that August morning afforded a fine view across the fields to the River Orwell and the elegant sweep of the A14 bridge. But all too soon I had to concentrate on landing safely within the airfield perimeter.

We had been taught to look off as we approached the ground because the effect of looking down is that it suddenly appears to hurtle up at you: you are inclined to panic, try to get away – and end up breaking a limb.

Whump! And I had fallen to earth, a bit winded but grinning from ear to ear. I still count it as probably the most frightening thing I have done - and also so exhilarating that I went straight back up and did it again.

You may well be thinking, what has any of that to do with this aerial combat blog?

Well, I am in Colchester, not far from the garrison home of 16 Air Assault Brigade: the British Army's rapid reaction force, which is held ready to spearhead military or, these days, civilian aid operations anywhere in the world at a moment's notice.

They are the inheritors of the brave tradition that, 75 years ago next month, saw the paratroopers go into action first on D-Day, the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France that began the end of the Second World War.

GLIDERS

We think of it as primarily a massive seaborne attack onto the Normandy beaches of course but, as shown in my picture, the invasion began with C-47 Dakota aircraft dropping paratroopers in the early hours of 6 June 1944 from the US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions and the British 6th Airborne Division (which included a Canadian parachute battalion).

Many of those involved in the airborne operations that night, including the very first of the British troops to land, went in aboard gliders towed by Dakota, Halifax, Short Stirling and Albemarle  tugs. I intend to write more about that aspect in a separate piece.

But imagine what it must have been like to be one of those thousands of paratroopers - laden with their own weight again in parachute packs, arms and other equipment - jumping into the dark with flak shells and bullets ripping through the air around them, sometimes above or below the intended delivery altitude, and facing the prospect of landing on stakes or minefields or areas that had been deliberately flooded. 

As an aside, you will see that I was trained to use a "kicker spring deployed reserve" chute. This is an emergency backup, carried on your chest, to be used if the main backpack chute has a problem. First you would release the main, so that you are freefalling unencumbered. Then you pull the handle that deploys the reserve and a spring-loaded plate shoots out a small drogue chute that pulls out the actual reserve. This makes its deployment very fast.

In WWII, British paratroops did not have reserves. The thinking was that the space and weight could be better used for other things, that static lines were inherently reliable, and that being dropped at only a few hundred feet did not allow time to switch anyway. 

'OVERWHELMING'

Once they left the camaraderie of the jump plane the men were very much on their own until and unless they were able to rejoin their fellow troops on the ground, behind enemy lines and facing potential hostility with every step.

On D-Day heavy cloud – and fog in the west – equipment shortcomings and navigational errors resulted in large numbers of men being delivered to the wrong locations - sometimes scattered many miles from where they were supposed to be. Crucially this included the early 'pathfinder' teams who were supposed to mark the landing zones for the following main force of the invaders, with predictable results. That said, the majority were delivered to where they were supposed to be. 

By a quirk of fate one of the first men in the main British paratroop force to jump, at 0040, was the actor Richard Todd, probably best known to readers of this blog for his portrayal of Wing Commander Guy Gibson, VC, in The Dam Busters film. At the time he was an officer in the 7th (Light Infantry) Parachute Battalion.

He recalled that night in an interview in the Daily Telegraph newspaper marking his 90th birthday, a few months before he died in 2009.

"As I parachuted down, the noise became more overwhelming – machine-guns, shells and mortars," he said.

"It was impossible to tell who anyone was. I could see shapes but didn't know if they were the opposition."

By luck, he came down on the track that led to his battalion rendezvous point.

"So I had no trouble finding it. Other chaps were dropped miles away, in areas inundated by Germans. Some landed in the flooded marshes and drowned."

In spite of all the problems, the courage, initiative and tenacity of those involved meant they succeeded in taking out many key German defences in advance of the beach landings and thus made a major contribution to the success of the overall invasion. 

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If you would like to read more about the overlapping technologies that enabled the aircraft to get to their drop zones there is an interesting article on the American Smithsonian museum website

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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.


Latest Flight Artworks images have a D-Day theme

Normandy Typhoon shockwave © Gary Eason
Normandy Typhoon shockwave © Gary Eason

Colchester, 29 April 2019

My most recent D-Day related image is somewhat experimental, depicting as it does the visible shockwave from a bomb dropped by a Hawker Typhoon in Normandy in 1944.

We see the blast across the ground and, most strikingly, through the air.

In very slow motion films of such an explosion you can see a ripple in the atmosphere through the way the light is refracted, distorting the background. This was the effect I sought to capture, as if the image had been caught at just that moment.

Hawker Typhoon shockwave detail Gary Eason sm
Shockwave detail (click to enlarge)

I was sceptical whether it would work. But I decided to have a go, devising multiple overlapping techniques to create the effect.

I like the result. I am still in two minds as to how other people will react and, crucially, whether or not anyone will license the image or buy prints. But if needs be I can always publish a version without it!

The Typhoon had a fearsome reputation as a ground attack aircraft – although in reality the precision achievable by pilots under even ideal conditions was debatable. They could wreak havoc, but they could also miss entirely.

This becomes clear when you read through the accounts in the squadron records, as I did with 193 Squadron.  

Sometimes they report "good results seen by pilots" when attacking German troop concentrations or motorised transports. In a combined operation with 167 Squadron's rocket-firing Typhoons on 27 June they reported that they "completely destroyed" the  headquarters of General Friedrich Dollmann, head of the 7th Army. Dollmann died in the attack.

At other times things did not go so well. For example, 20 June: 'A' flight bombing a Noball target south west of Omer. ('Noball' was a codename for targets related to the V1 flying bombs that the Germans began firing across the Channel into southern England shortly after D-Day.)

"The attack was carried out as briefed but no damage seen to be done by bombs," the record says.

The other point I am making in my picture is that the pilots had to have nerves of steel, to dive straight at targets that were often heavily defended by light and heavy anti-aircraft weapons, while also risking being caught in their own or another aircraft's bomb or rocket blasts.

SPITFIRE ACTION

This new publication follows quickly on the appearance of another Normandy Invasion picture, depicting a Spitfire shooting down a Messerschmitt fighter on D-Day+1 (7 June 1944), which in fact I completed some time ago under embargo.

Normandy_Spitfire_attack_Gary_Eason_tearsheet-2_original
Published version: Normandy Spitfire attack © Gary Eason

This was commissioned to be the double page centrefold in the 2019 Yearbook from the Royal Air Force Memorial Flight Official Club, which I am proud to have been asked to undertake.

The yearbook heavily features D-Day material because this is the 75th anniversary. The action I have depicted involves Spitfire IX MK356, which at the time bore the 2I-V markings of 443 Squadron (RCAF), but which is still in operation with the memorial flight.

MK356 was one of two Spitfires that chased down a Bf109 G-6 close to the mouth of the River Orne, just east of the Sword landing beach assigned to the British 3rd Infantry Division.

Reeling under the fire from the Spitfire's cannon and machine guns, the German aircraft blew up seconds later.

According to 443's record of operations, the action took place "on the deck". That's a term that means different things to different pilots, from perhaps 500ft down to 5ft - but I have shown it as happening at less than 100ft over the river estuary.

We feel reasonably confident that the Luftwaffe pilot was probably Unteroffizier Albert Zillmer. He was lost without trace while flying Bf 109G-6 Werk# 441135 "Yellow 5 + I" of 9./JG3, which had just moved to St. André de l'Eure, 75 miles WSW of Caen. It was near Caen the he and other 109 pilots were "bounced" by 443 Squadron.

Normandy invasion stripes detail Gary Eason sm
Invasion stripes detail

As so often, I had to use a certain amount of educated guesswork in illustrating the Spitfire's markings, particularly as regards the black and white "invasion stripes".

These were executed hastily on Allied squadrons immediately prior to D-Day, using distemper which almost immediately began to wash off in the poor weather. They usually owed more to expediency than to artful technique, and I sought to replicate this by, in effect, hand painting the edges of the stripes in Photoshop.

We don't have a photograph of MK356 from the time and the photos that do exist of other aircraft on the squadron are not exactly in the sharpest high resolution quality. But so far as you can tell it looks as though the pre-existing code letters were outlined in dark paint.

Putting myself in the place of an aircraftsman with a big paintbrush who had been told to get them all done PDQ, I interpret this as an absence of the distemper, so that the underlying camouflage paint showed through, making the code letters, serial number and roundel stand out.

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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.


Two for the Hawker Hurricane fans

Hawker Hurricane deflection Gary Eason _GE07328
Hawker Hurricane deflection shot © Gary Eason 2018


Colchester, 24 October 2018

I have been aiming to publish one or two blog posts a month - so I can only apologise for taking six months off!

I was mostly enjoying the long, hot English summer and keeping well out of the sweltering studio. So it is not only the writing that has been neglected but also the picture-making. But as the days shorten, I am back at the desk and have a few things to catch up on.

Members of the RAF Memorial Flight Official Club will have seen a couple of the images I did produce in their autumn journal: a commission to illustrate a book extract about baling out of a doomed Lancaster, and another to accompany an article about the tricky skill of deflection shooting.

MOVING TARGET

It is not always immediately apparent to the uninitiated that unless you are right behind (or right in front of) your target at very close range, if you point your aircraft at another and fire – you will miss it.

You are moving, it is moving, and time will elapse during which your ammunition is flying through the air and falling under gravity. You have to shoot at where you anticipate it will be when your bullets reach it.

In my picture (top), the Hurricane pilot has positioned himself in just the right place that if he fires now, he probably will hit the crossing Messerschmitt Bf 109.

Eventually the RAF woke up to the importance of the issue and set up a gunnery school in 1942, but widespread success really only came to most fighter pilots with the introduction of complex gyro gunsights in 1944.

HELP YOURSELF

Until then, only a small percentage of fighter pilots managed to hit anything consistently. During the Battle of Britain, this was not for want of targets.

The Few Gary Eason
"The Few" © Gary Eason 2018

My second Hurricane offering is one of those pictures I had had in my mind's eye for some time. It shows a pair of the eight-gun fighters turning in line astern onto a mass of attacking German bombers, a scene typical of the intense combats in the summer of 1940.

No visible markings under their wings? The RAF's twisting and turning policies on the subject of camouflage on the top and bottom of their different aircraft types have filled books.

My depiction is of fighters of No 1 Squadron RAF over the south of England on 16 August. Underwing roundels had been dropped in June, when the Air Ministry ordered all fighters to have 'sky' colour undersides. They were reintroduced officially on 11 August but that does not mean to say they instantly appeared overnight and, in the absence of definitive information, I decided to omit them.

THE FEW

The squadron's operations record book reported: "In the afternoon the squadron was engaged in its most successful action in England to date."

Squadron Leader David Pemberton made the first attack, bringing down one of the Heinkel He 111 bombers in flames with his first burst. His own engine then caught fire - possibly because of returning gunfire - but before he had decided to bale out the flames subsided, and he landed safely.

Pilot Officer Peter Matthews followed him in, picking out one of the Messerschmitt Bf 110 heavy fighter escorts for his attack.

This was the day on which Prime Minister Winston Churchill visited the headquarters of RAF Fighter Command's 11 Group at Uxbridge and saw that at one point during the heavy aerial combat, all the Group's fighter squadrons were in action, with no reserves.

As he left, Churchill said to his chief of staff, Hastings Ismay: "Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few."

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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.


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.


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.