Colchester, 4 January 2017
Let's get the new year off to a flying start with this new depiction of what is going to be the new paint scheme for the RAF's Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Spitfire TE311.
When eventually their Mk XVI emerges from its repaint it will be sporting the colours of TD240 when it was the aircraft usually flown by the Officer Commanding No 131 (Polish) Wing, Group Captain Aleksander Gabszewicz VM KW DSO DFC, during the last weeks of the Second World War and into the summer of 1945.
It was common practice among RAF officers of his rank to have their own initials on 'their' aircraft, but his was coded SZ-G as if it were still part of his old unit, 316 Squadron.
It did have his group captain's pennant on the side of the cockpit, and the red and white Polish checkerboard emblem (szachownica lotnicza), with the word POLAND beneath it, on the nose.
But far and away its most striking feature was the colourful boxing bulldog artwork alongside these, the last and largest of similar artworks he had on his various aircraft.
I had been under the impression until I researched this that the "boxing bulldog" - wearing Polish national team colours and a flying helmet - had been created by a member of Gabszewicz's ground crew, Sgt Wojciech Milewski, who was an accomplished boxer.
But the story has been muddied by the existence of another, celebrated and very similar artwork by none other than Walt Disney, of the legendary cartoon studios.
It seems Disney created a boxing bulldog in an almost identical pose, and set up a team that made numerous other insignias, as a contribution to the US war effort - in this case as the emblem for the 62nd Fighter Squadron, 56th Fighter Group, as this Luke Air Force Base article shows.
Gabszewicz flew with the 56th on secondment in late 1943/early 1944 when it was suffering from a shortage of pilots.
I cannot say at this stage who first came up with the design. I am sure the BBMF will have the full story in due course.
But another version of the nose art was adopted by No. 135 (Fighter) Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force as its emblem.
I believe TD240 was next flown by Squadron Leader Boleslaw Kaczmarek with of RAF No. 302 (Polish) Squadron, until August 1945, whereupon it was re-coded as WX-V.
Those with longer memories might recall having seen a version of the scheme before on another Spitfire, MH434 operated by the Old Flying Machine Company. It carried a smaller artwork and SZ-G codes for just over a year between 1997 and 1998.
Now the full size, final iteration will be appearing on the same type of airframe as Gabszewicz's original: the Memorial Flight's clipped wing LF Mk XVIe (MH434 is an elliptical wing Mk IX).
I am portraying TD240 as it was in 1945 in this air-to-air depiction; in keeping with their usual practice, I believe TE311 will continue to bear its own serial number. I am sure many other images will follow once the real thing is unveiled later in 2017.
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