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.
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.
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.
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.
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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