Current Affairs

Seven seconds: the Tower Bridge Hawker Hunter incident

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Colchester, 5 April 2016

Just after midday on 5 April 1968 RAF pilot Alan Pollock, senior operational flight commander on No. 1 (Fighter) Squadron, flew Hawker Hunter FGA.9 jet XF442 through the span of Tower Bridge in London. The unauthorised action - which cost him his air force career - was part of a personal protest against the RAF's decision not to celebrate its 50th anniversary with a flypast over the capital.

While en route from RAF Tangmere in West Sussex to his squadron's home airfield at RAF West Raynham in Norfolk, Flt Lt Pollock flew into central London, circled the Houses of Parliament three times – carefully avoiding the 387 feet tall (118 metre) Millbank Tower – then headed down the River Thames at very low level.

Tower bridge Hawker Hunter BW detail Gary EasonHe said afterwards that it was only as the "matronly structure" of the world's most famous bridge loomed ahead that the irresistible idea of going straight through the middle of it occurred to him.

As he approached he could see that the crossing traffic included a double decker bus. He kept as close as he dared to the upper walkways – which were not open to the public in those days – and for a heart-stopping moment thought the Hunter's tail fin was going to collide. Happily it did not, and he continued downriver and back to base.

When he landed he was arrested, and was retired from the RAF a few months later on medical grounds: denied a court martial at which he could have presented his case.

I liaised with Alan Pollock while making the picture. Initially I had placed his Hunter in the centre of the gap. He insisted however that it was much closer to the top.

He estimated his airspeed at 350 knots (403 mph, 591 feet per second, 180 m/sec), and got out a map of central London to calculate that it would have taken just seven seconds for the jet to travel through Tower Bridge from when the thought of doing it first struck him, as he approached London Bridge further upstream.

I imagine that if it happened tomorrow any number of smartphone videos would be online within minutes and some people would even manage 'selfies'. Then, however, if anybody did capture his escapade on any sort of film it has not emerged that I am aware of. I could not resist making a Flight Artworks version, showing the Hunter in scale with the bridge (and the bus), as if photographed at 1/4000 sec on a high resolution digital camera.

RE-MAKING HISTORY

The most complex aspect of making the picture was reconstructing Tower Bridge as it was in 1968. For one thing, its metalwork did not acquire its now-familiar red, white and blue colours until the Queen's Silver Jubilee in the 1970s. Various online sources, including the official Tower Bridge website, say that before then it was chocolate brown.

 

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Tower Bridge in 1968. Photo courtesy of Aletha Huston

In fact on the outside it was grey. That is apparent from archive photographs – including this one supplied by an American relative of mine that was taken in 1968 – and was confirmed to me by historical paint consultant Patrick Baty, who worked on the most recent complete analysis and restoration of the paintwork.

Structurally the biggest difference by far is to the upper walkways. When the bridge was built in the 1890s these were intended for pedestrians to use when the bascules were raised as they were frequently then. But they were essentially a metal lattice open to the elements, rarely saw any legitimate use, and were closed off in 1910.

They stayed that way until 1982, when the visitor exhibit inside Tower Bridge was opened. They were then opened again to pedestrians, having had roofing, glazing and ornamental parapets added. I have rebuilt them as they appeared before the remodelling, when they also did not have the big crests that adorn their outward faces.

POLLUTION

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Work in progress screenshots

An unpleasant environmental fact of early 20th Century architecture in London is that it was absolutely filthy – so black with pollution that I struggled to make the present pristine structure look revolting enough. In an odd contrast the pointed tops of the two towers, which are now clean stone, were painted white at the time and I have tried to portray that.

The finials were a later addition so I have removed them. And numerous other details have changed, such as the signal posts for river traffic.

Winding back the clock on The Photographer's Ephemeris gave me the direction and inclination of the sun at noon on the day in question. The Thames of course is noticeably tidal: I consulted the Port of London Authority on the state of the river at the time. The very helpful Port Hydrographer, John Pinder, hindcasted for me that there was an average low water at 1240 that day of 1.3m; at noon the tide was still ebbing, with a height of 1.5m.

 

Tower Bridge now Gary Eason _DSC7329
Modern view (2016)

The weather was described by Pollock himself as "one of those rare perfect, 8/8 Gordon's, crystal, gin clear days when all the colours shout out brightly", with not a breath of wind and no clouds: call it artistic licence but I left in the little puffs of cloud that were around when I made my background photograph because they gave a sense of depth to the sky, and in fact the Met Office's archive suggests there was some scattered low cloud over west London.

I felt it needed this once all the City skyscrapers that now form the bridge's backdrop had been painted out. From the low angle viewpoint across the river there really would have been nothing much visible beyond the bridge apart from the Tower of London.

Finally, the London Transport Museum customer services assistant Katy Green kindly unearthed the bus timetables for that day. The red double-decker Pollock saw heading south over the bridge as he flashed above it would have been either a 78 or a 42, and probably a Routemaster. I opted for the 78, as a tribute to "the bus that jumped the bridge" in the previous decade. But that's another story.

So there you have it: the Tower Bridge Hawker Hunter incident.

Prints are available in various formats via the Jet Age gallery on the Flight Artworks website at www.flightartworks.com. Licensing enquiries are welcome. 

You can hear the whole story from Alan Pollock himself in a lengthy interview in the Imperial War Museum's collection: www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/80027439

Some statistics:

  • Tower Bridge is 800 ft (240 m) long overall with two towers 213 ft (65 m) high. The central span is 200 ft (61 m) between the towers, with a height from the road deck to the upper walkways of 141 ft (43 m). The width of the towers is 60 ft (18.3 m).
  • The Hawker Hunter FGA.9 was 45 ft 11 in (14 m) long with a wingspan of 33 ft 8 in (10.3 m): one sixth the width of the gap between the towers.
  • A London Transport Routemaster was 14 ft 4 in high (4.4 m).

The view from the back seat

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Colchester, 23 January 2016

The blog has taken a back seat recently. Of course there was Christmas – my first in a new household, with 17 at our dinner table – New Year and my birthday all in a rush; wonderful company, great meals and long country dog walks and musical parties and so on, but not a time of the year that is conducive to getting any work done.

Screen Shot 2016-01-22 at 22.33.07Happily some previous work formed a surprise Christmas gift for the man who was the subject of it, thanks to the generosity of one of my clients, Graham Cowie, of Project Propeller fame. So it was that Bill Viollet found himself signing the depiction we had devised of his escape from a burning Lancaster at Mailly-le-Camp in 1944. (Picture courtesy of Graham.)

And I have been re-organising my office around having my son here: so you might get Joe – actor, designer and illustrator – answering the phone at Eason Media rather than me. Again, a pleasant turn of events but also disruptive.

I am told I am deluding myself when I imagine there was a golden age during which I just made pictures and somehow all the household stuff and travelling and relentless admin either did not exist or somehow took care of itself (ok, maybe just did not get done).

Still, I have managed to produce some pictures: various Vulcan images which seem to be highly popular, including a couple of B1 variants in anti-flash white paint.

Building an image

The Vulcan image at the head of this article, which I call "And finally", is a composite like most of my work and as usual has a bit of a story to it.

The background was photographed in Lincolnshire late in November 2014 after a visit to the BBMF at RAF Coningsby and to Avro Lancaster Just Jane in her hangar at the East Kirkby Aviation Heritage Centre. The sun and the rest of the landscape were photographed a few minutes apart in locations a few miles apart, and blended later.

As an aside: when I saw it up close the sun had two dark marks on its face. I thought at first they were "dust bunnies" – blemishes resulting from dust on the camera's digital sensor. When I looked more closely still, I realised they were sunspots. A bit of research online revealed that I had by chance photographed some unusually flamboyant solar activity. The trouble is, they looked like blemishes, so I removed them for the purposes of my picture.

The Avro Vulcan – XH558, the last flying example of its type  – was photographed passing over a field in Essex, not far from my home. I did not have time on the day to get to Clacton Airshow but thankfully the Vulcan's operators had published a map of their intended route.

Distinctive smoke plume

I figured that if I headed over towards Ardleigh Reservoir, north east of Colchester, I had a reasonable chance of seeing it passing by. At the allotted hour, alerted by their Twitter feed, I did indeed see a puff of dark smoke off to the north east followed by that unmistakable delta shape turning to an arrow in profile, low over the flat landscape, about half a mile to the east.

I then stood around for a while, checking and re-checking the camera settings, photographing a hovering bird of prey and a circling light aircraft, chatting with car drivers who slowed to ask why a man with a fancy, monopod gimbal-mounted long lens was loitering in the corner of a nondescript field (one of whom guessed correctly and wished me luck).

Finally, another smudge of smoke on the far horizon and a dark dot that became steadily bigger – and I realised with a sudden rush of excitement that XH558 was not only on its way back but was heading straight for me. With a purposeful but steady roar the huge airframe sailed majestically almost directly overhead. Fantastic!

I made a series of pictures – not without difficulty because it was closer than I had anticipated and low enough to fill the Nikon's viewfinder through the 600mm lens. These included several as the sleek shape with its distinctive exhaust trail headed away to the north. It is one of those that I realised was at the perfect height and angle to take pride of place in my Lincolnshire sunset. Given how many people have since bought a print, I think I got it just right. 

Canadian pilot

From a completely different era comes my depiction of that rare bird, the Westland Whirlwind - a single-seat, twin-engine RAF fighter-bomber that saw service from 1940 to 1943 but never in the large numbers originally envisaged for it, suffering as it did from a lack of development and being constantly superseded by other aircraft that were just better in every niche it might have occupied.

Tiger-Moth-low-level-flight-Gary-Eason-blogOnly two squadrons were equipped: 263, and the one shown in my depiction, 137. Among its pilots was a Canadian: Arthur 'Art' Gaston Brunet, one of whose relatives asked me if I had any Whirlwind pictures. I do now!

Talking of back seats: you might recall I was treated to a flight in a vintage Tiger Moth biplane last autumn. It was huge fun. I have a video to treasure as a memento, shot on small cameras strapped to the wing struts.

Needless to say they do not stretch to an air-to-air photo of your flight – so I had always had it in my mind's eye to make one, and finally I have got around to it. This gave me the chance to pull on some WWII pilot gear and go solo, in the back seat, into the bargain. I hope this picture might strike a chord with anyone else who has had the same opportunity.

A striking feature of the Tiger Moth – especially so when you consider it was a basic trainer – is that the forward visibility is very limited unless you hang your head over the side. 

My own road map for the year has some very exciting personal developments in it – and a string of picture plans stretching out to the horizon.

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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, and on Twitter @flightartworks.


Here's one I made earlier: silver Spitfire PR Mk XIX PS852 - or is it PS915?

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The Flight Artworks 'silver Spitfire' as it appears in the BBMF Visitor Guide

Colchester, 29 October 2015

A complimentary copy of the new Official Visitor Guide to the Royal Air Force Battle of Britain Memorial Flight plopped on to my doormat this morning, to my delight.

The reason I have been sent a copy is that the whole of page 34 is given over to one of my pictures, as you can see at the top of this article. 

The editor, Clive Rowley, asked if I would be interested in having a shot at making it, to help them out of a hole. 

The visitor guide has, as you would expect, articles on all the flight's aircraft, including their history - and why they carry the colour schemes and squadron markings that they do, which change from time to time. In this case, Spitfire PR Mk XIX PS915, one of the relatively rare 225 photo reconnaissance Spitfires made.

Big Griffon

For the 2016 season it is going to be in the guise of another of the type, PS852, which was based in the early 1950s with 81 Squadron at Kai Tak, Hong Kong, where it was the usual mount of the record holding pilot Flt Lt Ted Powles. 

The trouble was, the guide had to go to press long before the BBMF Spitfire was going to be repainted - so no photograph of it would be available.

Hence the idea of having one of my Flight Artworks depicting the all-silver finish that PS852 bore from 1952 and PS915 will be getting.

We chose to have it almost head-on from a little above. This showed off the long Griffon engine cowling and the very smart red and white spinner on the five-bladed propeller, high above the South China Sea. It also allowed for a composition that could be used horizontal, vertical and square, as required. 

Free copy

The visitor guide is a beautifully put together, 42-page, 21cm (8in) square publication, with a glossy cover whose silky smoothness has to be felt to be believed. Well worth £3 of anyone's money I would say and perhaps you will pick one up if you go to visit the flight at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire. 

If you want to support the BBMF it is worth joining the official Club - whereupon I gather you will be sent a free copy of this guide as part of the membership pack (see comment below). 

If you would like to have a picture of just the Silver Spitfire they are available to order as high quality photographic posters and fine art prints in a variety of sizes - as well as greeting cards and other products - via the Flight Artworks website at www.flightartworks.com, and selected print partners. 

The picture is also available to publishers to license via Alamy or you can contact me direct.

 


A Mk I Spitfire and a PR Mk XIX silver Spitfire: my latest Flight Artworks

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"Up against it": F/Sgt Charles Sydney of 92 Squadron

Colchester, 15 September 2015

The house and office move mentioned in the Preface to my first book was completed relatively painlessly as these things go, although the unpacking and decluttering took longer than I had imagined.

I then spent a delightful few weeks in the US this summer, and have only recently got back into the groove. Consequently it has been a while since I have written anything, so this is by way of  a catch-up.

My first priority on return from holiday was a commission for the RAF Memorial Flight (BBMF). This came about because one of their Spitfires - PR Mk XIX no. PS915, is being repainted to represent another of its kind that achieved a certain amount of fame in the early 1950s.

Spitfire PS852 of 81 Squadron, RAF, was used by Flt Lt Ted Powles AFC to make unofficial daring spy flights over Chinese territory during the Korean War, pushing it to the extreme limit of its fuel range.

Silver Spitfire

He also took it to a world altitude record for piston engine aircraft of 51,550 ft (almost 16 kms high!) on 5 February 1952. When the cabin pressurisation malfunctioned he then made an extremely fast descent, although the actual speed he attained is disputed.

The Memorial Flight repaint is going to be in the colours PS852 wore when it was based at RAF Kai Tak, Hong Kong. The exact date of the original colour scheme is uncertain, but there is a blurry photo from 1954/55 that shows how it looked: overall 'silver', which was actually RAF Aluminium.

Spitfire-PS852-at-altitude-Gary-Eason-SMThe Memorial Flight Spitfire's repaint has not been done yet but they need pictures for their publicity materials - and that is where I came in, with my depiction of the original. Here's a small version (right): look out for it if you are visiting RAF Coningsby.

I love the way this picture has turned out. When you see it full size the Spitfire seems to leap out of the frame.

Incidentally, while researching this I came across a delightful book by Valerie Ann Penlington called Winged Dragon: the History of the Royal Hong Kong Auxiliary Air Force. It features that blurry photo of PS852 on page 100, as well as lots of colour ones of aircraft and pilots, and a string of flying anecdotes. There is an enthusiastic review of it on this website

Unsung hero

At the head of this article is my next project, produced for the man who maintains a memorial in south-west London to one of The Few - unsung hero Spitfire pilot Flt/Sgt Charles Sydney of 92 Squadron, who was killed in one of the many engagements between RAF Fighter Command and the Luftwaffe on 27 September 1940.

A ceremony is being held, along with many others this year, to mark the 75th anniversary. I was asked to depict his aircraft, Spitfire R6767, coded QJ-N, and here you see the result.

According to the squadron's operations record book in the National Archives, Sydney had already made one short sortie from Biggin Hill that morning, from 0710 to 0740. He was one of nine pilots ordered up again at about 0845. It is a bleak record: he is marked "Missing" and two of the others "Crashed".

At the time, the fighting on the 27th was regarded as having been very intense. The Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, was moved to send a message the following day to the Secretary of State for Air, Sir Archibald Sinclair, which read in part: “The scale and intensity of the fighting and the heavy losses of the enemy ... make 27 September rank with 15 September and 15 August as the third great and victorious day of the Fighter Command during the course of the Battle of Britain."

Mailly-le-Camp

Understandably there has been a heavy focus recently on the Battle of Britain, with numerous magazine specials, TV programmes and social media comment. Indeed I am writing this on 'Battle of Britain Day' (15 September) and a flock of WWII fighters has just gone past within earshot of my office, part of the mass flypasts that began at Goodwood.

Next however I am going to be turning to a very different phase of World War II, featuring the memorable attack by RAF Bomber Command near the village of Mailly-le-Camp in the Aube area of north central France.

To set the context, if you do not know it: as part of the build-up to D-Day, 346 Lancaster bombers and 14 Mosquitoes were sent out on the night of 3/4 May to bomb the German military barracks near the village.

Communication difficulties forced a delay before they could bomb. It gave the defenders time to get organised. While circling the target under clear skies and a bright three quarters moon, and on the way back, the Lancasters fell prey to numerous German night fighters. A total of 42, almost 12% of the attacking force, were shot down: a loss of some 300 men.

'Milk run' (not)

Despite the heavy RAF losses that night the attack itself was very successful.

Mailly-le-Camp marked a turning point however. Until then there had been a perception that the long hauls to Germany and back were far more perilous operations than the softening up of enemy positions in France prior to D-Day, which sometimes were even characterised as "milk runs".

This extended to the official view of how many successfully completed operations a crew should have to make to complete a tour of duty. Ordinarily this was 30 but the shorter trips to France were being counted as only one third of an op - until several of them, and notably Mailly-le-Camp, showed just how deadly they could be. The policy was changed.

One thing is certain: anyone who was there would never forget it. But - spoiler alert: I will say no more at this stage about the picture I am making. Watch this space. 

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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. Publishers' enquiries are also welcome: many images are available already to license through the Alamy agency.

To get in touch visit the Contact page on my website. Find Flight Artworks on Facebook, and on Twitter @flightartworks.

 


Battle of Britain Spitfire for magazine

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Picture © Gary Eason. Licensing is via Alamy; for prints see www.flightartworks.com

High Wycombe, 10 May 2015 

Apart from all that spring stuff the month of May brought with it issue 16 of History Revealed magazine - whose cover features one of my Flight Artworks aircraft.

The Spitfire was commissioned by them to fit a rather precise slot in that front page, as you can see if you click on the link - after attempts to source a ready-made one had taken them to my Alamy account. There, they found things they liked but they were not quite at the right angle.

Creditably they were also anxious to be sure the details were authentic for the period. So I worked with them to get just what they wanted - which was as near to a "standard" Battle of Britain Spitfire as they could. 

I chose Spitfire R6891, DW-Q of No 610 Squadron, based at Biggin Hill, as flown by Sgt (later Wing Commander) Ronald Fairfax Hamlyn DFM. This was in part because there were some reasonable (for the time!) old pictures around of his aircraft, so I knew it was just the ticket. 

Hamlyn - "The Pied Piper of Harrogate" - became the RAF’s first 'Ace in a Day' of World War II, shooting down five enemy aircraft during three sorties on 24 August 1940. 

I also subsequently adapted this for my own purposes in the picture you see at the top of this page.

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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. Publishers' enquiries are also welcome: many images are available already to license through the Alamy agency.

To get in touch visit the Contact page on my website. Find Flight Artworks on Facebook, and on Twitter @flightartworks.


Lest we forget: F for Freddy remembered

Just a quick update that follows on from the picture I wrote about in January. It was commissioned by Kev Ruane to take to the unveiling of a memorial in a small town in Austria, Adnet, where 619 Squadron Lancaster "F for Freddy" crashed in flames in the last days of World War II.

The unveiling of the memorial took place in a moving ceremony in glorious weather towards the end of April, the 70th anniversary of the loss. It was a tremendous coming together of relatives, friends, dignataries and others with an interest, from multiple countries. 

You can read more about that on the website Kev maintains, and there was a rather fine piece broadcast on CBC - four of the Lanc's seven crew were Canadian. I don't know how long CBC keep their archive active but as I write this is the link to it

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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. Publishers' enquiries are also welcome: many images are available already to license through the Alamy agency.

To get in touch visit the Contact page on my website. Find Flight Artworks on Facebook, and on Twitter @flightartworks.


Turning point: Battle of Britain Day, 15 September 1940

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The Luftwaffe's afternoon attack on a day that changed the course of the war. Picture © Gary Eason. Licensing is via Alamy; for prints see www.flightartworks.com

High Wycombe, 16 Feb 2015

My latest picture portrays some 128 separate aircraft on what we now know was a decisive day: 15 September 1940.

The picture, which I have been working on for much of the past couple of weeks, was commissioned as a double-page spread for the Official Royal Air Force Memorial Flight Club Yearbook 2015 - currently in preparation - as part of a series of articles on the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.

I was given pretty much a free rein on what to depict by the editor, and settled on the 15th almost inevitably. On that day the Luftwaffe mounted two major attacks on London - as Prime Minister Winston Churchill happened to be watching in RAF Fighter Command's 11 Group Operations Room at RAF Uxbridge. 

In the morning, a relatively small force of Dornier Do 17 bombers, with numerically greater fighter support, tested the defences. This was followed a few hours later by a much bigger operation, involving some 114 bombers, in three main columns, escorted by several hundred fighters. That is what became my focus.

Cloud cover

I have tried to give a realistic snapshot of a moment relatively early on when the afternoon's attackers are approaching London. They are beginning to run into the fighter defences brilliantly orchestrated by 11 Group's commander, Air Vice-Marshal Keith Park.

This involved a good deal of reading to try to get a 3D picture into my head of what was going on. The clouds had built up during the day to between 7/10ths and 9/10ths cumulus, from about 3,000ft base to 12,000ft tops in places. Wind was from the northwest.

The clouds were a factor in the Luftwaffe crews' subsequently failing to find their targets, hitting alternates where there was a gap in the cloud cover, scattering bombs indiscriminately - or giving up and running for home.

I then chose specific actions with enough documentation to be able to portray the actual aircraft involved, cross-referring sources to get as much accuracy as I could.

So the result is a composite, putting us in the thick of the action at roughly 1430 that Sunday afternoon as two dozen Heinkel He 111s of Kampfgeschwader 53 'Legion Condor', forming the central column of bombers, cross Kent heading for London.

Details

Fighter Command begins to break up the formation: Nine Spitfires from No 66 Squadron attack head-on from below. Hurricanes from No 1 (RCAF) Squadron swoop from above. They are being challenged by Messerschmitt Bf109 fighters from JG 3.

Where there are identifiable aircraft I have based them on squadron records and published accounts of the actions. So for example, 66 were led in their upward-sweeping attack on the Heinkels' most vulnerable aspect by Sqn. Ldr. Rupert "Lucky" Leigh in Spitfire R6800 LZ-N (lower right) - closing to point blank range before firing then rolling away for another attempt. 

The foreground Heinkel He 111 is an H-2 of 3/KG 53, coded A1+EL.  As an aside, this had two MG15 machine guns in the nose blister instead of the usual (for the type) single gun. The Luftwaffe progressively beefed up the armament on these aircraft in response to their Battle of Britain losses.

It did not help Ltn Hermann Boeckh and his crew much: after dropping their bombs they were attacked by eight Spitfires. With both engines on fire and the airframe riddled with bullet holes, Boeckh made a forced landing on a farm in Orsett, Essex.

The flight engineer, Friedrich Grotzki, was killed and three of the other four on board were wounded - the pilot reportedly by his own revolver, which discharged after being struck by a machine gun bullet. Nevertheless the crew stuck to military discipline, torching what remained of their aircraft and refusing to give any information when interrogated.

Below them in the picture, another 3/KG53 H-2, A1+GL, is going into a dive after being hit by Spitfire bullets. It will be shot to pieces by up to a dozen Spitfires. Two of its crew died and two were wounded when it crashed on farmland at Sandhurst Cross.

Wounded

The RAF's priority on the day was to knock down the bombers. To get at them they had to run the gauntlet of a fighter escort from the pilots of at least six gruppen, who put up a formidable defence but were rapidly at the limits of their cross-Channel fuel range.

In the forefront in my picture are some of the experienced pilots of Jagdschwader 3 'Udet': the most successful gruppe in the Battle of France and now veterans of the Battle of Britain. Among the yellow-nosed Messerschmitt Bf109s coming in above is an E-4 piloted by Hptm. Hans von Hahn, recently appointed Gruppenkommandeur of I./JG 3. Already an ace, he will account for another Spitfire this afternoon.

Above him in another E-4 from Stab I./JG 3, Ltn. Detlev Rohwer's shells are taking chunks out of Hawker Hurricane L1973 of No 1 (RCAF) Squadron and the left shoulder of its pilot, Fg. Off. Arthur Yuile, who later cursed his forgetfulness in not having maintained eyes in the sides and back of his head as he dived to attack the Heinkels. He managed to get the damaged aircraft back safely to RAF Northolt.

Off to the left in the distance, starting to attract 'ack ack' bursts from the anti-aircraft guns below, are the 19 Dorniers of II./KG3 followed by more Heinkels from I. and II./KG 26. They are about to be hit by the first of a string of fighter squadrons, Spitfires in line astern catching the sunlight as they dive from high above.

This pattern was to be repeated throughout the afternoon as wave after wave of RAF aircraft harried the attackers all the way in and all the way out, with increasingly devastating effect on the materiel and morale of Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering's Luftwaffe.

This was a time-consuming but fascinating picture to research and to make. I hope I have done justice to the events and to the bravery of those involved. In the process I have been learning a lot about Luftwaffe units and aircraft. As usual, please let me know if you spot any howling errors.

I heartily recommend membership of the BBMF Club. The Yearbook is due out at the beginning of April.

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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. Publishers' enquiries are also welcome: many images are available already to license through the Alamy agency.

To get in touch visit the Contact page on my website. Find Flight Artworks on Facebook, and on Twitter @flightartworks.


Remembering Berchtesgaden Lancaster "F for Freddy"

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High Wycombe, 30 Jan 2015

There is an interesting story around all the pictures I get asked to make, but it is usually about the original circumstances that are being portrayed. 

In the case of this latest commission however there is also a story behind why the picture itself came to be made, and where it is going.

It depicts the shooting down of Lancaster LM756, PG-F of No 619 Squadron RAF, during a daylight operation against Hitler's Eagle's Nest retreat at Berchtesgaden in the Bavarian Alps on 25 April 1945  - almost at the end of the war in Europe, 70 years ago.

The operation involved 359 Lancasters and 16 Mosquitos from RAF Bomber Command's 1, 5 and 8 Groups. LM756 was one of six Lancasters from 619 Squadron, based at RAF Strubby in Lincolnshire, which went in ahead of the main force to check the wind speed and direction, and disrupt the German radar defences by dropping metal foil 'Window'.

According to survivors' accounts they had a clear run at about 22,000ft over their designated bombing target - the SS barracks - but then were coned in anti-aircraft fire and shot down in flames.

Three men bailed out and were prisoners of war briefly until liberated by the Americans: flight engineer Fred Cole, bomb aimer Art Sharman and wireless operator Jack Speers. Four of the crew died with the aircraft: Wilf DeMarco (Pilot), Norman Johnston (Navigator), Gordon Walker (Rear Gunner) - all Canadians - and Edward Norman (Mid-upper Gunner).

Austrian memorial

I heard about the story when I was contacted by Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service Watch Manager Kevin (Kev) Ruane MBE. He had seen my work and wanted to know if I could make a picture about F for Freddy.

In 2013 Kevin's role in the Fire Service International Youth Leaders Commission had taken him to a small town called Adnet in Austria, a few miles from Berchtesgaden, where he met the mayor, Wolfgang Auer.

Kevin speaks German fluently, having lived in Germany for nine years after serving there in the Army. Burgermeister Auer told him about the Lancaster that had crashed near his town and said he was keen to have a suitable memorial built, inviting members of the crew's families and of the 619 Squadron Association to its unveiling.

At the time neither of them knew that one of the crew - the bomb aimer, Arthur (Art) Sharman - was still alive. He died shortly after, aged 93. 

Kevin followed up the conversation by using the 619 Squadron Facebook page to pursue the mayor's  idea and now, two years later, on the 70th anniversary of the operation, it is all about to become a reality. He approached me because he wanted to be able to present a framed print to Herr Auer. 

Details

From what I can tell the Lancaster must have been a fireball as it went down onto the mountainside outside Adnet. I chose to portray it part way through the drama, before the starboard wing also burst into flames, so that the squadron codes were still visible.

At this point Art Sharman is descending by parachute in the distance. Flight engineer Fred Cole hangs limply from his: he passed out after being pushed from the 'plane  clutching his bundled parachute, which had inadvertently been opened inside the cockpit. 

The man who helped him to get out, wireless operator Jack Speers, is still inside the burning Lanc but is also about to make a successful exit. He was the third and last survivor - the other crew having been killed outright or fatally wounded by the flak shrapnel. 

Kevin runs a website about F for Freddy which has considerable detail about the operation, including accounts by the crew who survived. I also had a useful chat about certain technical details with the secretary of the 619 Association, Joe Dutton, who was also a bomb aimer on the squadron at the time. Indefatigable at the age of 91, he was in the process of organising their next reunion, set for this April. 

619 Squadron was in existence only from April 1943 to July 1945. It apparently does not even have a squadron crest in the RAF Club and is sometimes referred to as the "forgotten squadron". 

Well, not entirely, and I am pleased to have had a small part in honouring the memory of some of the men who did not return. Gone - but not forgotten. 

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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. Publishers' enquiries are also welcome: many images are available already to license through the Alamy agency.

To get in touch visit the Contact page on my website. Find Flight Artworks on Facebook, and on Twitter @flightartworks.


A close-up look at the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight

Lancaster PA474 mid-upper turret Gary Eason _DSC3309

Lancaster PA474's mid-upper turret. Soft toys dot the airframe

High Wycombe, 2 Dec 2014

I was standing next to a World War Two Spitfire while one of the few modern pilots lucky enough to have flown it recounted how the engine had emptied of oil while he was doing an airshow display.

We were in the spacious and spotlessly clean hangar given over to the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire.

Outside, their engines a crackling roar, Eurofighter Typhoon jets periodically hurtled off runway 25 and up through the lingering morning fog. Inside, the hangar was a haven of methodical maintenance.

Seeing the memorial flight's vintage aircraft up close I can only marvel again at the courage of those who originally flew them in combat.

Hurricane LF363 Gary Eason _DSC3230

With the outer fuselage skin removed it is all too apparent why the fuel tanks of a Hawker Hurricane fighter presented such a lethal fire hazard to the pilot's legs, stuck forward inside the skeletal tubular framework.

The aluminium alloy skin of the C-47 Dakota looks paper thin to be flown, unarmed, at low altitude over hostile territory with two dozen paratroops and their kit on board. The flight's ZA947 is currently fitted out with the basic metal bucket seats they used.

The rear gun turret of an Avro Lancaster looks impossibly cramped and claustrophobic even for someone in normal clothing, let alone a bulky flying suit and the boots and gloves made essential by freezing temperatures at altitude. I cannot imagine being stuck in there for hours on end in the dark with hostile forces making a point of trying to kill you. 

Dakota Kwicherbichen Gary Eason _DSC3214

My host for this VIP guided tour was Squadron Leader Clive Rowley MBE RAF (Ret'd), former officer commanding the BBMF. Clive was a Hunter, Lightning, Hawk and Tornado F3 pilot who joined the flight in 1996.

As we looked at the Mk PR XIX Spitfire PM631, its Griffon engine out on a stand and various other components neatly stacked on the floor, Clive pointed to a hose protruding from the forward bulkhead.

He recalled how he had been flying in a display at Southend Airshow in May 2004 when people in the other aircraft alongside and on the ground began telling him over the radio that the Spitfire was trailing oil.

He checked the instruments: all seemed well, oil pressure OK. Thinking "a little oil goes a long way" he was not unduly concerned but decided it wise to make an unscheduled landing on the airfield as a precaution.

Spitfire-PR-oil-leak-Gary-Eason-sm

Good call. As he was about to cross the runway threshold on his final approach, the oil pressure gauge went from normal to zero.

It turned out that a rubber hose connecting two bits of pipework had parted and the engine had lost almost all its lubrication. It would not have run for much longer when he touched down safely.

This was only one of several occasions in his career as a pilot that he was in a potentially disastrous situation, Clive tells me over lunch at the Lea Gate Inn. On a wall at home he has a souvenir piece of English Electric Lightning fuselage with the hole in it made by an exploding engine.

Just Jane Gary Eason _DSC3405

As well as being skilful and brave you also have to be lucky. So "lucky enough to have flown it" is rather double edged.

If you didn't know already, the BBMF hangar is open to the public for guided tours: more information via this link.

You might even get Clive Rowley as your guide - if you're lucky. 

And why not make a day of it, as I did, and pop up the road to see Just Jane - Lancaster NX611 - and friends at the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Museum, where restoration work continues apace. 

 


Iconic moments in Dambusters aviation prints

Outward-Bound-Canvas
My picture 'Duty bound' - now with two famous autographs on this canvas print - Client photo

High Wycombe, 13 May 2013

It ranks in certain quarters as possibly the most daring and audacious operation the RAF carried out during World War II. But when I asked American and German friends ... they had never heard of it. 

Doing what I mostly do there is only one game in town this week: 70 years ago, on the night of 16/17 May 1943, nineteen specially modified Lancaster bombers of 617 Squadron flew at extremely low level across to the Ruhr and used a clever "bouncing bomb" against German dams, smashing two of them. 

There is of course far, far more to it than that. Not least the fact that five of the aircraft did not make it to their targets, and another three did not get back. Of the 133 aircrew, 53 were killed and another three taken prisoner. Many civilians also died - as they did most nights on both sides; there was a war on. 

Munro-and-Johnson-signing-Linda-Meredith-print-smI have been making a series of pictures about this operation, a number of which have been sold - some to magazines or other commercial outfits, and of course some to private individuals who want a slice of history on their walls. 

One such customer bought two canvas prints last week and took them along to a commemmorative signing event at a gallery the other day, then sent me photos (and some very kind words) afterwards.

One of his photos shows one of the Lancasters, AJ-T, crossing Holland just feet off the deck. It has been signed by the redoubtable Squadron Leader George 'Johnny' Johnson DFM RAF ... who was the bomb aimer in that very aircraft. A weird thought. 

He also signed the other picture, showing a wave of three Lancasters heading out against the setting sun (top) - and it was countersigned by Squadron Leader Les Munro DSO DFC RNZAF, one of the pilots that night. 

Meanwhile ...  

Another recipient of some of my prints took them along to the Dambusters reunion dinner, and very kindly sent me a couple of photographs (right).

They show one of my prints, as she put it, "being signed by two certain veterans". No prizes for guessing who they were.  These men are legendary and it is very humbling that they have put their names on some of my pictures. 

 The 70th anniversary of the operation also prompted various 'specials' among the aviation magazines. 

I was very pleased that the publishers Morton's of Horncastle selected one of my images (the one at the top of this post) to run as a double spread on the contents pages of the anniversary bookazine  they produced for the UK and US markets, with another picture - First Wave - also across two pages illustrating part of the story of the raid, written by Squadron Leader Clive Rowley MBE RAF (Retd). 

Another magazine used my picture of L for Leather over the Eder for the cover of their May/June 2013 issue, entitled The Dambusters:

The Armourer magazine cover MayJune 2013 CROP

---------------------------

 TO BUY PRINTS  of any of my works please visit www.flightartworks.com.

I do private commissions, for individual aircraft or bigger scenes. Publishers' enquiries are also welcome: many images are available already to license through the Alamy agency.

To get in touch visit the Contact page on my website. Find Flight Artworks on Facebook, and on Twitter @flightartworks.