WIP = "Work in Progress" ...
Here's one of the two paintings I'm currently working on. I'm calling it "Daydreams over Cambridgeshire". I've always been fascinated by "The Bottisham Four", and it was fun to really dig into this one over the past few weeks:
In late July 1944, the Bottisham, Cambridgeshire-based 361st Fighter Group "Yellowjackets" was selected to be photographed for a series of 8th Air Force publicity pictures for widespread distribution.
28-year old Col. Thomas J. J. Christian, Jr., a West Point graduate and commanding officer of the 361st, 'volunteered' several of his pilots the morning of July 26th to accompany him as they made many passes at a 91st Bomb Group B-17 Flying Fortress camera ship in a variety of formations. The three other pilots involved were dressing for a two-day pass in London when Col. Christian informed them that their plans were off - they would be flying later that day ... and, by the way, thanks for volunteering!
The image above, universally known today as "The Bottisham Four", is probably the best known of the set, and has been reproduced in countless magazines and books over the years.
See below for more information on the planes in this photograph - and my comments on the controversy that has brewed over the years regarding their paint jobs. Looks pretty simple based on this photograph, doesn't it? Heh heh ... (NARA photo)
I was recently challenged by one of my collectors to do a painting of "The Bottisham Four", but from the other side! The right side of the famous formation was not photographed in the late July 1944 series of photos. No problem - I simply whipped out my artistic license to go back in time and put things where I want them.
With the client's brief in mind, I decided to show the famous quartet as they are returning from a combat mission in early August. I have no idea if these four particular 375th Fighter Squadron P-51s actually flew on a combat mission together, but again, stone-cold documented historical reality for the aviation artist is not a limiting factor, but rather simply a starting point and general guide for our creations.
I chose to show the four Mustangs as they are descending to penetrate the thick overcast blanketing the area of their home base of Bottisham, Cambridgeshire. Typically, only the flight leader flew instruments in the clouds - his 'chicks' kept him in sight by flying close formation.
A 3-ship from the sister 374th Fighter Squadron can be seen in the distance veering off slightly to make their own penetration. In my scenario the fourth man is missing - he was hit by flak over the target and a few minutes later he was seen to bail out. He got a good chute, so let's hope he can connect with the Underground or make it OK to a POW camp ...
The image above shows my rough-cut comp of the seven P-51s. The grouping of aircraft shapes forms a sort of 'wedge', thus providing forward movement to the composition. In total, three 1/48 scale models posed for me. The precise perspective/distance of the Mustangs from the viewer's eye for my photography was carefully plotted via Descriptive Geometry based on the 20 x 40 inch canvas 'window'. This is the final arrangement of the planes. However, much detail work remains in refining and correcting the outlines and details before I can go further.
The background is still under 'construction' as I post this. Pencil studies coming soon ...
The Aircraft -
P-51D-5-NA, 44-13410, E2-C
"LOU IV" (his fourth aircraft named for his daughter)
"ATHELENE" (right side; thought to be the crew chief's lady friend or wife)
callsign: 'Easy Two-Charlie'
Flown by Col. Thomas J. J. Christian, Jr., 361st Fighter Group commander 10 Feb 43 to 12 August 44. A West Pointer, Col. Christian was killed in action in this aircraft while dive-bombing a ground target in France mere weeks after the famous photo session depicted here. German records say that Col. Christian survived his downing, only to die a day or two later. His gravesite was unknown for many years, but once found in 1996 - he was thought to be British due to his flight clothing* and was buried in a WWI British cemetery - his daughter "Lou" wished her father to remain where he fell rather than have his remains transferred to Arlington.
*Many 8th Air Force fighter pilots preferred the more comfortable British helmets, boots, and life jackets.
P-51D-5-NA, 44-13926, E2-S
callsign: 'Easy Two-Sugar'
E2-S was the newest 'kite' in the photographs. She displays the new dorsal fin fillet, aka the "B-17 fin", mounted to the front edge of the vertical stab. Lt. Urban L. "Ben" Drew, later an ace with six aerial victories, flew the ship for these photos. Soon after the famous late July photo session, E2-S was involved in a fatal accident near Stalham, Norfolk, on 9 Aug 44. 2Lt. Donald D. Dellinger, newly-assigned to the 361st FG, perished while on a training flight.
From what I understand, Ben Drew has gone on record stating that the 361st Fighter Group never used blue as a field-applied camouflage color. Works for me!
P-51D-5-NA, 44-13568, E2-A
later, "ALICE MARIE"
callsign: 'Easy Two-Able'
Assigned to Capt. Bruce W. "Red" Rowlett, 375th Fighter Squadron operations officer. This aircraft suffered engine failure on takeoff and crashed 3 April 45. Notice the green-overpainted invasion stripes on the upper wings ...
P-51B-15-NA, 42-106811, E2-H (underline bar)
callsign: 'Easy Two-How'
Flown by Capt. Francis T. Glankler, 375th Fighter Squadron "D" Flight commander. A veteran of D-Day, SUZY-G was written off in a crash landing in the UK on 11 Sep 44 after returning from a combat mission. At the time of her crash, SUZY-G sported a new Malcolm Hood ...
The Controversy -
LOU IV: I'm Not Singin' the Blues ...
by Wade Meyers (c) 2009
There is no shortage of controversy regarding the 361st Fighter Group's paint jobs, more specifically Col. Christian's P-51 Mustang LOU IV. This in spite of excellent color photography of the now-famous "Bottisham Four" (the 361st was based at the time at Bottisham, Cambridgeshire), a representative group of four 361st FG machines called upon by higher headquarters to formate with a 91st Bomb Group B-17 above England for a series of official publicity pictures in late July 1944. These beautiful color and black & white photos are very well known to those of us in the 'trade', so to speak, but far from solving riddles these photos have opened long-standing debates that will probably never be resolved to everyone's satisfaction.
A little background: around the May/June timeframe, just before the D-Day invasion on 6 June 44, many 8th Air Force fighters - based in England - had a coat of camouflage color applied to their topsides by individual units to help hide their 'shiny' natural metal finishes in anticipation of operating from bases on the continent after the invasion front was secured. This was a short-lived directive from on-high, and in the end only a few units actually followed through with the time-consuming task. The 361st FG is known to have had more than a few of their 'kites' so adorned. Later, when it was deemed safe to do so, the decision was made to overpaint the bold black and white "invasion stripes" (applied on 5 June) on the upper surfaces to avoid compromising the camouflage any further.
The debate that has raged is this: was a 'blue' color used at any time as part of this ad hoc camouflage application - specifically on some 361st Fighter Group Mustangs - instead of the standard USAAF Olive Drab and/or RAF British Dark Green used by other units? Noted 8th Air Force historian the late Roger Freeman mentions in a few of his books that "several" 361st machines "most definitely" had patches of blue paint applied. This is based solely on the observations of a few civilian 'spotters' at the time who recorded their sightings in notebooks, but no definitive evidence has been put forth to back up their claims. Their personal observations should not be dismissed outright, of course, but there is no other fireproof evidence that blue of any shade was used in lieu of Olive Drab and/or Dark Green on 'Yellowjackets' planes. A group of others, some historians and a group of serious modelers, have since joined the chorus and climbed aboard the "blue" bandwagon and have subjected the Bottisham Four series of photos to extensive eyeball analysis, pointing out how, yes, we are indeed seeing blue on Col. Christian's LOU IV - and Capt. Glankler's SUZY-G - which of course implies that there may indeed have been more 'blue' aircraft, per the spotter's notebooks.
As a representational artist I am well aware that warm and cool light - a factor of time of day, cloud conditions, and time of year - can greatly affect perceived colors to the naked eye. Indeed, one of my challenges as I paint is to properly 'shift', sometimes quite radically, the local colors on a plane to 'fit' the ambient atmosphere and lighting. This has been one of the strongest arguments against the observations of the spotters; that and the lack of any corroborating evidence.
The 361st FG veterans themselves, including the ground crews, who knew every square inch of these machines, and would have been the ones to actually apply said blue to their charges, and the pilots, including Ben Drew, flying E2-S during the "Bottisham Four" photo session (see photos below), have to a man stated that a "blue" of any kind was not used on their aircraft as part of the field-applied camouflage. I tend to go with the vets for one main reason (besides the obvious): you would think that Ben Drew, flying 'Easy Two-Sugar' in close formation on Christian's plane for the photo shoot, would have noticed blue - an oddity, to say the least - on LOU IV ... you think?
Another (yes, there's more!) little matter regarding LOU IV - in particular - stems from the fact that Col. Christian's plane displays two distinct shades/tones of the field-applied paintwork, with the lighter of the two covering the mid and upper portions of the fuselage invasion stripes - and the area covering the upper wing invasion stripes. One unpublished black & white photo that was shared with me shows Christian’s plane parked on her hardstand circa mid-July and it’s obvious that there are two different tones of - presumably green - field-applied paint. This is not an optical illusion since the same “demarcation” line between the darker and lighter shades on the upper fuselage and upper wings can be seen in other photos of LOU IV from different angles and lighting conditions, including high-rez versions of the famous airborne photos that I gathered from the US National Archives collections. Below, I have published closeups of the areas in question.
My theory is this: in May 1944 when the field-applied camouflage was first applied to many Yellowjackets aircraft, LOU IV was painted using British Dark Green, a darker, richer color than U.S. Olive Drab. Later, the upper fuselage and wing invasion stripes were overpainted with Olive Drab, a lighter-toned color which tended to fade very rapidly. As for using two different shades of green on the CO’s ship, it's well known that under wartime conditions the mechanical condition of the aircraft was the first, second, and third priority, with “colors & markings” being attended to when able – and matching color hues exactly would not have been of grave concern.
In summary, based on the evidence at hand, and what *I* see in the photos, in my upcoming 361st FG painting, to be entitled "Daydreams over Cambridgeshire" (‘Daydream’ was one callsign of the 375th Fighter Squadron at this time), which will show a view of the Bottisham Four from a completely different vantage point than was captured during the WWII photo session, I'll paint LOU IV with a discernable lighter/darker field camouflage mix to match the photos I have.
... but both tones/shades will be green, not blue!
While researching my piece above, I came across an article by one of the actual "spotters" I refer to above. Michael J. F. Bowyer became a respected historian, and in the interests of presenting all sides, here is Mr. Bowyer's say on the matter:
“. . . my most vivid memory of the P-51s will always date from a clear, warm, sunny evening, that of July 9, 1944. I was in the same part of Bottisham airfield where, in 1940, I had tarried nervously at the sight of Tiger Moths bombed-up to meet the possibility of invasion. Now the tables were truly turned and Bottisham was certainly on the offensive. Here at hand was a clutch of three P-51s, natural [aluminum] finished at a time when about half the USAAF aircraft in Britain had shed camouflage. These were among those Bottisham Mustangs that had acquired a most superb blue upper decking to wings and fuselage. The colour was what I described in my diary as 'really Royal Blue'. I noted that it was not desecrated by the addition of invasion stripes above the main planes or wrapping around the fuselage. A generous American led me to 2106900: E2-H, a P-51B-15-NA (which long serial I had to note very cautiously!) and then we went to 2103588: E2-P, a P-51C-5-NT. Finally we wandered to one of the then new P-51D-50[sic]-NAs, 413765: E9-O, already resplendent in the blue scheme . . ."
- Excerpted from “Mustang Memories”, by Michael J. F. Bowyer.
AIRFIX Magazine for Modellers, October 1979, p. 83.
That being said, lacking photographic evidence, and comparing "eyewitness" to "eyewitness" testimony, I gotta go with the veterans. Splashing a 'really royal blue' over a few airplanes would not have gone unnoticed by those crawling all over them every day ...
I quoted Michael J. F. Bowyer in my article above, in part ~
“. . . A generous American led me to 2106900: E2-H, a P-51B-15-NA (which long serial I had to note very cautiously!) and then we went to 2103588: E2-P, a P-51C-5-NT. Finally we wandered to one of the then new P-51D-50
[sic] -NAs, 413765: E9-O, already resplendent in the blue scheme . . . "
There exists a nice color picture of 413763
- a typo on Bowyer's part? Further, Littlefriends.co.uk shows no record for 3765, though that's not 100% definitive evidence that it didn't fly with the 376th FS), E9-O, flying. It's not painted blue ...
Capt. Sam C Wilkerson Jr., 376th Fighter Squadron.
P-51D 44-13763 E9-O.
(photo: David O. Garcia via www.littlefriends.co.uk
Blue topsides on Easy Two-Charlie and Easy Two-Able? You know, I do detect a 'blueish' hue on C and A, but I know better than to be led astray - one way or the other - by online images. Easy Twos-Sugar and How are generally acknowledged by everyone to display Olive Drab/RAF Dark Green field-applied camouflage ...
Steve Gotts, historian of the group and author of "Little Friends - A Pictorial History of the 361st Fighter Group in WW II", has talked to almost every veteran within the 361st FG and not one of them has said there was blue on any of the planes.
The evidence -
Here are a few images which, I think, prove at least that LOU IV displayed two tones of field-applied paint. Arrows denote areas to compare and/or tonal demarcation lines. Areas "A" and "B" are to be compared as well.
The artist would like to thank the NARA, and historians Steve Gotts, Jason Webb, Jack Cook, and Paul Cora for information and photographs. Opinions above are those of the artist only, and are not intended to reflect conclusions on the part of the above named individuals.
Last edited by Chicoartist
on Tue Sep 08, 2009 4:09 pm, edited 3 times in total.