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Daydreams over Cambridgeshire - a WIP

Mon Jul 06, 2009 4:17 pm

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)
"SUZY-G" (wife)
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 (not 413765 - 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.

Mon Jul 06, 2009 5:57 pm

Good luck with the project!
I can't wait or the finished work!

Tue Jul 07, 2009 5:03 am

Excellent post Wade.

Good to see a detailed, open, balanced analysis of evidence, weighed and evaluated using the understanding of a very experienced and technically competent artist.

...that's what you asked me to say, wasn't it? :D

The only thing I'd add is that perception, like colour shift in printing is very easy in the green to blue field, although, IIRC, more in the lighter hues such as the eau-de-nil to turquoise bracket. I remember having a particularly silly argument over an aircraft's colour that one of us saw as light greenish and another light blueish...

Oh, and very incidentally, I was lucky enough to meet Michael J. F. Bowyer at Duxford on a couple of occasions, and like many genuine experts, he was a modest but fascinating man to talk to, albeit briefly. His work on Action Stations and many other areas when research and writing in these fields was a lot harder, I certainly respect. However, as Wade says, weighing personal observations without hard data is a tough call.


Tue Jul 07, 2009 5:56 am

MJF has been known to make mistakes before. It makes no sense to use the blue paint, while the use of the OD or dark green paint is easily explained based on the other examples used due to the invasion planning and potential for aircraft moving to the continent.

Tue Jul 07, 2009 6:37 am

Dan Johnson II wrote:MJF has been known to make mistakes before.

Hi Dan, Wade,
Just to clarify, I wasn't suggesting Michael hadn't made mistakes - like any of us who've published, I'm sure he's well aware of the fact that those who do, err on occasion; but but the fact we make mistakes shouldn't be taken to outweigh the work he's done, which we are lucky to build on.

As I said, Wade's data and analysis is an all-too-rare piece of impressive quality work shown here.


Tue Jul 07, 2009 8:27 am

Thanks - I had forgotten that one of my collectors had personally asked Ben Drew about this at an "Aces" forum, and Drew replied something to the effect of, "We were the Air Force, not the G*&% D@*& Navy! We never used blue on our planes!"

:shock: YES SIR!



PS: Ben's book, Ben Drew, The Katzenjammer Ace, is a great read. I found it fascinating that a witness on the ground for Drew's 2-Me 262 kills as they took off from Achmer, high-scoring Luftwaffe ace Georg-Peter Eder, later in life became one of Drew's best friends.

Thu Jul 09, 2009 9:57 pm


we have a yellowjack pilot at the 8th AF Museum who may be able to give some marking info.

His name is Ken Scott. He was running the Mission Experience there on the last Saturday of the Aviation Art show a couple of weeks ago.


Thu Jul 09, 2009 10:24 pm

Here's afew more shots.....................
B-4 break
Ben Drew

Thu Jul 09, 2009 10:34 pm

Thanks for the super pics, Jack. 8)

I have a good friend who visits Ben regularly in an assisted living complex. He's still fiesty in his late 80s (God, aren't we a bunch of lucky MF'ers for knowing these guys who fought the big WW-twice?!), but suffers a bit of dementia from time to time. As usual, however, with the older folks he remembers long-ago events with great clarity. Ben is now aware of my painting and my tushy better get it right or there's gonna be h*ll to pay! If I put blue anywhere but in the sky my ar$e is grarse! :shock:


Thu Jul 09, 2009 10:37 pm

Oh, Jack - if you can dig up pics of Rowlett and Glankler I'd love to add them to my FB fan page for this project. IIRC I did find a pic of Rowlett taxiing up in a B-model on Footnote, but other than that, zilch for #3 and #4 in the formation ...


Fri Jul 10, 2009 4:24 am

Wade, why didn't you give me a shout buddy? Could have supplied you several pics of the formation from different angles along with pics of all the pilots to boot. Looks like you have came to the same conclusion about the paint on LOU IV that I came to years ago, even built a model using it. Anyway, good to see you working on a 361st project, look forward to seeing it.
I have a book in the works about the group, more first person accounts and will have lots of 361st nose art. If you are ever close to Suffolk VA, stop by the Fighter Factory hangar at the Suffolk Exec Airport and visit me.

Craig Quattlebaum
P51SIG Admin
361stFG Assoc VP

Fri Jul 10, 2009 10:14 am

Yo, Craig!

The blathering I did above simply started out as a simple PM to a friend based on some info Jason Webb, et al, had provided me, and before I deleted it I thought it would make a nice "Note" to add to my Facebook page (Wade Meyers Studios) to help tell the story behind the painting and the original pictures, so I got out all my books and "expanded" it. It was never meant to be an all-encompassing 'book', thus no need to contact all far and wide for pix. I needed to do the research anyway to get me back up to speed for the painting.

If you have additional pics that you'd like to share, please post them here for the enjoyment of WIX, and with your permission I'd love to add portraits of the men themselves to my Facebook album for this project. I just added Col. Christian and Ben's portraits to my FB album, with credit to Jack, of course. Would love to have the other two.

Cheers! :D

Wed Jul 22, 2009 9:27 pm

A little update ...

^Day 1 of the pencil study ~ Since the last update, I've done very detailed outline drawings of each plane based on the model shots in the comp photo. In the picture above, you can see the large final outline for the #4 ship, Suzy-G, at the top of the drawing board.

I resized the outline drawings to fit together properly within the 20 x 40 format of the final painting. Once that was done, I then made a small copy of the composition to use for the image transfer to the overall pencil study as seen above. You can see that I started the drawing with Suzy-G on the left.

The image size for this drawing is 11 3/8 x 22 3/4 inches, pencil on smooth Bristol.

^Closeup of the initial pencil work on Suzy-G. After I transferred the image to the Bristol paper I had a bit of time left before I had to go pick up young Nick, so this is about 35-40 minutes of experimenting and getting my pencils warmed up for all the work to follow. Going fast because the plane is small - 4.25" nose to tail.

I always start with the planes in my drawings. The clouds will be added after all seven Mustangs are drawn. That's the opposite of my painting procedure. I hope to have this drawing wrapped up this weekend, he says with beaming confidence!


^Finished this little sucker. Total of about an hour and a half of 'work'. The temptation is to obsessively detail this drawing, but at 4.25 inches long that's not the point with this study ...

^Suzy-G and Sky Bouncer are in position. Keep in mind that the planes are each only a few inches long in this small study. Seen against the stark white background of the paper the planes may at first appear to be too dark (we call this effect "Simultaneous Contrast"), but once the clouds are in place they should "fit" nicely value-wise. That being said, adjustments may still be necessary once the background is laid in. The "prop discs" should likewise blend more into the background. With props, "less is more", so I'll try to keep them as faint as possible.

Notice how the reflected light from the clouds lights up the undersides of the wings - and parts of the fuselage though it's hard to tell at this size. It's going to be fun to paint and watch this one come to life ...

^Lt. Drew has joined the formation ... I'd better get Col. Christian's kite done before they go into those clouds!

^All four Mustangs are now in position.

^Overall view of the study so far ... clouds this weekend! 8)

Wed Jul 22, 2009 9:33 pm

Nice stuff Wade. I particularly like the way you've got the slightly reflex curve of the Mustang wing's laminar flow section captured.

Wed Jul 22, 2009 9:47 pm

Wow. Just wow.

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