A Royal Navy Spitfire pilot in the Battle of Britain – Sub Lieutenant (A) Arthur Blake, Fleet Air Arm, at No.19 Squadron RAF

Richard Maddox

PILOTS (and Rangy, the spaniel) of No. 19 Squadron RAF, at Manor Farm, (RAF Station Fowlmere), Cambridgeshire. They are (left to right), Pilot Officer Wallace Cunningham, RAF, Sub-Lieutenant Arthur Giles Blake, Fleet Air Arm with Flying Officer Francis Noel Brinsden. Image copyright © IWM. IWM catalogue reference CH 1459. Image created by Mr. S A Devon, RAF Official photographer. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205209970.

PILOTS (and Rangy the spaniel) of No. 19 Squadron RAF, at Manor Farm, (RAF Station Fowlmere), Cambridgeshire. They are (left to right), Pilot Officer Wallace Cunningham, RAF, Sub-Lieutenant Arthur Giles Blake, Fleet Air Arm with Flying Officer Francis Noel Brinsden. Image copyright © IWM. IWM catalogue reference CH 1459. Image created by Mr. S A Devon, RAF Official photographer. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205209970.

IT IS SEPTEMBER 1940, AND THREE YOUNG PILOTS ARE TRYING TO BE NONCHALANT, play it cool, not look at the camera as they sit outside Nissen huts at RAF Fowlmere, an airfield little more than a large working farm with a grass runway used as a satellite for RAF Duxford where No. 19 Squadron RAF – their parent squadron and the first to be equipped with the Supermarine Spitfire fighter – also operated from.

But there is a hint of devilment in the smiles and the studious attention to their reading matter – a folded page from a newspaper, more of which lies on the floor and a aviation magazine.

Perhaps they are sharing a joke at the photographer’s expense, muttered just loud enough for him to hear.

It does not matter.

One of their number Sub-Lieutenant (Air) Arthur Giles Blake – a pilot with the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm and nicknamed ‘Admiral’ after Admiral Robert Blake, the 17th century English naval commander – would be shot down and killed on 29 October in the last days of what would became known as the Battle of Britain.

Blake was one of twenty-three pilots from the Royal Navy who flew with their Royal Air Force colleagues during that period.

The contribution of the Royal Navy pilots is sometimes overlooked. They served in a dozen different RAF fighter squadrons while two Fleet Air Arm squadrons – No. 804 Fleet Air Arm, and No 808 FAA – operated in the north of Scotland using naval Gloster Sea Gladiator, Grumman Martlet and Fairey Fulmar aircraft.

In all some fifty-six Royal Navy and Royal Marine pilots would take part in the battle which lasted officially from 10 July to 31 October 1940. During that period seven naval flyers – including Arthur Blake – would be killed and two others wounded. (1)

On the afternoon that he died Blake was on his third patrol of the day over Kent, having taken off initially at 1040 before landing at 1210, only to be airborne again at 1330 before landing again at 1515.

None of the aircraft from No.19 Squadron RAF that took off on the these first two flights – twelve each time – engaged the enemy.

A casualty was narrowly avoided when a ‘Pilot Officer Vokes’ passed out through lack of oxygen at 25,000 feet. He regained consciousness with his aircraft in a spin at 6,000 feet above the ground. However his aircraft would play a part later.(2)

But an hour later their luck changed.

According to the Squadron’s Operational Record Book held at the UK National Archives,

‘Some members of our Squadron saw about 7 Me 109’s (sic) above us.

It was unfortunate that we could not attack them as it is probable that some them attacked S/Lt Blake who was doing search behind the Squadron‘.

The same account continues: (3)

It is a great loss to the Squadron as he was very well liked by all as well as a pilot of exceptional ability’

His although he was attacked over Kent or South London his Spitfire – not R6889 the aircraft he had been flying earlier in the day, but an older aircraft P7423, the aircraft that Pilot Officer Vokes had experienced oxygen problems in that morning – crashed at Chelmsford, Essex, some distance from where he was set upon.

Interestingly R6889 was fitted with heavier armament than the standard Spitfire MK 1 and arrived on the squadron  on 5 October. It  achieved its first victory with No. 19 Squadron in the hands of Flight Lieutenant Lawson a month later. (4)

Today he lies with twenty-one other servicemen from both World Wars at St Mary’s Churchyard, Langley Marish, near Slough in Berkshire, England. He was 23 years old. (5)

During his time with the Squadron Sub-Lieutenant Blake accounted for four enemy aircraft destroyed, two more damaged an a share of another. (6)

THE 'SCOREBOARD' IN THE MAP ROOM at CWR showing casualties during 15 September 1940. Image © Emma Ellis and used with her permission.

THE ‘SCOREBOARD’ IN THE MAP ROOM at CWR showing casualties during 15 September 1940. Image © Emma Ellis and used with her permission.

On Sunday 15 September 1940 – on what has become known and celebrated in the United Kingdom as Battle of Britain Day, Sub-Lieutenant Blake was credited with a victory and at around 1500 that day he was shot down by a Messerschmidt bf 109. Although his Spitfire was damaged Blake was unhurt. (7)

Aftermath

Pilot Officer Vokes‘ – the pilot who become unconscious through oxygen failure and recovered his aircraft from a spin at lower altitude (Air 27/252/26 and Air 27/252/27) – was Arthur Frank Vokes. Amongst other things he would be become commander of ‘A’ Flight, No. 19 Squadron. He died on 5 September 1941 (although at least one reference gives the following day) while on a routine flight ferrying an aircraft between two RAF stations. (8) (9)

Of the two other pilots in the photograph above, Scotsman Wallace Cunningham was shot down over Rotterdam Harbour on 28 August 1941. Captured, he remained a prisoner of war and died on 4 October 2011 in Scotland. (10) (11)

New Zealander Noel Brinsden also survived the Second World War. Like Cunningham he was captured after having crashed his De Havilland Mosquito on 17 August 1943.

Flying as support to the heavy bombers on Operation HYDRA (the attack on the Peenemünde research site) Brinsden decided to attack the Luftwaffe airfield on the island of Sylt at low level. Having made a successful attack on hangars at low level, he was temporarily blinded by a searchlight and with his night vision badly affected struck the nearby water. Both he and his navigator took to their dingy but were taken prisoner when the wind blew them ashore.

After his release at the end of the war, he commanded No. 3 Missing Research and Enquiry Unit, one of a number of such RAF teams that attempted to trace and identify the bodies of RAF personnel killed over Western and Central Europe. He retired as a Wing Commander in 1966 and died in Australia in 1993. (12) (13)

Sources

(1) https://www.fleetairarmoa.org/Content/sites/FAAOA/pages/178/FAA_amp_BoB.PDF – retrieved 20 November 2019.

(2) Air 27/252/27 -file held by UK National Archives

(3) Air 27/252/26 -file held by UK National Archives

(4) https://allspitfirepilots.org/aircraft/?page=1419# – retrieved 20 November 2019.

(5) https://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/2706583/blake,-arthur-giles/ – retrieved 20 November 2019.

(6) http://www.bbm.org.uk/airmen/BlakeGA.htm – retrieved 20 November 2019.

(7) http://blogs.iwm.org.uk/historic-duxford/category/second-world-war/19-squadron/ – retrieved 20 November 2019.

(8) http://www.bbm.org.uk/airmen/Vokes.htm – retrieved 20 November 2019.

(9) https://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/2763701/vokes,-arthur-frank/ – retrieved 20 November 2019.

(10) http://www.bbm.org.uk/airmen/CunninghamW.htm – retrieved 20 November 2019.

(11) https://www.scotsman.com/news/obituaries/obituary_wallace_cunningham_dfc_one_of_churchill_s_few_the_first_glasgow_airman_awarded_the_dfc_in_the_second_world_war_1_1902495 – retrieved 20 November 2019.

(12) http://bbm.org.uk/airmen/Brinsden.htm – retrieved 20 November 2019.

(13) https://www.aucklandmuseum.com/war-memorial/online-cenotaph/record/C120972 – retrieved 20 November 2019.

My thanks to my volunteer colleague Tim Mansfield who suggested the idea for this post. 

Sir Walter Thomas Monnington ‘Fighter Affiliation – 1943’

'FIGHTER AFFILIATION: Halifax and Hurricane aircraft co-operating in action'. A view from a point behind the cockpit and in front of the DF loop along the top of the fuselage of a Handley-Page Halifax bomber towards the mid-gunner's turret and the rear of the aircraft. The bomber is banked at steep an angle to the horizon over darkening clouds as a Hawker Hurricane fighter flies above. War Artists Advisory Committee commission. © IWM (Art. IWM ART LD 3769). https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/19400

FIGHTER AFFILIATION: Halifax and Hurricane aircraft co-operating in action’. A view from a point behind the cockpit and in front of the DF loop along the top of the fuselage of a Handley-Page Halifax bomber towards the mid-gunner’s turret and the rear of the aircraft. The bomber is banked at steep an angle to the horizon over darkening clouds as a Hawker Hurricane fighter flies above. War Artists Advisory Committee commission. © IWM (Art. IWM ART LD 3769). https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/19400

IF YOU ARE LUCKY ENOUGH – perhaps ‘privileged’ would be a better word – to look at a wartime member of RAF Bomber Command’s logbook you’ll often see the phrase ‘Fighter Affiliation’.

But what does this mean?

Put simply it’s a training exercise – one where the crew of a bomber were ‘attacked’ by friendly fighters in order to give both the attacker and defender the chance to hone their skills.

It came at a time when a ‘consolidated crew’ – that is one that had been formed for the foreseeable duration – knew their individual jobs .

They knew how to fly the aircraft, how to navigate on a set course, how to monitor the systems in the air, communicate with the ground, drop bombs and fire guns.

Now they had to practice how to do that in a simulated hostile environment. During fighter affiliation exercises an RAF fighter would make mock attacks not just to test the gunners in their defence of the aircraft and their colleagues but also the reactions of the rest of the crew.

Beside being able to shoot, the gunners – particularly the mid- and rear-gunners – were the eyes of the pilot.

They needed to keep a sharp look-out, not just for enemy aircraft but friendly ones too as collisions in the huge formations that were sent against targets happened quite often.

And not just at night – although that was obviously the most dangerous time.

To simulate the effect of lack of light but still give enough to work by – difficult in a turret glazed with plexiglass during the day – the gunners wore a pair of close-fitting rubber goggles with darkened lenses. (1)

If a fighter was spotted the gunners had to decide what to do first – alert the pilot to ‘Corkscrew’, fire at the enemy or do nothing at all if the German fighters had not seen the bomber.

‘Corkscrew port!’ or ‘Corkscrew starboard!’ was the call for a rapid and violent evasive manoeuvre that the pilot initiated as soon as he heard it in the hope of not only making the Luftwaffe aircraft miss its intended target but also giving his gunners a (possible) chance to rotate their turrets, elevate their guns and fire on the fighter as it (hopefully) shot by.

In a ‘corkscrew’ the aircraft would bank sharply to left or right and dive while at the same time rolling completely over then climbing before repeating the process as necessary.

The pilot had to be also thinking about not inadvertently producing a pattern of turns or heights that could be predicted by the enemy aircraft – many of which would attempt to follow the bomber into the manoeuvre. (2)

While this was happening the navigator had to try and keep track of what point they were at throughout the process so that they could give course corrections to the pilot so that they could resume their flight heading. (3)

Other crew members would be looking for aircraft nearby as well as any visual clues to aid the navigator.

A little about Walter Thomas Monnington…

Sir (Walter) Thomas was born in Westminster, London, on 2 October 1902. He was the younger son of a barrister, and his wife.

Monnington grew up in Sussex, where he attended Brunswick School, Haywards Heath, Sussex, England – the same school as Winston Churchill attended in 1884. (4)

At the age of twelve Thomas developed a heart problem.

Unable to participate fully in school activities he started to draw and paint.

He went on to study at the Slade School of Fine Arts before winning a scholarship to Rome in 1922. Two years later he married fellow artist Margaret Knights in 1924 before returning to Britain.

Monnington was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy of Arts in 1931. He then taught in the Royal Academy Schools between 1932 and 1939, becoming a full member of the Academy in 1938.

In 1939 he joined the Air Ministry’s Directorate of Camouflage at Leamington Spa responsible for the developing ways of making airfields and aircraft less obvious.

There he proposed that he use his skills to record the air war as he noticed that that aspect of the war was lacking works showing views from aircraft flying.

Having had flying lessons – and amassed some 600 hours – before the war, in November 1943 he was offered a three-month contract with the Ministry of Information as an artist. (5) (6)

In January 1944 he submitted four artworks – possibly including Fighter Affiliation – and was then commissioned for a further period.

In May 1944 he was offered a position as official war artist with the Ministry of War Transport.

The winter of 1944 and early 1945 found him attached to the 2 Tactical Air Force in Europe.(7)

Interestingly the Victoria and Albert Museum in London has an unscaled engineering sketch (front elevation only) of a four-engined bomber attributed to him and Barnes Wallis. The aircraft appears to be powered by four piston engines and has no rudder or other tail surfaces shown. (8)

After the war he returned to teaching, doing so at Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts and the Slade.

His other works included murals at St Stephen’s Hall, Westminster (9) and the Printing works for the Bank of England(10) and the decorative ceilings at the Council House, Bristol and at Exeter Cathedral (11) (12), the former – inspired by atomic science – was completed in 1956.(13)

He also painted religious works including at St.George’s parish church, Brede, Sussex, England in 1959.(14)

He became President of the Royal Academy from 1966 until 1976 and was knighted 1967. For almost forty years he lived in the village of Groombridge in Kent until his death in London, January 1976.

Memorial exhibitions 1977: Royal Academy; travelling exhibition from British School at Rome to Royal Albert Museum, Exeter and to the Fine Art Society, London. (15)

Sources

(1) https://www.militaryantiquesmuseum.com/aviation-items-av780-wwii-raf-night-simulation-goggles.20145.26.military-antiques – retrieved 5 January 2020

(2) https://masterbombercraig.wordpress.com/avro-lancaster-bomber/corkscrew-port-go/ – retrieved 5 January 2020

(3) http://www.419squadron.com/faffiliation.html – retrieved 5 January 2020

(4) https://sites.google.com/site/churchillnodunce/ – retrieved 5 January 2020

(5) https://www.modernbritishartgallery.com/img-6516__A_44__f.htm – retrieved 5 January 2020

(6) https://prabook.com/web/walter.monnington/1780256 – retrieved 5 January 2020

(7) https://prabook.com/web/walter.monnington/1780256 – retrieved 5 January 2020

(8)
http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O11226/design-monnington-walter-thomas/ – retrieved 5 January 2020

(9) https://www.nationalgalleries.org/art-and-artists/718/study-mural-st-stephens-hall-westminster-english-and-scottish-commissioners-present-articles – retrieved 5 January 2020

(10) https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/-/media/boe/files/quarterly-bulletin/2018/feliks-topolski-drawing-debden – retrieved 5 January 2020

(11) https://artuk.org/visit/venues/council-house-bristol-city-council-7043 – retrieved 5 January 2020

(12) https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01sxwby/p01sxv8v – retrieved 5 January 2020

(13) https://prabook.com/web/walter.monnington/1780256 – retrieved 5 January 2020

(14) https://sussexparishchurches.org/church/brede-st-george/ – retrieved 5 January 2020

(15) https://research.britishmuseum.org/research/search_the_collection_database/term_details.aspx?bioId=114456 – retrieved 5 January 2020

‘Women of Britain – Come into the Factories’, a Soviet-style image urging women to work in wartime factories

Richard Maddox

WOMEN OF BRITAIN - COME INTO THE FACTORIES. Copyright © IWM. IWM catalogue reference PST 3645. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/38928.

WOMEN OF BRITAIN – COME INTO THE FACTORIES. Copyright © IWM. IWM catalogue reference PST 3645. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/38928.

THE IMAGE ABOVE WAS DESIGNED by Philip Zec, the fourth of eleven children born to Russian émigré tailor Simon Zecanovsky and his wife Leah. Philip’s grandfather – a Rabbi – had fled to England to escape Tsarist persecution.

After training at St. Martin’s School of Art Philip worked as a commercial artist. In 1939 his work took a new direction when he became the political cartoonist of the Daily Mirror newspaper where he was tasked with producing a cartoon a day.

Given complete artistic freedom he produced his finished artwork by 1 pm and it appeared in the first edition of the next days paper which was distributed at 6 pm. (1)

That autonomy was to lead him to produce two of his most famous cartoons –  the controversial ‘The price of petrol has been increased by one penny. Official.’ (1942) and ‘Here you are! Don’t lose it again.’ (1945).

But before that  he was commissioned by the Ministry of Information  to produce what was to become – along with his ‘Price of Petrol‘ and ‘Don’t lose it again‘ cartoons – one of his most famous images. (2)

Women of Britain – Come into the Factories‘ was published in 1941 and has an undeniably romantic view of Soviet women factory workers. Operation Barbarrosa (the German invasion of the Soviet Union) had started in June 1941. And there was much support for the people of the new member of the Allied powers.

The poster features a woman in plain work overalls, and a simple headscarf facing towards an unseen enemy, with a trail of aircraft flying across a dawn sky in a curving path from behind her through her out-stretched arms, which are arranged in a loose ‘v’ perhaps symbolising ‘victory’

On the left of the image the aircraft fly over a simple brick-built factory while on the right two tanks emerge.

The style of the poster is in the seemingly simple and ‘pared down’ highly graphic style of the time often seen in railway travel posters. (3)

Historian and author Dr. Brett Holman who writes the Airminded blog (4) has noticed an interesting detail in the ‘Women of Britain‘ poster.

All but one of the highly-stylised aircraft have a single fin and what appears to be two radial engines.

The ‘Odd Plane Out’ – as he describes the different aircraft – has a twin-fin configuration.

Readers of his blog have suggested a number of candidates that could have influenced the aircraft shapes including a possible Soviet design. (5)

Sources

(1) https://www.cartoons.ac.uk/cartoonist-biographies/y-z/PhilipZec.html – retrieved 30 November 2019

(2) https://sites.psu.edu/rcellis/2016/10/04/a-political-cartoon-is-like-an-onion/ – retrieved 30 November 2019

(3) https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-tees-32495451
– retrieved 30 November 2019

(4) https://airminded.org/about/– retrieved 30 November 2019

(5) https://airminded.org/2009/12/29/odd-plane-out/comment-page-1/#comment-590965 – retrieved 30 November 2019