Battle of Britain, Battle of Germany – Paul Nash and his aviation landscape paintings




Painted by Paul Nash (1) who – like his younger brother John – had served during the First World War on the Western Front before they both became official War Artists towards the end of that conflict.

Their work from this period depicts a soldier’s view of war – comrades, trenches, marches and battle-shattered landscapes.(2)

Come the Second World War, they were again called upon to produce artwork documenting the course of the war. John was attached to the Royal Navy (3) while Paul (who had become increasingly mesmerised by flying) documented the work of the Royal Air Force, initially on a six-month contract like his brother.

Starting in mid-March 1940 Nash planned to work on combat-related scenes. His first series of six watercolours (entitled ‘Raiders’ (4) and completed just before the Battle of Britain began) was well-received by the Air Ministry. However as his work became increasingly non-representational his popularity waned until his employment was ended in December 1940. (4)

Finding a post sponsored by the War Artist’s Advisory Committee (a section of the Ministry of Information) he again was producing images of RAF subjects. Here he painted three of his most famous works ‘Totes Meer’, ‘Battle of Britain’ and what was initially entitled ‘Battle of the Atlantic’ (later to be ‘Defence of Albion’) featuring a Short Sunderland aircraft of RAF Coastal Command, a section of the Royal Air Force working closely with the Royal Navy to provide convoy protection and maritime strike capabilities. (3)

Commissioned in November 1941 and completed by April 1942, when planning the latter painting, he wrote: “I am persistently hunted by a short Sutherland and I think it will play a large part in the composition“. (3)  Having never seen one close-up and unable to travel because of bad weather and the severity of his long-term asthma condition (he had endured an attack of bronchitis at the time) he wrote to fellow artist Eric Ravillous, who was depicting naval subjects at the time outlining his composition and asking for details of how the aircraft and an enemy U-boat might look in strong light (5) (6)

large_Paul_Nash_Battle_of Britain

Battle of Britain (Art.IWM ART LD 1550) by Paul Nash, 1940/41. Image © IWM. Original Source:

Submitting the completed ‘Battle of Britain’ painting to the War Artist’s Advisory Committee, Nash produced a description of the work:

‘The painting is an attempt to give the sense of an aerial battle in operation over a wide area and thus summarises England’s great aerial victory over Germany. The scene includes certain elements constant during the Battle of Britain – the river winding from the town and across parched country, down to the sea; beyond, the shores of the Continent, above, the mounting cumulus concentrating at sunset after a hot brilliant day; across the spaces of sky, trails of airplanes, smoke tracks of dead or damaged machines falling, floating clouds, parachutes, balloons. Against the approaching twilight new formations of Luftwaffe, threatening…’ (7)

It contains many of the elements we now associate with the battle; clear bright days, RAF fighters rising to defend Britain over southern England, a meandering river (reminiscent of the Thames) and long white contrails cutting across blue skies. Tethered barrage balloons stand guard, rooted to the British countryside, which is washed in the golden light of a setting sun.

There is also much symbolism.

Dark and occupied France (where the Luftwaffe operated from captured French air force bases) is separated by a narrow strip of water from bright (free) England.

Gleaming RAF fighters rise to meet the dark threat

Gleaming RAF fighters rise to meet the dark threat, while their outnumbered RAF squadron colleagues bravely soar and twist in an aerial ballet. The tracks of one group of RAF aircraft create a giant flower bud – flowers blooming being a recurring theme in much of Nash’s work.

The RAF create white contrails, the Luftwaffe aircraft fall at the end of spiralling black smoke trails indicating their loss of control. More German aircraft are shown in rigid formations, symbolising the unquestioning adherence to orders and obedience that many believed was German characteristic.

And of course in Nash’s painting no enemy aircraft ever reaches Britain…

large_Paul Nash_Battle_for_Germany

Battle of Germany (Art.IWM ART LD 4526) by Paul Nash, 1944. Image © IWM. Original Source:

The painting that became the ‘Battle of Germany’ was commissioned in September 1944, four years after the Battle of Britain had been fought and almost a year since the RAF had initiated the ‘Battle of Berlin’ a sustained bombing campaign not limited to the German capital but attacking targets throughout Germany.

Again Nash provided text to accompany his work;

‘The moment of the picture is when the city, lying under the uncertain light of the moon, awaits the blow at its heart. In the background, a gigantic column of smoke arises from the recent destruction of an outlying factory which is still fiercely burning. These two objects pillar and moon seem to threaten the city no less than the flights of bombers even now towering in the red sky. The moon’s illumination reveals the form of the city but with the smoke pillar’s increasing height and width, throws also its largening shadow nearer and nearer.

In contrast to the suspense of the waiting city under the quiet though baleful moon, the other half of the picture shows the opening of the bombardment. The entire area of sky and background and part of the middle distance are violently agitated. Here forms are used quite arbitrarily and colours by a kind of chromatic percussion with one purpose, to suggest explosion and detonation. In the central foreground the group of floating discs descending may be a part of a flight of paratroops or the crews of aircraft forced to bale out…’ (8)

The chairman of the WAAC Kenneth Clark was supportive and appreciative of the work but concerned at its complexity.

Comparing the two images above, Nash’s painting style is more abstract and his text seems less of an accompaniment to his work as an explanation of what his picture contains.

Symbolism is present again in the dull red-brown, white and vivid blue coloured streaks over German territory. A full moon (similar to that in his painting ‘Totes Meer’) hangs low in the sky, perhaps over Britain, illuminating the grey water.

The painting is so ‘loose’ in its style that one can read almost what they wish into it, within the contexts of the title and with the knowledge that it depicts an aerial attack.

As in Nash’s text the smaller white circles towards the bottom of the painting may be parachute (or ‘Roses of Death’ as he called them after the name the Spanish gave to them during the Spanish Civil War), (9) but for me they could also be the light of exploding incendiary bombs dropped by the attacking bombers.

Bomber Command have stated that the picture ‘Battle of Germany’ by Paul Nash is no longer required.

Perhaps because of this ambiguity there is a comment in a report dated September 1947 by AHB 4, (a section of the RAF’s Air Historical Branch that oversaw the allocation of RAF and German equipment as well as artworks to RAF Commands, Allied and Commonwealth Governments and major museums) that reads…

‘Bomber Command have stated that the picture ‘Battle of Germany’ by Paul Nash is no longer required. It is being returned to A.H.B. 4.(10)


References and further information

(1) – retrieved 21 February 2018

(2) – retrieved 21 February 2018

(3) – retrieved 21 February 2018

(4) – retrieved 21 February 2018

(5) – retrieved 21 February 2018

(6) – retrieved 23 February 2018

(7)  Eric Ravillous: Memoir of an Artist, Helen Binyon, Lutterworth Press (2016). Pages 127 and 128 – undated letter from Nash to Ravillous,

(8) – retrieved 23 February 2018

(9) – retrieved 23 February 2018

(10) – retrieved 23 February 2018

(11) ‘AHB4 Progress Report – September 1947’. Paragraph 7, subsection (ii) held at National Archives, Kew, England. File reference AIR 20/6289 – AIR MINISTRY: General (Code7/1): AHB (4) report on the collection and preservation for material for museum purposes. EXHIBITIONS, DISPLAYS, FETES AND MUSEUMS. (Code 33): Collection and preservation for material for museum purposes. AHB (4) reports

A selection of examples of Nash’s ‘Raiders’ series can be found at:

‘Raider on the moor’ – retrieved 24 February 2018

‘Raider on the shore’ – retrieved 24 February 2018


Other examples of Nash’s wartime depiction of wrecked German aircraft during the Battle of Britain period (often with a description of the event that inspired them) can be found at: – retrieved 24 February 2018

True colours

Richard Maddox

LIKE MOST BUILDINGS Imperial War Museums have teams of cleaners to ensure that floors, bathrooms, offices and the like are ready for staff, volunteers and 2.5 million visitors each year each morning.

But as good as these teams are they are not trained to clean the artefacts – many of which are unique, irreplaceable and inaccessible to cleaning from he ground.

Inevitably they have become a little dusty since they were positioned for IWM London’s reopening on 19 July 2014.

Now many of the artefacts in the Museum’s Atrium are looking brighter, thanks to IWM’s Conservation Technician Jason who oversees the care of all IWM’s Large Exhibits – the aircraft, tanks, rockets and vehicles at all five IWM sites.

This of course included HMS Belfast which is so large that it is BOTH an exhibit in its own right AND one of the three IWM Museum sites in London.

Working every night for a week after the Museum closed its doors to visitors until the early hours of the morning, specialists from both Total Access (a company that is skilled in working at height and in difficult locations) and Halahan Associates, a specialist care and conservation company (1) spent the time dangling over the massive objects gently cleaning them.


Dangling in mid-air, a member of Halahan Associates gently cleans the wing of the Fieseler Fi 103 Vergrltungswaffe 1 (‘revenge weapon 1’) in the Atrium of IWM London. The weapon was more commonly known as the ‘V1’, ‘Doodle-bug’ or ‘Buzz-bomb’ –  Image © IWM 2018.

IWM London’s V1

The specific history of IWM London’s Fieseler 103 isn’t known (2) but it was probably was acquired from No.21 Maintenance Unit RAF and was in place in time for the reopening of the Imperial War Museum in 1946. (3) It still retains its original paint scheme.

No.21 Maintenance Unit was a specialist explosive storage unit used by the RAF from 1938 to 1966 and then US forces from 1967 to 1973.

Set in a former gypsum mine at Fauld, Staffordshire, England. The site was the country’s main bomb storage site when, late morning on 27 November 1944, a massive explosion of around 3.500 – 4000 tons of high explosive bombs and other munitions killed 23 workers on site, another 41 and a plaster works nearby as well as others in the vicinity. (4) (5)

Besides the human devastation a complete 300 acre farm was completely destroyed, together with a large wood and top soil rained down up to 11 miles from the site of the explosion. It is said that the explosion was heard in London – more than 130 miles away. (6)


Sources and further information:



(3) ‘AIR MINISTRY: General (Code 7/1): AHB (4) Reports on the Collection and Preservation of material for museum purposes’. Document reference: Air 20/6289, UK National Archives, Kew.


(5) ‘Incident at Fauld – Staffordshire. No.21 RAF Maintenance Unit, 11.15 hours. 27 November 1944.’ Document reference: MFQ 1/1002/3, UK National Archives, Kew.


A comprehensive description of the development and deployment of the Fieseler FI 103 can be found at:

An introduction to Care and Conservation at IWM is available at:



Little to do but wait…



In Berlin the final touches are being put to what is going to be a memorable day.

Reichsmarschall Hermann Göering (Minister for Aviation and head of the Luftwaffe) together with Joseph Goebbels, the Reichsministerium für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda (Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda) have rehearsed their speeches.

Radio equipment has been tested.

Engineers are ready to relay their words across Germany.

There was little to do but wait…


At RAF Marham in Norfolk, England three De Havilland MKIV fast fighter-bomber aircraft from No. 105 Squadron were silently waiting, fuelled and armed.

The two-man crew of each of the aircraft had had the latest information about weather conditions and any Luftwaffe or flak activities.

Here too there was little to do but wait…



de Havilland Mosquito aircraft from No. 105 Squadron RAF taxying to the main runway at RAF Marham at the start of a night attack on Berlin. Image© IWM catalogue reference CH 18013. Original Source:

At 0845 the RAF aircraft climbed into the air setting before course some four minutes later (1). With a return trip of over 1100 miles – most of it over enemy occupied territory and Germany itself – this was to be a mission where the skills of both the pilot and navigator were going to be tested.

The precise location of the target – the Haus des Rundfunks – (‘Broadcasting House’) had to be found and bombed at a precise time.

Like its BBC counterpart the radio studios were designed and built in the late 1920s and started transmitting during the 1930s. (2) In an age before television was widely available – never mind the Internet and social media – radio broadcasts were the nearest thing to up to the minute news and information.

The orders stated that the Haus des Rundfunks had to be bombed at 1100 exactly to prevent Göering broadcasting to the German nation.

And by implication the raid was to demonstrate that Berlin could be struck from the air at any time of day or night, just as London had been.

Taking off in poor weather, the three aircraft bombed on time through heavy cloud from a height of 25,000 feet (7620 metres).

The crews were Squadron Leader Reginald Reynolds with his observer Edward (Ted) Sismore, flying Mosquito serial number DZ413 (squadron codes GB-K) together with Flight Lieutenant John Gordon and Flying Officer Ralph G Hayes in DZ372, GB-C.

Finally there was Flying Officer Antony (Tony) Wickham (3) with Pilot Officer William Makin aboard Mosquito DZ408, GB-F.


Flying Officer Antony Trelawney Wickham (left) and his navigator, Pilot Officer William Edward Dennis Makin of No. 105 Squadron RAF, pose for (a somewhat relaxed) official portrait in the Air Council Room at the Air Ministry in London on 31 January 1943, the day after flying on the first daylight attack on Berlin. Image: © IWM CH 8522. Original Source:

Although Flight Lieutenant Gordon and Flying Officer Hayes noted that they recognised a pattern of lakes ‘west Berlin’ and ‘built up area through gap in cloud,’ while a second Mosquito bombed ‘a railway junction on the north side of town’, the raid was deemed a success.

After a round trip of more than 1100 miles the three aircraft landed back at their base between 1326 and 1352. (4)

large_Sismore_Berlin_© IWM (CH 10135)A

ROYAL AIR FORCE BOMBER COMMAND, 1942-1945. (CH 10135) Wing Commander R W Reynolds (right), pilot and Officer Commanding No. 139 Squadron RAF, and his navigator, Flight Lieutenant E B Sismore, standing in front of a De Havilland Mosquito B Mark IV at Marham, Norfolk. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

Not content with this show of strength a second flight of three Mosquitos from RAF Marham – this time from No. 139 Squadron – attacked in the afternoon intending to disrupt the speech by Dr Goebbels.

Once more the aircraft left the flat Norfolk countryside and flew at low level across the North Sea.

According to the Operational Record Book for the squadron (5) they flew to a point just north of Heligoland,  turned inland to Lübeck and started climb to 20,000 feet (6,000 m) above the German countryside before setting course for Berlin when about 50 miles away from the German capital.

Unlike the morning raid which bombed through cloud, as they reached their target ‘Berlin appeared in brilliant sunshine on E.T.A., [estimated time of arrival] the cloud having broken abruptly’. (6)

Again unlike the morning the German defences were ready. Heavy flak was encountered and two fighters were seen by Flight Sergeant Peter John Dickson McGeehan RNZAF (7) and Flying Officer Reginald Charles Morris (8) in Mosquito DK337.

McGeehan and Morris and Sergeants Joseph Massey and Richard Charles Fletcher flying DZ279 evaded the defences and arrived back at base three hours after take-off.

The aircraft flown by Squadron Leader Donald Frederick William Darling, DFC and Flying Officer William Wright failed to return (9). Later investigations found that the aircraft had been hit by flak and crashed near Altengrabow. (10) (11).

Initially they were buried in Altengrabow Cemetery – around 100 km (62 miles) from the German capital – as unknown British airmen. (12) (13)

Today, having – been identified – they lie together in a communal grave in the Berlin War Cemetery.


In order to recognise the efforts of those concerned the King awarded a number of awards to the crews involved. Squadron Leader Reynolds was granted the Distinguished Service Order.

The Distinguished Flying Cross was awarded to Gordon, Hayes, Wickham, Makin and SIsmore. Sergeants Fletcher, Massey and McGeehan (Royal New Zealand Air Force) were each recipients of the Distinguished Flying Medal. (14)

Subsequently promoted, Pilot Officer McGeehan DFM was killed on 16 March 1943 and is buried at Texel (Den Burg) General Cemetery in Noord Holland. (15) (16) Flying Officer Reginald Charles Morris DFC was also killed on 16 March 1943 and he too is buried at Texel Cemetery. (17)

Pilot Officer (later Air Commodore) Sismore died in 2012. (18) IWM Sound Archives has an oral history interview with him recorded in 1989 in which he describes the raid. (19)

Squadron Leader (later Wing Commander) Reginald Reynolds died in January 2018. (20)  During his wartime career he would become a highly decorated pilot. (21)

Of the aircraft that returned to RAF Marham after the raid, none would survive long.



Vertical aerial photograph taken during a daylight raid by twenty de Havilland Mosquito B Mark IVs of Nos. 105 and 139 Squadrons RAF on the German naval stores depot and marshalling yard near Rennes in France. A Mosquito can be seen in the lower left corner. Image: © IWM. Catalogue reference C 3425. PLEASE NOTE There is no indication that this shows Mosquito DZ413 or was taken during the raid on which the aircraft was lost. Original Source:


On 26 February 1943 Mosquito DZ 413 was lost over Rennes in France when it collided with another aircraft over the target area. (14) (15)

DZ372 Crashed at RAF Marham on 2 March 1943 during a training flight (16)

Mosquito DZ 408 crashed when the crew lost control near RAF Marham on 20 January 1944, again during a training flight. Although the aircraft was damaged, the crew survived. (17)
DZ379 was shot down by a German nightfighter on 18 August 1943 while tasked with a raid on Berlin (18)

Mosquito DK 337 failed to return from a mission to Duisburg on 31 August 1943 (19)


Sources and notes:

(1) No.105 Operational Record Book – UK National Archives file reference Air 27 837/2

(2) – retrieved January 25 2018

(3) Some sources (including IWM’s online Collection) spell ‘Wickham’ as ‘Whickham’. ‘Wickham’ is used as this aligns with the ORB and the London Gazette entries.

(4) No.105 Operational Record Book – ibid.

(5,6,7,8) No.139 Operational Record Book – UK National Archives file reference Air 27 960/12

(9) No.139 Operational Record Book – UK National Archives file reference Air 27 960/11

(10) – retrieved January 25 2018

(11) – retrieved January 25 2018


(see grave concentration files at this link) – retrieved January 25 2018

(13),-william/ (see grave concentration files at this link) – retrieved January 25 2018.

There appears to have been some confusion – which persists on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission today – as to which squadron Wright and Darling served with.

The CWGC website page for Flying Officer William Wright shows him in the main text and (together with Darling) as also being in No. 105 Squadron on the Grave Registration Form shown on the same page and dated 21 October 1957.

He is shown (correctly) as being in No.139 Squadron RAF in the amended the Grave Register shown next to the  on the same page.  No. 139 Squadron records (Air 27 960/11 and Air 27 960/12 held at the UK National Archives) show both Darling and Wright as being on their strength at the time of their deaths.

(14) – retrieved January 27 2018

(15),-peter-john-dickson/ – retrieved January 27 2018

(16) – retrieved January 27 2018

(17),-reginald-charles/ – retrieved January 27 2018

(18) – retrieved January 28 2018

(19) Reel 2 (approximately 3 minutes from the start) – retrieved January 27 2018



(22) – retrieved January 25 2018

(23) – retrieved January 25 2018

(24) – retrieved January 26 2018

(25) – retrieved January 26 2018

(26) – retrieved January 26 2018

(27) – retrieved January 26 2018