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My Take on a Classic - The Fairey Swordfish at War

There are so many stories recalling the brave actions of the crews of the Fairey Swordfish.

Despite being classed as obsolete, these biplanes from HMS Illustrious attacked the Italian Fleet in Taranto harbour on the night of November 11th 1940 changing the balance of naval power in the Mediterranean.

Then there was the heroic, but ultimately unsuccessful attacks made on the German battlecruisers Scharnhorst, Gniesenau and Prinz Eugen in the English Channel in February 1942 using Swordfish aircraft in which many courageous aircrew lost their lives.

And in an action I decided to depict, Swordfish from HMS Ark Royal in 1941 successfully torpedoed the German battleship Bismarck.

Fairey Swordfish June 1944, onboard the Escort Carrier HMS Striker

Now, I am certainly not the first artist to tackle these exploits of the Swordfish and I have found that perhaps I have reinvented the wheel with this painting. However it is a captivating scene to paint - these outdated, vunerable machines slowly climbing over a dark sea into a cold unforgiving sky - and with an open cockpit at that.

I agonised over both the sea and the sky in this painting and must have painted over three of each at least. I wasn't getting the scale of prespective right on the waves from the distant carrier to the swordfish in the foreground. I wanted the the sky to depict a pre-dawn glow under a leaden cold sky, with just enough breaking sunlight to pick out the detail in the biplane rigging.

Eventually, with the background getting somewhere in the zone I wanted, I began painting in the Swordfish using the tonal values of the sea and sky to help block out the key areas and decide where to add in the long shadows. Whilst adding detail to the canvas and rigging, I was using a diecast model on hand as reference. The parts felt oddly familiar and I realised it is after having made several of these in kit form in my youth. I'm sure that helped me grasp a better understanding of the shape of the various fiddly struts etc having cursed over gluing so many of them to the carpet as a kid.


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