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Moonlit Duel

I have fond memories of building the Airfix Short Stirling bomber as a child. The fact that it was both lesser known and bigger than its RAF Bomber Command heavy bomber stablemates the Lancaster and Halifax made it quite intriging. Making this aircraft even more fascinating is the fact that of the six major Allied four-engine bombers - Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, Consolidated B-24 Liberator, Boeing B-29 Superfortress, Short Stirling, Handley Page Halifax, Avro Lancaster - the Stirling is the only one of which there are no surviving examples.

Aircrew in full flying kit walking beneath the nose of Short Stirling Mark I, N3676 'S', of 1651 Heavy Conversion Unit at Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire while the ground crew run up the engines.

There are countless documented missions recounting the night flights of the Short Stirling and the huge losses of both aircrew and aircraft to German flak and night fighters. Night fighters such as the Dornier Do 217, that were often the bane of the RAF heavy bombers. And no examples exist today of this aircraft either. In this wartime account of one such attack by a Do 217 it bit off more than it could chew when it duelled with a Stirling:

In the early hours of 30th May 1943, around 3am, the Dornier Do 217N-1 G9 + FM (Wn.1462) of Lt Johannes Hager (4./NJG 1) was engaged in a gunfight with a Stirling EH881 of No 75 Squadron RAF near Bonn. Before the Stirling was shot down in that battle, the tail gunner very accurately drizzled bullets from his four Browning machine guns into the cockpit of the Dornier and killed the radio operator, Uffz Fritz Leda. Hager was also injured and lost consciousness. Oblt Gunther Meinel, his flight engineer baile out from the plane near Aachen. However gHager regained consciousness and even managed to make a crash landing at Florennes. Some local firefighters were able to lift him out of the wreckage. Soon after, the Dornier was torn apart by a deafening explosion.

This frightful battle in the darkness of the skies above Germany would be the scene for this painting, hopefully capturing the terrifying moment both aircraft were bloodied - flames illuminating the surrounding clouds and a dazzling contrast to the black sky and camouflage of the aircraft.

Sketched out, ink outlined and ready for the paint

I tend to go over just the key outlines of the charcoal and pencil sketch with a fine graphics pen, as I will often obliterate these important lines with acrylic paint. The ink will just about show through, depending on the colour and thickness. However I try to avoid using the ink pen when I know the paint will be light or translucent (such as the clouds or the lighter undersides and chrome on aircraft) as then the ink is not your friend at all, as it tend to rise up throught the paint and reappear.

Progress is usually hindered by the cat and my wife at some point in the painting session.

Now I'm going to need to replenish my stock of mars black and ultramarine paint after this night scene...


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