Written by Clarence Simonsen
“Nose Art” Politically Incorrect or Not?
After fifty years of nose art research, including interviews with over a thousand veterans of the American 8th Air Force and the Royal Canadian Air Force, I am still fascinated with the World War Two women with big busts, round hips, and bouncy curls of hair. By today’s standards much of this WW II nose art is considered “politically incorrect.”
Canadian aircrew, B-24 Liberator No. 159 Squadron R.A.F. South East Asia 1944.
In that same period of time, I have met in person seven men who painted nose art on aircraft, plus recorded the history of 83 men and one British lady who decorated aircraft during World War Two. As an artist I have painted over 600 replica nose art images on original aircraft skin from WW II, bringing back to life the painting of a lost and forgotten artist. It is not the sexuality of nose art that I have fallen in love with, but rather the period of history, the nostalgia, and yes, the romance in time of war. Almost every WW II veteran I have interviewed had a romantic story to share from WW II, and many times this lady or event appeared as nose art. When I repaint a lost nose art image it reminds me of the real men and women who went to war, fell in love, and gave their lives for freedom and Canada. Each nose art painting helps me understand and remember those young aircrew were real flesh and blood people, nothing like today’s computer generated mythical super heros. Nose art is a reminder of RCAF history, aircrew stories, their memories, and the sacrifice of the “Greatest Generation”. Each nose art image was painted for a reason, sometimes only known to the aircrew.
RCAF Halifax serial NP759, “Canada Kid” reflected on the fact Canadian seventeen years old kids went to war and flew the most advanced bomber of the time. The bomber operations were marked as a candy sucker, red for night, white for day. Painting completed for the private collection of Karl Kjarsgaard, 2005.
Another RCAF “Babe” and each operation flown was recorded by a diaper on the line.
No. 432 Squadron Halifax serial NP736, also reflects on the fact Canadian teens went to war, with 8,240 Canadian aircrew killed on active operations. Painting for private collection of original aircrew, 92 year old tail gunner, 2012.
WW II nose art was officially permitted by the Royal Air Force during the first week of August 1940, [Battle of Britain] when Hurricane and Spitfire units could paint national emblems on the fuselage side of aircraft, provided it was not more than 100 square inches. This national emblem art was innocent enough but soon the paintings moved to the front or “nose” where the aircraft was given a name and generic emblem. When the American 8th Air Force arrived in England in July 1942, they introduced large nose art images on the B-17 and B-24 bombers. The main subject became the “Petty” and “Vargas” pin-up girls that appeared in each monthly issue of Esquire magazine. Soon the girls began to appear topless and then fully illicit drawings of nude women were painted life-size on the bomber’s nose.
Canadians painted the same Varga girls, such as this March 1944 issue from Esquire, that Mat Ferguson turned into “Hellzapoppin”, which flew 63 operations with No. 424 Squadron. The RCAF nose art girls were mostly covered.
“Vicky the Vicious Virgin” on Lancaster KB905 EQ-V.
RCAF pilot Ron Craven flew his first operation as ‘second pilot’ in Halifax NP809 on Christmas eve, 24 December 1944. They flew other bombers in No. 408 Squadron until 22 February 1945, then received a new Halifax B. VII, serial PN230, with code letters EQ-V [call sign V for Vicky]. They had a difficult time to pick the correct nose art for their new bomber. During some discussions among crew members, regarding their amorous adventures with ladies in England, led to the statement – “if there’s a virgin left in all of England, she must be a very vicious lady. That was it, and the nose art became “Vicky the Vicious Virgin.” The lady was painted by crewmember Bert Evans and they completed 13 operations in her, then converted to a Canadian built Lancaster X, serial KB905. The new bomber carried the same name with a new pin-up lady as nose art.
Some American units were ordered to put clothes on the girls, while other Commanding Officers refused the order and allowed full nudity. Many nose artists rebelled and painted “Censored” over the paintings, which produced another art form. The American nude nose art was allowed mainly due to the huge loss of life, and the art increased morale in such dismal times of Europe’s air war.
B-17 rare tail art by 91st B.G. artist Jack Gaffney
The RAF and RCAF chain of Command kept a much tighter control on the painting of nose art. While the British and Canadians painted nudes they kept the art in good taste and censorship was rare.
This impressive nude appeared on a RCAF Canadian Lancaster Mk. X, KB919 EQ-J, in 1945, and was never censored.
While nude art is considered politically incorrect by today’s standards, it was allowed by the RCAF for the simple reason it helped moral. That’s what they were really fighting for!
However, it seems that the political truth regarding the United States and “Uncle Sam” was not allowed in 1944!
LAC Delbert Todd was ground crew with No. 428 [Ghost] Squadron based at Middleton St. George, Yorkshire, in August of 1944. His photo collection included nose art titled – “UNCLE SAM’S PEACE TERMS”. This nose art survived only two weeks when it was spotted by the squadron padre, S/L Harry Coleman, who ordered it removed immediately.
The Commanding Officer, W/C A.C. Hull, DFC, had deemed it was not politically correct for 1944!
LAC Delbert Todd photo August 1944.
Simonsen replica painted on original front door escape hatch from from Halifax NA337, donated to Nanton museum, in honour of Delbert Todd and the last painting completed for Nanton upon my retirement in July 2010.
RCAF nose art that told the political truth but was censored!