All my best in the New Year – French Canadian Turtle with Wings

Another message from Clarence Simonsen, a a precious contributor…

Hello Pierre, 

This is in fact three stories in one. Group Captain Dunlap was an outstanding RCAF Officer, who served [exchange duty] with the RAF in 1935, and for this reason understood the British and thinking of the pre-war RAF. He was one officer who was not afraid to express his true point of view and give a blunt reply to everything. He was in fact – “a man’s man” and did everything he could to serve and take care of the members under his command. When he arrived in North Africa and was informed [by RAF Command] the best landing strips had been taken by the RAF, he was determined his Canadians would not take second best or fly at night from the mountainous regions the British had picked for him. By the use of the barter system and some booze, he persuaded a Major in the American Engineers to build two dirt strips next to the RAF units, then informed the RAF Command to supply his three RCAF squadrons. This saved Canadian lives, [including French-Canadians] and showed the British the type of Canadian officer who was in total command of his RCAF squadrons.
 
The creation of No 420 and 425 Wellington desert nose art began at these two dirt landing strips, thanks to LAC Skip Rutledge. In a crazy twist of fate, the official war artist [Paul Goranson] also recorded the same Wellington nose art as painted by Rutledge. This would make an impressive educational display if we only had a nose art museum. Other paintings by Goranson capturing the air war in the desert are in storage in the War Museum but will they ever be shown? This is a simple case [but very rare] where unofficial nose art and official war art can be combined to educate.
 
The power of nose art can be clearly seen in the little slow Wellington bomber, which set a record in No. 425 with 46 consecutive operations. This was all due to the fact the French Canadian ground crew took extra care of their “Slow but Sure” bomber. My replica turtle painting has never been published before.  
 
Over to you Pierre.
 
All my best in the New Year.

Here is another gem post from Clarence Simonsen. This time it’s about RCAF Squadrons in Tunisia in 1943.

A French Canadian Turtle with Wings

A French Canadian Turtle with Wings

A French Canadian Turtle with Wings - Copy

On 22 June 1942, an organization order was issued authorizing the formation of Canada’s fifth RCAF Heavy Bomber squadron in England. No. 425 squadron came into existence three days later at R.A.F. Station Dishforth, Yorkshire, England, a unit in No. 4 Group of Bomber command. What made this squadron unique in the wartime RCAF history is the fact it was formed as a French Canadian unit and its ranks filled by French Canadian air and ground crews. They picked the motto “Je te plumerai” [I shall pluck you] and the nickname Alouette, the official badge showing a sky lard bird in the hovering position.

logo escadron 425

Centuries before, their French ancestors the Gauls, used this same lark bird image as the official tribe emblem and engraved it on their battle helmets in time of war. No. 425 began training in the Vickers Wellington B. Mk. III bombers in August 1942, with eight crews flying the first operation to Aachen, Germany, on 5 October 1942. On 1 January 1943, the French Canadian squadron joined eight other squadrons to become No. 6 [RCAF] Group of RAF Bomber Command. By April 1943, the Alouette Wellington aircraft had successfully bombed Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Mannheim, Bochum, Hamburg [2], Cologne [2], Essen [2] and a third trip to Duisburg, Germany, on 26 April 43.

On 3 April 1943, the British Air Ministry asked the Canadian Government to approve the use of three experienced Wellington RCAF squadrons for the invasion of Sicily, named Operation “Husky.” On 10 April, No. 420, 424 and 425 Squadrons were selected to become part of No. 205 [RAF] Group, 331 Wing, flying new Wellington Mk. X bombers which were tropicalized for use in the heat, sand, and frequent dust storms of Tunisia. No. 331 Wing was officially formed on 7 May 1943, under command of Group Captain Clarence Larry Dunlap, a pre-war RCAF officer.

All my best in the New Year.

Group Captain Clarence Rupert Larry Dunlap 1943

Upon arrival in the theatre of operations [21 June 43] G/C Dunlap was informed it would be impossible for the Canadians to operate out of the planes of Tunisia, as this space had been claimed by three squadrons of the RAF under No. 331 Wing.

 No. 70 RAF Squadron had taken over Kairouan/Temmar on 25 May 43, No. 40 RAF Squadron had moved 10 miles north to occupy Kairouan/El Alem, on 28 May 43, while No. 37 RAF Squadron was located south at Kairouan/Allami on 30 May 1943.

A French Canadian Turtle with Wings - Copy (11)

No. 331 Wing RAF in West Kairouan May 1943

The new Canadian RCAF commander of No. 331 Wing was not impressed when the British informed him he would be operating further south-west in the mountainous region between Algeria and Tunisia. Thanks to some lost poker cash and a few bottles of Scotch whiskey, two new RCAF dirt airfields were constructed in four days by a Major in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. G/C Dunlap then informed RAF Mediterranean Air Command Headquarters the RCAF would be located in the Tunisian plains and the RAF should find the means to supply his Canadian squadrons with fuel, ammunition and food. The British reluctantly agreed, and the Canadians prepared for air war in North African.

The Canadians of No. 424 Squadron moved into Kairouan/Pavillier, while members of No. 420 and 425 Squadrons took over the new landing strip at Kairouan/Zina on 23 June 1943. The two new dirt landing air strips were only ten miles apart and thirty miles from the Mediterranean coast city of Sousse, much safer for the Canadians returning from night time operations.

 A French Canadian Turtle with Wings - Copy (9)

By 25 June 1943, No. 425 Squadron was declared operational and flew their first operation on 26/27 June 43, when they joined No. 420 Squadron attacked the airstrip at the town of Sciacca, then continued with raids on other ports in Sardinia and Sicilian airfields.

 

 

 Rutledge

photo Floyd Rutledge

LAC Floyd “Skip” Rutledge joined the RCAF on 17 October 1940, and after training as an air engine mechanic was posted to No. 3 SFTS at Calgary, Alberta, for practical experience in his trade. In April 1942, he was posted to his first active squadron No. 420 [Snowy Owl] at Waddington, Linc. , England. Here he painted his very first RCAF nose art on a Handley-Page Hampton Mk. I bomber, which featured a native Indian in full head dress.

Skip arrived at Kairouan/Zina air strip on 23 June 1943, and began working on the new Wellington Mk. X aircraft in the extreme 120 F desert outdoor conditions. During his tour in North Africa he painted at least five Wellington aircraft with RCAF nose art. [Possibly including Wellington bombers in No. 425 Squadron, he could not recall?]

A French Canadian Turtle with Wings - Stork Stork Clarence Simonsen

This impressive stork with the tail of a Wellington bomber was painted for No. 420 [Snowy Owl] Squadron at Kairouan/Zina, air strip in August 1943. [photo Floyd Rutledge] The 2003 scale replica was painted by Simonsen and today hangs in the Bomber Command Museum of Canada in Nanton, Alberta. This original stork sketch done by Skip in North Africa 1943, was also donated to Nanton in 2010 by Simonsen.

 A French Canadian Turtle with Wings - Copy (7)

In August 1943, official war artist Paul Goranson painted this Wellington nose art of No. 420 Squadron bomber “Scarlet Harlot” which he titled “Bombing Up a Blockbuster.” This was sketched at Kairouan/Zina featuring pinup girl painted by nose artist “Skip” Rutledge. This painting is today in the War Museum collection or photo PL47565.

This is the original Wellington nose art by Skip Rutledge, photographed by him in August 1943, North Africa, Kairouan/Zina.

A French Canadian Turtle with Wings - Copy (6)

The three RCAF Squadrons based at Landing strip Kairouan/Pavillier [No. 424] and Kairouan/Zina [No. 420 and 425] would produce impressive Canadian Wellington nose art paintings.

A French Canadian Turtle with Wings - Copy (5)

S/L Joe McCarthy, DFC, No. 424 Squadron, Kairouan/Pavillier, 28 September 1943. [PL18385]

A French Canadian Turtle with Wings - Copy (4)

F/Sgt. Art Jackson [Vancouver, B.C.] F/Sgt. B.H. Tremblay, [Montreal] and F/Sgt. Joe Ross, [River Bend, Quebec] admire their No. 425 Wellington Mk. X bomber “Chat-an-ooga-choo-choo” nose art. 31 August 1943. [PL18303]

 

From the very first operation flown on 26/27 June 43, one “Alouette” Wellington Mk. X bomber code “X” for X-Ray, HE978, immediately acquired a reputation for being very slow, most often the last bomber to land at base, but always coming home. Night after night this Wellington KW-X flew different crews to Mediterranean targets, always returning very last, but never acting temperamental like some bombers in the squadron. The air and ground crews began to feel a kind of condescending confidence in this slow aircraft, with the ground crew slowly getting over their feelings of inferiority. Soon they were lavishing extra hours of repair work and attention to the engines of their slow bomber.

Wellington ground crew –    

Cpl. Andre Lupien from Lac a la Tortue, Quebec.

LAC Yvon Monette from Montreal, Quebec.

LAC Eric Merry from Vancouver, B.C.

LAC C. Schierer from Ponoka, Alberta.

After each operation the ground crew painted a small orange bomb for night operations, and as the bombs mounted, they spoke with subdued pride of ‘their’ aircraft. When the Wellington was shot up the same ground crew worked all the next day to have her ready for the next night operation. When the Sicilian campaign ended their bomber had not missed one single operation, a 425 Alouette record of 32 consecutive trips to Sicily, which they proudly boosted about. Pilot Officer Armitage from Miniota, Manitoba, was the bomb aimer on many operations flown in the Wellington bomber, and he dreamed up the idea of giving her a nose art name “Slow But Sure” taken from Aesop’s fable of “The Hare and the Tortoise.” Next came the nose art image created by P/O Armitage, who was assisted by all the ground crew in painting the new art on the left nose area. The nose art became a winged turtle holding one large bomb in her claws.

 A French Canadian Turtle with Wings - Copy (3)

With the capture of Sicily, it was intended that No. 331 Wing would be disbanded and return to Britain by the end of July 1943. This date was moved back to 15 September 1943, and the Wing would now take part in the invasion of Italy. 

Wellington “Slow But Sure” was now flying day time operations bombing the Foggia Italian airfields, railway yards in Naples, and rail and road junctions of Salerno. These targets were now painted with white bombs on her nose, and she was no longer looking new, with her life span now measured in hours. The big surprise was the fact her bomber performances kept improving and in her last four operations, she was in the first group of bombers to return to base. On 15 September 43, the little “Turtle with wings” made her 46th consecutive operation to bomb Italy, but on return her bearings were worn out. She was taken off operations and ordered to a salvage unit. While looking at their bomber, the ground crew decided she should be given a D.F.C. for all those record making operations. Between the last row of bombs a DFC ribbon was painted with her nose art.

A French Canadian Turtle with Wings - Copy (2)

 

[Photo PL18351] records the top left [ground crew LAC C. Schierer] four aircrew and bottom ground crew – L to R LAC E. Merry, Cpl. A. Lupien and LAC Y. Monette. These were the very proud ground crew who painted the impressive record of 46 operations [32 night and 14 day] plus the little “Turtle with Wings” nose art.

 

 A French Canadian Turtle with Wings - Copy (10)-001

On 30 September 1943, the three RCAF Squadrons of No. 331 Wing pull up tents and move to Landing Ground #33 at Hani East, Tunisia.  

A French Canadian Turtle with Wings - Copy (10)-002

This RCAF “Moving Day” was captured in another official water color by war artist Paul Goranson, 30 Sept. 1943. Today this painting remains in storage in the War Museum collection in Ottawa. [photo image PL47563]

 A French Canadian Turtle with Wings - Copy (10)-003

No. 425 Wellington B. Mk. X, “Blues in the Night.” Left to Right – P/O J.E. Leigh, F/Sgt. R.S. MacKay, Ferdinand le Dressay and P/O C. L. Spooner, 31 August 1943, [PL183303]

The nose art images on the Wellington bombers of No. 425 Squadron continued their fight until early October 1943, when the Germans retreated further north in Italy and the front line was stabilized. On 27 October 43, the members of RCAF No. 331 Wing boarded their troop ships and returned to home bases of Dalton, Dishforth and Skipton in England. Their trusty Wellington Mk. X bombers with Canadian nose art was left behind for the RAF units and forgotten.

The little “French Canadian Turtle with Wings” was slow but sure, and to the men who flew in her and came home, she was no Aesop’s’ fable, but a large part of No. 425 [Alouette] Squadron history in North Africa.

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2 thoughts on “All my best in the New Year – French Canadian Turtle with Wings

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