RCAF “Halibag” WWII Nose Art

425 Halifax Nose Art - Nuts for Nazis

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Constructed by Handley Page Ltd. at Cricklewood, London, assembled and test flown at Radlett, Hertfordshire, England, Halifax B. Mk. VII, serial NP755, was delivered to RCAF No. 432 [Leaside] Squadron 15 August 1944. Assigned code QO-A, she became “Avenging Angel” with a fully nude Canadian lady painted on her nose section. This image was taken on 16 October 1944, after she had completed her 17th operation [red hearts] and shot down one German night fighter aircraft. Between 31 August 1944 and 25 April 1945, “Angel” completed seventy operations and at the end of the war in Europe she was sent for disposal [Scrapping] on 29 May 1945. Her nose art was saved by RCAF F/L Harold Lindsay and transported to Canada on 7 May 1946, then placed into long-term storage at Hull, Quebec, for the next 56 years. On 8 May 2005, the Canadian World War Two Halifax bomber nose art collection went on public display at the new War Museum in Ottawa, Canada. Today this little nude lady wears a green two-piece bathing suit, as we can’t show today’s generation what WWII RCAF aircrew painted on their bomber in 1944. So, please be fairly warned, if you can’t look at 75-year-old nude nose art ladies, do not read my Halifax Blog history. I am showing and telling the real RCAF Halifax nose art history, no ‘fake censored museum history’ in the following factual pages.

In 1927, the British Air Ministry introduced a new official naming system for all aircraft, beginning with a single letter relating to the role each aircraft was designed for. The aircraft were next given official names which were assigned to the role they played. British RAF Bombers, [B] were assigned with names of inland cities and towns of the British Empire. “Halifax” became the official name assigned to the World War Two British Handley-Page B. four-engine bomber prototype which first flew on 25 October 1939, twenty-two months after construction began.  The name “Halyfax” first appears in archived records in 1091, meaning coarse grass in nook of land, which later became a religious minister town in the Borough of Calderdale in West Yorkshire, England. During WWII manufacturer Handley Page Limited was based at Cricklewood, London, where 1,589 bombers would be constructed, then transported to their airport facilities at Park Street and Colney Street, Radlett, Hertfordshire, for final assembly. The prototype Halifax L7244 [Handley Page Design 57] was flown by Chief test pilot Major J.L. Cordes on 25 October 1939, [RAF Bicester, Oxfordshire] followed by the second prototype L7245, which was test-flown as a fully armed heavy bomber [55,000 lbs.] on 17 August 1940. The first Mk. I production Halifax serial L9485 flew on 11 October 1940, the first production batch of fifty bombers officially Mk. I, series 1, serial L9485 to L9534, built October 1940 to June 1941.  Photo public domain, [IWM #D7123] Halifax bombers being assembled Handley Page Radlett, 1942, where RCAF “Avenging Angel” was constructed two years later.

From 1941 onwards the Halifax aircraft became a subject of steady changing development and was in continuous service with the R.A.F. flying in ten different forms. The steadily growing production run of the Halifax bomber soon required several additional factories as Handley Page could not keep up with the demand. The London Aircraft Production Halifax Group was now formed led by the London Passenger Transport Board, to manufacture and assemble large numbers of the Handley Page Heavy Bomber. The parent company under managing director Sir Frederick Handley Page acted as the technical advisors and consultants to the Group as a whole. Four major firms now joined Handley Page to manufacture the new British Heavy Bomber. The English Electric Company Limited produced 2,145 bombers, the London Passenger Transport Company built 710, Rootes Securities Ltd. built 1,070 aircraft, and the Fairey Aviation Company Ltd. at Stockport constructed 661 bombers. By 1944, the Handley Page Group was comprised of 41 factories and dispersed smaller units, 600 sub-contractors, with a total production staff of over 51,000 employees. This huge work force was over 50% female [38,000] who worked around the clock shift work in artificial light, due to wartime blackout conditions. The Halifax bomber was designed and constructed in sections, what the British called “Split Construction Principal.” Most of these aircraft components were then moved by ten truck and trailer units to the main assembly factory at Leavesden Aerodrome for assembly and test flights. One complete Halifax bomber would arrive by a truck convoy at the factory and this appeared much like a row of luggage arriving at a U.K. train station. A factory worker [possibly a lady] stated another “Halibag” convoy has arrived, and the British bomber nickname stuck.

During the Second World War 249,662 Canadian men and women wore the uniform of the Royal Canadian Air Force, with 93,844 serving overseas and the majority serving in British RAF squadrons rather than RCAF squadrons. In August 1944, 60% of Canadians were serving in Royal Air Force squadrons, and 14,544 gave their lives in the service of Canada overseas. Of this total 12,266 Canadians were killed on active flying operations, with 1,906 killed while training in United Kingdom.  The major overseas Canadian casualties came from RAF Bomber Command with 9,980 killed, 8,240 being killed on active bomber operations [mostly at night] and almost half of these aircrew members have no known grave.

No. 6 [RCAF] Group [formed 1 January 1943] flew 40,822 sorties [number of individual aircraft combat flights] with 80% of these taking place at night. In the total of over 37,000 operations flown, over 29,000 or 73% were flown by Canadians in the Handley-Page Halifax four engine bomber. No. 6 [RCAF] Group lost 814 bomber aircraft on active operations, 127 were Vickers Wellington bombers, 149 were Avro Lancaster bombers, and 508 were Handley-Page Halifax bombers. All fifteen squadrons in No. 6 [RCAF] Group were equipped with the Halifax bomber at one time or another, and most Canadians lost their life flying in the Halifax bomber.

I have spent the last fifty plus years interviewing over a thousand of the survivors of these bombing operations and the true danger of WWII operations is far too apparent. This special generation of young Canadian males spent eight or ten hours in a freezing metal Halifax bomber that could, and for far too many, become their casket.

All RCAF aircrew knew the survival odds [around 55-45%] were against them, but night after night they put on a brave look and did their duty for Canada and the United Kingdom. In 1941, the British RAF had come up with this “Lack of Moral Fibre” Memorandum which was directed at all aircrew members who could not face up to being killed in the air and yet were declared medically fit to fly and perform their duties. The punishment was very severe; with an airmen marched in front of his complete squadron, where he was stripped of his rank badges, wings, and his CANADA shoulder patches. He was then posted back to Canada, dishonourably discharged from the Royal Canadian Air Force and totally disgraced for a second time in the eyes of his family and friends. I have been told directly by a number of surviving WWII pilots and aircrew, this fear of being charged with LMF was what kept them going, while their fellow aircrew failed to return night after night. The air war over Europe was hell, and this harsh punishment was required to keep the aircrews flying under such great strain.

The movies today never show the petrified look on aircrew faces, the vomiting on return from operations, the airman who walked into an aircraft propeller to take his own life, or the great stress the young aircrew lived under during the continued bloodshed of WWII. During the massive air battles of 1943 and 1944 only .4 per cent of RAF Bomber Command were identified with LMF, while the others just found ‘their’ own way to carry on regardless.

Today evidence in old records and veteran interviews strongly suggests officers were treated more humanely than the Sgt/pilot and his non-commissioned aircrew. The old British class system played a huge part in this punishment, as some British RAF officers just didn’t like Canadians who they felt lacked the proper British old school values, which were a major part of early RAF administration policies. A few surviving RCAF veterans expressed to me [with a half-laugh or facial expression] the fact they were fighting the Germans at night and the British in the day. Many pre-war RAF administration officers looked down their noses at the Canadians, and treated them like slaves from the colonies. By 1944, the Canadian Government became aware that a number of Canadian aircrew were being classified as “Lack of Moral Fibre” and they did not deserve it. The Canadian Minister of Air [Power] created a new RCAF Memorandum on L.M.F. and most Canadians were now classified as ‘Inefficient” and returned to Canada where a good number became instructors in the BCATP. It is almost impossible today to make a new generation of Canadians [including many RCAF female pilots] understand the harsh treatment and fear of being categorized with “Lack of Moral Fibre” which became the powerful force used to push RCAF aircrews to continue facing death flying combat operations in a Heavy Bomber. As the bomber operations into Germany increased and the heavy bloodshed continued, [Battle of Berlin] some aircrew found an easy and more graceful way to abandon operational combat flying. The RCAF ranked second only to the American 8th Air Force as regular patrons to the British prostitutes, and No. 6 [RCAF] Group Daily Diary for each squadron reported the number of aircrew who contracted VD. In 1943, as the bomber deaths increased, the Canadian VD infection rate also increased to double that of RAF Bomber Command as a whole. There is little doubt that a good number of Canadian aircrew deliberately contracted VD and were then removed from combat operations, which in turn saved their life. The almost daily stress from operational combat flying and the very real possibility of an early and tragic death in the air wars also produced an aviation aircraft painted art form called ‘nose art.’

RCAF nose art reached its creative peak from 1942 until the end of the war in Europe, 8 May 1945, and I have studied the subject since 1967.  This Canadian graphic art combined with just a simple name painted on an aircraft helped to fulfill a mix of male psychological needs, to defy military authority, to show crew success, to bring good-luck, and the most important reason it was allowed, it became an aircrew morale builder, it simply removed the fear of certain death just a little bit. The painting of each bomb symbol also helped the aircrew in believing they would complete their ‘tour of Ops’ and return safely to Canada. The same psychological effect as checking off the days on a wartime calendar.

The RCAF nose art portrayed the Canadian Maple Leaf, comic book and newspaper comic strip characters, flying eagles, Hitler in trouble, good-luck symbols, popular songs, movie titles, Walt Disney characters, and topless or semi-nude pin-up girls from Hollywood movies and American “Esquire” magazine pin-up paintings by Alberto Vargas and pre-war artist George Petty. The nude or semi-nude nose art images were allowed by RCAF Senior Command for the simple reason too many of these bombers and crew of seven or eight, would be blown out of the dark sky over Germany and no trace would ever be found. The other powerful reason was the fact that female nudity was treated as a thing of beauty by the British and became a normal part of their wartime living thanks to a young lady named Chrystabel Leighton-Porter, better know as “Jane.” This story will be detailed in a full history with many photos at a later date, it is just too long to attempt to describe in the Halifax nose art history. Cartoonist Norman Pett began his adult strip in the Daily Mirror in 1932, and by 1939, Jane was appearing six days a week in four frames per newspaper strip. In the last frame Jane would be scantily clad in her panties, sometimes topless, legs wide apart, but never fully nude until 6 June 1944. At the same time the real Jane toured the U.K. in a burlesque troop called Jane in the Mirror, and in the last scene always appeared fully nude [fixed pose] on stage for the Allied troops.