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This is a Work in Progress that I ran on my Facebook site in the past week or so. It seemed appropriate to transfer it to my website so that I can expand on some of the descriptions.
The painting depicts a 617 Squadron Lancaster making the tricky approach into the Eder Dam during Operation Chastise on 17th May 1943. I had never painted the Eder attack so I was very keen to get this done before the 70th anniversary.
I had always thought that the best view of the Eder attack would be that of a Lancaster diving past the very distinctive Waldeck Castle before making the steep left turn to line up with the bomb run. The moon being in the south-west at this point is ideally placed to cast some light on the scene.
I have painted many aspects of the raid before but have never shown the attack on the Eder. This Dam was very well hidden by the surrounding hills making the approach extremely difficult, although this also meant that the Germans had not bothered to mount any anti-aircraft defences in the vicinity. This first picture shows the basic landscape shapes going in to give me a sense of where the aircraft will go.
The approach to the Eder involved a steep descent past Waldeck Castle and then a tight left turn to line up for the dam over the spit of land visible under the starboard outer engine. I always thought that this view would work nicely as the castle is a very distinctive feature and the south facing aspect means the the moon can provide a strong light source on the water. As you can see, I’m just in the process of blocking my pencil drawn aircraft in with paint.
At this stage I’ve blocked the castle in roughly to try to get a scale and balance with the aircraft. The Lancaster is roughly blocked in and I’ve added tree and mist effects to the foreground. Nothing is detailed yet as I’m still playing with the light and darks to try to achieve a convincing ‘night’ scene.
This photo shows a lot of work completed on the misty distant hills which you may notice I’ve raised a little. After dropping the Upkeep, the Lancasters were forced to apply full power to clear the large surrounding hills so I wanted to emphasise this. I’ve also worked on the aircraft, adding the squadron codes roughly just to give the eye something to focus on. I’ve also enlarged the castle slightly.
Today’s update shows a bit of work on the aircraft but mainly on the mist and the structure of the hillside in the foreground. I’m also in the process of moving the moon. The moon was critical to this operation, in fact the debriefing form specifically asks about the direction of the moon and how it affected visibility of the target. Unfortunately, most artists ignore this and just stick it where it suits them. (How many ‘Enemy Coast Ahead’ prints are there with the moon rising behind the aircraft, making more accurately ‘Enemy Coast Behind)!
For the Mohne attack the moon was noted as being on the port beam, (not behind as is often painted), and for the Eder attack Les Knight noted that the moon was on the starboard beam. As such I’m moving the light source a bit further to the right of the picture, I’m still considering whether to have the low moon actually in the painting or not. Once I’m happy with the mist and hillside, I’ll get on and detail the aircraft, set 10 degrees flap and put the spotlights on!
Today’s update at first glance may not appear too different from yesterday’s picture. However, a lot of work has been going on, mainly in the detail but also in the mist and the tree textures below the aircraft. I’ve started to detail the Lancaster now and at this point I must say a big thank you to Piotr Forkasiewicz for allowing me to ‘play’ with his wonderful 3D model of a Type 464 that he and Alex Bateman have been working on for our forthcoming Dambuster book.
Getting closer to the finish line now. Last night I worked into the small hours on the Lancaster, adding detail as well as introducing the Eder Dam towers in the distance. I’ve set 10 degrees flap on the Lancaster which I understand they set to give them more control in the descent. I’ve also added the spotlights. The position of the rear spotlight has always been controversial as various sources have it anywhere from the middle of the bomb bay all the way back to the ventral gun hatch. I’m 100% convinced that it was in the latter, especially after we dug up this hatch from ED825 out in France a few years ago.
Next job is to tackle the castle and then go back and superdetail the aircraft.
So, we’re about 90% there, the main work this time has been on the castle. I must thank my old friend Alex Bateman for his help on this as all I had to begin with were modern views of the castle. It was clear that some sections of it looked ‘post-war’ but it was difficult to be sure. Luckily Alex dug out a pre-war aerial photo which pretty much answered all my questions! You’ll also notice that I’ve introduced trees at the bottom right to give the better impression that the Lanc is flying down a natural gorge. I’ve also added the moon which I think, helps the composition, if you disagree do tell me!
One final point is that I may be changing the aircraft code letter, possibly to Henry Maudslay’s aircraft. I’ll explain more in the next update.
And finally… The first thing you’ll notice is the image is darker than the previous ones. This is because the new image is taken from the high-res scan and is therefore more faithful to the original painting. I’ve added two aircraft circling overhead, one with an Upkeep, one without. A lot of fine detail has also been added as you can see in the close-up below, including props, stencilling, panel lines and a ‘spin’ on the Upkeep.
You’ll notice the change in the code letter from AJ-N to AJ-Z. I had originally planned to paint AJ-Z (Henry Maudslay’s aircraft, but changed my mind early on to show Les Knight’s AJ-N which breached the dam. However, at the 11th hour, I heard from my friend Dave Birrell in Canada that he had shown the painting to Fred Sutherland (front gunner in AJ-N) and he was sure that in the end they didn’t fly this approach as it was too difficult! All three aircraft that attacked the Eder made several missed approaches as they found it very difficult to get the height and speed right in time. With Fred’s testimony, I clearly couldn’t show AJ-N so reverted back to AJ-Z which was shot down by flak on the way home with the loss of all seven crew members.
This original painting is now sold but is available as a limited edition print. More details via the Dambusters link.
A short film about the final result can be found here;
I hope you found this of interest, if you have any questions just get in touch.