RAF News 29 Nov 2019

Page 18

Royal Air Force News Friday, November 29, 2019 P18

Royal Air Force News Friday, November 29, 2019 P19

Feature Champions of Flight


VIATION ART took off in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s thanks largely to two men who chronicled the golden age of air travel, from Charles Lindbergh’s non-stop transatlantic flight to the heroics of combat pilots over the Western Front and in Bomber Command. The pair, who perhaps did more than anyone to embed the glamour of flight into American culture, Clayton Knight and William Heaslip, were Royal Flying Corps veterans of World War I, and the former was even shot down in a dramatic dogfight. Both formally trained artists, their survival and military experience meant they were well-equipped to produce powerful images from Sunday comics featuring pilot heroes, to dramatic pictures of wartime valour, to iconic recruiting posters that prompted young Americans to flock to the Forces after Pearl Harbour. With more than 400 lavish colour and black and white and illustrations, the book Champions of Flight chronicles the 20-year careers of the era’s foremost aviation artists – from the Roaring 20s through the Great Depression and World War II. Published in hardback by Casemate at £40, this beautifully-produced coffee table book is not cheap, but for RAF News readers stuck for a Christmas present for their aviationmad loved ones it could prove priceless.


CLAYTON KNIGHT was born in 1891, the son of a carpenter and raised in a workingclass home in Rochester, NY. He enrolled at the local Mechanics Institute to study life drawing and illustration, aiming to become a commercial artist. In 1916 press pictures of the Lafayette Escadrille – American aviators flying aerial combat missions over France without parachutes – inspired Knight to try to enlist, but he was turned down. But once America declared war on Germany in April 1917 he got in and finished among the top 10 at ground school in Texas, qualifying him for duty in France. After training on Lewis and Vickers machine guns in Oxford and Grantham, on May 18, 1918, he was commissioned as a First Lieutenant and posted to 206 Sqn RAF. The unit’s job was to gather intelligence for the British Second Army by flying reconnaissance missions behind enemy lines without fighter coverage. After several close calls, on October 5, 1918, he encountered Oberleutnant Harald

Take a flight of fancy



E HAVE two copies of Champions of Flight to give away. To be in with a chance of winning one, answer this question correctly: To which squadron was Clayton Knight posted when he was commissioned as a First Lieutenant? Email your answer, marked Champions of Flight competition, to: competitions@rafnews.co.uk or post it to: RAF News, Room 68, Lancaster Building, HQ Air Command, High Wycombe, HP14 4UE, to arrive by December 13, 2019.

Auffarth, who was about to earn the 23rd of his 29 aerial victories. Knight and his observer were the first to see the oncoming Fokker D. VIIs but couldn’t alert their comrades and were attacked. According to first-hand accounts of the dogfight, ‘Shots fired into the floorboards of Knight’s aircraft igniting spattered grease and oil. By the time Knight stamped out the fire, the plane was spinning out of control. It dived to 1500ft, followed by two or three Fokker D.VIIs which peppered the disabled plane with a stream of bullets.’ After the rear guns gave out, Knight flew over Auffarth’s aircraft, then his engine stopped and he crashed in a field of wheat. Knight was eventually transferred with other wounded prisoners to hospital in Antwerp, where he heard the war was over. After convalescence in England he returned to the US in February 1919 and his previous life as an illustrator. WILLIAM HEASLIP, the youngest of six children of Irish immigrants, was born in Toronto, but was adopted aged 13 by a tailor who lived near the Wolseley Canadian Army barracks. He began Art School in Ontario in 1911 and followed his brother into the printing business, where he remained until the US entered World War I in 1917. Under an agreement of reciprocity, the Aviation Section of the United States Signals Corps and the Royal Flying Corps teamed up to train 10 squadrons of pilots in Texas. But before he could see action the Armistice was signed. According to the authors: “Heaslip was discharged, having served just one year and 99 days, a short period during which his skills of observation became finely honed, and his self-confidence, free from the stigma of being raised an orphan, grew exponentially. This period of service in the military clearly left an indelible mark on the artist.”


AUTHORS AVIATION historian Ted Hamady and art historian Sheryl Fiegel spent 10 years researching Knight and Heaslip’s work and had unique direct access to their families’ archives. RAF News asked them to select their joint and individual favourite images and explain the reason behind their choices: Bombers Over Brandenburg Gate (p206) Ted: “The RAF bombed Berlin for the first time on August 25, 1940, in retaliation for the Luftwaffe having bombed London. Artist William Heaslip’s portrayal of the night raid leaves no doubt that RAF bombers are over the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin’s famous landmark. Berliners failed to take shelter for Reichsmarschall Herman Goering had boasted in 1939 that, ‘you may call me Meyer (an attempt at anonymity with a common German surname) if the Allies ever manage to bomb the Ruhr industrial area’ – critics later mockingly used his boast to include Nazi Germany’s capital city.” Sheryl: “William Heaslip’s portrayal of the night raid is an excellent example of how he typically incorporated a geometric basis for his compositions – called dynamic symmetry – to emphasise the dramatic content of the narrative. With his carefully formulated triangles intersecting with rectangles, he pulls you into the composition as a participant rather than an observer. The viewer is positioned lower left, staring up at the Brandenburg Gate. Then the eye looks skyward following a trail of smoke to see incoming RAF bombers.”


DRAMA: Heaslip’s image of Fairy

WOODCUT: Knight’s representation of an RAF Sopwith Dolphin pilot Swordfish torpedo bombers attac king

the Bismarck

KNIGHT: On machine gun training, Grantham, Lincs, 1917

Top Man Wins (p114) Sheryl: “This is an excellent example of how Clayton Knight determined early on how to make an airplane appear to move through space rather than just statically float in the air. The viewer here is in another airplane looking down at the highly-manoeuvrable Sopwith Camel, which has looped to bring its guns to bear on a Fokker D.VII. Movement is demonstrated primarily through the flight profile of the Sopwith Camel and its effusive trail of uncombusted castor oil lubricant from the rotary engine.” Luftwaffe Attacks Allied Shipping (p201) Ted: “In this striking composition, William Heaslip has riveted attention on the action taking place within the close confines of a Heinkel He111 bomber. The nose gunner (who also served as bombardier and navigator) is firing his MG 15 rifle calibre machine gun at an oncoming allied cargo ship in the Channel as a Dornier DO 17 bomber passes below. The He 111 will drop its bomb load in an instant.”

FIRST SQUADRON: Clayton Knight with 206 Sqn. He is seated on the floor on the front row, above his initials

Simon Mander

AUTHORS: Ted Hamady and Sheryl Fiegel

HEASLIP: Royal Flying Corps

AUTHORS’ PICK: Heaslip’s powerful Bombers Over Brandenburg Gate impressed both Hamady and Fiegel

IN GUNNER’S SIGHTS: Luftwaffe Attacks Allied Shipping, by Heaslip, shows the view from nose of Heinkel He111

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