Painting The Battle of Britain


These unique and atmospheric Battle of Britain oil paintings commemorate the RAF's courageous defence of the skies over Britain during the long, hot summer of 1940.
These paintings are intended as a tribute to the bravery, courage and sacrifice of all those who fought in The Battle of Britain to win us the freedoms that we value today.

Fighting Alone, F/Lt. Bob Stanford Tuck

Looking back at the achievement of the RAF in the summer of 1940, it seems a most improbable victory. How did those pilots keep going and maintain such spirit, day after day, in the face of such odds and such risk?

The images of this conflict are perhaps now part of the national psyche. Faded black and white pictures of smart, smiling young lads, sprinting cheerily across airfields, briefly resting in cane chairs, joking around and playing cards before climbing back into their beautiful, gleaming Hurricanes and Spitfires to do it all over again and again.

For all the pervading strength of the images that we carry with us, there are really precious few pictures from the time. Living in the world we do now, the camera is just about always present and everything gets photographed. Yet these seminal four months of frenetic activity, when our history hung in the balance, seem to be mostly represented by a mere couple of hundred photos.

Perhaps this is a balance which aviation artists are best placed to redress. The more I paint this subject, the more I want to paint it. It seems like for every day, every encounter and every pilot who flew in combat, there is another artwork that deserves to be created as visual tribute. Yet such a task is clearly impossible.

So, for now, I have chosen another way in. The concept that started this, ‘Hardest Day Hurricanes’, was meant as a one off tribute for the 80th Anniversary of the Battle. By taking this one arduous day and trying to drill down into it, and create paintings that evoked the day, moment by moment, it seemed like one had some kind of chance of representing something meaningful about the Battle as a whole.

As an artist, I could see a story here that was more feasible to tell. By looking closer at just one day, I could see beyond the ‘headline images’:

As one dug deeper and deeper, one’s mind was drawn to thinking about what happened before and after the sprint across the airfield? What were all those other moments like? What did it feel like to be in these now fabled places and in those historic skies at this vital moment in history?

This is what my paintings came to be about.

The ‘before’ moments: From dawn, the moment where the fitter, who has been working half the night to repair a damaged aircraft, pauses from his work to watch the first section of his squadron scramble on an early convoy patrol, the sea mist still all around, at Martlesham Heath.

'Long Day Ahead' - Hurricanes of Sgt. Alexander George Girdwood, and F/Lt. Hugh Richard Aden Beresford of No. 257 Squadron

The quiet in the early light at Biggin Hill, after all the Merlin engines had been warmed up and the ground crew work on the last tweaks to ensure the aircraft are ready for another day.

'Dawn Readiness' - Hurricanes of No. 32 Squadron. £431 (+p&p)

The earth-shattering roar of a whole flight at Northolt taking off together in the afternoon sun...

"One Squadron Scramble" - Hurricanes of No. 1 Squadron. £431 (+p&p)

... or 12 aircraft climbing, to defend, through an evening sky over quintessentially English countryside in Essex.

'Climbing to Defend' - Hurricanes of No. 151 Squadron. £657 (+p&p)

Then, there are the ‘just before’ moments: Turning to make a head on attack against a mass of enemy aircraft, two minutes to close with the distant specks of enemy bombers that will shortly be on the point of collision.

'Two Minutes to Close' - Hurricane of F/Lt. Humphrey a'Beckett Russell, No. 32 Squadron. £723 (+p&p)

A pilot at Kenley scanning the sky, as he climbs to the cockpit to take off in a ‘survival scramble’ just before the airfield becomes a death trap of exploding bombs...

'Scanning the Sky' - Hurricane of No. 615 Squadron. £257 (+p&p)

... or the moment a Squadron leader half rolls to attack a couple of schwarme of Me109’s, not knowing, minutes later, he will be baling out of his stricken aircraft.

"A Tangle with some 109s"- Hurricane of Sq/L. Micheal Nicholson Crossley, No. 32 Squadron.  £431 (+p&p)

Two Polish pilots, defending someone else homeland from the fate their own has suffered, climbing together over the Thames Estuary.

'The Polish Defence' - Hurricanes of F/O Stefan Witorzenc, and P/O Pawel Zenker, No. 501 Squadron. SOLD

The ‘quieter’ moments too: Soaring over glorious evening clouds on a ‘no contact’ second sortie, after a venomous life and death struggle on the first...

'Brief Peace over the Estuary'- Hurricane of No. 111 Squadron £217. (+p&p)

... or being back with comrades over the white cliffs after an attack on a Dornier bomber turned into the closest of escapes from four vengeful Messerschmitts.

'Back Among Friends' - Hurricane of Sq/L. Cedric Watcyn Williams, No. 17 Squadron at Swingate, Dover. £217 (+p&p)

Then ‘being in the thick of it’: In the flick of an eye, a Hurricane slices past a He111, pushing an attack home, noting the menacing curving flight of the avenging enemy fighters bearing down.

'Evening Fight' - Hurricane of F/Lt. Harry Raymond Hamilton, No. 85 Squadron.  £723 (+p&p)

A WAAF dodges through smoke and rubble at Biggin Hill to mark locations of unexploded bombs, so ‘the boys’ can touch down safely.

'Red Flags for UXBs' - WAAF Sgt. Joan Elizabeth Mortimer and F/Sgt. Joe Hunt watch Hurricane of P/O.Boleslaw Andrzej Wlasnowolski, No. 32 Squadron Landing. £723  (+p&p)

The moment the Squadron breaks through low cloud to attack a line of dive bombers before they unleash their deadly cargo over the Sussex coastline.

‘The Fighting Cocks Attack’- Hurricanes of No. 43 Squadron. £431 (+p&p)

Hurricanes from Croydon retaliate against the daring, low flying raiders of neighbouring Kenley, shattering the peace of North Downs.

'Stirring up the Hornets' Nest'- Hurricanes of 'Treble One', No. 111 Squadron. £723 (+p&p)

A deathly duel at tree top level the whole way across the (almost jarringly pastoral) countryside of Kent...

'The Long Chase' - Hurricane of Sq/L. David Alwyne Pemberton, No. 1 Squadron. £723 (+p&p)

... or moments to escape from the risk of a burning cockpit after nursing a damaged Hurricane back to Tangmere, only for the undercarriage to shear off on landing.

"Never Got Out So Quickly" - Hurricane of F/Sgt. Arthur Herbert Dorrien 'Bill' Pond, No. 601 Squadron (Sold)

And those last moments of the day: two more aircraft fly low against underlit evening clouds, nearly safe home...

'Hurricanes Low'

... whilst another aircraft, damaged, full of holes, finally taxis to a halt at North Weald, only to deliver another night’s work to the ever patient, equally determined, ground crews.

"It'll need more than your Needle and Thread Tonight"- Hurricane of F/O. Innes Bentall Westmacott, No. 56 Squadron. £723 (+p&p)

It could have been any day really. Only the long view of history has come to define this as one of the most notable days in the Battle. For those involved, it was just another of the many days of unceasing effort to defend their homeland from the seemingly unstoppable tide of advance of an oppressive foe.

This is a collection of paintings that is steadily growing. Whilst most of the paintings here focus on the role of the Hurricane during the Battle, there are now other paintings depicting the role of the Spitfire and other aspects of the battle that are being progressively added to the collection.

My aim with these paintings was always to create something more than some good paintings of WWII fighter aircraft with some vaguely appropriate backdrops. I try to be as true to my subjects as far as is possible. It is after all a real story that I am telling. Often this involves a mass of research, studying combat reports, histories, old maps and memoirs. This helps me get as near as I can to understanding and visualising the real moment as closely as possible and indeed often determines the artistic direction the finished painting takes. I also feel that it gives a verisimilitude to most of the paintings that would not be otherwise possible.

And whilst accurate depictions of the aircraft and other elements in my paintings are important, what is most important for me is to try to evoke the atmosphere, spirit and sense of the moment. Even if those moments are sometimes split seconds in time, they are the sort of split seconds that are worthy of paying attention to. They play an incredibly significant part in our nation’s history and represent the extreme courage, stamina and self sacrifice displayed by ‘The Few’, who secured victory in the skies over Britain, by the narrowest of margins, in that arduous summer of 1940.

Find Out More

This set of painting started out as 'Hardest Day Hurricanes', a project to create 18 paintings of Hurricanes to commemorate the 80th Anniversary of the actions of 'The Hardest Day', the 18th August 1940.
More about the combat actions of 'The Hardest Day'
More about the 'Hardest Day Hurricanes' project

On this day both the Luftwaffe and the Royal Air Force suffered the highest combat losses of the whole of the Battle.
More about combat losses on The Hardest Day

I am currently working on a further set of 'Hardest Day' paintings. This time they depict Spitfires in action on the 18th August 1940 and other parts of this dramatic day's combat. For a taste of the type of work that is to come and more about the process of creating a Battle of Britain painting visit my page:
Painting the Spitfire