When I first had the great good fortune to meet Pierre Lagacé, I was starting to film a feature length documentary entitled “Fledglings” on 425 (Alouette) Squadron, Canada’s only French-Canadian bomber squadron during the Second World War. Pierre was an invaluable resource to me in tracking down former members of the Squadron for the purpose of interviewing them to record their personal experiences all the way from enlisting, training, going on operations and, for those who had the misfortune to be shot down over enemy territory, being captured by the Germans and imprisoned.
It was only as I got to know Pierre better, I came to realise that, in addition to his skills as an historical researcher, he was also a gifted model-builder. And so it was that I asked him to use his modelling expertise to bring to life two significant WWII Wellington bombers from the history of the Squadron.
At the beginning of the R.C.A.F.’s part in Bomber Command, the Wellington “medium” bombers were the initial mainstay of most Canadian squadrons for both training and operational purposes. Wellingtons were the “entry level” bombers from the date of the formation of 425 Squadron through its mining and bombing operations during the years 1942 and 1943 before the Squadron converted to the Halifax “heavy” bomber. Although the Wellington had a reputation of taking a lot of punishment and still being able to fly because of its unusual geodetic airframe, it had neither the range, altitude, speed, armament or bomb-load of the heavier bombers.
Alouette Squadron’s unique identifying code “KW” was painted on each of its aircraft, followed by a single letter specific to it. Should an aircraft need to be replaced, whether by virtue of loss, damage or upgrading, the replacement bomber would often inherit that letter. Such was the case with the Wellington B-III bomber designated KW-E, the first aircraft to carry that designation being production number BJ 652, operating out of Dishforth, the Squadron’s original base, in January of 1942.
The Airfix model which Pierre built celebrated the KW-E Wellington X3763, the number also being painted on the fuselage.
What makes this particular aircraft special is that it has one of the largest number of official war-time photos taken of one of the Squadron’s Wellingtons in flight, giving us a very clear picture of the detail of this design as operated by the Alouettes. These photos are our only point of reference for model-building given that there are no surviving examples of the Wellington B-III in existence.
Wellington X3763 met its end on a bombing operation to Stuttgart on April 14/15,1943, crashing in France and killing all 6 on board. In due course, the next aircraft to be marked KW-E was airframe HF529, part of the Squadron’s conversion to the Wellington X in anticipation of the Squadron’s little known transfer to North Africa as part of Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily and mainland Italy.
I have asked Pierre to build a Trumpeter model of the Wellington X, tropicalized for desert operations, and to mark it as KW-K, airframe HE268, to commemorate the only Alouette Squadron aircraft to be lost on its way to Africa in June of 1943.
Although the main body of the Squadron, mostly ground crew and administration, had already left their Yorkshire base and made their way by sea to Algeria in May, the aircraft were to be flown via Gibraltar and Morocco to their new base of operations in Tunisia. The aircraft started their journey from R.A.F. station Portreath in southwest England in order to cross the Bay of Biscay as far as possible from German airfields in France. In further anticipation of enemy fighter activity, the air crew were supplemented by 2 ground crew members summarily trained to man waist machine guns mounted on either side of the Wellington Xs for the purpose of protecting the vulnerable beam sectors that the nose and rear turrets could not reach.
Unfortunately, these precautions were insufficient to prevent an attack by a Junkers 88, with KW-K suffering such significant damage including wounds to two crew members that it was unable to continue and was abandoned over Portugal. Fortunately, the crew parachuted safely and were interned in Portugal before being repatriated to the U.K. over the summer of that year.
There is still a little scraping the clear parts to be done.
I have decided to represent Slow But Sure.
I wrote about it previously…
The story of Flight Lieutenant Hewitt Elliott started with this email I got from Clarence Simonsen on December 29, 2014. You can read the original here.
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
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.
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 , Cologne , Essen  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.
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.
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.
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.
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?]
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.
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.
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.
S/L Joe McCarthy, DFC, No. 424 Squadron, Kairouan/Pavillier, 28 September 1943. [PL18385]
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.
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.
[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.
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.
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]
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.
End of the story
Now there is much more to add to this story like these pictures shared by the pilot of Slow but Sure.
Last time I had used two Vise-Grips to mate the engine nacelles with the wings.
The upper parts of both nacelles didn’t mate perfectly with the top and the bottom wings. I had tried glueing the bottom parts first, but it did not work out.
So I had to unglue everything and then I used super glue at the wing roots. It did not work well either…
So Mother Invention had told me to…
Use a Vise-Grip…!
Well it worked a little but there were still visible gaps. I did not want to use a filler and have to file around the nacelles. Mother of invention told me to use a little dab of clear acrylic paint and take the excess of with my finger.