Photo credit: Royal Air Force Museum
This is signed in monogram bottom right.
Dr Marion Richards, Art Detective Manager, Art UK has added 'What do you make of the initials: S, T, I, A, L ? (not in that order)'
S, T, and L look likely to me, with 17 as a date (1917).
The work is dated 1917 in "More information".
The rendering of the landscape with town and countryside, and the viewpoint above the main aircraft suggest the artist had flown. Does the RAFM have records of aircrew artists?
The work seems to me typical of that by Talbot-Kelly of which the RAF Museum has other examples.
Could you point out where are these other Talbot-Kelly examples? I cannot find any in a search of the 699 works in the Royal Air Force Museum's collection.
If the reference is to Richard Barrett Talbot-Kelly, his monogram signature is very different to this one, as per the attached composite.
I agree that it is probably by a pilot. The problem is that it is amateur. So the best you can do, I think, is search WW1 pilots who fit the initials, which are not that easy anyway - Do you have a pilot with the surname Salt, as the initials within the monogram may spell that?
Does the Museum know what date it acquired this painting? It is of a rare type of plane,in an even rarer configuration-namely two lewis guns?????
I think I have a lead. I think this painting shows the aftermath of a collision. The BB has lost it's port undercarriage wheel and the German Biplane(possibly Albatross) has lost it's upper wing.
Here is contemporary image from Illustrated London News. Cannot read the writing at the bottom.
I think the artist was the pilot Louis Arbon Strange. His initials would be S.A.L. - close to Peter’s suggestion.
According to Wikipedia, “Louis Arbon Strange, DSO, OBE, MC, DFC & Bar (27 July 1891 – 15 November 1966) was an English aviator, who served in both World War I and World War II.”
Here is an article about him on the website of the Aircraft Enthusiasts’ Group (AEG) that includes a photo of a similar airplane:
I meant his initials would be L.A.S.
In 1933, Strange published an autobiography - “Recollections of an Airman”. An edition was released in 2016. It is unavailable at my local library but perhaps someone else has access to it and could check it to see if it mentions an interest in painting. Here it is on Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/f6sx6tyz
The Morane-Saulnier Type BB was essentially an observation plane, although the one in this painting shows a forward-facing top-wing-mounted and an observer's rear-facing Lewis machine gun, so it was weaponised for fighting. Understanding the painting's narrative might be aided if the landmarks on the ground could be identified, especially the strange shadow to the left and the town or city to the right. Could a hi-res be posted of this latter area, please?
The initials work fine, Marcie, but that's not enough – as you imply, you will need to find evidence that Strange was an amateur artist. I rather doubt he’s this artist, anyway – as the two articles you link relate, he was an exceptionally busy man with huge responsibilities in the middle of a major war, working tirelessly (in between constant combat missions) to improve the effectiveness of the RFC and its training, often entirely on his own initiative. It is true that during 1917 he was no longer on the front line in France, and if this were just a little watercolour I might buy the idea – but I think it’s less likely he would have had the time, opportunity and facilities to paint a 2ft high oil on canvas, even back in England. And there is another problem: the autobiography of his you reference is available as a preview on Google books ( https://bit.ly/3goE1AU ), and I did a text search for every word I could think of that relates to art, painting and drawing (a dozen of them). There was only one result of any relevance at all – and that was when he wrote of the rather comical local French fire brigade who turned out to try and fight a fire at his squadron’s airfield, “I only wish I could draw a picture of them”...which tends to suggest that art was not among his list of accomplishments. See attached.
Yes, that 'shadow' is very strange, Kieran. I tend to think it must just be an oddly-shaped stain, as the town detail seems to be visible beneath it. As well as your request for a higher-res of the town (which actually covers most of the bottom of the painting), I would very much like to see a close-up of the number on the main aircraft's tail. See attached..
If - IF - the artist has used a genuine number for that, it should in theory be possible to trace the specific aircraft in the mass of data on the remarkable airhistory.org.uk website. Unfortunately, I suspect it's not a real one, as what I think it says would not make sense for a Morane-Saulnier BB/BH (both variants were usually known in the RFC as just the 'Morane Biplane'). In the fighter role, incidentally, the observer also manned and pointed the forward-facing gun: it wasn’t (as suggested by some sources) fixed. See https://bit.ly/2UDTfdA & https://bit.ly/3B36oML. It is not depicted very well in our painting, which along with some other details makes me think it may not by a pilot familiar with the plane. One website (https://bit.ly/2WkLcDf) implies that this extra gun modification was unique to 60 squadron, though I can’t find support for this elsewhere.
Kieran, Osmund, the details requested. David
Kieran, I realised I cropped out a town top left, which appears to be marked with a letter 'R'. Now included.
The Royal Flying Corps' Morane-Saulnier Type BB serial number A 183 can be found on this list. It was received into service on the 19th June 1916, which ties in with the date of the painting:
A183 - MS621-Morane BB-110LR-2779-19.6.16
Oh, OK. I was just getting to grips with all the relevant data on the website (as I implied I would in my last post), but you've slipped in first with the basic, more easily accessible stuff. Are you now in the process of getting the full info (e.g. squadron, dates in service, even pilot) from the more detailed databases, or shall I do it? The exact meaning of much of it is harder to penetrate, and will take a little time; it would be silly if we duplicated the necessary effort.
Osmund, I would be delighted if you undertook that all that hard work.
Could the odd "shadow" be some sort of lake, perhaps man-made?
It could be, Jacinto, though I now feel it's more likely to be a wood. And after studying the high-res image more carefully, I'm beginning to think that the main body of patterns over the bottom part of the picture is not, as I'd thought, an extensive cityscape, but a large network of trenches pockmarked by shell-holes. There are built-up areas, but they're much smaller – notably two villages, one just to the right of the mystery shape, the other at the extreme right of the painting (plus the distant one identified by David).
The high-res also enables us to see that the German plane breaking up as it goes down is on fire – so I think it's more likely that it's been shot down by A183 rather than knocked out of the sky in a deliberate collision (despite the Morane's apparently missing port wheel). This would make more sense in view of the description of combat flying by A. J. L. Scott in his History of 60 Squadron, in which he talks of a pilot having to “venture as near as may be dared [to an enemy plane], knowing that the slightest collision will cast both helpless to the ground ...”. Such was the fragility of WWI aircraft. See https://bit.ly/2WbWgCV (there’s a nice bit there about the Morane Biplane, too).
I’m gradually putting the info on A183 into a more comprehensible form. The main points are that it was only flown by 3 Squadron in France, and only between the beginning of July 1916 (when the squadron received it) and the beginning of January 1917 (when it was replaced and sent to England for storage). So though dated 1917, our painting must (or should) represent an event in the second half of 1916.
Interestingly its pilot (in late Dec 1916, at least) was ‘Captain Portal’ – which is to say Charles Frederick Algernon Portal, later Marshall of the Royal Air Force and 1st Viscount Portal of Hungerford, a hugely important figure in the history of the RAF. So I’m also trying to understand and collate the even more confusing info on his early service career from the same website. More in due course; but I did note that his Military Cross citation of Jan 1917 in the London Gazette (attached) mentions that “on one occasion he shot down a hostile machine”. This would probably have been during the Somme offensive of July-Nov 1916.
Osmund, the following, with its mention of Portal, might be of some use:
Actually I referenced Scott's book in my post before last (and gave a link to a full version of it on Archive.org - https://bit.ly/3gxDKvt). It's a fascinating read, full of remarkable detail of men, machines (including the Morane biplane) and engagements; unfortunately there is very little about Portal, as although he was one of 60 squadron's original flying officers on its formation in late May 1916, less than two months later (17 July) he was promoted to Flight Commander and posted to 3 Sqn. He remained with them until 14 June 1917, when he was promoted Squadron Commander and posted to 16 Sqn, where he assumed command two days later.
We can see the observer-he should be facing backwards-especially in a dog fight. The airwar.ru photo-is I think a "composite"-the figures applied in the photostudio. The Russians operated the BB for a while. The idea that an observer could stand up and operate a forward facing machine gun is ridiculous--whiilst flying and manouvering in a dog fight in a 100 mph gale.Only if he was tethered in that position before take off-and then he would die of hypothermia quite quickly!
Interesting to see the tail number-lets hope it's history has been found by Osmund.
I think the ‘shadow’ to the left might be a tree-covered hill. It also seems to have a building on it. There is a work by Richard Carline that shows two similar elephant-shaped shadows. I’m not sugggesting that the mystery artist is Carline.
“Kemmel Hill Seen from an Aeroplane”
Richard Carline (1896–1980)
Imperial War Museum London
I took this photo yesterday-up at Martlesham near the old control tower. To misquote "Apart from this shattered signage,little else remains"
Portal's WW1 experiences are lodged in the IWM,but here is some of them in a magazine article "Air Power History" pages 36 to 43-interesting reading!
Were there many or any German bi-planes shot down over the UK during WWI?
28 Gotha B bombers-large Biplanes ,were shot down over England during WW1.Don't know about fighters.
I wonder if the dogfight is taking place over the Somme battlefield during that offensive (1st July 916 – 18th November 1916) and whether the very straight line running across the bottom third of the painting is the old Roman road between Albert and Bapaume. A composite is attached as is a possibly relevant extract from the "Air Power History" article.
Kieran-looks a very good fit.!
The Somme, yes, from the supposed plane’s history (and that of Portal if he’s relevant) – see my post of 24/08/2021 07:28. But I don’t think that straight line is a road, but one of a large number of parallel horizontal marks (scratches or stains?) that cross the canvas, (though confusingly a few of them coincide in places with possible roads or trenches) – see the attached copy of David’s close-up detail marked up with red dots. However there *is* one definite long, straight, tree-lined road there, running obliquely from the village/town far right up to the one almost on the horizon far left – I’ve marked that with green dots on the same image. Whether or not it is what’s now the D929, I don’t know – France is not short of straight roads – but I don’t think the town can be Albert, which was three miles behind British lines when the offensive began on 1st July 1916 (and progressively further back as the front slowly moved NE). See, for example, https://bit.ly/3tlRDC1 and https://bit.ly/3BMUxCZ and https://bit.ly/3BKXHaj.
What I think is a shell-holed defensive network of trenches and reinforced roads is presumably German or surely the planes wouldn’t be under AA fire? So if that oblique road is the one between Albert and Bapaume, I think it’s likely to be further up it towards the latter.
In truth, though, I wonder if the view is accurate enough to identify. It’s not as if the artist is likely to have been painting from life, though I suppose he might have had aerial photos or a map to help. I tend to think it's a semi-imagined view, though quite possibly of a specific incident.
Most likely you are correct, Osmund. I had not really seen the second lower straight parallel. Thanks, as always, for the eagle eyes.
Is that elephant-shaped patch (‘the shadow’) the Bois de Mametz?
Here it is on a December 1916 map of the Somme. I have also zoomed in on the Bois de Mametz and attached a screenshot.
You've got it, Marcie - absolutely no doubt in my mind. Well *done*! See attached comparison, rotated to match (more or less).
This is just a guess but would the artist Gilbert Solomon (1890–1955) have disguised his initials in a monogram in 1917? The letter S seems to be the dominant initial in the monogram. Would the letters A and L be related to the artist’s rank in the Royal Air Force?
My composite is based on his painting ‘The Mist Curtain: RE 8 (16th Squadron) Attacked over Lens’ from 1918.
The Bois de Mametz is not far from Lens, France. I think that the markings on the aircraft are very similar, as is the “pointillist-style painting” noted in a discussion of the artist on the website of the Ben Uri Gallery and Museum.
Solomon’s work 'Sliding on the Round Pond’ includes a monogram.
There is an aviation artist called Anthony Saunders-- if you read the monogram as AS -- but his usual signature is not like this.
I have found a WW1 postcard with a very similar composition. I wonder if there is a connection??
That’s an interesting postcard, Louis.
Here’s an illustration that looks a lot like the work we are discussing.
Yes Marcie- the ground is very similar,but seen from the other direction.The plane a Morane Saulinaire type G or N - I think. I am inclined to think our painting here above is either copied and compiled from old postcards or magazine illustrations--- or was done for such use. I haven't found it so far. :-( .
In case anyone decides to go down the line of whether this records a 'kill' by the Morane-Saulnier BB there seems to be just one instance of this. See this - https://www.theaerodrome.com/forum/showthread.php?t=75330
As it has been established beyond any doubt that action depicted in this painting took place over the Bois de Mametz in France it does not show the one recorded kill by Lieut. Thomas Alfred Oliver & 130001 Sergt Robert Mumford, No 1 Squadron, in their Morane-Saulnier Type BB 5170, which event took place on the on 3rd July 1916, when they claimed an Albatros 'destroyed' over Houthulst Forest in Belgium, which is approximately 70km away.
Also, assuming that identity of the Bois de Mametz is 100% confirmed then the town depicted on the right side of this painting is that of Albert in France.
Could a hi-res image of the serial number on the tail wing of this plane be posted?
Sorry, please ignore that request.
Osmund, did you ever complete your research into A183 and Charles Frederick Algernon Portal, 1st Viscount Portal of Hungerford?
Here is Portal's service record from the R.F.C.
Portal T2Lt CF C. F. Motor Cyclist Section Royal Engineers Special Reserve. 22.11.15 to be Flying Officer Gazette 15. 12420 2381 PORTAL
Portal T2Lt CF C. F. Motor Cyclist Section R.E Spec. Res. 22.11.15 to be Flying Officer (Observer) (appt not as stated in previous Gazette) Gazette 16. 4328 4321 PORTAL
Portal TLt CF C. F. R.E. Spec. Res. 27.04.16 to be Flying Officer from a Flying Officer (Observer) Gazette 16. 4810 4660 PORTAL
Portal TLt CF C.F. R.E. Spec Res 16.07.16 to be Flight Comdr from Flying Officer and to be TCapt whilst so empld Gazette 16. 7636 6845 PORTAL
Portal TLt(TCapt) CF C.F. (M.C.) R.E. Spec. Res. 16.06.17 to be Sqdn.Comdr. from Flight Comdr. and to be TMaj whilst so empld Gazette 17. 6646 22169 PORTAL
Portal CF Gazette 18. 7771 53008 PORTAL
Portal Capt CF RE 3Sq 00.06.17 Flight Comdr Jun17 32/img_0151 1869 PORTAL
Portal Maj(ALtCol) CF 03.02.19 Aeroplane Officer RAFL19 p2105 3228 PORTAL
Portal TMaj CFA C F A Royal Engineers/ RFC Temporary Lt /Temporary Major Medals WO 372/24/50396 34946 PORTAL
Portal TLt(TMaj) CFA C.F.A. (D.S.O. M.C.) R.E. Spec. Res. 11.12.17 distinguished and gallant services and devotion to duty is deserving of special mention (France) Gazette 17. 12924 35547 PORTAL
Portal 2Lt CFA Charles Frederick A RFC WO339 WO 339/39110 15163 PORTAL
Portal Maj CFA Charles Frederick Algernon 21.05.1893 Royal Engineers 3Sq 05.07.15 attached on prob move CF19097 25300 Royal Engineers PORTAL
Portal Maj CFA Charles Frederick Algernon 21.05.1893 Royal Engineers 60Sq 25.05.16 re-embarked move CF19097 25301 Royal Engineers PORTAL
Portal Maj CFA Charles Frederick Algernon 21.05.1893 Royal Engineers 3Sq 17.07.16 posted move CF19097 25302 Royal Engineers PORTAL
Portal Maj CFA Charles Frederick Algernon 21.05.1893 Royal Engineers 16Sq 14.06.17 posted move CF19098 25303 Royal Engineers PORTAL
Portal Maj CFA Charles Frederick Algernon 21.05.1893 Royal Engineers 16Sq 16.06.17 assumed command move CF19098 25304 Royal Engineers PORTAL
Portal Maj CFA Charles Frederick Algernon 21.05.1893 Royal Engineers 1Wg 29.09.17 assumed temp command move CF19098 25305 Royal Engineers PORTAL
Portal Maj CFA Charles Frederick Algernon 21.05.1893 Royal Engineers 1Wg 18.05.18 assumed temp command move CF19099 25306 Royal Engineers PORTAL
Portal Maj CFA Charles Frederick Algernon 21.05.1893 Royal Engineers 15Wg 09.02.19 posted move CF19099 25307 Royal Engineers PORTAL
Portal Maj CFA Charles Frederick Algernon 21.05.1893 Royal Engineers 5Bde HQ 16.03.19 posted move CF19099 25308 Royal Engineers PORTAL
Portal Lt CFA Charles Frederick Algernon 21.05.1893 Royal Engineers 09.03.16 RAC Cert RAeC cert 2543 2543 PORTAL
Portal TLt(TCapt) CFA Charles Frederick Algernon R.E. Spec.Res. and R.F.C. 10.01.17 Military Cross Gazette 17. 462 13093 PORTAL
Portal TLt(TCapt) CFA Charles Frederick Algernon (M.C.) Spec.Res. R.E. and R.F.C. 18.07.17 D.S.O. - For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty Gazette 17. 7213 23257 PORTAL
Portal Lt CFA 60Sq 25.05.16 to EF with 60Sq by sea embark 1010 PORTAL
Portal Lt CFA RE 8RS Netheravon 23.03.16 instruction in aviation (att 16.03.16) Mar16 25/img_2169 432 shown as OFA PORTAL
Portal Maj CFA RE 16Sq 00.09.17 Squadron Commander Sep17 32/img_1491 270 PORTAL
Portal Maj CFA RE 16Sq 00.11.17 Squadron Commander Nov17 36/img_0609 231 PORTAL
Portal Maj CFA RE 16Sq 01.01.18 Sq Commander Jan18 27/img_2523 330 PORTAL
Portal Maj CFA RE 16Sq 00.02.18 Sq Commander Feb18 36/img_1070 298 PORTA
This is Portals citation for DSO in July 1918
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. During a period of four months, chiefly under adverse weather conditions, he repeatedly carried out successful raids by day and night, his ingenuity and daring enabling him to drop many tons of bombs on important enemy posts. One night he crossed the lines five times, only landing between each flight to replenish with bombs. Another day he took on single-handed five enemy machines, and drove down three of them—a most gallant and splendid feat. On another day, despite thick mist, he registered one of our batteries on an enemy battery, causing the destruction of one pit and obtaining one fire and two explosions; and another day, flying for 5 1/4 hours, he carried out two very successful counter-battery shoots, observing 350 rounds. He has always set a most magnificent example to the squadron under his command.
But as we know Portal only flew BBs when with No60 Sqn for a couple of months in 1916.
Kieran, I did do a lot of work on this in 2021, but never quite completed it - and worse still, failed as usual to collate and share what I'd found. I'm rather under the cosh at the moment, and sustained work is tricky, but I'll endeavour to post what I've got over the next few days and perhaps beyond.
However, since coming back to this a few days ago I've managed to cheat from Google Books snippets much of two extremely interesting and important pages of a 1977 biography of Lord Portal that confirm my earlier supposition that he was flying Morane biplanes with 3 squadron (sorry, Louis) over the Somme battlefield in the late summer and autumn of 1916, and furthermore give details of several clashes he had with German aircraft during the period. Indeed one incident that took place in fine weather on 10th Nov 1916 seems quite likely to be the event shown in our painting. Portal shot down, probably in flames ("some tracers hit the fuselage"), a two-seater German biplane that was just commencing an attack on another Morane Biplane (A191) from his own No. 3 squadron, and did so *very* close to the area that I believe is shown in the picture. It was almost certainly this engagement that is briefly referred to in his Jan 1917 M.C. citation, “on one occasion he shot down a hostile machine” (see 24/08/2021 07:28). It will be hard to prove without accessing original records that may identify the exact aircraft he was flying, but I think the case is a strong one.
I'll post those book pages when I've completed the extraction work very shortly; it's been so complicated it would probably have been quicker to go the BL, get the book out and photograph it...but as Magnus Magnusson would say, I've started so I'll finish. And I also need to take you in detail through all the elements that support the hypothesis - the plane's identification and records, Portal's exact movements, and the geography and terrain we see in the painting (I don't think your conclusion is quite right, Kieran, though close).
Yes Osmund ,I think you have the engagement. I think the artist might have made a possible mistake- I think No3 squadron were re-equiped with BE2C biplanes in July 1916( I think Portal flew these)-- that plane being much more capable in air combat that the BB,which was really only for observation duties.(very underpowered).Also at the same time No3 got Morane Sulinaire Parasol P's.
If you could check the aircraft Portal was flying for his first DSO. I think the identification of Momertz is correct.
Osmund, are you referring to my conclusion that the town depicted is Albert? I would be fairly sure that the scene is painted looking south from north and that the spire in the town show is that of the 'Basilique Notre-Dame de Brebières'. There does not appear to be any other town or village with such a prominent spire between Albert and Mametz Wood. I would, naturally, be interested to consider any other suggestion. By the way, there is a Somme Museum in Albert, to which enquiries could also be addressed.
The engine mounting of the depicted plane is not that of a BE2C but is of the BB's design.
And for clarification, attached is the position of the town of Albert as I am referring to it.
The different interpretation of the terrain, as there are no big rivers clearly shown in the painting, is that what I have as Amiens is actually Albert and what I have as Albert is Fricourt. I am happy to be enlightened by Osmund or other as to a plausible alternative.
Kieran- yes that is my point- the aircraft in our painting is a BB. But from 16th July 1916 Portal was a flight commander, flying the BE2C . Which is a British fighter and not a French built observer plane.
So - the artist- using Portals' tail number- depicted the wrong type of plane- if you see.
Yes, Louis, I was hoping to help confirm your point. The conclusion is that the plane is a BB with a serial number of A183, which plane entered service on the 19th June 1916 and left it January 1917, as Osmund has reported above. If Portal was not flying the A183 BB during these dates then he was not the pilot in this painting.
It's hard to know where to begin with this, as it's complex and multi-layered. Forgive me, Kieran, if I deal with Louis' fairly straightforward misapprehensions first, and get on to the more confusing and arguable geography in detail later on. Frustrating, I know, but just now I can only cope with one thing at a time; and as you will certainly (with good reason!) dispute my topographical conclusions, I need to be able to explain my logic in depth, and with reference to contemporary military maps (on which more work is needed by me).
First, we must assume the A183 RFC identification number on the plane is intended and correct: it seems too much of a coincidence that the plane with that number was of exactly the same type as the one shown, a Morane-Saulnier Type BB (or possibly BH - the differences between them are still not certain, with claims and counterclaims all over the internet, but both were generally referred to by the RFC as ‘Morane Biplanes’). I’m attaching details of A183’s history extracted from the Excel file called ‘Serials A1-A5000’ on this webpage http://airhistory.org.uk/rfc/aircraft.html. This shows that the aircraft was delivered from the RFC’s No.2 Aircraft Depot at Condas (‘2AD’) to 3 Squadron (which was then based at Lahoussoye, between Albert & Amiens) on 5 July 1916 - the 19 June date is when it was taken on charge (‘TOC’) by the RFC from the French. After five and half months’ service with 3 Sqn, on 20 Dec it was flown by Capt Portal back to 2AD, probably for maintenance / repairs, he being en route for 10 days’ leave in England. On 26 Dec it was returned to 3 Sqn, but early in the New Year (4 Jan 1917) apparently replaced by another aircraft; it went back to the Depot, where it was struck off charge (‘SOC’) on 11 Jan and sent to England, ultimately for storage in case needed in future.
That alone neither proves nor disproves that Portal regularly flew the machine, but he was certainly familiar enough with it to be entrusted to deliver it to Condas. In order to research further Louis’ contention that 3 Sqn did not fly Morane BBs I checked the ‘Serials A1-A5000’ & ‘Serials A5001-9999’ files for others. No BH variants are recorded at all for any squadron or other purpose (tending to support the idea that they were all referred to as BBs – or that the RFC did not fly them), but no less than six BBs were delivered to 3 Sqn between 5 July & 9 Nov 1916 – Nos. A119, 183, 191, 195, 220 & 222. The numbers do not reflect the order they came to the squadron, and in fact A183 was the first. Many were quickly written off one way or another, so six does not represent 3 Sqn’s BB strength at any one time – e.g. A222 was a replacement for A220, damaged in a ‘bad landing’ on 6 Nov. Note, too, those numbered A191 & 222, as we shall meet them again shortly.
Osmund- I never said No3 Sqn did not fly BBs- as every reference clearly says they did.Just that Portal was promoted to command a flight of BE2C s in July 1916 after a couple of months on BBs. I understand he flew the BB back to England as a quick way of getting home for leave! Very probable! Cheers.L.
In your own good time, Osmund.
Louis, could you give us the reference for your assertion that Portal commanded a flight of BE2Cs in 3 Sqn, and did not fly Morane Biplanes? As my next post will show, Richards' highly-regarded 1977 biography of Portal suggests otherwise. Oh, and from what source do you "understand" that he flew the Morane (A183) back to England when he went on leave? As I laid out in exhaustive detail, original documentation shows only that he flew it to No.2 Aircraft Depot at Condas ('2AD') - indeed I can't see how he could have taken it to England, as it was apparently delivered back to the squadron from Condas on 26 Dec, while he was still on leave. Attached is an original document showing his leave was from 20-30 Dec. Or perhaps your source suggests he returned early from leave, and the documentation about the plane's movements was fudged to cover up his "borrowing" it?
I'm now attaching all of pp 55-56 of Denis Richards' 1977 biography of Lord Portal (https://tinyurl.com/mr48ed4y) which I managed to extract in snippets. This confirms that Portal continued to fly Morane BBs after his transfer from 60 Sqn to 3 Sqn and promotion to Flight Commander (and Temp. Captain in the army) in July 1916 – indeed it rather implies that the BB was his main machine. It also gives very full details of the combat engagement of 10 Nov that I believe is likely to be the incident shown in our painting. That Portal’s combat report describes the enemy aircraft as having “[come] over Le Sars at 8500 ft from the North-east” is very relevant, and will crop up again when I eventually get to the topography. The two other ‘Morane Biplanes’ mentioned in the same report were also at the time on the strength of 3 Sqn: A191 was for certain, and the other is very likely to be A222, though given as A22 [sic] – the latter was either misread or is a typo, as A22 was not a Morane but an FE2d of 20 Sqn that had been wrecked two months earlier. 3 Sqn’s A220 had also previously been disabled (on 6 Nov), while A222 was its replacement delivered to the squadron just the day before Portal’s action.
Again this does not quite prove Portal was himself flying a Morane Biplane (BB) on that day, but it strongly implies it: note the book’s wording, “By his action he had clearly saved another Morane of the same squadron from attack …”. The final proof that he was (or wasn’t) in a BB, and that it was (or was not) A183 will almost certainly be found in Portal’s combat report and/or logbook, both of which apparently survive (or did in 1977) and should give the aircraft’s serial number and type; but I can’t currently find out where they are. However, the notes to the chapter in Richards’ biog should tell us that, so I need to see the book in the flesh…and I find my borough library has a copy at its store in Battersea, whither I shall stagger as soon as I am able!
Also attached are Portal’s career details extracted from the ‘Surnames P’ section of the combined names index at http://airhistory.org.uk/rfc/people_index.html. It’s a bit confusing as the data is not all in date order, but not too hard to understand.
Sorry, forgot to attach the most important thing, the two-page extract from Portal's 1977 biography.
A general comment on artist/illustrators of WWI (and WWII) incidents is that there were many who did them for reproduction in illustrated periodicals such as the 'Graphic', 'Illustrated London News', 'Sphere' and others. I have only tended to encounter those doing naval subjects but have seen, in passing, many names doing air and battlefield ones that I don't recognise at all: nor have I ever seen any sort of listing of them, if that's ever been done.
I wonder if this could be by such an illustrator? If it is, then there may be others in the illustrated 'mags' signed the same way and with a name supplied in the captioning.
Its may be too much to hope the present incident appears by the same artist, but perhaps worth a look.
Sorry, a repeated typo above. For the site of the RFC's No.2 Aircraft Depot read CANDAS, not Condas.
Osmund, I hope that the attached reordering helps.
The attached shows that, given the direction of the Mametz Wood, the villages of Le Sars, Gluedecourt and Beaulencourt, as mentioned in Portal's biography, lie close by. The plane in the painting would be flying above these villages.
The re-ordering is brilliant, Kieran - hugely helpful for those not quite as au fait with the intricacies of all this as you or me. And I agree with your analysis of roughly where the action must have taken place - that road (now the D929) runs almost exactly NE-SW, so the German aircraft coming "over Le Sars ... from the North-east" would have been flying more or less along the line of it from the direction of Bapaume (well behind German lines) towards Albert, which is about 12 km/7.5 miles from Le Sars.
At this stage in the Somme offensive (mid-Nov 1916), the front line was just north of Le Sars, which had been captured from the Germans in October. See attached, though Mametz Wood is misplaced on the map - it was and is actually immediately east of Contalmaison.
Just off now to get the Portal biography - sod's law, it is missing from the Battersea Library store, but I've found another copy at Kensington.
Osmund- Portal did his own reminscences which I read some time ago- I think they are lodged at the IWM .Interesting insights like-- A BB could not take off with a crew of two men AND a Lewis gun- let alone TWO Lewis Guns..... which stuck in my memory. Same source for ferrying back to England for leave.I liked that. I believe Portal was a big man,more suited to a single seat fighter pilot- than a heavy load for a BB.
The first battle of the Somme took place between the 1st July 1916 and the 18th November 1916. As this painting is dated 1917 and the location has been shown, without any reasonable doubt, to have taken place in a Morane-Saulnier Type BB over the front lines of that battle, I would suggest that the title be amended to reflect the importance of the scene depicted. Perhaps the following would be acceptable:
Battle of the Somme Dogfight, World War I (Morane-Saulnier Type BB biplane)
The description field could contain the following (noting that the German aircraft depicted is a biplane and not, as currently described, a monoplane):
"This First World War dogfight, over the front line at Le Sars during the Battle of the Somme (1st July-18th November 1916), shows a Royal Flying Corps' Morane-Saulnier Type BB biplane, seen from above, diving left to right. A German biplane is breaking up below it, right. Another allied aircraft is in the background. Bursts of anti-aircraft fire rise below them."
The following gives a good idea of what was happening on the ground at that time:
If anyone knows how to contact the historian Peter Hart, he might have some useful suggestions to offer. Parts of his "Somme Success: The Royal Flying Corps and the Battle of The Somme 1916" can be read here, although there is no available reference to Portal:
Louis, I don't really feel your memory of reminiscences that you read so long ago you're not sure where they are to be found really qualifies as a reliable source - at least not when Portal's official biography** (written by the late Denis Richards, a world expert on the history of the RFC & RAF, with unparalleled access to a mass of resources, official, personal and familial) apparently disagrees with what you say.
Are you sure it wasn't the Morane Bullet/Scout or the Parasol he was referring to, both of which had the small Le Rhône 80 hp engine, while the BB/Biplane had the larger 110 hp one? In June 1916 with 60 Sqn Portal "found that his Biplane was faster than the vaunted Bullets", and in it managed to climb to 13,000 ft ('highest ever been')** - hardly the description of an under-powered machine. And the attached images all show the BB with two Lewis guns mounted (though in one case the for'ard one is invisible, but the mount is there) - you can perhaps question the modern illustrations, but not the last one which is a contemporary photo of a BB with two Lewis guns (facing front and back) in a rather jury-rigged set-up - the front one has a stop-bar to prevent it being lowered too far and firing into the prop. Though both are clearly for the use of the observer in a standing position (yes, they really did do that), I believe that the front one soon became fixed and could be fired by the pilot (though the observer still changed the drum magazine).
The sources used by Richards included Portal's own description of his WWI career given as a lecture at the RAF Staff College c.1922. Perhaps that's the memoir you're referring to; if so it's in the National Archives here https://tinyurl.com/5xzrevmx. I will try and read it at Kew when I go there to examine Portal's 10/11/1916 combat report (see 01/06/2023 18:30), which is probably here https://tinyurl.com/yjf62sns.
[**I now have a copy of this book in my hands, and attach the three preceding pages to the two already posted (01/06/2023 18:40). I also now have access to all the notes to the text, which give me references to follow for the original official documentation.]
Kieran, I think we should probably wait before altering the title and description, as rather more information on the incident shown may possibly be forthcoming once I've been to Kew. I've also yet to present my evidence on the topography - got rather waylaid (again) by the need to answer Louis. I finally have the maps all prepared, so it won't be long now...and then you and I can start arguing too!
Osmund- here is one of several references I found today of Portal as Flight Commander BE2c's . Look at 16 July 16.
Your book extract says- Portal returned as a flight commander to the squadron where he had BEEN an observer-- !
As to photos of BB's with Lewis guns.Yes a single seat one with Lewis gun on top of the Wing- was flown as a fighter for a short while,but was totally useless.Any photos with a rear mounted Lewis gun- or two Lewis guns- were propaganda-always on the ground --I would be surprised if you could find a photo of one in the air with two crew men! By the way- one of your photos is of a radio controlled model.
The BB delivered to the RFC had an 80 hp engine( down hill with the wind behind )- it was specified to be 110 hp in the order- but shortages resulted in an underpowered machine.
Of course there were thousands of BBs manufactured during WW1- but by the Germans- they copied a captured one and put a decent series of engines in it- The "Albatross".
The BB was a two-seater biplane, there was never a single-seat version ('single-bay' refers to the space[s] between wing struts on a biplane); and yes, I know that's a model, which is why I was careful to say that you could question the modern illustrations - I included it to show that others have concluded the plane mounted two Lewis guns.
RAFweb is a private website with no official authority. Long before you drew attention to it, I sometimes found it useful as it collates info from many (often unspecified) sources; but even its author Malcolm Barrass acknowledges "some unintentional errors may have crept in". It is the *only* source I can find apart from Wikipedia (which doubtless drew its assertion from Barrass's) that says Portal flew BE2c/2ds and not Moranes with 3 Squadron. On which subject, I don't understand your apparent issue with the biography's statement that Portal returned as a flight commander to the squadron where he had previously been an observer. Between July and Nov 1915 Portal was indeed an observer (initially on probation) with 3 Squadron, but after pilot training back in England and his short (7 week) stint with 60 sqn in France, it was to his former squadron he returned as a newly-promoted Flt Comdr (and active pilot) in July 1916.
I too read in one place (Wikipedia again, based on a single source - an illustrated Encyclopedia published in the early 80s as a weekly magazine) that many Morane BBs were delivered to the RFC with 80 hp engines instead of the specified 110 hp ones. But having delved deeply into the already-mentioned complex files of information extracted from multiple (referenced) contemporary official sources and collated / published online by http://airhistory.org.uk , I can say with near-certainty that every single one of the six Morane BBs delivered to 3 Sqn July-Nov 1916 was equipped with the correct larger engine (see 01/06/2023 15:17).
Anyway this interminable process of countering each of your quick summaries of what you've read on the internet, or remember reading years ago, with detailed rebuttals based on primary and high-quality secondary sources is exhausting and getting us nowhere (as well as being deeply boring for most people). And I find your denial of photographic evidence and the validity of Denis Richards' research surprising. So I will say no more on the subject of Portal's flying history and 3 Sqn's aircraft and their capabilities until I have looked at those original documents at the NA in Kew.
But I will return to the topography, Kieran!
Deepest thanks, Osmund. I accept your cautions and look forward to your analysis which, I have no doubt, will be excellent.
I'll be doing a day at the Nat. Archives in Kew tomorrow, looking at several groups of documents relating to Portal and/or 3 Squadron - notably the unit's combat reports during the Battle of the Somme.
If those don't help us, Portal's pilot's log books probably would; but though they are often quoted in Richards' biography, there seems to be no reference to where they are. I've searched on the internet without success, but if anyone else can track them down that might be useful.
I will ask the owners of this excellent and fascinating bookshop. https://www.aviation-bookshop.com/about/
My visit to Kew was fruitful. I've a lot on my plate at the moment, and available time and energy is limited, so I can't post in detail just yet. But I can say that I've found significant further evidence to support the idea that our painting shows the incident of 10 Nov 1916 when Capt C F A Portal, flying a Morane Biplane on an artillery observation mission over German lines south of Bapaume, shot down an enemy aircraft near Beaulencourt.
I'm no closer to identifying the artist. though.