The island of Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, off the southern tip of India, was a strategic bastion commanding the sea routes from Europe to the Far East.
In April 1942 the island had been narrowly saved from invasion by gallantry of Canadian pilot Sqn. Ldr. Leonard Birchall who, flying a Catalina patrolling 250 miles south of Ceylon, sighted a huge Japanese invasion fleet. Under attack from Zero fighters he managed to radio the alarm before being shot down into the Indian Ocean. Alerted, the British forces withstood the heavy air and naval assaults that followed.
As the British expanded operations on the island, the hastily built airstrip of HMS Rajaliya was carved out of dense jungle at Puttalam. The soft grass strip, reinforced with metal Somerfield tracking, enabled the heavy American-built Chance Vought F4U Corsairs to use the runway, but during the monsoon season the Corsair's tricky landing characteristics often sent them slithering off into the water-logged ground. It was then that the Navy called in its secret weapon to haul the Corsairs back to firmer ground - The Puttalam Elephants!
Privately commissioned in 1984 by one of the Corsair pilots stationed at HMS Rajaliya in 1942, Robert Taylor's painting Puttalam Elephants is displayed in the Fleet Air Arm Museum at Yeovilton. Admired by thousands of visitors, the painting depicts the unusual tactics employed at Puttalam in order to keep the land based naval fighters flying. Operating in conditions where towing tractors became quickly bogged down, the Puttalam Elephants provided an invaluable service, and became much loved by the pilots and ground crews.
A print of this much loved masterpiece has been in huge demand from collectors for many years, to such an extent it has now been decided to issue this wonderful painting as a strictly limited edition.
The Fleet Air Arm Folio
The Fleet Air Arm Folio Editions have been signed by five of the Royal Navy's most distinguished fighter pilots. There are a total of EIGHT signatures in Fleet Air Arm Folio Edition.
Captain Eric 'Winkle' Brown CBE, DSC, FRAeS, RN
Eric Brown has flown more types of aircraft than anyone else in history, and is the Fleet Air Arm's most decorated pilot. In 1941 he joined 802 Squadron on escort carriers, and flying a Sea Hurricane shot down two Fw200 Condors. He was then posted as a leading Test Pilot. Immediately after the war he commanded the elite Enemy Aircraft Flight, a unit of top pilots who test-flew captured German aircraft, and personally flight-tested 53 German aircraft, including the Me262 jet. He is the only Allied pilot to fly the He163 rocket plane. He interviewed many captured Germans, including Goering and Wernher von Braun. In December 1945 he became the first man to land a jet on an aircraft carrier when he landed a Sea Vampire on HMS Ocean, and holds the world record for the most carrier landings - 2,407. He also holds the world record for the greatest number of different aircraft types flown - 487.
Sub Lieutenant Victor Kairis RN
Victor Kairis joined the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm in 1943, and was mainly based on Fleet carriers operating in the northern approaches around Scotland, guarding the convoy routes, and on shipping patrols. He flew Seafires, Sea Furies and Lysanders. After the war he became a senior test pilot.
Lieutenant Cyril Price RN
On his 18th birthday in February 1942, Cyril Price began his training, joining 828 Squadron FAA as an Observer on Fairey Barracudas and Grumman Avengers. Flying off HMS Formidable his first combat operation was against the Tirpitz, before joining HMS Implacable on escort duties off Norway. As an Intelligence Officer he spent time in Australia, before leaving the service in 1946.
Lieutenant Peter Twiss OBE, DSC*, RN
Peter Twiss joined the Fleet Air Arm in 1939, initially on Catapult ships flying Hurricanes. He flew Fairey Fulmars and Supermarine Seafires with 807 Sqaudron from HMS Furious on the Malta convoys, and took part in Operation Torch, the North African landings. Back in the UK he flew long range intruder operations over Germany. After the war he was Chief Test Pilot for Fairey Aviation. He became the holder of the World Speed Record in 1956 flying experimental Fairey Delta 2, and the first man ever to fly in excess of 1000mph.
Lieutenant Commander Bruce Vibert RN
Bruce Vibert was a Swordfish Pilot with 842 Squadron FAA on anti-submarine operations in the North Atlantic, the Barents Sea, as well as operations against the Tirpitz in the Artic. He flew from HMS Fencer and HMS Furiuos in some of the world's most extreme conditions. He later became Deck Landing Officer on the light Fleet carrier HMS Glory in the Pacific. After the war Bruce joined the Royal Canadian Navy.
Lieutenant Eric Beechinor
Eric Beechinor joined the Royal Navy in 1943. After training in the USA, he served with 1846 Squadron Fleet Air Arm in Ceylon, where he flew MkIV Corsairs. He later served with 799, 790 and 762 Squadrons FAA in the UK flying Mosquitos, Fireflies, Valliants and Sea Hornets. He was demobilized in 1947.
Sub Lieutenant (A) Gordon Dunnell RNVR
Joining the RAF in 1942, Gordon was commissioned as a Pilot Officer. After flying with the RAF, in October 1944 he transferred to the Fleet Air Arm flying Corsairs. Posted to join 1846 Squadron on HMS Colossus in Alexandria, he sailed to the Far East as part of the 11th Aircraft Carrier Squadron, British Pacific Fleet. After hostilities, HMS Colossus embarked many former POWs, returning to the UK in April 1946.
Sub Lieutenant Tony Maylett
After training at Fighter School in the USA, Tony Maylett formed 1846/1848 Squadron FAA on Corsairs in Maine. Shipping back to the UK, the squadron joined the Light Fleet Carrier HMS Colossus off Scotland, en-route to the Far East, to relieve the Fleet Carriers, but were diverted to fly Combat Air Patrols over Japanese airfields after the Atom bombs were dropped. He returned to the UK in 1946.
Overall print size: 32 3/8" wide x 24 3/4" high.
Image size: 26" wide x 17 1/4" high.