To fly a small aircraft at the dead of night, without radio communication or navigational assistance, deep into enemy-occupied territory, was an extremely perilous task. To then land on an unlit remote field, deliver secret agents, collect Resistance leaders, or downed airmen and fly them home without attracting the attentions of enemy night-fighters, was appallingly risky work. Yet throughout World War II the prime function of the pilots of the RAF's Special Duties Squadrons was to fly time and again into occupied France, in utmost secrecy, under the cover of darkness. It was acutely dangerous work requiring inordinate flying and navigational skills, and supreme courage.
Most suited to these clandestine operations was the rugged Westland Lysander, operations being conducted, and weather permitting, during the moon's fullest phase. Guided only by torch-light, the pilot made a hazardous night landing into an isolated field at a pre-arranged time, trusting that agents on the ground had checked the field for cart tracts and loitering Gestapo. Every mission required ice cool bravery and nerves of steel.
Robert Taylor captures to perfection the secret world of the Special Operations pilot with his atmospheric painting 'They Landed by Moonlight'. Packed with tension, he recreates the high drama of a typical rendezvous as a pilot from No. 161 Squadron based at Tangmere, readies his aircraft for take-off in a remote field deep inside occupied France. Clutching a Luger in one hand, he completes pre-take-off checks, as three passengers are spirited away by an armed member of the French Resistance. It is July 1943.
Prints in this rare and unique edition are each individually signed by FOUR highly decorated Special Duties pilots and one of the most famous secret agents of World War II. Issued with a beautiful companion print showing a Lysander on a covert moonlit mission, this appealing collector package will become a rare and valuable addition to any aviation art collection.
Captain Murray Anderson DFC*
Commissioned in the Royal Tank Regiment from RMA Woolwich in 1939, Murray Anderson was seconded to the Royal Air Force in 1940. He flew Spitfires with No 1 Photo Reconnaissance Unit at RAF Benson until 1943. He then joined 161 (Special Duties) Squadron flying Lysanders, and was the most successful 'pick up' pilot for the whole of that year even though in May 1944 he was posted to 65 Squadron 2nd Tactical Air Force, flying Mustangs. After a rest period he was posted to 52 Sqn at Dum Dum in May 1945.
Lieutenant Colonel Francis Cammaerts DSO
Born in 1916, the son of a Belgian poet Emile Cammaerts, he was a pacifist at the beginning of the war but his views changed when his brother was killed in the RAF, and in 1942 joined the Special Operations Executive - SOE.
Flown to France in March 1943 (by Hugh Verity), he was to join a 'circuit', which he soon found to be insecure. Over 15 months in the field he hardly ever stayed in the same house for more than a night or two. By 1944 he was the inspired leader of thousands of well-trained and armed Resistance fighters in the South of France. His sabotage teams excelled at cutting railway lines when the time was required after D-Day.
Before the Allied landings in the South of France in August 1944, he was given command of all Allied missions in S.E. France. His guerrilla army held open the 'Route Napoleon' from Cannes to Grenoble to allow the Allied army to by-pass the strong enemy forces near the lower Rhone.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Lewis Hodges KCB, CBE, DSO*, DFC*
Lewis Hodges flew with 49 Sqn. From June 1940 until he was shot down over occupied France in Sept 1940 and taken prisoner by the Vichy French. He managed to escape and made his way back to England, rejoining 49 Sqn. He took part in the attacks against the German Channel dash operation in Feb 1942. In November of that year he joined 161 (Special Duties) Sqn, flying Halifaxes, Lysanders and Hudsons landing and parachuting agents into German occupied territory. Among the people he brought out of France were two future Presidents - Vincent Auriol and Francois Mitterand.
Wing Commander Len Ratcliff DSO DFC
Len Ratcliff joined the RAFVR in early 1939 to train as a pilot. In 1941 he completed a full tour of 30 operations in Bomber Command with 49 squadron. After a rest period he was posted to 161 (Special Duties) Sqn as Flight Commander flying agents and supplies in and out of France, Belgium, Holland, Norway and Denmark. He then spent a period in charge of A.1.2.C at the very center of clandestine activities in the whole of occupied Europe. He returned to 161 Squadron in 1943 as Flight Commander and later Squadron commander.
Group Captain Hugh Verity DSO*, DFC
Learning to fly in the Oxford University Air Squadron in 1938, Hugh Verity flew Beaufighters in Costal Command and night fighter squadrons before volunteering to join 161 (Special Duties) Squadron. In 19443 he commanded this squadrons Lysander flight and later became the Squadron Commander.
Overall Print Size: 30 1/2" Wide x 23 1/2 " High.
Image Size: 24" Wide x 16" High.
Overall print size: 13 1/4" wide x 17 1/8" high.
A compelling study of the ubiquitous Lysander heading for a secret rendezvous in occupied France, November 1943.
Taking advantage of full moon and fair weather, a Westland Lysander heads for a field west of Reims in north east France. The pilot will land agents, collect downed airmen and, all being well, return to England before dawn.