An all-metal canvas: B-24J Liberator “Dragon and hisTail”, 43rd BG, 64th BS
When talking about the US aviation industry, it is difficult to avoid superlative formulations. The B-24 Liberator is a fine example: with an impressive 18,482 aircraft built, it can claim to be the most-built aircraft type in US history. Along with the Boeing B-17, the Consolidated B-24 became one of the icons of the US air offensives over occupied Europe and the bombing war over German cities.
But the Liberator was also able to demonstrate its potential in the Pacific theatre of war. In contrast to Europe, the heavy bomber not only flew strategic area bombing, but also attacked tactical targets from lower altitudes. One of the units the B-24 used in this form was the 64th Squadron of the 43rd Bomb Group.
Stationed in Australia from February 1942, the 43th BG moved to the Philippines from November 1944, following the course of the war, and finally flew from the nearby island of Ie Shima in July 1945. Long and risky missions, which strained even the considerable range of the Liberator and were aimed at attacks on ships, bridges, traffic junctions or airfields, characterized the missions flown. From May to September 1943, the unit, which had originally flown the B-17 Flying Fortress, converted to the long-range B-24 Liberator.
In the ranks of the 64th BS at this time was Staff Sergeant Sarkis E. Bartigian a professional and obviously highly skilled commercial artist, who had been trained as a specialist for Sperry bomb sighting after joining the USAAF. It is reported that he was able to improve the instructional brochures for the technical equipment with his explanatory graphics already during the training
For Bartigian, a number of things must have come together after his arrival on Ie Shima: the isolation on the windy, sand-blown island, the great distance from overly regimented authorities, and a certain uneventfulness resulting from the wartime situation, now met a grateful and enthusiastic audience, which had a magnificent canvas to offer for its art: the exceptionally imposing flanks of its B-24 bombers!
Sarkis E. Bartigian should not be asked twice: by the end of the war spectacular evidence of his ingenuity and skill had been produced -and the Liberators of the 64th BS, 43th BG flew into battle with uniquely decorated aircraft.
To name but three examples: B-24J “Cocktail Hour” or B-24J “It ain’t so funny” are among my personal favourites along with B-24L “Mabel’s Label”. On the latter machine, Bartigian thought with a meter-high portrait of his recently married wife – and in addition, a whole lot of well-placed “lipstick” impressions spread over the fuselage.
With all these works of art, the term “nose art” has been decidedly overridden and should actually be replaced by a term like “fuselage art”. The unique selling point of Bartigian’s works is their continuous length and width, only the end of the metal at the bow and stern limits his designs.
The Consolidated B-24J Liberator with the serial number 44-40973 “Dragon and his Tail” is one of the most famous of the machines painted by Bartigian on Ie Shima. The bomber survived all missions. Skipper Joe Pagoni, whose crew had flown the plane on most of the 85 missions recorded, later stated that in the B-24 formation “Dragon and his Tail” had always been effortlessly the focus of attention of Japanese fighter pilots. An appreciation of Bartigian’s work of the rather unwelcome kind, one might assume.
After the end of the war, General Kenny, Commander of the 5th Air Force, wanted this particular B-24 to be transferred to the States and preserved. But fate had other plans for “Dragon and his Tail”. During a last test round before the big flight to the US homeland one of the tyres of the main landing gear burst during landing and the B-24 suffered a veritable crash.
Thus Bartigian’s masterpiece finally ended up as scrap metal in the smelting furnaces of Kingman, Arizona. However, it was allowed to make history once again: the workers could not bring themselves to dismantle “Dragon and his Tail” for a long time and were ambitiously looking for a buyer for the unique aircraft. Unfortunately they were not successful, B-24J /44-40973 was not spared the shredder, but as the very last B-24 ever scrapped. So here again a superlative at the end.
From 1988 on the last airworthy B-24 restored by the Collings Foundation showed the unique colours of “Dragon and his Tail” for some years. The numerous available photos and videos of this unique piece make it possible to experience the most remarkable work in all its glory and set a monument to the designer himself. Sarkis E. Bartigian did not live to see all this; in 1955, at the age of forty-nine, he had died in a traffic accident.
To the model
The plastic parts are from a new edition by Eduard of the kit released by Academy/Minicraft in 1990. The high age is reflected in the degree of detail and the sometimes rather imprecise shaping of individual components. Eduard includes some scratched parts in the new edition, which are really needed for a contemporary model. Especially the cockpit, the landing gear area and the representation of the engines benefit from this.
The kit parts for the MG barrels were replaced by resin parts, but only a small modification was necessary to show the sliding windows of the canopy open.
Also the tyre representation of the kit was replaced, here a resin set from True Details offers a real improvement.
The decals are taken from the War Birds B-24J Liberator ‘The Dragon and His Tail’ /No. KW172128 from Kits-World. I can recommend them without hesitation because of the quality of the decals, but I was personally confused by the lack of instructions where to place the enclosed stencils. But with a little research on my own this topic could be solved easily.
Rarely have I had so much fun with a model building project and especially with the application of the decals as here! I can recommend the decals in full and with some restrictions also the kit. Colour and variety in the showcase are guaranteed!
20 additional images. Click to enlarge.