Not many aviation artists capture their favourite, classic aircraft three times in an art career. The enduring fascination of South African Tiro Vorster ASAA with the Lockheed PV-1 Ventura has just produced his third canvas.
His latest work, measuring more than 3,5 by 4,5 feet, captures a vivid World War II encounter between a PV-1 and a German submarine on the surface, somewhere in the Mediterranean. The PV1 is dropping depth charges and the submarine is retaliating with anti-aircraft fire. It is appropriately titled: “Mediterranean Clash – Hawk Meets Wolf”. This is a reference to the Wolf Pack of German U-boats on the hunt and the surprise aerial swoop of the Ventura on the exposed submarine.
Tiro’s first love is aircraft, but ships, submarines and especially the German Untersee Boot (U boat) have always fascinated him.
This American Lockheed PV-1 Ventura, a vintage World War Two maritime bomber, search and rescue aircraft, carrying machine guns, depth charges and bombs, is dear to the South African Air Force and the pilots who flew her. Under Allied colours, the South African 22 Squadron, based at Gibraltar flew them. Tiro met and flew with some of the PV-1 pilots and navigators.
“As a young boy aged 12, I saw a picture of a stranded B34 Ventura, the less powerful predecessor of the PV-1, in an adventure book, Skeleton Coast by John H. Marsh. That memory came to life when I joined the Air Force in 1963. As a young recruit, I did guard duty at Snake Valley, near Pretoria, where I saw retired Venturas lined up. It was a moonlit night, the planes looked majestic and the fascination grew,” says Tiro.
Later he saw the engine, the only remaining part of the wreckage of the same B34 Ventura in the book off the Namibian Coast. He has carefully studied the PV-1 on static display at the South African Air Force Museum at Air Force Base Ysterplaat in Cape Town over several visits. It was not just for the happy memories, but to do meticulous and detailed research to ensure accuracy in his painting. The colour scheme of the actual aircraft and the painting is an exact match.
“I disagree with those in the Royal Air Force who called it the “Flying Pig” because of its rather unwieldy appearance. It is transformed in flight, with its unusual fuselage and the roar of those powerful two 18 cylinder Double Wasp Pratt & Whitney engines of 2000 horsepower each. Everything about this plane has reinforced my childhood fascination with it,” says Tiro. He proudly wears a US belt with a Pratt & Whitney buckle and recalls the saying of an American air ace: “I trust in God and Pratt & Whitney!”
His third painting of the PV1 took six months to complete. He was suffering from withdrawal symptoms after completing a work previously featured in AERO BRUSH, the Agusta Westland Super Lynx (“Lynx On The Prowl”) when he started paging through his library, photo albums and memories.
The sketch book came out and he started bookmarking every snippet on the PV1 he could find. “It is almost like studying for a character role on stage or in cinema. You become that person. My time behind the multitude of dials and levers on the Shackleton were transposed to the flight deck of the PV-1.”
Tiro, a self-taught artist who acknowledges the mentorship, friendship, inspiration and support of fellow ASAA artists, has extensive personal flying experience in military and civilian aircraft. This has honed his eye, observations and research for every technical detail as well as military and historical accuracy.
After his technical training in the South African Air Force, he became a flight engineer on the Alouette helicopter and Shackleton maritime reconnaissance aircraft. His combined 4 530 hours of flying included nine tours of duty in the border war South Africa was waging at the time in the then Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia.
He recalls a great many reconnaissance, search and rescue, submarine hunt and military exercise flights over a period of fourteen years in the “Shack”. There were combined naval exercises with the Royal Navy and after South Africa acquired three Daphne class submarines from France, the naval exercises with the South African Navy and Air Force were stepped up. They located a Russian submarine in South African territorial waters, but it slipped away. All these encounters with submarines are recorded in his meticulous logbook. This is why ships and submarines feature prominently in Tiro’s works.
Tiro’s previous two works of the PV-1 Ventura are set in the 1950’s. His first oil painting, done in 1978, shows the PV-1 flying over a ship that has run aground off the infamous Skeleton Coast of Namibia. This is a scene very familiar to Tiro from his Shackleton days flying maritime reconnaissance missions and search and rescue operations. He has a picture of Commandant Pat Conway holding the work with him, posing in front of a salvaged B34 aircraft. Cmdt. Conway had logged 1500 hours on the aircraft.
His second oil, a commissioned work done in 1980, shows the PV-1 on the ground under an African sky filled with clouds and the reflection from puddles of rain water on the hard stand.
The SAAF Venturas of 22 Squadron were based at Gibraltar. On 26 September 1944 they started patrols over the Mediterranean for enemy shipping, particularly submarines. Two South African features personalise the actual PV-1 that inspired the painting: an added bubble side window in the cockpit and the words “Ou Flerrie” (“Fun Lady”) on the fuselage.
The artist created this scene based on a type VIIC U-boot as commanded by Kapitänleutnant Erich Tobb (who attained the third highest kill rate by a U-boot in WWII). He did extensive research on the submarine with the aid of a military collector and historian.
The exposed U-boot in the picture was a target, but could retaliate. As depth charges explode, it fires back with an anti-aircraft gun.
The PV1 roars overhead the submarine, banking with vortices coming off the wing tips. You step back just a little to wave it past……………