Leslie Clisby was born in McLaren Vale, South Australia, on 29 June 1914, the second of four children to carpenter Albert Clisby and his wife Mabel, née Chapman. Having an aptitude for mechanical engineering, he joined the RAAF as a ground crew member in 1935. He was at Point Cook, Victoria, when he applied for an officer cadet course (Course A) in 1936. While there he crashed a Gypsy Moth (A7 45) on 26 April 1936, escaping by parachute. As it turned out, he was only the second man in Australia to escape using an Irvine parachute which entitled him to become a member of the Irvine Parachute Caterpillar Club.
Clisby graduated flight school in mid-1937 and, under a pre-war arrangement between the British and Australian governments, volunteered for transfer to the Royal Air Force (RAF); he sailed for Europe that July. On 26 August he was granted a five-year commission in the Royal Air Force and was shortly thereafter posted to No.1 FTS (Flying Training School) at Leuchars in Scotland, after which he was posted to the leading fighter squadron of the day (No.1 Squadron RAF) based at RAF Tangmere in Sussex.
The squadron was equipped with the then new Hawker Hurricane Mk.1 armed with eight .303-inch (7.70 mm) machine-guns; its commanding officer, Squadron Leader Patrick Halahan defied regulations and ordered the guns to be sighted to converge at 250 yards (228.6 m) instead of the regulation 400 yards (457m) greatly increasing their effectiveness.
On 8 September 1939 No. 1 Squadron deployed to Le Havre in northern France with the RAF Advanced Air Striking Force that accompanied the British Expeditionary Force. Through the autumn and winter of 1939–40 a succession of small and indecisive clashes took place between the Allied air forces and the Luftwaffe. In October the squadron flew over enemy territory for the first time and soon claimed its first victory, shooting down a Dornier Do 17 on 31 October.
The winter of 1939/40 was a particularly bad one. Little action with the Luftwaffe occurred in January and February, but in March 1940 action became more frequent. On 1 April, now based at Vassincourt, Clisby began to demonstrate the aggression with which he was soon to become a noted aerial combatant. He first claimed an Me 110 damaged, and then on 2 April he hit and severely damaged Major Werner Molders’ Me 109. However, it wasn’t until 1 April 1940 that Clisby, by now promoted to Flying Officer achieved his first aerial victory, a Messerschmitt Bf 110 twin-engined fighter over Moselle. The following day in the same vicinity, he claimed a Messerschmitt Bf 109.
When the Battle of France opened on 10 May, Clisby began to score heavily, estimates for his remarkable run of “kills” in the next five days range from eight to thirteen or more; and this despite the squadron being bombed out of its base at Berry-au-Bac, north-west of Paris.
He destroyed two Dornier Do 17 bombers on 10 May, after which his aircraft was struck by friendly fire from a French anti-aircraft battery despite which he returned safely to base. He became an ace the following day, when he shot down three German fighters before the rudder of his Hurricane was damaged by enemy gunfire.
Breaking off combat to bring his damaged Hurricane back to base he happened upon a Heinkel He 111 bomber . Finding it simply drifting in front of him he instinctively took a shot at it and forced it to land in a paddock. What happened next defines his character far more than statistics can; Clisby landed nearby, drew his service sidearm and chased the German crewmen across the field as they tried to escape! He captured one in a rugby tackle, and he forced the others to surrender at gunpoint. He then marched them to French authorities before rejoining his squadron, whose diarist recorded: “He wanted their autographs!” According to Time magazine, reporting on the exploit some weeks later, “Clisby’s commanding officer remarked it was a bit uncommon for pilots to bring back prisoners“.
By now Clisby had become known for his extreme aggression in the air, rushing headlong into combat irrespective of the odds and often alone. On 12 May, he was credited with the destruction of six aircraft, claiming three Bf 109s and three Henschel Hs 126 reconnaissance planes (also identified as Arados) during action in support of Fairey Battles in their historic raid on the Albert Canal bridges near Maastricht on the Dutch-Belgian border. For his achievements that day, as well as his earlier successes, Clisby was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). The citation would be promulgated in the London Gazette on 14 June:
Flying Officer Leslie Redford CLISBY (40043) (now reported missing).
One day in April, 1940, this officer was the pilot of one of three Hurricanes which attacked nine Messerschmitt 109’s, one of which he shot down. The following day he destroyed another Messerschmitt 109. In May, 1940, this officer was engaged in six combats against the enemy in which he shot down eight enemy aircraft. Flying Officer Clisby has displayed great courage on all occasions.
At twenty-five and described as being “extrovert, profane, perpetually cheerful and addicted to flying”, Clisby had only a few months of air-to-air combat experience. And yet, by now he was considered a seasoned campaigner and had become No. 1 Squadron’s top-scoring ace. He was also the first Australian-born ace of the war, and was well known for giving vent to patriotic feelings for his homeland in another way. All RAAF personnel who served with the RAF were permitted to continue wearing their original dark-blue Australian uniform until it wore out, after which they were to exchange it for the lighter-coloured British variety. Clisby flatly refused to give up his RAAF uniform, regardless of how shabby it became. When teased about its condition, he would simply respond, “It will see me through”.
Clisby was still wearing his RAAF uniform on 15 May when he went into action with his flight against more than thirty Bf 110s from I/ZG26 over Reims at approximately 0800. Having destroyed two of the German heavy fighters Clisby’s Hurricane was seen going down with its cockpit trailing smoke and flames. He was initially posted as “missing”, along with Flying Officer Lorimer whose plane was also seen losing height in the same action.
There is a reference to the death of Les Clisby in “Twelve Days in May” by Cull, Lander and Weiss (1995): ‘The Australian was hit by a cannon shell, and went into a dive with smoke and flames coming from his cockpit. No one actually saw him crash.’
The French later found two burnt-out Hurricanes in the vicinity which were identified as Clisby’s and Lorimer’s. Clisby died without knowing that he had been awarded the DFC. A fellow pilot later said, “He was an Australian and had thrown himself into the fray with a reckless abandon that was magnificent in its way“.
It was thought that Clisby’s victory tally was 19 aircraft destroyed (confirmed), of which 14 had been destroyed in the 3 days before his death. The CO of No.1 Squadron, Squadron Leader Halahan considered his total number of enemy aircraft shot down to be over 20. The loss of much of the RAF’s documentation in the chaotic retreat in May 1940 meant that many squadron records and combat claims had to be reconstructed from the memory of surviving personnel. Even the date of Clisby’s death is unclear, some sources (including the Commonwealth War Graves Commission) claiming 14 May. Regardless of the exact date, he was the first RAF ace of the war to be lost in action.
Postwar investigation found that the French had discovered Les’ body in the burnt out remains of his aircraft and buried him in a temporary grave. Later the War Graves Commission re-buried him in the Commonwealth War Grave Cemetery at Chuloy, near Nancy, France. Leslie Clisby is remembered on the War Memorial in Adelaide; the Memorial Books in the RAF Church, St Clement Danes, London; and on the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.
Airfix 1/48 Scale Hawker Hurricane Mk.1
After a positive experience with the Airfix Gnat I decided to use the Airfix kit for the this project. I wasn’t disappointed. The cockpit is nicely detailed and while it proved fiddly for me, I was able to get the parts assembled in something approximating the instructions’ intention.
I have read somewhere else that this kit either requires no effort to assemble the wings to the fuselage or it requires a great deal of effort. Mine was the latter. I think I didn’t quite get the two cockpit frames aligned correctly fore/aft and this interfered with the firewall. Whether this was the cause or not, I had a lot of trouble getting the fuselage to mate properly with the wings. I had to use a combination of force, persuasion, plastic surgery and amputation, and finally plastic stock as filler to get a result that would work under paint.
Other issues were mostly self-inflicted though the sink marks either side of the front of the fin were a pain to fill without losing some of the surrounding detail. Aside for the foregoing, with some minor seam clean up and the addition of the clear parts (which I masked with Montex Masks) I was ready for paint.
I should say, in fairness to Airfix that I am not, nor have I ever been very accomplished in assembly and am quite willing to assume that most of my troubles were due to my own lack of expertise.
P2546 was part of the first batch of 500 Mk.1 Hurricanes produced by Gloster Aircraft Company Limited, Brockworth, Gloucestershire, to Contract No. 962371/38/C.23a (commonly known as batch 1/G). The batch comprised serial numbers P2535 through P3264. Deliveries commenced in November 1939 and were completed in April 1940. Early production of Hurricanes alternated the “A” Scheme and “B” with serials ending in odd numbers receiving “A”, and even numbers the “B” scheme. Accordingly, that’s what I chose for the upper camo.
The undersides were a bit trickier as there were multiple directives from the Air Ministry (A.M.) in the months leading up to and through the beginning of the war. Furthermore, once war broke out and operational experience began to guide camouflage direction, further adjustments were made.
Ultimately I chose to paint P2546 with aluminium undersides with the port wing painted “Night” and starboard painted white. As I have no picture of P2546 to go on, I used contemporary pics of No.1 Squadron Hurricanes to base this on as opposed to the alternate option of Night/White split along the underside of the fuselage in addition to the wings.
At least, that was the ultimate plan. Funnily enough, it didn’t go completely like that. Assumption, they say, makes an ass out of you and me and my assumption that the undersides were actually “Sky Type S” meant that was what I painted my hurricane first. Then I did the research…
Using Vallejo acrylics for the first time, I applied first a covering of Vallejo’s Aluminium over the undersides and then, when it was dry, I masked with Tamiya Tape and applied the Night and White to their respective wings. I’m not a big proponent of pre-shading, so I began the weathering on the Night with a light, randomly applied coat of Tamiya NATO Black to create some depth and on the white wing, I used a heavily diluted light grey similarly applied.
Moving on to the upper surfaces, I knew this time I was going to paint a “B” Scheme before I started painting :-). I began with the Dark Earth and once that was dry, I masked the camo pattern with blue-tack.
There were a couple of reasons I used this method to mask; the first being that there is no clear evidence [to me] that mats (which would create a hard demarcation) were used in the factory to paint the camo. There is plenty of anecdote for sure, but logic and an understanding of how the masks would have been very difficult to store and use after the first couple of uses, with residual paint etc., simply points to free-hand painting as being far quicker and efficient. Contemporary paint-shops had no trouble holding the over-spray to within the 1″ (25mm) tolerance allowed by the A.M. and in fact commonly held it to within 1/2″ (12mm). The second reason is that I simply feel that a tight, though soft edge such as that produced by a blue-tack mask gives a more accurate representation of the paint applied – to my eye it simply looks better.
I had previously applied a coat of the aluminium to the wings as P2546, like all the 1/G Hurricanes, there were issues with the paint adhesion and I wanted to represent paint loss by removing the top colours to reveal aluminium underneath.
I used Vallejo Dark Green and saw immediately that it was the wrong colour. I dabbled with the mix and got a colour I was reasonably happy with but I’d had so much trouble with the paint clogging that the overall quality of the paint job (and it turned out, the masking too) that I decided to strip and repaint.
The second time around I used Tamiya acrylics and had no trouble with the paint or the masking. As I did for the undersides I changed the mix of the paint to vary the tone of the camo colours as the preliminary stages of weathering. When I removed the masking this time I was quite happy with the result and after a couple of minor touch ups I was satisfied.
Normally this section is called Decals but aside from a couple of stencils I didn’t use any opting instead to use Montex masks. After my multiple attempts at the upper and lower surface paint jobs, I decided it would be prudent to do all my research on the markings prior to painting.
Here’s where my research led me (helped immensely by Troy Smith @troysmith at Britmodeller who took the time to both inform me and guide me to some exquisite reference sources);
- Wing Topside – type “B” roundel
- Wing Underside – type “A” with port side yellow surround. The educated part of my decision was based on A.M. telegram X119 issued on 2 September to 60 and 67 Wings in France which required all aircraft flying over France to have type “A” under-wing roundels. The yellow surround was the guess part; as delivered the yellow ring was not applied and A.M. directive X479 4/6 requiring it was only issued 15 May 1940.
- Fuselage – type “A.1” with yellow surround. The yellow added to the standard “A” type as required by A.M. directive X485 issued on 1 May 1940.
- Fin/Rudder – Also as part of X485, identifying markings were required on the fin. The directive did not specify exactly what form this identifier should take and so different squadrons used different patterns. No.1 Squadron (and sister squadron No.73) painted their Hurricanes with full length rudder stripes of red/white/blue.
- Squadron Code – Another educated guess; squadron codes had been removed from fighter aircraft after the Munich Crisis, retaining only their individual aircraft letter painted forward of the fuselage roundel. At some point in the spring of 1940 squadron codes were repainted though it is unclear when this occurred in No.1 Squadron. I decided to add the squadron code even though there’s no hard evidence it was there on 15 May 1940.
Using the masks was a breeze and I’m definitely a convert. Their use allows for preliminary weathering at the application stage and eliminates the risk of silvering. It looks way better, too.
I masked and painted the rudder with Tamiya tape which was also quite straight-forward and once the fin-flash was applied the initial stages of the painting/marking was [almost] complete.
At the time of writing I have been unable to source 6″ serial number decals in 1/48 scale and while I do have decals for the far more common 8″ numbers, when I applied those they didn’t look right so I removed them. Therefore the model currently does not serials; I hope to correct this one day
No.1 Squadron was deployed to France as part of the RAF Advanced Air Striking Force in September 1939 and was based mainly at Vassincourt. P2546 was likely delivered in December 1939 and consequently would have spent all of the 1939/40 winter and following spring outdoors in France. The airfields they operated from were unpaved so in addition to the exposure to the elements above the aircraft would have also been exposed to general grime associated with a field aerodrome.
The first step in my weathering process was a polish with micro-finishing cloth on the upper surface roundels to wear in the edges. The quality of paint and/or its application for the 1/G batch is clearly substandard based on contemporary photos (particularly the roundels), and I wanted to represent this.
Next I applied a light wash to some of the panel lines, typically those being the common maintenance areas such as gun access on the wings and around the engine. To my eye, most panel lines are rarely visible on real aircraft, either in life or in photos.
Next, I decided to use a salt fading filter. This is a new technique for me and I approached it with some trepidation. Carefully following instruction from various YouTube videos I applied the salt and then let it fully dry. Next, I over-sprayed a very dilute coat of white and desperately tried not to over-do it!
After removing the salt I found the effect to be very subtle but there nonetheless. As it is a filter not a paint layer, I was happy with how it turned out though perhaps next time I’ll go a bit stronger.
Next I started chipping the paint and very quickly overdid it! I used a combination of silver pencil and dry brushing and before I knew where I was, I’d made my model caricature of a weathered aircraft rather than a representation of one. I decided to sleep on it (and not take pictures!)…
Next morning I had a plan; using some micro-mesh polishing sheet I very gently sanded away almost all of the dry-brushing. What remained was a very used aeroplane indeed, but one that looked like it was still airworthy and able to perform its function.
Next I loaded up the airbrush with Tamiya Smoke and applied the exhaust staining, oil leaks and other sundry stains such as gun barrel staining. I varied the mix as I did this and whereas the exhaust was painted very dry, the oil leak staining on the underside was painted very wet. I added some light gray to the mix to finish the exhaust stain, and added some brown to represent the staining from operating on French fields in winter.
Weathering is such a subjective topic in modeling; I tried to represent a well used aircraft without overdoing it. I rarely weather this much so to my eye it’s close to overdone. However, relative to other models I’ve seen it’s almost factory fresh! On balance, I like how it turned out.
Pitot tubes, antennas, stirrups, undercarriage and all the other bits and pieces to finish off. I worked on the underside first attaching the undercarriage and other appendages. I worked slowly and methodically as I have a tendency to rush the final stages and make a mess of things.
Once everything was attached and painted, I sealed it all us with a flat coat. I took care to leave a little of the gloss on the oil streaking though, oil stains are shiny, not flat.
Turning the model over, now on its wheels for the first time, I continued with the final additions. There wasn’t much to add before applying the flat coat to the upper surfaces. At this point I had not yet added the antenna wire, the landing lights or the wingtip navigation lights. Nor had I removed the masking from the canopy or windshield.
I had assembled, painted and weathered the propeller earlier and now, as the final step prior to completion, I attached it in place. The model was finished.
I have created a print using all new photos but based on this page which is available through the Shop Making-History page. The print is available in up to A1 size (594mm x 841mm) or download.
- The forum at Britmodeller.com and in particular Troy Smith.
Copyright: As usual, I make no claim of original work in this article except for the photos of the models and text describing their construction and painting. Except where noted otherwise, I sourced all images and photos from the internet and are used under fair-use. Any copyrighted material will be removed or credited forthwith upon request by its owner.
Categories: Feature Article