As their Carrier USS Bunker Hill powers into the face of the enemy, US Navy Hellcats of VF-9 and Corsairs of VF-17 “Jolly Rogers”, launch a blistering response to a huge Japanese air assault on the US Carrier Group, during the Allied campaign against Rabaul, 11th November 1943. Through a barrage of anti-aircraft fire from Fleet Carriers Bunker Hill, Essex and Independence, the US Navy Fighters combine their efforts to bring down a Nakajima “Kate” torpedo bomber.
Following the Japanese invasion of the British Solomon Islands in early 1942, the Allied Pacific Fleet began a campaign to capture these strategic areas, in particular to neutralize the Japanese threat to Australia and New Zealand. The campaign saw some of the most important Naval Battles in History such as the Battles of the Coral Sea and Midway. The Allies eventually turned their attention to the major Japanese stronghold of Rabaul, launching Operation Cartwheel in early 1943.
During the opening days of November, the Japanese carried out extensive air offenses against the US task force and on November 7th 1943 Task Group 50.3 of the US 5th Fleet joined the campaign. Consisting of carriers Bunker Hill, Essex, Independence, several destroyers and other support vessels, the Task Group launched a significant assault against Rabaul on November 11th – ironically Armistice Day.
The Japanese retaliated with a huge strike of their own, launching more than 100 fighters, bombers and torpedo planes against the task force. They were met with ferocious opposition from carrier and nearby land-based American Corsairs and Hellcats.
During this epic encounter, the Task Force inflicted significant damage on the Japanese forces, destroying an estimated 40 enemy aircraft. Hellcats and Corsairs splashed an entire attack group of 14 “Kates”, before refueling and rearming aboard their Carriers to continue the fight, and the combination of radar, fighters, and gunfire ensured that the Japanese failed to hit a single US ship.
These devastating losses left Rabaul an increasingly isolated outpost and subsequent raids led to its complete neutralization, allowing the Allies to forgo a ground assault.
ARTIST’S NOTES – The Inspiration Behind the Painting
This scene was inspired by accounts from Navy pilots who described their actions that day, in particular from VF-17’s Commanding Officer Tommy Blackburn’s great 1989 book The Jolly Rogers.
After only just returning to the deck of the Bunker Hill on the morning of November 11th, Blackburn’s Corsairs were pivotal in this day’s action, as well as carrier-based Hellcat squadrons VF-9, VF-18, VF-22, and land-based squadrons VF-33 & VF-6 . Several vivid narratives from their pilots recounted remarkably similar victories against Nakajima ‘Kate” bombers attempting water-level torpedo runs against the Bunker Hill, running the gauntlet of ferocious AA fire. In many accounts, Hellcats & Corsairs proved to be a lethal combination against these “Kates”, while intense battles raged overhead.
Reading some of these narratives from Tom Blackburn’s book immediately conjured up powerful images in my mind, recreating the ferocious chaos of the battle and inspiring my attempt to capture this in my painting:
“The view from the surface up to 25,000 feet was almost beyond belief. The whole hemisphere of sky was polka-dotted with black 5-inch shell bursts interlaced with colorful 20mm and 40mm tracer. Here and there, dark-tailed orange comets marked the passage of burning airplanes as they arced toward the cobalt surface. Around the twisting ships, bomb and shell spouts heaved up spectacular white geysers. Through it all, planes rolled and turned with sunlight glinting off their flat surfaces and contrails streaming off their wingtips as they executed maximum-gee high-speed pullouts, some right on the deck. The scream of overrevving engines and props was punctuated with the whomps of bombs, guns, and shells, plus the staccato rat-a-tat of machine guns. It was technicolor bedlam, and then some.”
“Ensigns Howard ’Teeth’ Burriss, Ike Kepford & Lt Lem Cooke slanted in to hit the Kates with a horizontal pass from the target’s port side…Shortly, Teeth found a lonesome Kate as it dropped down to begin its torpedo run on one of the ships. As he set up his firing run, a Hellcat zoomed in from out of nowhere and went after Teeth’s target. Their combined competitive fire sent the Kate cartwheeling across the surface, and so they each got credit for a half kill”.
“According to Bunker Hill’s gunnery officer, ‘I saw a Kate about twenty feet off the water dart by the formation with a Corsair closing fast. Like a cowboy roping a wild steer, the Corsair sent tracers licking out, and the Kate went in with an awesome splash. Johnny (Kleinman) killed the Kate, but in the process a friendly 20mm round exploded on contact with his heavy glass bullet-proof windscreen’. Like Kleinman, Ike Kepford drilled right on through the intense friendly AA to burn a Kate just as it seemed ready to launch its fish only 1000 yards from Bunker Hill. Unlike Johnny, however, Ike evaded the friendly fire. However, at the same moment he was killing the Kate, unbeknownst to Ike, a Hellcat blew a Zero off his tail.”
Although this scene depicts a specific snapshot in time on 11 November ’43, I also intended this painting to be a tribute to ALL the great Corsair and Hellcat units who helped win the War in the Pacific, indisputably the two best Navy fighters of World War II. Hellcat pilots achieved an amazing 19:1 kill ratio, downing 5,156 enemy aircraft in just two years, accounting for 75 percent of the Navy’s aerial victories during the war. By the end of the war, the Corsair flew over 64,000 sorties, shot down over 2,000 enemy aircraft, and only lost 189 planes in action to the enemy, the lowest loss rate of any aircraft in the Pacific War.
– John D. Shaw
THE LIMITED EDITION
All prints in the editions are individually numbered and personally hand-signed by the artist along with iconic Corsair and Hellcat Aces:
Lieutenant LESTER GRAY USN Hellcats / 5 1/2 victories
Colonel JAMES SWETT Medal of Honor – USMC Wildcat and Corsairs / 15 ½ victories
THE COLLECTORS EDITION
With all the signatures of the Limited Edition, these prints are additionally signed by a Pacific Ace who had victories in both the Hellcat and Corsair:
Colonel ROBERT BRUCE PORTER USMC Corsairs & Hellcats / 5 victories
THE ARTIST PROOFS
Each Artist Proof has been additionally autographed by another US Navy Hellcat Ace:
Ensign DONALD McPHERSON – USN Hellcats / 5 victories
Each FIVE signature Remarque print has been additionally signed by a distinguished Corsair Pilot who flew in the Pacific Theater:
Captain PHILIP De GROOT USMC Corsairs
Each copy is embellished with an original pencil Remarque, hand drawn in the lower border of the print by master artist John Shaw. The three Remarque editions include a single Remarque drawing, Double Remarque drawings or the Artist Special Remarque which features a substantial and extensive pencil scene across the bottom of the print.
John Shaw’s pencil work is remarkable and he is renowned throughout the aviation art field for his devotion to meticulous detail. He is somehow able to capture in graphite, exquisite works of art in the border of the print that are simply breathtaking, making his Remarques highly sought after collector’s pieces.
THE CANVAS GICLÉE EDITIONS
Using the most sophisticated digital Giclée technology under the direct supervision of the artist, each Proof is printed directly on to fine canvas. Each archival canvas is individually numbered and signed by the artist.
The edition is exclusively limited to 100 canvas Proofs in total which available in several canvas sizes. Example sizes are listed but custom sizes are also available, please ask for details.
Custom Oil-embellishment by the Artist John Shaw is also available
With this special embellishment, your canvas can become a one-of-a-kind work of art in itself. Each receives painstaking detail-accenting by the artist in oil paint, and is given final varnish, perfectly replicating the look and feel of the original painting. Please ask us for availability!
36″ x 22″ with custom embellishment: $895
42″ x 25½” with custom embellishment: $1095
50″ x 33″ with custom embellishment: $1325
60″ x 40″ with custom embellishment: $1545
Paper Giclee Edition
Using digital giclée technology, each copy is printed onto archival Satin paper, individually numbed and signed by the artist