"INTO THE CLOAK OF DARKNESS"

BY NICOLAS TRUDGIAN

Autographed by Maj. Günther Bahr, Lt. Otto Fries and Obfw. Alfred Staffa.

L/E of 650. Signed and numbered by the artist.

Size: 23 1/2" x 34 1/2"

L/E Price: $175

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The eerie world of the night-fighter was a far cry from the swashbuckling cut and thrust of the day-time aerial dogfights. It took inordinate flying skills, teamwork, patience, and nerves of steel to achieve success in the dark when all that could be seen of the enemy was the tell-tale glow of an engine exhaust.

From the spring of 1940 Germany had developed their night-fighting aircraft and honed their skills to combat the nightly bombing raids of the RAF. By 1944 the Luftwaffe had sophisticated electronic range-finding and navigation equipment fitted to their night-fighters, and their skilled crews had become adept at intercepting the British heavy bombers under cover of darkness.

As the war progressed and proficiency increased, the greatest fear of the RAF bomber crews as they approached their targets was the ever-present danger of the marauding Luftwaffe night-fighters Each night a deadly game of hide-and-seek was played out in the skies above the Reich.

Messerschmitt 110s, JU-88s, and the specifically developed Heinkel 219 would rise up into the darkening skies from bases in the Ruhr to await the arrival of the RAF heavies. Loitering singly and in pairs, they would infiltrate the bomber streams, each crew using their own individual method of hunting and attack. They seldom came home empty handed. Based in the Ruhr Valley in 1944, NJG-1 was among the most successful nightfighter units, being credited with 2173 night victories and another 145 scored in daylight. Nicolas Trudgian's emotive new painting recreates a scene from one of this successful unit's missions on the night of November 2, 1944:

Ten aircraft took off to intercept a major raid on Dusseldorf, the night witnessing a fierce battle high above the darkened city. NGJ-I crews assisted with the downing of l 9 RAF bombers, one Luftwaffe pilot being credited with no fewer than 6 victories that night. Seen in Nick's painting are a Heinkel 219 and a Messerschmitt 110 climbing out from their base at Monster Handorf, as they set out on their deadly mission. Below them the spectacular Rühr Valley is vibrant in its mantle of winter's first snowfall. A moving and evocative rendition, made all the more poignant by the signatures of 3 leading World War II Luftwaffe nightfighter aircrew on each print in the edition.


THE SIGNATURES

Major GÜNTHER BAHR
After joining the Luftwaffe, Günther Bahr served first as a flying instructor with the Ausbildungs-Gruppe 11 of the Zerstörerschule. Posted to 6./SKG 210 (later 6./ZGI) on the Eastern Front until June 1942, when he was transferred to fly nightfighters, which he flew tbr the rest of the war. He went to NJG 4 in August 1943 flying the Me 110 and then with I ./NJG6 where on 21/22 February, 1943 he shot down seven four-engined Russian bombers on one night. Günther Bahr flew over 90 night-fighting missions and was awarded the Knight's Cross in March 1945. He achieved 37 air victories.

Leutnant OTTO FRIES
Otto Fries was posted to NJG I nightfighter unit in January 1942 as a Gefreiter. He served with them on the Western Front right through until the end of the war, flying continuously against RAF Bomber Command. He was commissioned Leutnant in August 1943. In July 1944 Otto was flying Me110s of II. Gruppe based in St. Trond, St. Dizier and then Arnheim. He later joined I. Gruppe before transferring to Münster-Hansdorf flying the Heinkel 219 Owl. He is one of the last surviving He219 pilots. Shot down four times, the second of which was by catapult ejection seat out of the He219 - only the third such ejection in combat in the world. Otto scored 18 air victories by the end of the war.

Oberfeldwebel ALFRED STAFFA
Born in the Czech Republic, Alfred Stafta qualified as a Luftwaffe radio-operator in November 1941. In January 1942 he was posted to II. Gruppe, NJG I as radio-operator to Otto Fries flying the Me110. On 28 August, 1942, they were shot down in flames by the rear-gunner of an RAF Stirling bomber, and again shot down in May 1944. In June 1944 he joined 6./NJG 1, and later l./NJG 1. flying in the Heinkel 219. He also survived an ejector seat escape out of this burning aircraft. Alfred Staffa flew 102 night missions, 5 day missions and shared 18 air victories.