Autographed by Alex Vraciu, Donald Gordon, Ralph Yaussi and James Curry.

L/E of 750. Signed and numbered by the artist.

Size: 34 3/4" x 23 1/2"

Price: $295

After a three day sea search for Admiral Omwa's carrier fleet it was 3:30 p.m. on June 20, 1944, when a spotter plane reported the enemy position to Admiral Mitscher's Task Force 58. Mitscher knew the risks of dispatching a large force on such a long-range mission so late in the day, but he also knew his task was to get the carriers. By 4:30 p.m. over 200 fighters, dive-bombers, and torpedo strike planes were in the air and heading for the target.

In the short but intense battle that followed late that day, the Japanese carrier Hiyo was sunk, four more Japanese carriers were damaged, two oilers sunk, the battleship Haruna hit, and some 40 enemy aircraft reported destroyed. Fierce, and seemingly successful though the encounter was, for most of the American aircrews the worst part of the mission was yet to come.

As 209 aircraft turned and headed east into the growing dark, most of the pilots knew they had barely enough fuel to get back on board their carriers, some 270 miles distant. Many of the aircraft had received battle damage, and some of the crews were wounded.

It was 8 p.m. and pitch dark as the first of the returning aircraft neared the carriers. Admiral Mitscher knew that without some form of guidance it was going to be impossible to recover his aircraft and, ignoring the submarine threat, boldly ordered the fleet to turn on lights. But the arriving Helldiver and Avenger pilots were all but out of fuel and in the confusion of trying to pick out a carrier and find a landing slot, compounded by a number of deck crashes, some 70 planes went into the water that night. For Mitscher's aircrews, the long return to TF-58 went into history as the 'Mission Beyond Darkness'.

In recreating this awesome scene, Robert Taylor has painted a masterpiece of naval aviation warfare in the Pacific. In the foreground the SB2C Helldiver of Lieutenant Ralph Yaussi, its tanks dry, has ditched near the carrier USS Lexington. As Yaussi and his gunner James Curry clamber out of the sinking aircraft, the Fletcher class destroyer USS Anthony, her 24 inch searchlight ablaze is moving in to make the pick-up. The chaos and confusion of that infamous night during the Battle of the Philippine Sea, springs back to life in this stunning painting. With prints signed by four aircrew who survived Admiral Mitscher's historic operation, including Yaussi and Curry, Robert Taylor's Mission Beyond Darkness will become one of the great collector's prints from the era.

The Signatures

Of great significance to collectors, four aircrew personally involved in the Mission Beyond Darkness have joined Robert Taylor in signing this historically important new edition.

Alex Vraciu first saw combat flying the F6F Hellcat off carriers with VF-6, becoming an Ace in January 1944. Transferring to VF-16 aboard USS Lexington his tally of victories continued to mount and during the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot on June 19, 1944, he downed six dive bombers in eight minutes. The following day during the Mission Beyond Darkness he added a Zero, bringing his total to 19. Alex, unable to land on the Lexington, managed to put down safely on the Enterprise, but his luck ran out an December 1944 when he was shot down strafing an airfield. Bailing out, he spent five weeks with Filipino guerrillas before meeting up with advancing Americans. He ended the war as the US Navy's fourth highest Ace, and retired in 1963.

Entering the service in July 1941, Don Gordon was commissioned the following March. His first fleet assignment was Fighting Squadron 10 - soon to be known as the famous 'Grim Reapers'. Operating from USS Enterprise flying the F4F Wildcat, Don participated in the Battles of Santa Cruz, Guadalcanal, the Solomon Islands and at Coral Sea. On his second tour he flew the F6F Hellcat during the Battle of the Philippine Sea and during the Mission Beyond Darkness arrived safely back on board 'The Big E', assisted by the fleet lights. Don finished the war an Ace with 7 victories.

Ralph joined the Service in July 1942 and after his commission was soon in action flying anti-sub patrols. In December 1943, flying the SB2C Helldiver, he went aboard the USS Hornet, where his first mission under fire was at Palau Island on March 30, 1943. During the Philippine Sea action he and his gunner James Curry attacked the Japanese carrier fleet in the Mission Beyond Darkness but on the return their Helldiver ran out of fuel as he attempted to land. They were forced to ditch and were rescued by the destroyer USS Anthony.

James Curry joined the Navy in August 1942 amd after training as an air gunner was posted to join Ralph Yaussi an VB2 (Air Group 2), operating the Curtis SB2C Helldiver. The first of his combat sorties was made m March 1944 flying off the USS Hornet and he participated in every island strike that the Hornet made during that tour of duty, including Truk, Guam, the Bonin Islands and Iwo Jima amongst many others. James took part in the Battle of the Philippine Sea when Yaussi was forced to ditch their SB2C on their return from the carrier strike. During the remainder of his tour he accompanied Yaussi on raids to Manila Bay, Mindanao, and the invasion of the Marianas. He retired the service in 1945.