MOTAT Lancaster to be repainted as NE181 JN-‘Mike’, ‘The Captains Fancy’

JNM cropped comp

NE181 JN-‘Mike’ – The Captains Fancy’ – the new paint scheme for the Lancaster on display at the Museum of Transport and Technology in Auckland, New Zealand.
Image via NZBCA Facebook page – © Peter West

I woke up this morning to see the exciting news on the New Zealand Bomber Command Facebook page, that the Museum of Transport and Technology in Auckland has announced their Lancaster will be repainted in the markings and nose art of 75(NZ) Squadron RAF NE181 JN-Mike – ‘The Captains Fancy’.

The Lancaster on display at MOTAT was built in June 1945. NX665 was destined for service in the Pacific as part of the proposed Allied invasion of Japan. However, Japanese surrender in September 1945 made the deployment unnecessary. The aircraft instead went into storage at Llandow until sold to the French navy in 1951.

Following acquisition by the French, NX665 was given the military registration WU13, and deployed first in France, then Morocco and Algeria on anti-submarine patrol, maritime reconnaissance, and air-sea rescue operations. After service in North Africa, WU13 returned to France in preparation for deployment in the Pacific with Escardrille 9S based in Noumea, New Caledonia. This was the aircraft’s last period of active service before being gifted to MOTAT as a good will gesture to New Zealand by the French Government.

‘The Captains Fancy’ holds a special fascination with 75(NZ) Squadron as it was the only aircraft in the Squadron to pass its ‘century’ of completed Operations. Perhaps inevitably because of this ‘fame’ there is a degree of ‘fogginess’ that exists around the aircraft, regarding the exact number of Ops credited to it and even in some quarters, what crew and what date the magic figure of 100 Ops final was recorded. The mystery is compounded by the fact that ‘Mike’ never carried more that 101 bombs (indicating Ops completed), even though research strongly suggests this figure is possibly 104 – after leaving Mepal for maintenance, it returned, but the ORB’s seem to contain inaccuracies regarding ‘Mike’s’ further flights and in some cases it is a matter of vigorous conjecture as to whether the  aircraft listed are others or in fact NE181. What we do know of course is that ‘Mike’ DID complete at least 101 Ops whilst with the Squadron – so I am very interested to see how MOTAT will present and try to communicate the disparity between the ‘official’, painted total and the higher figure that many, including myself, think she reached.

The bittersweet irony of this aircraft’s presence in the Museum is that the officers in 75(NZ) Squadron lobbied hard to have NE181 bought home (some believe the maintenance break towards the end of the war was as much to prepare ‘Mike’ for the flight back home as it was to simply overhaul her for further Ops). Despite the desire of the Squadron to bring the old girl back home with them, it would appear that the New Zealand government baulked at the fuel bill for the homeward flight……..

See a past post by Ian and Chris regarding the mystery of the final Ops and in fact whereabouts of NE181 here.

See the announcement on the NZBCA Facebook page here.
Visit the MOTAT Lancaster webpage here.

4 thoughts on “MOTAT Lancaster to be repainted as NE181 JN-‘Mike’, ‘The Captains Fancy’

  1. Nigel

    Hi Simon,

    Thanks for the info. But I have to make an observation on the nose art.

    There are quite a few pictures of the nose art on the Captain’s Fancy and the the one on the NZBCA proposed artwork doesn’t seem to do justice to the original. The original is based on a Daily Mirror cartoon character of the time called “Captain Reilly Foull” 🙂 and the following is a description that appears around the web

    “The face, neck and hands were originally a ‘flesh’ colour, but had faded to be almost white. The uniform was Army khaki. He holds a pint of ale in his right hand, a 25lb practice bomb in his left and a corn-cob pipe in his mouth. The devil that he was, he has two horns sprouting from his temples.”

    Most of the of the pictures and the quote above can be found on the link below

    http://rnzaf.proboards.com/thread/16354

    The NZBCA artwork seems to have as much in common with the nose art of a very famous Spitfire “Borough of Lambeth”, also based on Captain Reilly Foull, particularly the red jacket and white trousers.

    I’m also not sure about what the NZBCA version is holding. It would seem much more likely that he should be holding a frothing pint glass of ale, rather than a bottle, and I’m really not sure what is in his left hand, but it’s definitely not a 25lb practice bomb….

    I wonder if the artist they commissioned has perhaps taken a little too much artistic license?

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    1. 75nzsquadron Post author

      Hi Nigel
      You make an interesting series of observations. I suppose you highlight the fact that regarding Mike, there are a lot of questions and too many faded black and white photographs to try to find answers from. Personally, I favour the idea that history can be rebuilt to explain the the general public a story, Having said this, In my opinion it would be better to recreate Mike showing the 101 Ops – something that exists photographically. There has been much musing over the reasons why the ground crew of Mike didn’t add further Op markings to her, as has there been the exact total flown and dates/ crews.

      Personally, I would have thought it would actually be better to display Mike with 101 Ops and a version of the nose art that is actually obscured under carbon grease (or what ever they used) – ironically, to show a ‘clean’ version of Reilly with a high Ops total is inaccurate, because, based on a photograph I have seen, the nose art was instructed to be actually removed by the Air Ministry as being too visible to night fighters – this in itself is actually part of the story of the aircraft. The ‘latest’ photograph I am aware of shows 51 Ops (to Calais, 20th September 44, piloted by S/L Williamson).

      It might be better and more informative to show the much conjecturised extra Ops via a series of information panels near the aircraft that allows an explanation of the research and speculation regarding these unrecorded (on Mike) Ops – each board could show the 101 tally + an additional one for each of these ‘extra’ Ops – in this way, Mike can be shown as she looked – rather than perhaps how she ‘should’ look…….

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  2. Chris Newey

    Hi Nigel, have another look at the best photo we have of the original nose-art – https://75nzsquadron.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/ne181-original-artwork.jpg . That’s definitely a bottle in his hand, and although the “practice bomb” is indistinct, and you would expect it to look a bit more threatening (!), Pete’s depiction looks pretty accurate. I don’t see evidence of horns in the closer shots we have of the head, nor of a corn cob pipe. I agree with Simon about the number of op’s markings, it should display the same number as in the last-dated photo that we have (101 marked, Ware crew, Bad Oldesloe, 24 April 45), but I guess that’s the museum’s call. Cheers, Chris.

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  3. Richard Scott

    I met Jack Wall on a holiday flight to Cypress in 1979 at age 10 . He told me that he had flown in Lancasters during the war, took my address and the. 6 weeks later sent me some photos and photocopies of him and his plane, the Captain’s Fancy. He also sent a nice letter and commentary on each picture. I have only just re-discovered these when my parents moved house a few weeks ago.

    He seemed such a gentleman and really interesting to find out more about the plane and his squadron.

    Richard

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