Canadian nose artist “Skip” Rutledge joined the RCAF on 17 October, 1940 and after three weeks in No.1 Manning Depot in Toronto, moved to St. Thomas, Ontario for Air Engine Mechanic training. His first posting took him to No. 3 SFTS at Calgary, Alberta and then in April 1942 he was posted to No. 420 (Snowy Owl) Squadron based at Waddington, Lincs., England. Skip painted his first nose art on a Handley-Page Hampden Mk. I. It featured the profile of a native Indian in full head-dress.
No. 420 Squadron was posted to North Africa on 16 May 1943. By this time the squadron was flying the Vickers Wellington B. Mk. X “tropicalized” aircraft in support of the invasions of Sicily and Italy. While in North Africa, Skip painted a total of five Wellington bombers with nose art. One was named “The Swoose” and another called “Scarlet Harlot.” But his first impressive Wellington nose art carried no name, just a stork with the tail of a Wellington bomber. In place of a baby, the stork carried a large orange bomb for the enemy. A replica of this nose art painted by Clarence Simonsen now hangs in the museum.
The squadron returned to England from Tunisia between 17 October and 5 November 1943, arriving at Dalton, Yorkshire where they remained for one month. On 12 December 43, No 420 Squadron was transferred to Tholthorpe, Yorkshire, where they remained based until the end of the war.
Artist Rutledge painted four Canadian Halifax Mk. III aircraft, beginning with “Birds of Prey” (serial NA509), “The Champ” (serial MZ587), “Pappy’s Gang” serial LW575), and the most famous, “Fang’s of Fire” (LV953). The original idea for this nose art came from a Walt Disney ad that appeared in the November 1944 issue of Saturday Evening Post magazine.
The museum is honoured to display Skip Rutledge’s suitcase
that carries No. 420 Squadron’s symbol and a record of his travels during World War II.
The following is a portion of a poem written by former “Fangs of Fire” crewmember Bill Bartlett following Skip’s death in 2006:
Skip was a master at his trade
We came back, engines humming, after every raid
No worry did we have, for Skip was number one
Search lights and flak were a present from the Hun
The symbol for our Hali was “Fangs of Fire”
On the nose of our bomber it did inspire.