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Paintings of Naval Aviation

This exhibit on Naval Aviation in World War II was put together by Abbott Laboratories in 1943 to tour the United States as part of their contribution to the war effort. This introduction was written for the original exhibition. The captions to the paintings, with minor alterations, were those originally written by the artists themselves.

The Navy takes great pride in the pictorial exhibit of Naval Aviation represented in this exhibition. Such a wartime record of its planes, its flyers and ground crews is an important historical contribution and a major accomplishment in enlightening the American people about this fast growing branch of the Navy.

The artists whose works compose the exhibit visited Naval Air Stations in every part of the country. They talked to the students and instructors, gained a through knowledge of Naval Aviation, and studied its training program. The tangible result of their laudable enterprise had been to provide us with a permanent tribute to the service. The paintings they have produced interpret the meaning of Naval Aviation with remarkable understanding.

The accuracy with which these paintings portray the most intimate details of training activities was not accomplished by chance. For weeks the artists lived at Naval Air Stations, were quartered with the men, making a conscientious effort to absorb Navy traditions and customs.

They covered all phases of the program, from Pre-Flight School up to combat. There are pictures of pilots, enlisted men, and Waves and of virtually all the Navy’s planes, both on the ground and in the air. To describe on canvas the actions they saw, the artists made numerous flights in all types of naval planes. The oils, watercolors, drawings and sketches which grew out of this research provide a spirited chronicle of the Navy in the air.

During a war, when military leaders are dedicating their full attention to a victory in the shortest possible time, it is sometimes difficult to inform the public adequately on many activities of the services, activities in which every one has a vital interest. The actual battles, of course, are described from day to day correspondents and photographers in the war zones. Training activity, of necessity, does not receive this intense concentration. Although Naval Aviation has made a faithful attempt to report to the public the various ramifications of its training, voluntary contributions of talented and responsible civilians are received with gratitude.

It is with such a feeling that the Navy views this record of Naval Aviation in training. It is felt that these works by patriotic American artists are a worthy addition to the written and photographic record of the training program in wartime. They have caught the spirit of the men who fly and maintain the Navy’s planes. They have, in short, captured the essence of Naval Aviation.

J. T McCain, Vice Admiral,

U.S.N., Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Air)

The Kill
Robert Benney #11
Oil on Canvas, 1943
Gift of Abbott Laboratories


In this dramatic presentation of a sea-sky battle, a Grumman Avenger torpedo bomber, bomb bay doors open, leaves death in its wake as it zooms away from a conclusive attack on a surfaced enemy submarine. All the vivid action in this scene has been repeated many times in actual combat by U.S. Naval airmen. Naval planes from escort aircraft carriers wreaked havoc on submarine wolf packs attacking Atlantic convoys, and they virtually blasted them from the ocean for many months. Bombers were fitted with depth charges, one of which is pictured exploding off the U-boat's beam here. In the attack, the plane's rear "stinger" gun spits death at gun crews attempting to ward off these lethal hawks from the sky.


Death of the Shoho
Robert Benney #4
Oil, 1942
Gift of Abbott Laboratories


In May, 1942, the United States Navy won the first major naval engagement in history fought without surface ships exchanging a shot. It was the Battle of the Coral Sea, in which the might of Naval Aviation shattered and turned back the spearhead of a Japanese battle force menacing the United Nations' last Pacific stronghold of Australia. Here, aflame from stem to quarter, the Japanese aircraft carrier Shoho falls victim to the lethal combat tactics of Navy dive and torpedo bombers. The Shoho plowed herself under within a period of minutes after dive and torpedo squadrons broke her back.


The Battle of Midway
Robert Benney #7
Oil, circa, 1943
Gift of Abbott Laboratories


A month after striking in the Coral Sea, the Japanese launched an all-out assault against Midway Island in what was obviously intended as the first step of a grand attack upon Hawaii and the continental United States. The Navy was ready, and the heroic pilots from naval aircraft carriers inflicted a major sea defeat upon two great converging forces northwest of Midway. The enemy lost four aircraft carriers, at least two heavy cruisers, and a number of light cruisers, destroyers and transport--all by aerial attack. The artist here depicts a withering attack upon a Japanese cruiser by Navy dive bombers with fighter escort.


Naval Air Might at Santa Cruz
Robert Benney #6
Oil, circa, 1943
Gift of Abbott Laboratories


The victorious closing phases of the Solomons campaign in the Southwest Pacific found naval sea and air might taking heavy toll of frustrated and out maneuvered Japanese forces. In the Battle of Santa Cruz, fought in the early summer of 1943, combat pilots of the Navy and Marine Corps hammered enemy surface forces seeking to strengthen a slipping hold upon the southern Solomon Islands. Pictured here, Navy dive bombers blast a Japanese battleship in the foreground while shipmates attack other enemy ships in the distance. At Midway, naval pilots severely mauled and crippled at least two Japanese heavies.


"Wind Her Up!"
Georges Schreiber #7
Oil on Canvas, 1943
Gift of Abbott Laboratories


An aviation machinist's mate winds up the inertia starter of a "Yellow Peril"--the Navy's primary trainer. After a period of instruction in these training biplanes, the aviation cadet will be ready for his intermediate training in the faster SNJ trainer.


Joseph Hirsch #18
Pen & ink, circa, 1943
Gift of Abbott Laboratories


The pull of parachute straps, the feel of helmet and goggles, the roar of airplane engines--these are combined to thrill the naval aviation cadet as he walks to the line for his first flight. Unsure but eager, he embarks on the long road which one day will bring him Navy Wings of Gold, and which eventually will lead him aloft from a carrier deck in the relentless stalking down of the Japanese.


The "Up-Check"
Georges Schreiber #11
Pen & ink, 1943
Gift of Abbott Laboratories

The fateful moment for every naval aviation cadet comes when the Flying Instructor, smiling faintly, turns in the front cockpit and lifts his thumb in the traditional gesture of success. Tensely the cadet waits for the grim moment, which spells success or failure after months of study, dual instruction in the air, and physical conditioning. The "up-check" marks another milepost on the road to the coveted goal--Navy Wings of Gold.


Man of the Hour
Joseph Hirsch #22
Oil on board, circa, 1943
Gift of Abbott Laboratories


His first solo flight! Elated, discoverer of the fact that he is master of his destiny, newborn of the elements--the artist has caught the spirit of the naval aviation cadet after his first flight alone in a primary trainer. He and his shipmates are keeping alive the proud tradition of the naval service. Tomorrow, whenever it may come--he will respond to the call for combat in the full discipline and training of his cadet days, an alert and capable naval flying officer. He's a pretty fine fellow, the Navy thinks.

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A smaller version is available to qualifying museums and institutions through the Traveling Exhibit Program

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21 April 2006