Sarkis Bartigian has been called the greatest nose art painter of all time. I have had an interest in the air war of World War 2 since I found out that my grandfather was in the Army Air Corps and was a trained gunner, though for whatever reason, an injury during training, I believe, he never left the states. Instead playing a support role for the crews coming through his base. His personal claim to fame was that one of the planes that came through his base and one that he was assigned to take care of was the Enola Gay. The history of this had been sketchy. My grandfather passed on in 1985 and I never got a good story from him other then saying that “the Enola Gay was my ship.” After a lot of research and some conjecture, I found out that there was actually a time after the war when my grandfather and the plane that dropped the Little Boy on Hiroshima were in the same place and the same time, so who knows, for a little while, the Enola Gay might have actually been his in some form for a little while.
But I digress. I was reading about a mission that has come to be called Black Sunday in which 5 groups of B24 bombers took off from North Africa to bomb the oil fields in Ploesti , Romania on August 1, 1943. It was really the first time I dove in to the history of the B24. I had been pretty fascinated by the B17 and the Mighty Eighth Air Force. While reading about the B24, you can’t help but to find a lot of information about the nose art. The Liberator had a huge flat side that was perfect for an artist to put vast creations on. In World War 2, nose art was a thing on most planes in the Army Air Corps and as shown in the movie, The Memphis Belle, these planes were not only named, but they were referred to as that name.
Staff Sergeant Sarkis E. Bartigian was assigned to the 64th Bomb Squadron, 43rd Bomb Group. He was from Chelsea, MA and was a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design. He took time and effort to create amazing artwork on the side of the bombers in his squadron. The bombers he painted were “Cocktail Hour”, “It Ain’t So Funny”, “Mabel’s Labels”, “Michigan”, and the legendary “A Dragon and His Tail.”
“A Dragon and His Tail” wound up in the boneyard in Kingman, AZ after the war and was quite literally the last plane to be demolished. The workers did not want to destroy that plane and hoped against hope that a buyer would come in at the last minute. It did not happen. Years later, the Collings Foundation recreated the artwork of “A Dragon and His Tail” on their B24 which still flies, though the artwork has changed a couple of times and now flies as “Witchcraft.”
The images of Bartigian’s planes are amazing, though perhaps NSFW…
A Dragon and His Tail
It Ain’t So Funny
Dragon in the boneyard awaiting her fate