Hermes' Wings

History, Writing and Personal Musings

Category Archives: Conventional & Digital Art

The War in Biafra

Biafra Mast

The following art is for a new research project, titled: The War in Biafra.

(Temporarily on hold until several other book projects are completed)

If you were a participant in the war, or were a witness in any way or form to the conflict, or happened to be in Nigeria during the critical years from 1964-70, worked for the Red Cross, the PR outfits or the churches, or even protested the conflict in the United States and Europe over continued British aid to Federalist Nigeria, or stood against the Biafrans, or simply have something to say, I am interested to hear your story. Drop me an e-mail by using the “contact me” page linked in the menu above or leave a message on this page.

All images are in medium resolution; click for larger picture.

What this is all about (a brief explanation): Look at world maps today and you will find no mention of the nation of Biafra. It has  suffered an attempt at being expunged from the consciousness of human history.

The country of Nigeria in West Africa, recently known for its e-mail scams, is at the center of this story. Essentially a British construct brought into a national identity without considering regional loyalties, Nigeria can best be identified as the unnatural union of three culturally disparate territories often at odds with each other — the largely-Muslim North, the traditionalist West and finally, the Christian East which in 1967, seven years after Nigerian Independence from Britain, christened itself as Biafra and broke from the Federation because of violent persecution. Biafra’s most numerous peoples are the Ibos, the so-called “Jews of Africa” because of their formidable intellect and perseverance but also as one historian recently argued, because of an ancient link to the tribes of Israel.

But the stunted potential of the Ibos has been written about in the past. One famous writer, Frederick Forsyth, was so committed to Biafran cause that he wrote one propagandized book on the matter and later published a bestselling novel about mercenaries who conquer a new African country for the Ibos (remember The Dogs of War?).

Nigeria, incensed by the Biafran secession, engaged in a police action which soon transformed into a full blown war, fought not only in part over oil in Biafra, but also over personal ambitions and British interests in policy and investment — reasons which gave the world its first prototypical image of the starving African child, and the combatants the ignominious honor of conducting the first modern war in Africa. It was also a war between two English-trained African armies, internationalized by mercenaries and adventurers, gun-runners, journalists, pilots, aid workers, the clergy and the World Council of Churches, who as the months wore on stepped in to aid the starving and a country.

Biafra Ph-3Biafra Ph-1Biafra Ph-12Biafra Ph-4Biafra Ph-8Biafra Ph-10Biafra Ph-5Biafra Ph-11Biafra Ph-9Biafra Ph-6Biafra Ph-2

Biafra Ph-7Biafra Ph-14Biafra Ph-21Biafra Ph-17Biafra Ph-16Biafra Ph-18

Biafra Ph-18cBiafra Ph-18bBiafra Ph-18dBiafra Ph-18eBiafra Ph-18aBiafra Ph-22

Biafra Ph-23

Biafra Ph-15

Biafra Ph-24

Biafra Ph-20

Biafra Ph-25

Biafra Ph-26Biafra Ph-27Biafra Ph-28Biafra Ph-18f


A Note on the Process: All art was drawn using Adobe Photoshop & Illustrator and are in the guise above for purely illustrative purposes on this site. The map, composed at 1:1,000,000 scale, took about 47 hours of work, spread over 5 days. It survived to see completion despite my working while on a three-day visit to a friend’s house at the other end of the state, in a house packed with overzealous little kids and hyperactive dogs. The version of the map posted is at medium-low resolution. (11-02-2011)

Tintin and The Life of Hergé

Click image to view mid-resolution jpg (1.3 mb) or use the link below for single-page, high-resolution PDF (4 mb)


The Raid – Operation “Neptune’s Spear”

-click image to enlarge-

Okay, everyone has been following this bit of recent news, but facts and logic seem small in comparison to sensationalist hyperbole. Australia’s Herald Sun carries an action movie-style graphic here showing Bin Laden on the roof of his house, defiantly blasting incoming U.S. helicopters with automatic fire. The Daily Express‘ headlines included the now-discounted sub-head of Bin Laden “used wife as human shield,” mimicking disclosures by news-ravenous networks in America. The following is what is actually known:


The helicopters and Navy seals did not take off from an airfield in Pakistan with the blessings of the Pakistani government. They instead departed in secrecy, from Bagram Air Force base in Afghanistan some 158 miles from Abbottabad in the dead of night, and flying low under the radar, reached their objective a little before 1 a.m. on the night of May 1. Because the standard MH-60 Black Hawk has a range of 373 miles on internal tanks we have to assume that this figure is the benchmark for all derivatives – at least in theory – and which would allow the aircraft the cover the distance without refueler support.

At least two of the helicopters were stealth-modified Black Hawks, carrying 12 Navy Seals each. The Army Times contains a convincing narrative of the new helicopter here. With its extra stealth equipment and heavy payload (12 fully-armed troops instead of the standard 11), it is possible that one of the helicopters crashed in part because it was so overloaded.

After the Seals landed, the opening of hostilities was marked by the destruction of the compound wall with explosives. Alarmed, Bin Laden’s courier, the same man who had unknowingly betrayed the location of the stronghold, now appeared from the door of the guesthouse and fired a weapon. He was instantly gunned down. He is possibly the only hostile combatant within the compound who actually managed to open fire on the Seals (a total of 19 people were present in the compound that night, 14 of which were women and children). Bin Laden was seen to look out of a window before ducking back in. The Seals found him in a room on the top floor, unarmed, but within reach of arms. In this era of state-sanctioned executions, nothing can be written off as a moment of callousness in the heat of combat. One sources states that Bin Laden was executed when on his knees; others say that he was shot as he faced the Seals. The photographic evidence which would complete the journalistic picture is still lacking – except for the Italians apparently, who have a photo and a copy of photoshop. (See end of post)

One person was apparently taken into custody after the raid, reported as one of Bin Laden’s sons. For this to be done, and to exfiltrate themselves, the Seals had to call in one of the backup (non-stealth, but infrared suppressor-equipped) Chinooks. Where had this machine been? Loitering nearby?

Bin Laden’s compound was at the center of the army town of Abbottabad. News outlets, parroting other news outlets have stated that the entire property is worth at least a million dollars – reinforcing the legend of a terrorist leader living “high on the hog.” In reality, the Associated Press valued the price of the land at $48,000 when it was purchased in 2005 on Al-Qaida’s behalf. Actual construction of the house and accompanying structures would not have been significantly higher – considering cheap third world labor that every outsourced victim and ex-employee should be familiar with. For instance, study picture below for examples of shoddy brickwork and architecture. Does this really look like a million dollar home?

Source: CBS News Website

Finally, considering Bin Laden’s presence in this active army town, how could his complicity with the Pakistan military possible be disavowed? The falsehoods came easily and apparently without any forethought. Bin Laden’s house is about 2,500 feet (0.47 miles) from the Army College, Pakistan’s equivalent of West Point. This is easily verifiable through Google maps. The Pakistanis instead claim that the distance is 2.4 miles.  On 5 May 2011, the Pakistanis stated that Bin Laden was “strapped for cash in his final days.” How could they know this without knowing something of the man’s business?

And so the story goes on. In the meantime, keep watching the news stands for more scathingly brilliant, completely factual journalism such as the examples below…


UPDATE: The MH-60K Stealth Black Hawk, 11 May 2011

The aircraft’s new tail and other enhancements are a result of mission-specific stealth kits adapted by the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR). According to a classified source, the Black Hawk’s “tail and rotor are the most radar-sensitive areas of the helicopter and the sharply-edged shroud” revealed in photographs (see below) actually helps improve flight performance while reducing the aircraft’s radar signature.

Also, the kit used on the Black Hawks for the Bin laden raid involved “a new stealth-aiding windscreen, the removal of the large refueling probe that extends out from the front of machine,” and possibly the addition of retractable landing gear. The kit is an add-on treatment and not representative of a new stealth Black Hawk built from the ground up. No helicopter can use stealth with an absolute degree of success. The spinning rotors produce enough radar signature to give the game away – presumably why the raiding helicopters stayed low under the Pakistan air defense net to mitigate the limitations of their kit.

(Sources for this brief: Flight International 10-16 May 2011; Doug Richardson, Stealth Warplanes, London: Salamander, 2001.)

The controversial tail. (Source: The NY Times)

Somalia, 3 October 1993

-Click to see higher resolution –

This illustration was created using Google’s SketchUp 8 and Adobe’s Illustrator and Photoshop. I have always been fascinated by the techniques used by the larger newspaper organizations to create some of their art. Matthew Erickson did the original Blackhawk down graphic for the Philadelphia Inquirer to accompany Mark Bowden’s news reports. These days he is the deputy graphics director at The New York Times. His blog can be found at:   – But expect no revelation of secrets, apps used or an explanation of how the NY Times does its art. But he does have a small collection of interesting graphics.

A note on the software:

I discovered SketchUp yesterday and although it is ground breaking for its ability to generate 3D objects, I think it is really clumsy. Simple things that most people take for granted in illustrator (such as holding down the space bar to allow the mouse to move objects), are not easily accessible. I almost gave up in frustration this afternoon trying to build the base image for this picture. Still, SketchUp’s 3D quick rendering beats the painful drawing of multi-sided objects in Adobe Illustrator. I don’t know how Google does it. It’s large staff of engineers obviously have no clue how to make a user-friendly product but they certainly know their stuff.



I decided to include this section for those seeking a little more information on the fiasco that was Somalia.

Parade at UNOSOM HQ at Mogadishu. The Americans, from the 10th Mountain Division, are led by a Pakistani Sergeant of Arms from PAKBAT (Pakistan Battalion).


To the Somalis, American troops might as well have been an army from another planet with their technological superiority. But the Somalis were also quick to realize that this dependence on technology left US Forces open to attack. Consequently, Warlord Mohammed Farrah Aidid ordered his militia to concentrate future attacks against the Blackhawks — accurately perceived as the weakest links in the opposition’s formidable array of military power.  Here, a Marine LCAC-22 hovercraft unloads its cargo in Somalia.



(LEFT) US Marines gather at the airport for protection duties. The armored vehicles in the background are LAV-25s, license-produced from Steyr-Diamler-Puch of Austria. (RIGHT) USMC PFC Anthony Mehia of New Orleans stands guard behind a barricade of sandbags at the US Embassy in Mogadishu. Note the field radio and the fully-loaded M249 5.56mm SAW light machine-gun — a weapon designed and originally made in Belgium.



(LEFT) Reminiscent of activities in the South Pacific during World War II, US Navy Seabeas work at the derelict Mogadishu airport. Here, a motor grader from the Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 40 (based out of Hueneme, CA) works on improving an access road beside the runway. (RIGHT) When a few Somali Technicals mounting 12.7mm Russian DShk heavy machine guns were spotted cruising the streets, locals called in the Marines who promptly arrived with a couple of LAV-25s, one armed with a TOW rocket launcher, to restore law and order. (Photo: USMC)



(LEFT) By 1993, the Somali air force looked like this – it’s entire compliment of aircraft reduced to rusting jets, beyond salvage. This photo is of a duo of Hawker Hunter T.77’s at Baidoa in January 1993. (United Nations) (RIGHT) The Mogadishu airport, busy once again, after it became a center of operations for the UN and Task Force Ranger. (Department of Defense)



Hearts and Minds. (LEFT) A Marine PR officer hands out leaflets to local Somalis. (RIGHT)  A Marine holding a Somali baby waits in turn for US Naval doctors to examine the child.



(LEFT) US Marines move from house to house in search of illegal weapons. The man climbing through the window is armed with some heavy ordnance in the form of an 84mm M136 AT4 anti-tank bazooka — a weapon first designed and manufactured in Sweden. Although the Marines spent their fair share of time in Somalia, attempting to restore peace and thwarting the warring clans, their activities were overshadowed by the operations of Delta Force and the Rangers who arrived much later. Incidentally, one of the US Marines who took part in these early operations was Warlord Mohammed Farrah Aidid’s own US-educated son, Hussein Farrah, who in 1996, took over leadership of the Habr Gadr clan after the death of his father.

(RIGHT) PFC Chris Boone of the 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain stands guard at the Somali village of Belet Uen. (US Army)


Men from the 10th Mountain ride Somali-style through the streets of Kismayu, as part of a convoy composed of Americans and Belgians.



(LEFT) Canadians from No. 3 Commando, Canadian Parachute Regiment walk a patrol at Belet Uen. In the fore is a radioman. His weapon is an American-made M16A2. Faced with repeated thieving at their supply base, a group of irate Canadian paratroopers caught the suspected thief — a Somali, whom they subsequently beat and killed in custody. As news of the death spread, a horrified Canadian government resorted to the radical step of disbanding the entire regiment — a unit which had been in existence since World War II.

(RIGHT) An Italian Bersaglieri infantryman from the elite San Marco Brigade interacts with Somalis at a local feeding station outside Mogadishu. As members of the former colonial power, Italian troops often overlooked or did little to halt acts of Somali crime, which infuriated other members of the UN mission. The trooper is armed with a BM59 7.62mm assault rifle, an Italian modification of the venerable American Garand rifle of WWII.



(LEFT) Members of the 10th Mountain confer with a Pakistani Captain whose troops have suffered an ambush. (US Army) (RIGHT) 10th Mountain troops have an impromptu meeting with Belgian paratroopers (wearing maroon berets). Many in the 10th Mountain were also qualified airborne troops, so they had something in common with the Paras. Here they discuss tactics with the Belgians who had been in-country longer. (US Army)



(LEFT) A 10th Mountain trooper, armed with an M16A2 and M203 grenade launcher attachment patrols a Somali village. (RIGHT) 10th Mountain soldiers unload heavy ammunition at their advanced base at Baidoa while a Belgian Para looks on.



(LEFT) An Australian infantryman watches as a food truck arrives at a feeding station. The trooper is armed with a distinctive, plastic-cased 5.56mm Steyr Aug assault rifle (another import from Austria). (Right) A view from the Ranger-occupied section of the airfield, looking out at the dispersal.


A Blackhawk prepares to dust-off. Most in-country Blackhawks were equipped with the External Stores Support System (ESSS), allowing them to carry extra fuel (as in this case) or rockets. (US Army)



(LEFT) A US Marine Patrol travels through the bullet-scarred streets of Mogadishu. (RIGHT) A 10th Mountain security patrol takes a breather in the Somali bush. The radio operator carries his equipment in an olive-drab Alice Pack, whose uncomfortable original strapping which must have played havoc with his patience. (US Army)



(LEFT) Marines wait by the rear entrance of their AAV “Amtrack,” anxious at the noise of gunfire crackling in a nearby neighborhood. (RIGHT) Ranger Keni Thomas flashes a broad smile for the camera.  Keni, one of the combatants in the Battle of Mogadishu (or the “Day of the Rangers” as it is known in Somalia) later made prominent appearances in PBS Frontline and History Channel documentaries on the battle.



(LEFT) The US Embassy at Mogadishu, abandoned during the Somali Civil War that toppled the Somali Dictator, Siad Barre, but later reclaimed by the American contingent of the United Nations. Here, tents of the Quick Reaction Force (QRF), primarily comprising the 2nd Bn, 14th Infantry of the 10th Mountain Division, appear within the embassy compound. Although the building itself was badly gutted, the compound and the area beyond the embassy formed the core of QRF headquarters. (Department of Defense)

(RIGHT) The scarred, hollowed-out remains of the Villa Somalia, home to Somali dictator, Siyad Barre, during his regime. When Barre was driven out of Mogadishu in January 1991, rebel troops ransacked the hilltop villa, discovering extensive surveillance footage and miles of magnetic tape recordings of telephone conversations. (Department of Defense)


Members of Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 75th Rangers pose for the camera in Somalia. (Department of Defense)



(LEFT) The Olympic Hotel, across the street from the target building. (Department of Defense) (RIGHT) The only picture snapped during the October 3rd battle was this image, showing Captain Steele’s column under attack.  (US Army)



Michael Durant’s Super 6-4. (LEFT) Durant (far right) with his crew. (RIGHT) The wreck of Super 6-4. (Both photos: Department of Defense)



(LEFT) A freed Michael Durant is carried by stretcher to an aircraft destined for Landstuhl, Germany. The two men gripping the far side of the stretcher are Delta Force operators. Malnourished and desperate for familiar food, Durant promptly ordered a large Pepperoni pizza with extra cheese while still en-route.  The pizza appeared after he landed, hand delivered by US Air Force crewmen who also picked up the tab — unfortunately the doctors forbade Durant from tasting a single slice, owing to his liquid diet.

At the hospital, Durant was reunited with his family and treated for his injuries (including a fractured right cheek, a broken thigh, a shrapnel wound to his arm and a compression fracture of the lower vertebrae).  (Department of Defense)

(RIGHT) Ranger survivors of the Battle for Mogadishu gather in memory of their lost comrades on October 5th. (Department of Defense)



(LEFT) Aerial reconnaissance photograph of Mogadishu, on the day of the raid, 3 October 1993. (Department of Defense) (RIGHT) A United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) map of Mogadishu. Although this map is from 2007, it shows the location of the Olympic Hotel and other important landmarks. (Note — File size is 3.8 mbs) (UNHCR)


Early Maps – The Second World War

A collection of my early map-making attempts, circa 2001/2002. Looking back on them now, I can say that my methods and style were so juvenile that some of the items below are actually embarrassing — but I put them up here because the information in them might be useful to someone. In any case, I did learn some valuable lessons in cartography. Probably fair to say that the learning process always continues. In order: from first attempts to later examples.

– Click images for bigger picture –

Aircraft Profiles

Aircraft Profiles from World War II | PDF | 47 Pages | 8 Megabytes

A collection of aircraft and naval digital artwork that I have done over the years, mostly to see whether I could, but a few are for as-of-yet incomplete books. Each piece is accompanied by a short history detailing the exploits of the pilot or the aircraft itself.

Aircraft Profiles (Right click to save)


Uncategorized Drawings

The Bathyscaphe TriesteThe deep sea submarine was designed by the Swiss scientist Auguste Piccard. On 23 January 1960 Jacques Piccard (on far side, Auguste’s son) and U.S. Navy Lt. Don Walsh, used it to explore the Marianas trench and the Challenger Deep, where they noted that small flounder and other marine animals existed, proving that life could persist at such crushing depths of the ocean. The ascent back to the surface took over three hours.


The Sow LimousineThis drawing was for a friend’s book. The (true) story is a quintessentially Texas one in which a man buys and puts in the back seat of his sparkling 1950’s Chevrolet, only to have the pig mess up back seat and wind up on the man’s lap on the drive home.



The daughter of a friend.


Reenacting old gloryA Civial war re-enactor hitches a ride through a long gone battlefield, now occupied by modern America.


L Detachment, 2nd Special Air Service Group, North Africa, 1942

Drawn from a reasonably famous photograph of a group of Special Air Service (SAS) raiders in North Africa (L Detachment), the men are identified as (from right): Lt. Edward McDonald, Corporal William “Bill” Kennedy, unknown and Private Frederick Briar.


The Tholos

All that remains of the Tholos of Delphi today are three Corinthian pillars. Originally dedicated to the worship of an Earth Goddess, the temple was eventually supposedly occupied by Olympian deities, especially Athena. The temple, built in the early 4th century BC had an unusual circular shape. This shape and the leaf-adorned capitals of its Corinthian columns are representations of the sacred forest groves of Gaia. Vitruivius Pollio, a 1 Century B.C. Roman writer contends that Theodorus the Phocian was the architect of the structure, although others dispute this.


The Villa Farnese

An extravagant mansion in the town of Capriola, the Villa Farnese took almost a decade and a half to come into being. It consumed the life of its architect, Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola, who worked on it until his death in 1573. The design officially falls into the short-lived “mannerism” style. This fashion was supplanted by the Baroque style after 1580. Today the place is officially the home of the President of the the Italian Republic, but in reality, it is empty and open to the public.

Aviation Art

Major Gunther Rall attacked by American P-47 Thunderbolts

A veteran of the Eastern Front, Gunther Rall was moved west in 1944 to face Anglo-American airpower. On 12 May, a flight of three Thunderbolts jumped his Me109 as he flew a patrol over Germany. In a dazzling display of aerobatics, he shot down two, including the ace commander of the U.S. 56th Fighter Group, “Hub” Zemke, but when more Thunderbolts appeared, he found himself in the fight of his life. After a bullet severed his thumb, Rall unbuckled his seat belt and bailed out. He never returned to combat again. German high command was fearful that his death in battle would have a debilitating effect on morale.

In February 1945, just months before the war ended, he took command of a new fighter wing but spent the bulk of his energy in attempting to spare his pilots from needless operations. Despite his absence from the aerial battleground for nearly a year, he ended the war as the No. 3 ace in the Luftwaffe, with 275 enemy planes downed in combat (only five kills were needed to become an ace).

He served with the post-war Luftwaffe der Bundeswehr, eventually reaching the rank of general. He died on 4 October 2009.

Gunther RallA jovial man, Rall frequently appeared on Discovery Channel’s aircraft shows in his later years. (Photo: Bundesarchiv)


Hornet Launch

An SBD Dauntless prepares to takeoff from the USS Hornet in the Pacific.


British Aerospace Harrier Mk. II

The Gee Bee and the Goblin


These illustrations were created in 2001 for an unfinished book on the RAF. The style is a little embarrassing now, but it was impressive to me then, a neophyte to the technological world, enthralled at what could be managed on computers.