Dal Russel flying a Hurricane painted to look like a Messerschmitt for
the 1941 James Cagney movie "Captains Of The Clouds"
'Nazi Fighter' Stunned Halifax
On a visit to Ottawa I read the story by Christopher Harris on Jimmy
Cagney and the filming of Captains of the Clouds. That brought back many
memories and the most important of these was that it was only half the
I was a flight commander in No. 11 Bomber Rcce. Squadron, stationed at
RCAF Station, Dartmouth, N.S., flying Hudson bombers on antisubmarine
patrol over the Atlantic. We heard rumors that a movie was being filmed
"back in Canada" on the air force and that Jimmy Cagney was
the star, but thought no more about it.
It came as a surprise, therefore, to be called into the squadron commander's
office and told that I had been selected to do Jimmy Cagney's flying as
the lead pilot, delivering a Hudson bomber formation across the ocean
to the United Kingdom.
I was told that Jimmy Cagney and others would stay in Ottawa and the interior
aircraft scenes would be shot in a dummy aircraft mockup, safely back
at the studio in California. Our job was to simulate the Atlantic crossing
of five Hudson bombers and experience a German fighter attack, when the
script told us we were near the British coast.
That German fighter was made up at Dartmouth Station, using a Hawker Hurricane
from No. 1 Fighter Squadron. The Hurricane was repainted to resemble a
ME 109 Luftwaffe fighter and the pilot, if my memory serves me correctly,
was Flying Officer "Dal" Russel, from Montreal. The black crosses
on the wings and Nazi swastika on the tail looked surprisingly real.
On checking my log book I found two entries that read "Atlantic film
shooting" on the 18th and 19th of September, 1941. The log book also
revealed that my so-called copilot on these days was a Mr. Batt. Mr. Batt
was one of the directors of the film and his job was to tell me what to
The shooting on the 18th and 19th involved flying over long distances
off the coast - to be out of sight of land. The weather was kind and we
were spared excessive instrument flying. The shooting sequences, however,
meant a great deal of aircraft positioning, because of sun angles, ocean
and cloud backdrops and so forth. The camera aircraft was over the sky
for hours and it was quite fatiguing.
Our friends such as Mr. Batt, who flew with us, were horrified to learn,
once we were airborne, that we were fully armed with loaded guns and anti-submarine
depth charges. This was necessary so that if any anti-submarine incident
occurred we could stop the movie work and go "operational" immediately.
None of the film people liked that and they were nervous as cats on every
take-off and landing.
Towards the end of the second day we were ready for the "grand finale"
of the film. That was when "Dal" Russel in his mock ME 109 was
to carry out a successful attack on me when I was, in theory, about to
lead our formation to safety across the British coast. Dal did a beautiful
attack sequence, I feigned the damage and dropped away in full rich mixture
to supposedly crash, smoking, into the sea below.
And that was the end of shooting Captains of the Cloud. But there was
one more incident, which we heard about after landing at Dartmouth. Dal
apparently felt so good about shooting me down that, before he landed
at Dartmouth, he flew very low up Barrington Street, the main artery of
Halifax. He almost started a panic among the citizens. They couldn't believe
their eyes when they saw black crosses flying right over their rooftops!
We all had a good chuckle, even though Dal probably got a good verbal
"thrashing" from his squadron commander — Squadron Leader
Hartland Molson — now Sen. Molson.
After we were back on the Dartmouth tarmac, with our very relieved film
crews, there were handshakes all around and I suddenly felt some paper
in my hand. I looked at it discreetly and saw two crumpled $20 bills —
a lot of money in those days. This sort of thing, of course, was strictly
against the rules but by that time the film boys had gone. I discussed
the problem with my wife that evening and she had no qualms whatsoever.
She said, "Give it to me — that will help pay for a new baby
carriage, which we are going to need — surprise!" Then I was
speechless. On looking back, I am sure Jimmy Cagney would have approved.
A. P. Martin
Air Vice Marshal RCAF (ret'd)