In June 1944 Colonel Don Blakeslee, leader of the famed Fourth Fighter Group, finally learned that his P-51 Mustangs were to escort B-17 Flying Fortresses from Debden, England, across Europe to the Soviet Union. The bombers would then fly to Italy, bombing an oil refinery on the way. They would be accompanied by Blakeslee's fighters as far as the Yugoslav coast where P-51's from the Fifteenth Air Force, based in Italy, would take over. Again escorted by the Fourth, the B-17's would make their way home to England, bombing railroad yards in France en route. The operational diary of Blakeslee's Group shows that the entire Shuttle mission covered 6000 miles, 10 countries and 29 1/4 hours of operational flying for 10 destroyed and 7 lost. After briefing his fighter pilots, Blakeslee said: "This whole thing is for show." Indeed, it showed a lot: it showed that no target in Germany was safe from air attack; that Allied air supremacy was complete; that the end of the war in Europe was in sight!
Gil Cohen's powerful painting captures the historic scene at Piryatin airfield as Blakeslee is greeted by his Russian hosts. We see him pointing to his watch to indicate that he has landed 'on time to the minute' after his long flight of seven and a half hours across hostile Europe. Whilst the young woman welcomes Don with her simple bouquet of flowers, suspicion and wariness can be seen on the faces of the others present signaling the decades of Cold War to come between the two Superpowers.