58 - Westland Lysander

The army co-op aircraft which became the famous SOE’s “Spy-Taxi”

The legendary “Lizzie”

a diorama by Bjørn Jacobsen

Westland Lysander

Design work on the Lysander began in 1935, as an army

and observation aircraft to replace the Hawker Hector.

It first flew on June 15th, 1936, and entered service with

he Royal Air Force in May 1938.

When the WWII started and British troops were sent to

mainland Europe, the Lysander followed as an army

co-op and observation aircraft.

The Germans army, however, were supported by swarms

of the formidable fighter, the Bf 109 and the Lysander

squadrons suffered badly.

Of 174 Lysanders sent to France, 88 were lost in aerial

combat and 30 were destroyed on the ground. 120 crewmen

were lost. Only 50 aircraft survived to return to Britain.

It was obvious that the Lysander, nicknamed “Lizzie” was

a failure in its primary role – at least on a battlefield where

the enemy had air supremacy.

The skies over France and Belgium in May and June 1940

were simply too dangerous for the large and slow Lysander and the idea of using the Lysander in an army co-op role was quickly abandoned.

In Egypt, on the other hand, were the opponent was the Italian Air Force, the Lysander was rather successful in the original army cooperation role

The Lysander also saw service in Burma and India.

During the war, the Lysander was used in a variety of roles in different parts of the world, including observation, ground attack, and transport. Over 1,300 were built by the end of its production run, and they remained in service until 1946.

The majority of Lysander squadrons were actually formed after the fall of France, performing vital air-sea rescue duties.

Its low speed allowed it to drop dinghies and supplies close to downed aircrew.

In Europe, the Lysander was best known for transporting spies and resistance fighters behind enemy lines in France, a role it performed well due to its extraordinarily STOL capabilities.

Lizzie is most famous for its work with the

Operations Executive (SOE).

Two squadrons were formed to support the

SOE, No. 138 and No. 161 squadron.

The Lysander, with its superb short take-off

and landing capacities, was used whenever

someone needed to be extracted from

occupied France, operating in and out of

unprepared fields, pastures, and forest

clearings in the dark of night to pick-up

secret agents and saboteurs from


Between August 1941and the end of 1944

when the fighting had moved out of France the Lysanders made at least 400 sorties into occupied countries.

The SOE squadrons took 293 people into France and retrieved 500.


To give it the long range it needed, the aircraft had to be lightened by removing all unnecessary equipment such as guns, armour protection and excess radio equipment, retaining only the radio-telephone for communication with the ground.

The pilot had to find his way by map, reading

light, and the glow of a full moon.

A small field or a clearing in the woods would

be sufficient for the Lizzie.

Landing strips were marked out by four or

five torches, hastily lit and doused as needed.

In order to slip in unobtrusively, the Lysanders

were painted matte black.

These Lysanders were fitted with a fixed

ladder over the port side to provide quick

access to the rear cockpit and a large fuel tank under the belly.

They were designed to carry one passenger in the rear cockpit, but for SOE use the rear cockpit was modified to carry two passengers.

In extreme situations, they could squeeze in three passengers – very uncomfortable – but it got’em back to safety.

Building the model and the diorama:

The “Lizzie” I am building is the Lysander Mk III SCW (Special Contract Westland) which was the special version for clandestine operations.

No armament, long-range 150-gallon external fuel tank and a fixed external ladder.

The kit is the 1/48 from Eduard.

Easy to build and even easier to paint: all black.

The model was painted by hand (no airbrush).

The figures were something I found in my scrapping box.

The Propeller

I needed the propeller to rotate and had to use the brass rod / brass tube method where the “propeller shaft” runs in a brass tube and everything lubricated with dry graphite lubricant.

With this method, the propeller will spin with the slightest wind (I used a hair dryer)

The Base

As a base for the diorama, I used an old one I had made for a tank diorama.

I made a new background by painting a dark sky and some backdrop of tree silhouettes.

All painted in acryl colours

The Westland Lysander SOE-Plane

..and now, I let the diorama and the pictures tell the story of

“Lizzie” and the brave RAF pilots flying to France at night, delivering SOE-agents and extracting resistant fighters

from Nazi occupation.

Preparing for the night’s flight into enemy territory

Flying low over France without armament or radio and only a roadmap to find their way to the secret destination

… a clearing in the woods – and torches  - yes, we found you!

Exchange of SOE operatives and saboteurs

Take-off as quickly as possible – and back to Britain

The diorama 65 x 65 cm (26 x 26 inches)

I know many want to know how the different backgrounds in the pictures are done.

Most of the backgrounds for the aircraft in flight are done by pasting (by the help of a photo editing program) a picture of the model on a suitable background (i.e. another picture). 

I also used this technique to have a more suitable sky for the aircraft standing on the British airfield.

Here are two examples:

I hope you enjoyed this website!

Thank you for visiting!


Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have questions or comments




Bjørn Jacobsen

February 2017