Johnnie Johnson (RAF officer)
|James Edgar "Johnnie" Johnson
CB CBE DSO** DFC*
9 March 1915|
Barrow upon Soar, Leicestershire, England
|Died||30 January 2001
|Service/branch||Royal Air Force|
|Years of service||1939–1966|
|Rank||Air Vice Marshal|
|Commands held||No. 144 Wing RAF|
Air Vice Marshal James Edgar "Johnnie" Johnson CB CBE DSO** DFC* (9 March 1915 – 30 January 2001) was a Royal Air Force (RAF) pilot and flying ace—defined as a pilot that has shot down five or more enemy aircraft in aerial combat—who flew and fought during the Second World War.
Born in 1915, Johnson grew up and was educated in the East Midlands where he qualified as an engineer. A keen outdoor enthusiast, Johnson shot and played sports. During the course of these pursuits, he sustained a collar bone injury that later complicated his ambitions of becoming a fighter pilot. Johnson had been interested in aviation since his youth and applied to join the RAF. He was initially rejected by the RAF on medical grounds, but after the outbreak of war on 3 September 1939, with the need for pilots in RAF Fighter Command being urgent, Johnson was accepted.
Johnson's injury problems, however, had resurfaced during his early training and flying career, resulting in him not participating in the battles in the Netherlands, Belgium, France and the Battle of Britain. In 1941 Johnson began flying regularly and took part in the offensive sweeps over occupied Europe from 1941 to 1944. Johnson was involved in heavy aerial fighting during this period. His combat tour included the Battle of Normandy, Operation Market Garden and the Battle of the Bulge.
Johnson was credited 34 individual victories over enemy aircraft, as well as seven shared victories, three shared probables, 10 damaged, three shared damaged and one destroyed on the ground. Johnson flew 700 operational sorties and engaged enemy aircraft on 57 occasions. Included in his list of individual victories were 14 Messerschmitt Bf 109s and 20 Focke-Wulf Fw 190s destroyed making him the most successful RAF ace against the Fw 190. This score made him the highest scoring Western Allied fighter ace against the German Luftwaffe. Only Marmaduke Pattle claimed more victories—around 50—but over half of his claims were made against the Italian Regia Aeronautica (Italian Royal Air Force).
- 1 Early years
- 2 RAF career
- 3 Second World War
- 4 List of air victories
- 5 Postwar
- 6 References
- 7 External links
Johnson was born in Barrow upon Soar, Leicestershire, England, the son of local policeman Alfred Johnson and Beatrice May Johnson. Johnson was close to his uncle, Charlie Rosswell, who had won the Military Cross with the Royal Fusiliers in the Great War. His uncle’s stories inspired his nephew to seek adventure. Seeing the potential in Johnnie, Charlie paid for his education at Loughborough Grammar School. According to his brother Ross, during his time there, Johnson was always getting into mischief. He was nearly expelled after refusing punishment for a misdemeanour, believing it to be unjustified: "he was very principled and simply dug his heels in".
Among Johnson's other hobbies and interests was shooting and sports. He would shoot rabbits and birds in the local countryside. Johnson continued to play rugby in his spare time as well. In 1938 Johnson sustained a broken collar bone playing for Chingford Rugby Club. Johnson was treated but later found out the wound had been wrongly set and thus did not heal properly which would cause him difficulty.
Soon afterward, Johnson attended University of Nottingham, where he qualified as a civil engineer, aged 22. Johnson became an surveyor at Melton Mowbray Urban District Council before progressing to assistant engineer with Chigwell Urban District Council at Loughton.
Keen to follow up his interest in aviation, Johnson started taking flying lessons at his own expense. He applied to join the Auxiliary Air Force (AAF) but encountered some of the social problems that were rife in British society at the time. Johnson strongly felt he was rejected on the grounds of his class status. Johnson's fortunes were to improve. As the chances of war increased in the aftermath of the Munich Crisis, the standards of the RAF were relaxed, however, as the service expanded and brought in men from ordinary social backgrounds. Johnson re-applied to the AAF. He was curtly informed that sufficient pilots were already available but there were some vacancies in the balloon squadrons. Johnson rejected the offer.
Inspired by some Chingford friends that had joined, Johnson applied again to join the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (RAFVR). He was rejected on the grounds that there were too many applicants for vacancies and his injury made him unsuitable for flight operations. He then joined the Leicestershire Yeomanry, where the injury was not a bar to recruitment. He joined the Territorial Army unit because, though he was in a reserved occupation, if war came, he had "no intention of seeing out the duration building air raid shelters or supervising decontamination squads". Soon afterward, Johnson received a letter from the RAFVR, offering him a post in the organisation, which he accepted.
In August 1939, Johnson was called up. Taught by retired service pilots of 21 Elementary & Reserve Flying Training School, Johnson trained on the de Havilland Tiger Moth biplane. Upon the outbreak of war in September 1939, with the rank of Sergeant and serial number 754750, Johnson entrained for Cambridge. He arrived at the 2nd Initial Training Wing to begin flight instruction. He was interviewed by senior officers in which he said his profession would make him more useful in a reconnaissance role. The Wing Commander agreed, but nonetheless, Johnson was selected for fighter pilot training.
By December 1939, Johnson began his initial training at 22 EFTS (Elementary Flying Training School), Cambridge. He flew only three times in December 1939 and eight in January 1940, all as second pilot. On 29 February 1940, Johnson flew solo for the first time in Tiger Moth N6635. On 15 March and 24 April, his passed a 50-minute flight test. The Chief Flying Instructor passed him on 6 May. He then moved to 5 FTS at Sealand before completing training at 7 OTU (Operational Training Unit) – RAF Hawarden in Wales flying the Miles Master N7454 where he earned his instrument, navigation, night-flying ratings and practised forced landings. After training was complete on 7 August 1940, Johnson received his "wings" and was immediately inducted into the General Duties Branch of the RAF as a Pilot Officer with 55 hours and 5 minutes solo flying.
Flying the Spitfire
0n 19 August 1940, Johnson flew a Spitfire for the first time. The flight lasted an hour. Over the next weeks he practised handling, formation flying, attacks, battle climbs, aerobatics and dogfighting. During his training flights, he stalled and crashed a Spitfire. Johnson had his harness straps on too loose, and wrenched his shoulders – revealing that his earlier rugby injury had not healed properly. The Spitfire did a ground loop, ripping off one of the undercarriage legs and forcing the other up through the port mainplane. The Commanding Officer excused Johnson, for the "short airfield" was difficult to land on for an inexperienced pilot. Johnson got the impression, however, that he would be watched closely, and felt that if he made another mistake, he would be "certainly washed out". Johnson tried to pack the injured shoulder with wool, held in place by adhesive tape. He also tightened the straps to reduce vibrations. Johnson found he had lost his "feel" in his right hand, and it became numb. When he practised dives, the pressure also aggravated his shoulder. He often tried to fly using his left hand only, but the Spitfire would have to be handled with both hands during anything other than simple manoeuvres. Despite the difficulties with his injuries, on 28 August 1940, the course was complete. Johnson had 205.25 hours on operational types including 23.50 on the Spitfire.
Operational with 19 Squadron
After training, he posted to No. 19 Squadron as a probationary Pilot Officer in the following August, though he was soon transferred to 616 Squadron at RAF Coltishall. Johnson was conscious of his inexperience. The Battle of Britain was now at its height and he was keen to gain any knowledge he could in combat. With little to do Johnson breakfasted at RAF Duxford before driving over to the satellite airfields where 19 Squadron was based. There Johnson would hang around all day listening to pilots talk about their fights, talking to the ground crews and anyone else who would listen to gain useful combat tips.
Johnson did not remain long. He was posted to 616 Squadron on 6 September which had suffered heavy losses and was experiencing low morale. Now commanded by Squadron Leader H.L "Billy" Burton, Johnson was taken by his new CO on a 50-minute training flight in X4055. After the flight Burton impressed upon Johnson the difficulties of deflection shooting and the technique of a killing shot from line-astern or near line-astern positions; the duty of the number two whose job was not to shoot down enemy aircraft but to ensure the leader's tail was safe. Burton also directed Johnson to some critical tactical essentials; the importance of keeping good battle formation and the tactical use of sun, cloud and height.
Five days later, Johnson flew an X-Raid patrol in Spitfire X4330, qualifying for the Battle of Britain Bar. Three days later, on 14 September 1940, Johnson first encountered Douglas Bader. An invasion alert had been given and the airmen called to their airfields immediately. The mess and dispersal rooms were tense. Bader walked in asked what the fuss was about.
There was a moment's silence whilst he digested the news. "So the bastards are coming. Bloody good show! Think of all those targets on those nice flat beaches. What shooting!" The effect was immediate and extraordinary. Officers went about their various tasks and the complicated machinery of the airfield began to function smoothly again. The incident left me with a profound impression of the qualities of leadership displayed in a moment of tension by the assertive Squadron Leader. It was my first encounter with the already legendary Douglas Bader.
Johnson's old injury continued to trouble him and he found flying high performance aircraft like the Spitfire extremely painful. RAF medics gave him two options; he could have an operation that would correct the problem, but this meant he would miss the Battle of Britain, or becoming a training instructor flying the light Tiger Moth. Johnson opted for the operation. He had hoped for discreet treatment, but word soon reached the CO, and Johnson was taken off flying duties and sent to the RAF Hospital at Rauceby. He did not return to the squadron until 28 December 1940. CO Burton took Johnson up for a test flight on 31 December 1940 in Miles Magister L8151. After the 45-minute flight, Johnson's fitness to fly was approved.
Second World War
616 Squadron and the Tangmere Wing
Johnson returned to operational flying in early 1941 in 616 Squadron, which was forming part of the Tangmere Wing. Johnson often found himself flying alongside Wing Commander Douglas Bader. On 15 January 1941, Johnson, the recently appointed Squadron Leader Burton and Pilot Officer Hugh Dundas, who arrived back at the Squadron on 13 September 1940, took off to offer cover for a convoy off North Coates. The controller vectored the pair onto an enemy aircraft, a Dornier Do 17. Both attacked the bomber and lost sight of it and each other. Although the controllers had intercepted distress signals from the bomber Johnson did not see it crash. They were credited with one enemy aircraft damaged. It was the only time Johnson was to engage a German bomber. By the end of January, Johnson had added another 16.35 flying hours on Spitfires.
In the opening months, Johnson flew as a night fighter pilot. Using day fighters to act as night fighters without radar was largely unsuccessful in intercepting German bombers during The Blitz, Johnson's only action occurred on 22 February 1941 when he damaged a Messerschmitt Bf 110 in Spitfire R6611, QJ-F. A week later, Johnson's squadron was moved to RAF Tangmere on the Channel coast.
Johnson was eager to see combat after just 10.40 operational hours and welcomed the prospect of meeting the enemy from Tangmere. If the Germans did not resume their assault the Wing was to take the fight to them.
Johnson's first contact with enemy fighters did not go as planned. Bader undertook a patrol with Dundas as his number two. Johnson followed in his section as number three with "Nip" Nepple guarding his tail as Red Four. Johnson spotted three Bf 109s a few hundred feet higher and travelling in the same direction. Johnson, forgetting to calmly report the number, type and position of the enemy, shouted, "Look out Dogsbody!" (Bader's call sign). Such a call was only to be used if the pilot in question was in imminent danger of being "bounced". The Section broke in all directions and headed to Tangmere singly. The mistake brought an embarrassing rebuke from Bader at the debriefing.
Johnson flew various operations over France including the 'Rhubarb' ground attack missions which Johnson hated—he considered it a waste of pilots. Several aces, including Paddy Finucane and Eric Lock were killed and Robert Stanford Tuck would be captured carrying out these sweeps. During this time, Dundas and other pilots expressed dissatisfaction with the formation tactics being used. After a long conversation into the early hours, Bader accepted the suggestions by his senior pilots and agreed to the use of more flexible tactics to lessen the chances of being taken by surprise, or "bounced". The tactical changes involved operating overlapping line-a-breast formations similar to the German Finger-four formation. The tactics were used thereafter by RAF pilots in the Wing.
The first use of these tactics by the Tangmere Wing was used on 6 May 1941. The Wing engaged Bf 109Fs from Jagdgeschwader 51 (Fighter Wing 51), led by Werner Mölders. Noticing the approaching Germans below and behind them, the Spitfires feigned ignorance. Waiting for the optimum moment to turn the tables, Bader called for them to break, and whip around behind the Bf 109s. Unfortunately, while the tactic had been successful in avoiding a surprise attack, the break was mistimed. It left some Bf 109s still behind the Spitfires. In the battle that followed the Wing shot down one Bf 109 and damaged another, although Dundas was shot down for the second time in his career—and once again by Mölders, who had remained behind the British. Dundas was able to nurse his crippled fighter back to base and crash-land.
Spitfire ace status
One month later, Johnson gained his first air victory. On 26 June Johnson participated in Circus 24. Crossing the coast near Gravelines, Bader warned of 24 Bf 109s nearby, southeast, in front of the Wing. The Bf 109s saw the British and turned to attack the lower No. 610 Squadron from the rear. While watching three Bf 109s above him dive to port, Johnson lost sight of his wing commander at 15,000 feet. Immediately a Bf 109E flew in front of him and turned slightly to port at a range of 150 yards. After receiving hits, the Bf 109's hood was jettisoned and the pilot baled out. Several No. 145 Squadron pilots witnessed the victory. He had expended 278 rounds from P7837's guns. The Bf 109 was one of five lost by Jagdgeschwader 2 (Fighter Wing 2) that day.
A flurry of action followed. On 1 July 1941 he expended 89 rounds and damaged Bf 109E. Bader's section was attacked and Johnson out-turned his assailant. Firing, he saw glycol streaming behind it. On 14 July, the Tangmere Wing flew on Circus 48 to St Omer. Losing sight of the squadron, Johnson and his wingman proceeded inland at 3,000 feet after spotting three aircraft. Turning in behind them, he identified them as Bf 109Fs. Johnson dived so as to come up and underneath into the enemy's blind spot. Closing to 15 yards, he gave the trailing Bf 109 a two-second burst. The tail was blown off and his windshield was covered in oil from the Messerschmitt. Johnson saw the other Bf 109s spinning down out of control. Having also lost his wingman, Johnson disengaged. Climbing and crossing the coast at Etaples, Johnson bounced a Bf 109E. Giving chase in a dive to 2,000 feet and firing at 150 yards, he observed something flying off the Bf 109's starboard wing. Johnson could not see any more owing to the oil-covered windscreen and did not make a claim. His second victory was probably Unteroffizier (Corporal) R. Klienike, III./Jagdgeschwader 26 (Third Group, Fighter Wing 26) who was posted missing.
On 21 July, Johnson shared in the destruction another Bf 109 with Pilot Officer Hepple. Johnson's wingman disappeared during the battle. Sergeant Mabbet was mortally wounded but made a wheels-up landing near St Omer. So impressed with his skilful flying while badly wounded, the Germans buried him with full honours. On 23 July, Johnson damaged another Bf 109. During this battle Adolf Galland, Geschwaderkommodore (Wing Commander) of Jagdgeschwader 26 (Fighter Wing 26) was wounded; his life was saved by a recently installed armour plate behind his head.
Johnson took part in the 9 August 1941 mission in which Bader was lost over France. During the sortie, he destroyed a solitary Messerschmitt Bf 109. Johnson flew as number wingman to Dundas in Bader's section. As the Wing crossed the coast, around 70 Bf 109s were reported in the area which outnumbered Bader's Wing by 3:1. Spotting a group of Bf 109s 1,000 feet below them, Bader led a bounce on a lower group. The formations fell apart and the air battle become a mass of twisting aircraft;
It seemed to me the biggest danger was a collision rather than being shot down, that's how close we all were. We got the 109s we were bouncing then (Squadron Leader) Holden came down with his section, so there were a lot of aeroplanes ... just 50 yards apart. It was awful ... all you could think about was surviving, getting out of that mass of aircraft.
Johnson exited the mass of aircraft and was immediately attacked by three Bf 109s. The closest was 100 yards away. Maintaining a steep, tight, spiralling turn, he dived into cloud and immediately headed for Dover. Coming out of the cloud, Johnson saw a lone Bf 109. Suspecting it to be one of the three that had chased him, he searched for the other two. Seeing nothing, Johnson attacked and shot it down. It was his fourth victory. Johnson ended his month's tally by adding a probable victory on 21 August. But it had been a bad day and month for the Wing. The much loathed Circus and Rhubarb raids had cost Fighter Command 108 fighters. The Germans lost just 18. On 4 September 1941 Johnson was promoted to Flight Lieutenant and awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC).
Johnson's last certain victories of the year were achieved on 21 September 1941. Escorting Bristol Blenheims to Gosnay, the top cover wings failed to rendezvous with the bombers. Near Le Touquet at 15:15 and around 20,000 feet, Johnson's section was bounded by 30 Bf 109s. Johnson broke and turned in and behind a Bf 109F. Approaching from a quarter astern and slightly below, Johnson fired closing from 200 to 70 yards. Pilot Officer Smith of Johnson's section observed the pilot bail out. Pursued by several enemy aircraft, Johnson dived to ground level. About 10 miles off Le Touquet, other Bf 109s attacked. Allowing the Germans to close within range, Johnson turned into a steep left-hand turn. It took him onto the tail of a Bf 109. Johnson fired and broke away at 50 yards. The Bf 109 was hit, stalled and crashed into the sea. Johnson was pursued until 10 miles south of Dover. The two victories made Johnson's total to six destroyed, which now meant he was an official flying ace. In winter 1941, Johnson and 616 Squadron moved to training duties. The odd convoy patrol was flown but it was an idle period for the Squadron which had now concluded its "Tangmere tour".
Squadron Leader No. 610 Squadron
On 31 January 1942, the Squadron moved to RAF Kings Cliffe. After an uneventful few months, RAF Fighter Command resumed its offensive policy in April 1942 when the weather cleared for large-scale operations. Johnnie flew seven sweeps that month. But the situation had now changed. The Spitfire V, which was flown by the RAF had been a match for the Bf 109F, however, the Germans had introduced an new fighter: the Focke-Wulf Fw 190. It was faster at all altitudes below 25,000 feet, possessed a faster roll rate, was more heavily armed and could out-dive and out-climb the Spitfire. Only in the turn could the Spitfire outperform the Fw 190. The introduction of this new enemy fighter resulted in heavier casualty rates among the Spitfire squadrons until a new mark of Spitfire could be produced. Johnson claimed a damaged Fw 190 on 15 April 1942 but he witnessed the Fw 190s get the better of the British pilots consistently throughout most of 1942:
Yes, the 190 was causing us real problems at this time. We could out-turn it, but you couldn't turn all day. As the number of 190s increased, so the depth of our penetrations deceased. They drove us back to the coast really.
On 25 May, Johnson experienced an unusual mission. His section engaged a Dornier Do 217 carrying British markings, four miles west of his base. Johnson allowed the three inexperienced pilots to attack it, but they only managed to damage the bomber. Days later, on 26 June 1942, Johnson was awarded the bar to his DFC. More welcome news was received late in the month as the first Spitfire Mk. IXs began reaching RAF units. On 10 July 1942, Johnson was promoted to the rank of Squadron Leader, effective as of the 13 July, and given command of 610 Squadron.
In Rhubarbs over France, Johnson's Wing Commander, Patrick Jameson, insisted that the line-astern formation be used which caused Johnson to question why tactics such as the finger-four had not been universally adopted. Johnson criticised the lack of tactical consistency and when his squadron flew top cover, he often changed to the finger-four as soon as they reached the French coast, hoping his Wing Leader wouldn't notice.
By August 1942, preparations were begun for a major operation, Jubilee, at Dieppe. The Dieppe raid took place on 19 August 1942. Johnson took off at 07:40 in Spitfire VB. EP254, DW-B. Running into around 50 Bf 109s and Fw 190s in fours, pairs and singly. In a climbing attack Johnson shot down one Fw 190 which crashed into the sea and shared in the destruction of a Bf 109F. While heading back to base, Johnson attacked an alert Fw 190 which met his attack head on. The dogfight descended from 8,000 to zero feet. Flying over Dieppe, Johnson dived towards a destroyer in the hope its fire would drive off the Fw 190, now on his tail. The move worked and Johnson landed back at RAF West Malling at 09:20.
For the remainder of the year, the Squadron was moved to RAF Castletown in September 1942 to protect the Royal Navy fleet at Scapa Flow. On 14 November 1942, Johnson married Pauline Ingate in Norwich during home leave. Hugh Dundas DFC acted as best man and Lord Beaverbrook's son, Wing Commander Max Aitken also attended.
Wing Commander and the Canadians
Johnson took command of No. 144 Wing (Canadians) based at RAF Kenley. They received the new Spitfire IX: the answer to the Fw 190. After gaining a probable against a Fw 190 in February 1943, Johnnie selected Spitfire EN398 after a 50-minute test flight on 22 March 1943. It became his regular mount. Being a Wing Commander now meant his initials could be painted on the machine. His Spitfires now carried JE-J. His call sign was given as "Greycap". Johnson quickly forced the wing to abandon the line-astern tactics for the finger-four and abandoned ground attack missions for the most part.
During these weeks, Johnson escorted United States Army Air Forces bombers to targets in France. On a fighter sweep, Ramrod 49, Johnson destroyed an Fw 190 for his eighth victory. Unteroffizier Hans Hiess from 6 Staffel bailed out, but his parachute failed to open. The spring proved to be a busy one; Johnson claimed three Fw 190s damaged two days later. On the 11 and 13 May he destroyed an Fw 190 to reach 10 individual air victories while sharing in the destruction of another on the later date and a Bf 109 on 1 June. A further five victories against Fw 190s were achieved in June; two on the 15th, one on the 17th (Unteroffizier Gunther Freitag, 8./JG 26 was killed), one destroyed and one damaged on 24th, and another victory on the 27th to bring his total to 15.
More success was had in July. The USAAF began Blitz Week; a concentrated effort against German targets. Escorting American bombers, Johnson destroyed three Bf 109s and damaged another, the last being shot down on 30 July; his tally stood at 18. There was still no standard formation procedure in Fighter Command, and Johnson's use of the finger-four made the Wing distinct in the air. It earned 144 Wing, the nickname, "Wolfpack". The name remained until 144 Wing was moved to an Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) at Lashenden and was renamed No. 127 Wing RCAF, part of the RAF Second Tactical Air Force under the command of No. 83 Group RAF.
The tactics proved successful in the Canadian Wing. Johnson scored his 19—21 victories on 23 and 26 August, whilst claiming yet another Fw 190 on 4 September 1943. Johnsons 19th victory was gained against Oberfeldwebel (First-Sergeant) Erich Borounik 10./JG 26, who was killed. Johnson's 21st victim, Oberfeldwebel Walter Grunlinger 10./JG 26, was also killed.
In the lead up to the Battle of Normandy and the D-Day landings Johnson continued to score regularly. His 22—23rd victories were achieved on 25 April 1944 and Johnson became the highest scoring ace still on operations. These victories were followed by another Fw 190 on the 5 May (no. 24); III./JG 26 lost Feldwebel Horst Schwentick and Unteroffizier Manfred Talkenberg killed during the air battle. After the D-Day landings in France on 6 June 1944, Johnson added further to his tally, claiming another five aerial victories that month including two Bf 109s on 28 June. The mission in which Johnson recorded his 26th victory on 22 June was particularly eventful; four more Fw 190s fell to his Wing. After bouncing a formation of Bf 109s and Fw 190s, he shot down a Bf 109 for his 29th victory. Five days later, Johnson destroyed two Fw 190s to reach his 30—31st air victories.
The Wing was the first to be stationed on French soil following the invasion. With their radius of action now far extended compared to the squadrons still in Britain, the Wing scored heavily through the summer.
On 21 August 1944, Johnson was leading No. 443 Squadron on a patrol over the Seine, near Paris. Johnson bounced a formation of Focke-Wulf Fw 190s, shooting down two, which were recorded on the cine camera. Climbing back to his starting point at 8,000 ft, Johnson attempted to join a formation of six aircraft, he thought were Spitfires. The fighters were actually Messerschmitt Bf 109s. Johnson escaped by doing a series of steep climbs, during which he nearly stalled and blacked out. He eventually evaded the Messerschmitts, which had been trying to flank him on either side, while two more stuck to his tail. Johnson's Spitfire IX was hit by enemy aircraft fire for the only time, taking cannon shells in the rudder and elevators.
Johnson had now equalled and surpassed Sailor Malan's record score of 32, shooting down two Fw 190s for his 32—33 air victories. However Johnson considered Malan's exploits to be better. Johnson points out, when Malan fought (during 1940—41), he did so outnumbered, and had matched the enemy even then. Johnson said:
Malan had fought with great distinction when the odds were against him. He matched his handful of Spitfires against greatly superior numbers of Luftwaffe fighters and bombers. He had been forced to fight a defensive battle over southern England and often at a tactical disadvantage, when the top-cover Messerschmitts [Bf 109s and Bf 110s] were high in the sun. I had always fought on the offensive, and, after 1941, I had either a squadron, a wing or sometimes two wings behind me.
On 27 September 1944, Johnson's last victory of the war was over Nijmegen. His flight bounced a formation of nine Bf 109s, one of which Johnson shot down. During this combat Squadron leader Henry "Wally" MacLeod, of the Royal Canadian Air Force, and his squadron had joined Johnson. During the action Wally went missing. Johnson made repeated calls over the R/T, but Wally did not answer. After landing, Johnson could see Wally had not returned. Johnson interrogated the rest of the pilots. One of them had seen Wally chasing after a lone Messerschmitt. Johnson, knowing McLeod well, believed he would have attacked regardless of the enemy fighters advantage:
I feel certain that he wouldn't have let go of the 109 until the issue had been decided one way or the other. There was no other aircraft in the area [that Johnson had seen] and they must have fought it out together, probably above the cloud. To start with he would have been at a disadvantage, for the 109 was already several thousand feet higher. I think the Messerschmitt got him. It was always all or nothing for Wally.
After the war, Johnson learned that Wally had been found in the wreckage of his Spitfire, near the scene of the battle.
The Wing rarely saw enemy aircraft for the remainder of the year. Only on 1 January 1945 did the Germans appear in large numbers, during Operation Bodenplatte. Johnson witnessed the German attack his Wing's airfield at Brussels–Melsbroek. He recalled the Germans were inexperienced and the enemy's shooting, "atrocious". Johnson led a Spitfire patrol to prevent a second wave of German aircraft attacking but engaged no enemy aircraft.
From late January and through most of February, little flying took place. In March 1945, Johnson patrolled as Operation Plunder and Operation Varsity pushed Allied armies into Germany. There was little sign of the Luftwaffe. Numerous ground-attack operations were carried out instead. On 26 March Johnson's Wing was relocated to Twente and he was promoted to Group Captain. Days later Johnson took command of No. 125 Wing. Upon arriving at the Twente airbase on 5 April Johnson suffered a hair-raising experience. After returning from an uneventful patrol in Spitfire Mk XIV MV268, as he switched off the engine, a Bf 109 flew overhead. Seeing the Spitfire, it turned in for an attack. Johnson rolled under the Spitfire; fortunately the Bf 109 was promptly shot down by the airfield defences. On 16 April 1945 Johnson's Wing moved to RAF Celle in Germany.
During the last week of the war, Johnson's squadron flew patrols over Berlin and Kiel as German resistance crumbled. During a flight over central Germany looking for jet fighters, Johnson's squadron attacked Luftwaffe airfields. On one sortie, his unit strafed and destroyed 11 Bf 109s that were preparing to take off. On another sortie, an enemy transport was sighted, but took evasive action and retreated back to German held territory but Johnson's pilots shot it down. On another occasion, Johnson intercepted a flight of four Fw 190s. The German fighters, however, waggled their wings to signal non-hostile intent and Johnson's unit escorted them to an RAF airfield.
After the German capitulation in May 1945, Johnson relocated with his unit to Copenhagen in Denmark. Here, his association with the Belgian No. 350 Squadron RAF led him to be awarded the Croix de Guerre with Palm and the rank of Officer of the Order of Léopold with Palms.
List of air victories
Johnson's wartime record was 515 sorties flown, 34 aircraft claimed destroyed with a further seven shared destroyed (totalling 3.5 kills), three probable destroyed, 10 damaged, and one shared, destroyed on the ground. All his "kills" were fighters. As a Wing Leader, Johnson was able to use his initials "JE-J" in place of squadron code letters. He scored the bulk of his victories flying two Mk IXs: EN398/JEJ in which he shot down 12 aircraft and shared five plus six and one shared damaged, while commanding the Kenley Wing; MK392/JEJ, an L.F Mk. IX, 12 aircraft plus one shared, destroyed on the ground. His last victory of the war was scored in this aircraft. Johnson ended the war flying a Mk XIVE, MV268/JEJ. His post-war mount was MV257/JEJ; it was the last Spitfire to carry his initials.
A list of the 34 individual victories.
|15 Jan 1941||Spitfire IA K4477||Dornier Do 17 half-share damaged||Near North Coates.|
|1.||26 June 1941||Spitfire IA K4477||Messerschmitt Bf 109||Near North Coates. RAF Fighter Command claimed nine; JG 2 lost five and two pilots killed.|
|4 July 1941||Spitfire IIA P7837||Messerschmitt Bf 109 damaged||Gravelines|
|2.||6 July 1941||Spitfire IIA P7837||Messerschmitt Bf 109||South of Dunkirk. RAF Fighter Command claimed 11; JG 26 reported two Bf 109s damaged.|
|3.||14 July 1941||Spitfire VB P8707||Messerschmitt Bf 109||Fauquemburgues, Unteroffizier (Corporal) Robert Klienike, III./Jagdgeschwader 26 (JG 26—Fighter Wing 26), missing. According to the War Diary of JG 26, Klienike was confirmed to have been killed.|
|21 July 1941||Spitfire IIA P7837||Messerschmitt Bf 109 half-share "probable"||Merville|
|23 July 1941||Spitfire IIA P7837||Messerschmitt Bf 109 damaged||10 miles inland from Boulogne|
|4.||9 August 1941||Spitfire VB W3334||Messerschmitt Bf 109 and a half-share Bf 109 destroyed||Over Bethune. RAF Fighter Command claimed 18; JG 26 lost two fighters.|
|21 August 1941||Spitfire VB W3457||Messerschmitt Bf 109 "probable"||10 miles east Le Touquet.|
|4 September 1941||Spitfire VB W3432||Messerschmitt Bf 109 half-share "probable"||5miles off Le Touquet|
|5—6.||21 September 1941||Spitfire VB W3428||Two Messerschmitt Bf 109s||Near Le Touquet|
|15 April 1942||Spitfire VB BM121||Focke-Wulf Fw 190 damaged||10 miles off Le Touquet|
|7.||19 August 1942||Spitfire VB EP215 "DW-B"||Focke-Wulf Fw 190 and Fw 190 a half-share damaged, and third-share Bf 109F destroyed.||Dieppe. Claimed during patrol from 07:40 - 09:10, it is likely his opponents were from I./JG 26 which landed at 09:30. Of the six pilot losses JG 26 suffered, times are unknown for three. In the Dieppe area Oberfeldwebel Werner Gerhardt 5 staffel was killed in Fw 190A-3 Wrk. Nr. 538, code BK+3. Unteroffizier Heinrich von Berg was also killed in Fw 190A-3/U3 Wrk. Nr. 2240. The third pilot flew a Bf 109. The third share Bf 109 destroyed was with P/O Smith and F/S Creagh.|
|20 August 1942||Spitfire VB EP215||Focke-Wulf Fw 190 "probable".||Off French Coast|
|13 February 1943||Spitfire IX EP121||Focke-Wulf Fw 190 "probable".||SW Boulogne|
|8.||3 April 1943||Spitfire IX EN398||Focke-Wulf Fw 190||Montreuil, Unteroffizier Hans Hiess, 6./JG 26 (6 Staffel or Squadron) killed.|
|5 April 1943||Spitfire IX EN398||Three Focke-Wulf Fw 190 damaged||Ostend-Ghent area|
|9.||11 May 1943||Spitfire IX EN398||Focke-Wulf Fw 190||Gravelines. Possibly a FW 190 of 5./SKG 10, who lost one aircraft on the day.|
|10.||13 May 1943||Spitfire IX EN398||Focke-Wulf Fw 190 and a third-shared FW 190 destroyed.||Berck-Le Touquet. Fighter Command claimed 10; I./JG 27 lost 2, III./JG 54 lost 1, JG 2 lost 4, JG 26 lost 2.|
|11.||14 May 1943||Spitfire IX EN398||Focke-Wulf Fw 190||Near Nieuport.|
|1 June 1943||Spitfire IX EN398||Half-share Messerschmitt Bf 109 destroyed||Somme estuary. Three claimed by Wing; I/JG 27 lost three.|
|12—13.||15 June 1943||Spitfire IX EN398||Two Focke-Wulf Fw 190s||Yvetot. The Kenley Wing claimed 3; I./JG 2 lost two Fw 190s.|
|14.||17 June 1943||Spitfire IX EN398||Focke-Wulf Fw 190||Ypres-St Omer, Unteroffizier Gunther Freitag, 8./JG 26. Crashed and killed at Steenvorde, Ypres, Flanders.|
|15.||24 June 1943||Spitfire IX EN398||Focke-Wulf Fw 190 and one Fw 190 damaged||Fecamp-Valmont, Victim probably from Jafu 3's I./Jagdgeschwader 2 (JG 2—Fighter Wing 2).|
|16.||27 June 1943||Spitfire IX EN398||Focke-Wulf Fw 190||St Omer. According to the JG 26 War Diary the Germans claimed no victories and claimed to have sustained no losses.|
|17.||15 July 1943||Spitfire IX EN398||Messerschmitt Bf 109||Blangy-Senarport. Possibly versus I./JG 27.|
|18.||25 July 1943||Spitfire IX EN398||Messerschmitt Bf 109||Schipol, Victim probably from III./Jagdgeschwader 54 (JG 54—Fighter Wing 54). The pilot was killed but the victim's identity is unknown. May possibly be either Uzz. Pfeiffe (baled out wounded), or Uzz. Werner Walther (killed).|
|29 July 1943||Spitfire IX EN398||Messerschmitt Bf 109 damaged||SW Amsterdam|
|30 July 1943||Spitfire IX EN398||Half-share Messerschmitt Bf 109 destroyed||Schipol|
|12 August 1943||Spitfire IX EN398||Half-share Messerschmitt Bf 109 destroyed and a half-share Bf 109 damaged.||Axel area. Versus 11 'staffel JG 26. The War Diary records no losses.|
|17 August 1943||Spitfire IX EN398||Quarter-share Messerschmitt Bf 110 destroyed||N. Ghent. Probably of ZG 26.|
|19.||23 August 1943||Spitfire IX EN398||Focke-Wulf Fw 190||Gosnay, Oberfeldwebel (First-Sergeant) Erich Borounik 10./JG 26 Killed in Fw 190A-5 "Black 12". The victory was recorded on Johnson’s gun camera film.|
|20.||26 August 1943||Spitfire IX MA573||Focke-Wulf Fw 190||Rouen|
|21.||4 September 1943||Spitfire IX MA573||Focke-Wulf Fw 190||Roubaix, Oberfeldwebel Walter Grunlinger 10./JG 26 killed.|
|5 September 1943||Spitfire IX EN938||Messerschmitt Bf 109 damaged||Daynze area.|
|22—23.||25 April 1944||Spitfire IXB MK392||Two Focke-Wulf Fw 190s||Laon, Two victories witnessed by Pilot Officer Gomez and Flying Officer Stephens. Both saw the Fw 190s crash.|
|28 March 1944||Spitfire IXB MK392||Half-share Junkers Ju 88 destroyed on ground.||Dreux Airfield|
|24.||5 May 1944||Spitfire IXB MK392||Focke-Wulf Fw 190||Douai, Among Johnson’s opponents were III./JG 26. Feldwebel Horst Schwentick and Unteroffizier Manfred Talkenberg were both killed. Henry Wallace McLeod filed a claim and recorded the wreckage on his gun camera film over a field three miles east of Douai. Two more claims were made by Pilot Officer F.A.W.J. Wilson of 441 Squadron and Pilot Officer T.C. Gamey of the same unit. German records only record two losses. Johnson stated in his report that the Fw 190 pilot he shot down baled out.|
|25.||16 June 1944||Spitfire IXB MK392||Focke-Wulf Fw 190||Villers-Bocage, victory was recorded on gun camera film over an unidentified Fw 190.|
|26.||22 June 1944||Spitfire IXB MK392||Messerschmitt Bf 109||7m W Argentan, victory recorded on gun camera film over an unidentified Bf 109. 144 Wing claimed four destroyed. Opponents were from III./JG 26 and JG 2.|
|27—28.||28 June 1944||Spitfire IXB MK392||Two Messerschmitt Bf 109s||Two victories over Caen; recorded on gun camera film over two unidentified Bf 109s. 5. Jagd Division made a large effort in this area in support of German land defences during Operation Epsom. Around 24 Fw 190s and Bf 109s were lost - the Canadian Wing claimed 25 destroyed outright and a further one probable and 13 damaged. The Germans claimed five Spitfires and three American fighters. The action was so intense it is impossible to match up individual combats. III./JG 26 were equipped with Bf 109s and three Bf 109s were shot down, including Josef Menze who was injured. The other two pilots bailed out unhurt.|
|29.||30 June 1944||Spitfire IXB NH380||Messerschmitt Bf 109.||E Gace.|
|30—31.||5 July 1944||Spitfire IXB NH380||Two Focke-Wulf Fw 190s.||Alençon. 144 Wing claimed four downed. Johnson's victims belonged to I./Jagdgeschwader 11 (Fighter Wing 11).|
|20 July 1944||Spitfire IXB MK392||Focke-Wulf Fw 190 damaged.||S Argentan|
|32—33.||23 August 1944||Spitfire IXB NH382||Two Focke-Wulf Fw 190s.||Senlis. 127 Wing claimed 12 destroyed ( 8 FW-190s, 4 Bf 109s) for three losses. Three German units were in the Paris area at that time (13-35 hours); I./JG 2, I./JG 11 and II./JG 26 reported total losses of 10 FW 190s. III./JG 27 lost three Bf 109s in the Paris area. |
|34.||27 September 1944||Spitfire IXB NH382||Messerschmitt Bf 109||Rees on Rhine, probably belonging to Jagdgeschwader 77 (JG 77—Fighter Wing 77). Henry McLeod lost in combat with Siegfried Freytag.|
After the war Johnson commanded RAF Second Tactical Air Force at RAF Wildenrath in the West Germany from 1952 to 1955. In 1956 he wrote his wartime memoir, Wing Leader and in followed it up in 1964 with Full Circle, a history of air fighting, co-written with Percy "Laddie" Lucas, a former Member of Parliament and Douglas Bader's brother-in-law.
Johnson was given a permanent commission by the RAF after the war (initially as a Squadron Leader, although retaining his wartime substantive rank as Wing Commander, and later confirmed as a Wing Commander), becoming OC Tactics at the Central Fighter Establishment. After an exchange posting to the USA, he flew North American F-86 Sabres with Tactical Air Command and went on to serve in the Korean War flying the Lockheed F-80 Shooting Star. Unfortunately Johnson did not leave any written record of his experiences in the Korean War. It is believed he saw action against enemy aircraft. For his service he received the Air Medal and Legion of Merit.
In 1951, Johnson commanded a Wing at RAF Fassberg. The following year Johnson became Air Officer Commanding (AOC) RAF Wildenrath from 1952 to 1954. From 1954 to 1957 he was Deputy Director, Operations at the Air Ministry. On 20 October 1957, Johnson became Air Officer Commanding (AOC) RAF Cottesmore in Rutland commanding V bombers. An Air Commodore by 1960, he attended the Imperial Staff College and served in No. 3 Group RAF commanding RAF Middle East at Aden. In June 1960 he was made a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) and Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB). In 1965, Johnson made an Air Vice Marshal. He retired in 1966.
Johnson was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant for the County of Leicestershire in 1967. He established the Johnnie Johnson Housing Trust Ltd in 1969. The trust manages over 4,000 properties to date. After the death of his friend Douglas Bader in 1982, Johnson, Denis Crowley-Milling and Sir Hugh Dundas set up the Douglas Bader Foundation, to continue supporting disabled charities, of which Bader was a passionate supporter.
Johnson was also the first to recognise the skills of Robert Taylor, the famous aviation artist in the 1980s. Depictions of aircraft and battle scenes in print began to become popular and helped Taylor promote them. The venture was very successful. Johnson's sons set up their own distribution networks in the United States and Britain.
Johnson spent most of the 1980s and 1990s as a keynote speaker, fundraiser and spending time on his hobbies; travelling, fishing, shooting and walking his dogs. Johnson appeared on the long–running British television show This Is Your Life on 8 May 1985, the 40th anniversary of VE Day. Among the programme's guests was German fighter ace Walter Matoni. British wartime propaganda had alleged Johnson had challenged Matoni to a personal duel; a version of events denied by Johnson. The two men arranged to meet after the war but were unable to do so until the TV programme. Among other guests was Hugh Dundas, "Nip" Nepple, who flew alongside Johnson on his first operation—in which he earned a rebuke from Bader—Crowley-Milling, Johnson's former Wing Commander Patrick Jameson and his Uncle, Charlie Rossell who was over 100 years old at the time.
- Distinguished Service Order & Two Bars
- Distinguished Flying Cross & Bar
- Commander of the Order of the British Empire (1960 New Year Honours)
- Companion in The Most Honourable Order of the Bath (1965 Queen's Birthday Honours)
- Légion d'honneur (France)
- Croix de Guerre (1940) with Palms (Belgium)
- Officer of the Order of Léopold with Palms (Belgium)
- Distinguished Flying Cross (USA)
- Air Medal (USA)
- Legion of Merit (USA)
As a teenager Johnson became fascinated by speed and joined the Melton Car Club with two boyhood friends. Johnson enjoyed the lifestyle of cars and "pacey women". Although he had many early interests, Johnson would later settle and add to his family. During a period of leave, on 14 November 1942, he married Pauline Ingate and they had two sons; Michael (16 October 1944) and Chris (born 1 December 1946). During the war Pauline worked for the Fire Service. After Pauline's death, Johnson lived with his partner Janet Partridge.
On 30 January 2001, Johnson, aged 85 years, died from cancer. A memorial service took place on 25 April 2001 at St Clement Danes and the hymns Jerusalem and I Vow to Thee, My Country were played. His children scattered his ashes on the Chatsworth estate in Derbyshire. The only memorial was a bench dedicated to him at his favourite fishing spot on the estate; the inscription reads; "In Memory of a Fisherman".
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- "Obituary: Johnnie Johnson, Second World War Fighter ace credited with more enemy 'kills' than any other British pilot." The Guardian, 1 February 2001. Retrieved: 2 June 2008.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Johnnie Johnson (RAF officer).|
- A period newspaper biography of AVM Johnson
- Air of Authority – A History of RAF Organisation – AVM Johnson
- Times obituary
- Johnnie Johnson Housing Trust
- Johnnie Johnson on Find-A-Grave
F E Rosier
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