Johnny Checketts

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John Milne Checketts
A full length picture of a man in RAF uniform. He stands in front of a parked aircraft, with one hand in a pocket and holding a pipe in the other.
J M Checketts in November 1943, when he commanded the Air-to-Air Combat Squadron of the Central Gunnery School at Sutton Bridge, Lincolnshire.
Nickname(s) Johnny
Born (1912-02-20)20 February 1912[1]
Invercargill, New Zealand
Died 21 April 2006(2006-04-21) (aged 94)[1]
Christchurch, New Zealand
Allegiance New Zealand
Service/branch Royal New Zealand Air Force
Years of service 1940–1955
Rank Wing Commander
Commands held No. 75 Squadron RNZAF
No. 5 Squadron RNZAF
Wigram Aerodrome
No. 142 Wing RAF
No. 1 Squadron RAF
No. 485 Squadron RNZAF
Battles/wars Second World War
Awards Distinguished Service Order
Distinguished Flying Cross
Silver Star (United States)
Cross of Valour (Poland)

John Milne "Johnny" Checketts, DSO, DFC (20 February 1912 – 21 April 2006) was a New Zealand flying ace of the Second World War, who was credited with the destruction of 14½ enemy aircraft, 3 probably destroyed and 11 damaged. He was shot down twice – once over the English Channel, when he was rescued from the sea by the Royal Navy, and once over occupied France, when he was returned to the United Kingdom by the French Resistance.

Early life[edit]

Checketts was born in Invercargill on 20 February 1912 and was educated at the Invercargill South School and Southland Technical College, where he studied engineering before undertaking an apprenticeship as a motor mechanic.[1]

Second World War[edit]

Checketts joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force in October 1940, at the age of 28. He graduated from his flying course in June 1941 as a pilot officer and was posted to the United Kingdom. After converting to Spitfires, Checketts joined No. 485 (NZ) Squadron in November 1941. On 12 February 1942 the unit took part in operations over the English Channel during the German Operation Cerberus, when the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau made a high–speed dash from Brest to reach safety in German ports.

On 4 May 1942, Checketts was shot down and bailed out over the channel and was rescued from his dinghy by the Royal Navy. In June 1942 he was posted to "Sailor" Malan's gunnery school before continuing to No. 611 Squadron based at Biggin Hill in January 1943. Checketts was promoted to flight lieutenant and given command of A Flight in April. On 30 May 1943 he shot down a Fw 190 5 to 8 miles (8 to 13 km) south–east of Trouville, Seine-Maritime.

In July, Checketts was promoted to squadron leader and returned to No. 485 Squadron at Biggin Hill as commander. On 15 July he shot down a Fw 190, on the 27th he destroyed two more, and on the 31st a Bf 109G. Guiding the unit over Saint-Pol on 9 August 1943, Checketts led a section against eight Bf 109s and destroyed three of them. The other three New Zealand pilots in the section each destroyed one and Checketts damaged one of the two remaining 109s as it escaped. For this action he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

While acting as high cover for bombers attacking an airfield near Amiens on 19 August the squadron was jumped by a force of Fw 190s and Bf 109s. In a running battle Checketts probably destroyed an Fw 190 and damaged another.

Shot down over France[edit]

On 6 September 1943, No. 485 Squadron flew high cover for Martin B-26 Marauders bombing the rail marshalling yards at Serqueux, Seine-Maritime. The Spitfires were attacked by 20 Fw 190s from above. Checketts shot one down but was then attacked by several others and his aircraft was set on fire.

Burned and wounded, he struggled to bail out. On landing he was approached by a French boy who helped him on to his bicycle and then wheeled him to nearby woods. The next day he was taken by a Frenchman to his own home, where his injuries were tended by the Frenchman's wife.

Having been passed from one house to the next by the French Resistance, Checketts eventually met another 485 pilot, Sergeant Kearins, who had been shot down on 15 July. They were joined by a group of 11 other escapees and taken across the channel in a fishing boat on 21 October 1943.

Checketts was then posted to the fighter wing of the Central Gunnery School as an instructor.


In April 1944 he was given command of No. 1 Squadron equipped with the Hawker Typhoon fighter–bomber. After six weeks was promoted to wing commander to lead No. 142 (Spitfire) Wing at RAF Horne which was an Advanced Landing Ground in Surrey. He later led this wing from Westhampnett, Merston and Manston. On 27 August, he was leading No. 303 Squadron as escort of Avro Lancaster and Handley Page Halifax heavy bombers on their way to attack an oil refinery near Düsseldorf. Messerschmitt Me 163 rocket fighters of Jagdgeschwader 400 were scrambled to intercept the bombers and were engaged by No. 303 Squadron. Checketts was attacked by an Me 163S but managed to evade it.[2]

His last operation with No. 142 Wing was on the day his leadership of it ended, 26 September 1944. While flying as high escort cover over Arnhem, he shared in the destruction of a Bf 109 with one of his flight commanders.

In 1945 Checketts was appointed Wing Commander Tactics at the Central Fighter Establishment. He had been awarded the Distinguished Service Order in December 1943, the American Silver Star in August 1944 and the Polish Cross of Valour in April 1945.

Postwar career[edit]

After the war he returned to the RNZAF, and became Station Commander of RNZAF stations Wigram, Lauthala Bay (Fiji) and Taieri (Dunedin). Checketts was appointed officer commanding No. 75 Squadron in 1951 and at Ohakea was responsible for introducing the de Havilland Vampire to form the RNZAF's first jet squadron.

In 1955, he left the RNZAF to start an aerial topdressing company. This lasted until 1958 when he became a salesman of agricultural chemicals.[1]

Checketts died at Christchurch on 21 April 2006, aged 94.


On war: "It is destructive. Everything about it is to destroy, and I don't think human beings are brought into this world to destroy things. They are brought into the world to preserve."


  1. ^ a b c d "Wing Cdr Johnny Checketts". The Daily Telegraph. 26 April 2006. Retrieved 9 November 2011. 
  2. ^ Ransom, Stephen; Camman, Hans-Hermann (2010). Jagdgeschwader 400: Germany's Elite Rocket Fighters. Osprey Publishing. p. 47. ISBN 1846039754. 

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