Johnnie Johnson: RAF Fighter Ace

Johnnie's spitfire was painted with his initials: JEJ. Use your keyboard arrow keys to view more images.

Johnnie Johnson dog-fighting with Adolf Galland's ME109 high above the Dunkirk beaches on D Day (click to enlarge)

Johnnie in his Spitfire

Britain’s highest-scoring World War II fighter ace, Johnnie Johnson, is probably Waltham’s most famous son. Although not born in Waltham, he spent his formative years here when his father was the local Police Sergeant – living in the old police house on Goadby Road, opposite the Royal Horseshoes.

Long-time Waltham bell-ringer, Roy Rayson, knew Johnnie well. He created the tribute in Waltham Church which describes Johnnie’s war-time exploits. He also let me borrow a video of Johnnie talking at a game shoot in Edmondthorpe in 1991 (see below).

Johnnie allowed Roy to copy his flight log book, and it offers a fascinating and personal insight into his war record. Even though he missed The Battle of Britain because of an old sporting injury, Johnnie still went on to record 38 kills – all of them single-engine fighters. And it’s said that his tally could have been even higher, but that he allowed younger pilots under his command to claim some of his kills to gain confidence.

According to Roy, Johnnie always claimed that the secret to his success was not his skill as a pilot, but as a marksman. And that these skills had been learned shooting game in the fields around Waltham. Johnnie refers to his shooting experience in the video clip. (View the clip on YouTube to read more details about the video.)

The video shows Johnnie giving a short talk following a game shoot in Edmondthorpe in 1991.
Amongst the audience were a number of local WWI veterans.

As well as the video, I’ve also included excerpts from Johnnie’s log book. These include searching for his great friend, Douglas Bader, after he baled out over France (click to view). And Johnnie’s subsequent flight to drop Bader’s ‘tin legs’ by parachute. (Click to view.)

Johnnie earned a bar to his DFC, as well as the nickname ‘Two before breakfast’ for doing just that – shooting down two ME109s early one morning. (Click here to view the entry.) On another occasion, Johnnie recorded in his log book that he took a 12-bore shotgun up in a Tiger Moth. No Germans were attacked, but he did manage to bag two swans and ducks from the rear cockpit. (Click to view.)

An entry for 26th April 1945 records his last operational flight before the end of the war. The previous entry records him flying alongside Russian fighters over Berlin. He adds the caustic observation that ‘Berlin is nicely aflame’. (Click to view.)

Johnnie’s 38 confirmed kills were only exceeded by South African ace, Pat Pattle, who was credited with 41 before being shot down and killed. Roy recalls Johnnie telling him that his secret was “knowing how to get out and return to base – to live and fight another day”. He added that “he loved fighting!”

Johnnie had a similarly distinguished life after the end of the war, finally retiring from the RAF as an Air Vice-Marshall in 1965. As well as sitting on the Board of a number of large companies, he launched a housing trust which still provides care for the elderly, disabled and vulnerable.

He was awarded the CB, CBE, DSO and two Bars, DFC and Bar, as well as an American DFC, Air Medal, and Legion of Merit, the Belgian Croix de Guerre and the Order of Leopold. In 1988 he was appointed to the French Legion d’honneur.

Johnnie Johnson died on 30 January 2001 aged 85.

Johnnie wrote a number of books about his war-time exploits. There are also a number of tributes to him on the Internet. This one contains copies of his obituaries in The Times, New York Times and Daily Telegraph. It also includes a wonderful photo of the great man sitting in a Spitfire in 1986 – which I’ve copied here.

Johnnie on This is Your Life

Click here to view a brief clip of Johnnie appearing on Eamonn Andrews’ This is Your Life.

3 Comments

  1. Roy tells me that the German pilot in the painting is top German fighter ace and force commander, Adolf Galland (right). He and Johnnie became great friends after the war, even holdidaying together. Galland was one of the guests when Johnnie appeared on ‘This is You Life’. He was also invited to the Edmondthorpe shoot in the video clip, but refused saying his eye sight was too poor. Johnnie responded that “it wasn’t so bloody poor in 1940”. Galland died in 1996.

  2. Galland claimed a staggering 104 kills during the war (click here for details). Holidaying together after the war, duck-shooting in Canada, the two men had a bet on who could kill the most. Galland won.

  3. I really enjoyed reading your tribute to Johnnie Johnson. Johnnie has been a “hero” of mine for a long time, and I was fortunate to meet him very briefly (and have him sign a copy of his book “Wing Leader” for me) during a Wartime Pilots Reunion here in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada back in 1980. Johnnie developed a strong relationship with his Canadian pilots and this relationship continued long after the war. Johnnie’s exploits with his Canadian Spitfire Wings are still highly regarded here in Canada.

    If you have any additonal pictures, log book entries or videos that you might be able to post, I would be very interested in seeing them.

    Regards,

    Ron Lapp
    Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

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