Thursday, 10 November 2011

Spitfire Ace of Aces - Johnnie Johnson


My aviation 'Book of the Month' is this new bio of the RAF's top-scoring WWII fighter pilot by Dilip Sarkar published by Amberley books. Cover illustration above depicts Johnson leading 127 Wing off from Lashenden (Headcorn) in his clipped wing Spitfire LF Mk IX.
By the end of the Second World War Johnson's was a household name in Britain and the RAF Spitfire pilot was feted by Churchill and Eisenhower. Although he missed the Battle of Britain where he might have been able to add a few lumbering Heinkels to his tally, by 1945 he had notched up 38 enemy ‘kills’ – all fighters which as the author says "took far more skill to shoot down" - and was officially the RAF’s topscoring fighter ace. One of his most impressive achievements was that in over 1000 combat missions, he was never shot down. His Spitfire was damaged once and on his return to base he apologised to his fitter saying ‘I was surrounded by six of them’. Dilip Sarkar spent many hours with Johnson in the final years of the great man’s life, recording the last interviews Johnson would ever give. The book is full of exciting first hand accounts from Johnnie himself and many of his fellow Spitfire pilots are also interviewed by the author. Sarkar also does a particularly good job of describing virtually all of Johnson's combats and identifying his opponents and his victims. He even includes accounts from German ground troops. Profusely illustrated with photographs from Johnson’s personal albums.

" In his log on 16 June 1944 Johnson wrote, 'Matoni and his 190s about'. He later recalled; " Yes, the Matoni thing was interesting. We had noticed this distinctive long-nosed 190 about, leading ordinary 190s and our spies confirmed the pilot to be an ace, Walter Matoni. We often saw him in the air but he could only be brought to battle if the circumstances were entirely favourable to him. His presence therefore became something of a challenge and I formed the habit of calling up Kenway and asking if Matoni was about. Challenging Matoni to a personal duel was, of course, rubbish. The subsequent newspaper reports put me in the firing line, not only for a lot of ribbing by the boys, but also an unexpected written bollocking from Paula (Johnson's wife) who reckoned that I was taking unnecessary risks.."

an illustration from the book; Wing Commander Johnnie  Johnson poses with his personal mount at Kenley Spitfire Mk IX EN 398 - the most successful combat Spitfire of WWII in terms of victories.





and an old post from Martin on ww2f.com, an anecdote that doesn't appear in this latest book

" ..One of my favourite Normandy 'tales' comes, not from the usual sources, but from the famous book 'Wing Leader' by 'Johnnie' Johnson.
During the daylight bombing of Caen, Johnson's Spitfires provided target-cover for Bomber Command - with no Luftwaffe in sight, he had a 'grandstand view'. As the raid finished : -

'Instead of turning to the North..one of the Lancasters came down in a fairly steep dive towards the..enemy-held territory south of the city. I watched this manoeuvre in some amazement...Perhaps the aircraft had had its controls shot away or damaged.. But wait, the bomber has now levelled out and is still flying due south only a few feet above the Caen-Falaise road...What the hell is the pilot up to ?

The road is packed here and there with stationary tanks and vehicles. As it sweeps down the road, both front and rear turrets of the Lancaster are in action and the gunners are firing bursts into the enemy vehicles. There is a lot of light flak, but the pilot obviously scorns this... For him this affair is a bit of a lark..Now the Lancaster carries out a slow wide turn to retrace its flight northwards to Caen. Majestically, it ploughs along over the straight road with ..guns blazing away.Enemy drivers and crews abandon their vehicles as the Lancaster pounds along and dive for cover... Speechless, I watch the role of fighter-bomber being carried out, and most effectively, by the 'heavy'...

I fly alongside the Lancaster as it settles down for the flight back..and wave to the adventurers inside. Long after the war I discovered that the pilot of the bomber was a Scottish ex-bricklayer called 'Jock' Shaw. At the time of my story, he was the proud captain of his own Lancaster, and was to win the DFC and Bar.'

I've always liked this story - one can imagine the bomber crews' urge to 'have a go'

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