BY 1946, AT the age of 23, Johnnie Johnson had already flown 23 types and had notched up nearly 2,500 hours. This was the culmination of the first phase of a distinguished 28-year career in the RAF.
BY 1946, AT the age of 23, Johnnie Johnson had already flown 23 types and had notched up nearly 2,500 hours. This was the culmination of the first phase of a distinguished 28-year career in the RAF, during which he trained in the USA, instructed in the UK, did his Ops conversion on Oxfords, Whitleys and Halifaxs and started his first operational tour with 158 Squadron on Halifax IIIs early in 1944.
His crew members’ survival occasioned their selection for the Pathfinders and after conversion they joined 635 Squadron, flying Lancasters. Their further service with this elite force brought Johnnie Johnson’s final tally with Bomber Command to 62 operations–a testament to considerable professionalism plus a fair helping of luck. He then converted to Dakotas. When the war ended he was retained in the Far East and selected as personal pilot to the Chief of Air Staff (Australia) flying a maple-panelled VIP Dakota.
In terms of excitement and variety of flying, it would have been difficult to follow those first five years and his remaining 23 years of service were dedicated largely to securing interesting flying postings and neatly side-stepping boring desk jobs. In this he was largely successful, starting with a posting to the Empire Test Pilots’ School and managing to wangle numerous postings back there over future years in a variety of capacities.
By 1969 he was keenly aware that he could hardly expect to avoid some heavy sentences of pen pushing for the remainder of his service career. He therefore made his final side- step into a position with Hawker Siddeley at Kingston, working under Bill Bedford in military marketing. The products that he sold were the Harrier and the Hawk, and his patch was primarily the Middle East. He ploughed this furrow for nearly twenty years until his retirement in 1988, and given that he comes across in his autobiography as a very clubbable, capable and hard working sort of chap, I am sure that he was a considerable asset to Hawkers–eventually British Aerospace. Having, in his view, been somewhat short changed by them on his pension, his parting view of his employers is rather less favourable.
The great advantage of publishing an autobiography at the age of 77 is that many of those who feature in it have departed this world. In such cases you can say what you really think, which Johnnie Johnson often does. To quote, avoiding any actual individual: ‘Australia is a snake-infested desert surrounded by shark-infested waters with a narrow coastal strip which at that time was inhabited by some of the least attractive people it had been my misfortune to meet.’
Johnnie Johnson also does a good line in laconic humour and the tale that he has to tell is of some fascination to anyone interested in the RAF during and after the second world war. Nearly half of the book is devoted to his subsequent career in military marketing, and while this gives some interesting insights into what actually goes on in that profession, I would have preferred less of this and yet more about the flying, the other pilots and the aircraft of the 1940s, 50s and 60s.