Gathering of Eagles Foundation

Honored as an Eagle in:

1986 1987

Eagle Biography

James K. Johnson

Great Britain's James Edgar Johnson flew over 1,000 combat missions during World War II and downed 38 enemy aircraft, officially making him the top-scoring fighter pilot in Great Britain. Johnson began private flying lessons in 1938 and quickly joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve at the outbreak of hostilities in 1939. He trained in Tiger Moths and Miles Masters, then transitioned to the Supermarine Spitfire. In 1940, he was posted to No. 19 Squadron and, later, 616 Squadron where he participated in the Battle of Britain. During 1941, he frequently flew fighter sweeps and escort missions as Douglas Bader's wingman, achieving his first victory on June 26th when he destroyed an Me-109.

By September, Johnson had reached "ace status" and was promoted to flight commander. He was given command of No. 610 Squadron the following summer and led them in support of the ill-fated Dieppe raid on August 19th. On his forth sortie of that day, Johnson encountered his "stiffest fight" of the war. Bounced by enemy fighters, he pulled out of a near-vertical dive at ground level while trying to shake an FW-190. Then, crossing the flaming beaches, he flew headlong into a barrage of anti-aircraft fire from a Royal Navy destroyer just offshore. Unscathed, he pulled up, over the ship and broke hard to search for his pursuer, "but happily, he was no longer with me." In February 1943, Johnson was given command of the Canadian Spitfire Wing at Kenley.

This proved to be a winning combination as they flew 140 missions over Europe, downing over 100 enemy aircraft. Many of those sorties were escorting Eighth Air Force B-17s on their daylight bombing missions. Following an operations staff tour at 11 Group Headquarters, where he planned and often flew fighter sweep and escort missions, Johnson took command of 144 Canadian Wing at Digby. On D-Day he led four missions over the Normandy beachhead, and 2 days later the wing landed the first Allied fighters in France since 1940. His combat exploits across France and into Germany included command of 127 and 125 Wings, and by war's end he had won the Distinguished Service Order with two bars, the Distinguished Flying Cross with bar, and several foreign awards.

He then served with the USAF in Korea and was awarded the Legion of Merit and the US Air Medal. Returning to the RAF, he first commanded 135 Wing in Germany and then RAF Cottesmore where Bomber Command's first Victor Squadron was formed. During the 1960s, he was promoted to the rank of Air Vice-Marshal and was Commander of RAF Middle East. He retired from the RAF in 1965 and founded the "Johnnie" Johnson Housing Trust, which today provides homes for over 2,500 elderly and disabled people. He is the author of Wing Leader, Full Circle, and the recently released The Story of Air Fighting.

See the Lithograph
1986
Lithograph Setting

By the Fall of 1944, the German army was in retreat under cover of Luftwaffe fighters. Number 127 Wing, commanded by "Johnnie" Johnson, was sent to attack the withdrawing forces and on 27 September he scored his final victory near Venlo, Holland. In a grueling dogfight with nine Messerschmitts, Johnson's Spitfire was hit for the first and only time during the war. Most noteworthy, all but one of his 38 victories were achieved against single-engine fighters.

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