Gathering of Eagles Foundation

Honored as an Eagle in:

1998

Eagle Biography

Thorstein E. Jonsson

Thorsteinn Jonsson is Iceland's only ace! Born in Reykjavik in 1921, his father was Icelandic and his mother was English. He grew up in Iceland but as a young child traveled to England often for visits. Jonnson was an adventurous and high-spirited lad and at age 18 left boarding school. He hitched a ride on a fishing trawler bound for England -- his goal was to become a fighter pilot. After two months working through the bureaucracy, he was permitted to join the Royal Air Force. Jonsson attended ground school during the Battle of Britain and then began flying training in October 1940. His first flight was in a DeHavilland Tiger Moth and he went on to complete advanced training in the Supermarine Spitfire. At first he was posted to a Hawker Hurricane squadron in Scotland as a sergeant but soon transferred to 111 Squadron near London to fly Spitfires.

Jonsson was soon promoted to flight sergeant and saw his first combat flying sweeps over the English Channel and the coast of France. Over France, the 111 Squadron was met by German fighter units including the famous "Abbeville Boys" who had been led by 104 victory ace Adolph Galland. In October 1942, his squadron shipped out to Gibraltar, and on 11 November, after the Operation Torch landings in North Aftrica, they deployed to an airfield in Algeria. In the next two weeks, Jonsson was credited with three Luftwaffe aircraft destroyed and one probable. He scored another victory in early 1943 and then was sent to Scotland for "rest" as an instructor in a training unit. Shortly, King George VI personally presented Jonnson with a Distinguished Flying Medal.

In January 1944, he reported to 65 Squadron to again fly Spitfires, but the unit soon converted to the North American Mustang III. Jonsson would become an ace over Normandy in June 1944 when he downed two Focke Wulf 190s. During the war, Jonsson's victories included 8 aircraft destroyed, 1 probable, and 2 damaged. In 1946, Jonsson left the RAF and returned to Iceland. With Icelandic pilot license number 13, he joined Icelandair. In the late 1950s, he flew for Sabina in the Congo, but in 1960 returned to Iceland and flew for Loftleidir and Icelandair. Later, during the Nigerian civil war, he flew food and medicine on 413 perilous humanitarian missions into Biafra.

After dodging Nigerian MiGs for a year and a half, he moved to Luxembourg and flew Douglas DC-8s and later Boeing 747s for Cargolux. He flew worldwide until March 1987 when he went into active retirement.  His books include Dancing in the Skies which relates his childhood and World War II experiences. His second book in Icelandic and a draft in English cover his years as an airline pilot. His works have all been bestsellers in Iceland.

See the Lithograph
1998
Lithograph Setting

15 November 1942 was one of the most memorable days of Jonsson's life. "I scored my first victory, came very close to being blown sky high, and suffered my first, and only wound from enemy action." Jonsson's day began in his Spitfire with a dawn chase through the clouds and a shootdown of a German bomber. After lunch, a delayed action bomb, buried in the latrine, exploded just as he approached. In the afternoon, four German fighters strafed the flightline. Jonsson sprinted for a ditch, dove in, and cut his knee on a rusty tin can.

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