Air Vice-Marshal ‘Johnnie’ Johnson was a character literally from the pages of Boys’ Own: an individual who became the RAF’s top-scoring fighter pilot and wing leader par excellence of the Second World War. A one-time household name synonymous with the superlative Spitfire, Johnnie’s aerial combat successes inspired schoolboys for generations.
As a ‘lowly Pilot Officer’, Johnnie Johnson learned his fighter pilot’s craft as a protégé of the legless Tangmere Wing Leader, Douglas Bader. After Bader was brought down over France and captured on 9 August 1941, Johnnie remained a member of 616 (South Yorkshire) Squadron.
By the beginning of 1942, when Johnnie's diary begins, Fighter Command was pursuing an offensive policy during daylight hours, ‘reaching out’ and taking the war to the Germans in France. It was also a period in which the Focke-Wulf Fw outclassed the Spitfire Mk.V. In Johnnie’s words, the Fw 190 ‘drove us back to the coast and, for the first time, pilots lost confidence in the Spitfire’. As well as his participation in Rhubarb and Circus sorties, Johnnie was also involved in Operation Jubilee on 19 August 1942.
In this diary, published here for the first time, we get a glimpse of the real Johnnie, and what it was really like to live and breathe air-fighting during one of the European air war’s most interesting years: 1942. Presented on a day-by-day basis, each of Johnnie’s entries is supported by an informative narrative written by the renowned aviation historian Dilip Sarkar, drawing upon official documents and his interviews and correspondence with the great man.
As would be expected, Johnnie’s diary also includes numerous personal references. This diary, therefore, is a unique insight into how fighter pilots lived, loved — and died.