James Edgar “Johnnie” Johnson (9 March 1915 – 30 January 2001)

Wing Commander Johnnie Johnson, D.F.C. and Bar, Royal Air Force, commanding No. 144 Wing, RAF Kenley, in the cockpit of his Supermarine Spitfire Mk IX, EN398, 1943. (Imperial War Museum)

9 March 1915: Air Vice Marshal James Edgar (“Johnnie”) Johnson, C.B., C.B.E., D.S.O. and Two Bars, D.F.C. and Bar, Royal Air Force, was born at Barrow upon Soar, Leicestershire, England.

Johnson was the highest scoring Royal Air Force fighter pilot of World War II. He flew 515 sorties and scored 34 airplanes destroyed, 7 shared destroyed, 3 probables and 10 damaged. All of his victories were against fighters.

Wing Commander Johnnie Johnson, DSO and Two Bars, DFC and Bar, Royal Air Force, commanding No. 144 (Canadian) Wing, sitting on the wing of his Supermarine Spitfire Mark IX (MK392, a Castle Bromley-built Spitfire) with his Labrador Retriever, Sally, at Bazenville, Normandy, 31 July 1944. (Pilot Officer Saidman, RAF Official Photographer/Imperial War Museum)
Wing Commander Johnnie Johnson, D.S.O. and Two Bars, D.F.C. and Bar, Royal Air Force, commanding No. 144 (Canadian) Wing, sitting on the wing of his Supermarine Spitfire Mark IX (MK392, a Castle Bromley-built Spitfire) with his Labrador Retriever, Sally, at Bazenville, Normandy, 31 July 1944. (Pilot Officer Saidman, RAF Official Photographer/Imperial War Museum)
Air Vice Marshal John Edgar Johnson, Royal Air Force (Retired)
Air Vice Marshal James Edgar Johnson, CB, CBE, DSO and Two Bars, DFC and Bar, Royal Air Force (Retired). (Dilip Sarkar MBE)
Sally with Wing Commander Johnnie Johnson, Royal Air Force, Bazenville Lqnding Ground, Normandy, 31 July 1944. (Imperial War Museum)
Medals awarded to Air Vice Marshal James Edgar Johnson, Royal Air Force.

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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18 thoughts on “James Edgar “Johnnie” Johnson (9 March 1915 – 30 January 2001)

  1. Bryan, How does Johnson rate status as “the highest scoring Allied fighter pilot of World War II?” His 34 kills, maybe 37.5 if you give him half credit for the shared kills is certainly not the highest Allied total. Ivan Kozhedub of the USSR, an Allied power, is credited with 66. Aleksandr Pokryshkin has 59, and 7 other Soviet aces with higher totals. Bick Bong of the US has 40. Pat Pattle of the RAF and South Africa also has 40. And Thomas McGuire of the USAAF has 38.

      1. But still, Pat Pattle has 40 in the RAF. So I would think he is the highest scoring ace from the UK, but certainly not in the RAF.

        1. Well. Maybe so. I did pretty thoroughly research this, however. According to The Guardian,”. . . he man who, in the second world war, would shoot down more of the enemy than any other pilot in the RAF. . .” and “When VJ-Day came, in May 1945, his score was 38. Officially this remains the highest total of any RAF pilot, though it is widely believed Sqn Ldr St John Pattle exceeded 40 in the turmoil of the Greek campaign.” The Telegraph reported: “AIR Vice-Marshal Johnnie Johnson, the leading Allied fighter ace of the Second World War, died yesterday aged 85.” and “AIR VICE-MARSHAL J E “JOHNNIE” JOHNSON, who has died aged 85, was the top-scoring RAF fighter pilot of the Second World War; his dash, courage and flying skills were outstanding. Johnson accounted for at least 38 enemy aircraft over Britain and occupied Europe, yet his actual score was almost certainly higher. Of the many enemy aircraft he shot down, he waived shared credits to boost the scores – and the confidence – of younger pilots.” The BBC says: “One such was Johnny Johnson a Spitfire pilot who was credited with the highest number of kills by an RAF pilot. . . ” The New York Times said, “Only one Allied pilot — Richard Bong of the United States Army Air Forces, who shot down 40 Japanese planes — had greater success during the war. The leading American air ace in Europe, Francis Gabreski, shot down 28 German planes.”

          1. Your research is certainly sound. I am inclined to agree with you since so many sources list Johnson with those accolades and Pattle got most of his kills in the Med. As always with fighter kills, it is not as clear cut as the numbers would suggest.

          2. Part of the problem is that, while the U.S. Air Force has gone to significant lengths to document, verify and publish pilots’ aerial victory credits for World War I, World War II, Korean and Vietnam, I have not discovered such a document from the Royal Air Force. While Squadron Leader Marmaduke Thomas St. John Pattle, DFC and Bar, shot down a significant number of enemy airplanes—possibly more than 50, according to some sources—the wide variation in numbers unofficially credited creates a question. Without intending to take anything away from Pattle’s accomplishments, how can I credit him as the highest-scoring RAF pilot when I can’t establish what his score actually is? Earlier, you mentioned some Soviet pilots with a high number of kills. But many Soviet scores included enemies from Japan, China, Finland, Sweden, etc., during The Battles of Khalkin Gol, The WInter War, and while still associated with the Axis, and then also include Germans shot down during The Great Patriotic War. Undoubtedly, many Soviet pilots destroyed many enemy aircraft. There has always been a difficulty differentiating fact from propaganda when it comes to the USSR. (And since they have fought against us, with us, and against us, I hesitate to use the term, “ally.”) I think it is certain that the Luftwaffe fighter pilots ran up the absolute highest numbers. With so much of Europe destroyed by the end of the War, complete records no longer exist. The same is true of Japanese fighter pilots. So, TDiA does the best it can, always attempting to use the most credible information. There can be no doubt that I don’t always get it right, and I sincerely appreciate readers like yourself that keep me on the right track.

  2. Totally agree with all of your reasoning. Appreciate your attention to detail and getting it right. Love the site and send the links to my students and others at work all the time. Often they are incredibly timely, as was today’s on the first US Air Service casualty.

  3. Many of the pilots who flew for the RAF were from The British Commonwealth (Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Rhodesia, Kenya, and various islands in the Caribbean), Poland, France and the USA. “Pat”Pattle flew with the RAF … he never flew with the Royal South African Air Force.
    The remark (earlier) ” … and Pattle got most of his kills in the Med” is unclear as to its intent or insinuation. Does it mean [a] It was easier to get kills in the Mediterranean!? Or [b] does it imply that the Germans, Italians and other Axis pilots were inferior to those who flew with the Nazi Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain?
    There are many squadron administrators and commanding officers that verbally and in writing confirmed that Squadron Leader Marmaduke Thomas St. John “Pat” Pattle, DFC and Bar, shot down more than 50+ Axis aircraft. He also shot down these aircraft flying during the Egypt campaign, the Western Desert campaign, the Greek-Italian War, and the Invasion of Yugoslavia. He also did not fly Spitfires … his achievements were in older Gloster Gladiator biplanes, and early versions of the Hawker Hurricane.
    Former South Africans like myself are always somewhat “bemused” or in some cases downright annoyed when the Pommies play down the fact that many of their RAF highest scorers were not British. The British owe so much to these brave men; yet always seem reluctant to acknowledge their contribution!
    Bye-the-bye … the Pattle family’s farm was near my mother’s family’s farm in the Eastern Cape region of Butterworth in South Africa.

  4. A great article on “Pat” Pattle!
    Thank you very much Bryan!
    Your efforts and output are always so superior!

  5. No disrespect to David Tonkin, but to say that “Pommies (don’t call me that) play down the fact that many of their highest RAF scorers were not British” isn’t true. There has always been total honesty about the significant number of “non-Brits” that served valiantly in the RAF, such as the Poles in the Battle of Britain, and credit given. They are extensively written about. Pattle has always been given huge credit, but there has been frustration at the uncertainty in confirming just how many kills he did have. We wish we knew more, he was lost too soon. Johnson’s record is confirmed and with the likelihood that the numbers are conservative, for the reasons described. He was never a publicity seeker, just a dedicated officer who served quietly and bravely through most of the war. He continued to serve post-war until he eventually retired having achieved high office. A decent man who treated others with respect and would not have diminished anyone else for his own glory, which he never sought. Bryan, when it comes to great South African RAF fighter pilots, you might want to look at “Sailor Malan”. A top-scoring Battle of Britain ace, who post-war returned to South Africa and played a big part in the anti-apartheid movement, but sadly died too young from Parkinsons Disease.

  6. Johnnie Johnson’s name means a lot to myself. Like many others post war (Leonard Cheshire for example) he directed his efforts towards more peaceful ends for the community. My late Mother (ironically it is Mothers Day here in the U.K.today) lived in a Johnny Johnson sheltered housing scheme whereby she could live independently and yet still have help on hand when needed. Despite having no interest in aviation, Johnson’s name was well known to her, his exploits being well publicised during WWII. One Christmas many years ago she presented me with a print of a painting of a Mk.IX Spitfire flying over London signed personally by Johnnie Johnson! That still hangs on our wall to this day.
    Thanks Bryan for TDiA!

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