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, in which he became a flight commander and was awarded the DFC a month after Bader’s devastating loss.
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. The air operations involved with the Dieppe Raid saw the greatest aerial battles since the Battle of Britain and it is therefore unsurprising that Johnnie’s squadron was ‘heavily engaged by over 100 190s and 109s’, as he observed in his diary.
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. On 14 November 1942, for example, he married Paul Ingate, and much about the young couple’s relationship is documented. This diary, therefore, is a unique insight into how fighter pilots lived, loved – and died.