Johnnie Johnson’s Great Adventure – The Spitire Ace of Ace’s Last Look Back, Dilip Sarker MBE

Johnnie Johnson’s Great Adventure – The Spitire Ace of Ace’s Last Look Back, Dilip Sarker MBE

Johnnie Johnson is best known for being the RAF’s leading fighter ace against the Luftwaffe, and the RAF’s leading Spitfire ace, but as this book proves he was also a successful leader, commanding Canadian fighter wings during 1943 and again in 1944-1945, from the D-Day invasion to the advance into Germany.

This book is based on notes that Johnson began to prepare before his death, for but never completed. This book was to have been titled ‘The Great Adventure’ and cover the campaign from D-Day to Germany. I noticed two main results of this. First, the material isn’t evenly spread across his career, so in some sections we get more from Sarker (an excellent author in his own right, so these sections are also of great value), and in others much more from Johnson. We also get material from some other sources, notably in the chapter on Harry Broadhurst, who was commander of No.83 Group, Johnson’s group during the D-Day campaign. Second, I noticed some occasions where Johnson’s view of the wider historical picture wasn’t entirely accurate. If he had been alive for the editing process some of these may have been removed, but I actually find they add to the value, giving an idea of how Johnson saw these issues at the time.

Johnson covered much of the same material in Wing Leader, but that was published in 1956, when most of his wartime contemporaries were still alive, and Johnson was still serving with the RAF, so his freedom to be controversial would have been rather limited. By the time he came to make the notes this book is based on he had long been retired, and all of the senior officers involved were long gone, and as a result he was willing to make some much more critical comments. However he does still tend to be even handed, acknowledging the strengths and weaknesses of men such as Leigh-Mallory or ‘Mary’ Coningham.

Johnson reserved his main criticism for three things – the RAF’s refusal to move from the 3 aircraft ‘vic’ to the more flexible ‘finger four’ formation more quickly, the failure to get 2nd Tactical Air Force fully involved in Operation Market Garden, both at the planning and operational stages, and the increasing gulf between Montgomery and his senior air officers after D-Day (where he tends to side with Montgomery).

Sarker has done a very good job of turning Johnson’s partly completed text into a cohesive and useful book, which takes us right into the heart of these crucial air battles.

1 – Greycap Leader
2 – A long affair
3 – The Commander
4 – ‘Cab Rank’ Broadhurst
5 – 144 Wing, RCAF
6 – ‘Fair stood the wind for France’
7 – Normandy
8 – Breakout
9 – ‘A Bridge Too Far’
10 – The Rhine Crossing
12 – Looking Back

Author: Dilip Sarker MBE
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 288
Publisher: Pen & Sword Aviation
Year: 2020

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