James Edgar Johnson was born at Barrow-upon-Soar, near Loughborough, Leicestershire on 9th March 1915. He was educated at Loughborough School and Nottingham University, where in 1937 he qualified as a civil engineer. He was then appointed Assistant Surveyor with the Poulton Urban District Council, Gloucestershire.
Aged 17, he had bought a BSA 12-bore shotgun for £1 down and nine similar monthly payments. Rabbits fetched a shilling each, and he reckoned that if he could average two rabbits from three shots he would pay for the gun. He became adept at deflection shooting on the ground and, graduating to wildfowling on the Lincolnshire marshes, adapted the skill to bring down widgeon, pintail and teal. He believed that his later success in dogfighting came from this.
In July 1938 Johnson enlisted in The Lincolnshire Yeomanry (TA). He was released to join the RAFVR in July 1939, as an Airman u/t Pilot. He did some flying at 21 E&RFTS Stapleford before being called up on 1st September 1939. Johnson went to No. 1 ITW at Jesus College, Cambridge, completed his initial flying training at 22 EFTS Cambridge and then went on to 5 FTS Sealand. The course there ended on 9th August 1940 and the next day Johnson arrived at 7 OTU Hawarden.
He converted to Spitfires and joined 19 Squadron on 2nd September, moving to 616 Squadron at Kenley on the 5th. He flew one sortie only with 616, on 11th September, an X-Raid of 15 minutes duration in Spitfire X4330.
Johnson went into hospital on 20th September, a crash-landing in a Spitfire at Hawarden had reopened a rugby-related collarbone fracture. It was operated on and he did not return to the squadron until December. On 15th January 1941 Johnson damaged a Do17, destroyed a Me109 on 26th June, damaged one on 4th July, destroyed two on the 6th and 14th, shared a probable Me109 on the 21st, damaged another on the 23rd, destroyed one and shared another on 9th August, claimed a probable Me109 on the 21st, shared a probable on 4th September and destroyed two on the 21st.
He was awarded the DFC (gazetted 30th September 1941) and made a Flight Commander.
On 15th April 1942 he damaged a Fw190. He was awarded a Bar to the DFC (gazetted 26th June 1942). In July 1942 Johnson was given command of 610 Squadron at Ludham. Over Dieppe on 19th August he destroyed a Fw190, damaged another and shared a Me109 and on the 20th he got a probable Fw190. On 13th February 1943 Johnson got another probable Fw190. In March he was posted to Kenley, to lead the Canadian Wing. To show solidarity with his men he wore 'Canada' shoulder flashes.
Between 3rd April and 5th September 1943 he destroyed twelve Fw190s, shared another, and damaged four more. He destroyed two Me109's, shared four more, damaged another three and shared a Me110.
He was awarded the DSO (gazetted 4th June 1943) and a Bar (gazetted 24th September 1943).
Johnson was posted to the Planning Staff at 11 Group in September, his send-off party from the Canadians was such that the wing was stood down the next day.
He returned to operations in March 1944, to lead 144 Wing at Digby.
Between 25th April and 27th September he destroyed six Fw190's, seven Me109's and shared in destroying a Ju88 on the ground. He was awarded a second Bar to the DSO (gazetted 7th July 1944).
The Wing was disbanded in October 1944 and Johnson was posted to lead 127 Wing. On 6th April 1945 he was promoted to Acting Group Captain, to command 125 Wing, equipped with the latest Griffon-engined Spitfire XIVs.
After VE Day, on 8th May, he led the wing to Denmark. In the course of the war, he had never been shot down and had only once been hit by an enemy fighter, over France in August 1944.
After Denmark, he was posted to Germany in command of 124 Wing. In 1947, having reverted to the peacetime substantive rank of wing commander, he was sent to Canada to attend the RCAF staff college at Toronto.
The next year he went on exchange to the US Air Force, and in 1950-51 he served with the Americans in Korea, before returning to Germany to command RAF Wildenrath until 1954.
In 1957, once more a group captain, Johnson transferred to the world of bombers as commander of the new Victor V-bomber station at Cottesmore, Rutland.
After promotion to air commodore and a spell as Senior Air Staff Officer at Bomber Command's 3 Group at Mildenhall, Suffolk, he received (on promotion to air vice-marshal) his final command - Middle East Air Forces, Aden.
After retirement from the RAF in 1965, he sat on company boards in Britain, Canada and South Africa. He also launched and, until 1989, ran the Johnnie Johnson Housing Trust, providing housing and care for the elderly, the disabled, and vulnerable young people and families. Today the trust manages more than 4,000 houses and flats.
Johnson had ended the war as the top-scoring Allied pilot, with thirty-eight confirmed victories. He received the DFC (US)(gazetted 18th January 1944), the Order of Leopold (Belg)(1947) and the C de G (Belg)(1947).
He was awarded the Air Medal (US) in December 1950 and the Legion of Merit (US) in October 1951. Johnson retired on 15th March 1966 as an Air Vice-Marshal. He was made a CBE (1st January 1960) and a CB (1st January 1965).
Johnson died on 30th January 2001.
Photos and text courtesy of Battle of Britain Monument website