During the five years of operational squadrons based at RAF Westhampnett, now Goodwood Aerodrome, many aces, high-ranking officers, war artists, members of parliament and even royalty were to visit; the list is a who's who of World War II. "Johnnie" Johnson, one of Douglas Bader's section operating at RAF Westhampnett in the summer of 1941, went on to be the RAF top scoring ace of the war and eclipses all others.
“Johnnie” Johnson not only flew 700 Spitfire combat sorties during WWII but he went on to score 38 confirmed victories, some of which were claimed whilst flying from RAF Westhampnett. He also was awarded a staggering three Distinguished Service Orders (one award below Victoria Cross), two distinguished flying crosses plus other awards from other allied countries.
His first ‘innings’ at the airfield as a pilot officer started when he was with the 616 Squadron at RAF Westhampnett in May 1941, flying as part of the ‘Dogsbody’ section. On the 26 June, he was to score his first success against a Bf 109 and his score started to build rapidly, destroying two more aircraft on the 6 and 14 July 1941. His success as a fighter pilot was now legendary. He was on the operation that Douglas Bader was shot down on the 9 August 1941. Post the loss of Bader; he famously had painted a slogan on the cowling of his Spitfire after stating “Bader Bus Co Still Running”. By September of 1941, he had claimed his fifth and sixth confirmed victories.
He was posted as squadron commander to 610 (County of Chester) Squadron in 1942. The squadron was to return to RAF Westhampnett after its first tenancy in 1941. Arriving in January of 1943 and staying until April of that year. “Johnnie” Johnson claimed his eighth and ninth victories at this time whilst leading his pilots from the airfield.
His success continued as did his luck and he was promoted to Wing Commander to lead the Kenley Wing. He subsequently led a Canadian Wing of Spitfires in 1944, tasked with keeping the skies clear of enemy aircraft over the eastern flank of the D-Day invasion fleet. The replica Mark IX Spitfire owned and based at Goodwood pays tribute to Johnson and is painted just as his aircraft was on the 6 June 1944, coded JE-J.
Johnson was a truly formidable fighter pilot. He did not stop at the end of hostilities and went on to serve in the Korean War, remaining in the RAF gaining the rank of Air Vice Marshall. His book ‘Wing Leader’ is an inspiring read, and mentions his time at RAF Westhampnett both as a squadron pilot and leader. He was one of our most famous pilots and sadly passed away in 2001 aged 85.