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on 20 November 2011
It does what it says on the tin. The book covers Johnsons' climb from a green Auxiliary pilot to his command of two Spitfire wings, touching on his staff work in between. It's a bare knuckle ride at times, Johnsons' restrained style making his harrowing account of deadly aerial combat even more immediate. He takes time in the narrative to explain the mechanics of fighting in the air, the role of the different members of a squadron and their ground controllers. He talks the reader through aerial tactics in laymans' terms, including the different approaches to formation flying and how the tactics employed by both sides evolved over the course of the war.
He doesn't hold back on criticising his senior officers' decisions. His account of defying their pet theories is typically dry, but his stopping regular `rhubarbs', dangerous, low level fighter raids over occupied Europe, doubtlessly saved many allied pilots lives.
Finally, after describing the sacrifices of the long, hard fighting, he recalls an air show he arranged at the wars' end. Nothing Johnson did was entirely without purpose and the show was no exception. The Danes had suffered at the hands of the RAF in a wartime raid. Ticket sales from the air show would go to victims of the attack, while the demonstration of Western air power went some way to reassuring the Danes that they would be suitably protected from the potential of Soviet expansion. Like most things Johnson did it was a tremendous success.
He was the genuine article, a real hero in spite of his modest account. I can't recommend this book enough.
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on 15 June 2017
The book is written in a style that reflects the time these events took place. It was a time when the nation was more comfortable with its self which it not the case anymore, sad but true.
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on 5 January 2017
I bought the original when first published but it was lost many years ago. Good book, well written and inspiring.
One of the heroes of mine as a 'young lad' in the 1950's, along with Douglas Bader, Bob Stanford-Tuck and many wartime heroes.
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on 25 June 2017
Very good read.
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on 17 November 2015
An excellent record of fighter command in the air of a leader of men in combat, superior Spitfire battles against a determined enemy. An enjoyable read.
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on 6 July 2014
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on 30 October 2011
Just finished reading this and felt humbled at the everyday exploits of this man and his colleagues during WW2. JEJ was at the forefront of many of the major events including the closing stages of the Battle of Britain, fighter sweeps over France, devastation at Falaise, Normandy, Berlin...all there in matter of fact detail with some humorous moments. Also describing the fear and panic when things were not going quite so well. He has told his story compassionately with many fond references to his fellow Canadian pilots.
To survive from almost the beginning to the end of the war without being shot down, his aircraft only getting hit once, nearly forty kills and numerous damaged and probables to his credit, in my eyes Air Vice Marshal James Edgar Johnson is a legend and amongst others, the like of which we will probably never see again!
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on 3 December 2010
Fantastic read that came alive for me because of some of the additional detail when not in the cockpit. One also gets a great sense of the ongoing battle as the front moves eastwards eventually reaching Berlin which gives this broader scope than other books purely focusing on the Battle of Britain for example. Because of the time served in the sky it is also interesting to see the development of Luftwaffe aircraft culminating in the Me 262 first appearing in the skies.
One of those books I was sad to see end.
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A classic story of how the UK won the air war over Europe in WW2, written by one of the original Top Guns. Or is it?

I read this after having recently read Pierre Clostermann's The Big Show (Cassell Military Paperbacks), and over the last fifty years many other similar books including Paul Brickhill's excellent Reach for the Sky: Story of Douglas Bader, D.S.O., D.F.C. (Cassell Military Paperbacks).

Johnson's version of history is the golden gloss, written from the victor's point of view. It tends to skate over the hardship and exhaustion, terror and overwhelming odds, and how close Britain came to losing in so many ways; starvation, lack of man-power, lack of equipment, lack of almost everything except courage and the will to survive at all costs. He does mention how they had to rethink their tactics, and eventually adopted the Germans' well tried and practiced methods learnt in the Spanish war. Also he talks of how much he learned when flying with Douglas Bader, right up to when Bader disappeared from the sky.

He was lucky in that he missed much of the Battle of Britain when the majority of British fighter pilots were being shot down mainly because of their inexperience and inadequate tactics, in the same way as Clostermann escaped that particular carnage. He was also lucky in sticking with the evolving Spitfire; while Clostermann went on to fly a wide assortment of aircraft on different kinds of mission, some of which he survived only because he also had the Top Gun prescience. Both were frequently moved by their instincts, ahead of time, only to see bullets streaking through where they would otherwise have been.

If one reads both of Johnson's and Clostermann's books, then I think it is possible to gain a much better balanced view of how the second war was fought in the air. Each is rivetting in their own way: Johnson sailing over the problems is more reminiscent of Biggles; while Clostermann gives us the grime and warts, the fear and the death, and the politics and confusion. Both were flying before the war, both struggled to get into the action, both survived the war, each gained an incredible number of victories, but their two stories are so different, making two different sides of the same coin.

I think Clostermann's is the better history, based on his diaries and journals, better written, more realistic and with more background, but Johnson's is the more exciting and pacier to read.
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on 1 April 2003
For anyone with any interest in the air battles of the second world war, this book recounts the story of a legend. The reader is following the career of 'Johnnie'from his mid air engagements during the battle of Britain and ends with the wing leader soaring in the skies above the conquered third reich.This book has enough sobering detail of life in war but has a dash of the chivalrous 'Bigglesworth' excitement. It literally makes you feel as if you have used your fuel, spent your ammo, and limped home with battle damage.The book encapsulates all this atmosphere without exposing it to the risk of sounding artificial and innacurate or distasteful.A focker of a good read ,
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