By Pierre Lapprand with Dave O'Malley, Michel Côté and John Baert
A smiling Johnny Colton, Royal Canadian Air Force fighter pilot, at the end of the war, shows no sign of the stresses he endured during battles such as Operation Overlord, Operation Market Garden, Battle of the Bulge and Operation Bodenplatte. Photo: John Baert Collection
Today, there are but a few old fighter pilots left from the Second World War who can claim that they survived a tour of dangerous low level ground attack missions in the Hawker Typhoon. The Typhoon, or “Tiffie” as she was lovingly called by her pilots and ground crews, was an aircraft widely acknowledged as one of the toughest, strongest, and quickest of ground attack aircraft, one that was challenging to fly, let alone fight, in the hands of an inexperienced pilot. There is a quiet and humble man in the Eastern Townships of Québec, a friend of Vintage Wings of Canada, who can claim this honour. He is a man who faced mortal danger a thousand times and who, in times of war, experienced, and was changed by, the intensity of friendship, courage, fear and toughness in the face of the enemy. This simple man has, with gentle persuasion and encouragement, shared with us his powerful and still vivid memories of a young pilot in the breech of war, living every day with the knowledge it might be his last.
It was 1941. A young man with a broad toothy smile named Johnny Colton, a resident of Sherbrooke, Québec, headed to the recruitment centre in Sherbrooke and enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force. He had just turned 18 years old.
Inside one year, he will become a fighter pilot, trained at a Hawker Typhoon Operational Training Unit (OTU) to fight down low, bombing and strafing in support of Allied ground troops. When it was all said and done at the end of the war, after experiencing hell up close, having lost many comrades and having escaped his own death many times, he returned from his tour of operations having completed 104 “ops” (missions in RAF parlance). All 104 of John Colton’s ops, including one on 6 June 1944 (D-Day), were exceedingly dangerous, for he was operating down close to the fight on the ground at the front where flak, obstacles and even small arms fire posed extra threats upon the Tiffie pilot.
“Johnny” will return home to his beloved Québec at the end of the war and, thirty years later, in 1976, will meet again and marry the daughter of the owner of the farm field on which he had made an emergency landing while training on the Tiger Moth in 1942. This fortuitous landing was near the small rural town of Danville, near the training field known as No. 4 Elementary Flying Training School (EFTS) at Windsor Mills, Québec. Following a solo flight during which he had been practicing aerobatic rolls and loops, he became lost when a strong wind had pushed him far from the familiar field around his base. With his fuel tank showing almost empty, he made a smart decision and put the Tiger Moth down onto a clear farmer’s field. One can imagine that the sight of a handsome young pilot and his bright yellow biplane was very exciting for local children. Among curious children, who had come to see the aircraft that had just landed on a neighbour’s farm, was a sweet little girl of just eight years old who would, some thirty years later, become his wife.
In 2005, at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Hamilton, Johnny Colton came across a de Havilland Tiger Moth, serial number 8922. Looking in his log book, he realized this was the very same Tiger Moth which he force landed on a farm near Danville, Québec in 1941. The young girl who was the daughter of the farmer was 12 years younger than he was and of no interest to him at the time. But 35 years later, as a woman of 43 years, he would meet her again and marry her. Photo: Johnny Colton Collection
A couple of pages from Johnny Colton's log book showing his earliest entries at No. 4 EFTS Windsor Mills, Québec. Looking at the total flying time to date in the first column of the right page, we see that this scan includes Johnny's first solo on 29 September 1942, flying Tiger Moth 8939. Flight Sergeant Chambers knew a good stick when he saw one and let Johnny solo at 8 hours. This would be the birth of a great warrior flyer and proof that the BCATP system was an excellent one. Johnny Colton Collection
At Geneseo in 2007, Tiger Moth 8922 trundles along the grass field, looking much the same as the day Johnny force landed it in a farm field near Danville, Québec. Photo: Jean-Pierre Bonin
There is not much left of the once busy No. 4 EFTS at Windsor Mills today, except part of the concrete ramp. There were not too many flying training schools in Québec during the Second World War, due in large part to the rugged, hilly landscape of most of the province. Windsor Mills produced Johnny Colton and Hart Finley, to whom the Vintage Wings Fleet Finch is dedicated. Source: Google Map—Johnny Colton Collection
Local Eastern Townships resident Yvon Goudreau was a civilian member of the Ground Crew at No. 4 EFTS Windsor Mills. Here he poses next to a winterized Tiger Moth (canopy and skis) on a lovely winter's day. We can't be certain, but the serial number under the wing appears to be 8922—the fateful Tiger Moth that led Johnny to his future wife. Photo: Johnny Colton Collection
As this article in a Sherbrooke paper reveals, flight training was a dangerous thing and the immediate needs of the war meant that a high loss rate would be, of necessity, acceptable. This tragic accident at No. 4 EFTS Windsor Mills, on 8 September 1942 was the first. The story goes on to explain: “In the first fatal accident to occur at the Windsor Mills Elementary Flying Training School during the two years and three months it has been in operation, two young Royal Canadian Air Force student pilots lost their lives when their planes crashed in mid-air at four thirty Saturday afternoon. The dead are LAC Thomas B. Fetherston, 21, of Toronto, who was killed instantly when he suffered a broken neck and other injuries and LAC James Robertson Davie, 19, also of Toronto, who died fifteen minutes after the crash in the school hospital. Flight Lieutenant Mackenzie Hume, Officer Commanding the School, said the accident occurred at about 1,000 feet, a mile southeast of the School, and that the two young flyers were turning about to come in for a landing. Flying Officer Gravel, Medical Officer, could do nothing to save Davie, who failed to regain consciousness after the accident. Both lads had been at the school for five weeks, and would have graduated to a higher branch of training in three weeks. Their bodies were taken to Toronto Saturday night, where funeral services will be held. Davie is the son of Mrs. Nary Davie of Toronto, and Fetherston the son of Mr. T. Fetherston, of Toronto.” Johnny Colton Collection
Invitation to Johnny Colton to attend an RCAF band concert in the summer of 1942. Johnny, like all the young men of the day, loved to go dancing. Soon he would be dancing in the skies over France with an angel of death. Johnny Colton Collection
During his training at No. 4 EFTS, Johnny quickly demonstrated a natural ability in the air. He took a Tiger Moth into the Eastern Townships sky solo for the first time after just 8 hours of dual instruction. From his EFTS, he was selected for multi-engine training and was sent to No. 8 Service Flying Training School in Moncton, New Brunswick. Here he trained on the elegant Avro Anson, obtaining his coveted pilot wings in March 1943. Though he was on a track for multi-engine aircraft, Johnny would find himself at a fighter OTU in due course.
Leaving Canada for the first time, he boarded the massive and fast troopship RMS Queen Elizabeth at Halifax bound for Greenoch, Scotland, the country of his origins. The ship and its 18,000 Allied servicemen passengers took seven days for the crossing, with a zigzagging detour to the South Atlantic to avoid heavier northern U-boat concentrations. After landing at Bournemouth in Southern England, Johnny’s first assignment was an aircrew course on survival techniques (imagine the base pool transformed into an aquatic training camp where pilots learned to deploy and get into inflatable dinghies.) It was here that he experienced the war for the first time during a surprise hit-and-run attack by two Focke-Wulf Fw-190s strafing and dropping bombs. Upon completion of survival training it was time for the pilots to receive their operational training assignments, and while most of Johnny’s comrades were sent to bombing training centres, he was assigned operational training as a fighter pilot.
In Bournemouth, Johnny befriended a young man by the name of Ralph Hassall who also did his pilot training in Canada. Bournemouth was a very tourist-friendly city, and the two young pilots were stationed at the Bath Hill Court Hotel which had been requisitioned by the military. Of those days, Johnny says: “In peacetime, Bournemouth is a South Coast resort town, so our stay there was very enjoyable. However, we did experience a hair-raising event while there. It was a Sunday and we more or less had the day to ourselves. We had had our lunch and were lolling about in the park along with hundreds of other service people when all of a sudden, at about 1:15 p.m., two German fighter aircraft (Fw-190s) appeared at low level and started strafing with heavy cannon. They also had bombs slung under the wings and they proceeded to drop them, striking a hotel. They concentrated the strafing on the park area which left many wounded and dead. We helped in the cleanup which was a trying effort.”
Johnny Colton (right) became fast friends with another pilot by the name of Flight Sergeant Ralph Hassall, while in training at Bournemouth, UK, in 1943 and on to Hurricane and Typhoon conversions. They went their separate ways, and never heard from each other again after Typhoon OTU. Johnny had lost contact with Ralph and had searched for his friend for many years after the war. After multiple efforts in searching for Hassall for 59 years, Johnny finally found that Ralph had died in 2001 near Cleveland, Ohio, where he was living. Johnny organized a proper tombstone to mark Ralph's simple gravesite—a stone that speaks to the fact that he was a fighter pilot of the RAF in 3 Squadron. God bless these boys. Photo: Johnny Colton Collection
After the war was long over, Johnny discovered that his friend Ralph Hassall went on to fly Hawker Typhoons and Tempests with 3 Squadron, RAF. Ironically, they never realized how close they had come to each other in the fighting to come—Ralph at the airfield at Volkel, and Johnny at Eindhoven just a few miles apart, in Netherlands, at end of 1944. Ralph flew with the famous French uber ace Pierre Clostermann. Standing, left to right (photo captioned with full names, last names and even nick names): Ralph Hassall, Pierre Clostermann, Walker, Peter West, Bruce Cole and Macintyre. Sitting: Gordon, Dug Worley, Wright and Torpy. Photo: Johnny Colton Collection
To get back his rusty flying skills, he rekindled his relationship with the famous Tiger Moth (the canopy-less British variant with a tail skid) at the airfield at RAF Ansty near Coventry in Warwickshire. He then moved up to fly the Miles Master advanced trainer, the RAF's rough equivalent to the North American Harvard, at No. 17 AFU (Advanced Flying Unit) at RAF Watton, Norfolk. Johnny advanced quickly through solo flight and night flying and then went to RAF Annan in Dumpfriesshire, Scotland where he trained on Hawker Hurricanes at No. 55 OTU—the training ground for so many RCAF fighter pilots.
A Miles Master of No. 5 Service Flying Training School. The Miles M.9 Master was a British 2-seat monoplane advanced trainer built by Miles Aircraft Ltd for the Royal Air Force and Fleet Air Arm during the Second World War. It went through a number of variants according to engine availability and was even modified as an emergency fighter during the Battle of Britain. It was a fast, strong and fully aerobatic aircraft and served as an excellent introduction to the high performance British fighter aircraft of the day: the Spitfire and Hurricane. Photo: Imperial War Museum, COL198
Left: Johnny Colton at age 22, showing no effects from the terrible stresses of 104 ops in the Typhoon, proudly wears his RCAF wings and campaign ribbons. Photo: John Baert Collection Right: When in Great Britain, most young Canadians, who had never really been anywhere outside of their hometowns, would visit all the tourist spots wherever they were and send photos home to their families. Flight Sergeant Johnny Colton was no exception. Here he poses on a stack of massive cannon/mortar balls at Edinburgh Castle in Scotland in 1943. This photo was probably taken when Johnny was at the Hurricane OTU at Annan, Scotland. The only comment Johnny offered with this photo was: “I needed a hair cut!” Photo: Johnny Colton Collection
Experiencing the War First Hand
Part of the training exercises at 55 OTU consisted of formation flying with varying numbers of aircraft, simulated aerial combat, interception of bombers and ground attack. On one particular training mission, the squadron was making a simulated dive bombing of a group of warehouses. The 12 aircraft in the formation were required to make a short dive from 12,000 feet, recovering at 10,000 feet. Johnny was the last of the 12 Hurricanes, flying a clapped-out Mk 1 (V6913). As per agreement, Johnny banked and followed his wingman in the eleventh aircraft, staying close. Arriving at 10,000 feet, the pilot in the 11th Hurricane continued descending, with Johnny still in formation with him. Johnny’s speed increased rapidly, past the point where it became impossible to recover from the dive, even pulling on the control column with all his strength. Within a few seconds which, to Johnny, seemed like a century, the fabric wrapping the aircraft’s fuselage began to peel away on the left side. Under the aerodynamic loads, the tail of the Hurricane begins to twist (on the ground it is measured as 15 degrees to the vertical axis!) Johnny successfully jettisoned the canopy and was attempting to leap from the cockpit, but again the slipstream was forcing him down and preventing him from leaving. It is clear that the aircraft in front of him was fully out of control, and it rolled onto its back and began a fatal fall. Johnny then used the only thing left to him—the trim wheel. He feeds in tail heavy trim and gradually the nose begins to come up. With superior airmanship and not a little luck, he managed to regain control of his aircraft, though it was in a very unstable condition. He managed to level off and bring the crippled and heavily damaged Hurricane in for a safe landing.
A Royal Air Force Hawker Hurricane Mark X (AG162 “EH-W”) of No. 55 Operational Training Unit based at Annan, Dumfriesshire (UK), in flight. This would be Johnny's first taste of a real fighter aircraft but, compared to the Typhoon, the Hurricane was a piece of cake. Photo: Imperial War Museum, CH 9220
The next, very big step: Hurricanes to Typhoons. This photograph was taken during the conversion course from Hurricanes to Typhoons. From left to right: Charlie Hall (CAN), Pat McConvey (CAN), Bill Speedie (AUS), Johnny Colton (CAN), Ralph Hassall (CAN). We see Hassall with his right hand resting on the left shoulder of Johnny Colton and in that we read a bond and friendship often found in comrades-in-arms. Photo: Johnny Colton Collection
Many Ways to Kill Yourself
After Hurricane OTU, Colton transferred to another OTU to train on the massive and powerful Hawker Typhoon. It will be a huge change for the young pilot! Training for young pilots in those days was a real adventure. They were given a small instruction manual containing the parameters of the aircraft and a large detailed diagram of the cockpit with at least 70 items including dials, buttons and levers. These, they had to identify visually and instinctively with their fingertips. They received precious little advice and three or four days after commencing the OTU, it was time for their first flights. It was that simple.
While the steps were simple, the aircraft was not by any means. By this time, the Typhoon had developed a bad reputation as a difficult aircraft to fly but, fortunately, the problems that lead to this reputation were all part of the past, especially in the early models of the Typhoon. For example, on the early Typhoon Mk IA, the pilot accessed the cockpit via a door on the side of the fuselage, which closed like a car door. Unfortunately, if the pilot had to jump, it was difficult to push the door open into the slipstream. Johnny flew this type only once. Another frightening tendency on the early variants was that sometimes, during a pull-up after a dive, the tail of the aircraft would break off at its root section. Though too late for a few unlucky Typhoon pilots, this was soon remedied by strengthening the root of the tail.
A Brief Typhoon Development History
Hawker Aircraft Ltd was working on a new aircraft model to eventually replace the Hurricane. The prototype (P5212) of the new Hawker aircraft, called the “Typhoon”, made its first flight on 24 February 1940. Its design and development had been accelerated to fight a new opponent in the German skies: the Focke-Wulf Fw-190. The Typhoon was introduced in mid-1941.
At the time, the Typhoon was the only aircraft available to the RAF capable of competing with the Fw-190 at low altitude. The “Tiffie”, with her impressive dimensions, would eventually become the finest Allied ground attack fighter. Typhoons had a massive three-bladed 14 foot propeller, were 32 feet long with a wingspan of 41 ½ feet. The cockpit was 8 feet above the ground and pilots climbed with the help of steps hidden by sprung doors in the fuselage.
While on the ground, there was no forward visibility at all for a pilot sitting in the cockpit. The control panel was much more complicated than that found in the Hurricane. Loaded for a fight, the Typhoon could have a gross weight of up to six tons. It was fitted with a massively complex 24 cylinder Napier Sabre engine, one of the most complex piston engines ever built.
The complicated “H-24” cylinder Sabre had a displacement volume of 36.70 litres with an output ranging from 2,000 to 2,500 hp for the first 2 versions with an astonishing 3,000 hp in reserve (injection of a mixture of water and ethanol).
This complicated and heavy engine had 48 spark plugs, and weighed in at 1.1 ton sitting on a repair stand. Its fuel distribution was through a system of sleeve valves. To start this monster, the Typhoon pilot had to set the throttle to five-eighth of an inch and no more, otherwise there was a risk of drowning carburetors in avgas with a resulting engine fire. The ignition of the 24 cylinders, using what was called the Coffman System, was affected using a shotgun-style cartridge. As the cartridge exploded, the propeller rotated about 450º. At that point, with the cylinders full of gasoline, it was a must for the engine to successfully start, or it had an 80% chance of catching fire at the next attempt. The fuel had a very high octane rating, the Typhoon taking only 130 octane grade gas. Before starting the engine (and during the flight), the pilot was obliged to wear an oxygen mask because the cockpit immediately filled with carbon monoxide exhaust. The Napier Sabre engine had an awesome decibel output, sounding nearly five times louder than a Merlin. The vibration caused by this beast was disconcerting to the inexperienced pilot.
While taxiing, it was recommended not to abuse the brakes, to avoid heating them and consequently decreasing their effectiveness. At the hold position, the pilot had to run up the engine 3,000 rpm to clear out the cylinders. At start-up and during taxi, the engine would spit plenty of hot oil, but the mechanic, who often guided the pilot by sitting on a wing, learned to have a cloth handy to wipe the windshield before the pilot took off. It was better not to wait too long before taking off, as the engine heated quickly, reaching easily a temperature of 95º C.
With the massive propeller powered by the equally massive Sabre, the power on take-off was phenomenal, torque being so strong as to frighten any unwary beginner pilot. On take-off roll, the aircraft would veer violently to the right even with the rudder pedal fully depressed left. It was only with the proper rudder trim and the right mix of power that the pilots were able to keep the aircraft centred, the ailerons not being effective below 93 mph. Finally, it was not uncommon, but desired and safer, to have all hangars near the end of the runway removed to avoid collisions from aborted or mismanaged take-offs!
One of the most complex piston engines of the Second World War, the 2,180 hp Napier Sabre engine powered the Typhoon. This is a cutaway display engine at the London Science Museum. Photo: Paul Maritz
The Typhoon climbed quickly, with a climb rate of 43 feet per second. She was fast too, with a maximum speed of about 410 mph. The Typhoon was heavy though, and a little forward push on the stick increased the speed very quickly. During the descent, one could find the aircraft pushing 550 mph but, due to her size and power, she was a very stable platform for attack. The IB model that Johnny flew had four Hispano Mk II 20 mm cannons (identical to the Vintage Wings Hawker Hurricane IV). This gave him a hitting punch of 800 heavy rounds in each of four ammunition lockers, but this could all be expended in just 20 seconds of fire. The Typhoon was also the first British fighter aircraft to be armed with ballistic rockets but, as no guidance system was available yet, it was necessary for the pilots to be precise during their descent to the targets. These 60 lb rockets could pierce the armour of even the enemy’s largest main battle tank—the infamous Tiger. The aircraft had four RP-3 rockets under each wing, and hard points for two bombs—either 500 or 1,000 pounders.
Johnny Colton perches on his Hawker Typhoon in Manston, England, in July 1944. The massive size and stature of the Tiffie can be gauged in this image. Courtesy John Colton, colourization by Dave O'Malley
The beast: the Hawker Typhoon Mk IB (MN234 SF-T), running up on an engine test at B78 Eindhoven, Holland. It is loaded with 60 lb rocket projectiles and cannon rounds. Johnny flew this particular 137 Squadron Typhoon while in Holland in 1944. That aircraft was eventually shot down during the Ardennes Campaign in December 1944. Photo: Johnny Colton Collection
Loaded for bear. Sergeant W. Page of Coulsdon, Surrey and Leading Aircraftman G. Skelsey of London fit a long-range fuel tank to a Hawker Typhoon Mark IB of No. 137 Squadron RAF at B78 Eindhoven, Holland. The tanks enabled the Typhoons to carry out strikes deeper into German territory, at the expense of a reduced weapons load of two, instead of four, rocket projectiles carried under each wing. Photo: Imperial War Museum
The Typhoon had virtually zero forward visibility. For manoeuvring on tight taxi strips, it was expedient to have a member of the ground crew sitting on the wing to direct the pilot. Here, a Typhoon is directed by an “erk” through standing water at a captured German airfield (as witnessed by the sign on the wall in the background which says Smoking Prohibited.) Photo: Michel Côté Collection
The English Weather
England is well-known for its terrible weather and in particular for its dense fogs—“A fog so dense that even the crows prefer to walk.” as the British were fond of saying! The danger of bad weather, so common in northern Europe, is mentioned in most stories written by pilots of war and with Johnny, it was no exception in his memoir. The Typhoon pilot’s favourite air space to operate was down low in the weeds, and the low and persistent fogs were always a danger.
The massive and complex German air defenses were feared for good reason. Without going into fine details, the German flak installations (operated by the Luftwaffe) were mainly composed of guns of 20 mm or 37 mm calibre, with a range of 3 miles against low and medium attack levels, and accurate heavy guns of 88 mm calibre with a 6.2 mile range against high altitude attacks.
When Johnny was conducting his ground attack operations, the flak he met was primarily Flak 38 (the formidable Flugabwehrkanone 38), a bristling quadruple cannon pointing upwards and firing 20 mm shells at 800 rounds per minute. As well, he faced formidable automatic AAA cannon of 37 mm calibre, firing explosive shells at a rate of 80/200 strokes per minute. A direct hit from just one of these shells packed enough explosive punch to bring down any aircraft.
Not many of Johnny’s squadron mates knew it in 1943, but the Germans had increasingly allocated the operation of AAA guns to women and children. The Germans would set traps for fighter-bombers like Johnny’s squadron’s Typhoons, luring them into ambush locations where, once Typhoons were committed, the Germans unleashed a hellish crossfire of flak from all directions. Johnny once saw his wingman hit by flak while flying just 60 feet away from his aircraft. The pilot was possibly paralyzed by a cannon shell which exploded at his back. It was a heartbreaking experience to watch as his friend's aircraft slowly slipped into a death dive, with nothing he could do that would help.
And, as if there were not enough danger from the enemy, the Allies often confused Typhoons with Focke-Wulfs Fw-190s because of their fairly similar wingtips and opened with “friendly” fire.
May 1944—Joining 137 Squadron RAF
Having completed twenty hours of operational training on the Typhoon, Johnny was sent to join 137 Squadron of the Royal Air Force which, at the time, was based at RAF Manston in Kent. Though an English airfield, it was just a six minute flight to France in a Typhoon.
Johnny flew six flights in the first two days of his assignment—formation training and recognition flights along the French and Dutch coasts, and also practiced gunnery and rocket firing. The following flights were operational—to destroy German fast torpedo boats (Schnellboots or E-boats) which would enter the English Channel at night to attack British convoys. The Typhoons would take off before dawn to catch the Schnellboots returning to their bases. The Typhoons would be “wheels in the wells” at around 5 a.m. and the ops were carried out at an altitude of just 20 to 30 feet above the sea to avoid being detected by enemy radar. Johnny sometimes sits duty as a scramble pilot, sitting in his Tiffie, ready to take off in minutes in case of surprise air attacks. Pilots sitting in their cockpits were relieved every two hours. A typical mission for the 137 Squadron Typhoons was to fly to France to attack radar installations, military vehicles, locomotives and many other appropriate targets of opportunity in occupied France. Often these ops were carried out in deplorable weather. While these types of ops became routine, there were others that were far more exciting and dangerous, such as attacking V-1 launch sites protected by heavy flak concentrations and even attacking V-1 “Doodlebugs” in flight.
This would be the view that Colton would have had when intercepting and shooting down a V-1 “buzz bomb”. A German Fiesler Fi 103 flying-bomb (V-1) in flight, as seen by the gun camera of an intercepting RAF fighter aircraft, moments before the fighter destroyed the V-1 by cannon fire. Photo: Imperial War Museum, C 5736
Since the Hawker Typhoon and V-1 flew at approximately the same speed, the only real chance of success was to destroy them by being higher than them and diving on them. It was not uncommon to have other Typhoons and Tempests positioned and attacking the same V-1. Attacking a Doodlebug at night was “easier” because they could be easily identified by the trail of flame given off by their pulse jet engines. Positioning yourself for attacking V-1s in daylight was difficult, but doing so at night added another layer of danger.
Johnny tells us what happened while returning from one of these missions: On the night of 20 July 1944, we were returning to base at Manston after two hours of hunting V-1s in the dark. Manston, being the nearest British base to France, there were often squadrons of fighters landing at the base at night in anticipation of operations planned the next day at dawn. Arriving overhead his home base, Johnny was ordered to wait as two squadrons of Spitfires were finishing landing at Manston. His thirsty Typhoon’s gas tank was almost empty after a full night of hunting and he could not wait as ordered. Not wanting to finish his op by parachuting onto his home field, he chose to land, not on the runway, but rather an unmarked area he was familiar with. During his approach, his aircraft is slammed by the propeller wash of Spitfires he can’t even see. He decides to land the aircraft on a grassy area, which he cannot see either, but he happens to flare the aircraft at the right time, relying on the position of the main runway lights further away. He managed to land without damage. Later, when debriefing, he realizes his good fortune. In the circuit, instead of selecting the navigation light switch position to make his aircraft visible to the landing Spitfires, Johnny had accidentally selected the pitot heat switch instead. Good thing he remained invisible as at the same time there were two Messerschmitt Bf-109s in the landing circuit. If his plane was visible, he would have been a great target.
Ultimately, the two German pilots surrendered on that day, the day of the assassination attempt against Hitler known as the Valkyrie.
In the summer of a long and difficult campaign, Johnny (Middle row, fourth from left) and his 137 Squadron mates pose together with a Tiffie in Normandy in August 1944. Many of the men in this photo would not make it home. The pilot standing alone on the extreme right is Johnny's good friend, James “Paddy” Shemeld. Photo: John Baert Collection
During Operation Overlord, Johnny escorted ships which were towing concrete caissons to the beaches of Normandy to construct into a temporary port to accommodate the offloading of troops and equipment. On D-Day itself, 6 June 1944, he provided an overview along the coasts of France and Belgium. His mission is to prevent potential attacks from German vessels on the left flank of the Allies.
During the post D-Day period that followed, he lost many comrades in battle. On 13 August 1944, the squadron was moved to France at a rough field near the town of Coulombs just northwest of Caen, close to the front. The airstrip, known as B-6, is really just an agricultural field transformed into an airfield, pilots and ground crew housed in tents. They were so close to the front that enemy mortar rounds fell close by. Everywhere, in the hot and dry Norman summer, there is dust, lots of dust.
The conditions at Coulombs' B-6 temporary airfield were primitive, as witnessed by Johnny’s friend and pilot Paddy Shemeld standing outside his heavy canvas tent. Paddy, one of the most experienced hands on the squadron would be shot down by a Messerschmitt Bf-109 on 31 December, the day before Operation Bodenplatte, the failed all-out German aerial campaign to re-establish air superiority. Photo: Johnny Colton Collection
The squadron’s Typhoon tasks are now coordinated to support Allied land operations. The Allies develop a strategy for close air support called “cab-rank” system. Like the first cab in a London queue, the Typhoons circle in an area from which they are called, one after the other by ground troops, to attack all kinds of targets: tanks, vehicles, anti-aircraft guns. Targets are sometimes marked by the allies with red smoke.
This cab-rank type of mission that Johnny is called to do in Normandy is also used during the Battle of Falaise. Caught in a trap, the Germans lose much of their equipment. 6,000 German soldiers are killed and 50,000 are taken prisoners of war. Of this terrible and costly battle, Colton would say: “The destruction was such that one could smell death from 300 meters above. I've never seen such a disaster in any of my following missions.” After a short transfer to Créton, west of Paris on 29 August 1944 and then to Amiens in northern Paris on 3 September 1944, Johnny’s squadron was sent off to Belgium.
A drawing of the layout of revetments and runway at the Allied airfield near Coulombs, Normandy was known as B-6. Johnny Colton Collection
The site of the Allied airfield at Coulombs today. It was from here, next to the quiet and bucolic Norman town that Typhoons of 124 Wing hammered the Germans for weeks. Photo: Google Earth
The memorial stone at the site of B-6 in Coulombs–Ste Croix-Grand-Tonne. Plus a close-up of the inscription which honours the airmen of 124 Wing, of which Johnny's 137 Squadron was part. The graphic shows a loaded Typhoon with invasion stripes collecting its landing gear after lifting off from the airfield, bound for German lines. A very fitting tribute Photo: Matthieu Lapprand
When author Lapprand showed this photo to Johnny after a return from a trip to France, he asked: “Johnny, do you recognize this church?” Johnny Colton smiled and answered: “Yes, the Sainte-Croix Grand Tonne church... I hit it with my wing once.” Photo: Matthieu Lapprand
Johnny and the rest of 137 Squadron arrived at their new airfield at Melsbroek in Brussels on 6 September 1944. He and his comrades are the first fighter unit to be based in Belgium. On the day they arrived, there were still fires burning around the airfield, many started from booby-trapped aircraft left behind by the Germans. Caution was therefore required, with the squadron ordered not to touch anything—explosives being found in abandoned fighters, which would have certainly killed curious pilots and ground crew looking for souvenirs. His squadron was welcomed by a jubilant crowd of Belgians, thanking them for the liberation of their city, offering them wine and kisses. Johnny felt as if he had been given the keys to the city, as the happy liberated people were all over him.
Hawker Typhoon Mark IB, MN627 “SF-N”, of No. 137 Squadron RAF undergoes engine maintenance outside a hangar, elaborately camouflaged as domestic buildings by the former German occupants, at B-58/Melsbroek, Belgium. Photo: Imperial War Museum
Ground crew of No. 3208 Servicing Commando insert collapsible tubes from a pre-heating van into the air intake and radiator of a Hawker Typhoon Mark IB in the snow at B-58/Melsbroek, Belgium. The tubes fed hot air into the Napier Sabre engines, which were notoriously difficult to start in wintry conditions, and required this treatment at regular intervals to maintain serviceability. Photo: Imperial War Museum
Johnny’s Typhoon, SF-Y. Model and photo made by John Baert
A Bridge Too Far
The epic feature film “A Bridge Too Far”, directed by Richard Attenborough, illustrates the complexity, failures and heroics of Operation Market Garden, the airborne invasion of Holland. British Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery set in motion a plan to capture intact the bridges over the Meuse and Rhine Rivers where they flowed through the Netherlands. This was planned in order to bypass the fortified Siegfried Line with a strategic military force and enter Germany with the aim of encircling the heart of Germany's industrial might—the Ruhr River valley. The operation, which was carried out from 17–25 September 1944, was, at the time, the largest airborne operation the allied had ever attempted to date and its success, it was hoped, could shorten the war—by the end of December 1944. If the first few days had proved to be a success with captured enemy bridges between Eindhoven and Nijmegen, this may well have happened. However, heavy armed German forces prevented the allies from holding the bridge on the road through Arnhem.
Johnny and his squadron participated in Market Garden, providing fighter escort and what today we call close air support. The 137 Squadron Typhoons flew high cover above hundreds of gliders and tugs carrying troops and equipment to various landing areas. During this escort the Typhoons were caught in the same hailstorm of flak as did the gliders, and like them, he could only fly on straight and level. Colton relates that he had never before seen such concentration of air defence batteries, and through this mayhem, the sky is so darkened and obscured, “We could have walked on it“ said Johnny. During the operation, Johnny completed several air support sorties, especially in the first hours of 17 September, when the Nijmegen Bridge was taken.
On 22 September, his squadron relocated from Brussels to Eindhoven, in the Netherlands. His air support missions include destroying all types of German military targets including tanks, machine gun nests, and columns of soldiers, but also buildings, trains, barges and everything that moved that could be supporting the German counteroffensive. On 12 October 1944, his squadron was selected for a special high risk operation—attacking the headquarters of General Kurt Student, commander of German airborne forces in the area. Johnny and his squadron managed to destroy part of the building (a castle) with rockets, but Student escaped injury in the attack.
Newspaper clippings from Canadian newspapers trumpeting Johnny's part in the attack against General Kurt Student's headquarters. Johnny Colton Collection
During this period, the efficiency of German flak seems higher and more formidable than ever. Replacement pilots come and go so fast that Johnny did not even have time to get to know them. At this time, they were getting as good as they gave. The airfield is attacked regularly by groups of dozens of enemy fighters. Sometimes it’s a group of 40 to 50 Messerschmitt Bf-109s, sometimes it’s Focke-Wulf Fw-190 A-8 or even the latest model: the new version called Fw-190-D Long Nose version, called the “Dora” by the Luftwaffe. The enemy often made their attacks on the Typhoons as the squadron was recovering and low on fuel after returning from an operation.
Hawker Typhoon SF-Z, an aircraft that Colton flew on many occasions, shows heavy damage from fire. When flames sweep back along the fuselage and empennage, the first things to go are the components covered in fabric. One wonders how the pilot was able to use his rudder at all. Photo: Johnny Colton Collection
At this time, a new Nazi directive was issued that put Typhoon pilots in double jeopardy. Essentially, the directive stated that Typhoon pilots must not survive a crash or a bail out. No Typhoon pilot should be taken prisoner. This official and clear directive is as much for the general population as it is for German ground troops such as the Wehrmacht or the Waffen SS, powerful evidence of a very significant fact: Typhoons and their operations were perceived as a major threat, deserving especially harsh treatment. To his knowledge, Johnny had never heard of such a measure being applied to any other combat units in the Allied air forces. This directive had an immediate effect on the morale of the Typhoon pilots operating in the area. For young Typhoon pilots, it was a truly disturbing sensation to comprehend that, if they were forced to crash land or bail out behind enemy lines, their chances of survival were nil. Johnny remembers several occasions when this dark “directive” was carried out on fellow Typhoon pilots.
There is one particular story, perhaps humorous, perhaps apocryphal, which speaks to the opposite happening to a Typhoon pilot. The story goes something like this: a Typhoon pilot at the front was scrambled to thwart an immediate attack on his airfield. This pilot was tall and lanky and he leaped into a waiting Typhoon, donning the parachute that sat in the cockpit, finishing his strap-in while taxiing. Minutes later, his aircraft was hit and he was forced to jump—over enemy territory. However, the parachute was not his, but one of his comrades who was of much smaller stature than himself. On canopy deployment, the leg straps crushed his genitals to a point where the pain was unbearable. As soon as he touched the ground, he struggled in great pain to remove his parachute straps and his flight suit. As he struggled with his chute, twisting and writhing on the ground, his bare hands covering his private parts, German soldiers witnessed the scene. Finding this very funny, the Germans are so amused by and perhaps empathic with this unusual spectacle that they decide to spare the pilot’s life and take him prisoner. He survived the war.
Battle of the Bulge
During the first days of December 1944, Colton is still flying on ops—almost daily—against trains, factories, V-1s, anti-aircraft batteries and troop concentrations. In mid-December, Germany launched a surprise attack against the Americans in the Ardennes Forest of Belgium in an attempt to reach Antwerp on the coast of the North Sea. The goal was to divide the Allies in two. From 15 to 23 December, the weather was so bad that all aircraft remained grounded.
On 24 December, the weather cleared and Johnny and his squadron mates finally were back in the fight. From 24 to 31 December, the squadron destroyed German tanks, strafed troops on the ground, but the loss rate of Typhoon and other pilots increased because of particularly accurate AAA. On 29 December, the weather began to act up again. While flying over the area surrounding the city of Hengelo in the eastern Netherlands, fog rose so quickly that there was no hope of returning to base before it was socked in. Johnny chose to fly to the only airfield still partially opened at the former Luftwaffe airfield at Volkel where other Typhoon and Tempest aircraft were operating. To get there, he had no choice but to fly extremely low, with the fog swirling on the ground behind him and closing like a white curtain. With some of his comrades, he landed safely at Volkel, but on the radio, he heard the desperate calls from those still flying who could not find the base.
Colton and his lucky squadron mates were grounded for two days at Volkel. On 31 December, Johnny was airborne again, bound for Eindhoven. En route, his flight is attacked by Bf-109s and Fw-190s. In this engagement, James “Paddy” Shemeld, one of the most veteran pilots of the group was shot down. He was flying 137 Squadron Typhoon SF-K—old black and white photographs of SF-K can easily be found today on the internet. This sad event put a damper on the festivities planned for New Year's Eve. The next day, 1 January 1945, would be for Johnny a very memorable day.
The scene at Eindhoven, Netherlands in 1944 with 137 Squadron Typhoon SF-K. Typhoon SF-K was the ship that was flown by Colton's good friend James “Paddy” Shemeld when he was shot down on the eve of Operation Bodenplatte. Photo: Johnny Colton Collection
124 Wing Typhoons armed up and rolling on perforated steel mat taxi strips at Eindhoven, Netherlands in 1944. Photo: Imperial War Museum
Having participated in several military operations which were among the best known: the landing in Normandy, Operation Market Garden, the Battle of the Bulge, the career of fighter pilot Johnny Colton continues as a film, but what he saw was far from fiction. The next battle he will witness is the mass air raid by the Luftwaffe, which was the last desperate attempt to regain their control of the air: on the morning of 1 January 1945, the surprise attack on Allied airfields on the Western Front by all available German fighters: “Operation Bodenplatte”. A thousand German fighters are launched on 17 Allied bases. The mission is top secret, their gunners are not even aware of the operation. Immediately after takeoff, they are shot by their own anti-aircraft defense. If this attack has success in the short term, it will prove to be a disaster in the long term. It only takes the allies a week to replace the destroyed aircraft, which are mostly on the ground without pilots on board. For the Germans, though, 143 pilots were killed or missing, 70 captured and 21 wounded. Among these pilots, many are considered irreplaceable due to their experiences, their grades, and their seniority. General Galland said: “With this operation, we sacrificed all our resources.” The story says that indeed the Luftwaffe will never recover from that disaster.
On the morning of Bodenplatte, Johnny Colton’s squadron was waking up on the base of Eindhoven. The first operational flight of the day is about to take off. Johnny was walking to the dispersal hut to check on the next mission. Suddenly, the unmistakable sound of enemy aircraft flying at low altitude caught his attention and roared into the quiet of the morning. With blazing guns and canon, a large gaggle of Bf-109s and Fw-190s strafed everything in their path—hitting all aircraft parked on the ground and the Typhoons taking off for the morning op. The Eindhoven airfield defensive guns replied immediately and even Johnny pulled out his trusty Smith and Wesson revolver from its holster and shot at the enemy. He realized very well that his small popgun was ineffective, yet he saw two enemy fighters colliding together and crashing in flames. Later, he walked up to a Messerschmitt Bf-109 that had just been shot down. The pilot was dead, and to Johnny’s dismay, he looked to be 16 or 17 years old.
Eindhoven was one of seven bases that were heavily damaged by the Luftwaffe—with 26 destroyed and 30 damaged Typhoons smoking on the field. Johnny lost three of his comrades that morning, the first day of the last year of the war. Their graves can be visited in the cemetery at Eindhoven today.
The opponent. The Focke-Wulf Fw-190 Würger (Shrike) was a German single-seat, single-engine fighter aircraft designed by the famed Kurt Tank in the late 1930s and widely used during the Second World War. Like the avian shrike, whose nickname is the “Butcher Bird”, the Würger was a deadly predator, one often mistaken by friendly forces for a Typhoon and vice versa because of a similar wing shape. Powered by a radial engine, the Fw-190 had ample power and was able to lift larger loads than its well-known counterpart, the Messerschmitt Bf-109. The Fw-190 was used by the Luftwaffe in a wide variety of roles, including day fighter, fighter-bomber, ground attack aircraft and, to a lesser degree, night fighter.
More than three decades after the end of the war, Johnny had a surprising “full circle” encounter. While attending an air show in Sherbrooke, Québec, Johnny heard the announcer describing Oscar Bösch, the glider demonstration pilot performing in front of the crowd, as a former Second World War Focke-Wulf Fw-190 pilot. Johnny said he would like to be introduced to him as Focke-Wulfs gave him some big trouble during wartime. They met later that day and Johnny told Oscar that he flew Typhoons. Oscar asked: “Where were you on 1 January 1945?” Johnny says: “In Eindhoven.” Oscar replied: “So was I.” The situation became tense for a few seconds, but being veterans of a mutual trial, they got over it and they went for a drink together. Since that day, they phoned each other every year on 1 January at 9:10 a.m., the time of the morning attack at Eindhoven. Oscar Bösch flew his glider regularly at air shows across North America for many ore years, but sadly, he passed away last year.
A group photo of one of the units that attacked Colton's 124 Wing at Eindhoven—Sturmstaffel. 1m Jagdgeschwader 3 “Ernst Udet”. Here we see Fw-190 Butcher Bird pilots of that unit posing for a group photo late in the war. Feldwebel (Sergeant) Oscar Bösch is second from right. All of these men died in action in the last desperate months of the war except Oscar and two others. Photo: John Baert Collection
Feldwebel Oscar Bösch at the age of 19 years in Austria. Brought up on gliding like so many young German pilots, all he wanted to do was fly. His war record is 18 victories against Allied air forces, including 8 B-17s and B-24s, as well as a P-51 and a SpifireAfter the war, Bösch emigrated to Canada and began a stellar and storied career as an air show glider pilot. Photo: John Baert Collection
One other loss of 137 Squadron that New Year's Day morning in 1945 was the squadron’s “mascot”, a Hawker Hurricane, which the squadron kept in flying condition and brought with them wherever they were deployed as a reminder of the flying mount they once flew.
Johnny Colton and Oscar Bösch standing beside Oscar’s glider (OB for Oscar Bôsch) in the summer of 1978, at Sherbrooke, Québec. During the war, each of these two fine men would have done everything in their power to kill the other but, after the war, they were able to put aside the war and build a long and lasting friendship. Every 1 January at 0910 hrs, the hour of the Bodenplatte attack on Eindhoven, they would call each other on the telephone. Photo: John Baert Collection
Pilots' friendships often transcend time, hardships and borders. Johnny received a few years ago this gift from Oscar Bösch in memory of their mutual experiences of Operation Bodenplatte 1 January 1945: a picture of Oscar standing with famous German uber Ace Erich Hartman. Photo: Johnny Colton Collection
In January, following Bodenplatte, the weather is often bad, but attack missions against trains, barges and their tugs continued unabated. On 14 January, 137 Squadron moved to Helmond, about 12 miles east of Eindhoven. During the days that immediately followed the move, the massive attacks of enemy fighters increased, attacks being comprised sometimes of 50 or more fighters.
In one particular aerial battle during these mass attacks, Colton made a furious series of aerobatic evasive combat manoeuvres, and found himself suddenly alone, 200 feet above the ground and out of the fray. It was then that he realized that he was in fact not alone, but was being chased by a Bf-109 following him at a mere 150 feet behind. His immediate reaction was to turn hard at full power and near the stalling speed, and then to take back the advantage from the enemy, who in fact had disappeared. Alone again, he decided to regain altitude and asked for help on the radio, asking for a vector back to his base. The controller indicated a direction to turn, but it was toward the east. Johnny realized that it was a German radio operator trying to lure him in the direction of enemy territory.
The Messerschmitt Bf-109, often called Me-109, was a German World War II fighter aircraft designed by Willy Messerschmitt and Robert Lusser during the early to mid-1930s. The One-o-Nine was a formidable fighter in the hands of a good pilot, and Germany had many very good pilots. It was one of the first truly modern fighters of the era, including such features as all-metal monocoque construction, a closed canopy, a retractable landing gear, and was powered by a liquid-cooled, inverted V12 engine.
The following events in Colton’s log book are surprising and seem unreal, but they are entirely real:
– One day Johnny Colton witnessed a V-2 ballistic missile taking off just 1,000 feet behind him and, as Johnny puts it: “Had I been in its path, it would have been game over.”
– On another occasion, Colton encountered a lone Messerschmitt Me-262 Schwalbe (Swallow) jet flying at 500 feet from him and at the same altitude. The fighter turned towards him and Johnny reacted by turning his Typhoon into the Me-262 and firing his guns. He missed the sleek jet fighter and the Me-262 pilot throttled up his Junkers Jumo turbojet engines, leaving Johnny alone in the sky. Later, a Typhoon pilot of 137 Squadron managed to shoot down one of the much faster jets. The best time to attack them was when they were making their long shallow approach to land. However, this could be a real flak trap for anyone who dared to follow them to their airfields.
The Messerschmitt Me-262 Schwalbe (“Swallow” in English) was the world's first operational jet-powered fighter aircraft. Design work started before World War II began but engine problems prevented the aircraft from attaining operational status with the Luftwaffe until mid-1944. Compared with Allied fighters of its day, including the British jet-powered Gloster Meteor, it was much faster and better armed. One of the most advanced aviation designs in operational use during World War II, the Me-262 was used in a variety of roles, including light bomber, reconnaissance and even experimental night fighter versions. The Me-262 influenced the designs of postwar aircraft.
– Still another time, Colton experienced a new fighter tactic... shooting rockets blindly through cloud. Via command from a radar controller giving radio directions, distance vectors and timing, a Typhoon pilot would fire his rockets through cloud to where enemy aircraft were supposedly lurking. Needless to say, this procedure did not give the expected results. Colton also did test firing of different types of rockets.
– The winter of 1945 was harsh and the people in liberated and occupied Europe suffered greatly from hunger. Apart from starchy turnips, people did not have much to eat. It was not uncommon to see children picking up food from the mess, where they were given all that could be shared. Subsequently, the British developed a makeshift aerial supply program, in which even the ground attack Typhoons were used to drop supplies.
Take a minute to read the glib and understated 137 Squadron Logbook, from February 1945. A fascinating and casual recounting of the day's activities including Johnny's part in the action. Johnny Colton Collection
The Last Mission
In February, the weather finally got a little better, the Typhoons want to finish the job with all kinds of military targets on German territory. Enemy fighters gradually lose the advantage, their aircrafts are increasingly flown by young, inexperienced pilots. On 22 February, Johnny completed his 101st mission. On 25 February, he participated in an attack mission against heavy artillery positions. His leader is none other than the Squadron commander. Because of the low ceiling, the flight was kept at very low altitude, the flak is very dense, Johnny’s plane is hit several times, but still making the perilous return to base. Once landed, he is told that this was his last mission; it was his 104th mission of war.
His ground attack record is impressive: of all the targets, bridges, vehicles, V-1s, ground artillery, tanks, radar stations, barges, castles, buildings, locomotives, railway stations, docks and ferries, Johnny destroyed 295 in all, probably destroyed 23 of them and damaged another 160.
The End of the Typhoon—a Four-Year Lifespan, a Lasting Legacy of Toughness
Having left his squadron, Johnny became an instructor. First in an Operational Training Unit (OTU) to teach the operational flight, then having officially received his instructor qualification, he trained pilots on T-6/Harvard. After a short period, he was assigned to the base of Aston Downs in Southwest England. Here we give him the ruthless role of ferrying Typhoons somewhere in Midland where a contractor scraps them on the spot. Johnny commutes aboard a 4 to 5-place Anson transport plane and returns each time with another Typhoon. The scrapping begins as soon as the engine is shut down and he leaves the cockpit. Of course, it pinches his heart to see this, witnessing the systematic destruction of the aircraft that, after all the dangers he faced, always brought him back safely to base despite being severely damaged. Johnny thinks it's a shame that, when comparing with all the other fighters that have played an important role during the Second World War, out of only 3,000 examples of Hawker Typhoons built, only one example remains today, in a static state. It is exposed at the Hendon Museum near Duxford, in England.
We have to admit that without the Typhoons, the outcome of the operations after the Normandy landings would have taken a different turn. As a fighter pilot, Johnny Colton never had to jump nor was he ever injured in 104 missions. He returned to Canada two years and five months later. He will be discharged four months after.
The last and only one surviving Typhoon is in the Hendon Museum, in England. Originally saved by the Americans, this Typhoon is supposed to come for a period of 3 years at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa starting next year. Photo: John Baert
In 1994, during the 124 Wing reunion in Normandy, Johnny (centre, facing us) receives commemorative medallions from the mayors of two villages close to the Allied airfield called B-6, one of the first Allied operational airfields after D-Day. The Mayors were Roland Heudier of Noyers-Bocage, and Claude Marguerite of Sainte-Croix-Grand-Tonne. Photo: Johnny Colton Collection
On his visit to Normandy, in 1994, Johnny and pilots and ground crew of 124 Wing pose for a group photo at a reunion in Noyers-Bocage. Johnny is standing in the back row, fourth from the right. Photo: Johnny Colton Collection
Johnny remains very active in his local legion and participates in commemorative events like the D-Day Anniversary ceremony at the Sherbrooke, Québec Legion Br 10 in June 2012. Johnny stands third from the left. Photo: Johnny Colton Collection
On 30 September 2012, Johnny (seated, at left) received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal. Photo: Johnny Colton Collection
On 12 October 2012, LGen Yvan Blondin, Chief of the RCAF, presented an RCAF Certificate of Recognition to F/L John Colton in recognition of his “outstanding service to Canada in the RCAF as a Typhoon Fighter-Bomber pilot in Europe during WWII… Through your bravery, courage, skill and audacity, you survived 104 combat missions and served as an inspiration to your fellow aviators during combat.” This award corresponds to the DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) given to pilots during the Second World War. Photo: Pierre Lapprand
Whether he is meeting school children or an astronaut, Colton is an inspiration to everyone. Left: 9 November 2012, Sherbrooke Elementary School. Johnny participated in the Veterans memorial events and said the children were very interested. Photo: Johnny Colton Collection Right: People who make History, past and present. A meeting of Johnny Colton, John Colton Junior, and Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield during the Gatineau Air Show at Vintage Wings of Canada in 2010. Photo: Johnny Colton Collection
Author Pierre Lapprand visits his dear friend Johnny Colton in the summer of 2012. It is evident, from the surrounding memorabilia in Johnny's office, that his days with 137 Squadron flying Typhoons were, in many ways, the finest of his life. Shared deprivation and stress bond men together forever. It is also evident that Pierre and Johnny are friends and that, for the Frenchman, it is a very important and proud connection.
Acknowledgements and sources: A big thank you to Flight Lieutenant Johnny Colton for sharing his memories as a wartime pilot with us and for his services on behalf of our democracy. Thank you to my colleagues and friends, reporters Michel Côté and John Baert for their collaboration. Together, we want to pay tribute to Johnny Colton, a gentleman who deserves the title of hero of the Second World War. Thank you to Vintage Wings of Canada and special thanks to Dave O’Malley. More information is taken from the book “The Big Show/Le Grand Cirque” by Pierre Clostermann, and Wikipedia.