“SQUADRON Leader Johnny Gibson, who has died aged 83, twice baled out of a blazing Hurricane fighter during the Battle of Britain and survived to become one of the RAF’s top scoring fighter aces of the Second World War. He was officially credited with destroying 12 enemy aircraft, but his total was almost certainly higher, when shared, unconfirmed and possible kills are taken into account.
Gibson’s series of duels with enemy fighters began in early May 1940 when, as France was invaded, he was posted to No 501 (City of Bristol) Auxiliary Air Force Squadron on the eve of its rushed dispatch from Tangmere across the Channel to Bétheniville. The squadron was equipped with Hawker Hurricanes, which Gibson had never flown before. He learned as he flew, destroying his first Heinkel 111 bomber on May 27 and sharing a second before being shot down and crash-landing near Rouen. On June 10, he was again shot down, over Le Mans, and baled out. Eight days later, 501 withdrew to Jersey and then re-assembled at Croydon.
The squadron, based variously at Croydon, Middle Wallop, Gravesend and Kenley, fought throughout the summer and autumn of 1940 as the Luftwaffe attacked southern fighter airfields and London. Commanding a flight – and scrambled continually – Gibson built up his score. On August 29, his aircraft on fire for a second time after shooting down a Me 109, he was rescued after parachuting into the Channel. In late September he was wounded and sent to hospital. That year Gibson was awarded a DFC. He would go on to win a DSO in 1943.
John Albert Axel Gibson was born in Brighton on August 24 1916. He was taken to New Zealand in 1920, and went to New Plymouth Boys’ High School. In 1938 he returned to Britain to begin a short service commission in the RAF. After his exploits in 1940 and a period as an air firing instructor, Gibson was posted in New Year 1942 to No 457, a Royal Australian Air Force Spitfire squadron. In May he returned to New Zealand where, attached to the Royal New Zealand Air Force, he trained its newly formed No 15 Squadron in Tonga.
In 1943 he went with 15 Squadron to New Georgia as operations officer. Subsequently, he commanded and led the squadron, equipped with Corsair fighters. In the heavy fighting of the Bougainville Pacific landings, he destroyed a Japanese Zeke fighter on January 23 1944. After again returning to Europe, Gibson joined No 80, a Hawker Tempest fighter squadron based in Holland.
On March 29 1945, while covering the Rhine crossings, he was shot down by anti-aircraft fire and was wounded in the shoulder during a forced landing. When he had recovered, he served briefly with the RNZAF before rejoining the RAF. In 1947, he flew as Field Marshal Montgomery’s pilot, moving the next year as aide and pilot to Marshal of the Royal Air Force Lord Tedder.
Leaving the service, Gibson joined British European Airways, but after two years returned to the RAF. Following a series of further commands, he resigned his commission in 1954. He joined the Chamber of Mines in Johannesburg and also served as a captain with Africair.
In the mid-1960s Gibson formed Bechuanaland National Airways and later Botswana National Airways. Starting with one Dakota, he enlarged the business until it had two Dakotas, two DC-4s and a presidential aircraft for Sir Seretse Khama, whom he piloted. Operating from Gabon during the Biafran War, and accompanied by his son Michael as co-pilot, he flew in supplies, and evacuated children.
Afterwards, Gibson formed and operated Jagair, a charter company, until it encountered difficulties and his friend, the former wartime RAF fighter pilot Ian Smith, the Prime Minister of Rhodesia, employed him as an aviation operations officer. He retired in 1982. He returned to Britain in 1987 and settled in Nottingham.
During the war, Johnny Gibson married Ethel Formby, sister of George, the entertainer; Michael was their son. The marriage was dissolved and Gibson married secondly Isabel Sharpe, who died in 1987.” (Obituary courtesy of the Daily Telegraph)
‘197. Sqn Ldr John ‘Johnny’ A E GIBSON DSO DFC* RAF & RNZAF for NEW ZEALAND, here his wide campaign experience and FIGHTER SUCCESS (destroyed about 14 & damaged l2) in the BATTLES of FRANCE and BRITAIN (501SQN HURRICANES) No.53 OTU, then the PACIFIC in 1942 with 15 RNZAF SQN P-40 WARHAWKS to TONGA + NEW GEORGIA, where he downed a Zeke near RABAUL, with more operations from GUADALCANAL mid-1944 on CORSAIRS, before TYPHOONS then TEMPESTS on 80 SQN back in Europe, with his 5th and last time shot down, being by flak at the RHINE CROSSING & wounded; a DAKOTA course & flew X1Vth ARMY back from BURMA. Post-war, two years with BEA, he returned to the RAF and on No.24 SQN was Field Marshal Montgomery’s and later AM Sir Arthur Tedder’s VIP pilot. (ARP)’
Johnny Gibson’s Medal Group