Header image: Left: Ken Johnson, wartime Lancaster Air Gunner. Right: Ken Johnson in 2016, at the Yorkshire Air Museum, Elvington, after the award of his Legion de Honneur.
We are sad to report that Warrant Officer Ken Johnson LdH, an Air Gunner who flew a total of 44 wartime operations in Lancasters, passed away on 2nd January, aged 95. Ken flew as a mid-upper gunner, completing 33 operations with 61 Squadron, after which he volunteered for a second operational tour, joining 9 Squadron at Bardney. With 9 Squadron Ken was involved in ‘Tallboy’ attacks against the battleship Tirpitz and the raid against Hitler’s Alpine retreat at Berchtesgaden.
Some readers will remember that Ken featured in the RAF Memorial Flight Official Club 2019 Autumn Journal, sent out exclusively to Club members in October. In an article titled ‘Lancaster bombed’ we told the amazing story, much of it in Ken’s own words, about the occasion on 25th July 1944 when his Lancaster B.III LM481, ‘QR-O’, “O-Oboe” of 61 Squadron, was hit by bombs dropped from another Lancaster, over the target, during a daylight raid. “O-Oboe” lost about four feet off the starboard wing tip, the starboard fin and rudder was knocked off, and most distressingly so was the rear turret, carrying Ken’s friend and fellow gunner, Canadian Jack Foy, to his death. Remarkably, Ken’s pilot, Flying Officer Harry Watkins, managed to fly the Lancaster back to England with little more than half the controls, landing safely, “soaked in sweat”, after diverting to Wickenby. Watkins was subsequently awarded the DFC.
Ken Johnson was a delightful and typically modest man, who was a great supporter of everything Bomber Command, including the International Bomber Command Centre in Lincoln. The editor was honoured to host him on a tour of the BBMF hangar a couple of years ago, when Ken told the story of being hit by bombs dropped from above as we stood by the BBMF Lancaster’s mid-upper turret. Ken will be greatly missed by many and our thoughts are with his family at this sad time.