Wing Commander Johnny Baldwin

On what would have been Wing Commander Johnny Baldwin DSO*, DFC* 102nd birthday we would like to take a moment to honour the man who was the highest-scoring Hawker Typhoon Ace.

John Robert Baldwin was born on the Isle of Wight on the 16th July 1918. His parents were Chambré and Grace Baldwin. Chambré had been home on leave from the West African Frontier Force and met Grace, he was back in Africa when Johnny was born. Grace would travel out to Africa with their son and they would marry in 1921.

Johnny joined the RAFVR upon the outbreak of war and served as ground crew in France in 1940. Volunteering for aircrew, he was commissioned in 1942 and joined 609 Squadron in November, flying the Hawker Typhoon, where he quickly made a name for himself.

On the 20th January 1943, while  Flight Lieutenant Jean de Selys Longchamps was visiting Brussels, Johnny and 609 Squadron were vectored to intercept 8-12 enemy aircraft over Deal, at a height of 20,000’. Battle was soon engaged with Me109 G-4s of 6./JagdGeschwader 26. The formation broke up and 3 Me109s broke off, Johnny fired at the first two, his shot hitting both, the first in the cockpit and the second breaking up from the impact of his Typhoon’s 20mm shells, both pilots bailed out. Looking behind him, Johnny saw another Me109 on his tail and skidded his Typhoon to cause the German to overshoot. As the Me109 dived toward the clouds, Johnny opened fire and saw hits on the enemy aircraft. As he came out of the cloud, Johnny saw no sign of the Me109, only the pilot suspended below a parachute. It was his third victory of the day and his Typhoon had been hit in a tyre, flap and fuel tank. He would be awarded the DFC for this engagement.

On the 25th March, he would learn what it was like to be bounced himself when he was caught by two Fw190s from 5./JG 26. His Typhoon, DN560, was hit and caught fire. Johnny bailed out at only 1000’. His hands had been burnt and he was unable to inflate his dingy. Luckily, he only spent 35 minutes in the channel before the Air-Sea Rescue launch found him. He would spend three weeks in the hospital, and a further three on leave, before returning to his unit.

Baldwin’s Typhoon by Neil Hipkiss

Johnny would stay with 609 Squadron until promoted to command 198 Squadron in November 1943. In January 1944, with nine confirmed victories to his credit, he was awarded a Bar to his DFC and he added another four victories to his slate in January alone. During the infamous attack on the Munsterland in Boulogne harbour, Johnny was the first into the attack. When his tour expired in April 1944, Johnny was posted as Squadron Leader (Tactics) at 11 Group and was then promoted to Wing Commander of 146 Wing.

Chris Thomas notes in his book Typhoon and Tempest Aces of World War 2 that in the four months from his operational return on 20 June 1944, Johnny flew ‘at least’ 110 sorties, as recorded in his logbook. 146 Wing’s Official History notes him flying ‘170+’ while a squadron ORB mentions 150. It is a remarkable rate of operations through the deadliest period of Typhoon operations.

On the 27th August 1944, Johnny was leading 263 and 266 Squadrons when they were requested by the Royal Navy to attack enemy shipping off Le Harve. After identifying the targets, Johnny again requested confirmation as the ships appeared friendly, but was told to attack. The order from the Navy was incorrect and the Typhoons sunk HMS Britomat and Hussar and seriously damaged HMS Salamander. The subsequent court of inquiry placed the blame at the door of the Navy for not communicating its operations correctly.

As the Typhoon Wings followed the Army through the low countries, Johnny would experience the effect of the Nazi V-2 when on the 25th October 1944 V-2s were launched against B.70 at Deurne (now Antwerp International Airport). Five airmen would be killed and six others injured, Johnny would see one of his two Typhoons damaged in the attack (he had two as he flew with both rocket and bomb equipped squadrons).

Further rest would come in November 1944 before returning again to command 123 Wing as Group Captain, which included two of his old Squadrons in 609 and 198. Not expected to fly Johnny would lead his wing 16 times, including on the shipping attacks in Lubeck Bay that would sink the Cap Arcona on 23rd May 1945. Johnny Baldwin would end the war as the highest-scoring Typhoon Ace, with 15 confirmed victories, 1 shared and 4 probable.

Wing Commander J R Baldwin, 146 Wing, with his Hawker Typhoon MkIb at B3/Sainte Croix-sur-Mer. Image: IWM, Colour by RJM.

With the war ended, Johnny would return to a rank of Squadron Leader and stay in the RAF, with postings to the Egyptian Air Force in 1948 and commanding 229 Squadron in Iraq on Hawker Tempests. In 1952, a Wing Commander again, he was posted to the USAF’s 16th Fighter Interceptor Squadron of the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing flying the F-83 Sabre in the skies over Korea. On the 15th March 1952, flying on his 9th Sabre sortie, a weather reconnaissance, he was reported missing after attempting to break cloud over North Korea. Despite many rumours and conspiracy theories, no confirmed resting place for Wing Commander Johnny Baldwin has been found and he remains officially ‘Missing in Action’. 

Wing Commander John ‘Johnny’ Baldwin DFC and Bar, DSO and Bar, Croix de Guerre 1940 with Palm (Bel), Commandeur in de Orde van Oranje Nassau (Bel), DFC (USA) was 33.

We are delighted to have the support of the Baldwin family in returning a Hawker Typhoon to the skies. It will be an incredible day to see RB396 fly as the living memorial for the men who, like Wing Commander Baldwin, went to war in the Typhoon.

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Johnny Baldwin with 13 ½ victories on his Typhoon