Flight Lieutenant John 'Johnnie' Arthur Houlton, D.F.C.

Johnnie John Arthur Houlton, D.F.C., known as Johnnie, was born in Christchurch, New Zealand, on 23 September 1922. He was a Public Service cadet before joining the R.N.Z.A.F. in June 1941. His first instruction was at Harewood, followed by further training at Woodbourne. By May of 1942 he was undergoing further training in England, prior to being posted to No. 485 Squadron on June 7, flying Spitfire VBs out of Kenley.

His log book records notable incidents during operations, such as the entry for 11 July: "1 locomotive destroyed 1 damaged. Left pitot head and port light in a tree".

In early August he transferred to No. 185 Squadron, joining them in time for their hazardous trip to Malta on H.M.S. Furious during Operation Pedestal. His log book records the cost of this vital attempt to bring supplies to the beleaguered island: "H.M.S. Eagle (AC/C) sunk also 4 cruisers, 8 destroyers, and 10 of 14 merchantmen." (17 August, 1942). The siege conditions on Malta took their toll on Houlton who, in October, spent ''3I weeks in dock, dermatitis + tonsillitis + sandfly fever''. However, 28 November saw him claim one Ju 52 damaged and another probable (post-war research in German loss records shows that these could well be amongst the three they lost that day).

In December 1942, Johnnie Houlton was posted back to Britain to join a Search and Rescue Squadron being formed in Scotland. However a request to return to operations saw him posted to 602 Squadron at the end of January 1943. Three weeks later 485 requested that he rejoin it and he was given permission. He flew sweeps and bomber-escorts and when the Squadron moved to Biggin Hill on 1 July 1943 and exchanged its MK V Spitfires for MK IX’s the tempo rapidly increased. Houlton was commissioned in mid-August 1943 and claimed his first confirmed 'kill' (FW 190; 27 August), one share (FW 190; 16 September), and a further one damaged (Me 109; same day). Johnnie

Later in the year the Squadron moved to Scotland for a rest before returning to Hornchurch at the end of February 1944 to resume operations. In March, 485 became part of the 2nd Tactical Air Force to provide direct support to the Allied ground forces during the invasion of Europe. The squadron Spitfires were modified to carry a 500 lb bomb under the fuselage and during the six weeks prior to D-Day Johnnie Houlton flew eleven dive-bombing sorties. On one trip his bomb hung up and he defied orders and landed safely back at base instead of heading out to sea and baling out. He received reprimands from both squadron and airfield commanders.

By June 1944 the squadron was based at Selsey, the closest airfield to the Normandy beaches. On D-Day the squadron was detailed to carry out four patrols starting at first light. ML407/OU-V's propeller was damaged due to a run in with a desk an Operations officer had moved out onto the airfield, it was repaired in time for afternoon patrol. Johnnie Houlton's historic achievement is best told in his own words:

In mid-afternoon I led Blue Section during the third patrol of the day [the Luftwaffe had been conspicuous by their absence thus far]. South of Omaha Beach, below a shallow, broken layer of cumulus, I glimpsed a Ju88 above cloud, diving away fast to the south. Climbing at full throttle I saw the enemy aircraft enter a large isolated cloud above the main layer, and when it reappeared on the other side I was closing in rapidly.

I adjusted the gyro sight on to the target at 500 yds with a deflection angle of 45 degrees, positioned the aiming dot on the right-hand engine of the enemy aircraft, and fired a three-second burst. The engine disintegrated, fire broke out, two crew members baled out and the aircraft dived steeply to crash on a roadway, blowing apart on impact. Supreme Headquarters nominated the Ju88 as the first enemy aircraft to be shot down since the invasion began, putting 485 (NZ) Spitfire Squadron at the top of the scoreboard for D-Day.
(Spitfire Strikes, Johnnie Houlton, 1985)
Johnnie Almost immediately he shared another Junkers with the rest of his section. This success continued in further beach patrols on 8th and 12th, when he shot down a Me.109 each day. On the 29th he damaged a further one - his last success of the year. (His aircraft of this period - Spitfire IXb ML407 OU-V - has subsequently been converted to a two-seater and refurbished).
In July, Johnnie Houlton was temporarily attached to the Ministry of Aircraft Production to lecture at aircraft-component factories and was awarded the DFC. He rejoined 485 in August 1944 and moved across on the 31st to its new base at Carpiquet, near Caen.

April 1945 saw him transferred to No. 274 Squadron, flying Tempests out of Nijmegen and Quakenbrück. On 3 May he claimed his - and his squadron's - final 'kill': a Do.219 south west of Kiel.

After the war, Johnnie Houlton returned to New Zealand and worked as a charter pilot. During the 50th anniversary celebrations of D-Day he flew his old aircraft once again - it and he having been the subject of a television documentary eight years previously.

John Arthur Houlton, D.F.C., died in Whangaparaoa, New Zealand, on 16 April 1996.

Photo from Johnnie Houlton's book 'Spitfire Strikes'
Hornchurch, November 1943 (left to right):
Corran Ashworth, Johnnie Houlton, Ian Strachan,
Jack Yeatman, Al Stead

War is a stupid pasttime. It really is. I'm talking about the human cost, in human terms. Men that go away and the woman and children are left behind. That's the real cost of war.
- Johnnie Houlton, TV3 20/20 Documentary, New Zealand, 1994

12 June 1944
Johnnie Houlton with his aircraft Spitfire LF Mk. IX ML407/OU-V (For Vicky, his wife)

Spitfire ML407, painted in Johnnie Houlton's D-Day markings.
Design Engineer Nick Grace acquired ML407 in late 1979 and spent five years meticulously restoring the Spitfire to flying condition in it's two seat configuration.
After he died in a car accident in 1988, his widow, Carolyn, took over command of flying this aircraft. She is a highly respected pilot.
Visit the Grace Spitfire site for more info.

18B (War) Course Woodbourne, 1941


Biggin Hill, July 1943

Hornchurch, November 1943

The proceeding two images are from the book
'No. 485 (N.Z.) Sqdn 1941-1945 Spitfire'
by Paul Sortehaug

Medals and Campaign Stars

Distinguished Flying Cross
1939 - 1945 Star
Air Crew Europe Star
France/Germany Clasp
Africa Star
Defence Medal
War Medal 1939 - 45
New Zealand War Service Medal

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'Respect. And admiration. That certainly existed between people who were close on Squadrons. It's the way I still think of them. My greatest friends and I admire them and respect them. If you want to call that love, well call that love. I don't mind.'
- Johnnie Houlton, TV3 20/20 Documentary, New Zealand, 1994