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WHERE EAGLES CLASH & SOAR

— feeling amazing
Spitfire Strikes - Johnnie Houlton

The author, Johnnie Houlton (1922-1996), was a New Zealander who joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) in June 1941. As he details in "SPITFIRE STRIKES: A New Zealand Fighter Pilot's Story", he received his initial flight training at home in New Zealand before being sent - with other RNZAF pilot trainees - on the ship Rangitiki in December 1941 (within days of the Pearl Harbor attack) to Britain via the Panama Canal and Halifax (Nova Scotia - CANADA).

Upon arrival in Britain in February 1942, Houlton continued with his training as a fighter pilot, learning to fly the Hawker Hurricane and earning his wings. He was then seconded to the Royal Air Force (RAF) and posted in June 1942 to 485 Squadron, a Spitfire squadron largely made up of New Zealanders. What I found interesting about this posting is that Houlton had never flown a Spitfire prior to joining 485 Squadron! (Houlton's from being shown around a Spitfire by one of the squadron's Sergeant Pilots marked his introduction to the fighter itself.) This deficiency was soon remedied by Houlton's flight commander, who sent Houlton off to fly his own Spitfire! In Houlton's words, flying "the Spitfire was a delight, and seemed to slip smoothly along."

For a month, Houlton flew the Spitfire extensively on practice flights, engaging in air gunnery practice, a few convoy flights over the English Channel, and at least one ground attack mission a short distance from the Belgian coast. 485 Squadron by this time (i.e., late July 1942) was being rested. Houlton was then made aware of the issuance of a general signal in the RAF, calling for volunteers to go out to Malta for combat duty there. Houlton shares with the reader his interest in the then ongoing siege of Malta (which had begun in June 1940) and put his name up for service on that beleaguered island. Indeed, Malta served as a linchpin in Britain's efforts to retain a presence in North Africa and the Mediterranean against the Axis Powers. Maintaining a foothold there was vital to Britain's remaining in the war.

Thus, Houlton arrived in Malta in August 1942 as part of Operation Pedestal, flying his Spitifre off the deck of the Royal Navy carrier HMS Furious, and flying it for several hundred miles across enemy-controlled waters. He landed on an island on the brink of starvation. The Luftwaffe and Regia Aeronautica all but controlled the skies over Malta. So, for those RAF and Commonwealth pilots assisting in Malta's defense, they were often outnumbered in the air .But despite that, they fought bravely and never shrank from their duty and responsibilities. For the next 3 months, Houlton flew on operations (which he details at some length, as well as sharing with the reader his impressions of his fellow pilots - several of whom became widely known because of their combat prowess - and the grim conditions on Malta experienced by combatants and civilians alike) until he became extremely ill and had to be evacuated back to Britain.

Houlton would return to serving in 485 Squadron with which he flew extensively in combat during 1943 and 1944. Indeed, on the day of the D-DAY landings on Normandy (June 6, 1944), he received credit for shooting down a German Junkers 88 twin-engined bomber over Omaha Beach.

On the whole, "SPITFIRE STRIKES" is one of the best air combat memoirs it has been my pleasure to read.