John was born in Brighton, England on the 24th August 1916 and was brought to New Zealand in 1920. There, he received his education completing secondary schooling at Auckland Grammar School and New Plymouth Boys High School in Taranaki. He had developed an intense desire to fly and decided to apply for a Short Service Commission in the RAF.
In the years immediately prior WW2, New Zealand sent regular drafts of young men to serve in the RAF, and John was a successful applicant. He arrived in the UK aboard RMS Rangitata in May 1938. That same month, he commenced flight instruction at the Blackburn Flying School, Brough, and completed his training at South Cerney.
Towards the end of 1938 he was posted as a commissioned officer to RAF Bircham Newton where he served in an Anti-Aircraft Co-operation Unit. In May 1940, he joined 501 Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force in France, as part of the Advanced Air Striking Force, and in the month following was credited with five victories, one of which was shared. He was shot down twice in France, the first two of what would be six occasions throughout the course of the war.
In June 1940, the Squadron retreated back across the Channel to prepare for the coming onslaught, and was heavily involved in the Battle of Britain, suffering severe casualties. John obtained a further nine victories during the Battle, but was twice shot down, on both occasions having to parachute from a blazing Hurricane, once into the Channel. He became a Flight Commander and was awarded a DFC. During October, he was admitted to hospital and when discharged, two months later, he resumed flying as an instructor. He spent the bulk of the next year with No.53 OTU, and in December 1941 was ordered to Jurby to join 457 Squadron RAAF Squadron as “B” Flight Commander.
He remained with the Australians until March 1942, just as the squadron was about to relocate to No.l 1 Group, and then he was sent to New Zealand to be placed at the disposal of the RNZAF. During June 1942, he joined 15 Squadron RNZAF as a Flight Commander, flying Kityhawk P40s. He was promoted Squadron Leader and in December 1943 took command of the Squadron. In all, he completed three tours in the Solomon Islands, two on Kittyhawks and the other on Corsairs. On his second tour, he shot down a Zeke, bringing his tally to 15 victories, one of which was shared.
In October 1944, he returned to Europe, doing a conversion onto Hawker Typhoons and joining 80 Squadron RAF, which was operating Tempests Vs with the 2nd TAF in Holland, as a supernumerary Squadron Leader in March 1945. During the Rhine crossing he was hit by flak but managed to crash-land behind Allied lines. (Web Master: The 2nd RAF Tactical Air Force was set up during the war to give close support the fast moving ground forces in the invasion of Europe).
In addition to the DFC for his 1940 activities, John received the DSO for his leadership in the South Pacific.
Johnny Gibson is unique in that he is believed to have been the only Allied fighter pilot to fly operationally in the Battles of France and Britain, the Solomons and Europe. Post-war he continued to serve in the RAF until 1954, when he retired and took up commercial flying in South Africa. During the Biafran War, he flew in supplies and evacuated refugee children and also operated with the Rhodesian Air Force. He made several trips back to New Zealand during his latter years, the last during 1997.
John died in England on the 1st July 2000.
The Spitfire Association