Jenkins, John “Rod” Rodney

Rodney, or Rod as he was known to his mates, was born in Maryborough in Queensland on the 22nd January 1921. His father, Henry Jenkins was a school headmaster there. The family moved to Bowen, where Rod attended primary school, and then he completed secondary schooling at Ipswich Boys Grammar School. Rod then lived in Newmarket in Brisbane, where he worked for International Harvester before joining the Commonwealth Bank.

He commenced flying training before the war on Taylor Cubs at Archerfield Airfield. On the 2nd February 1941, just after his 20th birthday, Rod joined the Air Force. Initial training was at Archerfield Airfield on Gypsy Moths and Tiger Moths, then at Wagga on Wirraways.

On the 16th October 1941, Rod departed Australia for the first time, sailing to Los Angeles and then travelling onwards by train across Canada to Halifax, Nova Scotia. From there, he departed for Glasgow, Scotland on yet another ship. Then in December 1941, as part of the Empire Air Training Scheme, Rod commenced his Spitfire training at Heston Middlesex.

Further training would be undertaken in 1942 with 452 Squadron at Andreas Air Force Base, where he was described as an “above-average fighter pilot”. He was then based at Red Hill in Surrey. During his time in the UK, Rod flew many patrols over Europe. On the 18th June 1942, Rod embarked from the UK by ship, sailing via West Africa and South Africa, arriving in Melbourne after almost two months.

From the 13th September 1942, Rod was based with 457 Squadron at the RAAF base at Richmond, flying a variety of aircraft including Wirraways, Ryans, Spitfires and Demons. In January 1943, 457 Squadron was relocated to Livingstone Air Force Base in the Northern Territory. By May 1943, Rod was based on Millingimbi Island in Arnhem Land defending Australia against the Japanese raids.

During his time there, Rod had a number of encounters, and on the 28th May 1943, he was involved in a counter-offensive against eight Japanese medium bombers and six Zeros as they attacked Millingimbi Island in the NT. His closest encounter was during this battle, in which Rod’s plane was hit, and in his words, “volumes of grey smoke was blowing over the windscreen. I went underneath and ahead of the bombers and opened fire at 300 yards, closing in until I was forced to slip under the nose of the bomber. Volumes of smoke were as I said blowing over my windscreen as I made a steep climbing dive to port. Then I saw the bomber, which I had attacked going vertically down. We were then at 15,000 feet. I followed him down, and at 10,000 feet the bomber was still spiralling seawards”. This resulted in a victory of one Betty bomber for Rod and a total of three enemy Betty Bombers destroyed. After the flight, he then landed his aircraft safely on Millingimbi. The photograph shows Rod standing beside his aircraft and the hole in his Spitfire’s cowling from receiving a cannon shell, which of course was what caused the fire.

Further action took place over Darwin on the 17th August 1943, and Rod was involved in shooting down another Japanese plane. The following is an extract from Darwin Spitfires by Anthony Cooper:

Meanwhile, 457’s Blue Section were vectored northward: Rex Watson and Bill Gregory were ordered to climb to 3,000 feet to orbit over Cape Gambier, while Snapper Newton and Rod Jenkins were to make 32,000 feet over Cape Fourcroy- respectively over the south-east and south-west corners of Bathurst Island. The controller had positioned them there to cut off two of the usual Japanese withdrawal routes, but both caught the same enemy machine. Newton could not coax his engine to go above 30,000 feet, so he told Jenkins to go ahead without him. Gregory saw the enemy first, at 31,000 feet just to the south of him, heading outbound. He and Rex Jackson closed slowly in from the side, flying at 190 knots IAS (307, TAS) on a course that was almost parallel with that of the enemy machine. Watson in contrast to Newton, found that his aircraft was performing well, for he kept up with the Japanese machine even with his drop tank on. Once he got ahead of it, he turned in for a beam attack, but the Ki.46 was going so fast that he quickly found himself having to reverse his turn and roll in behind it. From there he fired deliberately three times, repositioning himself before each burst. Despite the failure of one of his canons, he saw hits: puffs of smoke came from its port engine and there were strikes all over its fuselage and rear glasshouse. Watson then pulled out to one side to let his No.2 attack, and from this broader viewing angle he could see that he had ‘riddled’ the enemy machine with his gunfire. Although his own wingman, Bill Gregory, could not catch up, Rod Jenkins had meanwhile seen the Ki.46 go past, and joined the pursuit. He now came in from directly astern with a good overtaking speed and kept firing right in to 50 metres, when the enemy machine suddenly blew up right in front of him, spraying oil all over his windscreen. The flaming aircraft disintegrated, its broken wreckage plunging away vertically to crash onto Bathurst Island, 16 kilometres north-west of the RC Mission. This confirmed kill was shared between Jenkins and Rex Watson. Jack Newton, held back by his poorly performing engine, had to content himself with firing from extreme range and watching the others get the kill. 

In 1944, Rod returned south and was based in Mildura and then attended a fighter pilots course at Port Pirie RAAF base. During 1945, he was based in Parkes, and then back north again to Morotai, and then Labuan. The curious fortunes of war took place around about this time when Rod unexpectedly met his older brother, Harvey Jenkins, who had been a Prisoner of War for some years. At the time. he was being repatriated back to Australia. You can just imagine the pleasure the two brothers would have when they found each other alive and well.

After Labuan, Rod made his final flight in October, landing at Oakey in Queensland and thus bringing to a close his flying days. In his log book, he described this as “my last landing… and a lousy one!”

After the war, Rod returned to the Commonwealth Bank, working in various parts of Queensland and NSW, before becoming a bank inspector, travelling extensively around Australia. Rod married Joan, also in the RAAF on the 25th June 1943. She passed away in March 2006.

Rod was also the President of the Spitfire Association for a number of terms and presided over the strong growth of the Association. Holding a genuine interest in all those he met, Rod was a charming man with a special aura about him. He will be remembered with great affection and warmth, and will be sadly missed. On the 1st July 2010, Rod set off on his last flight.

 The photo is of Rod flying a Wirraway over Wagga, NSW, in 1941. 

Lesley Halls (daughter) and Cameron Halls (grandson)
Edited by Steve McGregor
Updated by Vince Conant
The Spitfire Association