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A Spy in the Sky (Hardback)

A Photographic Reconnaissance Spitfire Pilot in WWII

Aviation > Royal Air Force Aviation > WWII WWII

By Kenneth B Johnson
Imprint: Air World
Pages: 158
Illustrations: 16
ISBN: 9781526761569
Published: 19th August 2019


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Many stories abound of the daring exploits of the RAF’s young fighter pilots defying the might of Hitler’s Luftwaffe, and of the dogged courage of the men of Bomber Command flying night after night over Germany in the face of flak and Focke-Wulfs, yet little has been written about the pilots who provided the key evidence that guided the RAF planners – the aerial photographers.

Ken Johnson joined No.1 Photographic Reconnaissance Unit as an eighteen-year-old and soon found himself at the controls of a Spitfire high above enemy territory. The PRU aircraft were stripped of all non-essential equipment to increase their performance, because speed and height was their only protection as the aircraft’s guns were among those items that were removed.

In this light-hearted reminiscence, Ken Johnson relives his training and transfer to an operational unit, but not the one he had expected. He had asked if he could fly Spitfires. He was granted that request, only to find himself joining a rare band of flyers who took to the skies alone, and who flew in broad daylight to photograph enemy installations with no radios and no armament. Unlike the fighter pilots who sought out enemy aircraft, the pilots of the PRU endeavoured to avoid all contact; returning safely with their vital photographs was their sole objective.

As well as flying in northern Europe, Ken Johnson was sent to North Africa, where his squadron became part of the United States Army Air Force North West African Photographic Wing (NAPRW). In this role, he flew across southern Europe, photographing targets in France and Italy.

The Spy in the Sky fills a much-needed gap in the history of the RAF and, uniquely, the USAAF during the latter stages of the Second World War.

The book is well written and will have a great appeal to those readers that like some technical details on flying, especially the flying of such planes as Tiger Moths, Hawker Hurricanes, Miles Masters and of course the Spitfire. It gives an interesting insight into the workings of the RAF during WW2, leading to some frustrating and, at times, comical situations.

I found this book enjoyable, interesting and feel it gives a fascinating insight into the role of the reconnaissance pilots during WW2. I would definitely recommend it.

The Rolls Royce Heritage Trust

A superb memoir of an PR pilot in WW2. With tales from ground and air, Johnson paints the picture of his time in the RAF and USAAF, with all the lumps and bumps you would expect in such a perilous job. Although the job in hand was to take pictures over enemy ground, this is not the focus of this memoir. it covers friendships, comradery, pearl, and incredible dedication.

It’s just a great read… as simple as that.

Read the full review here

Vintage Airfix

Very interesting book. I love all stories about WW2 written by the people who actually were there, and this one is no exception... On top of it all his writing style is very good, and very humorous at that ! Here’s a book that is well worth reading.

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Flyin' and Ridin' Blog, Francois A. Dumas

Subtitled "A Photographic Reconnaissance Spitfire Pilot in WWII", this is as it seems, a memoir of a PR pilot. But it's more than just that. Johnson was a young airman volunteer, who knew only that he didn't want to be drafted into the army to face terror and death on the battlefield. So as soon as he was old enough he volunteered for the RAF thinking he'd spend the war sweeping out hangars. Somehow he ended up being chosen for NCO aircrew, showed an aptitude and volunteered for Spitfires, albeit unarmed ones! This led to him being in almost suicidal situations flying from North African airfields over the Med in unarmed, barely serviceable aircraft deep into enemy territory. It is a touching book, written in his own words, about how poorly he was treated as an 'other rank' in an officer's world. Even after he received his commission, he felt no acceptance and his health suffered as a result. This book fills in a valuable gap, exploring a very different viewpoint of Spitfire flying and is to be recommended.

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Clash of Steel

The description of training flying and of the conduct of solo PR sorties, and one man's personal recollections of his time in uniform, do provide some useful insights into life in the wartime RAF.

RAF Historical Society

Kenneth Johnson offers us a slice of life in the RAF that deals with little-known missions, but is appreciable for the human side of a war that had little of human. Johnson, who tried to avoid the danger by enlisting in the RAF, was instead chosen for one of the most dangerous roles in the service, literally being "a spy" in full visibility, in enemy territory and without armament, his story, that of one of the Spitfire's last pilots, it is singular but highly enjoyable.

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Old Barbed Wire Blog

The author recounts his career as a young photo reconnaissance pilot flying Spitfires during WWII. This is a most welcome book covering one of the vital aspects of modern warfare which rarely receives coverage – Highly Recommended.

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It's extremely well written and builds in a very nice manner.

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Scale Modelling Now

About Kenneth B Johnson

KENNETH JOHNSON was born in Leicester on 5 December 1922. He led an unremarkable childhood, except that he had a penchant for building and repairing bicycles and motorcycles, and learning how to operate them. By the age of 17 he had saved enough money to buy a second-hand car and went to work in a furniture store in Coventry. The Second World War then intervened in his future!

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