Johnny Checketts

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Johnny Checketts : biography

20 February 1912 – 23 April 2006

Wing Commander John "Johnny" Milne Checketts, DSO, DFC (20 February 1912 – 21 April 2006) was a New Zealand World War II Flying ace, who destroyed 14½ enemy aircraft, had three probables and damaged 11. He was shot–down twice – once over the English Channel, when he was rescued from the sea by the Royal Navy, and once over occupied France, when he was returned to the United Kingdom by the French Resistance.


On war: "It is destructive. Everything about it is to destroy, and I don’t think human beings are brought into this world to destroy things. They are brought into the world to preserve."

World War 2

Checketts joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force in October 1940, at the age of 28. He graduated from his flying course in June 1941 as a Pilot Officer and was posted to the United Kingdom. After converting to Spitfires, Checketts joined 485(NZ) Squadron in November 1941. On 12 February 1942 the unit took part in operations over the English Channel during the German Operation Cerberus, when the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau made a high–speed dash from Brest to reach safety in German ports.

On 4 May 1942, Checketts was shot down – he bailed out over the channel and was eventual rescued from his dinghy by the Royal Navy. In June 1942 he was posted to Sailor Malan’s gunnery school before continuing to 611 Squadron based at Biggin Hill in January 1943. Checketts was promoted to Flight Lieutenant and given command of A Flight in April. On 30 May 1943 he shot down a Fw 190 south–east of Trouville, Seine-Maritime.

In July, Checketts was promoted to Squadron Leader and returned to 485 Squadron at Biggin Hill as commander. On 15 July he shot down a Fw 190, on the 27th he destroyed two more, and on the 31st a Bf 109G. Guiding the unit over Saint-Pol on 9 August 1943, Checketts led a section against eight Bf 109s and destroyed three of them. The other three New Zealand pilots in the section each destroyed one and Checketts damaged one of the two remaining 109s as it escaped. For this action he was awarded the DFC.

While acting as high cover for bombers attacking an airfield near Amiens on 19 August the Squadron was jumped by a force of FW 190s and Bf 109s. In a running battle Checketts probably destroyed an Fw 190 and damaged another.

Shot down over France

On 6 September 1943, 485 Squadron flew high cover for Martin B-26 Marauders bombing the rail marshaling yards at Serqueux, Seine-Maritime. The Spitfires were attacked by twenty Fw 190s from above. Checketts shot one down but was then attacked by several others and his aircraft was set on fire.

Burned and wounded, he struggled to bail out. On landing he was approached by a French boy who helped him on to his bicycle and then wheeled him to nearby woods. The next day he was taken by a Frenchman to his own home, where his injuries were tended by the Frenchman’s wife.

Having been passed from one house to the next by the French Resistance, Checketts eventually met another 485 pilot, Sergeant Kearins, who had been shot down on 15 July. They were joined by a group of 11 other escapees and taken across the channel in a fishing boat on 21 October 1943.

Checketts was then posted to the fighter wing of the Central Gunnery School as an instructor.


In April 1944 he was given command of 1 Squadron equipped with the Hawker Typhoon fighter–bomber. After six weeks was promoted to Wing Commander to lead 142 Spitfire Wing at RAF Horne which was an Advanced Landing Ground in Surrey. He later led this wing from Westhampnett, Merston and Manston. On 27 August, he was leading 303 Squadron as escort of Avro Lancaster and Handley Page Halifax heavy bombers on their way to attack an oil refinery near Düsseldorf. Messerschmitt Me 163 rocket fighters of Jagdgeschwader 400 were scrambled to intercept the bombers and were engaged by 303 Squadron. Checketts was attacked by an Me 163S but managed to evade it.

His last operation with 142 Wing was on the day his leadership of it ended – 26 September 1944. While flying as high escort cover over Arnhem, he shared in the destruction of a Bf 109 with one of his flight commanders.

In 1945 Checketts was appointed Wing Commander Tactics at the Central Fighter Establishment. He had been awarded the DFC on 13 August 1943, the DSO in December 1943, US Silver Star in August 1944 and the Polish Cross of Valour in April 1945.

Early life

Checketts was born in Invercargill on 20 February 1912 and was educated at the Invercargill South School and Southland Technical College, where he studied Engineering before undertaking an apprenticeship as a motor mechanic.

Postwar career

After the war he returned to the RNZAF, and became Station Commander of RNZAF stations Wigram, Lauthala Bay (Fiji) and Taieri (Dunedin). Checketts was appointed officer commanding 75 Squadron in 1951 and at Ohakea was responsible for introducing the de Havilland Vampire to form the RNZAF’s first jet squadron.

In 1955, he left the RNZAF to start an aerial topdressing company. This lasted until 1958 when became a salesman of agricultural chemicals.

Checketts died at Christchurch on 21 April 2006, aged 94.