This pilot took over 200 hits from an enemy ace and survived


On the morning of June 26,1943, forty-eight P-47 Thunderbolts took off from from their base of operations in Eastern England. Slated to escort returning bombers heading away from occupied France, Lieutenant Robert S Johnson was doing his best to stay with the formation, being both a novice pilot and one with a tendency to do his own thing.

Before arriving at the rendezvous point, the “T-bolts” were intercepted by 16 Fw 190s, striking from above with a hail of machine gun and cannon fire.

Scattering to avoid being ripped up by the initial ambush, many of the Thunderbolt pilots found themselves isolated from their comrades. Aircraft were flying in every direction, the roar of radial engines deafened by cannon fire and tracers streaking every which way.

Before Johnson could even communicate with his flight, he was hit. 20mm cannon shells ripped through his plane, smashing the canopy and ripping holes through various parts of his plane. Hot oil covered the canopy, hydraulic fluid blinded his eyes, fire began to engulf the cockpit and Johnson felt a stray machine gun bullet nick his nose, destroying his oxygen mask. The Thunderbolt began to spin out of control.

Metal groaned and engine screamed at the P-47 fell out of the sky like a flipped coin. Desperately trying to bail out, Johnson braced his feet against the cockpit and pulled back on the canopy with all his might. Unable to open the canopy, he resigned himself to a likely-fatal crash landing.

Miraculously, the P-47’s fire went out and Johnson regained control of his battered aircraft. Blinded by hydraulic fluid, weak from hypoxia and flying without an instrument panel, Johnson made a run for the channel.

Unfortunately, it was far from over.

Suddenly, a blue and yellow Fw-190 belonging to German ace Lt.Col Egon Meyer snuck in behind Johnson. Knowing there was nothing he could do, Johnson hunkered down behind his armored-plated seat, absorbing a barrage of 30 caliber rounds. The din was unbearable as machine gun fire saturated the Thunderbolt.

Not one to just up and quit, Johnson kicked his rudder left and right, slowing his plane to a crawl, and fired back as the German ace sped out in front of him. He knew it wouldn’t have much effect, but Johnson wanted to show that he was still in the fight.

Meyer easily avoided the gunfire from the half-blinded Johnson and pulled up next to Johnson. Looking the Thunderbolt up and down, he shook his head in disbelief before lining up for another shot.

Meyer opened again, but the notably rugged P-47 stayed in the air.

Approaching the southern coast of the English Channel, the German get behind and opened up again, but the P-47 kept flying.

Meyer was out of ammo. Pulling up alongside Johnson, he rocked his wings in salute and flew off.

Johnson nursed his crippled plane back to his home base, not knowing if it were even capable of a safe landing. When he reached the ground, he had to be pried from the cockpit.

Covered in shrapnel wounds and minor burns to his face, hands and legs, Johnson limped gazed upon his battered Thunderbolt, counting the bullet holes.but gave up after the tally passed 200- on just one side of the aircraft.

Less than a week later, Robert S Johnson returned to the skies. His new aircraft had a very fitting name- “Lucky”.

Johnson would later become an ace himself, with 27 kills to his name and an eventual promotion to Lieutenant Colonel. He passed away in 1998.

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Author

  • Andy Wolf

    Andy Wolf is an Appalachian native who spent much of his youth and young adulthood overseas in search of combat, riches, and adventure- accruing decades of experience in military, corporate, first responder, journalistic and advisory roles. He resides in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains with his K9 companion, Kiki.

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