P/O John Wilson Howell RAAF

On the 4th May 1945 P/O J W “Johnnie” Howell RAAF (AUS 425852) flew Typhoon Ib OV-K (PD531) on the last operational sortie flown by 197 Squadron in WW2. A photograph, taken at ALG B.111 Aalhorn, Germany records that historic moment.

John Wilson Howell, known to his friends as Johnnie was born in Sydney, Australia on September 21, 1922. On May 21, 1942, Johnnie Howell, aged 19,  enlisted in the RAAF in Brisbane, Queensland where the family now lived. He completed his flying training under the British Commonwealth Air Training Scheme: basic and elementary training were completed in Australia followed by fighter pilot training in Canada before a posting to England and attachment to the RAF.

Arriving in England on April 2, 1944, Flt Sgt Howell completed operational and tactical training flying Hurricanes and Spitfires at 57 OTU and 3 TEU before moving to 84 GSU where he converted to Typhoons. On September 1, 1944, Howell joined 266 Squadron RAF, one of the four squadrons (including 197 Squadron) comprising 146 Wing. Whilst with 266 Squadron Johnnie Howell flew rocket-armed Typhoons on a variety of operational sorties.

On January 4, 1945, Howell transferred to 197 Squadron RAF flying bomb-equpped Typhoons, nicknamed “Bombphoons”. Commissioned on March 21, 1945 P/O Johnnie Howell completed approximately 40 operational sorties whilst with ‘B’ Flight, 197 Squadron culminating on May 4, 1945 with 197 Squadron’s last operational sortie of WWII.

197 Squadron ORB (Operation Record Book) 04.05.1945: “At 1150 hrs nine aircraft were again airborne to continue the attacks on shipping. Two small 500-ton ships were damaged along with two other small vessels bow-to-bow. A 1000-ton ship was dive-bombed and received a near miss … The honour of having dropped the last bomb in the Wing went to P/O Howell of this Squadron. Hence 197 fought to the last bomb. Well done!”

Letter to P/O J.W. Howell from Air Vice Marshall H.N. Wrigley informing him of being dated June 19, 1945 stating he has been Mentioned in Dispatches.

Mentioned-in-Dispatches (M.I.D) in June 1945 for services to 146 Wing, P/O J W Howell left 197 Squadron on July 4, 1945, heading home to Australia where – as F/O J W Howell RAAF – he was discharged on demobilisation on November 23, 1945. 

Alongside Johnnie Howell in the photograph are Cpl Weaver and LAC Deval, both members of 6197 Servicing Echelon (S.E.); Typhoon OV-K (PD531) was probably ‘their’ aircraft. 6197 S.E., under the leadership of Flt Sgt Jack ‘Chiefy’ Adcock BEM, provided the ground crew who armed and maintained the Typhoons. Sadly, we have almost no further information about these unsung and un-rewarded stalwarts on whom the lives of the pilots so depended.

P/O Johnnie Howell
The reverse side of title photo: Cpl Weaves, LAC Deval and P/O Johnnie Howell with OV-K “Last a/c to bomb the Huns”

“Last aircraft to bomb the Huns”

Typhoon Ib PD531, Squadron codes OV-K, entered service with 197 Squadron RAF in late October or early November 1944. The first of approximately 50-55 operational sorties completed by PD531 was recorded in the 197 Squadron RAF ORB on November 2, 1944 with the last on May 4, 1945. Allocated to B Flight, Typhoon PD531 seems to have been the regular plane of Flt Lt (later Sqn Ldr) Ken Harding DFC. Flt Lt Harding commanded B Flight before being promoted and taking command of 197 Squadron in February 1945. Several other B Flight pilots flew PD531, on occasion, including P/O Johnnie Howell RAAF.

Typhoon Ib PD531, delivered to the RAF between July & September 1944, was a relatively late production Typhoon, equipped with a bubble canopy and four-bladed propeller, armed with four 20mm cannon and capable of carrying 500lb or 1000lb bombs. Typhoon PD531 was camouflaged with Ocean Grey / Dark Green upper surfaces and Medium Sea Grey undersurfaces. The black spinner characterised 146 Wing’s Typhoons from early 1944 and was adopted by all 2 TAF aircraft from January 3, 1945. Typhoon PD531 returned to the UK after 197 Squadron RAF  disbanded on August 31, 1945, and was Struck Off Charge  (SOC) on October 23, 1945 before eventually being scrapped.

Sources: 197 Squadron Operations Record, The National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom and J W Howell RAAF Service Record, National Archives of Australia.