In 2014, the Canada Aviation and Space Museum was fortunate to be the recipient of a loan from the Royal Air Force Museum in England: the sole surviving example of the Hawker Typhoon. The Typhoon is a unique Second World War airplane. It could also be a very dangerous aircraft to fly. Of course, it is always dangerous to fly in wartime but the Typhoon made things a little trickier. There were structural issues and engine problems. In the first couple of years that it was operational, engineers and mechanics modified its structure and design significantly. The Typhoon also looked very much like the German Focke-Wulf Fw 190 in flight and was frequently shot at and shot down by friendly fire.
The Typhoon represents an important story in aircraft design. So I was thrilled when a man named John Colton Jr. called me from Sherbrooke, Quebec, saying that he would like to donate some objects and photographs that belonged to his father, Flight Lieutenant John Colton (1923 – 2013), RAF 137 Squadron (Figure 2) who was a Typhoon pilot. Given the importance of this story and the fact that we have very little in the collection that represents the experience of the Typhoon pilots, we were pleased to accept this donation.
John Colton Jr. said he thought of us because we had the Typhoon on loan. I invited him to share some photos of the objects but he wanted to come in person to show me the objects (Figure 3). He is a wonderful, light-hearted man who is very proud of his father’s service during the Second World War.
It was a great pleasure to learn about John Colton’s service. His son was kind enough to share many of his stories with me.
The Typhoon was a difficult aircraft to fly. Pilots either loved or hated it – one was never on the fence about the Typhoon. John Colton loved it. On average, Typhoon pilots survived about 17 sorties (or missions) – he completed 75. John Colton took part in several important battles throughout the final two years of the war: Operation Overlord, Operation Market Garden, the Battle of the Bulge, and Operation Bodenplatte. Colton Sr. was awarded the following medals for his service: War Medal, France and Germany Star, 1939-1945 Star, Defense Medal, Normandy Campaign Medal, Canadian Voluntary Service Medal, and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal.
“Wake up Call” is a painting by Robert Bailey, signed by 8 Luftwaffe pilots who flew on January 1st, 1945 – the beginning of Operation Bodenplatte. This was the Luftwaffe’s attempt to cripple Allied airforces in Belgium and the Netherlands. Colton Sr.’s base at Eindhoven in the Netherlands was one of the targets. The German forces destroyed many of the Typhoons on the airfield and one of his good friends was killed. Colton’s Typhoon was one of the few that remained undamaged in the attack.
It became real again when John Colton Jr. and his father were attending an airshow in 1984. The two later met a glider pilot who was flying that day, a Luftwaffe veteran named, Oscar Boesch (1924-2012), who continued to fly in air shows around Canada and the United States in the post-war years. The first question Boesch asked Colton Sr. was: “Where were you on January 1st, 1945?” To which, Colton Sr. answered: “Eindhoven (Netherlands).” Boesch replied, “So was I.” Boesch was the pilot of one the Fw 190s that attacked Colton’s base that morning.
A.A. position at Arnheim attacked. Bags of heavy and light flak!!!
∼ Flight Lieutenant John Colton, September 16, 1944.
At first, Colton was uneasy, thinking of his friend who had been killed that day in 1945. But in the end, Colton and Boesch went for a beer together and toasted absent friends. This friendship seems rather unlikely but in fact happened more than you would think. Colton Sr. had another good friend who served in the German Navy on E-Boats. Typhoons regularly attacked these ships and the ships fired back. The two laughed about their shared experience over beers. Still, the encounter at Eindhoven was a little more personal, which explains Colton Sr.’s initial reaction to Boesch. In his own words, “[I] didn’t know whether to go at him or what.” He let it go, understanding that back then they were both pilots just doing their jobs. Every January 1st from that day on. The two even provided details to artist Robert Bailey in his research for “Wake Up Call!” a signed print of which John Colton Jr. donated to the museum as well as a log book, photographs, uniforms, and pilot’s notebooks on the Typhoon and the Napier Sabre engine.
Joanna Calder , “I could smell death at 1,000 feet”, Royal Canadian Air Force, November 1, 2013.
Hugh Halliday, Typhoon and Tempest: The Canadian Story
Pierre Lapprand with Dave O’Malley, Michel Côté, and John Baert, Johnny Typhoon: Down Low with Canadian Fighter Pilot John Colton, Vintage Wings.
Arthur Reed, Typhoon and Tempest at War