Sergeant Johnnie Horan

Sharing part of my research with you this morning while the coffee is brewing… 

I had seen that face before. The air gunner on the right.

The pilot on the left is Michael Lister Haigh. On the right is the AI operator air gunner who is unidentified. This image comes from this Website.

It’s image 17. No caption but you have the file name.



I had some captions to help me out in Flight Sergeant Gerard Pelletier’s photo album.

The Boys at “264” Dispersal 

Bill Moncur and Johnnie Horan

I got curious last night and I couldn’t get to sleep. 

Read what I found out on the Internet.

Evening Post, Volume CXXXIX, Issue 16, 19 January 1945, Page 7




(R.N.Z.A.F, Official News Service.)

How the supreme courage of an R.N.Z.A.F, gunner; Flying Officer John Spencer Horan (Auckland), who even though he was fatally wounded, remained at his post, undoubtedly saved the lives of the remainder of the crew of the aircraft, was related at a forward airfield on the Burma front yesterday, by the-pilot of the aircraft concerned.

A Sea Otter rescue aircraft was on a reconnaissance trip off the Akyab coast when it was suddenly discovered that eight Japanese Oscars were on its tail, two of which came in to attack. Flying Officer Horan, gunner in the Sea Otter, opened fire. Two minutes later he reported that he was hit. The first navigator went aft and found him unconscious with his left hand blown off. Recovering consciousness as he was being dragged back into the fuselage, Horan insisted on returning to the guns He jammed them against his chest and continued to hold off the enemy.

The engine was now on fire, the instrument panel shattered, the flaps shot away, and the tail ablaze. Bullets from the enemy were continually passing through the aircraft. Horan received further wounds on his head, but although these totalled up to seven, his fire never failed. He fired 800 rounds, and was still firing as the pilot managed to land the blazing aircraft outside the breakers and beach her. Flying Officer Horan died immediately.

Two hours later, the remainder of the crew, including the navigator, who also belongs to the R.N.Z.A.F., Flight Sergeant J. A. Lawson (Onehunga) were flying again, and succeeded in rescuing a Spitfire pilot from the sea. The pilot, Flight Lieutenant Peter Almack, of Christchurch, England, insists that Flying Officer Horan saved the lives of the remainder of the crew- Flying Officer Horan, who was 24 years of age, leaves a young wife and infant son in England. His parents, Mr. and Mrs. P. Horan, reside at Manurewa, Auckland. Before he joined the R.N.Z.A.F. in February, 1940, Flying Officer Horan was employed on farm work with Mr. P. N. Anderson at Okoroire. His education was received at the Matamata District High School, and he was prominent in several sports, including cycling. He left New Zealand for the United Kingdom in April, 1940.


Warrant Officers Frank Watkins and John Horan gave their lives to save their crewmates, but were each denied the Victoria Cross because of insufficient evidence. Instead both were mentioned-in-despatches, the only other recognition which could be given posthumously.
Despite considerable lobbying after World War Two, neither award was upgraded, leading to criticism that this diminished their valour and sacrifice.

Frank Watkins was working as a Government clerk when he enlisted into the RNZAF in 1940 as a pilot and was sent to Europe mid-1941.

While attacking Duisberg, Germany, on the night of December 20, 1942, Watkins’ Wellington bomber was seriously damaged from a direct hit. His friend and bomb-aimer Sergeant Brooke-Norris was wounded and could not be removed from the stricken aircraft. Watkins ordered the rest of the crew to parachute to safety while he stayed with the aircraft and tried to crash land it in an attempt to save his friend’s life. Sadly, both men died.

Writing from within captivity Watkins’ crewmates described his actions as the “most outstanding example of love and sacrifice”. These sentiments were echoed by senior officers who all recommended him for the Victoria Cross. However, Air Marshal Arthur “Bomber” Harris did not endorse the recommendations due to insufficient evidence and Watkins was later mentioned-indespatches.

Share-milker John Horan had arrived in Europe earlier in the war, and served as an air-gunner with No. 256 Squadron during the Battle of Britain. Throughout the war, he served with RAF pilot Peter Almack. After completing three tours together, Almack talked Horan into volunteering for a fourth in the Far East.

It was during that tour that Horan’s Sea Otter aircraft was attacked by six Japanese Oscar fighter bombers while conducting reconnaissance in the Bay of Bengal on January 9, 1945. Part of Horan’s left hand was blown off during the fight, but he refused medical aid. He instead returned to his guns, jamming them against his chest and fired over 800 rounds, until he was hit in the chest and head as the aircraft crash landed. The remainder of the crew made it ashore, while Horan could not be freed from the fuselage and sank with the damaged plane.

When his body was washed ashore the following day, he was buried with full military honours. Air Commodore Keith ‘Grid’ Caldwell, the RNZAF Liaison Officer in South East Asia, requested that the award of the Victoria Cross be investigated. However, Base Air Force South East Asia considered there was insufficient evidence to do so, and Horan was instead mentioned-indespatches.

While it is unfortunate that neither servicemen received the Victoria Cross— despite their actions clearly warranting such an award—we should not allow this to diminish their valour and self-sacrifice. Instead it is up to us as an Air Force to preserve their memory and honour their deeds.

Wing Commander Mark Brewer, currently serves in the NZDF Institute for Leader Development. He has a long-running interest in the medallic recognition of service personnel and is currently Vice President of the New Zealand Military Historical Society.


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