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John Edwin Ashley Williams
6 May 1919–29 March 1944[1]
Willy williams.jpg
John Edwin Ashley "Willy" Williams. Judging by the insignia on his shoulder, this appears to have been taken between August 1941, when he was made a substantive Flight Lieutenant and October 1942, when he was captured. (Photographer unknown.)
Nickname "Willy"
Place of birth Wellington, New Zealand
Place of death near Sagan, Germany (later Żagań, Poland)
Service/branch Royal Air Force
Years of service 1938–44
Rank Acting Squadron Leader
Unit No. 112 Squadron RAF
No.94 Squadron RAF
No. 260 Squadron RAF
No. 450 Squadron RAAF
Commands held No. 450 Squadron RAAF
Battles/wars Second World War
Awards Distinguished Flying Cross
Mentioned in Despatches

Squadron Leader John Edwin Ashley "Willy" Williams, DFC (6 May 1919–29 March 1944) was an Australian air ace during the Second World War.[2] He served in the Middle East and North Africa with the Royal Air Force (RAF), and was among the Allied prisoners of war (POWs) murdered by the Gestapo, following "The Great Escape", in 1944.[3] He commanded No. 450 Squadron of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) for three days, before he was captured in 1942.




Early years

Willams, who was born to Australian parents in Wellington, New Zealand, was from Sydney.[4] According to one source, he grew up in or near the beachside suburb of Manly and was a champion surfer.[5]

Willams travelled to the United Kingdom where he joined the RAF as a Pilot Officer on a Short Service Commission, in 1938.[3][6]

Second World War

On 14 August 1939 Williams was promoted to Acting Flight Lieutenant,[7] relinquishing the rank on 27 October 1939,[8] and was made a substantive Flying Officer on 17 August 1940.[9][10] One year later to the day, he was made a substantive Flight Lieutenant.[11]

On 11 April 1942, Williams received his first combat posting, when he joined No. 112 Squadron RAF, part of the Desert Air Force (DAF), flying P-40 Kittyhawks. Over the next two months, he also served with No. 94 Squadron RAF and No. 260 Squadron RAF.

Although he remained an RAF officer, Williams was redeployed to No. 450 Squadron RAAF on 14 June 1942.

During June 1942, he destroyed a Junkers Ju 87 and a Messerschmitt Bf 109 near Gambut.[12][4] On 5 July, Williams shot down a Junkers Ju 88 belonging to I Staffel/Lehrgeschwader 1. Williams scored four victories and two damaged in during his time with No. 450 squadron.[13]These kills are believed to have been scored in Kittyhawk AK634 "OK-M".

In late September, Williams was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.[14]

During the Second Battle of El Alamein, DAF Kittyhawks played an important role, carrying out many ground attack sorties. During the battle, on 28 October 1942, Williams was promoted to Acting Squadron Leader and was appointed Commanding Officer of No. 450 Squadron. Three days later, while strafing a ground target near Buq Buq, he was shot down. Williams' aircraft was accidentally hit by fire from another member of his squadron.[15][16] He crash landed and was seen to get out of his Kittyhawk safely. The ground was too rough for aircraft to land and pick Williams up. He later became a POW.

Williams had five official victories in air combat at the time of his capture.


By early 1944, Williams and another 450 Sqn officer, Flight Lieutenant Reginald (Reg) Kierath, found themselves imprisoned at Stalag Luft III, near Sagan, Germany.

Both men were among the 76 POWs who escaped during the famous "Great Escape" in March 1944. They were both re-captured and on 29 March, along with three other Australian airmen, were among 50 Stalag Luft III POWs murdered by the Gestapo.[4][12] A posthumous Mention in Despatches was published on 8 June 1944.[17] He is buried in the Poznan Old Garrison Cemetery, which is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.[18]

See also



  1. ^ New Zealand Fighter pilots museum
  2. ^ Australian Military Units: 40652 Squadron Leader John Edwin Ashley Williams, DFC." Australian War Memorial, 2009. Retrieved: 1 March 2009.
  3. ^ a b Edlington, David."The Great Crime: Aussies among Murder Victims". Air Force News, vol. 46, no. 5, 8 April 2004. Retrieved: 6 February 2008.
  4. ^ a b c Herington 1954, p. 243. Note: RAAF official history, available online from the Australian War Memorial
  5. ^ Sly 2003, p. 37. Note: Page is available as an online excerpt at
  6. ^ London Gazette: no. 34501, p. 2458, 12 April 1938. Retrieved on 2008-02-13.
  7. ^ London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 34674, p. 6131, 8 September 1939. Retrieved on 2008-02-13.
  8. ^ London Gazette: no. 34822, p. 1917, 2 April 1940. Retrieved on 2008-02-13.
  9. ^ London Gazette: no. 34960, p. 5832, 4 October 1940. Retrieved on 2008-02-13.
  10. ^ Australian War Memorial
  11. ^ London Gazette: no. 35279, p. 5423, 19 September 1941. Retrieved on 2008-02-13.
  12. ^ a b Thomas 2005, p. 109.
  13. ^ Thomas 2005, p. 37.
  14. ^ London Gazette: no. 35940, p. 1246, 12 March 1943. Retrieved on 2008-02-13.
  15. ^ Brown 2000, pp. 187-188.
  16. ^ "Comments and extracts from the diary of Viv Herrett RAAF". Retrieved: 5 January 2006.
  17. ^ London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 36544, pp. 2613–2619, 2 June 1944. Retrieved on 2008-02-13.
  18. ^ Casualty details — John Edwin Ashley Williams, Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Retrieved 2008-02-13


  • Australian War Memorial, 2008, "40652 Squadron Leader John Edwin Ashley Williams, DFC"
  • Brodie, Ian. 2006, "Squadron Leader John Edwin Ashley Williams". New Zealand Fighter Pilots Museum.
  • Brown, Russell. Desert Warriors: Australian P-40 Pilots at War in the Middle East and North Africa, 1941-1943. Maryborough, Queensland, Australia: Banner Books, 2000. ISBN 1-875-59322-5.
  • Herington, John. Second World War Volume III: Air War Against Germany and Italy, 1939–1943 (1st edition). Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1954.
  • Sly, Edward "Ted". The Luck of the Draw: Spitfires, Kittyhawks & RAAF. Ballina NSW, Australia: Spitfire Books, 2003. ISBN 0-646-46314-4.
  • Thomas, Andrew. Tomahawk and Kittyhawk Aces of the RAF and Commonwealth. Oxford, UK: Osprey Publications, 2005. ISBN 978-1-84176-083-4.



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