Air Marshal Johnny Greene (1929-2013)

A legendary pilot and officer,  Air Marshal Johnny William Greene passed away on 16 October 2013. Born 21 March 1929, Greene was commissioned in the IAF on 16 June 1951 (4093 F(P)) . He served as a Hunter pilot before moving on the Folland Gnat and making a name for himself in the 1965 and 1971 wars.

As a Squadron Leader he commanded No.14 Squadron during the 1962 War, and subsequently went to No.23 Squadron as a Flight Commander.

His leadership of a flight of No.23 Squadron during the 65 War was recognised by the award of a Vir Chakra. His section was always in the thick of aircombat with the F-86 Sabres and only the unpredictability of the aircraft guns robbed him of an aircombat kill.

In the 1971 war, he was commanding No.2 Squadron “Flying Arrows” out of Amritsar airfield.  On the very first day, in an unequal fight, he chased a F-104 Starfighter over Ferozepur and prevented it from damaging the radar installations on our side. His leadership of the squadron was recognised by the award of a Vayusena Medal for the 1971 war. The young piloos in the squadron looked upto him with awe. And the saying “God is Greene and Greene is God” was something they believed in.

After the war, Johnny Greene hed command and staff appointments. He graduated from the National Defence College in 1976. He became the SASO of an Operational Wing, Director of Flight Safety and Senior Air Staff Officer of an Operational Command and  ACAS (Plans).  His service saw more awards – an AVSM in 1979 and a PVSM in 1984 when he was an Air Vice Marshal.

After retirement, Air Marshal Greene settled down in Mumbai.

Air Marshal Greene lost his wife Cynthia in December 2009, after bravely battling a couple of ailments over years. Air Marshal Green followed her to the heavenly abode on 16th October 2013.

Group Captain Kapil Bhargava :

Air Marshal JW Greene had been ill and admitted in INHS Ashwini, Mumbai for some time. Earlier today (16 October 2013) he had a massive heart attack and passed away at 13:30 hours.

Cremation took place, following the arrival of his nephew Kenneth Brothwick from Muscat.The Greenes had no children and his wife Cynthia had pass3d away some time ago.

Remembering my best friend Johnny Greene

The loss of a good friend of sixty years vintage really hurts. It hurts even more if he was one’s best friend. All I can do now is to recall and share some moments of fun and personal histories to alleviate the pain.

We were cadets of No. 53 Pilots Instruction Course (PIC) switching from Tigermoths to Harvards at Jodhpur. In January 1950 cadets of No 55 Course reported for all-through training. From it, Wg Cdr IM (Chopie) Chopra (former Chairman HAL) recalls that Johnny, one of his course-mates, was a very quiet, well-behaved and mild-mannered gentleman. He was not unfriendly but definitely never pushed anyone. Unless you were privy to reports on flaying abilities of cadets, you would have not noticed him over much.

Prior to being commissioned in June 1951 Flight Cadets Chopie and Johnny competed for the Flying Trophy. Johnny won but as Chopie expected he almost never mentioned it to anyone, not even to his course-mates. He certainly was never a braggart. Meanwhile, Chopie passed out at four places senior. to him.

Both Chopie and Johnny were posted to No. 14 Squadron to fly Spitfire XVIII aircraft. I have a vague memory, with no easy way to confirm it today, that Johnny had to bail out of one due to a problem with the propeller and consequent loss of power. IM Chopra bailed out of one at Jamnagar when the drogue he had fired on separated from the towing DC-3 Dakota and parts of it jammed his elevator.

Meanwhile, I was posted in the Battleaxes, No. 7 Squadron. My only course-mate in it had crashed and died riding my 350cc Royal Enfield motor cycle while I was away on temporary duty. This left me as the junior most sprog in the Squadron with 14 pilot officers from 51-52 (combined) PICs to try but fail to bully me. In early 1953 Johnny Greene reported to our Squadron. By then the Battleaxes were the first Vampire Jets equipped Squadron in IAF (and Asia).

The senior Flight Commander RD (Dicky) Law called me and said that at last I had one person junior to me in the unit. He asked me to check him out in the only two seat aircraft we had – a Harvard. The flight with Johnny was a surprise to me. I had won the Flying Trophy in my course but I could see that Johnny’s flying was noticeably superior. On landing I reported and recommend to Dicky that he should fly with Johnny. He promptly asked me why and what was wrong with him. I explained that there was nothing wrong with him, it was just that he flew better than any other pilot or instructor I had ever flown with. Dicky did as I suggested and had the grace to call me and tell me that I was quite right!

Along with a pilot from the 51-52 PIC, Johnny and I were detailed for training as Pilot Attack Instructors at RAF Leconfield in the UK. The three of us had to travel by ship both ways for our first visit to England. On arrival in London, we were lodged at No. 8 South Audley Street in the very posh West End. No. 76 South Audley Street housed the Indian Defence Service Attachés. Or was it the other way round? Below the offices was the dining hall where we could have our meals, perhaps the breakfast was available for free or at a nominal price. The food, totally Indian, was excellent. We also got 13 shillings and 6 pence as a daily allowance but could draw our salary as Flying Officers converted from Rupees to Sterling @ £7 for Rs 100.

We reported for PAI training in early September 1953. The first evening at Leconfield had a prominent event. Johnny went to the bar to have cold drink – he never drank alcohol while we were there and probably hardly any ever since. The Chief Ground Instructor (CGI) Sqn Ldr Shaw (nick-named Artie Shaw after the famous musician) was having a beer in the bar. On seeing Johnny he welcomed him and commented with a very superior air that the Indians had a very tough course ahead of them. The eternally patient and mild-mannered Johnny must have seen red. He retorted that the Central Gunnery School could examine us the next day and that all of us would pass with credit. Johnny also said that the three of us had been briefed to come first second and third.

To cut the story short, Johnny came first. I was second and our third colleague was fifth. After completion of the course, Johnny went up to the CGI ‘Artie’ Shaw and told him that when we got back to India we would fix the senior one for dropping two places.

On our return to London, I soon noticed that Johnny was eating a really heavy breakfast and then no food the rest of the day. He survived the nearly four weeks waiting for ship on cigarettes. By the time we were about to return, he had saved £ 100 – a princely sum. With it in his pocket he walked into Selfridges in Oxford Street. He looked around and picked out a sales girl. Johnny said to her that he was about to return to India and would get married soon. He asked her to help collect a trousseau for his fiancée. The sales girl had noticed that Johnny had sleceted her specially and asked him why her. Johnny explained simply that she was the same size and shape as her betrothed. The girl helped him collect everything from the weeding dress to the veil, hat and ring. When he was about to pay for his shopping, he noticed that the girl was crying. He stopped and asked her what was wrong. She sobbed, “I wish someone would do that for me”. Johnny bought her a nice gift and asked her to keep it for her own wedding. Having seen through almost cheerless Christmas and New Year on board, we returned to Bombay by the slow ship Jal Jawahar on 7th January 1954. Johnny and Cynthia were married a week later on 14th January 1954.

Cynthia preceded him and now Johnny is also gone. May the two of them rest in eternal peace together. I really miss them both.

In Grief,

Group Captain Kapil Bhargava

Wing Commander Ajit Agtey:

What does one say when a person who has been a legend passes away ? Johnny Greene was already a legendary figure when we heard of him. That was way back in 1970. As young and impressionable Pilot Officers we (10 of us) were posted to No 2 Squadron at Ambala (The Winged Arrows). He was the BOSS.

We had heard so much about him (all of it in superlative terms) that it was a singular honour to be standing in a semi circle in his office that first day in the squadron on 01 August 1970. After the few words of welcome he said the Gnat training syllabus required four dual checks each on the Hunter Trainer. 40 trips on the Hunter Trainer were simply not available in whole of WAC’s two Hunter squadrons So here came the pearls of wisdom.  ONE DUAL CHECK is all you will get, so go to Hindan and Halwara.

That was followed by quick conversion and operational syllabus and Lo and Behold he made sure we were FULLY OPS and two aircraft formation leaders as PILOT OFFICERS. I do not think that there have been any more. !! Before or After.  Now there are no Pilot Officers.

As a squadron commander he always led from the front in every aspect of service and social life.  He was a maniac for physical fitness. During the air to air firing detachment at Jamnagar, we used to go for a run in a squad of three files. He was always in the first file. On the run questions of Deflection angle equals Range into sin angle off were tossed back and forth. On the final day we ran and touched all four dumbbells and ended up at the bar. Sweaty and in running kit we sat polished off a sack of beer on the small patch of grass which used to pass off as a lawn in front of the bar door.

From August 1971 (when war was imminent) he got us to work up to what we would expect and we went through those 14 days in December 1971 brimming with confidence. We did not lose a single pilot or aircraft. Thanks to the training he had imparted.
He always had a twinkle in his eyes and an ever ready smile. One never knew what he would come up with next. I never heard him raise his voice in anger at any one. However, when we saw him cock his right eyebrow up, it was a clear sign for us rats to disappear ‘cause  WE ARE NOT AMUSED was the message. His pearls of wisdom of in service training came in the form of one liners. One had to catch them and remember them for posterity.

Neither he nor Mrs Greene forgot their old friends. On an occasion in 1986 when he was AOC in C Central, on a formal inspection visit to Gorakhpur, the welcome address to Mrs Greene at the Air Force school was read out by my thirteen year old daughter. She called my daughter and told her “You know my girl I have seen you in nappies and I have also seen your father in nappies in our squadron.”

I had the pleasure of meeting him and Mrs Greene a couple of years ago under very happy circumstances in Mumbai at their home. I went to see Johnny Greene a couple of weeks ago. He was in the ICU at INHS Aswini. He was semi conscious and I called out to him and told him my name. I thought he recognised me. He held my hands in his heavily bandaged hands and opened his eyes and I am very sure he mouthed a “Hello”. It was with tears in my eyes that I saluted him for the last time and left him and a sobbing Kaye (his sister).

He stood 10 feet tall, a legend he was and a legend he will remain.

In grief

Air Marshal P S Pingale:

Johny Greene Sir was indeed a legend. Regrettably, I did not have the fortune to serve under him, but only heard of his legends. But I was witness to one of his limitless legends.

It was in Jamnagar in Oct 1964. Our sqn (7), had gone there for our annual Armament trg. Johny Greene and Muzzy Mazumdar, were also there on an assignment to assess effectiveness of Gnat ac as an Air to Air gun platform. They did about 15 sorties each and finalized their report. I vaguely recall that their view was that it was not a very effective platform due to various reasons such as behavior of the Hobson Unit, etc.

While we were struggling to achieve 4-5% hits on the banner, Johny Greene’s average for his 15 odd sorties was over 70 %!!

A legend has passed. May his soul rest in peace.


Air Marshal Adi Ghandhi:

Jonathan William Greene was my boss in 9 sqn during 1966 just before he went off to the UK. He was the acme of a true professional fighter pilot and yet humble as ever. Johny Sir was basically an introvert by nature and his wonderful wife, Cynthia, made up for all that. What a fab couple they were. Most people do remember his professional side which was beyond reproach, but I must tell you about his lighter side too.

It was his farewell from 9 sqn and we had the party in the swimming pool behind the Halwara mess. All was well till party games started. Among the lot Johny Sir himself suddenly asked for a dozen raw eggs and he would show us a new game. Guess what we had two rows of guys and girls standing about 3 ft apart. Those who had the eggs threw them to the opposite number and took a step back. This continued till the distance became too large to do the hand stretch and drop. Eggs started to burst in everyones hands and it was a bloody mess but what a laugh. Then of course the swimming pool was too tempting so after the speeches were over we threw Johny Sir into the pool and he came up spluttering but laughing. Then it was Cynthias turn and the usual chair was brought out for the hoisting.

It all went well before someone suggested why should Johny Sir feel lonely in the pool and a screaming Cynthia too went into the pool. Oh she cursed us like a trooper as she surfaced, but after a while enjoyed her swim fully dressed. Then of course everyone jumped in and I was surprised there was any water left in the pool.

Johny Sir I can never forget that farewell because we have never picked up the courage for a repeat with others. God Bless his Soul and may He Rest in Peace. Surely he has wings up there and will keep briefing the angels on P of F of lift and drag etc. He has joined Cynthia and I am sure they are out for a swim together now.

Flt Lt Adi Ghandhi

Air Marshal M M Engineer and Wing Commander J W Greene
Wing Commander J W Greene (Standing 2nd from Right) just after the 1971 India Pakistan War.
Air Marshal Minoo Engineer is visiting the airfield at the conclusion of the operations

Air Marshal Subhash Bhojwani:

Wg Cdr JW Greene was commanding 9 Sqn and I was on the other side of the airfield in 27 Sqn, as a P/O. I remember listening to him in awe on more than one occasion while he explained the workings of some gadget or the other. He was a true gen master. He often used to come to the Flaming Arrows to meet Wg Cdr Bertie Wier. I learnt a lot from the leader of the Wolf Pack even though he wasn’t my ‘boss’.

One day he happened to see me smoking (a non-filter Panama) as I headed out for a sortie, with my helmet tucked under my elbow. He stopped me and asked what would happen if a single flake of tobacco were to be stuck in the expiration (I think that’s the word) valve in the Oxygen mask. Of course, I didn’t have a clue. He proceeded to show me how the tiniest particle could prevent the O2 from flowing freely. Swishing the mouth with water after the final pre-sortie smoke became a habit – till I kicked the smiking habit altogether.

On another occasion I learnt a valuable P of F trick from Wg Cdr Greene in 66-67. One day I was asked by my Flt Cdr to escort him for a Hunter 56 sortie. Just before leaving the crew room JWG asked me to bring along a roll of scotch tape, which I did unquestioningly (P/Os were neither meant to be seen nor heard!). After doing his external checks he asked an airman for a piece of stocknit (govt issued cleaning rag) from which he very carefully extracted a single thread, about 3″ long. He used a short length of the clear cello tape to attach this piece of thread to the side of the sliding canopy, the ‘leading’ end of the thread being covered and held by the tape. I was most intrigued and, very hesitatingly, asked him what it was for. He gave me a ‘you-must-be-pretty-dumb’ look. “It’s my angle of attack indicator”, he said, without further explanation. What a simple but brilliant idea, I thought to myself. Later on I tried the same thing on dozens of sorties on the Hunter and Type77 and found the indications to be very accurate and illustrative.

18 years later while commanding 28 & 30 Sqn (both conducting 3rd Stage training) I used Johnny Greene’s AOA indicator on the Type 66 to demonstrate visual indication of the airflow to the young trainees. It reminded me of a famous quote : “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” – Henry Adams. This definitely applied to Johnny Greene.

May his soul rest in peace.

Air Marshal K C Cariappa

He was an ‘officer and gentleman’ I never really knew because I did not have the opportunity of serving with him. The only few times I did meet him was when he was DCAS and I was AA to the CAS. Thereafter I did meet him and Mrs Greene occasionally when I visited Mumbai from SWAC.

He was the stuff legends are made of as I can recall. There are a few names that are etched in my memory as a raw Pilot Officer just posted 20 Sqn in Pune. We were introduced to ‘parallel quarters’ among other operational exercises, and I recall seeing ‘demo’ films as to how the attack was to be executed. ‘Johnny’ Greene’s ‘pipper’ did not move a mm off the cockpit of the target a/c and the ‘diamonds’ ranged to the nearest ‘foot’ I am sure. There were other names too….’Ken’ Mishra, Hari Bhagat, ‘Pete’ Wilson, ‘Jim’ Goodman are some that come to mind readily.

May Air Marshal Greene’s soul rest in peace as he finds his niche in Valhalla


Air Commodore Ramesh Phadke

We in 18 Squadron envied you guys for the attention and guidance Johny God Greene showered on you. May his soul rest in peace. God makes the likes of him but seldom. Prakash Sanadi has done a wonderful job of giving him all the affection and care in the last five or more years. Who says the Air Marshal did not have any children? RIP Sir as we pay our respectful homage. We of the 1968-72 Ambala group will always cherish your memories.

Wing Commander Sudhir Kumaran

Sad at hearing the news, I have only sweet memories of my stay in No 9 Sqn under then Wg Cdr Greene

I was the E O of 9 Sqn Those were the days when the Hobson unit controlling the tailplane movement of the GNAT aircraft was giving problems.The Hobson unit used to stall in flight for short spells .The piulot used to spit tail and land in manual.We cold not reprduce the defect onthe ground and so send thje unit to H A L for investigation.Even after more than 25 such cases HA L could not establish the cause .

One day Samarjit Misra reported Hobson stall after a sortie.C O called me to his office andtold me that he wanted to fly the aircraft .We had a detailed discussion .After that I said I was ready to clear the aircraft for flying on two conditions.(1) He will not carry out any difficult manouvre below 10,000 ft AGL 2)He will eject at the first sign of danger.He agreed to the 1st condition easilyand when I insisted, to the 2nd condition also.During the flight he established that the stall occurred when the hysraulic pressure was low(near the cut-in pressure) and unstalled itself when the pressure rose..This information helped H A L pin point the defect.

A few days later he called me to his office and showed me a letter from the command asking me to eplain how and why I cleared an U/S aircraft to fly ,especially with a tailplane control problem.Then he told me”Don’t worry.I will reply this letter.I never heard from he command on this subject again.

As the E O I used to go to the tarmac in the afternoons and skip P T regularly’One day C O told me to attend P T.After the warm up we were going round the field (4rounds)After the second round I asked the C O for permission to go faster.Just before breaking up he told me I need not attend P T again.

What fantastic times we had.


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