Hokan, Junius Lyman Edward
Updated: Feb 17, 2022
There were not many Black pilots in the RCAF during the Second World War. Few were those who were fighter pilots. There was one who not only shot down some enemy aircraft but also was on the verge of inventing a possible navigation device. Flying Officer Junius Lyman Edward Hokan was this unique pilot.
Junius Hokan was born in Guelph and raised in St. Catharines, ON, the only child of Lyman William Hogan and Ella Bollen. Service to his country must have been in his blood as his father had served served in the First World War in the Canadian Field Artillery. It should have been no surprise that at the age of 18 Hokan enlisted in the RCAF on 11 November 1940 in Niagara Falls. Nine months later, on 8 August 1941, then Leading Aircraftman Hokan received his pilot wings and because of his high standing on the course was commissioned as a pilot officer. He was then sent to England.
On 18 February 1942 Pilot Officer Hokan was posted to No. 610 Squadron of the Royal Air Force. 610 Squadron was flying the Supermarine Spitfire Mark Vb. When Hokan got there its role was daytime raids into France. It then changed to protection of convoys and reconnaissance, but it would also escort bombers over France, Belgium and the Netherlands, to protect them from German fighters.
Pilot Officer Hokan was into the thick of the action in April. On 27 April he was the leader of a two-aircraft patrol early that morning. The two shot down a Junkers JU-88 off the coast of Lowestowe. On 15 May he received a quarter share of a Dornier DO-217 with three other pilots. Pilot Officer Hokan shot down another JU-88 east of Yarmouth on 22 June. However, not all flights resulted in him shooting enemy aircraft or even encountering them.
On Wednesday, 19 August 1942, Canadian soldiers raided the town of Dieppe on the French coast. The fighting of that day included what has been described as one of the most intense air battles of the Second World War. Famed fighter pilot Johnnie Johnson, with whom Hokan regularly flew, stated, “we thought of nothing but evasion and staying alive.” In this confusion Pilot Officer Hokan attacked a Focke-Wulf FW-190, knocking off a large section of its tail. Before he could do any further damage he came under attack from another FW-190 that in turn destroyed most of the tail of his Spitfire. “Hokey,” as he was known, turned for home. His squadron mates expressed surprise that he was able to make it back given the damage to his Spitfire.
Pilot Officer Hokan had other interests besides flying. He created detailed drawings of a device that navigators of bomber aircraft could use to fix their position on a map. This was known as a spherant and would make it simpler and more accurate for navigators to find their way at night. In March 1942 he presented the drawings to RAF's Director of Operational Requirements. They were certainly interested in it and wanted him to be employed developing the design rather than flying a Spitfire. However, other events occurred before he could be transferred.
On 24 August newly promoted Flying Officer Hokan was posted to 401 Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force. He was soon in action, protecting bombers attacking target in France and the Netherlands. On 26 September 1942, 401 Squadron, along with 64 and 133 Squadrons, escorted 36 bombers to attack a target at Morlaix, France. The three fighter squadrons providing the protection ran into a problem when the wind was stronger than than expected from the north. This meant that many of the fighters did not have enough fuel for the return trip. 401 Squadron was going to be cutting it close in terms of making it back to England. Sixty kilometres off the English Coast, it was too late for Flying Officer Hokan as he radioed “out of petrol, baling out, so-long boys, will see you tomorrow” and was last seen in a gradual dive.
Normally, squadron mates would fly over the site of the crash at sea until air-sea rescue arrived, but given the fuel situation, this was not possible. After they landed and refuelled, they were not given permission to return to the area and search for Hokan. On 6 November 1942 his name appeared on the RCAF casualty list as “killed on active service.” His body was never recovered; his name is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.
Flying Officer Hokan is credited with one full aircraft destroyed, 1/2 of another and 1/4 of a third, plus one damaged at Dieppe. His exploits with 610 Squadron were recounted in the Canadian newspapers. Johnnie Johnson described him as “a keen and reliable leader who with more experience will make an excellent flight commander.”
Photo is courtesy of Mary Foster from her book “RAF Leconfield - a pictorial history 1937-2015.”