Royal New Zealand Air Force
To stem the tide of Japanese aggression in the South and South-West Pacific, the Allies in 1942 developed a chain of island bases, stretching from Northern Australia through New Caledonia, the New Hebrides, Fiji and Tonga to Samoa. These were intended to serve as a protection for major bases in Australia and New Zealand from which an offensive could eventually be launched. At the same time they were destined to become important supply and repair bases as the Allied forces moved northward through the Solomons.
An American fighter squadron disembarked at Fiji at the end of January 1942, and a flight of Flying Fortresses arrived a few days later. American troops landed in the New Hebrides in March and in New Caledonia in April. By June all these bases were occupied by large United States forces, although they were by no means secure from major attack, and behind this outer defensive line major forces were being built up in Australia and New Zealand.
The most vital link in the defensive chain was Fiji. If the enemy established himself there he could dominate the whole of the South Pacific and would be in a position to launch an attack against New Zealand. New Zealand had done what it could to reinforce the colony by sending all its anti-aircraft artillery and a fair proportion of the available Hudsons, but the defences in the first few weeks of 1942 were much too weak to withstand a major attack.
Early in February a detachment of six Hudsons from No. 2 Squadron was sent to Fiji temporarily to strengthen the air defences in the face of what appeared to be an imminent threat of attack. They arrived on 11 February and were attached to No. 4 Squadron at Nandi.
On 13 February aircrew were briefed for an attack on a Japanese task force which was reported to be approaching. Coastwatchers further north had reported a force including three aircraft carriers apparently heading for Fiji. It was estimated that it would arrive late on 13 February or at dawn on the 14th. An Allied force, including the aircraft carriers Lexington and Saratoga, was also heading for Fiji, but it was doubtful whether it would arrive in time page 126 to intercept the Japanese. Furthermore, the Allied fleet included no battleships.
The Hudsons were briefed to bomb from 9000 feet and the Fortresses from 16,000 feet, and pilots were told that unless the Allied force arrived in time they would stand very little chance of coming out of the action alive as the sky would be thick with Japanese fighters.
Aircrews remained at readiness for the rest of the day and that night. The Fortresses took off before dawn next day on patrol. As there had been no further sighting of the enemy force, the Hudsons did not take off till later. They were eventually airborne at 10 a.m. and carried out a parallel track search in the vicinity of the Ellice Islands. No sightings of the enemy were made during the day, and apparently he had turned back and occupied islands farther to the north-west.
With the safe arrival of the Allied reinforcements and the averting of the immediate threat to Fiji, the detachment of No. 2 Squadron returned to New Zealand, leaving two aircraft and crews to join No. 4 Squadron.