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Royal New Zealand Air Force



The advance flight began operations the day after it arrived at Guadalcanal, and during the first week aircraft sighted enemy ships four times, enemy aircraft three times, and were twice attacked by enemy aircraft. On the first day of operations a Hudson captained by Flying Officer Gudsell1 saw a tanker and two transports, escorted by a destroyer, to the south of Vella Lavella. The Hudson was attacked by three Nakajima float-planes which were circling above the convoy, but they did not press home their attacks, being deterred by the Hudson's turret and side guns. After an engagement which lasted about twenty minutes the Hudson escaped without either side having scored any hits.



1 Sqn Ldr G. E. Gudsell, Air Medal (US); RNZAF; born Ashburton, 15 Jun 1918; school teacher.

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A more severe engagement occurred three days later on 27 November when a Hudson, again captained by Gudsell, sighted an enemy task force to the south-west of Vella Lavella. Gudsell reported the composition and position of the force, and then closed with it to make a closer inspection. As he was doing this he was dived on by three land-based Japanese fighters. In their first attack they put the Hudson's top turret gun out of action and then concentrated on attacks from astern. Gudsell directed the Hudson from the astro-hatch while the second pilot, Flying Officer McKechnie,1 piloted the aircraft. After an action which lasted seventeen minutes the Japanese aircraft broke off and retired, having scored only three hits and without having injured any of the Hudson's crew.

This early action contributed to the high morale which prevailed in the squadron throughout its tour of operations. In the previous month the Americans had lost a number of their search planes through enemy action and, after seeing the comparatively light armament of the Hudsons, had told the New Zealanders that they would be sitting ducks for Japanese fighters. The proof that the Hudson could repel odds of three to one when properly handled and resolutely fought was comforting to all the aircrews.

Until the middle of December Hudsons flew on four, five, or six patrols daily over New Georgia, Santa Isabel, Choiseul and the surrounding waters. On 14 December the squadron's commitment was changed and the daily programme was standardised at two morning and four afternoon searches. An average flight extended about 400 miles from base and lasted up to five hours. Normally the Hudsons flew at not more than 1000 feet, which was the best height from which to launch an immediate attack on submarines when they were seen, and was also the most satisfactory height from the point of view of observation and visibility. It also minimised the chance of attacks by enemy aircraft from below, the quarter in which the Hudsons were most vulnerable. As their main responsibility was the reporting of enemy forces, crews were instructed to avoid combat whenever possible: Generally, while the early morning searches were carried out in clear weather, aircraft flying later in the day had a fair amount of cover in the large masses of cumulus cloud which formed in the area in the afternoons.

The task of the reconnaissance crews was perhaps as arduous as any in the campaign. In the first two or three months camp facilities were still primitive and crews on early morning patrols had to take off without breakfast. Eventually tea and a piece of toast were

1 Fg Off R. M. McKechnie, m.i.d.; Auckland; born Auckland, 21 Feb 1920; postman.

page 150 provided, but it was not until the squadron established its own cookhouse facilities that it was possible to ensure that crews had a meal before going on operations. They flew for long periods without seeing anything but had to be constantly alert, not only for possible targets but for hostile fighters. When they found enemy shipping it was usually too strongly defended for them to attack, and the most offensive action they could take was to radio back to base giving the position of the ships and call up striking forces of American bombers to deal with them. Only occasionally did they find targets which they could profitably attack themselves.

On 2 December a Hudson captained by Sergeant Page1 was on a routine patrol to the west of New Georgia when it sighted some 12 miles away what at first looked like a canoe with a native standing in it. Approaching to investigate, Page identified the object as a rusty and weatherbeaten submarine of 500 tons, fully surfaced, with a lookout on the conning tower. The Hudson made a bombing run out of the sun and dropped two 250-pound anti-submarine bombs and two 325-pound depth-charges as the submarine crash-dived. Three of the bombs fell short and one just over the target. A large patch of oil came to the surface over the position where the last had landed. The submarine was probably damaged, but in the absence of further proof no claim was made of its destruction.

1 Fg Off I. M. Page, DFM; Gisborne; born Christchurch, 26 Feb 1913; electrical draughtsman.