Royal New Zealand Air Force
OPERATIONS BY NO. 1 (BR) SQUADRON, OCTOBER 1943 – FEBRUARY 1944
OPERATIONS BY NO. 1 (BR) SQUADRON, OCTOBER 1943 – FEBRUARY 1944
No. 1 Squadron, under the command of Squadron Leader Walker,1 relieved No. 3 Squadron during the fourth week of October. Before going overseas it had been re-equipped and trained with PV1 Venturas and was the first New Zealand squadron to operate with these aircraft. It had been ready to move to the forward area in the middle of September, but was delayed by lack of shipping.
During the latter part of its tour No. 3 Squadron had been doing four patrols daily from Henderson Field. No. 1 Squadron took over the commitment on 23 October. Early in November, two of the patrols were cancelled as being no longer necessary, and the remaining two were abandoned on 6 February 1944 when a new search plan was instituted, based on Munda. Each patrol covered 700 nautical miles and involved an average of four and a quarter hours' flying time. All of those done by No. 1 Squadron were negative except that on 26 October when a submarine was sighted 300 miles south of Guadalcanal. It submerged as the aircraft approached and was not definitely identified.
The Ventura was a more versatile aircraft than the Hudson and had greater offensive power. Consequently No. 1 Squadron was employed on a greater variety of work than No. 3 had been. It carried out its first special mission on 28 October when an aircraft dropped a message to the Task Force Commander during the initial landings by 3 New Zealand Division on the Treasury Islands.
From the end of October all the squadron's operations except the searches from Henderson Field were carried out from Munda. Until the end of November aircraft were sent to Munda when required for specific missions. There they were refuelled and the crews briefed for their operations, and they returned to Guadalcanal after their operations were completed.
This practice resulted in a lot of time being wasted in transit flights between New Georgia and Guadalcanal. Consequently from the end of November onwards a detached flight of six aircraft and crews was stationed at Munda, together with a servicing unit of eighteen men, an operations officer and an intelligence officer. The aircrews spent four days at a time on this detachment and the ground staff eight days, returning to Guadalcanal at the end of the period. This practice was followed for the rest of the squadron's tour.
Bombing and strafing missions round the coast of Bougainville were a regular feature of the squadron's work. Formations of up to six aircraft, sometimes but not usually accompanied by fighters, attacked enemy barges, encampments, and troop concentrations. Sometimes they were given specific targets which had been reported previously by other reconnaissance aircraft, and at other times they searched for signs of enemy activity and attacked whatever target presented itself. Bombing was usually done from a few hundred feet, after which the aircraft came down and strafed the target. The normal bomb load for each aircraft was six 500-pound bombs, with fuses set to provide just enough delay for the aircraft to escape the blast.
A typical operation took place on 10 December, when six Venturas were ordered to attack copra warehouses being used by the Japanese at Arigua Plantation, on the east coast of Bougainville. They approached their target at 2000 feet and dived to 500 feet to drop their bombs. Most of the bombs fell either directly on the warehouses or close enough to do damage. Observation of the results was difficult because of the dense clouds of smoke which rose after the bombing, but the captain of the last aircraft reported that all the buildings had been destroyed.
On the 22nd four aircraft were ordered to bomb and strafe a lighthouse and radar station at Cape St. George on New Ireland. They pressed home their attacks from a low height in the face of intense anti-aircraft fire and secured several near misses but failed to destroy their target. Two of the aircraft were hit by anti-aircraft fire and on one the starboard engine seized up. The pilot successfully flew 180 miles over the sea and landed safely at Torokina.
With the institution of almost daily attacks on Rabaul, Venturas were detailed to follow the striking forces and search for pilots who might have been shot down or have baled out into the sea. When they discovered them they signalled back to base for a Catalina to come to the rescue and, when possible, remained over the spot until it arrived. They carried spare rubber dinghies which could be dropped to the men in the water if necessary. A number of Allied airmen owe their lives to the fact that they were spotted by members of No. 1 Squadron and subsequently rescued.
As the ‘survivor patrols’ followed the striking forces practically to Rabaul, where they were liable to meet Japanese fighters, aircraft were sent in pairs for mutual protection. Two aircraft piloted by Flying Officer Alford1 and Flying Officer Ayson2 followed the fighter sweep of 24 December. Alford saw a pilot in a dinghy in St. George's Channel and at the same time was attacked by three Zekes. His aircraft was hit but he shook off the enemy, damaging two of them, escaped into cloud, and then signalled the position of the downed pilot.
Other operations carried out by the squadron during its tour included minelaying by night in Buka Passage, searches for suspected submarines, and the dropping of supplies to coastwatchers and propaganda leaflets to natives.
During the last ten days of its tour the squadron was relieved of all its miscellaneous activities and was engaged, in conjunction with an American Ventura Squadron, VB140, solely on patrols over the sea west of Munda. It was relieved by No. 2 Squadron on 17 February and returned to New Zealand for leave and reforming.
For the maintenance of its aircraft the squadron was based on No. 10 Servicing Unit, which had arrived at Guadalcanal from Auckland in the USS Pinkney on 13 October. Servicing problems were difficult until nearly the end of the tour, as no spares had been available in New Zealand and the squadron was obliged to leave without any. American Ventura squadrons at Guadalcanal and Munda were in the same position. Fortunately, from the maintenance point of view, several of their aircraft had crashed on or near the airstrips and both American and New Zealand servicing crews were able to rob them for spare parts. In February 1944 the supply position improved with the arrival of an adequate range of spares from the United States.
The following is a detailed summary of the squadron's flying activities during its tour:
|Number of Sorties|
|Routine patrols from Guadalcanal||230|
|Routine patrols from Munda||41|
|X-ray patrols from Munda||11|
|Survivor patrols between Torokina and New Britain||135|
|Bombing and strafing missions||99|
|Barge-hunting missions (no bombing)||3|
|Special shipping searches||9|
|Special submarine searches||32|
|Offensive fighter patrols||18|
|Supply dropping missions||8|
|Message and leaflet-dropping missions||6|
|Miscellaneous special reconnaissance patrols||8|
|Escorts for fighter formations on transit flights over the sea||5|