Royal New Zealand Air Force
WORK OF RNZAF FIGHTER WING
WORK OF RNZAF FIGHTER WING
The month following the Bougainville landings was one of intense activity for all air force units on New Georgia. The RNZAF Fighter Wing put up an outstanding record by flying well over a thousand sorties during November. Despite fatigue, bad working conditions, heat, rain and mud, scanty and monotonous food, and nights interrupted by air-raid alarms, the morale of the unit remained exceptionally high.
The day's work began before dawn, when pilots who had been warned the night before for early morning operations—a dawn patrol over Ondonga or a flight to Torokina—were wakened, had their breakfast and went down to the operations room beside the strip for final briefing. There they received the latest information on their mission from the Intelligence Officer and the Meteorological Officer.
Meanwhile the ground crews had their aircraft ready to take off. Since returning from operations the day before, every machine had been checked, refuelled and rearmed, and bullet holes and mechanical defects had been repaired. The servicing and repair parties often worked all through the night by torchlight, their page 212 work interrupted by air-raid alarms and heavy rain, to have the planes ready to fly in the morning.
For example, at five o'clock on the afternoon of 2 November a maintenance party, under Corporal Middlemiss1 of No. 4 Servicing Unit, began a complete engine change. During the night they were twice interrupted by air raids and falling bombs, one of the raids coming without any warning. At seven o'clock the next morning, just ten hours after the work began, the aircraft was ready to fly again.
As the early flights took off in the first light the camp woke up and the routine of the day began. Two hours after the first pilots had left another flight was ready to take off to patrol over the Torokina beach-head or strafe enemy targets on Bougainville, or to accompany an American bombing raid. In mid-morning the first sorties returned and the planes were pounced on by the ground staffs and made ready for the next operation, while the pilots filed into the operations room and made their reports to the Intelligence Officer.
In the revetments beside the strip maintenance and servicing parties clad in sunhats, shorts and boots, worked in the mounting heat throughout the day on aircraft undergoing periodical inspections and major repairs.
In the afternoon other flights took off for Bougainville to patrol over the Allied positions and hunt and strafe Japanese ground forces. Usually one flight went each day to Barakoma and remained there ready to take off on any emergency mission which might be called for. Jobs which did not occur every day included escorting air-sea rescue Catalinas when they went to pick up pilots who had been shot down in the sea, escorting Dakotas taking supplies to Torokina, and giving fighter protection to Allied shipping which moved in increasing volume between Guadalcanal and Bougainville. The last patrols came in at dusk and the aircraft were taken over by the servicing crews, who worked on them until they were ready to fly the next day.
Another successful attack was made by eight aircraft of No. 18 Squadron on 15 November when they strafed barges in Tonolei Harbour in southern Bougainville. Two of the barges burnt fiercely, belching black oil smoke. Anti-aircraft positions round the harbour were also hit and two fuel dumps were set on fire.
On the 28th a small formation, led by Wing Commander Freeman, was supposed to escort some American B25s bombing Tinputs Harbour in north-eastern Bougainville. The bombers failed to appear so the fighters went in on their own account and set fire to a number of huts and other buildings.
On 11 December the RNZAF for the first time tried fighter-bombing, when three aircraft, each carrying two 100-pound bombs, attacked Kieta. One of the pilots, Flying Officer Bullen,1 demolished a building with a direct hit. Three days later four aircraft were sent to bomb a bridge in south-western Bougainville and destroyed it, also, with a direct hit.