Royal New Zealand Air Force
CHAPTER 17 — Reorganisation of South Pacific Area, July-December 1944
Reorganisation of South Pacific Area,
With the neutralisation of Rabaul completed and the Japanesen garrisons in New Britain and the Solomons safely bottled up, the South Pacific war faded from the world's headlines. Admiral Halsey, who had directed the operations which carried the Allies from Guadalcanal to the Bismarcks, was relieved of his command of the South Pacific Area in June and, as Commander of the American Third Fleet, turned his attention towards the Japanese in the Carolines and Philippines. Command of the South Pacific forces was given to Vice-Admiral J. H. Newton, USN, who for the past eight months had been Deputy COMSOPAC.
The original South Pacific Command, i.e., the area east of 159 degrees East longitude, was now non-operational, and the only South Pacific air forces still in contact with the enemy were those which had crossed the dividing line into the South-West Pacific Area in their advance through New Georgia to Bougainville and the Bismarcks. These, under the command of COMAIRNORSOLS, Major-General R. J. Mitchell, USMC, were detached from the South Pacific to the South-West Pacific Command to continue their operations against the Japanese in the area. Logistically they were still supported by COMAIRSOPAC, but operationally they came under the control of the Commander Allied Air Forces, General Kenney, in General MacArthur's command.
As the South Pacific campaign drew to a close the future of the RNZAF became the subject of considerable discussion between the New Zealand and American authorities. As early as March the Air Officer Commanding No. 1 (Islands) Group suggested to Air Headquarters in Wellington that, as there was no longer any Japanese fighter opposition, there was no point in continuing to send fighter squadrons to the forward area. It would have been bad for morale, however, if trained operational units had been kept in New Zealand doing nothing, so it was decided to continue sending the squadrons forward in rotation even though they could be employed only as fighter-bombers.
In April the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee in Washington announced that the future employment of the RNZAF was to be page 260 restricted to a few bomber-reconnaissance and flying-boat squadrons on garrison duties in the South Pacific, which meant that all the fighter squadrons would be scrapped and that the RNZAF would no longer be given a combat role. This would have had a twofold effect. Domestically it would have meant that the size of the Air Force could be reduced, releasing large numbers of men to meet the acute shortage of manpower in industry and agriculture; but the millions of man-hours and the immense amount of money which had been spent in training and equipping the squadrons would be wasted. Politically, if New Zealand dropped out of the Pacific war before it was finished, she would have less reason for making her voice heard in the peace councils afterwards. Taking all factors into consideration, the RNZAF was not satisfied at being relegated to a back place. The need to provide garrison squadrons was realised, but in addition New Zealand wanted to take part in active operations until the end of the war.
The New Zealand Minister in Washington was instructed to press the point and try to have the surplus squadrons of the RNZAF included in any active theatre. There were three possibilities. Firstly, the squadrons might continue to operate under Halsey's command and go with him to the Central Pacific. This would mean that they continued to work in a command in which they were known and in which they had built up an excellent reputation and a considerable amount of goodwill. It would also mean that their supply problems would be relatively easy, since they were equipped with Navy-type aircraft. Secondly, they might be transferred to the British South-East Asia Command. This would involve withdrawing them from the Pacific and sending them to India to re-equip with British types of planes. Finally, they might be transferred to General MacArthur's command in the South-West Pacific Area. This was open to several objections, one being that, as the South-West Pacific Area was an Army command and had no naval air units, there would be difficulty in getting appropriate supplies of aircraft and spares.
The first course, which was the one most favoured by New Zealand, was open to two objections from the American point of view. In the first place there was no scope in the forthcoming operations in the Central Pacific for the land-based fighters and medium bomber-reconnaissance aircraft with which the RNZAF was equipped, and, in any case, the Americans by then had more than enough squadrons of their own. The other objection was political. In February 1944 New Zealand and Australia had signed an agreement at Canberra affirming their intention to have a say in Pacific affairs after the war. The pact was unfortunately worded and badly publicised, and gave many senior officers in the page 261 United States the opinion that Australia and New Zealand were attempting to resist the entry of the United States into Pacific affairs after the war was finished. As a result there was a feeling in Washington that Australian and New Zealand forces should not be allowed to operate except in former British possessions.
A transfer to the South-East Asia Command was open to the objection that there was no role there at the time for short-range aviation, in which New Zealand squadrons had been trained.
This left only the third course open. The New Zealand Minister in Washington and the Prime Minister, who was passing through Washington, discussed the matter with the United States Commander-in-Chief, Admiral King, early in May. King, while not committing himself as to the future role of the RNZAF, agreed that the New Zealand squadrons should continue offensive, operations in the northern Solomons until the Japanese were finally cleared from the islands, which at that time was expected to take four or five months.
In the meantime the transfer of the Northern Solomons command to the South-West Pacific Area had been projected, and COMAIRSOPAC, on the instructions of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had ordered that all RNZAF units were to be withdrawn to the garrison area by 15 June and that no further squadrons were to be sent up. There were still hopes that the discussions in Washington would bear fruit, so the Chief of Air Staff, Air Vice-Marshal Isitt, visited COMSOPAC towards the end of May to persuade him to hold up the withdrawal until the position became clearer. He found that COMSOPAC and all his subordinate commanders were keen that the RNZAF should remain with them, in spite of the instructions from Washington. Eventually, as a result of negotiations in Washington and on the spot in the South Pacific, it was agreed that the New Zealand units in the northern Solomons should be included in the NORSOLS forces which were to be handed over to MacArthur.
The programme adopted after the change-over in the South Pacific Command called for eleven squadrons on garrison duty in and south of Guadalcanal. Of these the United States Navy was to provide four and the RNZAF seven, viz., four fighter, two medium bomber, and one flying-boat. Two New Zealand fighter squadrons were to be stationed at Santo and two at Guadalcanal; one bomber-reconnaissance squadron also was to be at Guadalcanal and the other at Fiji; and the flying-boat squadron at Halavo Bay, Florida Island, where it was already located.
New Zealand squadrons to be transferred to the South-West Pacific Area likewise comprised four fighter, two medium bomber, and one flying-boat. One fighter squadron was to remain at Bougainville and another was to be moved to Los Negros as soon page 262 as possible after the end of August. The other two were to go to Emirau and Green Island in October. New Zealand bomber-reconnaissance squadrons were to be based at Emirau and Green Island in September. The destination of the flying-boat squadron was not, at this stage, decided. In any case, it was still in the process of forming and training at Lauthala Bay and was not yet available for operations.
This allowed one bomber and two fighter squadrons to be in New Zealand at one time for rest and refitting.
|Bougainville||No. 15 Squadron (Fighter)|
|No. 18 Squadron (Fighter)|
|No. 20 Squadron (Fighter)|
|No. 9 Squadron (Bomber Reconnaissance)|
|No. 31 Squadron (TBF)|
|No. 2 Servicing Unit|
|No. 4 Servicing Unit|
|No. 10 Servicing Unit|
|No. 25 Servicing Unit|
|No. 30 Servicing Unit|
|Guadalcanal||No. 14 Squadron (Fighter)|
|No. 1 Servicing Unit|
|No. 6 Squadron (Flying Boat, at Halavo)|
|No. 3 Squadron (Bomber Reconnaissance)|
|No. 12 Servicing Unit|
|Fiji||No. 4 Squadron (Bomber Reconnaissance)|
|No. 5 Squadron (Flying Boat, forming at Lauthala Bay)|
|New Zealand||No. 16 Squadron (Fighter)|
|No. 17 Squadron (Fighter)|
|No. 19 Squadron (Fighter)|
|No. 21 Squadron (Fighter, forming)|
|No. 1 Squadron (Bomber Reconnaissance)|
|No. 2 Squadron (Bomber Reconnaissance)|
situation in bismarcks-solomons
The major concentrations of Japanese troops trapped in the Bismarcks and Solomons were on Bougainville, where they occupied the whole island except the Empress Augusta Bay region; on New Britain, where they had been squeezed into the north-eastern part of the island; and on New Ireland. In addition there were small groups on Buka, Choiseul, Fauro, Shortland, and other islands throughout the area. Altogether they numbered about 125,000 men.
Land operations in the middle six months of 1944 were largely static. The American forces were not prepared to take the offensive, and the Japanese in both New Britain and Bougainville had been page 263 defeated earlier in the year and were obliged to withdraw and reorganise. Without naval or air support, and with no hope of reinforcement, they were in no position to resume the offensive themselves, although from October onwards there were persistent rumours on Bougainville that they were preparing to do so before the end of the year.
In spite of the Allied blockade, the physical condition and morale of the Japanese remained good. Reports came in from time to time that they were short of food and low in spirits, but the reports applied in general only to isolated units and labour troops. The main body of their forces remained intact and in good condition and were a potential threat to the Allied positions.
A matter of increasing concern to the enemy was the attitude of the natives in both Bougainville and New Britain. While the Japanese were in complete control, the islanders had little choice but to side with them. But when it became apparent that the new conquerors were being defeated they became openly hostile, and carried on a guerrilla warfare wherever they could do it without too much fear of retribution. The looting of their gardens and the carrying off of their women had not endeared the Japanese to them.
At sea enemy activity was limited to nightly barge traffic carrying supplies along the coasts of New Britain, New Ireland and Bougainville, and an occasional submarine sent down from Truk. On the Allied side naval operations consisted of nightly patrols and occasional landings by reconnaissance parties on enemy-held coasts.
Allied air operations were carried on continuously, and were aimed at softening up the enemy against the day when he could be attacked by ground forces and exterminated. The campaign was designed:
To reduce the strength of the enemy forces, to disrupt their organisation and weaken their morale.
To destroy or damage their means of living: camps and bivouacs, supply dumps, vegetable gardens and livestock.
To eliminate or disrupt their transport system by destroying or damaging barges, motor vehicles, jetties, bridges and roads.
To eliminate or reduce their capacity for defensive action by destroying or damaging coastal and anti-aircraft artillery positions, airfields and ammunition dumps.
During the latter part of October and the first week of November a few Japanese aircraft reappeared in the Bismarcks area. Several radar contacts were made of unidentified planes, and some apparently serviceable machines were seen on the Rabaul airfields, page 264 which the Japanese had succeeded in putting into working order. On 3 November an enemy float plane was seen and identified by PT boats off New Ireland.
On 9 November the Allied Command was surprised and perturbed to find that the Japanese were still capable of offensive air operations. In the afternoon three Zekes from Rabaul flew over Los Negros and bombed and strafed Momote airfield. The raid had only a nuisance value and did little damage; but from the Japanese viewpoint it was a complete success. The aircraft approached in clear weather, and the audacity of the operation took the defences completely by surprise. The enemy had been picked up by radar when still 80 miles away but had been mistaken for three friendly planes. After the attack they retired to Rabaul, unavailingly pursued by two RAAF Spitfires.
formation of new zealand air task force
In contrast to the role that they had previously played as individual units operating within the American Command, the New Zealand squadrons transferred to the South-West Pacific Area were formed into an air task force with a specific duty—the conduct of air operations in the northern Solomons. The Americans intended moving their 1st Marine Air Wing, which with the RNZAF constituted their Northern Solomons Air Force, to the Philippines, and when it moved out ZEAIRTAF (New Zealand Air Task Force) was to take over operational control.
Until the American Command was dissolved the Officer Commanding the New Zealand formation (COMZEAIRTAF) was to be responsible to COMAIRNORSOLS for the operational sub-control of New Zealand units in the South-West Pacific. Thereafter he would become the Senior Air Commander in the Solomons-Bismarcks area. Until the squadrons moved further afield, responsibility for organising their supplies and for personnel administration remained with No. 1 (Islands) Group, under Air Commodore Sir Robert Clark-Hall.
ZEAIRTAF was officially formed on 1 September. Wing Commander Newell and Wing Commander Tancred each acted as Commanding Officer for a few days until Group Captain Roberts arrived on the 16th to take over the appointment. By the middle of October a full administrative staff had been established and the organisation began to function.
Headquarters was at Bougainville and subordinate formations, termed Field Headquarters, were established at Piva and on Green Island, Emirau and Los Negros, where New Zealand squadrons were to be based. Commanding officers appointed on 15 October page 265 to the four Field Headquarters were, respectively, Squadron Leader Wigley,1 Wing Commander Matheson,2 Wing Commander Dix3 and Squadron Leader Cowan, DFC.4 Under the new organisation, RNZAF Station, Bougainville, was officially disbanded on 17 October, and control passed to Field Headquarters, Piva.
It had been intended originally that COMZEAIRTAF should take over from COMAIRNORSOLS on 1 November. By the middle of October it was obvious that the change of command would not take place so soon and the date was put back to 1 December. Thereafter there were further delays, and it was not until July 1945 that the 1st Marine Air Wing headquarters left Bougainville and the northern Solomons became a New Zealand command. This delay was not foreseen at the time, and preparations for the changeover went forward. At the end of October 1944 the headquarters staff of ZEAIRTAF comprised 16 officers and 195 airmen.
Before the New Zealand squadrons could move to their allotted bases in the South-West Pacific there was a great deal of work to be done in preparing camps for them. Generally speaking the provision of accommodation was an American responsibility, but they provided only the minimum requirements. Anything further had to be done by the RNZAF itself.
The work required on the new stations at Green, Emirau, and Los Negros was beyond the capabilities of No. 1 (Islands) Works Squadron, which was already fully occupied in building additional accommodation at Guadalcanal. Consequently a second works squadron was formed, with its headquarters at Guadalcanal, and detached flights were established at Bougainville, Green Island, Emirau, and Los Negros to help the American forces in setting up tent frames and buildings on the new camp sites. When the RNZAF moved in they were responsible for camp maintenance, sanitary work, rubbish removal, minor road construction, and the maintenance of electric power and water supplies.
establishment of rnzaf at emirau
None of the moves of RNZAF units to their new bases in the South-West Pacific Area took place as early as intended, owing mainly to lack of shipping. The RNZAF had no vessels under its control, and American shipping was in short supply locally, as it was needed to support major operations in the Central Pacific.page 266
The first move to be effected was that of No. 3 (BR) Squadron, which had been stationed at Bougainville, to Emirau. A party of New Zealand officers was sent at the beginning of September 1944 to arrange for a camp site and investigate the question of supplies. The available accommodation was poor but the general supply position was quite good, as the Americans had one Ventura and several Corsair squadrons on the island and carried adequate stocks of engine and airframe spares. Towards the end of the month a works party was sent from Guadalcanal to put up stores and living quarters and to clear and level roadways for the New Zealand camp.
On 5 October an advance party of No. 10 Servicing Unit arrived by air, followed next day by the main body of the unit, with its equipment, aboard the USS Frank J. Sprague. The following week Venturas of No. 3 Squadron flew in, and the squadron began operations a week later.
operations by no. 3 squadron
Until it returned to New Zealand on the completion of its tour at the end of November 1944, No. 3 Squadron was responsible for daily patrols to the north of Emirau to watch for possible Japanese shipping on the supply route from Truk to New Britain and New Ireland. Three aircraft took off each morning and covered an arc from north-west to north-east, to a distance of 300 miles from their base. The Japanese by this time were chary of sending shipping into waters covered by the Allies, and nothing was seen by the patrols.
Dawn and dusk patrols over the coast of New Ireland searched for enemy barges and float planes and bombed and strafed any worthwhile targets they discovered on shore. The planes discovered no sign of barges or float planes, but always found something— troops, vehicles, huts or gardens—on which to use their bombs and ammunition. A third daily commitment was the provision of an aircraft at instant readiness during daylight to search for submarines reported within the squadron's sphere of operations.
Servicing difficulties and shortages of spares resulted in the squadron not always having its full quota of aircraft, but whenever there were three or more to spare, after providing for daily routine jobs, strikes were made against specific targets on New Ireland.
no. 4 (bomber-reconnaissance) squadron
On its return to New Zealand No. 3 Squadron was replaced at Emirau by No. 4, which now came up for its first tour in the forward area. It had spent the year at Nausori, Fiji, carrying out page 267 uneventful shipping and anti-submarine patrols in which, from March to June 1944, it was assisted by a flight of six PBY5As1 of an American Squadron, VP44, which was attached to it.
In January 1944 a flight of six Hudsons, which was increased the following month to eight, had been detached to Tonga. It was maintained there, patrolling the seas surrounding the Group until August. In September four aircraft were sent to Funafuti, in the Ellice Islands, to search for a suspected submarine and remained there as a detached flight, augmented a fortnight later by another four, until November.
During September the squadron discarded its Hudsons and was rearmed with Venturas, which were flown up from New Zealand.
It moved to Emirau in two echelons on 17 and 23 November, travelling in No. 40 Squadron's Dakotas and leaving its Venturas to be taken over by No. 8 Squadron which relieved it. It began operations as soon as it arrived, taking over the duties of No. 3 Squadron. When the American Corsair squadrons left for the Philippines, it also took over the daily patrol they had flown over New Ireland, looking for Japanese road transport. During its three months at Emirau it dropped a total of 351 tons of bombs on huts, buildings, bridges, roads and anti-aircraft positions, and used a quarter of a million rounds of ammunition in strafing troops and other targets.
1 PBY5A: an amphibious version of the PBY5 Catalina.
no. 19 squadron at emirau
A second servicing unit, No. 5, arrived at Emirau on 28 October 1944, having come by sea in the USS Alkaid from New Zealand by way of New Caledonia and the Solomons. The first squadron to be based on it, No. 19 (Fighter) Squadron, flew up from Guadalcanal three weeks later and became operational on 22 November, despite a number of maintenance difficulties.
At that time three American Corsair squadrons were stationed at Emirau and the New Zealand unit took over some of their operational commitments. The Americans moved out on 1 December, and No. 19 Squadron then became responsible for the fighter defence of the island by day and the maintenance of a standing patrol over Kavieng. Dawn and dusk patrols were flown daily over the island, and, in the hours between, two aircraft were kept on scramble alert in case intruders were reported.
The Kavieng patrols lasted four hours each, and three were made each day by aircraft flying in pairs. Thus there were always two New Zealand planes overhead during daylight to remind the enemy That the Allies controlled the air. Each one carried a 1000-pound page 268 bomb, which it dropped somewhere at some time during the patrol.
During the early part of the squadron's tour servicing of the aircraft was complicated by the fact that the majority of the men in No. 5 Servicing Unit had had little or no experience with Corsairs, but the position improved as time went on.
When there were enough aircraft available, formations of four or eight were sent out to bomb objectives on New Ireland, sometimes alone and sometimes in conjunction with American squadrons. On these occasions the bomb-load was two 1000-pound bombs to each aircraft. Targets were the supply area around Kavieng and native villages down the coast. Results were generally hard to assess owing to the thickness of the jungle.
As at Emirau, the first New Zealanders to be stationed at Green Island were a detachment of works personnel. They arrived on 3 October 1944 to provide workshop and living accommodation for a fighter and a bomber-reconnaissance squadron and their servicing units. The site allotted for the RNZAF camp had previously been temporarily occupied by American units. A kitchen, two messes, a sick bay, a chapel and a few scattered tents were still standing, but most of the area had been overgrown and was a dismal wilderness of heavy tropical undergrowth.
The works party cleared the growth and put up temporary buildings ready for the arrival of the servicing units. As dressed timber was unprocurable, poles and bamboos were cut from the surrounding jungle to make frames for stores, workshops and other buildings, and covered with canvas. These temporary structures served their purpose until prefabricated huts were shipped from New Zealand.
Nos. 3 and 14 Servicing Units landed at Green Island on 20 October, having travelled in the same ship as No. 5 Servicing Unit, bringing with them large quantities of material with which to complete the camp. In the first weeks of their occupation the New Zealanders were generously helped by American units, which provided hot meals until the RNZAF messing facilities were organised, and lent transport vehicles and other heavy equipment which the New Zealand units lacked.
no. 20 squadron at green island
No. 20 (Fighter) Squadron flew in from Guadalcanal on 26 October to be based on No. 3 Servicing Unit. The servicing personnel were still engaged in camp construction and their technical equipment was not yet unpacked, but despite difficulties the page 269 squadron started operations almost immediately. Two American Corsair squadrons at that time constituted the fighter defence of the island. They were due to move shortly to the Philippines, and the RNZAF took over part of their commitments to enable them to train for their new jobs. The duties consisted of local patrols, ‘Dumbo’ escort, and scramble alert.
During the last week of its tour, which finished on 19 November, the squadron also carried out sweeps over New Ireland, bombing and strafing targets of opportunity.
no. 18 squadron
No. 18 Squadron, which took over No. 20's operational duties, had already spent twelve weeks at Santo and Guadalcanal owing to delays in the establishment of servicing units in the forward area, and so had completed the normal fighter tour of three months in the tropics. To give the pilots a little operational experience, however, the squadron was posted to Green Island for three weeks.
It started operations on 22 November, providing four aircraft daily for scramble alert and local dawn and dusk patrols, as escort for ‘Dumbos’ supporting strikes on Rabaul and New Ireland, and two to escort transport aircraft fying between Green Island and Emirau. The escort of transport aircraft had been introduced after the reappearance of Japanese planes in the area, and was continued until 8 December, when COMAIRNORSOLS decided it was no longer necessary.
On 1 December one of the American fihter squadrons was ordered to Leyte, and No. 18 Squadron shared with the remaining one the responsibility for maintaining a standing patrol over the Rabaul airfields, to deny their use to the enemy and to cover Allied bombing strikes. On 8 December the second American squadron ceased operations preparatory to leaving for the Philippines, and for the last three days of its tour No. 18 Squadron was responsible for all fighter commitments, involving over a hundred hours' flying a day.
The American fighters had been in the habit of carrying bombs on their Rabaul patrols, but the New Zealanders could not do so because they had to carry auxiliary petrol tanks, which made high-speed dive-bombing impracticable. Consequently, during the three weeks it was in the forward area the squadron had no opportunity to put its bombing training into practice.
On the last operation of the tour two pilots patrolling over Rabaul saw a Zeke, the first seen in the air by any New Zealand fighter pilots for many months. They dived on it, firing and closing to 100 yards, but it escaped into heavy cloud. Three minutes later page 270 it emerged below the cloud. They attacked again, but it pulled up and disappeared once more. They searched for it for an hour in gathering darkness, but failed to find it.
nos. 14 and 16 squadrons
When No. 18 Squadron left Green Island it was replaced by No. 14, which for ten days carried on all fighter commitments. On 21 December No. 16 Squadron arrived and was based on No. 30 Servicing Unit, which had moved up from Guadalcanal. The year ended with the two fighter squadrons sharing the local defence of the island, ‘Dumbo’ escorts, Rabaul patrols, and offensive sweeps over New Britain and New Ireland.
no. 1 squadron
No. 1 (Bomber-Reconnaissance) Squadron flew in to Green Island from Guadalcanal on 29 October, to be based on No. 15 Servicing Unit. It did not become fully operational until a month later, as most of the servicing unit's equipment and tools were in transit on a ship which did not reach Green Island until late in November.
The first few weeks were spent in flying training, using such aircraft as could be kept serviceable; in improving the camp, which at first was uncomfortably primitive; in hiking expeditions and swimming to promote physical fitness; and in learning jungle lore from New Guinea police boys.
Operations began on 21 November when No. 1 Squadron took over from one of the American PBJ squadrons on the island the daily weather flight and shipping count over Rabaul, which meant an aircraft taking off each morning at six o'clock and returning with reports of meteorological conditions in the area and news of prospective targets for strikes later in the day.
Early in December the squadron began to take part in ‘night heckles’ over Rabaul, which had previously been done exclusively by American PBJs, assisted sometimes by ‘Black Cats’.1 It was part of the Allied Commander's policy to make the life of the Japanese as uncomfortable as possible by keeping one or more aircraft constantly over Rabaul during the night, each carrying bombs which could be dropped anywhere at any time during the patrol. As Venturas were then not fitted with bomb-sights, bombing was done more or less by guesswork, or sometimes experimentally by radar. It was not possible accurately to assess results, but some good drops were reported.page 271
During its stay at Green Island, which lasted until 5 January, the squadron carried out a variety of other tasks, including air-sea rescue sweeps, shipping escorts, and photographic and supply-dropping missions. Its chief occupation, however, from early December onwards was bombing the Japanese.
Bombing strikes were of two types: medium altitude and low-level. Medium bombing attacks, which were mostly directed against Rabaul targets, accounted for about half of the total sorties flown. At first, six Venturas at a time were attached to a PBJ squadron; but when their results proved satisfactory they were used as a separate squadron, eight Venturas, led by a PBJ as bomber-leader, constituting a formation. Under this arrangement, they took part in co-ordinated strikes with American squadrons from Green and Emirau. Bombing was done from between 9500 and 13,000 feet, all planes in the formation dropping their loads when the leader let his go.
Low-level attacks were all made on New Ireland. The targets most frequently attacked were Borpop and Namatanai, where the main concentrations of Japanese were to be found. Whenever possible the formations approached their objectives from the land side and retired over the sea. By running in low over the hills they achieved maximum surprise and had a chance of getting clear away before the anti-aircraft batteries opened up, and by continuing out over the water they ensured that any aircraft shot down would land in the sea. Survivors of a ditched aircraft had a much better chance of being rescued than those who crashed on land.
During December a section of the Australian Intelligence Bureau was established on New Ireland, and on the basis of the information it provided new and profitable targets were found and attacked. At the same time it was able to describe the damage done to the enemy, which it was impossible to gauge from the air, and the authoritative reports that they were achieving good results gave considerable satisfaction to the aircrews.
1 American Catalians used on night operations; so called because of their colour.
A works party was sent to Los Negros, the most westerly base from which the RNZAF operated, early in September. Later a doubt arose as to whether New Zealanders would be stationed there and a number of the men were withdrawn. Eight were left, with instructions to be prepared to move at short notice and to carry on with general construction work in the meantime.
In November the American Command decided that the island should, after all, come within ZEAIRTAF's sphere of responsibility. The surprise raid by Japanese aircraft on the 9th caused page 272 COMAIRNORSOLS to ask for the immediate despatch of a fighter squadron, and as a result No. 23 Squadron was sent from Bougainville on 16 November with a number of men of No. 4 Servicing Unit, who were carried in transport aircraft.
Despite shortages of material, the works party had done a very creditable job in preparing a camp. With American help they had erected and built a mess quonset hut, canteen, post office, medical hut and headquarters. There was still a great deal of construction to be completed, however, and for the first week all personnel were engaged in completing the living quarters, messes, ration stores, and maintenance sections. No flying could be done until the ground staffs were able to operate.
Until the RNZAF camp was organised the men ate at an American mess some six miles away. As transport was extremely scarce, this caused some inconvenience.
no. 23 squadron
No. 23 (Fighter) Squadron had formed at Ardmore in August 1944 under the command of Squadron Leader de Willimoff.1 It moved to Santo for further training in September, and to Guadalcanal in October. At the end of October it was posted to Piva, where it flew daily bombing missions against Japanese positions on Bougainville until the 14th.
It began operations from Los Negros on 22 November and became responsible for the fighter defence of the island. Throughout the tour, which lasted until early in January, it had servicing difficulties. There was practically no sea transport available between Bougainville and Los Negros, and the servicing unit had to work shorthanded and without its heavy equipment. Additional men were sent from Bougainville in small parties by transport plane as opportunity offered, but it was not until the end of January that the servicing unit received its full complement of men and equipment.
Operations consisted of dawn and dusk patrols, and scrambles whenever strange aircraft were reported by radar. The latter occurred on an average once a day. Often the strangers were identified as friendly, but on a number of occasions they sheered off in the direction of Rabaul before coming within range of the New Zealand fighters, and could with certainty be classified as Japanese.
rnzaf units on bougainville
The redeployment of the RNZAF in the South-West Pacific Area in the latter part of 1944 resulted, temporarily, in a reduction of its page 273 operational strength on Bougainville. In June there had been one bomber-reconnaissance, one TBF, and three fighter squadrons there. By the beginning of November the number was reduced to two fighter squadrons. Later in the month, when No. 23 went to Los Negros, only No. 15 was left. No. 15 remained the only RNZAF operational unit on the island until the middle of December, when it was relieved by No. 24. A few days later No. 21 also camp up from the rear area.
The year ended with two New Zealand fighter squadrons on Bougainville. Ground units comprised the headquarters organisation of the New Zealand Air Task Force; the Field Headquarters at Piva; No. 2 Servicing Unit, which had been there since the beginning of the year; No. 31 Servicing Unit, which had recently arrived from New Zealand to replace No. 4; a Field Maintenance Unit; and a flight of No. 2 (Islands) Works Squadron. All operations were carried out from the Piva airstrip, the original fighter strip at Torokina having been relegated since October to the status of an emergency landing ground.
New Zealand bomber-reconnaissance squadrons were based at Bougainville until the middle of October 1944. No. 9 Squadron was there from May until August, when it was relieved by No. 3. Both squadrons were employed on daily weather flights and shipping counts over Rabaul, on survivor patrols, and on occasional bombing raids over the area. They were also used in numerous sweeps over New Ireland, where they combined bombing and strafing attacks with thorough reconnaissance of the island, bringing back reports of targets which warranted full-scale strikes. Flying over Bougainville itself, the aircraft generally carried a native to spot targets, and then the same crew led a striking force there the next day.
Fighter operations did not change greatly from July to December 1944. A succession of squadrons carried out bombing strikes and sweeps over the Bougainvil—Rabau area, and also took their part in the air defence of the Allied positions at Empress Augusta Bay.
the australians take over
During October, November and December, American Army units were gradually withdrawn from the Solomons-Bismarcks theatre for operations in the Philippines and their place was taken by Australians. On New Britain the 36th Battalion Group of the 6th Australian Brigade relieved the American regiment at Cape Hoskins on the north coast. A month later the rest of the 6th Brigade landed at Jacquinot Bay on the south coast, where there was an excellent harbour which had been abandoned by the page 274 Japanese. Towards the end of November advanced headquarters of the 5th Australian Division was established at Jacquinot Bay. The 6th Brigade handed over to the 13th, which had recently come from Northern Australia, and began to advance eastward round the coast. By February 1945 Australian units were at Open Bay on the north coast and Wide Bay on the south, with patrols operating between the two across the base of the Gazelle Peninsula, to which all the Japanese forces on the island had withdrawn.
On Bougainville advanced elements of the 3rd Australian Division arrived early in November and began to establish camps and supply dumps. Control of land operations was taken over from the Americans on 22 November by Lieutenant-General S. G. Savige, commanding the 2nd Australian Army Corps. Of the troops at his disposal, the 7th, 15th, and 29th Infantry Brigades, constituting the 3rd Division, were established on Bougainville, as was the 11th Brigade of the 5th Division. The 23rd Brigade was used as garrison troops at Emirau, Green Island, Treasury and Munda. As the Australian troops moved in the Americans moved out, and the last of their Army units left Bougainville on 15 December.
At the time of handing over command the Americans held the Torokina perimeter, and had also established an outpost in the region of Doiabie, some 10 miles inland on the Numa Numa trail. Another outpost was held at the mouth of the Jaba River, 20 miles down the coast from Torokina, and a regular weekly patrol was carried out to Cape Moltke, a similar distance up the coast to the north-west. Contact with the enemy was limited to clashes between opposing patrols.
Aircraft of No. 5 Squadron, RAAF, flew into Torokina on 11 November for tactical reconnaissance and army co-operation duties. The unit was followed by others, and by the end of the month the RAAF forces on Bougainville comprised:
No. 84 (Army Co-operation) Wing (Group Captain W. L. Hely, AFC, RAAF).
No. 5 (Tactical Reconnaissance) Squadron, equipped with Australian-made Wirraways and Boomerangs.
No. 10 Local Air Supply Unit, equipped with Australian-made Beauforts, used for dropping supplies and equipment to front-line troops. At first it was called Communication Flight and equipped with Ansons and Beauforts. Later, its name was changed and unit was re-equipped with Beaufighters.
No. 17 Air Observers' post, equipped with Austers, used similarly to No. 5 Squadron; also for artillery spotting and evacuation of wounded from forward air stations.
No. 39 Operational Base Unit.
In the following months Australian Wirraways, Boomerangs, Beauforts and Ansons were to become as familiar to the New page 275 Zealanders as had been the American Mitchells, Corsairs, Dauntlesses and Avengers.
On 8 December all squadrons of the 1st Marine Air Wing ceased operations preparatory to moving to the Philippines. Thereafter, although the overall command of the area remained for several months with COMAIRNORSOLS, flying operations from Bougainville were carried out solely by the RAAF and the RNZAF.
rnzaf in the south pacific area, july-december 1944
The moves forward of the RNZAF in the South-West Pacific in the second half of 1944, and the consequent lengthening of the lines of communication, inevitably resulted in an expansion of the base organisation in the rear area. Operational activities were reduced to garrison duties and routine defensive patrols against an ever-diminishing possibility of attack. At the same time, the administrative services provided by the bases in the South Pacific continued to play an essential part in the maintenance of units in the northern Solomons and Bismarcks.
Since the headquarters of No. 1 (Islands) Group had moved up at the beginning of the year. Guadalcanal had replaced Santo as the administrative centre of the area. Group Headquarters was responsible for the administrative control of RNZAF formations in the Pacific, from Fiji to the Bismarcks, while Station Headquarters on Guadalcanal administered the units on the island, as well as No. 6 (Flying Boat) Squadron at Halavo Bay on Florida Island. Squadrons in transit to or from the forward area came under its control, and units permanently stationed there included two servicing units. The various works flights and radar units in the area also depended upon it.
Domestically, the latter half of 1944 was a period of considerable activity. Camps and buildings which had been built a year or eighteen months before had rapidly deteriorated in the tropical climate, and much construction work was necessary in the repair of old accommodation and the provision of new.
To provide a leave centre for the men serving on Guadalcanal, a rest camp, known as Camp Tui, was established on the site originally occupied by No. 62 (Radar) Squadron, on the beach between Lunga and Koli Point. It was maintained jointly by the RNZAF and the National Patriotic Fund Board, and men qualified for a three-days' stay every four months. From the time it opened, in August 1944, until it closed in June 1945, 3571 officers and men passed through it.
Operations from Guadalcanal were carried out during the period by No. 6 Squadron, by bomber-reconnaissance squadrons, and by page 276 fighter squadrons which paused there to complete their training on the way to the forward area. The Catalinas of No. 6 Squadron were used mainly on searches for suspected submarines which, when sighted, invariably proved to be whales, or on searches for missing aircraft and on special flights to pick up sick or injured from ships and outlying islands and bring them to the American Base Hospital at Tulagi.
In the first half of 1944, except during a short period in February, there were no New Zealand bomber-reconnaissance aircraft operating from Guadalcanal. In July, however, No. 3 Squadron moved up from Santo, and remained for a month before going farther north. No. 1 relieved it in August, and was in turn relieved at the end of October by No. 2. Operations for all three squadrons were similar. They carried out regular dawn and dusk patrols over the seas around Guadalcanal and anti-submarine sweeps over the main Allied shipping routes in the area, as well as a number of special searches for reported submarines and missing aircraft.
Normally there were always two fighter squadrons at Guadalcanal en route to the northern Solomons. Each stayed, on an average, three weeks, and while there helped to provide dawn and dusk patrols over the island and kept aircraft at readiness throughout the day to take off and intercept any strangers that were reported.
Besides their operational commitments, all squadrons trained for the work they would be doing when they went forward. The training comprised air tactics, gunnery and bombing practices, and practical courses on survival in the jungle.
Since the Americans had first landed on Santo in 1942, the south-eastern part of the island had been transformed into a vast camp, or rather a series of camps, connected by wide, well-graded roads cut through the jungle and the coconut plantations, complete with airstrips, docks, warehouses, hospitals and cinemas. The island was by now well removed from danger of any attack, but daily patrols were flown to watch for any hostile aircraft or shipping which might venture near.
Although the RNZAF had moved its administrative headquarters, No. 1 (islands) Group, north to Guadalcanal, its establishments on Santo remained an important part in its Pacific organisation. The RNZAF Base Depot handled all airborne traffic between New Zealand and the forward area, and served as a staging post and clearing centre for all personnel in transit. The Base Depot Workshops, established in 1943 to overhaul and repair aircraft, had since April 1944 been responsible for assembling all the Corsair aircraft with page 277 which the New Zealand squadrons going to the forward area were now equipped. A Test and Despatch Flight had also been formed, under the command of Flight Lieutenant D. A. Greig, to test and fly aircraft as they were assembled and to convert the pilots of fighter squadrons arriving from New Zealand to Corsairs. The latter activity lasted until the end of July, when there were enough Corsairs available to send eighteen to New Zealand. Thereafter, pilots were converted before going overseas.
In September the output of Corsairs, which at the peak period had averaged two a day, was reduced to two a week, and sixty-two men of the Assembly Unit were posted to Halavo Bay to learn about servicing Catalinas. They were destined to form the nucleus of a flying-boat servicing unit at Segond Channel when No. 5 Squadron arrived in November from Lauthala Bay.
The assembly of Corsairs at Santo ceased in December 1944, after which Base Depot Workshops was disbanded and a Corsair Assembly Unit officially formed and sent to Los Negros to carry on its work there.
The RNZAF maintained a bomber-reconnaissance squadron at Santo until July, the last to be stationed there being No. 3. Except for one reported sighting of a submerged submarine, all operations were uneventful. They consisted of anti-submarine patrols and escorts for shipping in New Hebrides waters. Besides these, as much time as possible was spent in training for bombing and strafing operations.
Fighter squadrons continued to stage at Santo throughout the year, and while they were available for operations if necessary, their main occupation was training.
No. 5 (Flying Boat) Squadron started operations from Segond Channel on 11 November. It had formed at Lauthala Bay in July, and since then had been employed on travel flights to Tonga, Samoa, and the Gilbert and Ellice Islands. At Segond its chief work was anti-submarine patrols and shipping escorts.
During 1944 the RNZAF maintained two stations on Fiji: Nausori, from which a bomber-reconnaissance squadron operated, and Lauthala Bay, which had been developed into a Flying Boat Operational Training Unit.
Nausori was occupied until October by No. 4 Squadron, and from then until the end of the year by No. 8, which had recently been formed under the command of Wing Commander Parry1 in New page 278 Zealand. Operations for the year, which consisted of anti-submarine patrols, were in the main uneventful. By this time the Japanese had no submarines to spare for operations in Fijian waters. Like No. 4 Squadron before it, No. 8 maintained a detached flight at Funafuti.
No. 3 Operational Training Unit, which had been formally established in February 1944, was engaged in training Catalina crews for Nos. 5 and 6 Squadrons. Training comprised, first of all, circuits and landings, and when crews were proficient in handling the aircraft they progressed to navigation, instrument flying, gunnery, bombing, and day and night cross-country flights. Each crew consisted of a pilot, second-pilot, navigator, two wireless operator/air-gunners and three engineers. The men were posted direct from New Zealand, where they had had basic training in their roles, the pilots having learned to handle seaplanes at Hobsonville, on Walrus amphibians. Second pilots, after a tour with a squadron, returned to Lauthala Bay to qualify as captains.
Norfolk Island had originally been occupied by Australian troops and then by New Zealand Army units. It had never been necessary to use it as an operational base, but it was an important link in the lines of communication between New Zealand, Australia, and the South Pacific islands. New Zealand Air Force personnel had been stationed there since 1943, and in 1944 the RNZAF took over from the Army the responsibility for the island's defence. During the year the RNZAF maintained a radar station as a navigational aid and provided accommodation and servicing facilities for transit aircraft. An average of 150 planes a month staged through Norfolk.