Royal New Zealand Air Force
Australian forces had occupied Jacquinot Bay, on the south-east coast of New Britain, in November 1944. At the beginning of February 1945 a detachment of No. 1 Airfield Construction Squadron, RAAF, was posted there to begin the construction of an airfield. Other RAAF units moved in in the next two months.
It was intended that No. 79 GR Wing, RAAF, should be based there to support the final assault on Rabaul, and a number of ancillary units of the wing were posted there in March and April. About that time, however, plans were changed. It was decided that Rabaul should not, after all, be taken by direct assault but should be kept in a state of siege. Consequently, No. 79 Wing was moved westward to support operations against Borneo.
Royal New Zealand Air Force units were established at Jacquinot Bay in May. On the 18th four aircraft of No. 21 Squadron were flown in to take over scramble alert duties, and on the same day an advance party arrived by air to arrange for camp sites. On the 19th No. 3 Servicing Unit arrived, with most of its equipment, by LST. Aircraft for the use of No. 20 Squadron were flown in on the 20th, the pilots returning to Green Island by transport plane the same day as no living accommodation was yet available. The squadron finally moved in to the new base on the 29th. On the same date the Officer Commanding and eight other pilots of No. 21 Squadron arrived from Green Island. No. 14 Servicing Unit also arrived to prepare for the reception of No. 3 (BR) Squadron, which was to move from Green Island early in June. When the balance of No. 21 Squadron arrived on 8 June and No. 3 Squadron on the 9th, the RNZAF establishment at Jacquinot Bay was complete except for No. 30 Servicing Unit, which had been delayed on Green Island through lack of shipping.
When they first landed at Jacquinot Bay, all units had to unload their equipment and erect camps and working accommodation. Existing buildings were still occupied by elements of the RAAF Wing and by a Netherlands East Indies fighter squadron, and until these moved out, early in June, there was considerable congestion, particularly in messing facilities. All work was hampered during the first few weeks by incessant heavy rain.
Although a few fighters had been available for scramble alerts since 19 May, RNZAF units were not ready to undertake regular operations until the 29th. On that date No. 20 Squadron began to carry out offensive patrols over the Rabaul area, strafing Japanese page 309 troops and barges and bombing suitable targets whenever they presented themselves. When the weather permitted, five patrols daily were flown until the middle of July. After that, until the squadron ceased operations on 12 August, missions consisted mainly of concentrated bombing attacks by formations of up to a dozen aircraft on selected targets.
No. 21 Squadron, which remained at Jacquinot Bay until 2 July, when it was relieved by No. 19, was able to take little part in operations owing to the absence of the second fighter servicing unit. Its activities were confined to a few Rabaul patrols, using aircraft maintained by No. 3 Servicing Unit.
No. 30 Servicing Unit arrived in the middle of July. No. 19 Squadron was then able to begin operations, maintaining three aircraft on scramble alert and flying a number of Rabaul patrols and bombing strikes. Its last major operation of the war was a successful bombing attack on Rapopo, when seven aircraft hit an oil dump with spectacular results.
No. 20 Squadron was relieved by No. 16, which reached Jacquinot Bay in time to hear that peace had been declared and was employed for the next few weeks on security patrols over the Gazelle Peninsula.
Bomber-reconnaissance operations were at first restricted by lack of bombs. No. 3 Squadron remained at Jacquinot Bay until 28 June, when it returned to New Zealand on completing its tour. During its three weeks there, its flying consisted chiefly of photographic sorties over the Bismarcks.
No. 2 Squadron, which came up from New Zealand towards the end of June, spent its first three weeks in practice bombing and familiarisation flights over the area, and started offensive operations on 14 July. From then on until the end of the war it carried out a series of medium-level bombing attacks, mainly against targets on the Gazelle Peninsula and on the islands off the north coast of Bougainville. After the war ended the squadron flew on security patrols over Rabaul and New Ireland, and dropped surrender pamphlets over Japanese positions.
On 6 September aircraft of the squadron helped to give cover to HMS Glory, on which Lieutenant-General V. A. H. Sturdee, General Officer Commanding 1st Australian Army, received the surrender of Lieutenant-General Imamura and Vice-Admiral Kusaka, commanding the Japanese forces in the South-West Pacific.