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Royal New Zealand Air Force



During this stage of the Solomons offensive the full weight of the American bomber squadrons under comairsols was directed against the enemy bases and outposts in the mid-Solomons-South Bougainville area. The main targets were the airfields at Kahili and Ballale which covered the base area in southern Bougainville, and, until they fell, the forward airfields at Rekata and Vila. Air support was also given to the American and New Zealand army units clearing New Georgia, Vella Lavella and Kolombangara.

The effectiveness of Allied fighter operations was increased by the possession of the airstrips at Segi and Munda, which decreased the flying distance to the combat areas. Inferior now in numbers and quality, the enemy air force could undertake no effective offensive operations, nor could it ward off the American bombing attacks even over its main fighter base at Kahili.

The work of No. 16 Squadron up to the time it was relieved in mid-September has already been referred to. After 14 September New Zealand fighter representation in the forward area was increased, at American request, to two squadrons based at Guadalcanal, with one in reserve in Santo. No. 17 Squadron arrived at Guadalcanal in two flights on 11 and 22 September and No. 15, page 197 on its second tour of operations, on the 8th and 11th, while No. 18 took over the fighter defence of Santo on the 17th.

As the two New Zealand squadrons were urgently required in the combat area, and as half the pilots of No. 15 Squadron already had the experience of one tour of duty behind them, the squadron came up to Guadalcanal after only a few days at Santo instead of spending the usual six weeks there in training. It remained in the forward area longer than usual, its tour lasting until the second week of November. No. 17 Squadron spent just six weeks at Guadalcanal, returning to New Zealand on 20 October.

On 14, 15, and 16 September American bombers made particularly heavy raids on Kahili and Ballale, dropping a total of 241 tons of bombs. At the same time about fifty enemy aircraft were shot down and an undetermined number destroyed on the ground. Allied losses amounted to sixteen. Aircraft from Nos. 15 and 17 Squadrons provided part of the escort but were not engaged except on the last day, when two pilots from No. 17 Squadron attacked enemy aircraft and narrowly escaped being shot down.

During the next few days Allied bombing strikes were limited by the fact that fighter squadrons were needed to cover shipping moving up from Guadalcanal to Vella Lavella and were not available as escort. Both New Zealand squadrons carried out a number of patrols over Allied shipping, operating from Guadalcanal and sometimes from Segi and Munda. When the flow of shipping decreased Allied attacks on southern Bougainville were resumed.

On 1 October American shipping lying off Vella Lavella, carrying troops of 3 New Zealand Division, was attacked three times by Japanese dive-bombers and fighters. Eight aircraft of No. 15 Squadron, in company with twelve American F4Us, intercepted the third attack and the New Zealanders shot down seven dive-bombers. Apart from this action the first week in October was fairly uneventful for the New Zealand squadrons, which were engaged in sorties against enemy barge traffic, on local patrols, and in the escort of transport and air-sea rescue aircraft.