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Royal New Zealand Air Force



From the day of the initial landing until 7 July, No. 14 Squadron was engaged regularly on Rendova patrols. On 30 June sixteen of its aircraft left their base in the early morning, led by Squadron page 190 Leader Quill.1 They sighted enemy aircraft over Rendova but were not engaged. When they had completed their patrol they landed at the Russells, where nine other pilots of the squadron had arrived by transport plane from Guadalcanal. In the afternoon fourteen aircraft again went up on patrol and again did not make contact with the enemy. It was altogether an unsuccessful day. The Americans, in a series of interceptions, claimed over one hundred enemy aircraft destroyed, while No. 14 Squadron did not even have a fight and lost two aircraft and one pilot in a collision on the runway. Operational facilities at the Russells were primitive, and the refuelling and rearming of the aircraft were painfully slow. None of the pilots had anything to eat all day although a number were flying for eight hours out of the twelve.

On the morning of 1 July a force of enemy dive-bombers and fighters attacked American positions on Rendova. They were intercepted by Allied fighters, including eight aircraft of No. 14 Squadron, led by Flight Lieutenant Brown.2 In the resulting action twenty-two enemy aircraft were shot down for the loss of eight Allied fighters; No. 14 Squadron claimed seven enemy aircraft destroyed and three probables. When first sighted by the New Zealanders, enemy dive-bombers covered by Zeros were bombing American ships in the Rendova area and were being attacked by American P40s. The New Zealand formation dived out of the sun on to the enemy, who were about 7000 feet below. Owing to cloudy conditions the patrol was badly split up, but in the dogfights that followed six pilots accounted for an enemy aircraft each and one, Pilot Officer Weber,3 destroyed two. Two New Zealand aircraft were lost and the pilots baled out. Pilot Officer Burton,4 who came down in the Munda area, was not seen again, while Flight Lieutenant Brown, who abandoned his aircraft on the way back to base, landed in the water and was eventually picked up by a rescue boat after four and a half hours.

In an action which took place two days later eight aircraft of No. 14 Squadron, on patrol at 14,000 feet over Rendova, were surprised by a force of over forty enemy aircraft. In this engagement Squadron Leader Quill and Sergeant Nairn5 each shot down an enemy aircraft and Flying Officer Fisken6 claimed three. Later Quill was wounded in the shoulder and forced to crash-land at the Russells. Several other pilots had their aircraft hit by cannon shells page 191 but suffered no personal injuries. Nairn landed at the Russells with his aircraft very badly shot about; he had become separated from the rest of the flight and had battled on his own for almost an hour with some forty enemy fighters. He reported the action thus:

I was flying No. 2 to S/Ldr. Quill. Tracer passing my wing and a cannon shell in the wing root were the first warning I had of the attack. As S/Ldr. Quill took no immediate action, and was apparently unaware of the attack, I stayed with him as long as I could, and then crossed my controls to the right, doing a quarter roll. On climbing into a fight above me, I found no Warhawks remaining, and was alone among about 40 Zekes. I fired at one from full beam, one from rear quarter and was then simultaneously attacked from astern and starboard. I used the same evasive action as before. I then saw upward of 10 aircraft apparently in combat. I climbed to their level, about 9,000 ft., and attacked them out of the sun. All were Zekes. I fired a burst at one from the rear quarter, and at two from directly astern. I concentrated on the nearer of these and put a good burst into him. I could see smoke from incendiaries coming from him, but he flew away and I did not see him again, being myself attacked by six aircraft from the starboard quarter, and by others from astern. I again took the same evasive action.

I left these aircraft milling round by themselves and I saw two Zekes in close formation ahead of me. I overtook them and put a long burst dead astern, into the leader. As I was firing, at about 150 yards, I was attacked by a number of Zekes from beam and astern, and my aircraft was hit by a cannon shell in the port wing, and by sundry bullets. White petrol vapour trails came from the fuselage or wing root of the Zeke I had attacked. He rolled on his back, and pulled out under and to starboard of me. The white smoke turned to heavy black smoke. I was busy evading his mates by a violent downward skid to the right. I was then at 6,000 to 7,000 feet. As I came out of this manoeuvre, I saw a circular white patch of foam on the water below me some 4–5,000 ft. There was also oil round the splash area. There was no further sign of this enemy aircraft, which I claim as destroyed.

Six enemy aircraft, which had followed me down, were joined by possibly another 10. They came in from astern, above and both sides, entirely boxing me in, except from below. I could see tracer going past me. I turned toward the nearest aircraft and fired at them. I passed very close, about one foot from the nearest Zeke. My aircraft was faster at this level, and I broke out, but they followed me and I turned back into them to find that about three were supporting one Zeke, which made a head-on attack. Others were higher. I fired at the attacker, and broke away down to avoid a head-on collision. This aircraft, I consider, tried to ram. The Zekes then appeared to give up the fight, as they merely sat up above me and did not attack.

After another encounter with other Zekes, I saw further aircraft which I thought might be Allied aircraft, so I went to join them, but found they were all Zekes. I attacked the nearest and put a good burst into him from the quarter until finally only one gun of my aircraft was firing. I then broke away and dived to sea level, and came home at about 5,000 ft. with my aircraft damaged …

I learned later that I was the last N.Z. pilot to break off the action. Had I known this at the time, I would have broken off earlier if possible and returned.

page 192

I consider the enemy pilots I met on this occasion to be superior to those I had encountered previously. They maintained some type of formation at all times, never breaking to less than pairs. Their evasive action was excellent, and pilots made full use of their manoeuvrable aircraft. There was no ‘fancy’ flying, such as rolls, which I had seen enemy aircraft do in the other action in this area in which I had taken part. Their evasive action comprised mainly violent skids and steep turns, and occasionally half-rolls.

It appeared to me, however, that determined action upset the Japanese. A determined effort to break through was successful, if pressed home. On the other hand, they did not press home their attacks very firmly, particularly if any retaliation was attempted. A more or less casual burst at an attacking enemy aircraft, even if this burst was poorly aimed, was usually enough to upset the attack, the Japanese sheering off.

During the second week in July enemy air operations were on a smaller scale. Weather hampered operations on both sides, but American intelligence considered that the enemy had been forced to limit his sorties because of heavy losses and was reorganising his strength to meet the next Allied move.

The next heavy raid occurred on 15 July, when twenty-seven enemy bombers and forty to fifty fighters attacked Rendova. Forty Allied fighters intercepted and claimed fifteen bombers and thirty fighters for a loss of three.

1 Wg Cdr S. G. Quill, DFC; RNZAF; born Porirua, 12 Oct 1919.

2 Flt Lt E. H. Brown, DFC; Auckland; born Dannevirke, 1 Feb 1913; commercial pilot.

3 Fg Off R. A. Weber, DFC, Air Medal (US); Palmerston North; born Wellington, 19 Dec 1914; lecturer.

4 Plt Off J. F. Burton; born Christchurch, 20 May 1914; salesman; killed on air operations 1 Jul 1943.

5 Sqn Ldr R. C. C. Nairn, AFC, DFM; RNZAF; born Ireland, 15 Nov 1922; farmhand.

6 Fg Off G. B. Fisken, DFC; Masterton; born Gisborne, 17 Feb 1918; shepherd.