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Royal New Zealand Air Force



No. 16 Squadron had formed at Ohakea in June 1942. In August it had moved to Fairhall, a satellite of Woodbourne, where it continued training until June 1943, when it went on final leave before moving up to the South Pacific. A fortnight later the squadron was flown to Santo by transport planes and began operations there under the control of the American Interceptor Command. It flew on anti-submarine patrols and interception missions and also carried out operational training. All operations were uneventful. On 17 July ten pilots were flown to Guadalcanal by transport plane and began operations the next day with No. 14 Squadron. The rest of the squadron joined them on the 25th.

During its tour of duty at Guadalcanal, which lasted two months, the squadron carried on much the same type of operations as No. 14, although contacts with enemy fighters were becoming less frequent. The Japanese air force had practically given up offensive operations over New Georgia and was adopting a defensive policy aimed at protecting the base at Kahili in southern Bougainville.

American bombers were daily attacking Munda and the bases farther north, and a major part of No. 16 Squadron's work was to provide cover on these missions. The squadron's first important contact with enemy aircraft occurred on 31 July, when eight aircraft, forming part of the escort for a force of SBDs and TBFs bombing Munda, were vectored to intercept a large force of enemy fighters. The New Zealanders had finished their escort work and were preparing to land at Segi when they were ordered to return to page 194 Munda to meet the enemy formation. While climbing through a thin layer of cloud and manoeuvring for height and position, the flight became disorganised and was attacked by some thirty Zeros. Two New Zealand aircraft were shot down. One of the pilots baled out and was later picked up from the sea by an American PT boat.

Throughout August the squadron continued to provide cover for bombing strikes on various targets and carried out routine patrols over Rendova. It also several times escorted B24s on photographic reconnaissance over a number of Japanese positions. In addition it carried out searches for enemy barges moving supplies and requirements from southern Bougainville to the remnants of the Japanese force on New Georgia, and to the garrisons on Kolombangara, Vella Lavella, and Rekata Bay.

On the 25th two aircraft, piloted by Flight Lieutenant Spurdle1 and Flight Sergeant Pirie,2 set fire to a Japanese landing barge drawn up against the beach at Bambatana Mission on Choiseul Island. Then, heading down the coast, they saw two camouflaged boats in the middle of a stream near Sumbi Head. They strafed them both, as well as a third vessel which was moored against the shore. They then left their targets for ten minutes and came back and attacked them again, setting all three on fire.

The following day five aircraft, led by Flight Lieutenant Day,3 strafed a small steamship and a 30-foot launch in an inlet on the north-west tip of Ganongga Island. The steamship was camouflaged with vegetation that had dried to a light brown colour and the launch was hidden in a small creek. The New Zealanders made five strafing runs and left both vessels burning furiously.

On 3 September eight aircraft acted as bottom cover to a force of B24s bombing Kahili. On the way home two pilots, Flight Lieutenant Vanderpump4 and Flight Sergeant Miller,5 dropped back to cover a B24 which had been damaged and which was being attacked by eight to ten Zeros. They were successful in driving off the enemy aircraft and escorted the bomber safely back to its base. For this exploit both pilots earned an immediate award of the American DFC, the first immediate award of the decoration made to RNZAF personnel.

The squadron was relieved at Guadalcanal by No. 17 Squadron between 11 and 15 September and returned to New Zealand a few page 195 days later. During its tour it had flown a total of 2100 hours, including 1260 operational hours for August, which was a record.

1 Wg Cdr R. L. Spurdle, DFC and bar; New Plymouth; born NZ 3 Mar 1918.

2 Fg Off N. A. Pirie, m.i.d.; Napier; born Christchurch, 25 Nov 1922; mechanician.

3 Sqn Ldr J. R. Day, MBE, AFC; Dunedin; born Invercargill, 24 Nov 1912; mechanic.

4 Sqn Ldr M. T. Vanderpump, DFC, DFC (US); born Auckland, 16 May 1920; farmer; killed in aircraft accident 2 Apr 1955.

5 W/O J. E. Miller, DFC (US); Kawakawa; born Whangaruru, 23 Jul 1914; mechanic.