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Royal New Zealand Air Force


page 221


By the middle of January accommodation was available at Torokina for the two New Zealand fighter squadrons, and on the 17th the Wing moved there from Ondonga. A detached flight of No. 17 Squadron had already been there since 28 December. The Wing now consisted of Nos. 15 and 17 Squadrons, together with Nos. 2 and 4 Servicing Units. When it first arrived at Ondonga it had comprised Nos. 15 and 18 Squadrons. No. 15 was relieved early in November by No. 14, and No. 16 (under Squadron Leader Arkwright) replaced No. 18 towards the end of the month. These in turn were relieved by Nos. 15 and 17, which came up for a further tour in the second half of December.

For several days after the move the squadrons operated from Torokina with skeleton ground staffs, awaiting the arrival of the servicing units. These left Ondonga with their equipment in a convoy of American landing craft on the afternoon of 18 January and arrived off Torokina at dawn on the 20th. The voyage was uneventful apart from a number of air-raid alarms on the night of the 19th, and all ranks welcomed the relaxation after their hard work of the past few months. A number of New Zealanders helped to man anti-aircraft machine guns and work their ship.

On reaching Empress Augusta Bay the convoy broke up. The LCI on which the servicing units had travelled beached on the mainland and the LST carrying their equipment unloaded at Puruata Island, where the cargo was collected in dumps to be transported later by tender. The men were taken from the beach to their camp site in trucks lent by 1 Battalion, Fiji Regiment.

Station Headquarters and No. 2 Servicing Unit were accommodated in a camp recently evacuated by an American squadron, VMF215, and No. 4 Servicing Unit was at first quartered in tents which had housed VMF212. The arrival of another American squadron a day or two later resulted in No. 4 Servicing Unit having to leave its camp, and a new site was cleared for it close to No. 2.

For the first few days after landing, all hands were employed in setting up camp, digging foxholes, and moving equipment from Puruata Island. Among other cargo the units had brought with them 30,000 super, feet of timber for camp construction. The work was finished on 23 January, and next morning the men paraded for normal duties. By this time temporary station headquarters, orderly rooms, post office, and a non-technical store had been established at the camp site; and by the airstrip a wing operations and intelligence section, squadron huts, servicing unit areas, engineers' offices and technical store were ready to function. A week later the station was completely settled in. Conditions were page 222 reasonably good except for nights disturbed by enemy air raids and American artillery.

The move to Bougainville had saved pilots up to three hours' flying on each operation as they no longer had to do the return trip to Ondonga. Instead of leaving their base at dawn and returning late in the afternoon, they were now able to take off about eleven in the morning and be home again by 3 p.m. Apart from the saving in flying time, the hazard of bad weather between Torokina and Ondonga—an experience general round the New Georgia Group—was now eliminated.