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Royal New Zealand Air Force



In Fiji No. 5 Squadron, which had consisted of Vincents and a flight of Singapore flying boats, had been disbanded in November 1942 because its aircraft were obsolescent. The Singapore flight, however, had continued to operate until Catalinas with which to form No. 6 Flying Boat Squadron became available in the first half of 1943. Reconnaissance during 1943 was carried out over Fijian waters by No. 4 (BR) Squadron and, after its formation, by No. 6 Squadron.

No. 4 Squadron, now fully equipped with Hudsons, carried out regular reconnaissance operations, and at the same time served as a training unit for crews to reinforce the squadrons in the forward area. Enemy submarines were still active in Fijian waters. At a time when senior commanders were interested in the rear areas only so far as they affected operations in the forward areas, the employment of Japanese submarines in the vicinity of Fiji, apart from the shipping they were able to destroy, was of immense strategic value to the Japanese. The mere appearance of a submarine in a rear area caused a diversion of effort and the employment of aircraft which would otherwise have been available at more forward locations.

In May 1943 three American ships, the William Williams, Hearst and Vanderbilt, were attacked. The Williams was torpedoed early in the month 120 miles south of Fiji. She remained afloat and was towed into Suva for temporary repairs. During this operation Hudsons of No. 4 Squadron maintained a constant anti-submarine patrol over her. Hudsons also took part in the search for survivors of the Hearst, which was sunk later in the month. One aircraft sighted them and dropped supplies.

Six submarines were reported during June by ships and aircraft. On the 25th a Hudson sighted one 180 miles south-west of Suva, while escorting an American convoy. The aircraft immediately attacked and dropped four depth-charges over the spot where the submarine had submerged. Three minutes later oil slick appeared on the water but there was no other evidence of a kill. Later, more oil slicks were seen 50 miles from the scene of the attack. Further aircraft were sent out to search for the submarine, but weather and visibility were bad and nothing more was seen of it. Information gained since the war shows that the Japanese reported the loss of a submarine in the area about this time and it is probable that this was the one.

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In the following months No. 4 Squadron escorted every ship entering or leaving Suva Harbour and also flew many sorties in search of submarines that had been reported. On 7 September a Hudson escorting the American ship Saugatuck between Fiji and Tonga sighted a periscope and attacked. It dropped four depth-charges from a height of 100 feet. All of them exploded. The submarine was forced partly to the surface and then dived. The aircraft searched the area for half an hour but no wreckage or oil was seen. Later, two other aircraft relieved the first, but the submarine did not reappear. The Saugatuck reached harbour safely without being attacked.