Royal New Zealand Air Force
No. 6 FLYING BOAT SQUADRON
No. 6 FLYING BOAT SQUADRON
Long-range patrols and reconnaissance flights were carried out from Fiji by flying boats. The allocation of aircraft to the RNZAF for the year 1943–44 had included a number of PBY5 Catalina aircraft with which to form two squadrons. The first to be formed was No. 6 Squadron, which absorbed the Singapore flight of No. 5 Squadron in Fiji. The first Catalina was delivered at Lauthala Bay in April 1943 by an American crew who had flown it from San Diego, on the west coast of America. Subsequently, aircraft were ferried to Fiji by New Zealand crews who were posted to the Pacific Ferry Command for the purpose.
The Singapore Flight had been known unofficially as No. 6 Squadron since the disbandment of No. 5 Squadron in November 1942, but the new squadron was officially formed on 25 May 1943. Wing Commander Stead, DFC, RAF,1 was appointed Commanding Officer and Squadron Leaders McGregor2 and Jury3 flight commanders. The establishment of the unit was twenty-four aircraft.
McGregor and several crews had been attached to the USS Curtiss in Segond Channel to learn American naval methods and the operation of Catalinas. This training proved most valuable in the formation and training of RNZAF flying-boat squadrons. As soon as sufficient aircraft arrived, No. 6 Squadron started an intensive crew-training programme with the object of becoming fully operational by the beginning of August.
One of the earliest operations, carried out before the squadron had been officially formed, was a search by an aircraft captained page 225 by McGregor for survivors of the American ship Vanderbilt, which was torpedoed on 2 May. Eight men were found on a raft in very rough seas and the Catalina stood by for three hours waiting for the arrival of rescue ships. As none turned up, it finally landed and picked up the men. The waves did some damage to the hull, but the aircraft took off safely and returned to Lauthala Bay.
For the next few months the squadron combined training with shipping escorts and searches for submarines. When training was completed, at the beginning of August, orders were received to prepare a detached flight to serve at Funafuti in the Ellice Islands. This instruction was cancelled, and a fortnight later a detached flight comprising six aircraft and crews, with a small maintenance party, was sent instead to Tonga. There it was stationed at the US Navy Base at Nukualofa, and became responsible for the protection of shipping in Tongan waters.
Aircraft of the detachment took part in the rescue of survivors of the American troopship San Juan, which was torpedoed on 11 November. Rescue operations, to which the aircraft of No. 4 Squadron also gave air cover, extended over two days. During most of the time the sea was too rough to permit flying boats to land, but the Catalinas dropped smoke flares to guide surface vessels to survivors who were clinging to rafts and bits of wreckage scattered over 20 miles of sea. Altogether 1180 men were rescued.
The main body of the squadron left Fiji at the beginning of October when the whole unit, except the detached flight, was posted to Segond Channel at Santo. The move was made in the squadron's own aircraft, which carried all the ground staff and equipment with the exception of one load transported in a C47.
At Segond the unit came under the operational control of the American Navy seaplane tender USS Wright, which was based there. It carried out its first operational patrol from its new base three days after its arrival, and for the next two and a half months was engaged in searching for enemy ships and submarines to a range of 670 miles over the seas to the west of Santo. All aircraft on patrol carried full armament, including depth-charges, but no hostile craft was seen. The flight at Tonga rejoined the main body of the squadron in November, making the move entirely in its own aircraft.
Operations were carried out from Segond until just before Christmas and then the unit moved forward to Halavo Bay on Florida Island, near Guadalcanal. The first aircraft flew there on 22 December and the others followed within the next few days. The ground staff and equipment travelled in the USS Wright, arriving on 26 December. The first patrol from Halavo was page 226 carried out on Christmas Day, and two days later the squadron had fully settled in and was operational. It worked in conjunction with a United States Navy flying-boat squadron searching for enemy shipping and submarines to a range of 650 miles from its base. In addition a standing commitment was the maintenance of an aircraft on constant readiness for air-sea rescue operations.