Royal New Zealand Air Force
no. 53 unit
no. 53 unit
The first of the COL units to go overseas was named No. 53 and was commanded by Flying Officer Gregory.1 It was formed in New Zealand in July 1943 and became operational at Cape Astrolabe, on Malaita, during the second week in October. It operated there continuously until February 1945, when it was withdrawn.
Its site on top of the cape was excellently located and enabled the unit to obtain first-class cover over the area for which it was responsible. As Malaita was never occupied by Allied forces, the unit was one of the most isolated RNZAF detachments in the Pacific. In addition to its normal radar duties it had for some months to provide its own protection, and machine-gun positions and defence posts were built. Later, in February 1944, half a rifle company of the 298th US Infantry Regiment was attached to it to provide guards.
Supplies were sent to the unit weekly from Guadalcanal by sea and from time to time urgent needs were met by flying boat. Christmas dinner in 1943 was provided with the co-operation of the 1st US Marine Parachute Regiment. One and a half tons of Christmas supplies were dropped from the air and included turkey, fresh vegetables, mail, parcels and twelve dozen bottles of beer. The drop was entirely successful; not even one bottle of beer was broken.
Like other small outlying groups, the unit suffered through being outside the areas of malarial control. Throughout its tour of duty, the sickness rate caused by malaria was particularly high.
During the greater part of the tour Japanese aircraft were rarely in the area and the unit was seldom called upon to report any. It was, however, responsible for the rescue of a number of Allied airmen whose aircraft had been forced down into the sea.