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Royal New Zealand Air Force

fighter-bomber operations

fighter-bomber operations

Fighter-bomber operations against Rabaul began on 7 March. They were made possible by the elimination of the Japanese air force, which did away with the need to use fighters to escort Allied bombers, and by the opening of the airstrip on Green Island. The strip gave a base at which fighters from Bougainville could refuel on their way to their target, and they could thus reach Rabaul without carrying long-range fuel tanks.

The RNZAF Wing, like a number of American fighter squadrons, modified its aircraft, fitting bomb racks where the belly-tank attachments had been, and began training, under the leadership of Wing Commander Nicholls, for the new role.

Nicholls himself led the first fighter-bomber attack on Rabaul on 7 March, the day on which the fighter strip at Green Island was opened for operations. Twelve aircraft from No. 14 Squadron and eight from No. 18 took off from Torokina early in the morning and landed at Green Island to refuel. They left again at ten o'clock and reached their target, the eastern edge of Rabaul township, an hour later. They approached at 16,000 feet and then dived by sections to 6000 feet, where they let their bombs go. Partial cloud made observation of results difficult, but the pilots reported that a fair proportion of the bombs struck the target area and caused explosions.

From this date onwards the New Zealand fighters carried bombs on practically every offensive mission they undertook. At first 500- pound general purpose bombs were carried, or 500-pound incendiary clusters. Later it was found that the P40s could successfully carry a 1000-pound bomb, and from 21 March onwards they often did.