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Royal New Zealand Air Force

operations by no. 6 (flying boat) squadron

page 256

operations by no. 6 (flying boat) squadron

The regular patrols flown by No. 6 Squadron from Halavo Bay were in the main uneventful. They involved flying continuously for eleven or twelve hours at a time over hundreds of miles of empty sea, and not once did the crews sight any enemy ships or submarines. Special searches for submarines which were reported on various occasions by Allied shipping or aircraft were equally unproductive.

On the other hand, in its air-sea rescue operations the squadron achieved considerable success. Nearly all the flying in the Solomons-Bismarcks campaign was done over water, and with hundreds of planes in the air every day it was inevitable that landings on the sea were fairly frequent, whether due to enemy action, engine failure or fuel shortage. Catalinas were stationed at various points throughout the Solomons, ready to take off immediately whenever they were called for. The efficient rescue service operated by the Allies contributed very largely to keeping up the morale of their aircrews. Pilots knew that if they ‘ditched’ or baled out over the sea they had a good chance of being picked up within a few hours.

No. 6 Squadron's first ‘Dumbo’ mission from Halavo was carried out on 26 January when an aircraft on stand-by duty, captained by Flying Officer Mackley, DFC,1 was ordered to find and rescue ten men adrift on rafts some 220 miles to the north. When it approached the area the crew saw a Liberator circling over two large patches of fluorescent dye on the water, and then saw three rafts with men on them. The Catalina landed and picked up the ten men—they were the crew of a Liberator which had been forced to ‘ditch’ through bad weather and shortage of fuel—and returned with them to Halavo Bay.

Landings on the open sea, except in the best of weather, were not without risk. Strong winds or heavy swells could, and sometimes did, damage the Catalinas and make it impossible for them to take off again. Early in February an aircraft captained by Flying Officer Beauchamp,2 while on a routine patrol 100 miles south of Nauru, found five men in dinghies, survivors of a Liberator which had been forced down while returning from a raid on Kwajalein. In landing on a choppy sea the Catalina's hull was strained and developed a leak, and the bilge pump had to be used continuously while the survivors were picked up. The take-off was difficult

1 Flt Lt W. B. Mackley, DFC and bar; Auckland; born Lower Hutt, 10 May 1915; factory manager.

2 Flt Lt D. S. Beauchamp, DFC; Auckland; born Masterton, 23 Oct 1910; bank clerk.

page 257 owing to the rough sea and the danger of tearing off a float. After several attempts the take-off was accomplished and the aircraft returned safely to base. Beauchamp was later awarded the DFC for the operation.

The hazards of open-sea rescues are further illustrated by the following extract from a report made by Warrant Officer Donaldson,1 on an operation which he carried out later in the year:

On 11 October 1944 while on duty at Santo I was instructed to proceed on a Dumbo mission for a J2F, which was reported to have made a forced landing in position 15.15S 165.20E. We located the aircraft in the above position at 0750, being considerably aided by parachute over the mainplanes, making a very conspicuous target. The state of the sea at this time was such as to make a landing impracticable, there being a moderately heavy surface swell and a surface wind of 18–20 knots, and as we understood that a crash boat had left Santo, we circled the downed aircraft, with the intention of circling until the arrival of the crash boat. At 0930 we learned that the crash boat had left the dock, and realizing that it would be some time before it arrived upon the scene, and as sea conditions had improved somewhat we decided to make a landing and take off the survivors. At 1020 we made a successful landing along the swell and practically into the wind. The survivors were picked up. We proceeded to take off at 1105 taking off down swell with the wind about 60 degrees on our starboard quarter. Waiting for a large wave, I opened the throttles just forward of the swell, and when off the step at about 43 knots we ran off the swell and into the trough of another, burying the port float which caused us to water loop. It was found that the port float was badly damaged giving no support whatever and the flying-boat was listing, with the wing in the water at about 30 degrees. Attempts were made to brace the port float without success. There was still a 12 to 15 foot swell running.

We now settled down to wait for the arrival of the crash boat, as we realised that it was hopeless to repair the damaged float. We maintained voice contact until our batteries ran low, being unable to keep them up as during the water loop the APU2 had shipped water through the exhaust, and although the engineers worked in shifts on it they were unable to get it going. It was necessary to work in shifts as by this time everybody was suffering from the effects of sea-sickness. The crash boat finally arrived at approximately 1500 taking aboard the two J2F survivors and, taking the J2F, which was still close by, in tow, she prepared to stand by until the arrival of the PC. PC1587 arrived at approximately 1800 and put a line aboard us by means of a rocket gun. Sending the remainder of the crew on board the PC, two engineers and myself then proceeded to secure the flying-boat. We then, with shackles which the PC had sent aboard, attached a towing rope to the bridle and made our way by dinghy to the PC which commenced towing at 2100. At 0200 the next day the aircraft attained a list of 30 degrees to starboard, the starboard float having apparently collapsed. The PC slowed down, but almost immediately the towing rope and bridle carried away from the hull of the flying-boat. At 0410 she turned over and floated on an even keel upside down, slowly settling.

1 Fg Off I. R. Donaldson, m.i.d.; born Dunedin, 5 Oct 1922; salesman; killed on airlift operations, Germany, 16 Jul 1949.

2 APU, Auxiliary Power Unit.

page 258 After approximately half an hour she turned on her side, settling still further and finally sank completely.

An American SBD crew, who had to ditch off the south-west coast of Guadalcanal on 7 November, were picked up by a PBY captained by Flight Lieutenant Martin.1 The SBD had ditched about a mile and a half from the shore and the crew of two, the pilot and a major, climbed into their dinghy. After a while two native canoes arrived and took them ashore to a native village. There they were well cared for, and after they had rested they were conducted round the mission (Tangarere Mission in Beaufort Bay), where there was an RNZAF radio operator. On returning to his unit he sent a message asking for assistance. Cutting up their parachutes, the survivors put out strips as signals. A PV1 of the RNZAF passed over the next morning and dropped supplies. The supply parachute failed to open and the container burst open, fragments striking a native girl and fracturing her foot. Meantime a PBY of No. 6 Squadron had set out for Beaufort Bay. It sighted the message strips and landed in the bay. Some of the crew went ashore, found the SBD pilot and the major, and took them aboard. The injured native girl, with a native boy and the missionary to look after her, was also flown out, and the girl was given hospital treatment at Tulagi.

On 9 February two aircraft and crews were sent to the Treasury Islands, where they formed a detached flight based on the United States seaplane tender Koos Bay. Individual aircraft and crews were relieved each fortnight and the flight remained there until early in April, standing by for air-sea rescue duties. Whenever strikes were flown against Rabaul, a Catalina with fighter escort was sent to patrol south of New Ireland and was on the spot to pick up pilots forced down. While the flight was stationed at the Treasuries RNZAF aircraft alone rescued twenty-eight men from the sea between Bougainville and the Gazelle Peninsula.

Besides patrol and rescue operations, No. 6 Squadron's aircraft carried out numerous miscellaneous missions. From January onwards a weekly flight was made to Malaita, carrying mail and supplies to the isolated New Zealand radar unit on Cape Astrolabe. Special flights were also made to other units on outlying islands when supplies were needed, or when sick personnel had to be brought to hospital for attention.

1 Flt Lt W. R. Martin; Ohuroa; born Wellington, 7 Nov 1917; clerk.