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Royal New Zealand Air Force

no. 18 squadron

no. 18 squadron

No. 18 Squadron, which took over No. 20's operational duties, had already spent twelve weeks at Santo and Guadalcanal owing to delays in the establishment of servicing units in the forward area, and so had completed the normal fighter tour of three months in the tropics. To give the pilots a little operational experience, however, the squadron was posted to Green Island for three weeks.

It started operations on 22 November, providing four aircraft daily for scramble alert and local dawn and dusk patrols, as escort for ‘Dumbos’ supporting strikes on Rabaul and New Ireland, and two to escort transport aircraft fying between Green Island and Emirau. The escort of transport aircraft had been introduced after the reappearance of Japanese planes in the area, and was continued until 8 December, when COMAIRNORSOLS decided it was no longer necessary.

On 1 December one of the American fihter squadrons was ordered to Leyte, and No. 18 Squadron shared with the remaining one the responsibility for maintaining a standing patrol over the Rabaul airfields, to deny their use to the enemy and to cover Allied bombing strikes. On 8 December the second American squadron ceased operations preparatory to leaving for the Philippines, and for the last three days of its tour No. 18 Squadron was responsible for all fighter commitments, involving over a hundred hours' flying a day.

The American fighters had been in the habit of carrying bombs on their Rabaul patrols, but the New Zealanders could not do so because they had to carry auxiliary petrol tanks, which made high-speed dive-bombing impracticable. Consequently, during the three weeks it was in the forward area the squadron had no opportunity to put its bombing training into practice.

On the last operation of the tour two pilots patrolling over Rabaul saw a Zeke, the first seen in the air by any New Zealand fighter pilots for many months. They dived on it, firing and closing to 100 yards, but it escaped into heavy cloud. Three minutes later page 270 it emerged below the cloud. They attacked again, but it pulled up and disappeared once more. They searched for it for an hour in gathering darkness, but failed to find it.