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Royal New Zealand Air Force

close and tactical air support, south bougainville campaign

close and tactical air support, south bougainville campaign

Before the Australians began their forward move from the Jaba River line in January, RNZAF Corsairs were employed in softening up Japanese positions and interrupting communications in areas immediately to the south. When Australian patrols penetrated page 298 southwards towards Mawaraka, an increasing number of air attacks was made on troop concentrations and bivouac areas which they reported.

After the middle of January, as the offensive got into its stride, ground and air operations became progressively more integrated. Strikes behind the Japanese lines were ordered by Headquarters 3rd Division as part of the general preparation for the advance, while attacks on objectives immediately confronting the ground troops were made on request from the battalion in the field.

During the advance to the Puriata, constant air attacks in the area immediately to the north of the river helped considerably to lower the morale of the enemy and break down his opposition. In support of the Australians' operations eastward from Mawaraka towards Mosigetta, aircraft of No. 20 Squadron were called on to clear an area of swamp and jungle immediately in front of the troops. They combed it thoroughly with 1000-pound and 500- pound stick-bombs and depth-charges and by strafing, starting from a line only 80 yards in front of the foremost Australian positions.

When the north bank of the Puriata was reached, air attacks were switched to the area to the south, and the softening process was repeated there. The procedure was the same in each stage of the campaign: first, a pounding of the troops and communications behind the line, and then, as the Australians advanced, the blasting of opposition immediately in their path.

A very successful close-support operation was carried out on 26 April by forty-one aircraft of Nos. 14, 22 and 26 Squadrons. The target was a 700-yard strip of road in the Hiru Hiru area, down which the Australian advance was blocked by strong Japanese defensive positions. To clear it, bombs had to be dropped in the jungle on either side, 25 yards apart and 25 yards from the road, from a point 300 yards ahead of the foremost Australian troops.

The three squadrons held a combined briefing at Piva at six o'clock in the morning, and took off an hour later. When they arrived the target area was marked by mortar bombs, and tactical reconnaissance aircraft laid smoke bombs along the line of the trail itself.

No. 14 Squadron, led by Squadron Leader McNab,1 went in first with six 1000-pound stick bombs and twenty-six 325-pound depth-charges. The first section of four aircraft laid their bombs on the left side of the road, and the next section bombed the right. Then Nos. 3 and 4 Sections treated the next hundred yards similarly. Each aircraft carried two bombs, and sections followed one another in on a second run.

1 Sqn Ldr P. R. McNab; Blenheim; born Auckland, 13 Jun 1916; clerk.

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As soon as No. 14 had finished, No. 26 Squadron followed it, led by Squadron Leader Delves.1 After dropping eleven 1000-pounders, the aircraft formed up in pairs and made three strafing runs over the target.

When they were clear, Squadron Leader Court2 led in No. 22 Squadron, which dropped fourteen 1000-pounders on the last section of road and then strafed it thoroughly.

The bombing was excellent, and the enemy positions were completely shattered. Australian patrols, which had moved up through the jungle on either flank, captured numbers of dazed Japanese trying to escape from the area. By evening the ground forces had advanced the full 1000 yards over the bombed area.

Such attacks as this enabled the advance to go on much more rapidly than would otherwise have been possible. Difficulties of supply were so great that only a relatively small spearhead could be maintained in the front line. To put in the ground forces which would have been needed to overcome Japanese resistance without the help of constant air support, it would have been necessary to spend months in building an elaborate system of roads and bridges.

1 Sqn Ldr G. A. Delves, m.i.d. Wanganui, 30 Aug 1918; clerk.

2 Sqn Ldr J. R. Court, DFC, m.i.d.; Auckland; born Auckland, 14 Apr 1020; warehouseman.