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Royal New Zealand Air Force

northern bougainville

northern bougainville

Air operations in northern Bougainville followed the same pattern as those in the south: softening-up raids behind the enemy's line, and direct attacks on his forward positions when they were called for.

No. 18 Squadron had an interesting day in this area on 3 March. Pilot Officer Albert,3 who was flying on a routine search with Squadron Leader Corbet,4 sighted two Japanese medium tanks in the vicinity of Ruri Bay. It was the first time any had been seen or suspected on Bougainville. Neither pilot was carrying bombs, so they both made several strafing runs. Then Corbet returned to base to report the sighting and call up reinforcements, leaving Albert on guard. One of the tanks was apparently disabled, as it remained in the open; but the other moved into the cover of the jungle.

The first sighting was made at 10.50 a.m., and at 12.30 Corbet was back from Piva, accompanied by Flying Officer Kirk.5 Both were armed with 1000-pound bombs. They attacked the tank which could be seen in the jungle some 30 yards off the road. Corbet's page 300 bomb fell short, but Kirk's was almost a direct hit. It cleared the jungle in the vicinity, and exposed a third tank ten yards away. Both were damaged and covered with bomb debris. Both pilots then strafed the tank in the open, but did not observe any results.

In the afternoon another strike was made by seven aircraft. They bombed the two tanks in the jungle and set one of them on fire. All the pilots, and a reconnaissance pilot who was observing the operation, agreed that both were badly damaged. Then they strafed the third tank, which had not moved since it was first sighted. After a beam attack it was obscured by heavy black smoke and red oil flames, and shortly afterwards its ammunition went off in a series of explosions, completely wrecking it.

Next morning the tanks in the jungle had been moved, but one of them was discovered by a tactical reconnaissance Boomerang in the late afternoon, heavily camouflaged and hidden under trees. As soon as it was reported, three aircraft of No. 18 Squadron took off to bomb it. It was dark when they reached it, but the reconnaissance pilot marked the target with tracer fire. This tank was finally knocked out on the morning of 5 March in another attack by nine aircraft of No. 18 Squadron. Two of the bombs were almost direct hits and blew off the tank's turret and two doors.

A number of other attacks were made on the area in the next two days by fighter-bombers and by bomber-reconnaissance aircraft from Green Island. A combined strike on 6 March by eight aircraft from Nos. 18 and 20 Squadrons, on a suspected tank depot and supply dump, was highly successful. Natives later reported that two tanks and a large truck had been destroyed and a large number of Japanese killed.

Strategic bombing on Bougainville in 1945 was directed mainly at Muguai, in southern Bougainville, where the headquarters of the Japanese 17th Army was located. Targets included a number of regimental and divisional Army and Navy headquarters, engineering shops, and food, ammunition and oil dumps.

Until April most of the attacks on the area were carried out from Piva, but in that month the main responsibility was allotted to RNZAF Corsairs and Venturas and American Mitchells operating from Green Island. Besides scheduled strikes, a number of extra ones were made when bad weather farther north prevented operations from Green Island against Rabaul and New Ireland.

The bombing of southern Bougainville achieved a threefold result. It destroyed large quantities of stores and killed numerous Japanese; it kept the headquarters staffs on the move and in a state of disorganisation; and it made the natives most unwilling to work for, or anywhere near, the Japanese.

3 Fg Off K. L. Albert; Wellington; born Wellington, 29 Oct 1922; draughtsman.

4 Sqn Ldr G. H. Corbet, Bronze Star (US); Invercargill; born Invercargill, 18 Aug 1916; clerk.

5 Fg Off G. M. G. Kirk; Tauranga; born Frankton Junction, 21 Nov 1924; dairy farmer.