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Royal New Zealand Air Force



The pilots of the squadron had arrived in Java on the 9th. The majority of them had immediately gone to Buitenzorg, a rest camp 40 miles from Batavia. After a conference at Air Headquarters, Batavia, MacKenzie was told that No. 488 Squadron was to be re-equipped with Hurricanes and would undertake the fighter defence of Batavia. Its ground personnel was to consist of Hurricane crews already on the island.

MacKenzie was put in charge of Hurricane delivery at Tjililitan aerodrome, 10 miles from Batavia. He established a temporary base there and organised ground crews to check new Hurricanes and harmonise their guns prior to their despatch to Palembang.

On the 11th the squadron's pilots returned from Buitenzorg and helped to ferry Hurricanes from Batavia civil airport to Tjililitan for checking. They were joined by the four pilots who had left Singapore by air some days before them.

On the morning of 14 February Hutcheson, leading a formation of nine Hurricanes, took off for Palembang. Apart from Pilot Officer Sharp and Sergeant Meharry, all the pilots in the formation were from the various RAF squadrons.

Their arrival at Palembang coincided with an attack by Japanese paratroops. Escorting Japanese fighters attacked the formation which, after the long flight from Batavia, urgently needed refuelling. Meharry managed to land at Palembang despite the fighting going on between the Japanese paratroops and the RAF ground crew. Later it was found possible to refuel his aircraft and he flew to a secret aerodrome known as P2, from which he made attacks against the invading Japanese until his aircraft was no longer serviceable. Later he was evacuated to southern Sumatra by rail.

The other pilots, finding it impossible to land, fought back at the Japanese fighters until they ran out of fuel or were shot down into the jungle. Neither Hutcheson nor Sharp was injured when page 95 they crashed. Sharp managed by various means to get back to Java by 16 February. Hutcheson, who joined Meharry at Oosthaven in southern Sumatra, arrived a day later.

Other pilots from the squadron continued to carry out defensive patrols from Tjililitan in company with those pilots from Nos. 232 and 258 Squadrons who were able to reach Java after the fall of Sumatra. Among them they had twelve serviceable aircraft.

It had been hoped that southern Sumatra as well as Java could be held, but on 15 February, the day Singapore surrendered, all units on Sumatra were forced to withdraw. After the paratroop landing on the 14th, the Japanese had occupied the aerodrome at Palembang, and P2, at which all the available Allied air units were concentrated, was also in danger of being overrun.

The speed of the enemy's advance had frustrated the hopes of building up a large Allied strength in the East Indies, and Java itself was now under imminent threat of invasion. It was therefore decided that the Supreme Commander, General Wavell, should withdraw his headquarters, which had been removed from Singapore to Java some days previously, and turn over the remaining Allied forces to the command of the Dutch.

The Dutch at this time had about five bomber, three fighter, and two observation squadrons in Java. In addition there were twelve to fifteen American heavy bombers and a few fighters. There were also the British squadrons which had been evacuated from Singapore and Sumatra. All squadrons were depleted in strength as a result of operations over the past few weeks, the serviceability of their aircraft was low, spares and equipment were scarce, and the whole force suffered from disorganisation and confusion.

On 22 February MacKenzie was instructed that he was to move his squadron to Australia and hand over his aircraft to No. 605 Squadron, RAF, together with one flight commander and five other pilots. No. 258 Squadron, RAF, was to do the same, to bring No. 605 Squadron up to strength. The men left behind were to be evacuated when RAF replacements arrived. Pilot Officer Oakden remained behind as flight commander, together with Pilot Officers Sharp, Pettit1 and White,2 and Sergeants Kuhn and MacIntosh.

The rest of the squadron embarked on the MV Deucalion on the afternoon of 23 February and sailed for Fremantle. They arrived in Australia at the beginning of March, and at the end of the month returned to New Zealand on the Esperance Bay.

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The six pilots who were left behind were not relieved. They fought throughout the rest of the campaign until Java surrendered on 8 March. Sharp was shot down behind the Japanese lines, and although he made a good crash-landing and was seen to get out of his machine and wave to the other members of the squadron, he was not heard of again. The other five were taken prisoner after the surrender. Pilot Officer White died while a prisoner of war, and the others survived three and a half years in Japanese prison camps and returned to New Zealand after the end of the war.

1 Flt Lt H. S. Pettit; Lower Hutt; born Dunedin, 19 Jan 1919; accountant; p.w. 1942–45.

2 Flt Lt G. P. White; born Picton, 3 Jun 1919; commercial artist; died while p.w. Nov 1943.