Royal New Zealand Air Force
MOVE OF NO. 3 SQUADRON TO GUADALCANAL
MOVE OF NO. 3 SQUADRON TO GUADALCANAL
No. 3 Squadron, RNZAF, entered the campaign on 23 November when a flight of six aircraft and eight crews was detached from Santo and sent to operate from Guadalcanal. The aircraft had been preceded by a small servicing party, which had travelled by sea two or three days before and had set up a camp in a jungle-clad gully close to Henderson Field.
Aircraft were used by the American Command in four main roles: (i) the protection of installations; (ii) support for the ground forces on Guadalcanal itself; (iii) the disruption of enemy forces gathering to the north and strikes against the bases being developed in the central Solomons; (iv) attacking hostile forces whenever they approached Guadalcanal. The specific tasks of the Search and Patrol Group were to conduct daily and nightly searches of the approaches to Guadalcanal, and daily low-level searches along the coastlines of islands which might be used as staging points for enemy movements of supplies and troops.
This was the primary role of No. 3 Squadron. The Hudson was essentially a reconnaissance aircraft. It was armed with machine guns for self-defence, and carried bombs which could be used if a suitable target presented itself; but it was impressed on all crews that their job was to report enemy movements, not to go looking for trouble. The bomb-load of No. 3 Squadron's Hudsons when on patrol normally comprised four 500-pounders.
In its efforts to counter aggressive operations by enemy naval and air forces the American Command depended upon advance intelligence of Japanese aircraft and shipping concentrations at Rabaul and Buin. Rabaul, the major enemy base south of the Equator, was covered by the South-West Pacific Command intelligence, while enemy movements in the Solomons from their supply pivot at Buin were covered by Allied coastwatchers and search planes. After the defeat of the Japanese fleet at the battle of Guadalcanal in the middle of November, the chief concern of the American Command was to get advance warning of convoys of the Tokyo Express so that American bombers could attack them before they arrived off Cape Esperance. To get the maximum cover from darkness the enemy ships left the Shortland area in the northern Solomons about noon. As they passed down the ‘Slot’1 in the early afternoon, they were observed by the Allied coastwatchers on Vella Lavella and Choiseul, whose reports were of immense value to the American Command. Warnings were radioed to Guadalcanal, and if the reports were early enough and the weather favourable the bombers had a chance to attack them before nightfall. The coastwatcher system was supplemented by air reconnaissance over the ocean areas to the north and west of Guadalcanal. American and RNZAF aircraft carried out regular patrols by day and night seeking enemy convoys.
Until the arrival of the New Zealand squadron the Americans had been using torpedo- and dive-bombers for sea reconnaissance work, supplemented by long-distance patrols with their heavy bombers. The dive-bombers had had to carry out search patrols and, having found a target which they reported, they had been obliged to return to base and bomb-up for strike missions. During the intervening period targets often disappeared. The Hudsons with their longer range relieved the dive-bombers so that they were more readily available for their proper role when reports of targets were received. At the same time, the Hudsons released the American long-range bombers from much of their reconnaissance work and let them get on with the job of bombing the enemy. Thus the arrival of No. 3 Squadron filled an important gap in the types of aircraft available in the area, and was heartily welcomed by the overworked aircrews of American Air Group 14.
The American Command had planned to use the six New Zealand Hudsons on five searches daily. The achievement on most days of this commitment became a heavy strain on both aircrews and ground staff. By 6 December congestion at Henderson Field had been relieved and more of No. 3 Squadron moved up from Santo, after which it was possible for the New Zealanders to take over a greater amount of reconnaissance work. A tendency to over-employ all the available Hudsons had to be curbed so that the maintenance organisation could keep pace with the flying. As a result of discussions between the RNZAF and American commanders in the area, the flying was limited to what maintenance crews could support, so that the squadron could continue to operate successfully with its forward echelon at Guadalcanal and its immediate maintenance support at Santo, while major overhauls were carried out in New Zealand.