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Royal New Zealand Air Force

operations by rnzaf fighter wing, april-june 1944

operations by rnzaf fighter wing, april-june 1944

The New Zealand Fighter Wing continued to operate from Torokina, squadrons relieving one another at six-weekly intervals. The P40s made daily flights to Rabaul whenever the weather permitted, staging through Green Island and carrying on to bomb airfields and supply areas. They also ranged over Bougainville in sections of four, strafing and bombing buildings, communications, supplies, and troop concentrations wherever they could be found.

Bougainville was divided into several areas, and squadrons stationed at Torokina were each allotted one. Thereafter, it was the job of each squadron commander to devise the means of causing the maximum annoyance to the Japanese in his particular zone. Generally, low-level bombing attacks were made with 500- pound general purpose bombs, followed by strafing runs. Alternatively, 500-pound incendiary clusters were used, but they were not entirely satisfactory against small targets. A better incendiary bomb was devised, consisting of a belly tank filled with oil and petrol and fitted with an incendiary fuse. It proved particularly effective while the supply of belly tanks lasted.

A typical day of fighter-bomber operations is described in the operational record of No. 19 Squadron on 14 April. Two sections page 252 of four aircraft each were alternately on scramble alert at Torokina from six in the morning till seven in the evening. Two aircraft were scrambled in the afternoon to patrol to Green Island and back and returned without having sighted anything. Apart from that they had an uneventful day.

Three sections were briefed in the early morning by the Squadron Intelligence Officer for an attack on an ammunition dump south of Rataval, near Rabaul, which was to be bombed with 500-pound incendiaries. They took off at twenty past six and landed at Green Island an hour later. While the aircraft were being refuelled, the pilots were further briefed on their operation by the local Intelligence Officer and had morning tea.

They took off again at ten o'clock and set course for Rabaul. On the way two aircraft developed engine trouble, and their section leader decided to return with all his four aircraft to Green Island. The other two sections carried on, approaching Rabaul over New Ireland and Duke of York Island. When they reached the target area they found their primary objective completely weathered out by low cloud and heavy rain, so they attacked their alternative target, the supply area at Vunapope on the south shore of Blanche Bay. They flew south across the entrance to Rabaul Harbour and then turned left and dived over their target, coming down from 16,000 feet to 5000 feet through an intense curtain of anti-aircraft fire to release their bombs, and continued the dive out over the sea to rally east of Cape Gazelle. As they left to return to base they saw their incendiaries beginning to take hold at scattered points all over the target and some good fires already blazing. All the aircraft returned direct to Torokina and landed there in time for lunch. The total operational flying time for the day was forty-two hours.

On the same morning twelve aircraft of No. 16 Squadron flew on a similar mission. They reached Rabaul an hour after No. 19, by which time the weather had cleared over Rataval, and dropped all their bombs in the target area. In the afternoon twelve aircraft took off again and bombed and strafed Japanese-occupied huts on the north-east coast of Bougainville. They demolished two of the huts by bombing and set another on fire by strafing. The squadron's flying time for the day was fifty hours.