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Royal New Zealand Air Force

espiritu santo

espiritu santo

Since the Americans had first landed on Santo in 1942, the south-eastern part of the island had been transformed into a vast camp, or rather a series of camps, connected by wide, well-graded roads cut through the jungle and the coconut plantations, complete with airstrips, docks, warehouses, hospitals and cinemas. The island was by now well removed from danger of any attack, but daily patrols were flown to watch for any hostile aircraft or shipping which might venture near.

Although the RNZAF had moved its administrative headquarters, No. 1 (islands) Group, north to Guadalcanal, its establishments on Santo remained an important part in its Pacific organisation. The RNZAF Base Depot handled all airborne traffic between New Zealand and the forward area, and served as a staging post and clearing centre for all personnel in transit. The Base Depot Workshops, established in 1943 to overhaul and repair aircraft, had since April 1944 been responsible for assembling all the Corsair aircraft with page 277 which the New Zealand squadrons going to the forward area were now equipped. A Test and Despatch Flight had also been formed, under the command of Flight Lieutenant D. A. Greig, to test and fly aircraft as they were assembled and to convert the pilots of fighter squadrons arriving from New Zealand to Corsairs. The latter activity lasted until the end of July, when there were enough Corsairs available to send eighteen to New Zealand. Thereafter, pilots were converted before going overseas.

In September the output of Corsairs, which at the peak period had averaged two a day, was reduced to two a week, and sixty-two men of the Assembly Unit were posted to Halavo Bay to learn about servicing Catalinas. They were destined to form the nucleus of a flying-boat servicing unit at Segond Channel when No. 5 Squadron arrived in November from Lauthala Bay.

The assembly of Corsairs at Santo ceased in December 1944, after which Base Depot Workshops was disbanded and a Corsair Assembly Unit officially formed and sent to Los Negros to carry on its work there.

The RNZAF maintained a bomber-reconnaissance squadron at Santo until July, the last to be stationed there being No. 3. Except for one reported sighting of a submerged submarine, all operations were uneventful. They consisted of anti-submarine patrols and escorts for shipping in New Hebrides waters. Besides these, as much time as possible was spent in training for bombing and strafing operations.

Fighter squadrons continued to stage at Santo throughout the year, and while they were available for operations if necessary, their main occupation was training.

No. 5 (Flying Boat) Squadron started operations from Segond Channel on 11 November. It had formed at Lauthala Bay in July, and since then had been employed on travel flights to Tonga, Samoa, and the Gilbert and Ellice Islands. At Segond its chief work was anti-submarine patrols and shipping escorts.