RNZAF ( ROYAL NEW ZEALAND AIR FORCE ) (*)
In 1942, the threat of attack seemed real, the city of Darwin was bombed, New Guinea invaded and Japanese reconnaissance aircraft overflew Auckland and Wellington. The New Zealand Government hurriedly formed 488's battle experienced pilots into the RNZAF's first fighter unit. No. 14 Squadron formed under Squadron Leader J.N. MacKenzie at Masterton on 25 April 1942, equipped with North American Harvards until P-40 Kittyhawks could be obtained.
The allied plan was for the Americans to defeat the Japanese by island hopping north across the Pacific. This plan involved bypassing major Japanese bases, which would continue to operate in the allied rear. The RNZAF was given the job of operating against these bypassed Japanese units.
As the British Government were unable to supply the aircraft needed and requested by New Zealand in 1942, negotiations between the United States and New Zealand Governments took place, and a Mutual Aid Agreement (Lease/Lend) was signed.
The RNZAF then began to receive supplies of Corsairs.
The American government decided to give New Zealand early access to the Corsair in 1944, especially as it was not initially being used from carriers. 424 Corsairs equipped 13 RNZAF squadrons (numbers 14 – 26) with F4U-1A’s and F4U-1D’s during the WW2., including 14 Squadron RNZAF and 15 Squadron RNZAF. In November 1943, 14 Squadron moved for the first time to New Georgia, followed by Bougainville in February 1944, Green Island in December, and Emirau in July 1945.
The organization of the RNZAF in the Pacific and New Zealand decided that only the pilots and a small staff belonged to these Squadron with a maximum strength of 27 pilots in each squadron.
The first deliveries of lend-lease Corsairs began in March 1944 with the arrival of 30 F4U-1’s at the RNZAF Base Depot Workshops from Unit 60 at Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides. The first squadrons to use the Corsair were 20 and 21 Squadrons on Espiritu Santo island, operational in May 1944. By late 1944, the F4U had equipped all 10 Pacific-based fighter squadrons of the RNZAF.
These workshops became responsible for assembling all Corsairs for the RNZAF units operating the aircraft in the South West Pacific and a test flight was set up to test the aircraft after assembly.
So the most of the F4U’s were assembled by Unit 60 and flown at RNZAF Hobsonville.
It was soon realized by the RNZAF Command in New Zealand that they wouldn’t have the manpower to support each operational squadron as a self-contained unit, so a system of Servicing Units (S.U.) was put into place. So squadrons were assigned to several Servicing Units which carried out aircraft maintenance and operated from fixed locations.
All aircraft were owned and serviced by these units, and issued to the squadrons as necessary. It was therefore rare for any one pilot to have an individual aircraft exclusively, so nose art was very rare on later RNZAF fighter aircraft. The Servicing Units added any individual markings required for tactical purposes. This system was continued until the end of 1945.
In all there were 10 front line Servicing Units plus another three based in New Zealand. Because each of the Servicing Units painted its aircraft with distinctive markings and the aircraft themselves could be repaintedd in several different color schemes.
The New Zealanders were operating under the overall command of the U.S. They were always used in a support role to large numbers of USAAF and US NAVY/Marine Corps aircraft. By the time the P-40’s were phased out and replaced by the F4U-1A and F4U-1D Corsairs, most of the Japanese air strength had been decimated in New Zealand's allocated sectors of the Southern Pacific, and despite the RNZAF Squadrons extending their operations to more northern islands, they were primarily used for close support of American, Australian and New Zealand soldiers fighting the Japanese and so used in a ground attack role against Japanese ground installations, shipping and food growing areas. The RNZAF Corsairs never scored any confirmed kills of enemy planes.
In total there were 237 F4U-1’s and 127 F4U-1D’s used by the RNZAF during the Second World War.
By the cessation of hostilities on 15th August, 1945, the RNZAF squadrons were fully committed in the Northern Solomons area, and were at this time under RNZAF control as the main front had shifted to Borneo and the Philippines areas. At the end of 1945, all Corsair squadrons but one (14 Squadron) were disbanded. That last squadron was based in Japan, until the Corsair was retired from service in 1947. 14 Squadron was given new FG-1D's (60 FG-1D’s which arrived post war were given serial numbers prefixed NZ5600 to NZ5660) and in March 1946 transferred to Iwakuni in Japan as part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force.
Two airworthy corsairs of the 424 aircraft procured survives:
- NZ5648/ZK-COR, owned by the Old Stick and Rudder Company at Masterton,
- NZ5612/N43FG owned by Barry Avent in South Carolina, USA.
History of the 20 Squadron (fighter) RNZAF
20 Fighter Squadron, RNZAF, spent two spells on Bougainville, where it supported the fighting on the ground and took part in the campaign against Rabaul. It also took part in the campaign against Rabaul during a short spell on Green Island during 1944 and a longer spell based on New New Britain in 1945.
20 Squadron was originally formed as an Army Co-operation Squadron. It was based at Onerahl, near Whangarei, from August 1942 until July 1943.
The changing role of the RNZAF meant that this version of the squadron was disbanded, and in January 1944 a new No.20 Fighter Squadron was formed ar Ardmore. It trained with a mix of Harvards and P-40s before moving to Espiritu Santo in April. On Santo the squadron converted to the F4U Corsair. It then moved forward to Guadalcanal where it provided fighter cover for the island.
The squadron spent May-June 1944 on Bougainville, during a quiet time on the ground. It provided part of the air defence of the main Allied base at Empress Augusta Bay and flew offensive sweeps over the Japanese occupied areas of Bougainville and Rabaul. When the squadron arrived on Bougainville on 14 May it was the first RNZAF unit to operate the F4U Corsair in combat. There were some inevitable teething problems, especially with the bomb racks which needed some modification, but the Corsair was a major improvement on the P-40.
20 Squadron moved back to the forward zone on 26 October 1944 when it moved to Green Island, between Rabaul and Bougainville. This was part of a general move of New Zealand squadrons onto American bases in the Bismarck Islands and saw No.20 Squadron take over from two American Corsair squadrons. 20 Squadron had three tasks for most of its short tour on Green Island - to fly patrols over the local area, to escort 'Dumbo' air-sea rescue aircraft during their missions and to maintain a number of fighters at full readiness in case of a surprise Japanese raid. From about 12 November the squadron also flew a series of ground attack sweeps over New Ireland.
In January 1945 20 Squadron relieved 24 Squadron, RNZAF, on Bougainville. It remained on that island until April 1945 when both it and 18 Squadron were relieved by 14, 16, 22 and 26 Squadrons, RNZAF.
During this time on Bougainville 20 Squadron had to provide dawn and dusk patrols to guard against any Japanese attacks and also perform any air strikes requested by the 2nd Australian Corps. Between them 18 and 20 Squadrons averaged around 30 sorties per day in during January-April 1945.
One of the squadron's tasks was to clear an area of swamp and jungle in front of the Australian lines at Mawaraka, during their advance to the Puriata River. For this mission the Corsairs used a mix of 1,000lb and 500lb bombs, depth-charges and strafing attacks.
On 6 March Nos.18 and 20 Squadrons carried out an attack on a suspected tank depot in northern Bougainville, destroying two Japanese tanks.
In May 1945 No.20 Squadron briefly moved to Green Island while it waited for a new base at Jacquinot Bay on New Britain to be completed. By the end of May the new base was ready and the squadron had moved over to New Britain. The aircraft were flown over on 20 May but the crews couldn't follow until 29 May because the living accommodation wasn't ready. Regular operations began on the same day. From then until mid-July the squadron flew up to five daily patrols over the Rabaul area, strafing and bombing suitable targets. From mid-July until 12 August the squadron focused on bombing raids using larger formations. The squadron ceased operations on 12 August and was relieved by 16 Squadron. It was disbanded in September.
History of the 14 Squadron (fighter) RNZAF
14 Fighter Squadron, RNZAF, took part in the fighting in the South Pacific, serving on Guadalcanal, during the invasions of New Georgia and Bougainville and the long campaigns to neutralise Rabaul and Kavieng , 14 Fighter Squadron was formed at the Fighter OTU at Ohakea in April 1942. It was built around the surviving personnel of No.488 Squadron, who had escaped from the fall of Singapore and Java and returned to New Zealand in March.
By the end of April the squadron had moved to Masterton. At first a shortage of aircraft meant that it had twelve Curtiss Kittyhawk fighters and six Harvard trainers.
In April 1943,14 Squadron moved to Espiritu Santo, where it took over responsibility for the air defense of the island. The squadron was frequently ordered into the air to intercept unidentified aircraft, but didn't make contact with the Japanese. Only one Japanese aircraft was firmly identified during this period - a bomber that attacked Segond Channel in late May but escaped intact.
For the remainder of the war, 14 Squadron rotated between forward and rear bases in the Pacific and 6-week periods of home leave in New Zealand.
On 11 June 1943, 14 Squadron moved to the forward base of Kukum Field on Guadalcanal.
On its first contact with the enemy (it arrived just before a major Japanese raid) on 12 June 1943, the squadron scrambled eight aircraft during this raid and six Japanese aircraft were destroyed. 14 Squadron claimed more than its share of the total, and one of its pilots, Geoff Fisken, became the top scoring Commonwealth ace in the Pacific. The squadron deployed to different bases in the South Pacific as demanded.Flying Officer Morpeth of 14 Squadron was killed during this raid.
The squadron also took part in the battle against a third major Japanese raid in June, on 16 June. This time it was given the task of patrolling over the shipping area north of Guadalcanal. The squadron joined a dogfight over Savo Island and claimed five Japanese fighters at no loss to themselves.
On 30 June 1943 the Americans landed on Rendova Island, New Georgia. No.14 Squadron played a part in the fighter defense of Rendova, flying its first patrol on the day of the invasion. The squadron had a bad first day - it didn't encounter any Japanese aircraft and lost one pilot and two aircraft in a crash on the runway. The squadron did better on 1 July claiming seven victories and three probables. Two aircraft and one pilot were lost.
On 3 July eight of the squadron's P-40s were jumped at 14,000 by forty Japanese aircraft. The squadron claimed five victories. One pilot was injured and had to crash land on the Russell Islands, and other aircraft were damaged.
The squadron also provided escorts for American bombers during this period, including for two attacks on 15 July and an attack on Japanese shipping at Kahili on 17 July.
On 25 July No.14 Squadron was relieved by 16 Squadron and moved back to Espiritu Santo. After a few days there they were replaced by 17 Squadron and returned to New Zealand after a tour in which they had claimed 22 Japanese aircraft at a coast of four aircraft and three pilots.
In November 1943, 14 Squadron replaced 15 Squadron in the RNZAF Fighter Wing, based at Ondonga and moved for the first time to New Georgia, followed by Bougainville in February 1944, Green Island in December, and Emirau in July 1945. In 1944 14 Squadron became re-equipped with Vought F4U Corsairs,
On 11 December the RNZAF carried out its first fighter-bomber mission. This only involved three aircraft from the RNZAF Wing, each with two 100lb bombs and was an attack on a Japanese position at Kieta on Bougainville. A second fighter-bomber mission on 14 December resulted in the destruction of a bridge in the south-west of Bougainville. Over the next two years the RNZAF would carry out an increasingly large number of fighter-bomber missions.
In the second half of December 15 Squadron replaced No.14 Squadron.
In mid-February 14 and 18 Squadrons supported the Allied invasion of Green Island (between Bougainville and Rabaul). On 15 February, the first day of the landings, each squadron flew twenty sorties but they arrived too late to take part in the only air combat of the day. After the initial invasion the New Zealand Wing flew patrols over Green Island on every other day until 7 March when the Americans had completed an airfield and moved fighter squadrons onto the island.
In March 1944 the Japanese launched a major counterattack on the American beachhead on Bougainville. No.14 Squadron took part in the defensive battle that followed. On 22 March it attacked a Japanese troop concentration near the front line, and along with Nos.18 and 19 Squadron took part in a series of attacks on the Japanese.
On 7 March the squadron took part in the first RNZAF fighter-bomber raid on Rabaul, sending eight aircraft. After this the RNZAF's fighters operated as fighter-bombers on just about every mission.
14 Squadron was based on Bougainville from June-August 1944. During this period it provided air cover for the Allied base at Empress Augusta Bay and carried out fighter-bomber sweeps across the Japanese occupied parts of Bougainville and the Rabaul area.
On 11 December 1944 No.14 Squadron replaced 18 Squadron, RNZAF, as the sole Allied fighter squadron based on Green Island, between Bougainville and Rabaul. It had several tasks - to fly dawn and dusk patrols, to have aircraft ready to scramble to respond to a Japanese raid, to provide escorts for 'Dumbo' air sea rescue aircraft and to maintain a standing patrol over the isolated Japanese base at Rabaul.
Although Japanese resistance was limited these operations could sometimes be costly.
On 15 January 14 and 16 Squadrons made an attack on Toboi, just to the south-west of Rabaul. Afte the attack Fl. LT Keefe of 14 Squadron had to bail out. He landed safely in Simpson Harbour and was seen to swim out of the harbour. Aircraft from the two squadrons provided air cover all day, but an attempt to land a Catalina was foiled by Japanese anti-aircraft fire. As their fuel began to run short the Corsairs were forced to return home. On their way they ran into a tropical storm. Five aircraft crashed into the sea, a sixth crashed on Green Island and a seventh disappeared. None of the missing aircraft or their crews could be found. Keefe himself was captured by Japanese but died as a POW.
For ten days 14 Squadron had to carry out all of these operations by itself, but on 21 December 16 Squadron, RNZAF, joined it on the island and the two squadrons shared the duties until No.14 Squadron's tour ended in January 1945. The squadron was then replaced by 17 Squadron.
In April 1945 the squadron was one of four RNZAF squadrons that moved to Bougainville, when the number of fighter squadrons was doubled from two to four.
The squadrons arrived just as the chain of command on Bougainville was improved. Before April all requests for air support went from the 2nd Australian Corps to the Commander, Air, North Solomons, who then issued orders to the RNZAF. From April a direct link was established between the Australians and the RNZAF.
All four squadrons had to provide dawn and dusk patrols to guard against any possible Japanese air attacks. They were also used for ground attack missions, attacking tactical targets close to the Australian lines, troop concentrations behind the lines and targets around the main Japanese bases. In April the four squadrons flew an average of 50/60 sorties per day.
On 26 April forty-one aircraft from 14, 22 and 26 Squadrons carried out an attack on a Japanese position on a road in the Hiru Hiru area. This involved a series of attacks along a 700 yard stretch of road and the jungle 25 yards to either side of the road. The squadrons attacked in turn, each taking a different section of the road. The attack was a total success and the Australians were able to advance past the former Japanese roadblock with ease.
In May andJune 1945, 14 was relieved by 15 Squadron, RNZAF, as part of a wider move in which all four fighter squadrons were replaced.
In July 1945, 14 Squadron replaced 25 Squadron on Emirau, to the north-west of New Ireland. The squadron's main role was to keep a constant daylight patrol over the Japanese base at Kavieng and carry out occasional bombing raids.
On 7 August the squadron ceased operations on Emirau and on the following day it flew to Los Negros, the most westerly RNZAF base of the Pacific War. This was meant to be an interim base before the squadron moved on to Borneo. 14's servicing unit was delayed and it never became operational on Los Negros. Instead 17 Squadron had to remain in place until the end of the war.
After the end of the war 14 Squadron was retained as part of the RNZAF. From 1946 to 1948 it formed part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in Japan, and it later moved to Cyprus.