No. 16 Fighter Squadron (RNZAF): Second World War

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No.16 Fighter Squadron, RNZAF, took part in the invasion of New Georgia, the American and Australian campaigns on Bougainville and the long campaign to neutralise Rabaul.

No.16 Squadron was formed in June 1942. The squadron moved to its first permanent base at Fairhall, a satellite field for Woodbourne near Blenheim on the South Island in August 1942, from where it was to provide fighter cover for shipping in the Wellington area.


In June 1943 the squadron moved to Espiritu Santo and began operations. It flew a mix of anti-submarine patrols and interception missions, investigating unidentified aircraft in the area.

On 17 July the first ten pilots were flow to Guadalcanal and on 18 July they began operations. On 25 July No.16 Squadron relieved No.14 Squadron on Guadalcanal and entered the fight for New Georgia (Operation Toenails).

No.14 Squadron had been involved in some intense fighting in early July after the American invasion of New Georgia. No.16 Squadron flew a similar mix of fighter cover and escort duties over New Georgia and Bougainville but saw less of the Japanese.

The squadron's first major clash with the Japanese came on 31 July when eight aircraft were escorting a force of American SBDs and TBFs to Munda. A large Japanese force was detected after the American raid and No.16 Squadron was ordered to intercept. The flight lost its formation as it attempted to gain height and was attacked by around thirty Zeros. Two aircraft were shot down and one of the pilots was lost.

In August the squadron's main role was to provide bomber escorts and search for enemy shipping. On 25 August they even managed to destroy a Japanese landing barge on Choiseul Island and on 26 August set a small steamship on fire.

On 3 September the squadron was escorting a force of B-24s returning an attack on Kahili on Bougainville. Fl Lt Vanderpump and Fl Sergeant Miller spotted a damaged B-24 that was under attack and drove off eight-ten Zeros. The B-24 returned safely and both pilots were awarded the American DFC, the first time this was awarded to members of the RNZAF.

The squadron was relieved on 11-15 September by No.17 Squadron after a tour in which if had flow 2,100 operational hours.

In late November No.16 Squadron replaced No.18 Squadron in the RNZAF Fighter Wing, based at Ondonga on the west coast of New Georgia.

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.

On 17 December the Allies carried out their first large raid on Rabaul from Bougainville. Most of the aircraft involved were based on New Georgia, and staged through the new airfield at Torokina, Cape Augusta Bay. The RNZAF Fighter Wing provided twenty-four aircraft of the eighty that took part in this first attack. The New Zealanders claimed five Japanese fighters but lost two pilots, including the Wing Commander, T. O. Freeman.

The wing returned to Rabaul on 24 December when twelve Japanese aircraft were claimed for the loss of five pilots.


In March-May 1944 the squadron formed part of the RNZAF Fighter Wing on Bougainville and carried out a series of attacks on Japanese targets on Bougainville and around Rabaul.

In August and September 1944 the squadron was based on Bougainville, where it provided part of the air defence of Empress Augusta Bay and flew fighter-bomber sweeps across the Japanese occupied part of the island as well as out towards Rabaul.

On 21 December 1944 No.16 Squadron joined No.14 Squadron on Green Island, between Bougainville and Green Island. The two squadrons had several tasks - to provide a standing patrol over Rabaul, to escort 'Dumbo' air-sea rescue aircraft, to fly dawn and dusk patrols over the local area, to maintain four aircraft ready to scramble to intercept any Japanese raids and to fly offensive sweeps across the Japanese occupied areas of New Britain and New Ireland.

The two squadrons shared this role until January 1945, when No.14's tour in the Tropics ended. No.16 Squadron remained on Green Island until it was relieved by No.15 Squadron in February 1945 and returned to New Zealand.


Although Japanese resistance was limited these operations could sometimes be costly. On 15 January Nos.14 and 16 Squadrons made an attack on Toboi, just to the south-west of Rabaul. After the attack Fl. LT Keefe of No.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.

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.

In June 1945 No.16 was relieved by No.23 Squadron, RNZAF, as part of a wider move in which all four fighter squadrons were replaced.

In mid-August 1945 No.16 Squadron relieved No.20 Squadron at Jacquinot Bay on New Britain. The squadron arrived just in time to learn of the end of the war. It was used to fly security patrols over the Gazelle Peninsula (including Rabaul).

The squadron returned to New Zealand and was disbanded October 1945

1942-1944: Curtiss Kittyhawk
1944-1945: Chance Vought F4U Corsair

June 1942-August 1942: OhakeaNew Zealand
August 1942-June 1943: Fairhall, satellite to Woodbourne, nr Blenheim New Zealand
June-July 1943: Espiritu Santo
July-September 1943: Guadalcanal
September-October 1943: New Zealand
November 1943-January 1944: New Georgia

March 1944: Guadalcanal
March-May 1944: Bougainville

July-August 1944: Guadalcanal
August-September 1944: Bougainville

November-December 1944: Guadalcanal
December 1944-February 1945: Green ISland
February 1945-: New Zealand

April 1945: Santo
April-June 1945: Bougainville

August-October 1945: Jacquinot Bay



How to cite this article: Rickard, J (14 June 2013), No. 16 Fighter Squadron (RNZAF): Second World War ,

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