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No.17 Fighter Squadron, RNZAF, took part in the fighting around Guadalcanal in 1943, supported the invasion of Vella Lavella, the campaigns on Bougainville and the long campaign to neutralise Rabaul. It ended the war providing fighter cover on Los Negros, the most westerly Pacific base to be used by the RNZAF.
No.17 Squadron was formed in October 1942 and spent the first part of its existence training in New Zealand. On 29 July No.17 Squadron reached Espiritu Santo where it relieved No.14 Squadron (recently returned from Guadalcanal and the fighting over New Georgia). This allowed No.14 Squadron to return to New Zealand while No.17 Squadron took over the air defences of Espiritu Santo.
On 11-15 September No.17 Squadron moved forward to Guadalcanal and relieved No.16 Squadron. No.17 Squadron remained in the combat zone until 20 October when it returned to New Zealand.
On 14-16 September the Americans carried out a series of heavy raids on the Japanese positions at Kahili and Ballale, in the southern Bougainville area. Nos.15 and 17 Squadrons provided part of the escort, although the only clash with the Japanese came on 16 September when two pilots from No.17 Squadron were nearly shot down.
The two squadrons then provided fighter cover over Allied convoys that were moving troops from Guadalcanal to Vella Lavella.
During the second half of December No.17 Squadron replaced No.14 Squadron in the RNZAF Fighter Wing, based at Ondonga on the western coast of New Georgia.
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.
On 28 December a detached flight from No.17 Squadron moved onto the new airfield at Torokina on Bougainville.
The squadron had three spells on Bougainville during 1944 - first in January, second in April-June and finally in September-November. These three tours brought the squadron into regular contact with the Japanese. It provided some of the air cover over Empress Augusta Bay, but also flew fighter-bomber sweeps across the Japanese occupied parts of Bougainville and out towards Rabaul, attacking any suitable targets it found.
The first spell began on 17 January when the RNZAF wing moved to Torokina. Their new base was completed by 23 January. The move was very welcome as it cut three hours flying off most operations, but No.17 Squadron didn't stay to enjoy it and was withdrawn to New Zealand for a rest at the end of January. It was replaced by No.18 Squadron.
During the second and third spells the squadron had several roles, including providing regular air patrols around Bougainville, supporting the limited fighting on the ground and supporting the long campaign against Rabaul.
In January 1945 No.17 Squadron relieved No.14 Squadron at Green Island, between Bougainville and Rabaul. The squadron had several tasks on Green Island - 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.
The squadron was relieved by No.24 Squadron in March 1945.
In May 1945 No.17 Squadron replaced No.19 Squadron on Los Negros, the most westerly base to be used by the RNZAF. It had two main tasks - to fly dawn and dusk patrols in the surrounding area and to intercept any unidentified aircraft that appeared on radar. Most proved to be friendly but a few aircraft evaded the incoming fighters and were probably Japanese.
No.14 Squadron was meant to have relieved No.17 Squadron in August, but its servicing unit was delayed and the war ended before the swap could be made. No.17 Squadron thus remained on Los Negros until September when it was disbanded.
1942-1944: Curtiss Kittyhawk
1944-1945: Chance Vought F4U Corsair
October 1942-July 1943: New Zealand
July-September 1943: Espiritu Santo
September-October 1943: Guadalcanal
December 1943: Espiritu Santo
December 1943-January 1944: Ondonga, New Georgia
28 December 1943-mid January 1944: Detachment at Torokina, Bougainville
January 1944: Torokina, Bougainville
April 1944: Guadalcanal
April-June 1944: Bougainville
June 1944-: New Zealand
August 1944: Espiritu Santo
August-September 1944: Guadalcanal
September-November 1944: Bougainville
January 1945: Espiritu Santo
January-March 1945: Green Island
May-September 1945: Los Negros