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No.18 Fighter Squadron, RNZAF, took part in the invasions of the Treasury Islands and Bougainville in 1943, and spent much of 1944 and 1945 supporting the American and Australian campaigns on that island. It also spent some time on Green Island, taking part in the long campaign against Rabaul.
No.18 Squadron was formed in June 1943 and was based at Fairhall, a satellite station for Woodburne. Woodburne has a fighter operations room and a filter room that had been set up in case the Japanese threatened the Cook Strait area, and while it was training No.18 Squadron also provided fighter cover for the area.
On 17 September 1943 the squadron took over the fighter defence of Espiritu Santo.
On 24 October No.15 and No.18 Squadron both moved to the new New Zealand base at Ondonga, on the western coast of New Georgia. The Japanese greeted them with a bombing raid on 27 October, a reminder that the Japanese airfields on Bougainville were only 120 miles away. The two squadrons operated together as the RNZAF Fighter Wing. The two squadrons provided fighter escort for the American bombers attacking the Japanese bases on Bougainville throughout October.
On 27 October 1943 American and New Zealand troops invaded the Treasury Islands (Operation Goodtime). Nos.15 and 18 Squadrons provided fighter cover for this operation. Ten patrols were flown on 27 October, with No.18 providing six (including the first). Both squadrons were involved in a clash with Japanese dive bombers and fighters that attacked the landing during the afternoon and claimed four Japanese fighters.
On 30 October both squadrons provided part of the fighter escort for an American strike on Choiseul Island, carried out as part of Operation Blissful, a diversionary raid that was hoped to draw Japanese attention to the wrong part of Bougainville.
On 1 November the Americans landed at Empress Augusta Bay on the west coast of Bougainville (Operation Cherryblossom). At the same time a naval force bombarded the Japanese bases in the north of Bougainville. Nos.15 and 18 Squadrons provided part of the fighter escort for that raid, but saw no enemy aircraft.
During the landings the Americans provided a fighter cap of thirty-two aircraft over Empress Augusta Bay all day on 1 November. No.18 Squadron provided eight aircraft for the gap early in the day. The New Zealanders intercepted a Japanese formation that was flying across Bougainville (but probably not aware of the invasion), and short down seven aircraft for the loss of one of their own (the pilot survived).
On the night after the invasion the Japanese navy attempted to intervene but was fought off (Battle of Empress Augusta Bay, 1-2 November 1943). On the next day the Allies attempted to find the retreating Japanese ships and both RNZAF squadrons provided fighter escorts for the search aircraft.
In November the RNZAF Fighter Wing flew over 1,000 sorties. Amongst them were a large number of dawn patrols over their base and longer range missions to Empress Augusta Bay. They were also used to provide fighter escorts for American bombers and on ground attack missions.
By the end of November both No.15 and No.18 Squadrons had been relieved, by No.14 and No.16 Squadrons respectively.
No.18 Squadron was based on Bougainville several times during 1944. The first spell was in January-March 1944 during the last part of the American campaign on the island. The squadron replaced No.22 January and took part in the constant attacks on Rabaul. On 13 February 1944 pilots from the squadron took part in the RNZAF's last victory over a Japanese fighter when two Zeroes were shot down over Vunakanau. Soon after this the last Japanese fighters were withdrawn from the areas the RNZAF operated in.
On 7 March the squadron took part in the first RNZAF fighter-bomber raid on Rabaul, sending eight aircraft.
The second spell was in June-July 1944. Although there were no major combat operations on the ground in this period the squadron did fly fighter-bomber sweeps against Japanese positions on Bougainville and towards Rabaul and provided for some of the air defences of the Empress Augusta Bay area.
In mid-February Nos.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. The squadron was relieved by No19 Squadron just before the start of the Japanese offensive of March 1944.
By the summer of 1944 the RNZAF had set three months as the length of an operational tour in the Tropics. No.18 Squadron returned to the area for a new tour in August 1944, and was meant to move forward to the new bases in the western Solomons and Bismarck Islands. This move was delayed by problems at the new bases and so the squadron spent three months waiting on Espiritu Santo and Guadalcanal.
In order to give the squadron some operational experience it was decided to post it to Green Island, between Bougainville and Rabaul, for a three week spell. The squadron began operations on 22 November and at first had four main duties - to provide four aircraft ready to scramble at any time, to fly dawn and dusk patrols in the local area, to escort 'Dumbo' air-sea rescue aircraft that were flying in support of American operations over Rabaul and to escort transport aircraft flying between Green Island and Emirau to the west. This last duty was introduced after Japanese aircraft reappeared in the area after a long gap, but was cancelled on 8 December after the Japanese threat had been defeated.
On 1 December No.18 Squadron gained a new duty when one of the two American fighter squadrons left of Green Island was moved to Leyte. The Americans had been maintaining a standing patrol over Rabaul, and No.18 Squadron now joined the remaining American squadron on those patrols. On 8 December the second American squadron also stopped operations and for three days No.18 Squadron was the only Allied fighter squadron operating over Rabaul. By this point in the war there were very few Japanese aircraft in the area, and No.18 Squadron's only encounter with a Zero came on its last operation on 10 December. Despite several attempts to catch it this aircraft escaped.
No.18 Squadron's tour ended on 10 December, and on 11 December it was replaced on Green Island by No.14 Squadron, RNZAF.
In February 1945 No.18 Squadron relieved No.21 Squadron, RNZAF, on Bougainville. The squadron was now involved in the Australian offensive on the island. It still had to provide dawn and dusk patrols to guard against any Japanese aircraft, but was also involved in ground attack missions, hitting tactical targets close to the Australian lines, troop concentrations and guns behind the lines and the main Japanese bases. During this period the two squadrons flew an average of 30 sorties per day.
On 3 March two aircraft from the squadron made a rare sighting of a Japanese medium tank, near Ruri Bay in northern Bougainville. After strafing the tanks one aircraft returned to base while the other remained over the area. By 12.30 two aircraft armed with 1,000lb bombs were back and their attack revealed a third tank. A third attack was made that afternoon and all three tanks were either badly damaged or destroyed. The two damaged tanks managed to move under cover, but one was found on 4 March and finally destroyed by nine aircraft from No.18 Squadron on 5 March. On 6 March Nos.18 and 20 Squadrons attacked a tank depot and supply dump in the same area, destroying two tanks.
In April 1945 Nos.18 and 20 Squadrons were both relieved and were replaced by Nos.14, 16, 22 and 26 Squadrons.
In June 1945 the squadron returned to Bougainville as part of a mass relief of all four RNZAF fighter squadrons based on the island (replacing No.26 Squadron, RNZAF). It was still on Bougainville when the Japanese surrendered.
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. The number of sorties being flown had increased since the squadron's last tour on Bougainville and the average was now over sixty sorties per day, with peaks of over one hundred.
The squadron remained on Bougainville until October, when it returned to New Zealand and was disbanded.
1943-44: Curtiss Kittyhawk
1944-45: Chance Vought F4U Corsair
June-September 1943: New Zealand
September-October 1943: Santo
October-November 1943: Ondonga, New Georgia
January 1944: Santo
January-March 1944: Bougainville
May-June 1944: Guadalcanal
June-July 1944: Bougainville
August-September 1944: Santo
September-November 1944: Guadalcanal
22 November-10 December 1944: Green Island
January-February 1945: Guadalcanal
February-April 1945: Bougainville
June-October 1945: Bougainville