No. 20 Fighter Squadron (RNZAF): Second World War

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No.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.

No.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 them 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.

No.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. No.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 No.20 Squadron relieved No.24 Squadron, RNZAF, on Bougainville. It remained on that island until April 1945 when both it and No.18 Squadron were relieved by Nos.14, 16, 22 and 26 Squadrons, RNZAF.

During this time on Bougainville No.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 Nos.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 No.16 Squadron. It was disbanded in September 1945

1944: Curtiss Kittyhawk
1944-45: Chance Vought F4U Corsair


August 1942-July 1943: Onerahl, near Whangarei, New Zealand

April-May 1944: Guadalcanal
May-June 1944: Bougainville
August-September 1944: Espiritu Santo
September-October 1944: Guadalcanal
26 October-19 November 1944: Green Island

January 1945: Espiritu Santo
January-April 1945: Bougainville
May-August 1945: Jacquinot Bay



How to cite this article: Rickard, J (18 July 2013), No. 20 Fighter Squadron (RNZAF): Second World War,

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