No.3 Bomber Reconnaissance Squadron (RNZAF): Second World War

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No.3 Bomber Reconnaissance Squadron, RNZAF, was one of the longest serving New Zealand squadrons of the Pacific War. It fought on Guadalcanal late in 1942, flew regular patrols in support of the fighting on New Georgia during 1943, took part in the Bougainville campaign during 1944 and the long campaign to isolate Rabaul in late 1944 and 1945.


No.3 Squadron was formed at Harewood in April 1941 as part of New Zealand's response to the threat of Japanese aggression. It was equipped with the Baffin and given the task of defending the approaches to Lyttelton, Dunedin and the Foveaux Strait.

In May 1941 a detachment was sent to Taleri, and given the task of patrolling the south-west and south coasts of the South Island.

In 1941 the New Zealand General Reconnaissance Squadron was renamed as No.1 General Reconnaissance Squadron. Half of the squadron's Blackburn Baffins were posted to Harewood, where they were used by the newly formed No.3 General Reconnaissance Squadron. The new squadron was responsible for patrolling the approaches to South Island. It operated the Baffin for a short period but the aircraft was withdrawn from front line service during 1941. 


By 20 February 1942 the squadron was equipped with 10 Vickers Vincents with five more in reserve.

In the summer of 1942 No.3 Squadron was equipped with the Lockheed Hudson (the first few aircraft having arrived late in 1941). In October the entire squadron moved to Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides, after the Americans requested that New Zealand provide a second bomber-reconnaissance squadron for the combat zone (alongside No.9 Squadron, already on New Caledonia). The squadron became operational on 16 October. It had two tasks on Espiritu Santo - to fly anti-submarine patrols over an area within 20 miles of the island and to fly regular long range patrols up to a distance of 400 miles. The routine was interrupted by a report of a Japanese landing on nearby islands in November and the squadron was ordered to investigate but nothing was found.

The squadron entered combat in late November 1942 when a detachment of six aircraft moved to Guadalcanal, where the Japanese were still holding out. The detachment flew its first operations on 24 November. The Hudsons were mainly used for maritime patrols, searching for and attacking Japanese surface ships and submarines both on the approaches to the island and along its coast. The Hudson was the first proper reconnaissance aircraft to reach Guadalcanal, so its arrival helped lift a burden on the various types of bombers that had been performing that role. The Americans continued to expand Henderson Field and by early December there was room for the entire squadron to move to Guadalcanal.  

No.3 Squadron was seen by the RNZAF as something of a show-piece squadron, demonstrating the service's abilities to its American allies. As a result it was kept up to strength by transferring crews from Nos.4 and 9 Squadrons. This helps explain why the squadron remained on the front line for so long, from November 1942 until October 1943, far longer than a standard tour of duty later in the war.

During their first week on Guadalcanal the Hudsons of the advance party saw more action than in the previous year. They sighted Japanese ships on four occasions and were attack twice by Japanese aircraft (Nakajima floatplanes on the first occasion and land based fighters on the second. In both cases the Hudson escaped intact). The squadron also carried out at least one attack on a Japanese submarine. On 2 December one aircraft found a submarine surfaced west of New Georgia and carried out an attack out of the sun. Oil was seen on the surface, but no claim of success was made.

The squadron played a part in the battle against the Tokyo Express - the nightly supply runs using warships to reinforcements onto Guadalcanal. On 3 December its aircraft shadowed a Japanese convoy for two hours, helping to guide American aircraft in to attack. On 8 December the squadron found another that was retiring back from Guadalcanal.

On 9 December the squadron carried out one of the first Allied attacks on Munda (New Georgia) when one of its Hudsons dropped four bombs on the new airfield.


During January and February 1943 the squadron was involved in a number of attacks on the Tokyo Express, but this time the Japanese were evacuating Guadalcanal, not reinforcing it, and by mid-February they were gone. The squadron's main role during 1943 was to fly maritime search patrols and weather flights towards Buin on Bougainville. A few bombs were normally dropped on Munda or Vila in the New Georgia group on the way back.

In March and April the squadron was used to guide American Avengers and Dauntlesses during raids on Bougainville. The American aircraft didn't carry navigators and the Hudsons were able to fill that role.

On 2 April 1943 a Hudson of No.3 Squadron, captained by Flying Officer McCormick, short down a Japanese float plane during a patrol north of Choiseul Island. This was the first aerial victory scored by an aircraft under the operational control of the RNZAF (as opposed to units operating with the RAF). April also saw a number of attacks on Japanese submarines, and on 3 April an aircraft from No.3 Squadron carried out a successful attack on a Japanese submarine off Vella Lavella.

After the American invasion of New Georgia (Operation Toenails) No.3 Squadron had two regular duties. The first was to fly four search missions each day in the areas to the west and north of Guadalcanal. The second was to send a single aircraft up the Slot past Vella Lavella, then into the Shortland Islands before returning along the south coast of New Georgia. Two aircraft were lost during this period.

In August the Americans took over the Slot patrol and for the rest of its tour on Guadalcanal No.3 Squadron was restricted to the local patrols.

The squadron remained on Guadalcanal until October 1943 when it was replaced by No.1 Squadron. After leaving Guadalcanal the squadron converted to the Ventura. The squadron remained on Espiritu Santo, where it replaced No.9 Squadron, until January 1944 when it returned to New Zealand for a rest and to receive the Venturas.


In July 1944 No.3 Squadron moved to Guadalcanal, where it flew a mix of dusk and dawn patrols, anti-submarine sweeps over the main shipping lanes and searches for possible submarines and missed Allied aircraft. In August it was relieved by No.1 Squadron, RNZAF.

In August 1944 No.3 Squadron moved to Bougainville to replace No.9 Squadron as the only RNZAF bomber-reconnaissance squadron on the island. The Japanese still held most of the island, and so part of the squadron's role was to find suitable targets (with the help of native guides who flew on the aircraft), and then lead strike forces back to the same area. The squadron also flew daily weather and shipping count missions over Rabaul and made a series of offensive sweeps across New Ireland.

In the summer of 1944 the future of the RNZAF was threatened, before it was decided to transfer it, along with responsibility for the Solomon Islands, from the South Pacific to MacArthur's South-west Pacific Area. The New Zealanders were expected to take over from the Americans across the Solomons and Bismarck Islands.

As part of that change New Zealand was to gain responsibility for Emirau in the Bismarck Islands, a key base in the continued campaign against Rabaul. No.3 Squadron was the first New Zealand unit to move to Emirau, arriving in October 1944. The squadron had three main tasks - first to sent out long range maritime patrols to search for any Japanese shipping attempting to reach New Britain or New Ireland from Truk, second to fly dawn and dusk patrols over the coast of New Ireland looking for barges and attacking targets of opportunity and finally to provide an aircraft ready to respond to reports of any Japanese submarine in the area. No ships were seen in the squadrons short time on Emirau, but there were plenty of Japanese targets on the coast of New Ireland. The squadron only remained at Emirau until November 1944, when it was replaced by No.4 Squadron.


In February 1945 No.3 Squadron moved to Guadalcanal at the start of its third tour of operations in the tropics. The squadron flew dawn and dusk anti-submarine patrols and shipping escort missions without making any contact with the enemy.

In March 1945 No.3 Squadron replaced No.2 Squadron on Green Island, between Bougainville and Rabaul. The squadron had several tasks from Green Island, including flying a daily weather and shipping counting mission over Rabaul, night nuisance raids over Rabaul, air-sea rescue, shipping escorts and bombing raids over New Ireland and Rabaul.

The squadron's main target was Bougainville, with operations split between the Buin area in the south, Numa Numa in the east and Buka and Bonis in the north. Rabaul was attacked six times in daylight and twelve times at night.

Until April the Ventura had lacked a bombsight. This was finally corrected, and on 8 April a Ventura acted as the bombing leader for the first time (before that US Navy PBJ Mitchells had led the bombing raids).

On 9 June 1945 the squadron moved to Jacquinot Bay on New Britain. It suffered from a lack of bombs at its new base, and so spent most of its three week tour on photographic reconnaissance missions. Its tour ended on 28 June and the squadron returned to New Zealand where it was disbanded.

April 1941-: Blackburn Baffin
1941-42: Vickers Vincent
1942-44: Lockheed Hudson
1944-45: Lockheed Ventura

April 1941-20 Feb 1942-: Harewood, New Zealand
April 1941-September 1942: New Zealand
   May 1941-: Detachment to Taieri, South Island
October 1942-6 December 1942: Pallikulo, Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides
  mid November-early December 1942: Detachment on Guadalcanal
December 1942-October 1943: Guadalcanal
October 1943-January 1944: Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides
January 1944- New Zealand

May-July 1944: Santo
July-August 1944: Gualalcanal
August-October 1944: Bougainville
October 1944-November 1944: Emirau, Bismarck Islands
December 1944-January 1945: New Zealand between Tours
February-March 1945: Guadalcanal
March-28 June 1945: Green Island, New Guinea
June 1945: New Zealand



How to cite this article: Rickard, J (14 May 2013), No.3 Bomber Reconnaissance Squadron (RNZAF): Second World War,

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