No. 488 Squadron (RNZAF): Second World War

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No.488 Squadron went through two incarnations during the Second World War. The first was as a fighter squadron that was caught up the fall of Singapore and had to retreat to Sumatra, then Java and finally to Australia. The second incarnation was as a UK based night fighter squadron, focusing mainly on defensive missions.

The First Incarnation

No.488 Squadron was formed in response to a British request for one airfield construction squadron and one fighter squadron to help with the defence of New Zealand. The fighter squadron formed at Rongotai in September 1941 and left for Singapore in two batches. The first party arrived on 10 October and the second party in November. Both parties quickly moved to RAF Kallang.

The new squadron was equipped with twenty-one Brewster Buffalos, inherited from No.67 Squadron, RAF. In the remaining weeks of peace the pilots began to train on their new fighters, while the ground crews attempted to find the equipment they needed (No.67 Squadron having taken just about everything to Burma when it moved).

News of the Japanese invasion of Malaya reached Kallang at 2am on 8 December. Two hours later the Japanese made their first raid on Singapore, although Kallang wasn't hit in the first attack. At dawn four of the squadron's Buffalos took off on the squadron's first combat patrol. No Japanese aircraft were found over the first few days of war.

On the afternoon of 10 December two aircraft from the squadron were sent to provide air cover for the Prince of Wales and Repulse, then under air attack. By the time the Buffalos arrived on the scene both ships had been sunk, but they were able to escort a destroyer carrying survivors, and the squadron flew patrols over the area for the rest of the day.

On 15 December the squadron had its first contact with the Japanese when four aircraft unsuccessfully attempted to catch a Japanese reconnaissance aircraft. Another attempt was made on 16 December, but again without success.

In late December and early January 1942 the squadron was used to provide air cover for convoys bringing urgently needed reinforcements to Singapore.

The first heavy raid on Kallang took place on 9 January 1942. No.488's offices, ammo store, oil store and equipment store were all destroyed. The Japanese returned on 10 January, but the remaining equipment had been hidden just off the airfield.

No.488 Squadron's first significant clash with the Japanese came on 12 January when fourteen Buffalos in two waves attacked a formation of twenty-seven Japanese aircraft (a mix of Zeroes and Army Type 97 fighters (Nakajima Ki-27) ). The first wave, of eight aircraft, found the Japanese but quickly discovered that they were outclassed by both types of Japanese fighter. Two Buffalos were shot down, five damaged and two pilots wounded.

More aircraft were lost on 13 January when the squadron tangled with thirty Japanese bombers (Mitsubishi G3M Army Type 96). This time four Buffalos were destroyed and one damaged, although the pilots survived. No Japanese aircraft were destroyed.

On 15 January the squadron lost its first pilot when Pilot Officer Hesketh was shot down and killed. In the same fight one Type 97 Fighter was short down.

On 18 January No.488 and No.243 Squadron flew together. This time they performed better, claiming two certain and three probable victories against Zeroes without loss.

On 19 January the squadron took part in two offensive patrols, one over Muar in which two aircraft were lost and one over Mersing and Kuala Lumpur.

20 January saw a number of combined patrols. On 22 January Kallang was bombed while four of the squadron's aircraft were taking off. Three escaped safely but one was hit and the pilot fatally wounded. Two more Buffalos were destroyed on the ground.

By the end of 23 January the squadron had one serviceable Buffalo left. By the next morning that had risen to two, and these aircraft were attached to No.243 Squadron. No.488 Squadron was given nine Hurricanes. Over the next two days the squadron practiced with the Hurricanes, and by 27 January they were flying patrols, but on the same day a Japanese raid caught them on the ground and all but one were damaged. The runway was also badly damaged and it took the rest of the month to fix it. By the start of February the squadron had three serviceable Hurricanes and just enough runway to use them.

By now Japanese guns were within range of three of the four airfields on Singapore Island. Kallang was just about operational, but was now overcrowded. On 2 February 1942 No.488's last four Hurricanes were evacuated to Palembang on Sumatra. The squadron's ground crew remained behind to provide support for the newly arrived No.232 Squadron.

The remaining pilots sailed for Batavia (now Jakarta), on the north-west coast of Java. They arrived on 8 February. The squadron's ground crew were lucky enough to escape from Singapore on 12 February and reached Batavia on 13 February.

The squadron was now given the task of providing air defence for Java. They were based at Tjililitan airfield, ten miles from Batavia. They would be equipped with the Hurricane and use ground crews already on Java.

On 14 February a flight of nine aircraft was sent to Palembang, but they found that the Japanese were already attacking the airfield. One Hurricane managed to land, but the other eight were either shot down or forced to crash land after running out of fuel.

Back at Tjililitan the rest of the squadron operated alongside the survivors of Nos.232 and 258 Squadrons. Between them the three squadrons only had twelve aircraft. The remaining aircraft on Sumatra were evacuated on 15 February, and the Allies attempted to make a stand on Java.

The situation on Java quickly deteriorated and on 22 February No.488 Squadron was ordered to prepare to retreat to Australia. Six pilots were left behind to fly the remaining aircraft, al under the control of No.605 Squadron. The rest of the squadron left on 23 February and reached Australia in early March. By the end of March they were back in New Zealand.

The six pilots left behind on Java weren't so lucky. Pilot Officer Sharp was shot down behind Japanese lines and apparently killed soon afterwards. The rest were captured. Three survived but Pilot Officer White died in captivity.

In March 1942 this incarnation of No.488 Squadron was officially disbanded. The surviving members of the squadron were used to form the new No.14 Fighter Squadron, RNZAF.

The Second Incarnation

A new No.488 Squadron was formed on 24 June 1942 as a Beaufighter-equipped night fighter squadron. The squadron was based in Scotland from August 1942. In February 1943 the squadron began to fly intruder missions over France. At the time it was still based in Scotland so each mission involved a flight from Ayr to Coltishall to refuel, the operation itself and then a return flight to Ayr.

In August 1943 the squadron converted to the Mosquito. In the following month it moved south and became a defensive night fighter squadron. At first it was used to provide defensive cover for the south of England. After the D-Day landings it provided night cover over the Normandy battlefield.

In November 1944 the squadron moved to France, where it was used to provide night time fighter cover over Allied airfields and bases. It followed the advancing Allied armies, before being disbanded in the Netherlands on 26 April 1945.

September 1941-23 January 1942: Brewster Buffalo
23 January-March 1942: Hawker Hurricane

June 1942-March 1943: Bristol Beaufighter II
March-September 1943: Bristol Beaufighter VI
August 1943-October 1943: de Havilland Mosquito XII
October 1943-May 1944: de Havilland Mosquito XII and XIII
May-September 1944: de Havilland Mosquito XIII
September 1944-April 1945: de Havilland Mosquito 30

October 1941-February 1942: Singapore/ Kallang
   2 February 1942-: Four aircraft to Palembang, Sumatra
10 February 1942: Tjilitan, Java

June-September 1942: Church Fenton
September 1942-August 1943: Ayr
August 1943: Drem
August 1943-May 1944: Bradwell Bay
May 1944: Colerne
May-July 1944: Zeals
July-October 1944: Colerne
October-November 1944: Hunsdon
November 1944-April 1945: B.48 Amiens-Glisy
April 1945: B.88 Glize-Rijen

Squadron Codes: NF (Buffalo), ME (Beaufighter, Mosquito)

September 1941-March 1942: Fighter squadron, Singapore and Java

February-August 1943: Night intruder raids
August 1943 onwards: Defensive night fighter squadron



How to cite this article: Rickard, J (14 March 2022), No. 488 Squadron (RNZAF): Second World War,

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