As the British Government were unable to supply the aircraft needed and requested by New Zealand in 1942, negotiations between the United States and New Zealand Governments took place, and a Mutual Aid Agreement (Lease/Lend) was signed. 
The RNZAF then began to receive supplies of bomber, reconnaissance, transport and fighter aircraft direct from America. 

Thirteen fighter squadrons (numbers 14 - 26 equipped with P-40’s then F4U’s), Six bomber squadrons (numbers 1- 5 and 9 equipped with Hudson’s then PV-1 Venturas),  Two flying boat squadrons (numbers 5 and 6 with PBY-5 Catalinas),  One dive bomber squadron (number 25 with SBD-5 Dauntless’s) and Two torpedo bomber squadrons (numbers 30 and 31 with TBF-1c Avengers) served tours of duty in the operational area from late 1942.  These units were supported by 40 and 41 (Transport) Squadrons flying C-47's and Lockheed C-61 Loadstars

The first fighter squadron to go into action was 15 Squadron who became operational on Guadalcanal in April 1943 during the heavy fighting during this period. The self-contained squadron was equipped with P-40K’s and M’s. 
14 Squadron relieved them in June. 

A continual shuttle then followed with the squadrons serving a tour (usually 6 weeks) in the frontal area, then leaving their aircraft to be flown by the relieving squadron, and being transported back to the rear area for rest and further training before returning for a further tour.

By the time the P-40’s were phased out and replaced by the F4U-1A and -1D Corsairs, most of the Japanese air strength had been decimated, and the Corsairs never scored any confirmed kills. 
The RNZAF fighter squadrons were now used in a ground attack role against Japanese ground installations, shipping and food growing areas.



RNZAF Corsairs taking off on a strike mission from Piva airstrip on Bougainville.


It was soon realised by the RNZAF Command in New Zealand that they wouldn’t have the manpower to support each operational squadron as a self contained unit, so a system of Servicing Units (S.U.) was put into place.  All aircraft were ‘Owned’ and serviced by these units, and issued to the squadrons as necessary. It was therefore rare for any one pilot to have an individual aircraft exclusively, so nose art was very rare on later RNZAF fighter aircraft. The S.U.s added any individual markings required for tactical purposes. This system was continued until the end of 1945. 

On the 23rd of March 1944, the SBD’s of 25 (Dive-Bomber) Squadron, and the TBF-1c’s of 30 (Torpedo Bomber) Squadron arrived at Piva airstrip on Bougainville during the massive Japanese counter attack on the perimeter which had started on the 8th of March. 
Both squadrons flew their first sorties at dawn the following morning, and were instrumental in helping to break up several Japanese attacks. 
The servicing units were forced to work under heavy enemy ground fire and air attacks during this period. They met their target of twelve aircraft serviceable each day over the next three months except for one day!


P- 40 Kittyhawks being serviced by 4 Servicing Unit at Ondonga, New Hebrides

By mid 1944, the majority of the RNZAF units were used to support the neutralisation of the Japanese stronghold at Rabaul and 30, then 31 Squadrons with the TBF-1C Avenger were used in a dive-bombing role against AA installations around Rabaul. 
31 Squadron ended up with the unglamorous task of spraying diesel oil from specially adapted bomb bay tanks over Japanese vegetable gardens to starve out the defenders. 

Throughout this period, 6 then 5 (Flying Boat) Squadrons with their PBY-5 and PB2B-1 Catalina’s had been flying anti-submarine and air sea rescue patrols around the Southwest Pacific and several hair raising rescues were carried out in bad weather. 
The majority of the time was spent in long ocean patrols without any action. 

By the cessation of hostilities on 15th August, 1945, the RNZAF squadrons were fully committed in the Northern Solomons area, and were at this time under full RNZAF control as the main front had shifted to Borneo and the Phillipines areas.


PV-1 Ventura bombers of 2 (Bomber Reconnaissance) Squadron over Rabaul, early 1944 

From the time they entered the Pacific War until VJ Day, the RNZAF squadrons shot down 104 confirmed Japanese aircraft, 99 of which were by the fighter squadrons. 
This may not seem a large number, but as the New Zealanders were operating under the overall command of the U.S. they were always used in a support role to large numbers of USAAF and US NAVY/Marine Corps aircraft.



All the illustrations used on this page are from paintings by the late Maurice Conly, the official artist of the RNZAF


Return to Homepage