A few weeks after completing our OTU on Kittyhawks at Ohakea in August 1944, I was posted to Ardmore for Corsair Conversion – then into No 16 Corsair Squadron in training for their next tour in the Pacific on Green Island, just north of the Solomons and 4° south of the Equator. After an initial month of acclimatisation and squadron training at Henderson Field, Guadalcanal, on 21st December 1944 we ferried our squadron of 24 Corsairs up to Green Island, to replace the American MAG 14 (Marine Air Group) Corsair Squadron who moved further north. At Green Island we joined No 14 Squadron already there, and jointly we daily patrolled over the five Japanese airfields at Rabaul where 100,000 Japanese remained. Apart from some bombing missions around Rabaul on New Britain, and on Japanese forces also occupying neighbouring New Ireland, our regular daily task involved sections of four Corsairs from each of our squadrons, generally flying in pairs at 6,000 feet, to prevent any air activity by the Japanese, although we knew that they still did so when we were not overhead. Patrolling over Rabaul on the 12th January 1945 I heard a 14 Squadron pilot call on R/T that he had a Val(Japanese dive-bomber) in sight near Keravat airfield, so my leader Graham Howie and I poured on the power, and charged our guns, hoping to bring the NZ Fighter’s score up to 100! Unfortunately for us, the 14 Squadron pilot then advised that the Japanese pilot had entered cloud! Many years later I discovered that the 14 Squadron pilot who sighted the Val was F/Sgt Ian Munro of Wellsford, sadly killed three days later on Black Monday when we lost eight pilots.
Whilst we were on our next tour on Bougainville, bombing for the Australian Army, all aircraft and personnel were moved across from Green Island to Jacquinot Bay on the mainland of New Britain and 100 miles south of Rabaul. After returning to Ardmore from Bougainville we were then posted back to Jacquinot Bay, where we were involved in the surrender of all Japanese forces, signed on HMS Glory at Rabaul on the 6th September 1945.
The few remaining Japanese aircraft still airworthy at Rabaul were then flown down to Jacquinot Bay by Japanese pilots, and they included three Zero fighters, a Jake floatplane, a twin engined Dinah fast high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft, and a Kate torpedo bomber, as used very successfully at Pearl Harbour on 7th December 1941.
Our basic formation was four aircraft, and on my first tour at Green Island I flew as a No 4 and wingman to Graham Howie, and on my second tour at Bougainville I flew as a No 2 and wingman to Leighton Stehenson, but on my third tour at Jacquinot Bay I became a section leader of four Corsairs.
There I had the good fortune, and very interesting experience of personally escorting the Kate down to Jacquinot Bay from Rabaul on 14th October 1945. Soon after we arrived over Vunakanau airfield at about 9 am, the Kate pilot took off but instead of heading south to our airfield, he continued climbing in a westerly direction towards New Guinea! By the time he had reached about 3000 feet, I pulled in behind his right wing and turned him south using our normal hand signals. I was initially very apprehensive about flying within a few feet of a Japanese aircraft, in view of their extensive use of Kamikaze pilots during the latter stages of the war, but with the three other Corsairs of my section weaving extremely closely overhead, I soon saw that he was very scared, as I could clearly see him shaking! My three other pilots did appear to be flying rather aggressively!! During his approach to land at Jacquinot, I dropped directly behind him with guns charged, and finger on the trigger on the stick, and one squeeze would have despatched 60 shells per second from my six .5’s as there was a bomb dump adjacent to the strip, so followed him down to almost wheels touching, before overshooting and flying a circuit. Five months earlier on 28/4/45 the Kate pilot Lt Takahashi, plus another, flew from Rabaul and torpedoed an American Floating Dock at night at Manus Island, north of New Guinea, scoring a direct hit on the dock! But only one of the two Kates managed to reach Rabaul again due to weather conditions. We also had a squadron of RNZAF Corsairs based on Manus Island, and I ferried one across to Jacquinot Bay on 30th September 1945 in a formation of ten – commencing their journey back to Rukuhia. I have learnt quite recently from Pearl Harbour Museum that the Kate was later salvaged, and may possibly fly again. They also believe that the Kate we escorted was probably the last Kate to ever fly.