Douglas SBD 'Dauntless' in RNZAF Service. Part 3
By By C.F.I. Jenks (AHSNZ) with additional material by Peter Mossong, Damon Edwards and John Regan.
Dec 11, 2006, 14:43
Return to RNZAF Dauntless Part 2
FIRST COMBAT LOSSES
At this stage in the war, the chances of interception by Japanese fighters was considered to be virtually nil but the possibility remained. Token Allied fighter cover was provided for each mission - usually no more than eight aircraft.
During that first day of front-line service, March 24th, a second sortie was mounted at 14:15hrs and a third at 17:10hrs. All the aircraft landed safely but the SBD flown by Flt.Sgt N.L.Kelly (NZ5062) returned with bullet holes in the rudder.
With the arrival of the second echelon later in the day, No 25 Sqn was at full strength and able to mount regular missions. On March 30th, for the first time, the ‘Kiwis’ led the Allied attack force. They would lead several more. By April 1st, the squadron had already notched up its 100th sortie and on April 2nd, they executed a further raid using 125lb(57kg) fragmentation bombs.
The raid went well but there were problems on returning to base. Two of the SBDs (NZ5054/Flt.Sgt. L.H.Holly and NZ5059/Sgt.P.R.B. Symonds) landed with frag bombs still attached to their wing racks. On touchdown, the bombs exploded. Holly emerged un-hurt but the three other crewmen were injured and after inspection, both aircraft were declared write-offs. As a result of this incident, fragmentation bombs were never carried by the New Zealanders again.
|Flight Lieutenant Jack Edwards with his wireless operator/gunner, Flight Sergeant Hoppe, posing on the wing of NZ5051. Note the outline representation of the squadron crest in white. The aircraft and crew were lost on the 10th May 1944, during the Squadrons' last mission against the Rabaul airfields. (caption Peter Mossong, photo Damon Edwards)
The first crew losses occurred on April 4th - although not by direct enemy action. Sent to fetch replacement aircraft, Fl.Officers L.S..McLellan-Symonds, B.N.Graham and G.C. Howie became lost on the return flight and, as bad weather closed in, found themselves in an increasingly perilous situation. More by luck than good management, the pilots managed to find the coast of Japanese-held New Britain which enabled them to set a new compass heading. Graham and Howie managed to reach Piva- landing after dark without McLellan-Symonds who had gone missing somewhere en route. It appears that, after the crucial change of course, he had - for some unexplained reason - left the formation. Later, a radio message was received saying that he was going to try and ditch close to an unidentified island.
Despite the rapid dispatch of air-sea-rescue units, he was never found. After the war, it was discovered that McLellan-Symonds had been captured by the Japanese and held in the POW camp at Tunnel Hill Road where he died from blood-poisoning on May 25th, 1944.
On April 8th, No 25 Sqn achieved a notable success as part of a group of 48SBDs - one of two bomber formations sent to attack Japanese artillery positions. The New Zealanders were credited with five of the six direct hits on the gun sites., the sixth being awarded to the Americans. Every day, the squadron is called upon to mount bombing raids on targets in Rabaul and the hinterland; only the arrival of bad weather afford the crews a temporary respite.
The squadron’s run of good luck changes in mid-April. On the 16th, an SBD loses its bomb on take-off. Fortunately it does not explode but provides a heart-stopping moment. The next day events take a turn for the worse. SBD/NZ5050 (ex-BuAer36898) flown by Plt.Off.G.H.Cray and Flt.Sgt.F.D.Bell is reported missing. The aircraft was last seen flying over the target area at high speed - probably after being hit by flak which was - reportedly - very intense that day. A second SBD/NZ5058 (ex-BuAer 38928) piloted by Sgt. A.C.L. Fosberg, limps back to base after being hit by flak. The damage is so serious, the plane is written off.
The missions continue on an almost daily basis as No 25 Sqn’s tour draws to a close. Unfortunately, another aircraft is lost on one of the last missions when, on May 19th, the New Zealanders mount yet another attack on Japanese artillery positions.
This time, the barrage of flak is even more intense than before. SBD/NZ 5051 (ex BuAer 36908) flown by Flt.Lt.J.W. Edwards and Warrant-Off. L.A. Hoppe - reportedly hit by flak just after releasing their bomb - crashed into the sea off Great Habour, killing both crewmen. It was a cruel blow - just a week before the squadron was due to pack its bags.
The last mission was flown on May 17th. On May 20th, the surviving aircraft were ferried to Renarde Field on the Russell Islands by their crews, and handed back to the Marine Corps. Most aircraft had flown an average of 120 hours, and to the astonishment of the receiving officer, were in 'as-new' condition! This was indeed a tribute to the men of 25 Servicing unit who had toiled away in sometimes atrocious conditions, and with few supplies of spare parts.
The next day, the crews were flown back to Whenuapai in New Zealand in two Dakotas from 40 Squadron, where the squadron was disbanded on June 19th.
No.25 Squadron was re-formed at Ardmore on October 30th as a fighter squadron, and training commenced using the F4U-1 Corsair.
All the remaining SBD-3's and 4's in New Zealand were used for limited crew training until February 1944, then were placed in open storage at Hobsonville Airfield. They were sold for scrap in 1948. The only complete ex-RNZAF SBD is that held at the 'Planes of Fame' Museum in the United States. This has been identified as NZ5062.
THE BALANCE SHEET.......
After eight weeks of almost daily combat, the squadron had flown 530 sorties totalling 1, 750 flying hours. It dropped 280 tons of bombs, fired 108,000 rounds of 12.7mm and 217 rounds of 7.62mm. On the debit side, the squadron lost two aircraft as a direct result of enemy action plus three more while engaged on operations. The Squadron was disbanded at the end of May 1944. Despite its many sterling qualities, the SBD was a pre-war design and was no longer regarded as a front-line aircraft.
The surviving pilots of No 25 Sqn were transferred to the eight RNZAF squadrons equipped with F4U Corsairs and began another operational tour. Two ex-25 Sqn pilots, flying Corsasirs with No 16 Sqn, Fl.Off.R.F.Johnson (ex-SBD/NZ 5049 -Corair/NZ5283) and Fl.Off.G.C.Howie (ex-SBD/NZ5048 - Corsair/NZ5394 were killed: Johnson on January 15th, 1945, and Howie on June 13th.
The war in the Pacific ended on August 15th, 1945.
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