Australian Spitfires in the Pacific During World War II

457 Squadron RAAF Spitfire

The Supermarine Spitfire in the Pacific is probably best known due to the shark's teeth 457 Squadron RAAF painted on their aircraft. The Spitfire came to Australia due to a mix of British geo-politics and Australian requests for help. The Spitfire was not a good Pacific War aircraft. It had short range, logistics had to travel across the world from Britain to Australia and it was fragile in comparison to the American aircraft of the same era. However, it is a beautiful aircraft aesthetically and was loved by the pilots that flew it.

Several Australian Squadrons flew the Spitfire in Australia, New Guinea and the Pacific War;

Additionally many Operation Training Units [OTUs] in Australia operated the Spitfire as part of the Empire Air Training Scheme [EATS]. Several British squadrons also flew Spitfires in Australia as well;

The Battle of Darwin went on longer than just the period where Spitfires defended the Australian North West. After the initial raids on Darwin and Broome American P40s defended Darwin and later Australian P40s until the Spitfires arrived.

Australian Spitfires

Japan’s lightning advance meant that it controlled Indonesia, Timor and most of New Guinea. As the Japanese Army started matching across the Owen Stanley Range to take Port Moresby while the Japanese Navy kept island hopping toward their goal of New Caledonia and cutting off Australia from the United States. Fortress Australia was real, more so as it was a continent the Japanese were not that interested in and did not have the troops to take, but also because it was logistical stepping stone for the United States. Australian agriculture and industry helped supply the large movement of Australian and American troops, ships and squadrons throughout the South East Pacific.

There were two daylight campaigns which were waged in the dry seasons of 1942 and 1943. The Japanese did not just bomb Darwin and the surrounding airfields but also other Australian targets such as Broome and Milingimbi Island. The first raid against Darwin was on the 19th of February, 1942 when 180 Japanese aircraft from the aircraft carriers Akagi, Kaga, Hiryu and Soryu bombed the port, airfields, ships and airfield. The raid on the 20th, was from 54 land based bombers, who attacked the RAAF airbase at Darwin. While the Japanese bombed Darwin there were no RAAF fighter aircraft to face them.

Australia started receiving American aircraft as P40s began to arrive in Australia, however, the Australian government had reached out to Britain for a Wing of Spitfires to come to Australia and defend the country. Australia had used the threat of withdrawing the 9th Division from North Africa in order to secure the aircraft from an RAF that was feeling the demands of the Mediterranean theatre.

Asking for Spitfires was symbolic as was the composition of the Wing, where there were to be two Australian Article XV RAAF Squadrons and an RAF Squadron. More symbolically the Wing was led by Clive Caldwell, a 20 victory ace from the North African theatre who was a product of the Empire Air Training Scheme [EATS]. What more could you ask of Australian and British co-operation? Spitfires and Caldwell!

The other upside to the Spitfire was that it had better high altitude performance than the P40 Kittyhawk’s that the RAAF was receiving from the US. It was the best fighter the Australian government was able to get. The downside was that the Spitfire was not a good Pacific theatre aircraft, it was more fragile than the American aircraft, had shorter range and logistics required shipping from Britain.

452 Squadron RAAF Spitfires

452 Squadron RAAF Spitfire Mk.Vc

452 Squadron RAAF formed in Britain in April of 1941 with Spitfire Mark.1 aircraft. The squadron was to excel in the European theatre becoming one of the top scoring allied squadrons during the period and producing aces like 'Paddy' Finucane and 'Bluey' Truscott.

The squadron flew from Kenly and Redhill before their last victory was achieved by Truscott in March of 1942. The squadron was credited with sixty aircraft destroyed despite the loss of twenty two pilots. In 1942, the Squadron, along with 457 Squadron RAAF and 54 Squadron RAF were marked to move to Australia to defend the Northern Territory from the Japanese and to show that Britain was still involved in Australian defence matters.

After staging through Melbourne and Richmond, 452 Squadron moved to Strauss outside of Darwin with Spitfire Mk Vc aircraft. Due to the dusty conditions in Australia the aircraft were tropicalized with the Volkes filter under the nose. It was thought the filter affected performance but other than a few knots of airspeed it made little difference.

The Spitfire was not rugged enough for the harsh flying conditions of Northern Australia and the Pacific. The pilots and ground-crew also had numerous technical and mechanical failures with the aircraft because of the nature of the Australian bush and the high altitude interceptions. The Australian Spitfire squadrons did not solve the jamming guns, the over revving propellers or glycol leaks during the time they were defending Darwin.

The squadron thought the Australian theatre a come down after Europe where they flew against German aircraft and had the nightlife of Britain to return to each day. Living out of a dusty tent and then flying long distances over harsh Australian scrub and the unforgiving Timor Sea is far less romantic.

Despite this, 452 Squadron saw a lot of combat over the first twelve months they were in Australia as the Japanese competed for air superiority over that period until they were defeated by the Spitfires and the constant American presence in the Solomon's which demanded Japanese time, attention, materials and aircraft.

Morotai Island

452 Squadron RAAF Spitfire Mk.VIII

When 452 Squadron changed over to the Spitfire Mk.VIIIs they faced the problem of their aircraft coming with a mixture of South Asian, North African and Europe Theater markings. None of which is suitable to the Australian and Pacific Theatres. 452 Squadron did not change all their aircraft to foliage green, dark earth and sky blue; a number of their aircraft were painted in foliage green only and sky blue underneath. Foliage Green was an Australian color that got used very heavily late in the war. Its closest equivalent is the American medium green.

Before 452 Squadron moved to Morotai to join up with 79 Squadron RAAF, both 452 and 457 painted a small "Ace of Spades" emblem on their tails.

457 "Grey Nurse" Squadron RAAF Spitfires

457 Squadron RAAF Spitfire Mk.VIII

457 Squadron RAAF formed in Britain in June of 1941. Despite the squadron being deployed to the Isle of Man there was little in the way of contact with German aircraft and the squadron was over shadowed by their sister squadron, 452 RAAF, which was racking up a large score in a short period.

When the squadron was moved Redhill it began to face the superior Focke-Wulf 190 and the Mk.V Spitfires had a difficult time against it. Combat from Redhill continued until the squadron was earmarked to head to Australia as part of 1 Wing RAAF. 457 and 452 were the only two full Australian fighter squadrons in the theater with Spitfires so it was obvious that if any Spitfire squadrons were being sent to Australia it would be those two.

After staging through Richmond in NSW, the squadron moved to Livingstone in the Northern Territory to defend Darwin as part of 1 Wing RAAF along with 452 Squadron RAAF and 54 Squadron RAAF.

Spitfire Mk.VIIIs Arrive

The Mk.VIII is often thought of as the prettiest Spitfire of all the marks. It had the pointed tail and the recessed tail wheel. The Spitfires arrived in South East Asia marking of dark green and dark earth uppers with medium sea grey or azure blue underneath. Some arrived in North African markings and others were in European Theater markings. 457 Squadron for the most part painted their aircraft in foliage green, earth brown and sky blue.

Sharks Teeth

When 457 Squadron received the HF VIII Spitfires a shark's mouth started to appear on some aircraft. At first it was small and low on the Spitfire's cowl. Slowly however the shark's mouth got bigger and bigger and started spreading through out the squadron. Just fore of the cockpit on either side the stenciled word's "grey nurse" appeared. This had led to 457 Squadron being named the Grey Nurse squadron and makes for one of the most colourful and interesting Spitfire markings of World War II.

54 Squadron RAF Spitfires

54 Squadron RAF Spitfire Mk.Vc

54 Squadron RAF was formed in 1916 during World War I and originally flew Sopwith Pups. The Pup was one of the few aircraft was not outclassed by the German Albatros aircraft during Bloody April. The Pups were soon replaced by Sopwith Camels and 54 Squadron flew this until the end of the war producing eleven aces.

The squadron was reformed in the 1930s and flew a mix of Bristol Bulldogs and Gloster Gladiators before taking delivery of the Spitfire Mk.I in 1939. The squadron was right at the front of the air battles over England and the English Channel during Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain.

In 1942 the squadron was sent to Australia as part of 1 Wing RAAF to defend Darwin from the Japanese. 54 Squadron was in an unusual position. The RAF of World War II was a multi-ethnic affair with RAF squadrons full of Commonwealth pilots and other nationalities that had been invaded such as Poles, Czechs, etc. 54 Squadron actually went through a Britishification as part of the move and became predominantly British pilots for political reasons of Britain showing the flag in Australia. The squadron staged through Melbourne in Victoria and Richmond in New South Wales before heading to Darwin.

Spitfire Camouflage at Darwin

By 1943 after a series of accidents in New Guinea with RAAF Wirraways, Boomerangs and Kittyhawks it was decided by the USAAF and RAAF to remove any red circles from aircraft roundels. Initially this was only done on the upper surfaces, and No.75 Squadron at Port Moresby still carried red on the fuselage and under wing roundels as well as red on the fin flash.

However, it was decided to remove all red from the roundels and fin flash to RAAF aircraft. In the Pacific and Australian theaters from that point on Australian and British aircraft under RAAF command used the blue and white roundel along with the blue and white fin flash. These were the roundels and fin flash 54 squadron RAAF and 1 Wing RAAF had during their time in Northern Australia.

Most of the Spitfire aircraft that 1 Wing RAAF received had been diverted from the North African campaign and had the British camouflage scheme of dark earth, middlestone brown and azure blue. The RAAF had its own camouflage standards which were poorly documented and understood. The original delivery scheme, plus what the RAAF wanted, combined with poor logistics and lack of paint materials meant the early Spitfires were all sorts of camouflage colors.

The North African camouflage scheme had the middlestone brown color over painted with RAAF foliage green until the aircraft were overhauled and the standard RAAF camouflage scheme of foliage green, earth brown and sky blue was applied. These were Australian colors and paints that were deemed more suitable for Australian and Pacific operations.

Northern Australian conditions were harsh on these aircraft and there are photos of faded and worn out 54 Squadron RAF aircraft with the yellow edged British roundels showing through the faded paint that was applied when the aircraft were received. Aircraft were touched up with paint as much as was possible but between the harsh Australian sun, the constant operations, and the quality of 1940s paints it was a tough ask.

The Japanese used the Mitsubishi Ki-46 'Dinah' as their main reconn aircraft across the North West Australian theater. This aircraft would fly across at high altitude and take photographs of the Australian and American aircraft, shipping and logistics in Darwin and the surrounding territory. When the P40s were defending Darwin the Ki-46's would often climb away or put themselves into a shallow dive to build up speed and it was usually enough for them to get away from the Kittyhawks.

The Spitfire was a generation of fighter past the P40 and had greater altitude performance including climb and level speed. The first interaction that 1 Wing RAAF had with the Japanese was the Ki-46 when two 54 Squadron aircraft led by Bob Foster were vectored onto an incoming Ki-46.

The Japanese aircraft tried to climb away but the Spitfire Mk.Vc slowly out climbed it. The Japanese pilot put his aircraft into a shallow drive but again the Spitfire gained on it. Foster opened fire at 300 yards and the Japanese aircraft caught fire and spiraled down into the ocean below. If there was one thing the Spitfire defence forced the Japanese to do in 1943 it was to constantly change their tactics and in this case the Japanese 70th reconn squadron now had to be wary of Spitfires being vectored in on them by the RAAF's ground radar.

The Japanese bombing campaign against Darwin ended with the wet season in 1943. However, 54 Squadron RAF defended Darwin through the remainder of the war before being disbanded in Melbourne in October of 1945.

79 Squadron RAAF Spitfires in the Pacific in World War II

79 Squadron RAAF Spitfire

In April of 1943, 79 Squadron was the first Australian Spitfire Squadron raised in Australia. The other Article XV Spitfire squadrons had been raised in England and transported to Australia. The RAAF worked with the US 5th Air Force from 1943 onwards in pushing through New Guinea toward the Philippines. The Australian squadrons were used for base defence of the airfields which the American B17s and B24s would operate from. 79 Squadron was formed to fill this need.

As the allies stabilized the front in New Guinea and the Solomons. They started pushing north of New Guinea invading islands for new airfields which gave fighters the range to support the heavy bombers to Rabaul. 79 Squadron was formed to satisfy the need to protect these new airbases and the heavy bombers on them from being attacked by the Japanese.

One of the advantages the RAAF had when forming squadrons was that many of the Australian pilots had already fought their way across North Africa with the RAAF and RAF. Many of the same pilots had also resisted the Japanese in the early days of the New Guinea campaign. Plenty of other pilots were still fighting in the European Theatre with RAAF and RAF squadrons as well. To add to this; by 1943 the Empire Air Training Scheme in Australia was producing pilots in large numbers. Squadrons being formed in Australia, such as 79 Squadron, were receiving a good complement of experienced combat pilots and newly trained pilots.

Jeff Wilkinson was a good example of this kind of experience. Starting out as an EATS pilot in Australia and Canada, he had fought in England with 452 and 457 RAAF flying Spitfires before returning to Australia and fighting with 75 Squadron during the Milne Bay invasion. Wilkinson was the first pilot official pilot in 79 Squadron RAAF.

The squadron received Spitfire Mk Vc's which were tropicalized with the large Volkes filter on front for the Australian environment. The pilots loved the Spitfire. It is a beautiful aircraft and by all accounts from pilots it was a dream to fly. The problem for the RAAF was that it was designed for the British theatre and the defensive fighter doctrines of the 1930s. Operationally it had too short a range for the Pacific theatre and was unable to take the fight to the Japanese on distant islands and locations.

Another problem was logistics. Australia did not do logistics well in World War II. The United States was the master of logistics by 1943 and was able to transport men, machines and equipment in huge amounts to anywhere in the world very quickly. The British were pretty good at it as well, but Australia was low on the ladder for receiving items. Supporting Spitfire squadrons on remote Pacific islands far from London and Brisbane was constantly a problem for the RAAF and the pilots and ground crew of 79 Squadron.

In 1943 Australia was still torn between being an independent nation, recently being part of the British Empire and the reality that the Anglosphere was now dominated by the United States which Curtin realized with his speech aligning Australian foreign policy to American strategic policy. Even with all that going on, Spitfires in Australia was politically important for the Australian and British governments. Britain being seen to still important to Australia and Britain, not to mention Britain's desire to be geo-politically relevant in the Pacific in the eyes of Australia and America.

Goodenough and Kiriwina Island

The first combat posting for 79 Squadron was to Goodenough Island which is just north of the south-eastern most tip of New Guinea. Across the water was Lae on the New Guinea mainland and Gasmata on the New Britain Islands. On the other side of New Britain was Rabaul, an important military and logistical location for the Japanese. 79 Squadron flew out of the Eastern airstrip on Goodenough Island while the heavy bombers flew out of the Western airstrip.

When the squadron started operations they hit a bump with their 20mm cannons being unreliable as the ammunition would jam. The ground crew tried multiple ways to modify the feed in order to fix this but never truly solved it. The ground crew also solved the guns freezing problem at high altitude by coming up with a new lubricant. When the told the RAAF about it they were told to stop using it as it was unauthorized. The time as Goodenough Island was spent with the occasional scramble but none brought results.

The squadron was next moved to Kiriwina Island which was north of Goodenough Island and closer to New Britain Island. The Kiriwina airfields were often used by the American P38 Lightnings as refuel locations when escorting the 5th Air Force's heavy bombers to Rabaul. 79 Squadron provided cover of the airfields while this was happening. Unfortunately the 79 Squadron Spitfires did not have the range to escort aircraft to Rabaul.

Radar was heavily used at Kiriwina to spot incoming Japanese for the Spitfires and Kittyhawks stationed there. One morning the radar's brought in a contact which two 79 Squadron Spitfires were able to scramble and the close upon. Unfortunately the radar honed them in on a friendly so they continued to patrol and came upon a lone Japanese aircraft.

The Japanese Kawasaki ki-61 (Tony) quickly dropped its bomb into the ocean and dove away to increase speed. Ian Callister managed to close upon it and fired at 800 yards. Bits flew off the Tony's wing. At 350 yards Callister fired again and the Tony exploded. It was 79 Squadron's first victory.

The second victory came soon after when two Spitfires were scrambled toward an incoming Japanese reconnaissance aircraft. The two Spitfires were unable to catch it, but a third Spitfire was doing high altitude testing and vectored toward the same destination the two scrambled Spitfires were. The third pilot, Arch Moore, intercepted the Japanese aircraft and despite cannon jams managed to bring down the recon aircraft with his machine guns.

Tactics slowly changed. The RAAF Spitfires and Kittyhawks began to escort the slow RAAF Beauforts in bombing raids and do sweeps across New Guinea to try and seek out Japanese aircraft. This was mixed in with the normal scramble and base defence patrols the squadron was tasked to under take.

During the allied offensive in the Admiralty Islands, 79 Squadron was moved to Momote Island. The RAAF squadrons based in the Momote Islands were deployed to protect the airfields and shipping supporting the offensive. The close nature of combat in the area meant the squadron as involved in ground attacks as well as Combat Air Patrols and Scrambles.

Spitfire MkVIII

The MkV Spitfires were worn out from over a year of constant combat operations. The squadron got the order from the RAAF Headquarters to come back to Australia to re-equip with the new MkVIIIs which is often considered as the best of the Spitfire marks.

The initial MkVIIIs had corrosion issues which had also been found in the other Australian squadrons as well as RAF squadrons in India. New parts were fabricated in Amberley but Britain did not help and the RAAF manufacturing and supply system was slow. A similar issue occurred with the drop tanks. All these issues helped delay the squadron returning to the South West Pacific front.

The squadron relocated to Morotai which is an island south of the Philippines. The aircraft flew sweeps, scrambles and when needed strafing runs. A captured Zero was flown to Morotai in March of 1945 where several big times Australian pilots, including Clive Caldwell, flew the Zero against the Spitfires.

By mid-1945 the Australians in Morotai were far behind the leading edge of the war against the Japanese. The experienced pilots were not happy about it but it was the end result of the American and in particular MacArthur's policy toward Australia where he wanted American forces, and in particular his forces, were at the fore-front of the war effort and hence media - which was all important to MacArthur.

Despite this 79 Squadron continued constant operations in support of the Australian and American forces in Morotai. One of the missions they had to flow was destroying Japanese barges. This was partly because this was all there was left of Japanese sea power in this area. The squadron also flew strafing bombing missions against everything they could. This occasionally was airfields but a lot of the time it was anything that fired at them.

With the end of the war the squadron was involved in leaflet drops telling the Japanese troops that had been bypassed that the war was over. The Spitfires were flown back to Australia once peace had settled in and the squadron was disbanded.

79 Squadron Camouflage

Because 79 Squadron was deployed so forward for an RAAF squadron with an aircraft that was rare in the Pacific they were often forgotten when it came to supplies and logistics. Officially the European paintwork on the Spitfires was supposed to be changed to green and brown from green and grey. It didn't always happen though due to a mix of supplies, time and lack of communication between the squadrons and RAAF headquarters.

As 79 Squadron was flying in the New Guinea region the MkVc Spitfires had the white tails and white on the leading edges of the wings. This was done to try and avoid the allied on allied losses that were occurring in the Fifth Air Force and the RAAF.

Pentland believes that the early Spitfire MkVIIIs the squadron received were painted in dark green and an unofficial light green which the squadron dabbled with to see if they could come up with a better camouflage scheme.

There is also the squadron's issue with the letter H which they decided was jinxed after several crashes. The squadron changed the 'H' aircraft to a '?'.

85 Squadron RAAF Spitfires on the Australian Front in World War II

85 Squadron RAAF Spitfire

85 Squadron was formed in 1943 with Brewster Buffaloes to defend the West Coast of Australia. The squadron almost immediately after received CAC Boomerangs and maintained a detachment at Potshot. In late 1944 the squadron received old beat up MkVs from 79 Squadron and the other Australian Spitfire squadrons. They flew these through to the end of the war before being disbanded.

Because of their late usage of Spitfires, 85 Squadron had clear metal finishes with painted flying surfaces and matt black anti-glare rectangles on the top of the nose. Because of this they are about the only Spitfire squadron in clear metal finish during World War II.

31 Squadron RAAF Beaufighters

Britain had pledged to deliver over two hundred aircraft to Australia after the war broke out. The aircraft that were delivered were the Bristol Beaufighters which equipped 30 and 31 Squadron. The Beaufighter proved to be perfect for the Pacific Theatre being tough, rugged, long ranged and with lots of fire power in the nose. While 30 Squadron RAAF flew out of New Guinea, 31 Squadron RAAF was based in the Northern Territory during the Battle of Darwin.

On March 2nd the Japanese came over in strength with nine Navy bombers flying Penfui and the twenty one Zeros staging through Timor. There was also a Ki-46 in the raid which was to break off in the confusion and collect intelligence while the Spitfires were distracted by the Zeros and Bettys.

The target for the Japanese bombers was Coomalie Creek were 31 Squadron RAAF was based with their Beaufighters. The Beaufighters had been a thorn in the Japanese side strafing airfields in Timor and Dutch New Guinea and successfully destroying aircraft on the ground. The Japanese were replying in kind.

49th Fighter Group USAAF During the Battle of Darwin

49th Fighter Group at Darwin

With the breakout of war in Europe and the ongoing fighting in China the United States became concerned that these wars would cease to be regional and become global. Consequently the United States government started expanding their military as quickly as they could. The 49th Fighter Group and its three pursuit squadrons, the 7th, 8th and 9th, were one of the initial parts of this expansion.

The 49th Fighter Group USAAF was formed in Michigan on the 20th of November, 1940. Despite the government's concern, until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor the training and build up of the 49th FG was leisurely. The rapid advance of the Japanese through the Pacific and their destruction of allied forces in their path meant a trained and complete fighter group was invaluable.

American strategy in the South West Pacific required the use of Australia as a staging location for American forces, supplies and munitions. It was important that the Japanese not reach New Caledonia and cut off the lines of communication between the United States and Australia.

This meant that the North of Australia needed to be defended, but also that the Japanese would have to be stopped in New Guinea or the surrounding area. Ultimately the Australian Army stopped the Japanese during the Kokoda, the United States Navy crimped Japanese hopes of invading southern New Guinea during the Coral Sea battle and then finally the Japan's back was broken by the United States Marine Corps and United States Navy in the Guadalcanal battles.

The 49th Fighter Group was to feature heavily in the battles through the South West Pacific. They became they leading group in the theater with 660 victories which included the Darwin, Port Moresby, Rabaul and Philippines campaigns. Their initiation to the South West Pacific was defending Darwin from Japanese bombers, recon and fighter sweeps.

In January 1942 the fighter group left San Francisco for Australia where they setup with the 7th at Bankstown, the 8th at Canberra and the 9th at Williamtown each with an allotment of twenty five P40Es. After training a small group of twelve P40s from the 7th were sent to Horn Island off Cape York. They soon met in combat with an attacking force of Japanese bombers and acquitted themselves well. The Horn Island force was disbanded as the 49th FG moved to Darwin with the 9th Pursuit heading north first.

Almost immediately the 9th Pursuit were in combat, chasing down a Ki-15 recon aircraft on the 22nd of March, 1942 which was show down. Six days later the 9th Pursuit attacked a group of seven bombers where three were shot down. On the 4th of April the 9th attacked a group of seven Betty's and six Zeroes of which all the bombers were shot down and two of the Zeroes. However two P40s were lost as well.

The 7th and 8th Pursuit moved to Darwin in April, with the 7th bumping the 9th from Batchelor Airfield south of Darwin and the 8th moving to Adelaide Field. The 9th moved to Livingstone Airfield. Livingstone was named after the 49th FG's first combat fatality, John Livingstone.

On the 25th of April the entire fighter group rose to defend Darwin from a force of twenty four bombers escorted by nine fighters. The 8th Pursuit claimed ten bombers and a Zero shot down. The Japanese attacked again soon after and for the loss of three bombers and four Zeros, the Americans lost four P40s.

The Australian tropical north is a difficult environment. It is harsh, hot, dusty and brutal on men and machines. The 49th Fighter Group started facing the problem of their bright, fresh pilots, ground crew and aircraft started to wear from constant combat, the environment itself and the hard work required to keep the machines in the air. Ground crews did an amazing job keeping the aircraft flying despite the lack of amenities.

On the 14th of June, the Japanese sent across a force of twenty five Zeros who acted like a bomber formation while a small bomber formation came in from the west. The P40s attacked the larger formation and were shot up by the Zeros. The P40 is a classic American piece of machinery. Tough, robust, good enough and in large enough numbers where needed. The tough P40s were all damaged from this encounter with the Zeros but all of the American pilots and their aircraft made it back to base.

On the 15th another force came across and the 9th and 7th were in the air to meet them. The same on the 16th as another force of twenty seven bombers and fifteen fighters attacked Darwin. This time the attacking force hit fuel storage tanks at the harbor which burned brightly over the night and next day.

The American P40s were making it costly for the Japanese to attack Darwin. As a result, after the 17th of April raid, the Japanese changed to night bombing and nuisance raids. None of which did any damage. It was not until the 31st of July that the Japanese staged another large daylight raid when twenty seven bombers and fifteen fighters flew in over the sea toward Darwin. They were met by twenty seven P40s who shot down six Zeros and three bombers. The 9th Fighter Squadron caught the Zeros heading home and managed to shoot down another four. Again, the Japanese changed to night raids due to the cost of the day raids.

It was not until the 23rd of August, 1942 that another daylight raid of Darwin was staged by the Japanese. Again, twenty seven Bettys and fifteen Zeros flew toward Darwin, but instead of targeting the harbor, instead they flew toward Batchelor and Strauss fields. Additionally, the RAAF had set up radar and radio facilities which helped the American fighter squadrons get into place before the Japanese arrived.

Twenty one P40s of the 8th attacked the formation twenty five miles out to sea, head on, and claimed four bombers downed. The 7th met the formation over the ocean as well, bringing down two aircraft in a diving attack. Another flight from the 8th intercepted the fighters and show down a Zero. The 7th chased the formation out to sea after they had dropped their bombs and brought down two more bombers and a Zero. The 49th FG lost only one P40 during this attack.

This was the last time that the 49th Fighter Group defended Darwin. The Australian P40 Squadron, No.77 RAAF moved to Darwin to take over defense duties as the 49th Fighter Group, it experience and fighters, were needed in Port Moresby as part of the New Guinea campaign.

The 9th Fighter Squadron soon after received the P38, which was a long range twin engine aircraft that was perfect for the long ranges required in the Pacific theater and a good match for the slow Zero when fighting in a boom and zoom method. The 7th and 8th kept their P40s, though they were updated to the P40K and later the P40N.

The constant combat in 1944 through New Guinea meant that the 9th fighter squadron could no longer maintain its P38s at combat efficiency. The Lockheed factory was not able to make enough P38s to resupply the 9th, so they were given the P47. The pilots did not like it, and over the five months they flew it, they only scored seven victories. The squadron commander managed to get the 9th re-equipped with P38s again, though they were beat up off-casts from another fighter group.

Eventually the 7th and 8th were also given P38J's in time for the campaign over the Philippines. The P38s of the 49th Fighter Group flew constant missions over 700 miles of ocean to provide air superiority for the campaign.

References