Kiwis Over the Pacific

Flight Officer, Geoff Fisken

During early World War II operations in the Pacific, Geoff Fisken would become one of the most outstanding pilots of the RNZAF—the Royal New Zealand Air Force.

Fisken was born in Gisborne, New Zealand, in 1918, and during the 1930s he learned to fly a de Havilland Gypsy Moth biplane. In 1939, Fisken was working for a farmer in Masterton, and at the outbreak of war in Europe he volunteered for flying duty.  In October 1941, as the threat of war with Japan was increasing, No. 67 Squadron was moved to Mingaladon, Burma, but Fisken was posted instead to No. 243 Squadron RAF.

With the Japanese attacks across East Asia and the western Pacific on December 8, 1941, No. 243 Squadron was assigned to defend the Royal Navy’s Force Z––the battleship HMS Prince of Walesand battlecruiser HMS Repulse. Two days later the British warships were attacked and sunk by Japanese air units. Then, as the Japanese advanced down the Malay Peninsula, Singapore became the target of an increasing number of bombing raids.

RNZ on Guadalcanal

After continuous missions,  No. 243 Squadron had lost the majority of its pilots and virtually all its aircraft. As a result, it was merged with No. 453 Squadron of the RAAF, which continued to operate along with No. 488 Squadron RNZAF.  Fisken claimed another fighter destroyed on February 1. Five days later he was bounced by two Japanese fighters, shooting down one while narrowly escaping the other, though he was injured in the arm and leg by a cannon shell. On the eve of Singapore’s surrender, Commonwealth pilots were withdrawn to Batavia (now Jakarta), Java, and later to Australia. As a result of his performance in Singapore, Geoff Fisken received a commission and was promoted to the rank of pilot officer.

Fisken was just one of hundreds of New Zealanders––Kiwis––who loved nothing more than a good brawl but of whom little is known today outside their island nation.

“Too Young To Die” by Bryan Cox

Many of you history buffs out there already have “Too Young To Die” by Bryan Cox or have seen a book review and already know The story of  Flight Sergeant Bryan Cox, who suffered a failure of both his radio and lights during the return flight but happened to stumble upon the landing strip at Green Island just as he was nearly out of fuel. It was not only a fortunate day for him, but also his 20th birthday. Below is another story of that day…

Bryan Cox (19), WWII

Continually fighting throughout the war, on January 15, 1945, during a strike on Toboi Wharf in Simpson Harbor at Rabaul, conducted by aircraft of Nos. 14 and 16 Squadrons flying from Green Island and No. 24 from Bougainville––a total of 36 Corsairs––one was knocked down by antiaircraft fire. The F4U was piloted by Flight Lieutenant Francis George Keefe of No. 14 Squadron, who managed to bail out, landing in the harbor.

An exceptional swimmer, Keefe struck out for the harbor entrance. For some time he made good progress. Then, in the middle of the afternoon, by which time he had been swimming for six hours, the tide and wind changed and he began to drift back up the harbor.

RNZAF on Green Island

A rescue force had been quickly organized while sections of Corsairs kept watch overhead to prevent Japanese attempts to capture Keefe. Two bamboo rafts were assembled and loaded aboard a Ventura at Green Island, intended to be dropped to the downed pilot.

As two Corsairs orbited above Rabaul awaiting the arrival of the Ventura, an American Catalina pilot circling just beyond the harbor entrance spotted Keefe and twice requested permission to land and pick him up. The request was denied both times by the officer in charge, Squadron Leader Paul Green, the commander of No. 16 Squadron, due to the threat posed by Japanese coastal and antiaircraft guns.

RNZAF doing maintenance after a Rabaul mission

When the Ventura arrived, it was accompanied by another 12 Corsairs, whose task was to strafe the Rabaul waterfront while the Ventura dropped the rafts. Everything went as planned, but Keefe failed or was unable to reach the rafts. The rescue was then aborted, and all aircraft were directed to return to base.

Approximately halfway back to Green Island, the Corsairs encountered a tropical storm front stretching across the horizon and down to sea level. Due to limited navigation aids, the aircraft were required to maintain a tight formation as the storm and darkness reduced visibility. The pilots could only see the navigation lights of the other aircraft in their flight.

Five of the Corsairs crashed into the sea, one crashed at Green Island as it was making its landing approach, and a seventh simply disappeared. The lost pilots included Flight Lieutenant B.S. Hay, Flight Officer A.N. Saward, Flight Sergeant I.J. Munro, and Flight Sergeant J.S. McArthur from No. 14 Squadron and Flight Lieutenant T.R.F. Johnson, Flight Officer G. Randell, and Flight Sergeant R.W. Albrecht from No. 16 Squadron.

RNZAF on Espiritu Santo

After the war, it was reported by Japanese troops captured at Rabaul that Keefe had managed to swim ashore. With a wounded arm, he was taken prisoner and died a few days later.

From September 3, 1939, to August 15, 1945, a total of 3,687 RNZAF personnel died in service, the majority with RAF Bomber Command flying in Britain and over Europe. The RNZAF had grown from a small prewar force to over 41,000 men and women (WAAFs) by 1945, including just over 10,000 serving with the RAF in Europe and Africa; 24 RNZAF squadrons saw service in the Pacific. On VJ Day, the RNZAF had more than 7,000 of its personnel stationed throughout the Solomons and Bismarcks.

The Kiwi airmen had not only fought proudly against their Japanese foes, but also carved out a place for themselves among their much larger Allies—Britain, Australia, and the United States—as they wrote their names into the history of the Pacific air war.

Click on images to enlarge.

Information from: ‘WWII Magazine’ and ‘Too Young To Die’ by Bryan Cox. Another excellent resource you might wish to look into “Kiwi Air Power” by Matthew Wright.

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Military Humor – 

 

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Farewell Salutes – 

Earl Baugh – Searcy, AR; US Navy, WWII, SeaBees

Avadon Chaves – Modesto, CA; US Army, Iraq, Spc., 1/6/2nd Brig. Combat Team

Raymond Debenham – Kalapol, NZ; RNZ Navy # 14075

RNZAF Airtrainers perform farewell flight

David Fail – Manawatu, NZ; RNZ Air Force # 412665, WWII

Bruce McCandless – Boston, MA; US Navy, Cuba, pilot / NASA, astronaut

Peter O’Donnell – Auckland, NZ ; RNZ Air Force # M83478

Bryan Raos – Te Kauwhata, NZ; RNZ Air Force # 459204, Flight Lt.

Robert Scott – Linwood, NZ; RNZ Air Force # 414822, WWII

John Sweeney – Auckland, NZ; RNZ Air Force # 452589, WWII

Jerry Yellin – Newark, NJ; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, 78th Fighter Squadron, P-51 pilot

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on December 28, 2017, in WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 127 Comments.

  1. Great piece of history on 243 Squadron RAF and Flt Geoff Fisken gp
    The Kiwis were formidable in their Warrior way.
    Cheers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I feel they were even more overlooked in history than Australia. While both countries literally fought for their countries’ freedom and to protect their families, history seems to have them on the back-burner — so I like to put stories in here to remind people of the contributions. Thanks for coming by, Ian!!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. ” A Happy New Year of Peace, Health, Wealth and Abundance in 2018 to you and your family “

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great Post!

    Hoping for a wonderful new year for you GP.

    ~Wyatt~

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I could not agree more w/ your sentiment that we remember those who won our freedom as we celebrate peace. May we all have a Happy New Year!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It was an international war effort that achieved success and we owe you a debt for keeping the memories of that joint effort alive. Many thanks. Here’s to more revived memories in 2018. All success to you pen/keyboard.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. hello gp cox its dennis the vizsla dog hay my dada sez he didnt eeven no that noo zeeland wuz involvd in the air war in the pacific so he fownd this histry verry intresting!!! a wurld war indeed!!! happy noo yeer to yoo!!! ok bye

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I am always amazed that these downed, wounded and bleeding airmen and sailors are not the victims of shark attacks. I’d be afraid that is all I would be think about. Here’s wishing you a Happy New Year, GP!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh many were, as unfortunately is described in the 5 Sullivan brothers’ story.
      May we all enjoy the coming year, learn from our mistakes and cut down on the complaining and ranting!!
      Here to you, fellow history buff! Cheers… 🍸 🍸

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Happy New Year!!
    日本は2018年になりました~:D

    Like

  9. As usual, a wonderful account! I pray that you had a lovely Christmas and that you’ll have a spectacular new year.

    Like

  10. Brodie and I look forward to each of your posts. I am so informed through your knowledge and detailed research. Your passion has become an inspiration to all of us bloggers.
    Happy New Year and Peace be with you. See you among your posts in 2018!

    Like

  11. Bravo for the great work you’ve done here and so highly appreciated by many. Happy New Year!

    Liked by 2 people

  12. A heroic rescue effort gone bad… Thanks for the history as always, G. –Curt

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Ook hier weer wat opgestoken.Hartelijk dank en een zorgeloos 2018

    Liked by 1 person

  14. After recently navigating through lots of traffic while traveling, the picture of the crowded aircraft carrier really resonated with me.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. These are all great accountings, GP. Bryan Cox was one very lucky young man. That landing was the equivalent of hitting the lotto on his birthday.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. The kiwi as a bird isn’t quite extinct (cute little thing, aptly described as a “flightless bird with hairy feathers”).

    But the flightless moa (bird) is extinct … brrr … (Col Sanders would love to get his hands on a few; one drumstick would feed a regiment of marines, I tell ya!)

    Liked by 2 people

  17. New Zealand is a weird mix … recently a (female~!) Prime Minister got rid of any jet fighters we had. So our air force is now more your basic air transport service …

    … but by God, are we ever good at rugby!

    Liked by 3 people

  18. Hi – thanks for the shout-out for my book, much appreciated. That link heads only to a post on my blog – the direct link to Kiwi Air Power, as Kindle or print, is: https://www.amazon.com/Kiwi-Air-Power-history-Military-ebook/dp/B00TL7PFBW/ – hope that’s useful for readers.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. Coming from thre U.K. I do know a fair bit about the Kiwis in the two World Wars….among all the troops from the Commonwealth.
    That was why, when the U.K. had a referendum in 1975 on whether to stay in the – as it was then – Common Market I voted to leave as I felt the the U.K. had abandoned the Commonwealth…a lack of respect for all those who had supported Britain in those wars.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. The RNZN were engaged in the first major naval battle of WWII;

    The Battle of The River Plate, 13th December 1939, when HMNZN Achilles in company with HMS Ajax and HMS Exeter engaged in battle with the Graf Spee in the South Atlantic.

    The New Zealanders were in no way a racial mob in fact they appreciated the Maori and treated them as equal, (not like the Australians with the Aborigines at that time) and the ships company of the Achilles consisted of many Maori warriors who acquitted themselves well, and with honour.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I have looked into that too, Beari. I have mentioned them in some posts. One needs only to type ‘Maori’ into the search area at the top right of my post pages. An excellent group to have on your side!! I did not know that the RNZN were involved in the first naval battle – so thank you for that info.

      Like

  21. New Zealanders, Why has been calling ownself to as the “Kiwi” from over 100 years ago?

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is related to the now protected bird, the kiwi. It was highly regarded by their native people, the Maori.
      それはキウイと呼ばれる今絶滅した鳥に直接結ばれています。 マオリ族の人々によって大きな反省を受けました。

      Liked by 2 people

      • Kiwis are far from extinct! They are a protected bird and there is a significant wild population, along with many carefully looked after in special zoo habitats.

        Liked by 2 people

        • I stand corrected and will correct my answer to Nasuko. Thank you very much, Matthew, I had been obviously been misinformed.

          Liked by 2 people

          • We live in some concern of the bird becoming extinct (not least because it’s our national symbol) and special precautions are taken to ensure Kiwis, among other species, survive. The sad fact is that a lot of NZ’s indigenous birds are extinct, including the giant moa and Haast’s Eagle, the largest eagle on the planet. But we’ve pulled one back from the brink, the Takahe, a ground-dwelling parrot which was thought extinct but now has a small yet viable population. The jewel in the crown would be the huia, a bird declared extinct in 1907 but for which there have been nagging feelings that maybe a breeding population has survived… somewhere…

            Liked by 1 person

  22. What brave and enduring young men. It always surprises me how heavily New Zealand was involved in WWII. I never realized that before your informative articles. Thanks!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, we often tend to take a lot of the glory, but we also need to give credit where it’s due. I don’t want anyone forgotten.

      Like

    • New Zealanders fought in just about every major theatre of war where the British were involved – on land in North Africa and Italy and in the Pacific Islands (alongside US troops). Kiwi aviators were involved with the RAF, both as fighter pilots and operating special New Zealand bomber squadrons over Europe. The RNZAF was very active over the South Pacific. Our merchant marine sailors operated in every theatre of war, including the Arctic convoys; and our navy, the RNZN, was active globally, notably the South Pacific campaign. Kiwis also served on many RN vessels throughout, particularly with the Fleet Air Arm. Total personnel involved in all services totaled over 100,000 during the war – not too bad for a nation whose population stood at about a million back then!

      Liked by 2 people

  23. Thank-you for sharing this story.
    We often forget about our Allies in the Pacific.

    Liked by 2 people

  24. This was an outstanding read. Thanks, GP.

    Liked by 2 people

  25. I am finding your articles sending me off on so many different tangents in search of more information. Thanks, once again, for sharing, and beaut to hear about the Kiwis ( from the other side of the ditch).

    Liked by 2 people

  26. Excellent story, GP. A shame about the seven lost.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. So much of winning wars relies on uncommon bravery, doesn’t it? Amazing stories.

    Liked by 3 people

    • It just bothers me though when that bravery goes unknown or unrecognized. Where would we be today if men like these hadn’t existed?! Thanks for stopping by today, Jacqui!

      Like

  28. I am sure I am not alone in being ignorant of NZ’s contribution to the war effort. Thanks, GP.

    Like

  29. Oh, a group I haven’t heard much about. Thanks, GP. Have a thriving Thursday!

    Liked by 1 person

  30. A sore point often overlooked Sir.
    The Dieppe raid:
    The Canadian Army lost:
    Headquarters and Miscellaneous Detachments 5
    14th Army Tank Regiment (The Calgary Regiment (Tank)) 13
    Royal Canadian Artillery 13
    Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers 27
    Royal Canadian Corps of Signals 9
    The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada 4
    The Royal Regiment of Canada 227
    The Royal Hamilton Light Infantry (Wentworth Regiment) 197
    Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal 119
    The Essex Scottish Regiment 121
    The South Saskatchewan Regiment 84
    The Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada 76
    The Calgary Highlanders 0
    The Toronto Scottish Regiment (MG) 1
    Royal Canadian Army Service Corps 1
    Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps 4
    Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps 2
    Canadian Provost Corps 1
    Canadian Intelligence Corps 3
    The RCAF lost five.

    always seems to be listed as An Allied Force.
    Good of you to bring this up. Reminding people of Australian, Canadian, NZ, African et. committment.
    Thanks.

    Liked by 3 people

  31. I understand that the mortality rate for Allied pilots in the European Theater was very high. Do you know if it was just as high in the Pacific Theater, or did they stand a better chance of surviving the war?

    Liked by 2 people

  32. Interesting perspective on New Zealand. They are often left out when discussing the war in the Pacific.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m always happy to locate information about people who are usually unnoticed or taken for granted. Thanks for dropping in, John!

      Like

      • One of the little-known contributions NZ made was as the primary base for the US South Pacific campaign in the Solomons – we provided base facilities, harbours and a lot of the logistic food supplies directly, along with our own naval, air and land forces. There are memorials around the capital, Wellington, where US forces were based or where their ships berthed.

        Liked by 3 people

  33. Thanks for the Kiwi stories, GP.

    Liked by 2 people

  34. Now that I know a few bloggers from Australia and New Zealand, it’s particularly interesting to learn more about their history. I’ve known exactly nothing about their military, but stories like these are fascinating, and help to begin filling in that big blank space.

    I was surprised to find a bit of a personal connection to this entry. One of my heroes, the British sailor Sir. Francis Chichester, set several singlehanded records before his death, and in the process went through four boats, all named Gipsy Moth, after the de Havilland Gipsy Moth aircraft in which Chichester completed pioneering work in aerial navigation techniques.

    Liked by 4 people

  35. Nice tribute to the commonwealth allies that fought alongside the American and British troops and fliers, GP. I am always struck by how young they were. I cannot imagine being able to cope with all that when I was 19 or 20. A strong generation, undoubtedly.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 3 people

    • The WWI ‘baby boomers survived the Great Depression and walked into a world war – you bet they were strong!! We see a few with that spirit today, but I fear we’ll never see most of a generation like it again.
      Thanks for coming by, Pete!

      Liked by 1 person

  36. Another tip of the hat to you, GP, for including this bit of the Kiwi’s contribution to the war!

    We Americans tend to think of World War II as being mostly the U.S., with some British help, that rolled back the Nazi and Japanese assault on the world. We Americans tend to overlook the fact that one of the forgotten attributes of the British Commonwealth is that Britain was able to tap into that Commonwealth and draw resources from New Zealand, Australia, Canada and South Africa to increase their counterpunch against Japan and Germany. Early in the war, the Japanese assault against the Commonwealth in the Pacific was devastating. The ANZAC forces fought mightily because they understood that if the Japanese weren’t stopped, Australia and New Zealand were next up in Japan’s march across those southern waters.

    As an aside, Churchill benefitted greatly from the contributions of South African Archibald Wavell during the war.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I try to give credit where credit is due, but it isn’t always easy to locate the information. Yes, Americans tend to think the war started with Pearl Harbor and we polished everyone off. Being as history is barely taught in the schools anymore, I think the opinions might stay that way too I’m afraid. But don’t get me started on Churchill – I’ll end up making too many enemies around here!!

      Like

  37. Very interesting story.

    Liked by 2 people

  38. Something I hadn’t known about our daughter-in-law’s compatriots

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve so often said that the individual nations of the Commonwealth were so grouped together in the records and listed many times as only ‘the Commonwealth’ or completely obliterated because they were attached to an RAF group, etc. It’s great that more stories are emerging. Thank you for reading it, Derrick!

      Liked by 3 people

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