Fighter Squadrons' Branch - Kittyhawks Photos
Los Negros Island Gallery
Los Negros Island (Momote Airstrip)
By early 1944 the Allies had nearly isolated Rabaul and a decision was made to launch an attack on Los Negros and Manus Islands in the Admiralty group. This meant that once the Allies had control of Manus Island they would also have control of the Bismarck Sea effectively completing the isolation of the Japanese garrison at Rabaul.
As it was planned to establish air operations on Manus Island as soon as possible, 76, 77 and 79 Squadrons were tasked with providing fighter support for the invasion. However, unknown to the Allies the Japanese commander on the island had anticipated the invasion and instructed his troops to keep a low profile during Allied reconnaissance flights over the island. The Americans landed on 29 February 1944 expecting very little resistance from what they thought was a small Japanese force.
The 77 Squadron ground party, consisting of nine officers and 194 airmen, arrived by landing craft seven days after the initial landings. They found that the Americans had still only a small foothold on the island, securing only part of the airfield complex and the nearby beach. The Japanese still held most of the foreshore of the harbour.
As the ship carrying most of the 77 Squadron party entered the harbour it was fired at by enemy heavy machine guns and 25mm cannons. The 77 Squadron personnel walked off the landing ship straight into the front line.
As the party unloaded the Squadron’s equipment they could see American B25 Mitchell bombers attacking Japanese positions only 300 yards away. That evening they dug fox holes in the sand and spent an uneasy night keeping a careful watch for Japanese raiding parties.
The conditions on Los Negros were appalling. For the first few weeks dead Japanese bodies littered the area surrounded by large swarms of flies. As a result up to 20% of the ground crews suffered from malaria or dysentery.
On 9 March 1944 the first Kittyhawks to arrive at the Los Negros airstrip, known as Momote, belonged to 76 Squadron. However, due to Japanese sniper activity around the airfield perimeter the transport aircraft carrying the 76 Squadron’s ground crew could not land. Accordingly, it was decided that the 77 Squadron party would maintain the 76 Squadron aircraft until the 76 Squadron ground crew could be flown in. However, it was not until six days later that the transport carrying the 76 Squadron ground crew arrived along with the first fourteen P40N Kittyhawks of 77 Squadron.
77 Squadron’s main task on Los Negros Island was to protect shipping bringing in supplies to the islands. However, a few strikes were made in support of the American ground forces on nearby Manus Island.
The islands were finally secured on the last day of March 1944. For the next five months the Squadron was employed on patrol duties around the islands.
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