Fighter Squadrons' Branch - Kittyhawks Photos
Milne Bay Gallery
Milne Bay (Gurney Airstrip)
Late in January 1943, the Squadron moved by sea to Townsville. From there, on 10 February, the main party embarked on SS Vanderlyn for Milne Bay. After enduring a tropical cyclone in an overcrowded, smelly, ex-cattle boat, the troops were glad to dis-embark on 13 February.
Now re-equipped with forty P40K Kittyhawks, the Squadron went onto alert on 22 February from Gurney Field ready to scramble to intercept enemy aircraft. (Note: 77 Squadron was the only Squadron to operate the K model).
It was here that 77 Squadron joined forces with 75 Squadron, No. 6 Squadron (Hudson) and No. 100 Squadron (Beauforts), under Command of No. 9 (Operational) Group RAAF who in turn were under the Operational Control of the 5th Air Force USAAF. This established a solid air defence arrangement for the strategic port of Milne Bay.
Over the period the pilots were continually frustrated at not finding the enemy or by intercepting friendly aircraft. For example, on 13 March 1943, Flight Lieutenants Daryl Sproule and Richard Sudlow tried to intercept an enemy aircraft which evaded them. Ten minutes later Sergeants Lloyd ‘Ron’ Ballard and Howard ‘Cloudy’ West gave chase to an enemy aircraft, identified as a Dinah (Ki46) reconnaissance aircraft, which got away due to superior speed.
The Squadron made its first daylight kill on 11 April when Flight Lieutenant Roger Kimpton and Flying Officer John Hodgkinson intercepted a force of five to eight ‘Zekes’ from a scramble. Hodgkinson destroyed one and Kimpton damaged another.
Admiral Yamamato was quick to respond to the Allied build up at Milne Bay and ordered a large air strike. This occurred on 14 April 1943, 37 ‘Betty’ bombers, eight ‘VAL’ dive bombers and twenty ‘Zeke’ fighters were intercepted by nineteen Kittyhawks from 77 Squadron as follows: 2 scrambled at around 1100 hrs, 12 scrambled at 1102-1105 hrs and finally 5 scrambled at 1136-1140 with combat joined at 1234 hrs. Although four 75 Squadron aircraft had been scrambled they were not engaged in the mȇlée.
At the conclusion of the battle, four Japanese bombers and two fighters had been shot down with another five bombers listed as probably shot down. However, the engagement was not without loss as one Kittyhawk (A29-169) piloted by Sergeant Lloyd C. Melrose was listed missing in action, pilot believed killed. Additionally, two other Kittyhawks were damaged, A29-185 Sergeant Colin Laing and A29-195 Flight Lieutenant Ian Kinross.
The claims for that action read:
Squadron Leader R. Creswell (CO) - 1 bomber
Flight Lieutenant D.M. Sproule - 1 bomber
Flight Lieutenant R.P. Sudlow - 1 fighter
Flying Officer D.H. Kelly - 1 bomber
Flying Officer J.A.T. Hodgkinson - 1 bomber
Flight Lieutenant I.R. Kinross - 1 bomber
Flight Lieutenant J.A. Cox - 1 bomber
Flight Lieutenant Johnstone - 1 bomber
Flying Officer A.W.C. Morrison -1 bomber
Squadron Leader Cresswell had a few anxious moments during the raid when his engine was shot out and he was forced to do a dead-stick landing. Flight Lieutenant Sproule led the Squadron home at the conclusion of the raid.
For 77 Squadron this was to be the last major air combat action of the war. The results of the engagement showed the superiority of the allied Air Power now operating in the Pacific.
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