‘Kiwi’ fighter pilot Guy Newton and his squadron of Curtiss Kittyhawks helped to break the Japanese stranglehold on the Solomon Islands, as Andrew Thomas explains
The Royal New Zealand Air Force made a significant contribution to the allied cause during World War Two. More than 55,000 ‘Kiwis’ joined the RNZAF and of these, 10,000-plus were transferred to Europe and North Africa, serving with distinction with RAF and Commonwealth squadrons as well as New Zealand units. Besides training thousands of aircrew under the Empire Air Training Scheme, the RNZAF formed seven frontline squadrons in the ‘400 series’ for service in Europe and elsewhere, while many more operated in New Zealand and the southwest Pacific. The exploits of the squadrons that served alongside the RAF are well known, but much less has been written of those in Malaya and Solomon Islands campaigns.
Christchurch, New Zealand-born Guy Newton, a 20-year-old engineering draftsman, began his flying career in 1937 as part of the Civil Air Reserve, but two years later he joined the RNZAF intending to obtain a short-service commission with the RAF. However, the war began while he was still in training, so he was retained in New Zealand, eventually qualifying as a flying instructor. During an instructional sortie on the morning of March 12, 1940 Guy was ordered to perform a slow roll and, when inverted, his 43-year-old instructor Sqn Ldr David Allan fell out, to his death. An acclaimed stunt pilot, Allan was in the habit of not wearing his harness, although a subsequent investigation found this may have been faulty. At the time, parachutes were not mandatory.
By 1942, Guy Newton was instructing at the Curtiss Kittyhawk-equipped Fighter Operational Training Unit at Ohakea on New Zealand’s South Island and, in the latter part of the year, he joined the newly formed 17 Squadron at Whenuapai near Auckland. He was appointed as a flight commander and his considerable experience was much valued as the unit, flying Kittyhawks, worked up to an operational pitch. By then the Japanese had captured much of the Solomon Islands chain in the south Pacific, and New Zealand forces were committed to the area alongside those of the US. On June 24, 1943 Newton was promoted to command 17 Squadron, which, the following month, moved to Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides, for air defence duties. Then in September he led it to Guadalcanal in the southern Solomons for an operational tour, arriving in two flights on the 11th and 22nd. Newton arrived in the first group and the next day flew a familiarisation sortie up the ‘Slot’, as the large body of water between the islands was known. However, off Lebrena Point on Wana Wana Island, New Georgia, Guy’s Kittyhawk Mk.IV NZ3975 suffered an engine fire and he was forced to bale out into the sea. This was not without drama because as the aircraft steadily plummeted, he fell halfway out, and was pinned against the canopy with his parachute seat pack caught inside. Fortunately, he extricated himself and was picked up by some islanders, badly bruised and slightly burnt. Later, an air-sea rescue Catalina collected Newton and returned him safely to Guadalcanal, where his injuries were treated…
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