|Pilot F/Lt Alister Whyte Buchanan, 1304 (MIA / KIA) Masterton, Wellington, NZ
Crashed December 24, 1943
Built by Curtiss in Buffalo, New York. Constructors Number 28459. Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) P-40N-1-CU Warhawk serial number 42-104697. Disassembled and shipped overseas to New Zealand as part of defense aid.
Assigned to the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) as Kittyhawk serial number NZ3165. Reassembled by No.1 Aircraft Depot (1 AD) at Hobsonville Airfield on July 8, 1943. Assigned to 17 Squadron with tail code "L". No known nickname or nose art.
On December 24, 1943 took off from Ondonga Airfield on New Georgia piloted by F/Lt Alister W. Buchanan at 6:15am and flew to Torokina Airfield on Bougainville landing at 7:45am to refuel and took off again at 9:35am and joined other fighter aircraft on a fighter sweep over Rabaul.
17 Squadron was divided into three sections of four Kittyhawks. This P-40 was leading the second with wingman P-40N NZ3139 piloted by F/O R. J. Prentice plus P-40N NZ3124 piloted by F/O G. R. B. Highet and P-40N NZ3120 piloted by Sgt K. F. Outtrim.
A total of forty-eight Allied fighters were assigned to this fighter sweep of Rabaul. The formation including twenty-four RNZAF Kittyhawks: twelve from 16 Squadron and twelve from 17 Squadron. Plus, land based U. S. Navy fighters including sixteen F6F Hellcats from VF-33 plus eight F6F Hellcats from VF-40.
At 11:10am the formation passed Cape Saint George on the southern tip of New Ireland and flew up Cape Saint Georges Channel. The weather was clear with 17 Squadron approaching the target area at an altitude of 18,000'. Over the target area, 16 Squadron was the first to spot two groups of roughly twenty A6M Zeros over Simpson Harbor climbing from the left and soon afterwards both RNZAF squadrons dove to intercept.
At 11:10am the formation proceeded passed Cape Saint George on the southern tip of New Ireland and flew up Cape Saint Georges Channel. The weather was clear. Approaching the target area at an altitude of 18,000', 17 Squadron observed a cloud of dust from A6M Zeros taking off from Tobera Airfield. When the RNZAF Kittyhawks were five miles southeast of Praed Point, two groups of roughly twenty A6M Zeros over Simpson Harbor were spotted climbing from the left. Both squadrons dove down to intercept.
F/Lt Buchanan led the second section, diving after the first section near Sulphur Point. During their dive, Buchanan and his wingman Prentice turned to engage 5-6 Zeros that had came around behind them. At roughly 12,000' to 14,000' altitude, Buchanan swept around the tail of Hamp [A6M3 Zero] at close range and opened fire causing it to emit black smoke. The Japanese fighter was not seen again. It was claimed for Buchanan as probably destroyed.
At roughly 11:20am, Prentice broke to the right to avoid an enemy fighter on his tail while Buchanan broke to the left. Prentice engaged in individual dog fights and afterwards was unable to locate Buchanan. When his aircraft failed to return he was officially declared Missing In Action (MIA). The aircraft was written off on January 31, 1944.
Despite the high loss of planes and pilots the mission is described in the official RNZAF history as "the most successful day in the history of the RNZAF" due to the claims by the returning Kittyhawk pilots. They reported 14 Japanese fighters as destroyed, 7 probably destroyed and 14 damaged. A total of seven Kittyhawks were lost (5 pilots failed to return and two were injured). A total of seven RNZAF Kittyhawks were lost this aircraft plus P-40N NZ3174 (MIA), P-40N NZ3162 (MIA), P-40N NZ3196 (MIA), P-40N NZ3199 (pilot survived), P-40N NZ3135 (pilot survived) and P-40N NZ3140 (MIA).
The wreckage of Buchanan's Kittyhawk was brought to the attention of the RNZAF on June 12, 1973. It was located at Undor Plantation near Lananai Cove on the southern side of New Ireland. New Zealand authorities visited the area to search for the remains of the pilot, but none were found. The team removed engine data plates and markings from the wreckage as proof of identification. According to local villagers the pilot's body had been buried nearby but no trace of the grave could be found forty years after the crash.
Buchanan was officially declared dead the day of the mission. He is memorialized at the Bourail War Cemetery on Bourail Memorial at panel 3. On February 25, 1944 he was mentioned in dispatches: "In recognition of distinguished service and devotion to duty. Flight Lieutenant Buchanan has proved himself to be an excellent leader and fighter pilot. He has personally destroyed one enemy aircraft, and due to his leadership and keenness the performance of his section has invariably been good."
USAF Serial Number Search Results - P-40N-1-CU Warhawk 42-104697
"104697 to New Zealand as NZ3134. Assembled by No.1 Aircraft Depot, Hobsonville and BoC at Hobsonville on 8 July 1943. Coded "L". To No.17 Squadron. Crashed during a fighter sweep by 48 aircraft over Rabaul on 24 December 1943. The aircraft were attacked by enemy fighters and NZ3134 was one of 5 RNZAF P-40s which failed to return from the mission."
Air to Air The Story Behind the air-to-air combat claims of the RNZAF pages 225-22 (24 December 1943), 236-243 (24 January 1943 - 17 Squadron), 251 (summary of RNZAF aircraft destroyed 24 December 1943), 313 (Biography), 354-355 (combat claims Buchanan) 397 (index Buchanan), 403 (index NZ3134)
ADF Serials Kittyhawk NZ3134
CWGC - Alister Whyte Buchanan
Thanks to Brian Bennett and Edward Rogers for additional information
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January 12, 2019