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  P-40N-15-CU Kittyhawk Serial Number NZ3135 Code I
17 Squadron

Pilot  F/Sgt Donald Alfred Williams, 421125/130600 (survived) Nelson, NZ
Ditched  December 24, 1943

Aircraft History
Built by Curtiss in Buffalo, New York. Constructors number 28460. Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as P-40N-15-CU Warhawk serial number 42-104698. Disassembled and shipped overseas to New Zealand as part of defense aid.

Wartime History
Assigned to the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) as Kittyhawk serial number NZ3135. Reassembled by No. 1 Aircraft Depot (1 AD) at Hobsonville Airfield on July 8, 1943. Assigned to 17 Squadron with code "I". No nickname or nose art.

Mission History
On December 24, 1943 took off from Ondonga Airfield on New Georgia piloted by F/Sgt Donald Alfred Williams at 6:25am and landed at Torokina Airfield on Bougainville at 7:35am to refuel. This P-40 took off from Torokina Airfield at 10:00am on a fighter sweep over Rabaul.

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.

17 Squadron was divided into three sections of four Kittyhawks. This P-40 was no. 2 in the third section led by P-40N NZ3133 piloted by F/Lt. J. H. Mills with this aircraft as wingman plus P-40N NZ3137 piloted by F/O D. L. Jones and P-40N NZ3174 piloted by Sgt R. A. Covic.

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.

As the third section flight leader F/Lt. J. H. Mills dove, he engaged a Zero then broke sharply to avoid a collision and when he pulled up noticed his wingman F/Sgt Donald Alfred Williams was not with him in formation and he did not see him again. When this aircraft failed to return it was officially listed as Missing In Action (MIA) and officially written off on January 31, 1944.

Williams was engaged by Zeros and hit by gunfire that injured in his left arm and right foot but was able to bail out roughly 25 miles from Rabaul off the coast of New Ireland near near Gavutu Island [sic?]. While withdrawing, 16 Squadron P-40N piloted by S/L Arkwright observed a P-40 shot down that was likely piloted by Williams.

S/L Arkwright, 16 Squadron combat report December 24, 1943:
"...I looked around and saw another P-40 [likely piloted by Williams] being attacked by several Zekes. The P-40 which left me succeeded in chasing the Zekes off this lone P-40, but then one Zeke made a determined attack at him. I saw glycol or white smoke poor out of the P-40's motor and I tried to turn into him and break off the Zeke's attack. I fired a short burst but could not get my sights to bear. The Zeke broke away but the pilot of the P-40 bailed out at about 800 or 1000 feet. I saw the parachute start to open but did not have time to see the pilot land. I learned later from an F6F pilot that he had landed safely beside another F6F pilot [F6F Hellcat 09028 pilot David A. Scott] who had been shot down. This was in the middle of the St. George's Channel, just north of Putput."

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 NZ3134 (MIA) P-40N NZ3174 (MIA), P-40N NZ3162 (MIA), P-40N NZ3196 (MIA) P-40N NZ3199 (pilot survived) and P-40N NZ3140 (MIA).

Fates of the Pilot
After landing in the sea, Williams was adrift for six hours before he was rescued by a PBY Catalina and flown to Guadalcanal and taken to the hospital. Afterwards, he returned to duty.

USAF Serial Number Search Results - P-40N-15-CU Warhawk 42-104698
"104698 to New Zealand as NZ3135. Assembled by No.1 Aircraft Depot, Hobsonville and BoC at Hobsonville on 8 July 1943. Coded "I". 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 NZ3135 crashed near Gavutu Island."
Air to Air The Story Behind the air-to-air combat claims of the RNZAF pages 225-22 (24 December 1943), 228 (account of P-40 shoot down, Williams) 236-243 (24 January 1943 - 17 Squadron), 251 (summary of RNZAF aircraft destroyed 24 December 1943), 346-347 (Biography Williams), 355-356 (combat claims Williams) 403 (index NZ3135), 408 (index Williams)
CWGC - Keith Walter Starnes

Thanks to Edward Rogers for additional information

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Last Updated
June 29, 2019


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