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|Pilot Sergeant Robert Anthony Covic, 427035 (MIA / KIA) Hawkes Bay, NZ
MIA December 24, 1943
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. 4 in the 3rd section flying as wingman for P-40N NZ3137 piloted by F/O Jones led by P-40N NZ3133 piloted by F/Lt Mills with P-40N NZ3135 piloted by FSgt D. A. Williams.
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 first section flight leader S/L P. G. H. Newton dove, Worsp followed and was last seen by F/O A. G. S. George at the start of the dog fight but was never seen again. When this aircraft failed to return it was officially listed as Missing In Action (MIA) and officially 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 NZ3134 (MIA) P-40N NZ3174 (MIA), P-40N NZ3162 (MIA), P-40N NZ3196 (MIA) P-40N NZ3135 (pilot survived) and P-40N NZ3199 (pilot survived).
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