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  P-40N-5-CU Kittyhawk Serial Number NZ3174 Code Q
17 Squadron

Former Assignments
14 Squadron

Pilot  Sergeant Robert Anthony Covic, 427035 (MIA / KIA) Hawkes Bay, NZ
MIA  December 24, 1943

Aircraft History
Built by Curtiss in Buffalo, New York. Constructors Number 28617. Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as P-40N-5-CU Warhawk serial number 42-104855. 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 NZ3174. Reassembled by No. 1 Aircraft Depot (1 AD) at Hobsonville Airfield on August 16, 1943. This aircraft was ferried by Pat Tennent from Whenuapai to Espiritu Santo on October 7, 1943. Assigned to 14 Squadron. Next, assigned to 17 Squadron with tail code "Q". No nickname or nose art. This P-40 was flown northward to operate from the Solomon Islands.

On December 19, 1943 took off from Ondonga Airfield on New Georgia piloted Sergeant Robert A. Covic and landed landed at Torokina Airfield on Bougainville at 7:50am to refuel. This P-40 took off from Torokina Airfield between 10:40am to 11:00am and rendezvoused with B-24 Liberators from the 5th Bombardment Group and 307th Bombardment Group at 17,000' then proceeded to Rabaul. This P-40 was leading the second section with wingman F/Sgt Speedy plus F/PO Jones and Sgt Covic and returned without incident and left the bombers south of Buka Island then landed back at Torokina Airfield to refuel then returned to Ondonga Airfield at 5:25pm.

Mission History
On December 24, 1943 took off from Ondonga Airfield on New Georgia piloted by F/Sgt Peter S. Worsp 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. 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).

Covic was officially declared dead the day of the mission. He is memorialized at the Bourail War Cemetery on Bourail Memorial at panel 7.

USAF Serial Number Search Results - P-40N-15-CU Warhawk 42-104855
"104855 (MSN 28617) to New Zealand as NZ3174. Assembled by No.1 Aircraft Depot, Hobsonville and BoC at Hobsonville on 16 August 1943. Coded "Q". Ferried from Whenuapai to Santos on 7 October 1943. To No.14 Squadron. 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 NZ3174 was one of 5 RNZAF P-40s which failed to return from the mission."
ADF Serials Kittyhawk NZ3140
Air to Air The Story Behind the air-to-air combat claims of the RNZAF pages 219 (19 December 1943), 225-22 (24 December 1943), 236-238 (24 January 1943 - 17 Squadron), 241 (photo), 251 (summary of RNZAF aircraft destroyed 24 December 1943), 404 (index NZ3174/Q), 408 (index Covic)
CWGC - Robert Anthony Covic

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Last Updated
June 29, 2019


Tech Info

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