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|Pilot Flying Officer Keith Walter Starnes, 41173 (survived) Nelson, NZ
Ditched December 24, 1943
Built by Curtiss in Buffalo, New York. Constructors Number 30156. Delivered to the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as P-40N-15-CU Warhawk serial number 42-106394. Disassembled and shipped overseas to New Zealand as part of defense aid.
Assigned to the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) as Kittyhawk NZ3199. Reassembled by No.1 Aircraft Depot (1 AD) at Hobsonville Airfield on November 24, 1943. Assigned to 16 Squadron with tail code "69". No nickname or nose art.
16 Squadron was divided into three sections of four Kittyhawks. This P-40 was no. 2 in the second section led by P-40N NZ3173 piloted by F/Lt M. C. Jones with this aircraft as his wingman plus P-40N NZ3200 piloted by F/Sgt P. A. Tilyard and P-40N NZ3196 piloted by F/O D. B. Page.
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 16 Squadron approaching the target area at an altitude of 16,000'. 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.
16 Squadron was the first to spot two groups of roughly twenty A6M Zeros over Simpson Harbor climbing from the left. Both RNZAF squadrons dove to intercept.
Roughly 3-4 miles south of Cape Saint George, the Zeros broke off their attacks and departed. Starnes noted "Passing Cape St. George, there was light A/A, medium intensity and inaccurate. This was fired right from the tip of the Cape, the gun emplacements being plainly visible."
Over Empress Augusta Bay, Starnes was no longer able to maintain flight in his damaged aircraft but managed to safely crash land in the sea roughly a mile offshore Torokina Airfield in 7-8' of water. This aircraft was officially written off on January 31, 1944.
Fates of the Pilot
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