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  P-40N-15-CU Kittyhawk Serial Number NZ3199 Code 69
16 Squadron

Pilot  Flying Officer Keith Walter Starnes, 41173 (survived) Nelson, NZ
Ditched  December 24, 1943

Aircraft History
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.

Wartime History
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.

Mission History
On December 24, 1943 took off from Ondonga Airfield on New Georgia piloted by Flying Officer Keith W. Starnes 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.

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.

When the RNZAF pilots of 16 and 17 Squadrons reached Kerewara Island (Kerawara), they were attacked by ten Zeros that made constant and determined attacks by pulling up then diving down on the Kittyhawks. Starnes felt four hits on his tail and his left aileron became unserviceable. There was an explosion under the right side of the cockpit and a piece of shrapnel penetrated the floor, wounding him in his right foot. He was also hit several times in both wings and saw tracers passing close by.

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.

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 NZ3140 (MIA).

Fates of the Pilot
In spite of his wounds Starnes was able to swim to shore and later returned to duty.

Starnes was later killed on September 18, 1944. He was buried at Bourail War Cemetery at grave 8. 7.

USAF Serial Number Search Results - P-40N-15-CU Warhawk 42-106394
"106394 (MSN 30156) to New Zealand as NZ3199. Assembled by No.1 Aircraft Depot, Hobsonville and BoC at Hobsonville on 24 November 1943. Coded "69". Ditched off Torokina Beach during fighter sweep to Rabaul on 24 December 1943. The aircraft was badly damaged after being attacked by about 10 Zekes. On reaching Torokina the aircraft became uncontrollable and was crash landed in the sea about a mile offshore."
ADF Serials Kittyhawk NZ3199
Air to Air The Story Behind the air-to-air combat claims of the RNZAF pages 225-22 (24 December 1943), 227-235 (24 January 1943 - 16 Squadron), 251 (summary of RNZAF aircraft destroyed 24 December 1943), 406 (index Starnes), 404 (index NZ3199)
CWGC - Keith Walter Starnes

Thanks to Edward Rogers for additional information

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Last Updated
May 27, 2018


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