"Rabaul was a hot target for the Fifth's strafers,
but it is less well known that the strafers suffered their worst
combat loss not over Rabaul, but Kavieng. The events of this mission
are complex and worthy of a separate chapter in the Fifth's history.
Like Rabaul Kenney had decided to neutralize Kavieng with airpower
and bypass it on the way to the Philippines. The Liberators had
commenced a series of raids against Kavieng's airfield on 11th
February 1944, but Kenney decided that his strafers would do a
better job of eliminating the township. Grim Reaper A20Gs and
Sun Setter & Air Apache Mitchells were given the job. It was
surmised that the reception would be hot, but no one could have
guessed the extent of the losses which would ensue. The launch
began ominously when an Air Apache crashed on take-off at Horanda
Drome after losing an engine. The Sun Setters were first across
the target, and by the end of the furious attack which lasted
fifteen minutes the losses were adverse as they were unforeseen.
Three A20Gs had been lost - two ditched and one crashed into the
sea off Nusa Island. Three Sun Setter Mitchells had also been
lost one exploded into the town whilst the crews of the other
two would be rescued after successful ditchings. The Air Apaches
came off worst however, and lost four Mitchells. Jack Rabbit Express
was hit by AA and tore sideways into a palm grove. There were
no survivors. Gremlins' Holiday' ditched after taking hits, and
with an illegal passenger, adjutant Bob Huff who had done a deal
with the pilot to come along to witness a combat mission firsthand.
Stubborn Hellion ran out of luck after taking hits and also ditched
fifteen miles from the target. Finally Captain William Cavoli
and crew ditched just offshore the target but would be rescued
by a Navy PBY. The mission had therefore cost eleven aircraft,
but perhaps the more remarkable aspect to the story was the rescue
of ditched crews. Circling the area for possible rescues was VPB34
PBY nicknamed The Arkansas Traveller. Her pilot was 'Nate' Gordon,
a softly spoken 28 year old lawyer from Arkansas. Gordon's rescue
efforts lasted an hour and a half under enemy fire, and when The
Arkansas Traveller returned to her base at Finschhafen she unloaded fifteen ragged but grateful survivors as well as her crew of ten.
Both the Army and Navy sent in medal recommendations for this
determined effort and on 30th July 1944 in Brisbane, Gordon was
awarded the medal of honour. The last word on the epic should
go to Admiral "Bull" Halsey, who summed up matters succinctly
with his telegram sent that afternoon, "Please pass my admiration
on to that saga writing Kavieng Cat crew - Halsey".