31st December 1942
Battle is joined!
The rumours came to fruition when Japanese naval power finally revealed itself in full glory over Nauru Island. Weeks of intelligence gathering and radio intercepts were hinted at the fact that something was up. All that was missing was the target, now it seemed the Japanese had revealed the final piece of the puzzle. The Marshall Islands.
The first indication came once again from HMAS Cootamubra. Going mildly about her business in her patrol area, she stumbled upon the cream of the IJN, her main carrier force the Kido Butai. SUffice to say she made herself very, very scarce once the identity of her foe was confirmed!
As dawn broke the innumerable sighting reports started to come in from Catalinas and Liberators out of Nauru Island. The seas seemed to be covered in Japanese Battle Grey. Carriers, battleships, cruisers and destroyers. The identification of ships was endless. Had Japan concentrated ALL her Navy at Nauru? The many Allied submarines also started to report contacts with carrier borne and float planes of various classes as their commanders tried to vector into the enemy carriers.
The first flight of enemy planes was soon over Nauru however. 70th Fighter Squadron (P-39) has been on full alert since yesterday had begun to put planes aloft on CAP since daybreak and this high level of preparedness stood it in good stead. 14 fighters were aloft and ready to meet the first sweep by A6M2s. A vicious dogfight ensued and despite the advantages the Zero possess over the Airacobra, 3 enemy planes were shot down for one loss. Nauru’s airfield reseembled an assembly line of planes lining up to take off as others refuelled and rearmed. The second CAP patrol of the day shot down another three Zeroes for no loss. 6-1 were good odds for the P-39!
The pilots of the 70th were in for a busy day as a third wave of enemy planes were detected by radar coming in at around 14:52. This time B5N2’s carrying bombs escorted by about 20 Zeroes came in over Nauru’s airfield. The fatigued USAAF pilots engaged the escorts but unlike the morning came off the worst losing 4 aircraft. The Kates proceeded to bomb the airfield causing little damage. Three P-39’s, however, reacting late to the call to scramble were able to vector in on unescorted bombers on their return journey splashing 3 and make sure one was heavily damaged. The 20mm cannon the P-39 mounts was used to good effect to tear into the flimsy Japanese planes.
USAAF Liberators were soon also called into action from their bases further to the East. A flight of 4 from the 404th Bomber Squadron dropped several sticks of bombs on a cruiser task force that was closing to Nauru Island. They braved a CAP of zero fighters, but were ably assisted by the pilots of the 70th, some flying their 5th sortie of the day. They punched their way through the enenmy fighter screen and dropped their 500lbers from 12,000 feet to little effect. One B-24, Daisy May, flown by Captain Lewis ditched near Tabiteuea and her crew rescued by flying boats.
Those particular ships then proceeded to inflict a terrifying shore bombardment of Nauru Island. The enemy cruisers came in close to shore despite the guns of the 9th Marine Defence Battalion. The fire controllers on the Japanese vessels had clear orders to zero into the airfield which received the majority of the shells fired. Moderate damage was inflicted on the facilities and the runway was holed in many areas. Despite the number of engineer units at Nauru it was not expected to have the field in operation on the morrow. As such the 70th and the 400th Bombers were withdrawn east. The 70th Fighter Squadron could be very pleased with its performance against high quality IJN pilots. Its scorecard read 15, 10 confirmed 5 probables, and it had lost 5 planes, 4 shot down 1 operational and three pilots. The next days are sure to be bloody and now eyes turn to the nocturnal prowling of 20 submarines in the area.
Game note: Dud rate falls 20% as from tomorrow 1-1-43!