24th April 1943
The grinder in the Southern Solomons has just only begun and it is already bloody and deadly. At sea Japan still reigns supreme. Light surface units had been sighted yesterday off Lunga Point on a south easterly heading. All naval strike assets in the area were put on full alert as it was clear that either Lunga or recent landings on Kira Kira where going to be the target.
The night of 24th April had the answer as three old but still deadly Japanese light cruisers stole into KiraKira under the noses of the USAAF in the Santa Cruz Islands. Three RNZN minesweepers were escorting the William Clairborne as she unloaded troops onto KiraKira. With little advance warning these little ships, crewed by exceptionally brave men not only engaged the much heavier and better armed enemy ships, but were able to keep her care afloat. The Japanese cruisers had the upper hand from the off. A terrifying first salvo almost ripped the HMNZS Moa apart as she took three direct hits. A massive explosion followed after which nothing remained of the minesweeper or its crews. Her sisters began to engage the Japanese vessels with their single 4 inch guns and with machine gun fire. As they did so the William Clairborne cancelled unloading operations while making smoke. Unfortunately she was hit by several 8cm and 12cm shells from both the crusiers and destroyers facing her. Small fires broke out along her stern that slowed her speed. Despite the unbalanced battle, the brave New Zealanders on the minesweepers, heavily damaged and on the verge of sinking, were able to keep the enemy warships busy enough until the first rays of dawn spelt the withdrawal of the Japanese ships to the North West away from the USAAF. Though no air strikes were carried out only one vessel was lost and all three minesweepers were mentioned in dispatches that day.
In the air the USAAF is putting up a fight. Japan lost another 10 Ki-43’s over Lunga as the P-38 maintained its superiority over the ageing Japanese fighter. Once again it was 39th Fighter Squadron, claiming three triple Aces today, that did the damage. The P-38 is proving a hardy fighter well armed and armoured, despite its lengthy service periods. Its crews are happy to fly it and its cannon are the scourge of Japanese air power! Major Boyington celebrated his recent promotion to Lieutenant Colonel by claiming his 15th kill. Here is the squadron roster as of 24-4-43