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A Veteran's Advice
When 85 year old Wing Commander George Gudsell RNZAF (Rtd) visited No.3 Squadron on 21 July 2003, the day before the lead elements of No.3 Squadron’s detachment left for Henderson airfield at Guadalcanal, he was able to offer some first hand advice on conditions and how No.3 Squadron first went to war in the Solomon Islands in 1942.
Six Hudson reconnaissance twin-engine bombers, crews and a small team of ground crew deployed to Henderson field from Espiritu Santo on 23 November 1942. Their role was to provide forward reconnaissance to spot Japanese shipping endeavouring to reinforce enemy forces on Guadalcanal.
On his first flight the next day, the then Flying Officer Gudsell and his crew spotted three ships near Vella Lavella to the north west of Guadalcanal. As they approached the ships, they commenced firing at his aircraft, confirming they were not friendly! Shortly afterwards three Japanese floatplane fighters commenced attacking the Hudson. By skilful manoeuvring the Hudson at heights as low as 50ft (15m) above the sea, Gudsell managed to successfully evade the fighters and returned to Henderson field. Three days later when shadowing another convoy, Gudsell’s aircraft was attacked by three Zeros. In a 17-minute duel, again at very low level over the sea, the Hudson was hit several times by Japanese bullets, but none of the crew were injured. For these actions, Gudsell was awarded the US Air Medal, the first member of the RNZAF to be awarded a decoration in the South West Pacific.
In 1943, George converted to Catalina flying boats and flew for the remainder of the war with No.5 Squadron at Fiji and Espiritu Santo. He returned to school teaching after the war, but rejoined the RNZAF as an education officer in 1948, retiring as a Wing Commander in 1968.
The current members of No.3 Squadron appreciated their lesson of history, and the advice George gave on environmental conditions to be expected in the Solomons. The latter have not changed, with humidity and the every present threat of malaria carrying mosquitoes still prevalent.
Co-incidentally the Hudson aircraft (NZ2049) involved in both of the November 1942 actions still exists today in the collection of aircraft owned by Mr John Smith of Mapua.
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