Royal New Zealand Air Force
CHAPTER 6 — Local Defence
THE responsibility for directing New Zealand's war effort lay with the Cabinet—or rather, after July 1940, with the War Cabinet—whose decisions were transmitted through the Minister of Defence to the services. In arriving at these decisions on broad policy, the War Cabinet was assisted by committees dealing with specific aspects of the multifarious problems involved in waging war.
In 1933 a New Zealand Committee of Imperial Defence had been set up to co-ordinate all preparations for national defence, both military and civil. It consisted of a number of committees of Cabinet Ministers and representatives of all Government departments which would be concerned with the security and supply of the country in time of war. All its decisions were advisory and were sent to Cabinet for action if the British Committee of Imperial Defence approved them.
In 1936 the name of the committee was changed and it became known as the Organisation for National Security. At that time it consisted of twelve functioning committees, of which the most important were the Chiefs of Staff Committee, which advised on all service matters, and the committee dealing with co-ordination and the preparation of the Government War Book. Others dealt with supply, mapping, manpower, emergency precautions and the like.
In May 1937 a Council of Defence was formed to direct the activities of the various ONS committees. It consisted of the Prime Minister and the Ministers of Defence and Finance. The three Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary to the Treasury, and the Permanent Head of the Prime Minister's Department attended all meetings in a consultative capacity. Other members attended from time to time by invitation of the Prime Minister. Major Stevens1 was seconded from Army to the Prime Minister's Department and appointed secretary both of the Defence Council and of the ONS.
After the war started the original function of the ONS, that of preparation, was at an end; but the committees continued to act as consultative and deliberative bodies and the organisation, within the Prime Minister's Department, was responsible for co-ordination of the country's total war effort. The secretary (Major Stevens was succeeded in 1940 by Mr Foss Shanahan1) also acted as secretary to the Chiefs of Staff Committee, which naturally became the most active section of the ONS. In addition the ONS provided the secretariat for the War Council, a further advisory body which functioned from January 1940 until September 1942.
THE WAR CABINET
Early in 1940 a Cabinet Committee on Defence was formed, its purpose being to provide a more compact and manageable body for the direction of the war within the full Cabinet. In July, following the crisis caused by the fall of France, it was replaced by the War Cabinet, composed of representatives of both the major political parties, which thereafter had complete authority to make major decisions. It functioned successfully until it was dissolved at the end of the war.
In 1943 Mr Shanahan was appointed assistant secretary to the War Cabinet, and the office of the Organisation for National Security became an integral part of the War Cabinet secretariat, dropping its separate identity.
The link between the services and the War Cabinet was two-fold. On the one hand there was an advisory chain through the Chiefs of Staff Committee and the Organisation for National Security, and on the other a chain of command from the War Cabinet, through the Minister of Defence, to the three Chiefs of Staff.
OPERATIONAL RESOURCES OF THE RNZAF AT THE BEGINNING OF THE WAR
Although the RNZAF had laid its plans well before the war and was administratively ready to go into action, from the material aspect it was not in a good position. Had peace lasted for six page 68 months longer, the Vickers Wellingtons which were on order would have been despatched from the United Kingdom and would have provided a valuable addition to the country's defences. The Government's decision to hand them over to the RAF, together with the crews who were to bring them out, was undoubtedly correct and was warmly appreciated by the British Government. At the same time, the lack of modern equipment and the absence of many of its best-trained crews made it difficult for the RNZAF to provide the full measure of air defence which was desirable.
There were no long-range military aircraft in the country, and no modern ones at all. For defence against attack there were only the Territorial squadrons armed with Baffins and Vildebeestes, and a number of Fairey Gordons in the training organisation which could be used in an emergency. Of the Territorial units, only the Wellington Squadron had made much progress with its training.
In the early months of the war the three squadrons concentrated on operational training, and by early in 1940 had achieved a reasonable standard of efficiency as far as their limited equipment allowed.
A number of their pilots were withdrawn to form, with ex-aero club instructors, a nucleus of instructors and staff pilots in the training organisation. This, coupled with the fact that some of their aircraft were needed to meet training requirements, resulted in the units being large flights rather than fully manned and equipped squadrons. Two of the flights, those at Wigram and Woodbourne, occupied accommodation which was needed by the flying training schools. In March 1940 the three flights were combined to form the New Zealand General Reconnaissance Squadron, and stationed at the newly completed aerodrome at Whenuapai. The location was chosen because there was ample hangar space at Whenuapai to house both the squadron and No. 4 EFTS which was later to form there, and because Auckland was an important commercial centre and commanded the focal shipping area of the Hauraki Gulf. The operational strength of the Air Force was increased slightly by taking over a number of multi-engined commercial aircraft which were used both for training and for reconnaissance when the necessity arose. Arrangements were also made with Tasman Empire Airways Limited for their two flying boats, Awarua and Aotearoa, to be used when necessary on long-range sea reconnaissance. These aircraft periodically carried out patrols to the Chatham and Kermadec Islands.
Early in the war Britain was asked whether, in the event of war with Japan, she would let New Zealand have on short notice eighteen modern twin-engined bombers or general reconnaissance page 69 aircraft, or alternatively place an order for eighteen Hudsons from the United States for the RNZAF. In May 1940 Britain agreed that if Japan entered the war eighteen Hudsons would be released for shipment to New Zealand direct from America. Previously fifty Vincents had been offered from RAF reserves in the Middle East. They had been intended primarily for training purposes, but would also have formed a useful reserve in case of emergency. The RAF was so desperately short of aircraft in the Middle East, however, that the offer had to be withdrawn. Sixty Hawker Harts were offered instead, but they were not so suitable for New Zealand defence requirements as they had neither the range nor the striking power of the Vincents.
New Zealand then asked for twenty-four Hudsons to be sent instead of the Vincents, but this request had to be refused owing to the general shortage.
EARLY OPERATIONS IN NEW ZEALAND
The first air operation of the war carried out in New Zealand waters was a search by aircraft of the Auckland GR Squadron in the latter part of September 1939 for an enemy submarine. The search was fruitless, but as a result of the alarm standard patrols were organised, and shipping entering and leaving Auckland was thereafter given air cover.
Early in January 1940 the first New Zealand troop convoy left for overseas. There were six liners in the convoy, escorted by the battleship Ramillies and the cruisers Canberra and Leander. For a week before they left Wellington and Lyttelton, the RNZAF carried out patrols to a 50-mile radius of the two ports to search for possible enemy activity. To assist in the operations covering the approaches to Wellington, the Auckland Squadron was moved temporarily from Whenuapai to Ohakea.
Operations of the German raider Orion and her attendant ships in New Zealand waters in the second half of 1940 emphasised the need for long-range reconnaissance aircraft. On the night of 13 June the raider mined the entrance to the Hauraki Gulf, and by daylight had retired out of the range of the aircraft then available. Less than a week later the SS Niagara, bound from Auckland for Vancouver, struck two mines and sank between Bream Head and Moko Hinau.
In August the Orion sank the Turakina some 400 miles west of Cape Egmont. Patrols of the area were made by TEA flying boats, and by De Havilland Dragon aircraft from the Observers' School at Ohakea. In addition, a flight of three Vincents from Ohakea was sent to the aerodrome at Waipapakauri in North Auckland and operated from there for some days, but again the raider escaped with- page 70 out being attacked. Some months later, in November, she returned to New Zealand waters accompanied by two other vessels and sank two ships, the Holmwood and the Rangitane. Again both sinkings occurred outside the effective range of any service aircraft. A flight of Vincents was sent to operate from Gisborne, the nearest aerodrome to the point where the Rangitane was sunk, but with their limited range the aircraft could not reach the area. Searches were also made by TEA flying boats, one of which was seen by the raider (but did not see it) 500 miles from the New Zealand coast.
Although these incidents showed how weak the RNZAF was to cope with raiders, nothing could be done at the time to improve the position. The British Admiralty recommended the diversion of six Hudsons to New Zealand, but all available aircraft were needed in the more active theatres of war. To give full protection to shipping in New Zealand waters, a small striking force as well as reconnaissance aircraft would have been necessary, and the machines just could not be spared. The risks involved in carrying on with obsolescent aircraft had to be balanced against the urgent needs of other theatres, and the diversion of modern aircraft to New Zealand would not have been justified.
DEFENCE OF FIJI
Besides giving what protection it could to shipping in New Zealand waters, the RNZAF had a responsibility in the protection of Fiji. The recommendations of the Pacific Defence Conference concerning the Group had been approved by the New Zealand Cabinet in May 1939. An area of 117 acres was acquired at Nandi, near Lautoka on the west coast of Viti Levu, and an aerodrome with three runways was planned. At Nausori, 15 miles from Suva on the east coast, a single strip was projected. At the same time an aerodrome site and a seaplane alighting area were surveyed at Tonga. The contract for the two aerodromes in Fiji was let to the Southern Cross Construction Company and work on them began on the day war was declared. Both fields were practically completed by the following March, and then the construction machinery was shipped to Tonga and work on the aerodrome was begun there the following month. This field, built on land provided by the Tongan Government, was completed in September. Underground fuel stores were built at both Fiji and Tonga, and reserves of petrol, oil, and bombs were distributed among the three aerodromes.
By September 1940 the international situation in the Pacific was worse, with Japan's attitude becoming more and more threatening, and it was decided to send troops and a detachment of the RNZAF to reinforce Fiji. As a preliminary step work was begun at Nandi page 71 to provide accommodation, roading, sewerage, electric power supply and a hangar. The work was carried out by the Fijian Government under the direction of the New Zealand Public Works Department.
The RNZAF detachment formed at Rongotai in October under the command of Squadron Leader Baird. The advance party left New Zealand in the SS Kaiwarra on 1 November and arrived at Lautoka five days later. The main body left in two sections on 11 November and arrived on the 14th, one party going to Lautoka and the other to Suva.
The advance party carried with it most of the detachment's equipment: transport vehicles, timber, building materials, petrol, oil, and miscellaneous stores, as well as its aircraft. These comprised four DH89 Dragon Rapides, modified and equipped for operational flying, and one DH60 Moth for communications. Fuselages were carried on deck with engines and undercarriages attached, and the mainplanes and tail assemblies were crated and stowed between decks.
The morning after the ship arrived unloading began. The aircraft were lowered into lighters and towed the four or five miles round the coast to Nandi, where they were manhandled ashore and pushed along the road to the aerodrome. There, until the hangar was completed, they were housed in native-built shelters consisting of a thatched roof on poles. The other equipment was laboriously unloaded during the next few days, and as much as possible was put into two marquees erected at the aerodrome pending the completion of a main store building.
The men lived in tents at Namaka, two miles from the aerodrome, where the New Zealand Army had built a camp. For some months, while they were quartered there, they were attached to the Army for rations, canteen, postal and medical services, and all supplies not peculiar to the Air Force.
Progress with the building programme at Nandi was slow owing to the difficulty of obtaining material and the lack of labour, most of which was absorbed in Army works. Early in December a small headquarters building and a store were finished and a start was made on living quarters, but these were not ready for occupation until the following March.
The party which went to Suva formed RNZAF Headquarters in Fiji. The men were quartered at the Army camp at Nasese and the officers lived in the Grand Pacific Hotel. Headquarters offices were set up in the grounds of Government Buildings. The Commanding Officer was responsible for the training of all Air Force units in Fiji and for the tactical direction of air operations, and acted as Air Adviser to the Officer Commanding, Fiji Defences. He was required to co-operate with the Army in the close defence of Fiji, but his page 72 primary responsibility was the reconnaissance of the New Hebrides-Fiji-Tonga area.
On 17 November, eleven days after the advance party had landed, the first of the DH89s had been assembled and was flown at Nandi. The next day Squadron Leader White flew it to Nausori and was the first pilot to land on the aerodrome. A few days later flying training was started in earnest and the detachment began carrying out reconnaissance patrols. The first operational flight was made on the 21st, when the unit was ordered to intercept the Rangatira and Monowai which were bringing troops and supplies to Fiji.
Regular operations included periodic reconnaissance of outlying islands where enemy shipping might be sheltering, particularly in the Lau Group; escorts for shipping entering and leaving Suva and Lautoka; dawn and dusk perimeter patrols over the approaches to Suva; and extended ocean searches. The latter involved flying more than 400 nautical miles, with few navigational checks and frequent changes of course. In addition the unit kept up a constant programme of training in all aspects of its operational flying.
Flying activities were severely curtailed early in 1941 when two of the DH89s, which were picketed on the aerodrome at Nausori, were destroyed on 20 February by a hurricane. Three days later another aircraft was badly damaged through hitting a truck while being flown low over the aerodrome. As the unit now had only one serviceable operational aircraft, two DH86s were shipped from New Zealand, arriving at Lautoka on 13 March.
They could not easily be spared from New Zealand as there were only three others of the same type in the country, but the only other operational aircraft available were single-engined Vincents and Vildebeestes, which were not considered suitable for reconnaissance work round Fiji because of the risk of forced landings in the shark-infested waters.
It was intended that eventually the unit should be equipped with flying boats and Hudsons. As neither of these types was available it carried on as best it could with the De Havillands. In August, however, the New Zealand Government decided to reinforce Fiji and sent up a flight of six Vincents to be used on short-range reconnaissance work and army co-operation. They arrived in the middle of the month and were ready for operations early in the next month.
On 8 October the unit was formally constituted a squadron and became known as No. 4 (General Reconnaissance) Squadron.page 73
At the same time as aerodromes were planned in 1939, possible flying-boat alighting areas were surveyed in Fiji. Three areas were found suitable for mooring sites: Suva Harbour, Lauthala Bay, three miles round the coast, and Lautoka. Of these the last was the best natural site for a base, but it was too far from Defence Headquarters in Suva.
Both the New Zealand Government and the Pan-American Airways Corporation had been interested for some time in the formation of a permanent flying-boat base in Fiji from the civil aviation aspect. The appearance of German raiders in the Pacific and the deteriorating relations with Japan emphasised its urgency as a defensive measure. Discussions between New Zealand, Fiji, and the United Kingdom were carried on throughout 1940. Finally, in February 1941, the British Government agreed that the construction of a base should be started immediately on the understanding that the cost should be shared by the three countries. The site chosen was at Lauthala Bay, but as much development work had to be done before it could be used by flying boats, moorings and other facilities were established in Suva Harbour in the meantime.
In April an RAAF Empire-type flying boat landed on the harbour, and the captain reported that although Suva Harbour was suitable for Empire flying boats, he did not think it would be satisfactory for bigger aircraft. The visit was a useful test for the organisation set up by the RNZAF; refuelling, meteorological, and mooring arrangements all proved very satisfactory.
Work was begun on the construction of shore facilities at Lauthala Bay in September and temporary moorings were installed. It was apparent, however, that before it could be made into a satisfactory operational base a breakwater would have to be built. In the meantime such aircraft as could would have to operate from Suva Harbour.
1 Wing Commander Baird, with aircrews and a small servicing party, had been sent to Singapore in September to collect the aircraft. Two left for Fiji in November, while the other two, owing to difficulties in making them serviceable, did not get away until 13 December.
They flew to Fiji via Java, Northern Australia, New Guinea, the Solomons and the New Hebrides. The aircraft were old, barely fit to fly, and heavily laden with equipment and fuel. During the whole journey they rarely achieved a height of more than a few hundred feet above the sea. Mechanical troubles cropped up from time to time, and the flight was not without risk and excitement.
The servicing party, under Sergeants J. W. Cook and I. Walthers, had to be left behind and was attached to No. 205 Squadron RAF. The men, in company with other RAF personnel who were evacuated from Singapore, eventually reached Java. There they were discovered by Squadron Leader E. C. Smart and attached by him to the RNZAF Construction Squadron to ensure that they were evacuated to Australia with other New Zealanders.
The flying boats and their crews were formed into a unit and called No. 5 (GR) Squadron. They started operations in January 1942 and were employed on shipping escorts and long-range anti-submarine patrols.
A new urgency was given to all defensive preparations in the Pacific following the German attack on Russia in June 1941. It was felt that Japan might take advantage of Russia's preoccupation in the west and attempt to occupy British and American territories in the Far East. The United States was particularly apprehensive about the possibility of a Japanese attack on the Philippines. The main air reinforcing route from America to the Far East ran through Hawaii, Midway, Wake Island, Port Moresby and Darwin. This route, passing near the Japanese mandated islands in the Carolines and Marianas, was likely to be too vulnerable in the event of war, and the United States decided to prepare a more southerly route passing through Christmas Island, Canton Island, Fiji and New Caledonia.1
Shortly before Japan entered the war, a conference was held in Suva between New Zealand and American officers and the Government of Fiji to discuss the formation of a major aerodrome at Nandi to serve the Americans as a base in their Far East reinforcing route. As a result it was agreed that the base should be developed and that the RNZAF should eventually vacate it and move to Nausori. The New Zealand Government undertook responsibility for the necessary extensions at Nandi and the Americans were to help with such construction equipment as they could spare.2 Three concrete strips with a minimum length of 7000 feet and a width of 500 feet were projected, and a new strip was to be built at Narewa, a few miles from Nandi.
No. 2 Aerodrome Construction Squadron RNZAF left New Zealand at the end of November to begin work on accommodation buildings. Ten days later a thousand men who had been formed by the Public Works Department into a Civil Construction Unit followed them. The immense amount of plant and equipment needed for the construction work was gathered from all parts of New Zealand and sent to Fiji, and more equipment was contributed by the gold mines and sugar mill at Lautoka.
2 American help did not materialise.
1 800,000 cubic yards of earth was moved, and 20,000 tons of cement and 3 ½ million super feet of timber were used in the construction.
FORMATION OF NEW GENERAL RECONNAISSANCE SQUADRONS
While the defences of Fiji were being strengthened, new squadrons were being formed in New Zealand to meet the growing threat of war in the Pacific. In August 1940 the Chief of Air Staff, Air Commodore Saunders, recommended, in view of Japan's increasingly hostile attitude, that more operational units should be formed as soon as aircraft became available. Towards the end of the year and early in 1941, a number of Vincents were relinquished by the training schools, which were progressively re-equipping with Harvards and Oxfords. At the same time the flying and technical training programmes had provided enough qualified personnel to man the new units. Consequently, two additional squadrons were established. The original New Zealand GR Squadron at Whenuapai became known as No. 1 Squadron. No. 2 Squadron, equipped with Vincents and Vildebeestes, was formed at Nelson in December 1940, under the command of Squadron Leader Cohen, and No. 3 Squadron, flying Baffins and commanded by Squadron Leader Monckton, formed at Harewood in April 1941.
No. 1 Squadron continued to be responsible for patrolling the approaches to Auckland and the seas round North Cape. No. 2 Squadron guarded Cook Strait and the approaches to Wellington, and No. 3 Squadron was responsible for patrols over the approaches to Lyttelton, Dunedin, and Foveaux Strait.
In February 1941 a detached flight of No. 2 Squadron at Nelson was stationed at Omaka, near Blenheim, to patrol the eastern approaches to Cook Strait. In May a detached flight of No. 3 Squadron at Harewood was posted to Taieri to operate round the south and south-west coasts of the South Island.
The squadron at Nelson, besides carrying out its own training and operational programmes, developed also into a School of General Reconnaissance, and pilots from the other squadrons were attached to it for training. By the end of 1941 the school had developed into a separate unit and was transferred to Omaka.
When the new squadrons were first formed, they contained a nucleus of experienced officers who were posted as commanding page 76 officers and flight commanders. The majority of the pilots came direct from flying training schools. Throughout the first few months of their existence the squadrons concentrated on training to fit them for their role of coastal reconnaissance. The most important subjects about which pilots had to learn were ship recognition, navigation, reporting procedure, codes, etc. Equipment was scarce and became available only by slow degrees. Charts were particularly scarce and pilots had to use photographic reproductions. Navigation instruments were in equally short supply; compasses and dividers were bought by individual pilots and Douglas protractors were home-made from celluloid. It was not until they had been operating for some months that pilots were provided with Mae Wests.
The Baffins of No. 3 Squadron were two-seater machines and were not fitted with dual control. The method of instructing a new pilot to fly them was simple. An experienced pilot flew the aircraft while the trainee stood in the gunner's cockpit and looked over into the front cockpit to see how it was done. After a flight the new pilot climbed over into the front seat and tried his hand at a solo flight. Then followed one hour's solo flying practice, a solo cross-country flight, and a flight with full war load, and then the pilot was considered ‘O.K.’ for operations. Thereafter he carried out exercises in formation flying, navigation, and W/T (wireless telegraphy) tests. As the crew consisted only of pilot and air-gunner, the pilot had also to act as navigator. As flying the aircraft was itself a full-time job, the navigation consisted mainly of dead reckoning.
The following is a description by one of the pilots of the aircraft in operational condition:
The ground crew would put a lot of time into the aircraft selected. Riggers, whose job was a difficult one owing to the rotting fabric etc., were most painstaking. The fitters clustered around to tell the pilot little points to watch. Armourers loaded the underside with two 250 lb. general purpose bombs, four 25 lb. anti-personnel bombs, one parachute flare, two wing-tip flares, two smoke floats and anything else they could think of. Within the aircraft were spare drums of ammunition for the rear gunner, a long belt of ammunition for the front gun, flame floats, sea markers, a Verey pistol and Verey cartridges in every colour possible. A dinghy was supposed to be concealed in the centre section of the main plane and was operated by the pilot pulling a string. As no one knew how to put it back, no one tried to operate it, so we do not know to this day if the dinghy was there or not.
In due course the aircrew arrived in full flying kit, plus an amazing array of books, charts, food and so on. The gunner, on entering the aircraft, stowed his parachute and fastened on his safety harness. The pilot had a somewhat more complicated ritual for he was navigator too. Having stepped in he proceeded to dispose of his tools of trade. Each pilot had his own method, but mine was something like this. My gloves were jammed behind the throttle, a Navy code book jammed down my left hip, my flying log was attached to my right knee, my pencil in my mouth, spare pencil in my flying boot, my photographically produced chart on its cardboard backing page 77 was hung on a piece of string from the cocking handle of the gun. My home-made protractor was tied to the chart and a course and speed calculator was hung round my neck on a piece of string. Dividers were tied to the compass. On the right side of the cockpit were Verey pistol and ammunition, and the Air Ministry code book and a Syko machine were jammed behind a stay. The above equipment was standard to all pilots and some also carried an empty pipe to suck in anxious moments.
The Vincents and Vildebeestes with which No. 2 Squadron was equipped, and which also eventually replaced the Baffins of No. 3 Squadron, involved rather less trouble for the pilot as they were three-seater machines and carried a navigator as well as an air-gunner.
Operations normally comprised patrols of anything up to a hundred miles out to sea, although occasionally they extended further. Flying obsolescent machines without modern navigation aids, often in extremely bad weather, pilots had an arduous task. The fact that they never had the opportunity of attacking an enemy ship did nothing to lighten the work. An aircraft of No. 3 Squadron operating on one occasion from Invercargill aerodrome carried out a patrol to the Snares Islands, south of New Zealand, and went as far as a latitude of 48 degrees 1 minute south, which was claimed as the southernmost point reached by any single-engined land-based aircraft on an operational flight.
After operating for more than two years with obsolescent aircraft, the RNZAF started to receive more modern machines towards the end of 1941. In July of that year Britain authorised the release of six Hudsons1 a month to New Zealand from RAF allocations in America. A total of sixty-four was ordered by New Zealand, of which thirty were to be delivered before the end of 1941 and the balance in 1942. The allocation was subject to review if relative conditions in the Pacific and the European theatre should change.
The first six aircraft arrived in September and were assembled at Hobsonville. More arrived in the following months, and as soon as they were assembled they were allotted to the GR squadrons.
By the end of the year all three squadrons were partially equipped with them.
When Japan entered the war in December, New Zealand had the three squadrons equipped with Hudsons and Vincents. In Fiji No. 4 Squadron was armed with four De Havilland aircraft and six Vincents, and an Army Co-operation Squadron had recently been formed with a strength of two aircraft. Immediately war broke out, six of the few Hudsons available in New Zealand were sent to reinforce No. 4 Squadron.