Royal New Zealand Air Force
THE keystone of British strategy in the Pacific was the great naval base at Singapore, and in the first two years of the war every effort was made to strengthen the garrison there. The conception of its defence had changed in the past few years. Up till the early thirties Singapore had been regarded as a base which could be attacked only from the sea, and its defensive dispositions were designed to counter the possibility of seaborne assault. With the increased range and striking power of air forces, however, it became clear that the original plans made for its defence would be inadequate. It was now necessary not only to provide for the defence of Singapore Island, but for the whole of the Malay Peninsula. Furthermore, it was recognised in 1939 that the British Home Fleet, whose despatch to the Far East in time of war had been regarded as one of the mainstays of Singapore's defence, might be too occupied in European waters to be sent.
This meant that the forces in Malaya would have to hold out against attack for a longer period than had been anticipated. Consequently, a stronger garrison was necessary than had been originally envisaged. The need to strengthen both land and air forces in Malaya came at a time when the resources of the Empire were already severely strained by the necessity of building up forces to beat the Germans in Europe and the Middle East. Consequently, it was not possible to provide sufficient troops or equipment to make Singapore secure from Japanese aggression.
New Zealand had always been aware of the importance of Singapore in relation to its own security, and all appreciations of the forces necessary for local defence had been based on the assumption that Singapore would not be lost. In recognition of this, it had contributed a substantial amount to the original cost of the base.
The strengthening of the RAF squadrons based in Malaya, and the formation of new ones, was helped in 1940 and 1941 by the sending of a monthly quota of pilots trained in New Zealand under the Commonwealth Air Training Plan, and New Zealand representation in many of the squadrons reached a very high proportion.page 79
In the middle of 1941 the British Government asked, in addition, for two complete units to be sent to Singapore: a fully manned fighter squadron and an aerodrome construction squadron. After a careful survey of the manpower position at home, the New Zealand Government replied that it could send the two units, although the pilots for the fighter squadron would have to be deducted from the regular monthly quota.
The aerodrome construction squadron was formed in July, and the advance party reached Malaya in the middle of August. The remainder of the unit arrived in various drafts until the third week in October, when the squadron was brought practically up to its full strength of 15 officers and 140 other ranks.
The fighter squadron assembled at Rongotai early in September, and after it had been equipped and had undergone a short course on drill and weapon training the first draft left New Zealand in the middle of the month. The second body followed six weeks later. The total strength of the squadron was 12 officers and 143 airmen.
The first party, consisting of ninety-six officers and men, arrived at Singapore on 10 October in the Dutch passenger liner Tasman after a peaceful voyage via Australia, New Guinea, and Java. Some of the men had been landed in Sydney because the ship was over-crowded, and reached Malaya in various ships later in the month. The second main draft arrived in November.
The Tasman party was met at the Singapore docks by the squadron's future Commanding Officer, Squadron Leader Clouston, DFC,1 and the two flight commanders, Flight Lieutenants MacKenzie, DFC,2 and Hutcheson,3 who had been sent out from England to take charge of the new unit. Arrangements for the men's reception were excellent. Within an hour of landing they had been transported to RAF Station, Kallang, which was to be their home for the next five months, and were eating their first meal on Malayan soil.
The pilots had come straight from the flying training schools in New Zealand, and their only experience of modern aircraft had been a short conversion course on Harvards. They were sent to an operational training unit which had been formed in Kluang, in Johore, to do a conversion course on Buffalos,4 the aircraft with which they were to be equipped.