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Episodes & Studies Volume 2


page 6


A LTHOUGH DURING THE FIRST few months of the war most of the New Zealand aircrews were scattered among Royal Air Force squadrons, there were a few who formed part of a ‘New Zealand Flight’. The Flight was formed in England on 1 June 1939 to fly out to New Zealand a number of Wellington bombers for the Royal New Zealand Air Force. When war broke out there were eighteen New Zealanders in the Flight—twelve pilots and six ground crew. Their Commanding Officer was Squadron Leader M. W. Buckley.10

The New Zealand Government immediately placed the six Wellingtons in the flight at the disposal of the British Government. The men themselves were for some weeks uncertain about their future. They wanted to stay and fight but were keen to remain a complete unit. With this desire the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Bomber Command, was in complete agreement.

The New Zealand Government approved the formation of a New Zealand Bomber Squadron within the RAF on 1 March 1940. A month later the Air Ministry decided that a squadron to be known as No. 75 (NZ) Squadron should be formed around the existing New Zealand Flight, then stationed at Feltwell in Norfolk, and that a second flight should be formed on 29 May 1940 to complete establishment. In the meantime the Flight continued training and was even able to make a few operational sorties. The first—a reconnaissance and leaflet-dropping operation—took place on 27 March 1940.

Three aircraft took off captained by Squadron Leader C. E. Kay,11 Flying Officer J. N. Collins,12 and Flying Officer. J. Adams;13 with them were Pilot Officer T. O. Freeman,14 Pilot Officer D. J. Harkness,15 and AC1 E. P. Williams.16 The remainder of the crews were made up from men of the Royal Air Force. The area they covered extended over Brunswick, Ulzen, and Luneberg. The flight was far from comfortable: the cold was intense and the aircraft dropped sickeningly from time to time as they met down-currents of air. All three aircraft returned safely

From this time until the invasion of France and the Low Countries, few operational sorties were carried out by the New Zealand Bomber Squadron, as it was unofficially known. Those made included leaflet-dropping operations, the bombing of Stavanger airfield (Norway) and Aalborg airfield (Denmark).

The most important sortie during this period was made on 12 April by Flight Lieutenant A. A. N. Breckon17 who, accompanied by Pilot Officer D. J. Harkness, LAC E. P. Williams, three RAF men and a Royal Navy observer, flew from Wick to Narvik on reconnaissance. The flight, which lasted 14½ hours, established what was then a record in the RAF for its length. The following is an abridged version of the captain's report:

Landfall was made at the Lofoten Islands at 1305 hours. The visibility on the coast was approximately 2-3 miles, 10/10 cloud at 800 feet, with an extremely strong wind blowing which caused the most unpleasant conditions. Great difficulty was experienced in controlling the aircraft while flying alongside the mountains in the Fiord. A reconnaissance of Vestfjorden was made and photographs were taken between 1330 and 1430 hours. As we proceeded into the Fiord, weather conditions rapidly deteriorated, clouds came down to about 300 feet and to almost sea level in places, causing visibility at times of 500 yards and less. A great effort was made to reach the town of Narvik at the head of the Fiord, but although we were nearly at our objective, we had to turn back for our own safety as we were flying at 200 feet in a heavy snow storm, with the clouds closing in on us, making us wonder if we could make a safe exit. During the entire reconnaissance of the Fiord, we had extremely bad flying conditions and the most page 7 terrific bumps the members of the crew had ever experienced. An enemy aircraft, believed to be a Ju88 appeared to be doing a reconnaissance in the Fiord too. It made no effort to attack although we had prepared for action.

At this time it was known that the enemy held Narvik in force. The First Battle of Narvik had been fought two days before and the Royal Navy was to sail up the fifty-mile-long fiord on 13 April to complete the destruction of German naval units in the Narvik area—seven enemy destroyers and one submarine were sunk in the Second Battle of Narvik. Breckon's reconnaissance flight was part of a plan to ensure that no enemy warships or submarines would ambush our forces from the many inlets off the main fiord.