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Episodes & Studies Volume 2


page 31


THE PART THAT NEW ZEALANDERS played in the work of Bomber Command during the first year of the war is difficult to assess. They were scattered among every squadron in the Command and took part in almost every operation.

During the period from the beginning of the war to the end of 1940, about 150 New Zealanders with short-service commissions in the RAF flew for varying periods with Bomber Command operational squadrons. Nearly half of them were reported missing, of whom a few were subsequently found to have been taken prisoner of war.

In addition, members of the RNZAF trained in New Zealand began to arrive in increasing numbers during the latter half of 1940. By November there were more than a hundred RNZAF officers and men, additional to those with short-service commissions, serving in Bomber Command. By the end of the war nearly 5000 New Zealanders had flown RAF bombers in action; of these, over 1800 were killed and a further 330 taken prisoner.

Many New Zealanders who were serving in the Royal Air Force during the early part of the war later reached high rank. Both Squadron Leader A. McKee and Squadron Leader M. W. Buckley were to become Air Commodores, McKee to command a Base of four airfields housing operational units and Buckley to be Air Officer Commanding No. 1 (Islands) Group in the South Pacific. Others became Group Captains commanding stations housing sometimes two operational squadrons, sometimes training units. New Zealand Wing Commanders, responsible for the operational efficiency of the RAF squadrons they commanded, were numerous.

Although few in number, New Zealanders formed a greater proportion of Bomber Command in the first year of the war than at any later period. At a time when the shortage of trained aircrews was acute they made an important contribution to the British bombing effort, and with their fellows in the RAF they laid the foundations of a force which was later to become a potent factor in Allied strategy.