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Royal New Zealand Air Force



It was thought that the problem of obtaining supplies for the RNZAF had been solved when, in April 1942, New Zealand was placed in the American South Pacific Command. Admiral Robert L. Ghormley, United States Navy, was appointed Commander South Pacific Area, and arrived in New Zealand to make his headquarters at Auckland on 21 May. At his first meeting with the New Zealand Chiefs of Staff Committee a few days later, he caused considerable dismay when he pointed out that according to his directive the land defence of New Zealand was expressly excluded from his responsibility. This meant that he had no responsibility for supplying the land and air forces of the country. The Army was not seriously affected as it was obtaining adequate supplies of equipment from Britain, but for the Air Force this was a serious blow.

For the next three months negotiations were carried on between Britain, New Zealand, and America in an effort to have the New Zealand Forces, particularly the Air Force, placed directly under Ghormley. The New Zealand Government pointed out that it wanted Air Force equipment, not only for the defence of the country but also to enable it to play its part in future offensive operations in the Pacific.

A great deal of correspondence passed between Wellington, London, and Washington on the question of equipment for the Air page 127 Force and the allied questions of the status of the RNZAF and the role it was to play in the Pacific war. New Zealand proposed that the RNZAF should be expanded to a strength of twenty squadrons by April 1943 and that a proportion of the squadrons should take part in offensive operations against the Japanese. The proposal was submitted to the Joint Planning Staffs in Britain and the United States. While it was being considered, an agreement known as the Arnold-Slessor-Towers or Arnold-Towers-Portal Agreement1 was signed by Britain and the United States in Washington. In this the United States was charged with defining and satisfying the strategic requirements of the Dominions. Any aircraft built in the Dominions were to be allotted by the Combined Munitions Assignment Board, but appropriate aircraft built in the United States were to be manned and fought by American crews. Dominion air forces were to be set up and maintained.

In view of the overall supply position and the fact that the expansion and re-equipment of the RNZAF would necessitate the supply of considerably more than just fighter aircraft, the American Joint Planners recommended to their Chiefs of Staff that the RNZAF should be limited until April 1943 to a strength of ten squadrons, consisting of four light bomber squadrons (Hudsons), five fighter squadrons (P40s), and one army co-operation squadron. This would involve allocating to New Zealand 23 Hudsons and 77 P40s in addition to those already allocated. The British Chiefs of Staff recommended a further six squadrons involving 64 B25s and 48 single-seater fighters, and proposed that these squadrons should be formed by the RNZAF taking over and manning six American squadrons in the Pacific, thus releasing American personnel for service elsewhere.

In August the Chief of Air Staff, Air Vice-Marshal Goddard,2 went to Washington to use his personal influence in negotiating an operational role for the RNZAF. When he arrived there he found that the ten-squadron plan had been accepted by the American Command, and that the allocation of aircraft and other equipment to put the plan into operation had been approved.

As a result of discussions with the American Naval Commander-in-Chief, Admiral King, the directive to the Commander South Pacific was amended by a provision which placed all the embodied page 128 and trained forces of the Army and RNZAF in New Zealand under Admiral Ghormley's command. The New Zealand Chief of the General Staff and the Chief of Air Staff were to act as Ghormley's subordinate commanders. Admiral King, while he approved the American command of New Zealand's local defence forces, considered that any increase in the supply of aircraft beyond those already allocated should come from British rather than American sources. Had he maintained this view it would have meant that the main object of the negotiations as far as the Air Force was concerned had failed. However, after further discussions he agreed to take responsibility for supplying the RNZAF, and finally in September the directive to Admiral Ghormley was amended again so that it fulfilled New Zealand's requirements.

1 General H. H. Arnold, Admiral J. H. Towers, Air Marshal Sir John Slessor, the last replaced by Air Marshal Sir Charles Portal.

2 Air Mshl Sir Victor Goddard, KCB, CBE, DSM (US); RAF (retd); born Harrow, England, 6 Feb 1897; RN 1910–15; RNAS 1915–18; RAF 1918; DD Intelligence, Air Ministry, 1937–39; D of Military Co-operation, 1941; CAS RNZAF 1941–43; AOC i/c Administration, SE Asia, 1943–46; British Joint Services Mission, USA, 1946–48; Air Council Member for Technical Services and Commandant Empire Flying School, 1948–51.