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Royal New Zealand Air Force



At the end of August COMGENSOPAC (General Harmon) signalled New Zealand asking for a second bomber-reconnaissance squadron to be sent to New Caledonia to relieve No. 9 Squadron, which would then go forward to the combat area. Normally the disposition of air force units was the responsibility of COMAIRSOPAC, but in this instance COMGENSOPAC was particularly interested page 136 because it was a USAAF squadron which was to be replaced by No. 9 Squadron in the combat area.

Colonel F. V. Schneider, General Harmon's Chief of Staff, visited Wellington early in September to discuss the move, which he intimated would probably take place in about two months' time. He was told that preliminary plans had already been made, and a squadron could be despatched almost immediately.

On 10 September COMGENSOPAC signalled that the squadron would be required at once, and should be ready to sail on the 23rd. At the same time its destination was changed from New Caledonia to Vila, in the New Hebrides. It was impossible in the time available to send an advance party to find out what facilities were there and to make full arrangements for supplies, so Group Captain Nevill, the Deputy Chief of Air Staff, flew to New Caledonia to confer with General Harmon. He then flew to Santo and saw COMAIRSOPAC, Rear Admiral McCain, who told him that the squadron was required not at Vila but at Santo.

It had been decided that the RNZAF was to supply its units initially with maintenance spares for three months, ground handling equipment for aircraft, tents and barrack equipment, a ninety-days' reserve of rations, .303 ammunition and 250-pound bombs which were peculiar to RNZAF aircraft, and mechanical transport and refuelling equipment. The American command was to supply fuel and oil for mechanical transport and aircraft, rations (other than reserve rations), medical supplies and attention, and .300 ammunition for ground weapons.

As a result of his discussion with Rear Admiral McCain, Nevill signalled from Santo that the squadron should also take such additional equipment as timber, construction materials, wire screening, water tanks, chlorination equipment, camp beds and mosquito netting.

If RNZAF officers had had more time in which to survey the squadron's base and find out more fully what equipment would be needed, subsequent shortages which hindered its establishment at Santo might have been avoided, but a full survey was impossible in the time available.

Group Captain Nevill's signal indicating the need for extra equipment, and the final notification of the squadron's destination, were received in New Zealand on 18 September, only five days before the unit was due to leave. Apparently co-ordination between COMAIRSOPAC and COMGENSOPAC and the RNZAF had been somewhat lacking in planning the move, which was understandable in the early stages of a campaign where forces were dispersed over the South Pacific and each headquarters concerned was separated page 137 from the others by hundreds of miles of sea. It was unfortunate, however, in that the short notice of the change of destination and the impossibility of assessing the unit's requirements made the organisation of the move extremely difficult.

General shortages of equipment in New Zealand, and the absence of previously prepared scales of equipment for the move, strained the RNZAF supply organisation in New Zealand to the utmost. Manning difficulties were equally severe. The policy which had been forced on the Air Force early in the war and which had only recently been modified, of manning all ground trades with men who were unfit for overseas service, made it difficult to obtain sufficient fit men at short notice to bring the squadron up to full strength. Men had to be posted from every station in New Zealand to fill the establishments in all the necessary trades, and their kitting, medical examinations, etc., had to be rushed through in a few days.

The unit ordered to go overseas was No. 3 BR Squadron, which had formed as a general reconnaissance squadron at Harewood in March 1941 and had been stationed at Whenuapai since February 1942. It was to go as a complete unit including headquarters, workshops, servicing, and inspectional sections, with a total strength including aircrew of over 300 men. The period between the notification of its move and the date of departure was occupied in sorting out those men who were unfit to go overseas and replacing them by fit personnel, and in preparing its equipment for the move. The ground staff and equipment were to be transported by an American ship. This did not materialise, and the Wahine and the Taybank were procured from the Royal New Zealand Navy.

In spite of these difficulties, the unit was ready for embarkation on the target date. The main party, comprising 11 officers and 218 other ranks, left Auckland for Santo in the Wahine with 37 tons of equipment on 22 September. The Taybank sailed three days later with 387 tons of equipment in the charge of Pilot Officer W. A. Chandler and a small party of airmen.

The squadron's aircraft, thirteen in number, left Whenuapai under the command of Wing Commander Fisher1 to fly to Santo via Norfolk Island and New Caledonia. They spent some days en route at New Caledonia with No. 9 Squadron, as the ground party had not arrived at Santo to prepare the camp. They finally reached their new base on 14–15 October.

The Americans had first surveyed Santo in May and had found that an excellent anchorage was available in the Segond Channel, which separated the south-east coast of Santo from the small island of Aore. Flat land was available a few miles farther east on the page 138 shores of Pallikulo Bay. They began at once developing Segond as a naval base, and in the middle of July started building an airstrip at Pallikulo from which bombers could operate against Guadalcanal.

When No. 3 Squadron arrived there were about 8000 American works troops on the island, and Santo was in the process of becoming the Allies' greatest base in the South Pacific. The airfield consisted of a strip cut out of the jungle, 2000 yards long by 100 yards wide, and was used by both bombers and fighters. A second strip for fighters was being constructed a few miles away.

The Wahine reached Santo on 8 October, and the main ground party disembarked the following day and set up camp in an area of jungle which had been allocated to them beside the Pallikulo airstrip. On the first night ashore the men pitched their tents wherever there was a space for them between the trees and cleared away the undergrowth with their bayonets. In the next fortnight, with the help of American bulldozers, they cleared the site and laid out an orderly camp. First priority in the work was given to the erection of camp accommodation and the preparation of servicing facilities for aircraft so that the squadron could become operational as soon as possible. It was some weeks before there was time to build messes and other camp amenities.

Some of the shortages in the equipment brought from New Zealand were made up by supplies from neighbouring American units. Despite initial difficulties the ground party was ready for the aircraft when they flew in, and the squadron became operational on 16 October.

1 Wg Cdr G. H. Fisher; Auckland; born Auckland, 7 Feb 1910; salesman.