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Royal New Zealand Air Force



By early 1943 it was fairly certain that the RNZAF would be sending an increasing number of units to operate in the South Pacific. It was therefore decided to expand Wallingford's staff and establish a Group Headquarters overseas to administer them.

No. 1 (Islands) Group Headquarters was formed at Santo on 10 March 1943, and Wallingford, relinquishing his position as staff officer to COMAIRSOPAC, was appointed Officer Commanding. The following month he was promoted Air Commodore. His command included all RNZAF units in the South Pacific except those in New Zealand.

The group became one of the subordinate headquarters within the command of COMAIRSOPAC. Other subordinate headquarters were those of United States Naval Aircraft, 1st Marine Air Wing, and 13th United States Army Air Force.

Wallingford was responsible to COMAIRSOPAC for the operational efficiency of all units under his command, but operation orders were issued direct to the units concerned by the American commanders to whom they had been allocated. At the same time, as the Group Headquarters was within the headquarters of COMAIRSOPAC, the AOC and his operational staff had some voice in the employment of RNZAF squadrons and so retained indirect operational control.

The wireless-telegraphy point-to-point communications system, which had previously been operated by No. 3 Squadron, was transferred to Group Headquarters, through which in future passed all administrative signals traffic for squadrons in the forward area. Operational signals continued to be passed through COMAIRSOPAC channels.

The camp in which No. 3 Squadron had lived since it came to Santo—near the north end of the Bomber I airstrip at Pallikulo— was established as an RNZAF station in January under the command of Wing Commander Fisher, who also commanded No. 3 Squadron. The building of a new camp was begun by an American construction battalion, and in March and April the New Zealanders moved over to it, vacating the old site. Wallingford and his staff moved in early in March. The completion of the camp was held up for a long time by lack of materials. The huts for the camp had been ordered in November 1942 to provide better living page 161 quarters and reduce the incidence of fever, in case operational progress slowed down and it became necessary to use Santo as a permanent camp. In fact, the island was occupied by Americans and New Zealanders for the rest of the war and the improved accommodation proved valuable. During the next few months additional construction was carried on by RNZAF works personnel.

Until the Group Headquarters was fully staffed and could function as a complete unit, an interim organisation was set up within RNZAF Station, Santo. The Station Headquarters, under the direction of Group Headquarters, correlated policy, equipment, establishment, personnel, and other matters relating to the various units in the area, for reference or forwarding to higher authority. Each squadron organised its own headquarters on a unit basis, and became responsible to Station Headquarters for its own camp repair, maintenance and sanitation. The embryo Group Headquarters was fully occupied with air staff work and in organising its own administration.

The first appointments to be filled for the formation of Group Headquarters were: Personnel Staff Officer, Flight Lieutenant S. G. Lester, and Group Engineer Officer, Squadron Leader A. T. Giles, MBE. Over the next two months additional posts were filled as follows:
Senior Air Staff OfficerWing Commander G. H. Fisher
Air ISquadron Leader I. G. Morrison
Senior Administrative OfficerSquadron Leader J. H. J. Stevenson
Senior Medical OfficerMajor J. E. Hardwick-Smith, NZMC
Senior Equipment OfficerSquadron Leader D. G. Sinclair
Group Signals OfficerSquadron Leader R. M. Kay
Staff Intelligence OfficerSquadron Leader J. D. Canning (replaced in May by Flight Lieutenant T. G. Tyrer)
Group Armament OfficerFlight Lieutenant W. A. Hopkins
Works OfficerFlight Lieutenant R. R. Parsons (replaced in May by Squadron Leader W. J. E. V. Grace)

By the end of May the headquarters had a strength of 14 officers and 13 other ranks and was getting into its stride. Five months later, at the end of October, it had grown to 34 officers and 179 airmen.

In the period immediately following the formation of No. 1 (Islands) Group, the overall administration of the RNZAF units in the area was confused. No. 3 Squadron had its rear echelon at Santo and its advanced echelon at Guadalcanal. The advanced elements of No. 9 Squadron were at Santo while its ground and headquarters organisation was still at New Caledonia, hundreds of page 162 miles away. Nos. 14 and 15 Fighter Squadrons were also in the process of moving up and their ground organisations, also, were far in the rear, one in New Zealand and the other at Tonga. Consequently the task of administering them was not easy.

Considerable difficulties existed also with regard to supply, not only for the RNZAF but for all the Allied forces. Vast quantities of equipment of all kinds were by this time reaching the South Pacific from America, but few items were received by the units for which they were intended. Ships were sent from San Francisco with specific destinations, but once they crossed the international date-line they came under Admiral Halsey's command and were redirected according to operational necessity and the strategic situation at the time. Goods which were awaited in Santo might be unloaded at Noumea and might lie there for months before eventually reaching the unit which required them.

At Santo the unloading of ships was done under the control of the United States Army, who decided what cargo was most urgently required and what ships should be first unloaded. The result was that Navy and Air Force units frequently had to wait a long time before receiving goods, although the ships carrying them might have arrived safely where they were wanted. Unloading facilities at this time were few, and all the supplies had to be taken ashore in lighters and stored underneath the trees. Nobody had any inventory of the material and consequently no one knew what had come ashore. Anyone looking for a specific item went through the dumps and, if he was lucky, found what he wanted. This state of confusion was perhaps unavoidable in the early stages of the campaign. Things improved considerably when port facilities were developed, and by the middle of May 1943, 11,000 tons a day could be handled.