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Royal New Zealand Air Force


Reference has already been made in Chapter 9 to the development of an air-warning system in New Zealand. In the operational areas of the South Pacific a similar system was developed, and it combined with the coastwatching organisation to give warning of approaching Japanese raids. Actual interceptions of enemy aircraft, particularly at night, were also directed by radar.

During the first year of the South Pacific campaign there was an acute shortage of trained radar personnel, and New Zealand was asked several times by the American Command to supply them. Demands could not always be met in full as the supply was limited and it took a long time to train more men. In 1943, however, the diminished threat of invasion in New Zealand made it possible to reduce the radar warning system at home and release a number of men for posting to the forward area.

Some units had gone overseas before then. Early in December 1941 Squadron Leader Gibbs,1 who was then Staff Radar Officer at Air Force Headquarters, went to Fiji to plan an air-warning system there. He selected a site on Malolo Island, a few miles off the coast from Nandi, and the original CHL set that had been obtained in England by Dr Marsden was sent there. It was installed by Mr T. R. Pollard, of the Canterbury University School of Engineer ing, and Mr H. Walker, an electrical engineer of Christchurch, both of whom were enlisted in the Army for the purpose. They were assisted by an RNZAF party under Warrant Officer Rowe.2 When the installation was completed Rowe and his party remained on the island and operated the set, until finally it was taken over by the Americans a year later. During its tour of duty the unit had no hostile aircraft to report but it plotted the tracks of numerous Japanese submarines round its sector of the coast.

When the Americans took over the defence of Fiji they installed a number of air-warning units there, and the RNZAF was not called upon to accept further responsibility for the area.

1 Wg Cdr R. J. Gibbs, OBE; RNZAF; born Lyttelton, 18 Jan 1906; joined NZ Permanent Air Force 1930; radio engineer.

2 Flt Lt I. S. Rowe; Wellington; born Eltham, 26 Aug 1913; joined NZPAF 1929.