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Royal New Zealand Air Force

formation of new zealand air task force

formation of new zealand air task force

In contrast to the role that they had previously played as individual units operating within the American Command, the New Zealand squadrons transferred to the South-West Pacific Area were formed into an air task force with a specific duty—the conduct of air operations in the northern Solomons. The Americans intended moving their 1st Marine Air Wing, which with the RNZAF constituted their Northern Solomons Air Force, to the Philippines, and when it moved out ZEAIRTAF (New Zealand Air Task Force) was to take over operational control.

Until the American Command was dissolved the Officer Commanding the New Zealand formation (COMZEAIRTAF) was to be responsible to COMAIRNORSOLS for the operational sub-control of New Zealand units in the South-West Pacific. Thereafter he would become the Senior Air Commander in the Solomons-Bismarcks area. Until the squadrons moved further afield, responsibility for organising their supplies and for personnel administration remained with No. 1 (Islands) Group, under Air Commodore Sir Robert Clark-Hall.

ZEAIRTAF was officially formed on 1 September. Wing Commander Newell and Wing Commander Tancred each acted as Commanding Officer for a few days until Group Captain Roberts arrived on the 16th to take over the appointment. By the middle of October a full administrative staff had been established and the organisation began to function.

Headquarters was at Bougainville and subordinate formations, termed Field Headquarters, were established at Piva and on Green Island, Emirau and Los Negros, where New Zealand squadrons were to be based. Commanding officers appointed on 15 October page 265 to the four Field Headquarters were, respectively, Squadron Leader Wigley,1 Wing Commander Matheson,2 Wing Commander Dix3 and Squadron Leader Cowan, DFC.4 Under the new organisation, RNZAF Station, Bougainville, was officially disbanded on 17 October, and control passed to Field Headquarters, Piva.

It had been intended originally that COMZEAIRTAF should take over from COMAIRNORSOLS on 1 November. By the middle of October it was obvious that the change of command would not take place so soon and the date was put back to 1 December. Thereafter there were further delays, and it was not until July 1945 that the 1st Marine Air Wing headquarters left Bougainville and the northern Solomons became a New Zealand command. This delay was not foreseen at the time, and preparations for the changeover went forward. At the end of October 1944 the headquarters staff of ZEAIRTAF comprised 16 officers and 195 airmen.

Before the New Zealand squadrons could move to their allotted bases in the South-West Pacific there was a great deal of work to be done in preparing camps for them. Generally speaking the provision of accommodation was an American responsibility, but they provided only the minimum requirements. Anything further had to be done by the RNZAF itself.

The work required on the new stations at Green, Emirau, and Los Negros was beyond the capabilities of No. 1 (Islands) Works Squadron, which was already fully occupied in building additional accommodation at Guadalcanal. Consequently a second works squadron was formed, with its headquarters at Guadalcanal, and detached flights were established at Bougainville, Green Island, Emirau, and Los Negros to help the American forces in setting up tent frames and buildings on the new camp sites. When the RNZAF moved in they were responsible for camp maintenance, sanitary work, rubbish removal, minor road construction, and the maintenance of electric power and water supplies.

1 Wg Cdr H. R. Wigley, OBE, m.i.d.; Timaru; born Fairlie, 2 Feb 1913; company secretary.

2 Wg Cdr P. A. Matheson, OBE; Wellington; born Dunedin, 9 Dec 1909; airways pilot.

3 Gp Capt F. R. Dix, OBE; RNZAF; born Wellington, 8 Dec 1904; RAF 1930–31; NZ Permanent Air Force 1932; motor mechanic.

4 Sqn Ldr W. B. Cowan, DFC; Hastings; born Hastings, 29 Sep 1914; public accountant.