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Royal New Zealand Air Force

growth of the air transport organisation

growth of the air transport organisation

The increasing strength of the RNZAF in the forward area and the lengthening of its lines of communication necessitated an increase in the air transport organisation. At the end of 1943 No. 40 Squadron received, as additional equipment, a number of Hudsons which became available as bomber-reconnaissance squadrons rearmed with Venturas; and these, converted for use as troop-carriers, were page 281 employed to supplement the Lodestars and Dakotas with which the unit was originally equipped. Aircraft allocations for 1944 included fifteen Dakotas which were used to strengthen the squadron, which by August had an establishment of 16 Dakotas, 9 Lodestars, and 12 Hudson troop-carriers.

At this time a new transport squadron, No. 41, was formed and took over the operation of the Lodestars and Hudsons.

As commitments increased and aircraft became available the number of scheduled flights from Whenuapai grew steadily throughout the year. In November 1944 No. 40 Squadron despatched twelve aircraft a week on regular runs extending as far as Samoa, Fiji and Guadalcanal, and No. 41 Squadron sent ten a week to Guadalcanal. Bases north of Guadalcanal were served by aircraft controlled by No. 1 (Islands) Group. A single Dakota had been stationed there at the beginning of the year, but soon proved unable to cope with the work, and by October the detachment had been increased to four. These were augmented by a utility flight, also controlled by the Group, which operated a number of Hudsons.

Twenty Dakotas were allotted to the RNZAF for the first six months of 1945 and these were used to replace the Lodestars and Hudsons of No. 41 Squadron. A further forty-nine were allotted for the second half of the year, and were to be used to form two more transport squadrons. The end of the war made the establishment of the new squadrons unnecessary, and the orders for aircraft not yet delivered were cancelled.

During 1945 the regular transport services were augmented by a flight of four Sunderland flying boats, which had been made available by the British Government and which were used between New Zealand, Noumea, Santo and Lauthala Bay. They had been flown out from the United Kingdom via West Africa, South America, the United States and Honolulu, by a party under the command of Wing Commander D. W. Baird. They were not entirely satisfactory because of servicing difficulties, but they had the advantage of being able to carry twice the payload of a Dakota.

The following figures of men, mail, and equipment carried indicate the increasingly important part played by the transport squadrons as the war progressed. In July 1943, the first month in which No. 40 Squadron operated on a significant scale, RNZAF aircraft carried 157 men to the Pacific Islands and repatriated 226. In the same month they took 21,000 lb. of freight and 6000 lb. of mail forward, and brought back 7000 lb. and 10,000 lb. respectively. A year later the corresponding figures had risen to over 700 men, 76,000 lb. of freight, and 28,000 lb. of mail on the outward journey, page 282 and 7000 men, 66,000 lb. of freight, and 39,000 lb. of mail on the homeward trips.

In 1945 the figures increased still further. Altogether, from February 1943 until the end of September 1945, 37,000 passengers left from or arrived at Whenuapai by air and nearly four million pounds of freight and one and a half million pounds of mail was carried. These figures refer only to personnel, goods, and mail which passed through Whenuapai and do not take into account the very large amount of inter-island traffic.

The prompt delivery of mail by the transport squadrons was a major factor in maintaining morale in the Islands. Letters and newspapers reached even the most distant bases in a matter of days, and kept the troops in touch with what was going on at home. Also, whenever there was space to spare, food was carried: fresh meat, vegetables, and butter. Although limited, these supplies provided relief from the monotony of the regular ration and also helped to keep up morale. Most welcome of all, probably, were the occasional supplies of beer taken up to augment the spasmodic shipments made by sea.

In addition to the transport squadrons and the training units which were permanently based in New Zealand, there were always fighter and bomber-reconnaissance squadrons in the country, either in the course of formation or resting and reforming between overseas tours. During 1943 fighter squadrons were stationed at Seagrove and Whenuapai. From the end of 1943 onwards, however, the fighter squadrons were generally at Ardmore. As there was at that time little probability that they would be needed for Operations within New Zealand, they were occupied exclusively in training and equipping for overseas service.

Bomber-reconnaissance squadrons, which also spent periods in New Zealand between tours in the Pacific, had a more active operational role. At the beginning of 1943 there were squadrons at Waipapakauri, Whenuapai, Gisborne and Nelson. In April 1943 No. 2 Squadron was moved from Nelson to Ohakea, and Nelson ceased to be an operational station. In the following month Nos. 7 and 8 Squadrons, which had operated from Waipapakauri and Gisborne, were disbanded. In October No. 2 Squadron was posted from Ohakea to operations overseas, and thereafter, although Ohakea and Gisborne were occupied by bomber-reconnaissance squadrons for a few months in 1944, the main operational base in New Zealand was Whenuapai. From there anti-submarine and shipping escort patrols were maintained for all shipping entering or leaving the port of Auckland.