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Royal New Zealand Air Force

CHAPTER 18 — Base Organisation in New Zealand, 1943–45

page 279

Base Organisation in New Zealand, 1943–45

The war in the Pacific and the building up of our forces there had far-reaching effects on the role and composition of the Air Force at home. During 1942, as has been noted in Chapter 9, the RNZAF's chief pre-occupation, apart from flying training, was with the obtaining of aircraft and weapons to resist invasion, and with the preparation of operational bases within the country. By 1943 the RNZAF had been included in the American South Pacific Command and supplies of aircraft and equipment were assured; at the same time, the threat of invasion had receded and the emphasis turned from home defence towards the formation, training, and equipping of squadrons for service overseas.

Whereas in the first three years of the war the training organisa tion had been designed to produce aircrew trained to the initial, elementary, or advanced stages of flying, it had now become necessary, in order to man the squadrons in the Pacific, to bring them up to fully operational standards.

Fighter and bomber operational training units had been formed in 1942, the former at Ohakea and the latter at Levin. Early in 1943 No. 1 (Bomber) OTU, which had moved from Levin to New Plymouth, was transferred to Ohakea, where it remained with No. 2 (Fighter) OTU until 1945. In January 1943 the fighter squadrons already formed were fully manned and No. 2 OTU was reconstituted as an air fighting and gunnery training school to raise the standard of pilots already trained. Later in the year the formation of new squadrons and the need to replace tour-expired pilots created a fresh demand and the unit reverted to a full-scale OTU. In October the intake, which had originally been twenty-four and then twelve in each course, was increased to thirty and the length of the course cut from eight weeks to six in order to increase the output. The 1944 programme, involving the formation of more fighter squadrons, still further increased the demand for pilots and a second fighter school, known as No. 4 OTU, was formed at Ardmore in March of that year. Its location there was not entirely satisfactory from a training aspect and in June it was moved to Ohakea.

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In May a Fighter Gunnery School was formed at Gisborne to improve the general standard of fixed gunnery and to provide instructors for the fighter OTUs. It was designed to train twelve pilots in each course of four weeks, and the trainees were ex-operational pilots or experienced instructors from the flying training organisation. The school was transferred to Ardmore when accommodation became available there after No. 4 OTU moved out. The change in the role of fighter squadrons in the Pacific in 1944 from air combat to ground attack reduced the need for gunnery training, and the function of the school was altered. It was renamed the Fighter Leaders' School and undertook the operational and administrative training of squadron and flight commanders and section leaders. It was finally disbanded in September 1945.

The last of the fighter squadrons to be formed under the 1944–45 programme was assembled in March 1945, and thereafter fighter training was limited to providing replacements for tour-expired pilots. The two fighter OTUs continued to operate, though with reduced outputs, until the end of the war, when they were closed down.

The bomber OTU at Ohakea continued to form and train crews for the bomber-reconnaissance squadrons until June 1945 when, following a decision to reduce the number of bomber-reconnaissance squadrons and increase the air transport organisation, it was transformed into a transport OTU to train crews on Dakotas. It functioned in its new role until September when it was finally disbanded.

Crews for the two flying-boat squadrons which were formed during 1943–44 were trained at Hobsonville and Lauthala Bay. Pilots were given a preliminary course on Walrus amphibians at Hobsonville and then were sent to Lauthala Bay, where crews were made up and did their operational training on Catalinas. Until February 1944 crew training at Lauthala Bay was done within the squadrons stationed there, but in that month No. 3 (Flying Boat) OTU was formed and took over the work. The unit was disbanded in September 1945.

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.

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establishments in new zealand, august-september 1943

The RNZAF reached its peak strength in New Zealand of 30,500 in September 1943. Thereafter, although the strength in overseas theatres continued to increase for some time, home establishments were gradually reduced. At this time Air Force establishments comprised Air Headquarters in Wellington, Northern, Central, and Southern Group Headquarters in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch respectively, and a total of thirty-three stations and depots throughout the country. The Group Headquarters were combined headquarters and housed Navy and Army as well as Air Force staffs. Northern and Central Groups were operational in function, and were equipped with filter rooms and fighter operations rooms, while Southern Group was primarily responsible for training. Northern Group, besides administering stations in New Zealand, also controlled Norfolk Island, where a radar unit and a servicing section catered for transient aircraft.

The most northerly station in New Zealand was Waipapakauri, which had been used since 1941 by aircraft making sea reconnaissances over the northern approaches to New Zealand. During 1942 and the first half of 1943 it had been regularly occupied by No. 7 (GR) Squadron. From June 1943 onwards it was used as an advanced and emergency landing ground for aircraft en route to and from the forward area, for the benefit of which it maintained a servicing section and signals section.

Onerahl, near Whangarei, had been used from August 1942 till the beginning of July 1943 to house No. 20 (Army Co-operation) Squadron. It was then put on a care and maintenance basis, but was still retained as an operational landing ground, with a small staff to provide refuelling facilities.

Whenuapai, the largest station in the Auckland area, administered Nos. 1 (BR) and 15 (F) Squadrons, both of which combined defensive patrols with training for overseas service; No. 40 Squadron and its offshoot, the RNZAF Pacific Ferry; No. 60 (Radar) Squadron; No. 1 RNZAF Hospital, and No. 4 Field Maintenance Unit. Hobsonville, close by, accommodated a Seaplane Training Flight, a Motor Boat Crew Training School, No. 1 Assembly Depot, and a General Engineering Section. Its main function at this time was the assembly of fighter aircraft shipped from the United States. In Auckland itself was No. 1 Personnel Despatch Centre, which was responsible for kitting and documenting personnel on their way overseas.

Immediately to the south of Auckland on the Manukau Harbour were Mangere and Seagrove. The former, which had been taken page 284 over by the RNZAF at the outbreak of war, was used by No. 1 Anti-Aircraft Co-operation Flight and Northern Group Communications Flight. In August 1943 it also housed a Works Survey Flight and an anti-malaria treatment centre, and was used as a holding depot to accommodate personnel in transit to and from the forward area. Seagrove, which had been built in 1942 as a fighter station to augment the defences of Auckland, was occupied during the second half of 1943 by the American Marine Air Group 14. At the end of July No. 25 Squadron, RNZAF, was formed there, using SBD aircraft taken over from the Americans.

Royal New Zealand Air Force Station, Hamilton, had been formed in 1942 to administer several units which were moved to the Waikato from Hobsonville when it appeared that the Auckland area was likely to suffer from enemy attack. In August 1943 it was responsible for No. 1 Stores Depot, No. 1 Repair Depot, and No. 302 Elementary Ground Training Squadron.

Te Awamutu was built in 1942 and was intended as a stores depot for the United States Forces. The American Command decided that the site was too isolated, so the buildings were taken over by the RNZAF and the station was formed, in November 1942 as No. 4 Stores Depot.

Rotorua had become the pre-flying training centre for aircrew when the Initial Training Wing was moved there from Levin early in 1942. Unlike most units, the station was not housed in an Air Force camp, but trainees and staff were quartered in a number of hotels and boarding houses in the town.

Tauranga was occupied by No. 303 EGTS and the Central Flying School, which was responsible for training all flying instructors for the RNZAF.

One other station was added to Northern Group before the end of the year, when Swanson was taken over from the Army for use as an Overseas Training Pool. Personnel were sent to it for course in weapon training and bush warfare before being posted to the Pacific.

All North Island stations outside the Auckland province came within the area of Central Group, which also administered what was known as Air Department Unit, comprising all personnel working at Air Headquarters.

New Plymouth, which had been formed early in the war as an Elementary Flying Training School, was occupied in 1943 by the School of General Reconnaissance, the School of Meteorology, and No. 308 Advanced Ground Training Squadron.

Ohakea accommodated No. 2 (BR) Squadron, which was engaged in anti-submarine and shipping escort patrols, No. 1 (BR) page 285 and No. 2 (Fighter) Operational Training Units, and No. 2 Repair Depot. It was also the headquarters of the RNZAF Band.

Royal New Zealand Air Force Station, Palmerston North, at the beginning of August 1943 was occupied by No. 21 (Army Co-operation) Squadron and No. 309 AGTS, and also administered the RNZAF Medical Stores Depot. The station was closed down shortly afterwards when the two squadrons were disbanded, and the airfield was classified, for Air Force purposes, as ‘for emergency use only’.

The military camp at Linton was taken over in April 1943. No. 3 Ground Training Depot formed there and operated as an RNZAF station until November, when the camp was handed back to the Army. Besides the Ground Training Depot, a cookery school was established there for several months.

Levin, by August 1943, was mainly concerned with administrative training. The units stationed there were the Officers' School of Instruction, Armament Training School, School of Administrative Training, Radio Operators' School (for WAAF and WRNS) and the WAAF Reception Depot.

The only station on the East Coast was Gisborne, where No. 30 (TBF) Squadron was training for overseas service. In August No. 2 Gunnery Training Flight formed there to train air-gunners for Pacific operations. No. 304 EGTS was also stationed there.

Masterton, which in 1942 had been used by No. 14 Squadron when it was first formed, was now occupied only by No. 305 EGTS. The station was reduced to a care and maintenance basis at the beginning of November.

In the Wellington area there were, besides Air Headquarters, three establishments—No. 2 Stores Depot at Mangaroa, No. 2 Personnel Despatch Centre in Wellington, and Rongotai. The last housed a Communications Flight, No. 2 Anti-Aircraft Co-operation Flight, the Central Trade Test Board, the Preliminary Technical Training School, and the headquarters of No. 61 (Radar) Squadron.

The RNZAF also maintained an establishment at Waiouru, in the centre of the North Island, where, in conjunction with the Navy and Army, it operated the Services Wireless Telegraphy Station for overseas communications.

Southern Group embraced all stations in the South Island, numbering four in Nelson-Marlborough, five in Canterbury, and one in Otago. One of them, Woodburne, was equipped with a Fighter Operations Room and Filter Room in case fighter operations had to be carried out over the Cook Strait area, and No. 18 (Fighter) Squadron was stationed at Fairhall, a satellite camp. The main page 286 activity of the station was flying training, carried out by No. 2 FTS. Other units were No. 3 Fighter Maintenance Unit, supporting No. 18 Squadron, and No. 310 AGTS. Omaka, which had previously been used by the School of General Reconnaissance, was occupied in August 1943 only by the NCOs' school. The seven Army camps at Delta, 11 miles from Blenheim, were taken over by the Air Force in June 1943. By the end of the year they were to house all the pre-flying activities of aircrew; but in August the station was still forming and only one camp was occupied—by No. 4 Ground Training Depot. Nelson was occupied by the Technical Training School, which had moved there from Rongotai in April, and by the Photographic Training Unit. It continued as the centre of technical training for the RNZAF until the end of 1945.

Wigram, the senior RNZAF station in the country, was primarily a flying training school, and was also the home of the Electrical and Wireless School. Also stationed there at this time were the Beam Approach Training Flight, Southern Group Communications Flight, and No. 312 Electrical and Wireless Training Squadron. The last consisted of recruits undergoing preliminary training before entering the Electrical and Wireless School. Harewood, three miles away, had No. 3 EFTS, No. 3 Anti-Aircraft Co-operation Flight, No. 3 Electrical and Wireless Training Squadron, and No. 1 Ground Training Depot. Norwood, which was originally formed as a satellite landing ground for Wigram, had been developed into a small station and was used to accommodate the advanced training section of No. 1 SFTS.

In Christchurch itself there were portions of No. 3 Stores Depot and No. 3 Repair Depot. These were to move respectively to Weedons and Harewood, but full accommodation was not yet ready for them. In South Canterbury Ashburton was occupied by No. 2 EFTS, which had moved there from New Plymouth in 1942, and by No. 306 EGTS. The most southerly station, Taieri, housed No. 1 EFTS, No. 307 EGTS, and a Hudson Storage Flight.

reorganisation in 1944

The year 1944 saw a steady building up of RNZAF strength in the Pacific, the further recession of the danger of a Japanese attack on New Zealand, and the cessation of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. As a consequence, by the end of the year the whole objective of the service was the support of the squadrons in the Pacific area. The need for local defence measures was eliminated, and the flying training organisation could be greatly reduced. At the same time, however, the demand for technical and page 287 administrative personnel fit for tropical service increased. These factors produced a considerable change in the organisation of the Air Force during the year.

The three Group Headquarters, which had been formed to meet operational requirements, were abolished. Central Group had in fact been suspended in October 1943, and its functions shared between Air Headquarters and the other two groups. Northern and Southern Groups were disbanded in October 1944, when the need for their existence had long since passed.

During the year there was a general pruning and consolidation of home establishments, and stations were closed down as they became redundant. Seagrove was closed down in January, when No. 25 Squadron left to go overseas, and became a satellite landing ground for Ardmore. The next to go was Omaka. The NCOs' School had been moved to Levin at the end of August 1943 and replaced by the Officers' School of Instruction. In April 1944, when accommodation became available at Levin, the Officers' School of Instruction moved back there and Omaka closed down. For the rest of the war the buildings were used as a storage depot for RNZAF supplies in the Blenheim area. Waipapakauri was reduced in July to the status of an emergency landing ground, although refuelling, wireless, and meteorological services were carried on for some time on a reduced scale. Gisborne, which had been the training ground for Nos. 30 and 31 TBF Squadrons, was occupied from June to October by No. 2 (BR) Squadron, which was reforming and refitting after an overseas tour. When the squadron left in the latter month for another tour, the station was disbanded.

The reduction of the flying training organisation in the last quarter of the year resulted in Ashburton being closed down, the pupils of No. 2 EFTS being absorbed by No. 3 EFTS at Harewood. No. 1 EFTS at Taieri was disbanded, and its place was taken by a Grading School and by the Initial Training Wing transferred from Delta. No. 2 SFTS, Woodbourne, was also disbanded and was amalgamated with No. 1 SFTS at Wigram. Delta was progressively closed down as its commitments were reduced, and the process was complete by January 1945. When the SFTS moved from Woodbourne it was possible to concentrate there the units at Levin and Tauranga, and these two stations were closed at the end of the year.

A new station was formed in Auckland, using accommodation which had been built at Remuera for an American Base Hospital. It housed No. 1 Port Depot, and absorbed the Personnel Reception Depot at Mangere, which was disbanded, and became responsible for the movement of all personnel and cargo into and out of New Zealand through Auckland. One other station was formed during page 288 the year: the Accommodation Camp at Anderson Park, Wellington. Like Remuera, it took over buildings which had been put up by the Americans as a hospital. It was used to accommodate as many as possible of the 1300-odd personnel working in Air Headquarters, who had previously been living in the city, some at Rongotai and the rest at various hostels and private lodgings.

The disbandment of stations and consolidation of establishments during the year resulted in a substantial saving of manpower in administrative trades, and the reduction in the flying training organisation released several hundred technical tradesmen. These savings, however, were counter-balanced by the increasing demand for fit men to serve in the Pacific theatre.

sources of manpower, 1943–44

The manning problems which had emerged by 1942—the lowered educational standard of recruits and consequent need for more training, and the high percentage of men in ground trades unfit for overseas service—became progressively more severe as the war went on, and it was apparent that the Air Force's expansion had out-stripped the resources of manpower of the right quality. To these problems was added another: the difficulty of obtaining men at all in competition with the Army and civilian industry.

It had been planned to form twenty operational squadrons for service in New Zealand and overseas, of which it was thought that seventeen or eighteen would form in 1943. In fact, only nine came into being that year, and another eight in 1944. On the assumption that the larger number would be formed, it was necessary to find enough fit men to man them. It was not possible to obtain the numbers required from civilian sources as not enough men were due for call-up during the year. Consequently arrangements were made to transfer suitable men from the Army for Air Force training. Volunteers were called for from Army units in New Zealand and New Caledonia, and between April and September 1943, 5331 men transferred. In addition, unmarried reservists between the ages of 20 and 35 were made available to the Air Force when they were called up. Besides these two sources, there were also the usual enlistments from civil life, including ATC cadets as they became of age. A further small source of recruits was tapped early in 1944 when men awaiting call-up by the Royal New Zealand Navy were enlisted in the RNZAF. Thus, by that time, every available source of manpower had been drawn on.

In March 1944 the expansion of the RNZAF necessary to meet commitments in the Pacific area had been completed, and it was decided that no further building up of the non-flying trades was page 289 needed. Recruiting thenceforth was to be limited to a rate sufficient to compensate for discharges and releases to essential industry. Men unfit for overseas service, and men with large families, were to be discharged as they were replaced by newly trained personnel. The overall strength remained more or less stable until September, when the rate of discharges was increased.

The total ground strength was distributed among the different classes of trades in New Zealand and the Pacific area in mid-1944 as follows:
Trade GroupIn New ZealandIn PacificTotal
Supply Administration30247223746
Repair and Maintenance487915706449
Of these 11,150, including 3240 WAAF, could not be posted overseas on account of age, medical grading, or other reasons.

In order to fulfil New Zealand's operational commitments, a total of 1000 aircrew and 7500 ground staff was required in the Pacific to man the proposed twenty squadrons. With regard to ground staff, the policy was to allow one tour in the Pacific to two in New Zealand, replacing men overseas when they had served twelve months in the area. Thus, in order to operate the rotation scheme, some twenty to twenty-one thousand fit men were needed. After deducting the 11,000 who could not be posted overseas, the RNZAF was sevral thousand short of the required number. This deficiency was never entirely eliminated, and resulted in many men having to serve considerably more than a year at a time in the tropics.

In an effort to improve the position recruiting of non-flying personnel, which had been reduced to 150 a month, was stepped up in August 1944 to 500, and the number of discharges of unfit men was increased at the same time. In the three months September to November, 5000 men were released.

During the latter part of the year recruits were harder than ever to obtain. The Army urgently wanted more men, and competition between the services was extremely keen. There appears to have been no co-ordinating authority to consider the relative needs of the services and allocate the available manpower accordingly. Eventually, in November, the Army and the Air Force reached an agreement and decided that, of the 500 men reaching 20 years of page 290 age each month, the former should get 200 and the latter 300.

A possible additional cause of the difficulty the RNZAF had in obtaining recruits in late 1944 is that many men did not believe that the service needed more personnel. Earlier in the year wide publicity had been given by the press to claims that the RNZAF was overstaffed and that personnel were not fully employed, and consequently recruits were disinclined to believe that they were really wanted.

The staffing position had been under examination, both by the RNZAF Inspector of Administration and by the Defence Forces Personnel Committee, for some time before the press campaign began. The committee, a civilian body which had been formed to investigate all service establishments and advise on economies in manpower, carried out a number of examinations of RNZAF stations in New Zealand and the Pacific. Where it considered that economies should be made, it recommended accordingly.

Public criticism of the Air Force's manning policy was so severe, and its effect on morale within the service so marked, that it should have been countered at the time. As no satisfactory, authoritative statement was issued to refute the charges, people continued to believe them and the RNZAF fell badly in public esteem. On some stations and in some trades, manpower was not used to the best advantage and there was room for improvement; but in general the position was not nearly as bad as the public was led to believe.

A certain discrepancy between available manpower and immediate needs at the time was inevitable. The RNZAF had been expanding its Pacific strength as rapidly as possible to meet its commitments, and was in the process of levelling off. There was necessarily a slight time-lag between the achievement of full strength and a review of that strength to see if it was too great or too small for the job in hand.

Greater experience and closer supervision of establishments might have resulted in a more accurate assessment of manning needs; but in a force which had grown from 750 to 34,000, excluding those in Canada and the RAF, in under five years, there were bound to be some loose ends which needed tying up. Practically none of the staff officers responsible for administering it had had long experience of service organisation. What they learned, they learned during the stress of war; and their task was made no easier by the fact that they were working to a policy which might be changed at any time to conform to altered requirements of the American Command under which the RNZAF served.