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Royal New Zealand Air Force



At the same time, despite its difficulties, the Permanent Air Force enlarged the scope of its activities. During 1924 and 1925, aircraft from Wigram carried out liaison work with the Army's Southern Command, and co-operated in exercises with artillery and signals units on their annual manoeuvres.

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While the newborn Air Force was developing at Wigram, the need for an aerodrome and flying-boat base near Auckland was not forgotten. Various possible sites were investigated. An area at West Tamaki was first proposed, but was rejected because the land was too expensive. Then the site of the present airfield at Whenuapai was suggested, but that was turned down because it was not flat enough and would have required too much levelling.

Finally, in 1925, 167 ½ acres of land was bought at Hobsonville. It was well situated for the needs of the time, with sufficient reasonably flat land for an aerodrome and easy access to the upper reaches of the Waitemata Harbour for flying boats. Lack of money prevented construction from beginning at once, but a start was made in 1927.

It was intended that Captain Isitt should command the new base when it was built, and in 1926 he handed over the command of Wigram to Captain Findlay and was seconded to the RAF to gain experience. He spent two years in the United Kingdom, and attended a number of courses in flying-boat handling, reconnaissance, organisation and administration.

Up to the middle of 1926, although there was some form of air policy in existence, it was dependent too much upon outside circumstances to be really effective. Lack of finance was one of the considerations,1 and another was the fact that civil aviation had not made the immense strides that were optimistically forecast in 1919–20. It was pointed out by Major-General R. Young, then commanding the New Zealand Military Forces, that an entirely new policy was necessary. The number of ex-RAF officers available for the Territorial Air Force and for refresher courses had dwindled, and the original idea of a permanent air force nucleus for expansion into an effective defence force through the Territorial Reserve, plus civil trained pilots, was unsatisfactory. It was now necessary to train ab initio pilots and mechanics to provide an efficient Territorial Air Force. To do this, greatly increased grants were necessary.

1 The amounts voted and expended on aviation during the years 1920–30 were:

1923–2446,36828,228(includes purchase of Wigram aerodrome)
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The serviceable aircraft held by the New Zealand Permanent Air Force at that time numbered fourteen. Five of them (two DH4s, two DH9s, and a Bristol Fighter) were some of the original gift machines presented by the British Government after the war, and were practically at the end of their useful lives. Six were Avro 504Ks, dual-control training machines, which had been acquired in 1925. Two were new Bristol Fighters which had recently arrived; and one was a DH50, a civil-type aircraft which had been imported for photographic survey work. Three more Bristol Fighters, one of them with dual control for training, had been ordered and were due to arrive the next year.

In the years 1927–28 some progress was made. Two aircraft hands were enlisted into the NZPAF, of which the strength was now five officers and fourteen other ranks. Aircraft co-operated with Territorial Army units in the Christchurch area in their annual exercises. During the year, also, a number of aerial surveys were made of districts near Christchurch, and the Air Force started making meteorological flights from Wigram.

Of the original Territorial Air Force, which in 1927 numbered 101 officers, only thirty-four took refresher courses during the year. Towards the end of the year its strength was increased by the addition of ten cadet pilots and twenty other ranks.

Applications for training as pilots had been invited by advertising in the press, and three hundred were received. The ten applicants selected, who included a number of university students, were commissioned second-lieutenants on probation. They were posted to Wigram in November 1927, and spent the period of the university holidays in camp. They returned again at the end of the following year, and at the end of their second course nine of them were passed as qualified pilots. The tenth man had the misfortune to crash, and his flying training was terminated.

The aerodrome site at Hobsonville was surveyed in 1927 and construction work begun. Isitt returned to New Zealand early in 1928, having visited a number of seaplane bases in Canada on his way out, and was posted to take command of the new station and supervise its development.

Towards the end of September 1928, Air Marshal Sir John Salmond, RAF,1 who the previous year had been lent by Air Ministry to the Australian Government to advise it on air defence, visited New Zealand for the same purpose. He spent several weeks

1 Marshal of the RAF Sir John M. Salmond, GCB, CMG, CVO, DSO; born 17 Jul 1881; entered Army 1901; RFC 1912; commanded RFC and RAF in the field, 1918–19; AOC Inland Area, 1920–22; AOC British Forces in Iraq, 1922–24; AOC-in-C Air Defence of Great Britain, 1925–29; AMP 1929–30; CAS 1930–33; Director of Armament Production, Director-General Flying Control and Air-Sea Rescue in 1939–45 War.

page 18 touring the country, accompanied by Major Wilkes, to examine its needs and potentialities from the defence aspect, and then made a report to the Governor-General.

At the time the New Zealand Permanent Air Force consisted of five officers and seventeen other ranks, stationed at Defence Headquarters in Wellington, Wigram, and Hobsonville. The last was still under construction, and Wigram was the only place where flying was carried out. The aircraft consisted of six trainers and twelve service-type machines, of which all but three Bristol Fighters were obsolete. From a defence standpoint, the force was negligible. It could not maintain sustained co-operation with the Navy or Army, nor act independently against air or sea attack.

In his report Salmond recommended that the NZPAF should be built up to an ultimate strength of nine permanent units,1 which should be formed in cadre within the next three years with an immediate increase in establishment to 26 officers and 192 other ranks. The immediate capital cost was estimated at £348,000, with recurring costs of £168,000 annually. For the full establishment of the nine units, including the provision of new aircraft, equipment and buildings, the estimated capital cost was £1,233,300 and the annual cost £418,850. The headquarters staff should be enlarged, and the Director of Air Services, while remaining under the command of the General Officer Commanding New Zealand Military Forces, should have direct access to the Minister of Defence on matters affecting the status, development, or financial situation of the Air Services.2 On the question of finance, the report recommended that moneys voted for Air should be separate from the Defence Department vote.

If the foregoing recommendations were adopted, Salmond considered that the Air Board constituted in 1920 could be abolished until such time as the Air Service developed sufficiently to warrant the formation of a service separate from the New Zealand Military Forces. Other recommendations included the establishment of an Air Force meteorological organisation, the appointment of a liaison


1 Flying Training SchoolChristchurch.
1 Stores SectionChristchurch.
1 Army Co-operation SquadronChristchurch.
1 Single-seater Fighter FlightChristchurch.
1 Torpedo-bomber FlightBlenheim.
1 Coastal Reconnaissance Flight-BoatsAuckland.
1 Torpedo-bomber FlightAuckland.
1 Single-seater Fighter FlightAuckland.
1 Stores SectionAuckland.

2 Major Wilkes, who was continually trying to obtain increased recognition for the Air Force, disagreed with the recommendation because it did not go far enough. He maintained that until the Air Force was completely divorced from Army control it would never make progress.

page 19 officer to Air Ministry, and a scheme for short-service commissions in the NZPAF and the RAF.

Although a number of factors, notably the financial depression of the early thirties, prevented Salmond's major proposals from taking effect, a number of his other suggestions bore fruit. The appointment of the Hon. Thomas Wilford as Minister of Defence, following the general election of 1929, helped to bring this about. Wilford was the first Minister of Defence who actively supported the claims of the Air Force for greater financial and political assistance. Had he not been sent to London as High Commissioner for New Zealand shortly after taking office, service aviation might have made more progress than it did in the next few years, despite the depression.

Towards the end of 1929, on instructions from the Minister, Wilkes was posted to London as liaison officer with Air Ministry. Isitt had acted as such while he was attached to the RAF two years before, but Wilkes was the first full-time appointment to the position. While he was there, he kept the New Zealand Government informed of developments in the RAF and also negotiated the purchasing of aircraft. In addition, he acted as a personal link with home to the New Zealanders serving in the RAF. There were about three hundred of these, most of whom had made their own way to England and joined the Air Force there. The appointment was to have been for two years, but early in 1931, as part of the Government's economy campaign, Wilkes was recalled and the liaison office was closed.

While he was away his place as Director of Air Services was taken by Wing Commander Grant-Dalton,1 who had recently resigned from the RAF and applied for the appointment.

In December 1929 RAF ranks and methods of organisation were introduced into the NZPAF in place of the Army titles and practices which had been used up to then; and in April 1930 the RAF pay code was introduced. The latter was particularly appreciated. Before the change the rate for an AC2, on first joining the Air Force, was 5s 4d per day, from which, if he lived on station, 3s 6d a day was deducted for messing. Under the new rates he received almost double as much: 10s 3d.

Army uniforms continued to be worn for some time longer. The first issue of Air Force blue to airmen was made in April 1931, and then it was used only on special occasions.

At the beginning of 1930 the strength of the NZPAF was nearly doubled by the enlistment of fifteen aircraft apprentices, who, after

1 Wg Cdr S. Grant-Dalton, DSO and bar, AFC; RAF; born England, 5 Apr 1886; Green Howards1906; Yorkshire Regt, 1913–15; RFC and RAF 1916–29; Director of Air Services NZPAF, 1929–31; retired 1931.

page 20 two months' general service training at the Army camp at Trentham, were posted to Wigram. Personnel on the station then numbered four officers and thirty-three other ranks. Another six apprentices were posted to Hobsonville, bringing the station strength there up to three officers and nine other ranks.