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Royal New Zealand Air Force



The middle thirties saw the end of the depression and the end of disarmament in Europe. In 1933 Germany withdrew first from the Disarmament Conference and then from the League of Nations, and the following year it became clear that she was rearming. Early in 1936 she officially admitted that she had an air force, and a month later the German Government introduced compulsory universal military service. Both of these were in defiance of the Treaty of Versailles.

In 1934 the British Government was forced to recognise that its idealistic policy of disarmament and world peace was a dangerous dream, and that positive steps must be taken to ensure the country's defence. On 19 July the Prime Minister, Mr Baldwin, announced that the strength of the RAF was to be increased by forty-one squadrons in the next five years. The following year a new programme was announced by Lord Londonderry, Secretary of State for Air, providing for an additional forty-nine squadrons and an accelerated rate of expansion.

The march of events overseas, coupled with improved economic conditions, resulted in considerably more attention being given to the Royal New Zealand Air Force. In the year 1934–35 the sum of £197,934 was voted for military aviation, exclusive of the cost of land and works which came out of the Public Works vote. Of this, £132,230 was actually spent, compared with £38,548 in the previous year.

Early in 1934 additional land adjoining Hobsonville Aerodrome was bought, and an additional building programme for the station was commenced. By the middle of 1936 Hobsonville had two aeroplane hangars, a landing area, offices, barracks, stores buildings, a meteorological hut, a garage, married quarters for twenty-two families, a seaplane hangar, an engine repair shop, an airframe repair shop, a marine store, a dope shop, a concrete slipway, electric power and light, and a water tower.

At Wigram, which was to be developed as a Flying Training School, considerable expansion took place also during the period. New buildings included two concrete hangars, a concrete workshop block, two large concrete stores, barracks and married quarters.

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Personnel strength was increased, and by March 1936 had grown to 20 officers and 107 airmen. The Territorial Air Force at the same date numbered 74 officers.

In 1935 the Air Force was reinforced by the arrival of twelve Vickers Vildebeeste torpedo-bombers. They had originally been ordered in 1933, but the prior claims of the expanding RAF had caused eighteen months' delay in delivery. Although criticised at the time as not being the fastest or most modern type available, they were well suited to New Zealand conditions, and were destined to play a useful part as bomber-reconnaissance aircraft in the first years of the war. They were stationed at Hobsonville and Wigram, where bomber-reconnaissance flights were formed, and thus became the equipment of the first properly constituted operational units of the RNZAF.

The next year four Avro 626 training aircraft arrived and were put into use at Wigram. They were a type used by the RAF, and were a distinct advance on any purely training machines then in New Zealand.

By 1936 the RNZAF was definitely emerging from the doldrums in which it had drifted for the past thirteen years. Since 1933 it had increased rapidly in size and had been equipped with as many new aircraft as it could handle. Although still small, it was in a position to take some action, if necessary, in the defence of the country.

Under the pressure of world events New Zealand was becoming more alive to the need for air power, and the change of Government which occurred in 1935 had resulted in an administration more keenly interested in the development of the Air Force than previous Governments had been. These factors helped to account for the progress which had been made up to 1936, and for the much greater expansion which was to take place in the next three years.