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Royal New Zealand Air Force

CHAPTER 2 — Birth and Growth of the New Zealand Air Force, 1919–36

page 7

Birth and Growth of the New Zealand Air Force, 1919–36

BY the end of the war New Zealand realised the importance of aircraft as a means of defence. The work of the private flying schools had shown that pilots could be successfully trained locally, and this, combined with the recent advances in aviation in other countries, encouraged the Government to take a more active interest. General opinion at the time was that civil rather than military flying should be fostered as it would be cheaper and would still provide potential reserves for wartime use; but the return of hundreds of trained men from overseas seemed to provide a perfect opportunity for the formation of at least the nucleus of an Air Force.

The British Government was asked to send out an officer to advise on aviation policy, and in response to the request Colonel Bettington, RAF,1 arrived in New Zealand early in 1919. He brought with him two RAF mechanics and four aircraft, two DH4s and two Bristol Fighters. The aircraft were sent to Sockburn and housed by the Canterbury Aviation Company until the Government built two hangars for them.

While he was in New Zealand three officers with RAF experience were attached to him as staff: Major Brandon,2 Captain Don,3 and Lieutenant Shand.4 Captain Don was appointed to take charge of the aircraft at Sockburn.

After examining the country's air defence needs, Bettington made a report to the Government in June 1919. In it he showed really remarkable foresight. He had no faith in the possibility of a lasting peace brought about by the proposed League of Nations, and prophesied that the Pacific would become a centre of trouble. In particular, he pointed out that Japan had emerged from the war

1 Gp Capt A. V. Bettington, CMG; born England, 12 Jun 1881; served in South African War, 1899–1903; Zulu War, 1906; First World War, 1914–19; commanded RAF in Ireland, 1922; retired 1931; recalled to active list for special duties, 1939–45; died 1950.

2 Maj A. de Bathe Brandon, DSO, MC, m.i.d.; Heretaunga; born 1884; barrister; joined RFC 1915; decorated for his part in the destruction of Zeppelin L.15 on night 31 Mar–1 Apr 1916 and of L.33 on night 23–24 Sep 1916.

3 Capt J. H. Don; Timaru; born Dunedin, 18 Sep 1892; dental surgeon; 1 NZEF 1914–19; attached RAF 1919.

4 2 Lt E. T. Shand; born Taieri, 28 Feb 1891; sheep farmer; 1 NZEF 1916–17; RFC 1917; died 15 Jan 1938.

page 8 relatively much stronger than she had been before and that she would be looking for an outlet for her surplus population. New Zealand, he considered, should be prepared to play an active part in Imperial defence, and should establish close liaison with Australia and with the Air Ministry. Also, because of its distance from sources of help, it should be ready to defend itself immediately against attack. In his assessment of the situation he was not led astray, as were a number of later planners, by the existence of a supposedly impregnable base at Singapore.

He recommended that the Government should immediately start to form an Air Force, using trained men who had returned from the RAF to provide the initial personnel requirements and taking over the Canterbury Aviation Company's School as a training centre.

The minimum units required to form an efficient operational Air Force were:

  • 1 Corps reconnaissance and fighter squadron

  • 1 large day-bombing squadron

  • 1 large night-bombing squadron

  • 1 scout fighter squadron

  • 1 squadron of torpedo planes and ship bombers

  • 2 squadrons of large flying boats

  • 1 aircraft depot

  • 2 aircraft parks

All these should be formed immediately in cadre and should be capable of rapid expansion into fully mobilised units. In addition, it would be necessary to provide large reserves of men and material to meet wastage in time of war. A headquarters staff should be established to administer the force, and a liaison officer should be appointed to Air Ministry to keep New Zealand in touch with RAF developments.

His final report, presented in July, envisaged a permanent establishment of 70 officers and 299 airmen being attained in four years, while a Territorial force of 174 officers and 1060 airmen was to be built up within eight years. The estimated expenditure on aerodromes, buildings, and equipment in the first four years was £701,250, and the total cost for the same period £1,294,000.

While Colonel Bettington was formulating his recommendations, the British Government offered New Zealand a hundred aircraft as a free gift ‘to assist the Dominion to establish an Air Force, and thereby develop the defence of the Empire by air.’1

1 The following types were offered:

  • DH9 (BHP engine)

  • DH9A (Liberty engine)

  • Bristol Fighter (Arab engine)

  • SE5 (Hispano Suiza engine)

  • Dolphin (Hispano Suiza engine)

  • Avro (Clerget, le Rhone or Mono engine)

  • Salamander (BR2 engine).

page 9

No immediate reply was made to the British Government, and in the meantime Bettington was asked to prepare a less ambitious scheme. He did so, eliminating three of the squadrons he had originally planned, and concentrating all land planes at Sockburn and flying boats at Auckland. Even this was too much, and on 27 August Cabinet decided that it was ‘impracticable to involve the country in the large expenditure that would be required for any air scheme which would be of value for defence or postal purposes.’ Finally Bettington recommended the following temporary measures ‘pending a more settled state of the political outlook in New Zealand’:


The appointment of an Air Adviser.


Subsidising the civil flying schools at Auckland and Christchurch.


Refresher training for ex-RAF personnel.


The transfer of a number of Territorial personnel for air training.


The acceptance of some, at least, of the gift aircraft.


The allotment of £25,000 for expenditure on the above.


Experiments with an airmail service.

Thereafter, he returned to England feeling that he had not been able to accomplish much in New Zealand.1

The aircraft he had brought with him were retained at Sockburn. In November Captain Isitt,2 who had recently returned from service with the RAF, was posted there to relieve Captain Don. His duties entailed looking after the aircraft, acting as liaison officer between the Canterbury Aviation Company and the Government, and supervising military flying training—if and when it took place.

Having disposed of its expert adviser, the Government set up an advisory committee of its own to bring down recommendations concerning aviation generally, and the British offer of aircraft in particular.

After lengthy discussion it was decided to ask for twenty Avros and nine DH9As, and for six flying boats instead of the balance of the 100 aircraft originally offered. The request was signalled to

1 The measure of enthusiasm which Bettington's report aroused in New Zealand military circles can be gauged from the fact that by 1920 it had been lost and only odd papers could be found in the Defence Department. Not until 1929 was a complete copy found, in private hands, and placed on file.

2 AVM Sir Leonard M. Isitt, KBE, Legion of Merit (US); Wellington; born Christchurch, 27 Jul 1891; 1 Canterbury Regiment 1911; NZ Rifle Brigade, 1 NZEF, 1915–16; RFC and RAF 1916–19; appointed military equipment and instructional officer NZ Air Service, 1919; gazetted Captain, NZ Permanent Air Force, 1923 and appointed to command Wigram Aerodrome; attached RAF and appointed NZ Air Liaison Officer at Air Ministry, 1926–28; AMP 1937–40; NZ representative on Supervisory Board of British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, 1940–42; Air Attache, Washington, 1942; DCAS 1943; CAS 1943–46; represented NZ at Japanese surrender in Tokio Bay, Sep 1945; retired 1946; Chairman of Directors, NZ NAC.

page 10 London in January 1920. A fortnight later Air Ministry replied that, owing to the long delay between the making of the original offer (11 July 1919) and its acceptance (28 January 1920), no surplus DH9A machines were then left; nor could the six flying boats be supplied.

New Zealand then took prompt steps to reserve what aircraft were then still available, and some months later 33 machines were shipped out, comprising 20 Avros, 9 DH9s, 2 Bristol Fighters, and 2 DH4s. Of these, when they arrived, six were retained by the Government and stationed at Sockburn for military purposes, and the rest were lent to private flying enterprises which were being formed in various parts of the country.


It was now generally agreed that, in view of the probable development of aviation, the problem of defence would involve the use of land, sea and air forces, and a Defence Committee was formed to ensure the effective co-ordination of the three arms. Apparently the need for co-ordination was not highly regarded for the Committee's first meeting, held in July, was also its last. At the same time an Air Board was established to give advice to the Minister of Defence on all matters relating to aviation.

The Board consisted of representatives of the various Government agencies which might have an interest in the subject: the Defence, Post and Telegraph, Public Works, and Lands and Survey Departments.1 When its composition was announced in June 1920, the press commented caustically that none of its members knew anything about flying.

To rectify this oversight Captain Wilkes, NZSC,2 was appointed secretary. He had served with the RFC and the RAF during the war, and was the only officer of the New Zealand Staff Corps who was a qualified pilot.

On 25 September 1920 the Government approved what can be regarded as New Zealand's first positive aviation policy:

1 Maj-Gen Sir E. W. Chaytor, KCMG, KCVO, CB, ADC, GOC NZ Forces (President); Brig-Gen G. S. Richardson, CB, CMG, CBE (Brigadier i/c of Administration); Commander T. A. Williams, CBE, RN (Naval Adviser); T. N. Brodrick, OBE, ISO (Lands and Survey Department); A. Markman and G. McNamara (Post and Telegraph Department); and F. W. Furkert (Public Works Department).

2 Gp Capt T. M. Wilkes, CBE, MC; Upper Hutt; born Thames, 24 Mar 1888; appointed 2 Lt, NZSC, Aug 1911; Brigade Major 2 NZ Inf Bde, 1 NZEF, 1916; seconded to RFC Sep 1917–Jun 1918; General Staff Officer, Air Services, and Secretary to Air Board, 1920–23; transferred from NZSC to NZPAF 1923; Staff Officer Air Services 1924–25; Director of Air Services 1925–31; NZLO Air Ministry 1929–31; reappointed DAS 1931; received additional appointment of Controller of Civil Aviation, 1933; relinquished appointment of DAS on formation of RNZAF in 1937, but remained CCA, and was also for some months Chief Staff Officer Equipment, RNZAF; NZLO Melbourne 1940–46; NZLO to the Netherland Forces in the East, 1944–46; retired 1946.

page 11



The Government to make provision for the development of Aviation along lines which will enable the Dominion to possess civil aviation for commercial and other needs and at the same time provide for the necessities of aerial defence in case of emergency.

Establish an Air Board (already constituted) which will act as an Advisory Body to the Government on:


Matters of Defence


Commercial Undertakings


Aviation Generally



To advise the Government with respect to:


Purchase, rent and preparation of key aerodromes.


Purchase and maintenance of war aeroplanes, inspection of all Aviation Schools and their equipment by Defence Staff.


Refresher courses for ex R.A.F. fighters.


Defence machines which may be allotted to civil companies.

Survey of routes to be undertaken by officers of the Aviation Branch of the Defence Department, or any competent Aviator deputed by the Air Board.



As Defence Aviation owing to the great cost involved, cannot be developed without the development of the commercial side, the Air Board will advise the Government with respect to:


Companies or private individuals that may be subsidised for the conveyance of mails, passengers, etc., on approved routes.


The allotment by way of loan or otherwise of Government machines.


Inspection of privately owned machines.


Regarding the reservation of rights of particular companies or individuals to fly for hire within prescribed areas.

The Board to make recommendations as to contracts to be entered into for the carriage of mails, passengers, etc. All contracts to be submitted for approval to the Minister in charge and the Postmaster-General and to be confirmed by both.



Attention to be paid to meteorological conditions and the Board to recommend in what direction assistance should be given to the Meteorological Department with a view to equipment to meet the needs of Aviation.

All reports and recommendations of the Board to be submitted to the Minister in charge and the Postmaster-General for their joint consideration.

The Board to administer the details of the policy as defined by the Government.

To advise on the necessity for legislation and regulations regarding aviation generally.

In Cabinet.

25th September, 1920.

Recommendations of Hons. Coates and Rhodes


(Signed) F. W. Thomson,


page 12

From the above it can be seen that the policy of the time was to foster civil aviation in the expectation that it could be turned to advantage for defence in time of need. Considering how little was known about flying generally, and the limitations imposed on defence developments by lack of finance, it was quite sensible.

The Air Board met frequently during the latter part of 1920 and early in 1921, and thereafter at longer intervals. It was a purely advisory body with no executive powers; a fact which its members felt was a shortcoming and tried to have changed. They considered that, unless it had some authority to regulate flying activities, much of its value was lost.

Their dissatisfaction was not altogether justified. The Government was, admittedly, slow to act on their recommendations, but no more so than most Governments when embarking on an entirely new venture. The mere fact that a statement of policy was issued showed that it was taking an active interest in the matter, and was partly the result of early recommendations by the Board; and a number of other more detailed recommendations were later acted upon.

Concrete proposals which later bore fruit were made early in 1921. They included the establishment of a service aerodrome at Auckland for land and sea planes; the acquisition of torpedo-carrying aircraft for coastal defence; and refresher training for ex-RAF pilots at Sockburn.

In 1921 the Board was made responsible for administering in detail the aviation policy laid down by the Government.


While policy was being formulated in Wellington, the fate of the two flying schools at Auckland and Christchurch hung in the balance. The end of the war and the cessation of the training of military pilots had deprived them of their regular income, and their future was uncertain. Colonel Bettington had recommended that the Canterbury Aviation Company should be given the job of providing initial training of pilots and mechanics for the Air Force. The New Zealand Flying School at Kohimarama, he considered, would not be needed for Air Force training. He suggested that, in recognition of the excellent work it had done during the war, its equipment should be bought by the Government.

His recommendations were not immediately acted upon. As an interim measure, the schools were both subsidised by grants of £150 a month to keep them going until future policy could be decided, and in addition they made a certain amount of revenue from charter flights and joy rides.

page 13

In the two years immediately following the war both schools were employed on experimental airmail services. The first such flight was made on 16 December 1919, between Auckland and Dargaville. Others followed, and for two months in 1920 regular services were run on the routes AucklandDargaville, Auckland- Whangarei, and AucklandThames. In the South Island a service between Christchurch and Timaru was flown for some months in 1921. One between Christchurch and Wellington was seriously considered, but nothing came of it.

Air mails were not a paying proposition, and after trying them the Government reverted to paying straight subsidies to the schools.

In 1921 the proposal to give refresher training to ex-RAF pilots was put into effect. In that year and the two following, the Canterbury Aviation Company gave refresher courses to about forty officers, at a cost to the Government of £100 a head.

Captain Isitt, who had been posted to Sockburn in 1919 to look after the aircraft left behind by Colonel Bettington, supervised the training. He was assisted by a staff of three. Lieutenant Denton,1 Adjutant of the 1st (Canterbury) Regiment, had been attached to him as part-time equipment officer in May 1920, and early in 1921 two Army personnel, Corporal W. C. Townsend and Private F. A. Merrin, were posted as ledger-keeper and storeman.

In 1923 a refresher course for twelve officers was held also at the New Zealand Flying School, Kohimarama. This was the only military use made of the school, and the following year it was closed down. The Government bought up its equipment but made no use of it. The aircraft by that time were worn out and unserviceable and were relegated to the scrap heap.

The duties of the embryonic Air Force, besides the maintenance of service aircraft and the supervision of service training, included the control of civil aviation. At that time this comprised the inspection of civil aircraft and of aerodromes which were being laid out in various parts of the country; the granting of licences to pilots; and the regulation of Government assistance to civil companies.

1 Gp Capt T. J. Denton, OBE, m.i.d.; born NSW, 7 Nov 1888; enlisted in NZ Permanent Staff 1911; Canterbury Mtd Rifles (Capt) 1914–18 War; seconded to RFC 1917; returned to NZ 1919; transferred to NZPAF as Equipment Officer, 1 Oct 1923; Staff Officer to DAS, 1934–37; attached RAF 1938–41; Director of Equipment 1942; Chief Inspector of Equipment 1942–46; Director of Equipment 1946; retired 1947.


In 1923 the Government finally decided that it must take more positive steps in regard to service flying and that, if any real page 14 progress was to be achieved, a permanent Air Force must be formed to administer aviation in all its phases. In June the establishment of the following forces was authorised:


The New Zealand Permanent Air Force (to be part of the Permanent Forces)


The New Zealand Air Force (to be part of the Territorial Forces)

The Permanent Air Force was to be composed of regular officers and other ranks, and its primary responsibility was to be the training and administration of the Territorial Air Force. The latter was to consist of ex-RAF officers who had, earlier in the year, been formed into an Air Force Reserve. Provision was also made that, in the future, ab initio trainees could be enlisted.

To accommodate the new Air Force a service aerodrome was needed, and the aerodrome, buildings, and equipment of the Canterbury Aviation Company were bought. The decisions to form an Air Force and to buy the aerodrome were, of course, interdependent, and both were influenced by the efforts of the Hon. Henry Wigram. He had never stopped pressing the Government to do something about aviation, and now, to spur the authorities into positive action, he gave £10,000 towards the purchase price.1 In recognition of the gift, the aerodrome was renamed Wigram.

By the end of 1923 the strength of the Permanent Air Force had more than doubled. Major Wilkes was in command at Defence Headquarters in Wellington, and Captain Isitt commanded the aerodrome at Wigram. To assist him Captain Findlay, MC,2 was appointed as Flying Instructor. Lieutenant Denton was transferred from the Army as full-time equipment officer, and three other ranks were enlisted or transferred for maintenance and equipment duties.3

1 The total price paid to the company was £31,012 15s 3d, made up as follows:

Land£15,651 2s
Buildings£8,911 12s
Aircraft and spares£5,519 16s 9d
Implements£74 1s 4d
Supplies£511 3s 2d

2 Air Cdre J. L. Findlay CBE, MC, AFC, Legion of Honour (Fr), Legion of Merit (US); born Wellington, 6 Oct 1895; East Surrey Regt 1914–17; RFC and RAF 1917–21; NZPAF 1923; attached RAF 1929–30; Commanding Officer, Wigram, 1926–29 and 1930–38; attached RAF on exchange, 1938–41; AOC Central Group 1942–43; Head of Air Staff and Senior Member, NZ Joint Staff Mission, Washington, 1943–54.

3 Sgt W. S. Simpson, Sgt F. W. Sorrell, and Cadet H. H. Smith.


The Territorial Air Force, the formation of which was gazetted at the same time as that of the Permanent Air Force, consisted of page 15 seventy-two officers,1 all of whom had served as pilots in the First World War, and many of whom were to play important parts in the development of the RNZAF during the second. Two of them, Lieutenants Hood and Moncrieff, were to lose their lives in the first attempt to fly the Tasman.

Refresher training for the Territorial Air Force under the aegis of the Permanent Air Force started early in 1924. Three courses, each of two weeks, were held during the summer months, and were attended by all members who could spare the time. They were casual, pleasant affairs, where wartime pilots got together, exchanged reminiscences and did some flying. The chief shortcoming was that there was not enough of the flying. The aircraft, few in number, were old, obsolescent, and frequently unserviceable. It took strenuous efforts on the part of the ground staff to keep them airworthy at all. Pilots who achieved five hours' flying during their course were considered fortunate.

Servicing and maintenance during the courses would have been completely beyond the capabilities of the small permanent staff, and there were no ground crews among the Territorials. Great assistance was given by squads of cadets from the Technical College in Christchurch, many of whom later formed the solid core of technical officers and NCOs in the RNZAF.

The refresher courses were repeated each summer, but every year it became more difficult to keep the aircraft serviceable, while the number of officers attending steadily dwindled.

1 Major Keith L. Caldwell, MC, DFC; Captains R. E. Buckingham, MC, C. F. Meagher, AFC, M. W. Buckley, H. B. Burrell, C. C. L. Dowdall, J. L. Findlay, MC, G. L. Stedman, H. F. S. Drewitt, MC, DFC, P. K. Fowler, N. E. Chandler, John Seabrook, AFC, A. F. Upham, DFC, M. C. McGregor, DFC, F. W. Crawford; Lieutenants R. A. Stedman, F. J. Horrell, John Coates, C. H. Noble-Campbell, AFC, George Hood, C. A. Umbers, K. W. J. Hall, G. V. T. Thomson, H. R. T. Hughes, Sidney Wallingford, Ivo Carr, F. de M. Hyde, AFC, W. F. Parke, S. T. Goodman, MC, DCM, T. W. White, G. G. A. Martin, A. C. McCarthur, A. H. Skinner, G. J. Wilde, AFC, K. J. Gould, D. C. Inglis, DCM, I. L. Knight, W. R. Patey, DFC, T. B. Hardy, R. J. Thompson, F. S. Gordon, DFC, H. C. Lloyd; Second-Lieutenants M. D. Sinclair, P. Mitford-Burgess, G. Cotton-Stapleton, J. E. Stevens, I. E. Rawnsley, George Carter, H. I. N. Melville, Frank Hazlett, J. R. Richardson, Dennis Winfield, D. G. Gregorie, N. F. Harston, I. A. McGregor, R. B. Reynolds, W. B. Gillespie, H. N. Hawker, J. W. H. Lett, E. A. F. Wilding, W. E. Norton, M. H. Otway, W. G. Coull, R. G. MacDonald, R. J. Sinclair, R. J. M. Webber, W. W. Withell, R. C. Hancock, I. H. N. Keith, J. R. Moncrieff, E. D. Williams. Captain Christopher Musgrave, AFC, RAF Reserve (Class C) was attached.


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.

page 16

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)
page 17

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.


In the years 1929 and 1930 there was a considerable increase in the military uses of the Air Force. In February 1929 the Navy and Army carried out combined exercises in the Auckland area, where a mock landing was staged. Captain Isitt, flying from the partly completed aerodrome at Hobsonville and carrying the Minister of Defence as a passenger, flew over the exercises on observation and photographic flights. This was the first time that the land, sea, and air forces had all co-operated in an exercise.

In January 1930 the New Zealand Permanent Air Force carried out its first active operations. Native disturbances were causing trouble in Samoa, and HMS Dunedin was sent from New Zealand to restore order. She carried on board a Moth seaplane, with Flight Lieutenant Wallingford1 as pilot, and two Air Force corporals as servicing staff. In the two months which the expedition spent in Samoa Wallingford did ninety hours' flying, including general reconnaissance, co-operation with the ground forces, message dropping, and distributing propaganda.

During the same year, Fairey III and Moth seaplanes from Hobsonville co-operated with the Navy in torpedo, gunnery and anti-aircraft exercises. This co-operation lasted until 1936, when HMS Achilles and Leander joined the New Zealand Division of the Royal Navy. They carried their own aircraft, and machines of the New Zealand Air Force were in less demand. Even after that, however, co-operation between Hobsonville and the Navy was close, and the Air Force continued to take part in exercises. Co-operation was also carried out by aircraft from Hobsonville and Wigram with the Army in Northern, Central, and Southern Military Districts.

At the time of the Murchison earthquake in 1929, and again after the Napier earthquake in 1931, Air Force pilots, together with aero club pilots, did invaluable work in maintaining communications and flying medical and other supplies into the affected areas.

1 Air Cdre S. Wallingford, CB, CBE, Legion of Merit (US); Wellington; born Hythe, England, 12 Jul 1898; enlisted in Artists Rifles 1915; transferred to RAF1918; Fiji Constabulary 1921–23; short-service commission RAF, 1924–29; joined NZPAF 1929; RAF Staff College 1936; NZ Air Liaison Officer at Air Ministry, 1938–41; Air Force Member for Personnel, RNZAF, 1941–42; AOC No. 1 (Islands) Group, 1943–44; AMS 1944–46; Imperial Defence College 1947; AMP 1948–52; AOC Task Force Admin HQ 1952–53; retired 1953; Winner of Queen Mary's Prize at Bisley, 1928, and RAF Rifle Championship, 1927 and 1928.

page 21


Between 1928 and 1930 plans were laid for the formation of a properly constituted Territorial Air Force to replace the diminishing body of ex-RAF pilots which had existed since 1923. The formation of the new force was gazetted in August 1930. It consisted of a wing of four squadrons, under the command of Wing Commander Caldwell,1 with a squadron headquarters in each of the four main cities.2

An officer of the Permanent Air Force was posted to each squadron as adjutant, and the initial strength of the wing was sixty-six officers. Of these, sixty were members of the old Territorial Air Force, and six were newly-commissioned pilots who had been trained in aero clubs. The practice of appointing aero club pilots to commissions was thus established, and it was expected that they would form the bulk of officer recruits in the future.

Pilots were expected to do a fortnight's refresher course each year at Wigram or Hobsonville, and an additional six hours' flying during the course of the year, but during the depth of the depression this programme had to be drastically curtailed. The weakness of the wing lay in the fact that it possessed no aircraft or general training equipment of its own, nor any ground staff. The responsibility for training members lay on the Permanent Air Force,

1 Air Cdre K. L. Caldwell, CBE, MC, DFC and bar, m.i.d., Croix de Guerre (Belg); Auckland; born Wellington, 16 Oct 1895; sheep farmer; RFC 1916–18; comd NZAF (Territorial) 1919–37; NZALO, India, 1945; AOC RNZAF HQ, London, 1945.

2 OC Territorial Wing NZAF, Wg Cdr K. L. Caldwell, MC, DFC.

No. 1

(Army Co-operation) Squadron: Auckland and Hawke's Bay Provinces

Headquarters: Auckland OC, Sqn Ldr J. Seabrook, AFC
‘A’ Flight (Auckland)Flt Lt J. D. Hewitt
‘B’ Flight (Hamilton)Flt Lt F. S. Gordon, DFC
‘C’ Flight (Napier)Flt Lt T. W. White
No. 2

(Bomber) Squadron: Wellington and Taranaki Provinces

Headquarters: Wellington OC, Sqn Ldr M. C. McGregor, DFC
‘A’ Flight (New Plymouth)Fg Off I. H. N. Keith (acting)
‘B’ Flight (Wanganui)Flt Lt S. A. Gibbons
‘C’ Flight (Wellington)Flt Lt G. L. Stedman
No. 3

(Bomber) Squadron: Nelson, Marlborough, Canterbury and Westland

Headquarters: Christchurch OC, Sqn Ldr N. E. Chandler
‘A’ Flight (Blenheim)Flt Lt D. C. Inglis
‘B’ Flight (Christchurch)Flt Lt W. L. Harrison
‘C’ Flight (Timaru)Flt Lt K. W. J. Hall
No. 4

(Army Co-operation) Squadron: Otago and Southland

Headquarters: Dunedin OC, Sqn Ldr P. K. Fowler
‘A’ Flight (Oamaru)(Flight commanders were not appointed until the following year.)
‘B’ Flight (Dunedin)
‘C’ Flight (Invercargill)
Officers not allotted to units were posted to the nearest flight to their place of residence.

page 22 which itself had insufficient personnel and equipment to carry out the commitment. Consequently, for the next few years the Territorial Air Force remained very much a paper organisation.

During the depression the development of the Air Force was severely handicapped by the lack of money. In the year 1931–32 expenditure on both military and civil aviation was cut down to £28,280, which was approximately half the amount which had been spent in each of the two previous years. The following year expenditure was again reduced, and Major-General W. L. H. Sinclair- Burgess, Officer Commanding the New Zealand Military Forces, reported that it was definitely below the amount necessary to maintain the minimum organisation and equipment capable of carrying out air force duties under service conditions. In 1931 only twenty-six officers attended the refresher courses at Wigram. Development work on the base at Hobsonville, which was considered to have been sufficiently completed for immediate purposes, was stopped.

Shortages of aircraft and personnel were serious. Machines were deteriorating to the point of unserviceability, and the staff was insufficient to maintain them. An increase in the number of airmen at both Wigram and Hobsonville became urgent, for the future value of the four Territorial squadrons depended upon the provision of an adequate nucleus of permanent personnel and equipment. Although the seaplane base at Hobsonville was practically completed in 1930, no machine equipment, essential for the maintenance of aircraft and engines, was installed for another two years. Wigram also needed further development to make it an effective air force station. The worst feature of the situation was that both men and equipment were insufficient to form even the smallest effective air force unit. The strength of the Permanent Air Force in 1933 was nine officers and forty-four other ranks. These were barely enough for the maintenance of the Permanent Air Force bases at Wigram and Hobsonville and for the administrative and inspectional demands of civil aviation.

Nevertheless, some progress was made during the period. In 1931 several aircraft which had been previously ordered were added to the Air Force.1 At the end of the year Sir Henry Wigram

1 At the end of 1931 the NZPAF had the following aircraft strength:


At Hobsonville

  • 1 Fairey IIIF (equipped with floats and undercarriage)

  • 1 Saunders Roe ‘Cutty Sark’ flying boat.

  • 3 DH Moths (including 1 seaplane)


At Wigram—

  • 3 Gloster Grebes (obsolete)

  • 5 Bristol Fighters (obsolete)

  • 4 Hawker Tomtits (trainers)

  • 3 DH Moths (trainers)

  • 1 Puss Moth (trainer)

  • 1 DH50 (4-seater passenger aircraft)

page 23 added to his previous gifts by presenting 81 acres, formerly occupied by the Canterbury Park Trotting Club, to the Government for use as an extension to Wigram Aerodrome.

Early in 1934 His Majesty the King granted permission to the New Zealand Permanent Air Force to change its name to the 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.

page 24

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.