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Royal New Zealand Air Force



Early in 1937 a start was made in putting Cochrane's recommendations into effect. Wigram was reorganised into a flying training school with an output of forty pilots per annum, which was to be increased later to eighty per annum, and training of pilots both for the RNZAF and for the RAF was begun. Hobsonville was converted to a stores and repair base and also became a training school for ground personnel. The station was enlarged by the purchase of an additional 55 acres of land.

A survey was made of possible sites for the location of an aerodrome to accommodate the bomber squadrons. Eventually it page 29 was decided to build two stations instead of one, and land for the purpose was bought at Whenuapai, four miles from Hobsonville, and at Ohakea, near Bulls in the Manawatu. Orders were placed in Britain for the purchase of thirty Wellington aircraft1 and supplies of ammunition and bombs.

It was anticipated that, under the programme approved, the strength of the Regular Air Force would be 100 officers and 900 airmen, compared with the total personnel of just over one hundred which existed at the end of 1936. A reserve of pilots would be formed, consisting of selected candidates who were to be trained at the rate of one hundred a year by agreement with the aero clubs. In addition there would be the personnel of the Territorial Air Force.

During the next two years three supplementary expansion programmes were approved. Later in 1937 orders were placed in Britain for additional aircraft, bombs, and ammunition. A scheme was worked out for establishing schools for the training of flight riggers and flight mechanics at the railway workshops in the four main centres. It was decided to establish active Territorial squadrons in the four main centres and to purchase a reserve of obsolescent aircraft from the RAF. Further expansion of the Flying Training School at Wigram and the stores and repair base at Hobsonville was also authorised.

Early in 1938 a third expansion programme was approved, involving additional buildings at Hobsonville, additional ammunition, bombs, aircraft spares and equipment, the establishment of Territorial flights at New Plymouth, Hastings, and Invercargill, and the establishment of a regular squadron at Blenheim.

Five months before war broke out Group Captain H. W. L. Saunders,2 who had recently arrived in New Zealand as Chief of Air Staff in succession to Cochrane, recommended a fourth expansion programme. It included the conversion of the Air Force station being built at Blenheim to a second Flying Training School with an output of 140 pilots yearly, an increase in the size of the Flying Training School at Wigram to produce 140 pilots a year, and the purchase of additional aircraft and equipment necessary to maintain the training operations at these two schools.

The development of flying training in the years immediately preceding the outbreak of war had two main objectives: to train

1 Twin-engined bombers, of geodetic construction, made by Vickers-Armstrong, with a maximum speed of 250 m.p.h. and a cruising range of 2500 miles.

2 Air Chf Mshl Sir Hugh Saunders, KCB, KBE, MC, DFC, MM, Legion of Merit (US); born Johannesburg, 24 Aug 1894; South African Army 1914–17; RFC 1917–19; appointed to permanent commission in RAF, 1919; served in Middle East and Mesopotamia, 1920–23; UK 1923–32; overseas 1932–35; UK 1935–39; CAS RNZAF 1939–42; AOC No. 11 Group 1942–44; Director-General of Postings 1944–45; AOC RAF, Burma, 1945–46; AOC-in-C Bomber Command 1947; AMP 1947–49; Inspector- General of the RAF 1950.

page 30 pilots to man the expanding RNZAF and to provide pilots for the Royal Air Force.

Since 1919 a number of New Zealanders had travelled to England at their own expense to join the RAF. Some obtained short-service commissions. Others entered the service under a scheme whereby a limited number of candidates from the Dominions were accepted annually at the RAF Cadet College at Cranwell, to be appointed later to permanent commissions.

During the late twenties considerably more New Zealanders arrived in England and applied for entry into the RAF than could be accepted. The competition was keen, and the rate of intake strictly limited. As a result, prospective candidates were advised that they should be medically examined before leaving New Zealand to ensure that they were up to the necessary physical standard, and interviewed by the Director of Air Services to find out whether they possessed the required general qualifications. Those who he thought would be successful were given a written recommendation to Air Ministry, which, however, was made on the understanding that it in no way ensured acceptance by the RAF. At this period Air Ministry was able to accept approximately five New Zealanders every three months.

In 1934, when the RAF was beginning to expand and rearm, Air Ministry suggested that New Zealand should train a number of pilots each year and send them for four years' service with the RAF, after which they should return home and serve a further period on the reserve. The New Zealand Government was to be responsible for their training and their passage to England, and would be paid £1550 sterling by the British Government for each pilot sent. New Zealand was unable to do this at the time owing to the lack of training equipment, but the scheme commenced in the middle of 1937. At the same time another scheme was put into operation, under which a number of candidates annually were selected and medically examined in New Zealand for short-service commissions in the RAF. These were accepted by the RAF without further interview or medical examination, and their passage money to England was paid by Air Ministry.

Flying training started in earnest at Wigram in June, when twelve acting pilot officers arrived to begin a full nine months' course. The training aircraft comprised four Vickers Vildebeestes, three Hawker Tomtits, and three Avro 626 trainers. The station strength was twelve officers and ninety-six other ranks. Later in the year more instructors were posted to the school and a number of aircraft were transferred from Hobsonville. This enabled the training of a second course of pilots to overlap the first course by three months.

page 31

The flying training course comprised ab initio, intermediate and advanced training, covering a period of nine months. The school was organised into two flights. Squadron Leader Olson1 was chief flying instructor, and under him Flight Lieutenant Newell2 commanded ‘A’ Flight, which was responsible for initial and intermediate training, and Flight Lieutenant Cohen3 commanded ‘B’ Flight, which undertook advanced training.

In April 1938 Olson was posted to Hobsonville, and Cohen became chief flying instructor, as well as commanding the advanced training flight. In September Flight Lieutenant Newell was posted for a course at the RAF Staff College. Command of the intermediate flight was taken over by Flight Lieutenant Baird,4 who had recently come back to New Zealand after serving a short-service commission in the RAF. He introduced a new training syllabus based on that in use at Scottish Aviation, Prestwick.

Between June 1937 and the end of 1939, a total of 133 officers were trained at Wigram and posted to the RAF for short-service commissions. Besides these a number on completing their training were retained in the RNZAF.

In September 1938 the New Zealand Government, in view of the threatening international situation, proposed if war broke out to set up an organisation to train one thousand pilots a year for the RAF. The offer was accepted in principle by the British Government, and plans were drawn up to provide the necessary establishment.

It was estimated that there were in New Zealand at that time approximately fifty pilots who either were instructors or could be classed as such after a short course, and it was considered that at least half of the pupils completing the full pilots' training course at Wigram would be capable of acting as junior instructors in the advanced training squadron of a service flying training school. The aircraft available comprised 32 service-type aircraft (Vildebeeste,

1 Air Cdre E. G. Olson, DSO; born New Plymouth, 27 Feb 1906; RAF 1926–29; joined NZAF (Territorial) 1930; RNZAF 1935; AMP 1939–41; NZLO Air Ministry 1942; commanded No. 75 (NZ) Sqn, Feltwell, 1942, and subsequently RAF stations at Honiton and Oakington; AOC RNZAF HQ, London, 1943–45; died 15 May 1945.

2 Gp Capt F. R. Newell; Wellington; born 30 Jun 1904; SSC RAF 1931–36; appointed to RNZAF 1936; NZLO Air Ministry 1941–42; commanded stations in NZ and Pacific, 1943–45; DOSD Air Dept, 1945–47; CO Whenuapai 1947–49; DOSD 1949–51.

3 Air Cdre R. J. Cohen, CBE, AFC, Legion of Merit (US); Wellington; born Feilding, 6 Sep 1908; SSC RAF 1929–35; appointed to RNZAF 1935; commanded various RNZAF stations during the war; AOC No. 1 (Islands) Group and NZ Air Task Force, 1945; DCAS 1947 and 1950–53; AOC Task Force Admin HQ, 1953—; Inspector- General RNZAF, 1954—.

4 Gp Capt D. W. Baird, AFC; Wellington; born Bangor, Northern Ireland, 23 Dec 1910; farmer; short-service commission RAF 1931–37; joined RNZAF 1938; served in various theatres with RAF and RNZAF during the war; commanded No. 490 (NZ) Squadron, West Africa, 1943; Director of Training, RNZAF, 1945–46; Director of Operations and Flying Training 1950; Director of Reserves 1951—.

page 32 Baffin and Oxford), 9 multi-engined commercial types, and 63 suitable light aircraft, mainly Moths.