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Royal New Zealand Air Force



With the expansion of the Regular Air Force proceeding, the Territorial Air Force also was reorganised and put on a working basis.

The four squadrons which had been established in 1930 were still in 1937 only a paper force. They had no ground staff or equipment, and of the seventy officers who composed them, many were pilots of the 1914–18 war and over forty years of age.

The demands of the regular force's expansion programme limited the finance and training facilities available for a Territorial Air Force; but it was considered that properly constituted and equipped Territorial squadrons could play an important part in home defence and coastal patrol work, and that their formation would be justified. As their role would not involve them in continued contact with the enemy, they could be manned by older and less highly trained men than the regular squadrons, and equipped with older and less expensive aircraft. Furthermore, their employment would release the regular squadrons for duty elsewhere.

Consequently, it was decided to form squadrons in each of the four main centres, and equip them with obsolescent aircraft which could be bought cheaply from the RAF. The first to be authorised was the Wellington Territorial Squadron, whose formation was approved in Cabinet in July 1937. In February 1938 the formation of squadrons at Christchurch and Auckland was approved, and in the following month the Dunedin squadron was authorised.

In July 1937 twelve Baffin aircraft were ordered for the Wellington Squadron, at a cost of £200 each, and later in the year applications were called for from pilots and ground staff to man the squadron.

It was to be organised as three flights. No. 1, a reconnaissance flight, was to be equipped with twin-engined civil aircraft which would be taken over on the outbreak of war. It was to be manned, as far as possible, by the personnel normally operating the aircraft. Nos. 2 and 3 flights were to be equipped with six Baffins each. One aircraft per flight was to be kept at Rongotai for evening and page 35 weekend flying. The others were to be stored in peacetime at Ohakea and brought into use only at the annual training camp.

By January 1938 approximately twenty officers and ninety airmen had been enrolled. The Commanding Officer was Squadron Leader Gibson.1 Technical personnel were drawn mainly from the Hutt railway workshops, and a number of them were given a course of training at Hobsonville as instructors to the others in the maintenance of aircraft. A training camp was held in January, when nineteen officers and sixty airmen had a ten-days' disciplinary course at Trentham.

The squadron's aircraft arrived in March and flying training was begun. In May the Chief of Air Staff ordered a public display by the RNZAF, which was held at Rongotai. The Wellington Territorial Squadron took part, and also twelve aircraft from Wigram. In October the squadron carried out its first operational exercises in co-operation with HMS Achilles, and at the end of the year exercises were carried out with HMS Wellington.

Recruiting for the Christchurch Territorial Squadron began in April 1938. Squadron Leader Stedman,2 chief instructor at the Canterbury Aero Club, was appointed Commanding Officer, and by November the strength of the squadron was fourteen officers and seventy-eight airmen. The squadron was equipped with Baffin aircraft, of which the first arrived in September.

Starting in October, a number of refresher courses were held at Wigram for Territorial pilots. The courses lasted twelve days and consisted of flying practice on service-type aircraft.

In February 1939 the Christchurch Territorial Squadron received its first permanent maintenance staff—two NCOs, four fitters, and four riggers. They were assisted in the maintenance of the aircraft by the Territorial fitters and riggers at weekend parades, and also acted as instructors. Early in March the squadron held its first training camp. Flying training was carried out on four days, and six days were spent on drilling and other ground instruction.

The Auckland Territorial Squadron was formed in June 1938, with Squadron Leader Allan3 as Commanding Officer. In October its strength was eighteen officers and fifty-nine airmen. When its aircraft became available a few months later, it started weekend training at Hobsonville. Training consisted of pilot navigation, ship recognition, search and patrol technique, and bombing.

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At the end of March 1939 the strength of the Territorial Air Force was:

Wellington Squadron 18 officers, 96 airmen
Christchurch Squadron 17 officers, 92 airmen
Auckland Squadron 20 officers, 77 airmen

In addition a further twenty-one Territorial officers had been appointed, but were not attached to any particular squadrons. The Dunedin Squadron, although it had been authorised, had not been formed when war broke out. In June and July, on account of the imminence of war, all available Territorial Air Force pilots were sent to Wigram for a two-months' general reconnaissance course.

1 Wg Cdr E. A. Gibson, OBE; Wellington; born Wellington, 6 Aug 1896; engineer.

2 Wg Cdr G. L. Stedman, ED; Wellington; born Timaru, 27 Oct 1891; flying instructor; Canterbury Mounted Rifles (Lt) 1914–17; transferred to RFC.

3 Sqn Ldr D. M. Allan; born Waipukurau, 15 Sep 1896; sheep farmer; killed in aircraft accident 12 Mar 1940.