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Royal New Zealand Air Force

CHAPTER 4 — Outbreak of War with Germany and Initial Mobilisation and Training

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Outbreak of War with Germany and Initial Mobilisation and Training

DURING the last week in August 1939, international tension rose rapidly and it was clear that war was not far off. On the 24th the New Zealand Government advised Air Department that the ‘Alert’ stage had been declared, and the RNZAF was instructed to take appropriate action. New Zealand offered to place at the disposal of the RAF the Wellington aircraft in the United Kingdom which were about to be sent to the Dominion, and the RNZAF personnel who were to bring them out. This offer was accepted by the British Government. At the same time the British Government agreed that the RAF officers on loan in New Zealand should be retained to serve with the RNZAF.

On the 27th all personnel in the Armed Forces were recalled from leave and naval control of shipping was instituted. The next day the first mobilisation instruction was issued, ordering that in the event of general mobilisation the RNZAF depot at Hobsonville, the three Territorial squadrons, and the Flying Training School at Wigram were to be mobilised and brought up to full war establishment with the minimum of delay.

On 1 September the Governor-General issued a proclamation of emergency, a proclamation transferring the Reserve to the Regular Air Force, and a proclamation declaring the Territorial Air Force liable for continuous service.

On the 2nd the British Government signalled that the ‘Precautionary’ stage had been adopted against Germany and Italy, and that the British Army and the Royal Air Force had been ordered to mobilise. The next day the Prime Minister's Office advised Air Department: ‘War has broken out with Germany as from 9.30 p.m.’ The Royal New Zealand Air Force was ordered to mobilise.

The Territorial squadrons were immediately called up for mobilisation. The Christchurch Squadron reported for duty at Wigram at 9 a.m. on the 4th, and stood by continuously for operations from that time. The Commanding Officer, Squadron Leader Stedman, who was Chief Instructor at the Canterbury Aero Club, could not be released for full-time active-service duties, and page 41 Flight Lieutenant Roberts1 was appointed to the command. The squadron was equipped with six Baffin aircraft. On mobilisation training was intensified, and included navigation, reconnaissance, operational control procedure for pilots, training for wireless operator/air-gunners, and an extended programme of front and rear gunnery and bombing.

The Auckland Territorial Squadron mobilised at Hobsonville under the command of Flight Lieutenant Monckton,2 who acted as Officer Commanding for a few days. Squadron Leader Coull3 was then posted to the squadron and assumed command. Like the Christchurch Squadron it engaged in intensive training; and it remained at instant readiness owing to the danger of submarines in the Hauraki Gulf.

Three days after war was declared the Wellington Squadron moved from Rongotai to Blenheim. Squadron Leader Gibson was required for other duties and was replaced as Commanding Officer by Squadron Leader Sinclair.4 From Blenheim the squadron operated as a general reconnaissance squadron and carried out submarine patrols and shipping escort duties over the approaches to Wellington.

Although the war training organisation was incomplete, enough personnel and equipment were available to put it partially into action. It was decided, therefore, to proceed at once with a modified war training scheme, using what aircraft and instructors there were, and to expand the organisation as quickly as possible. The programme called for the immediate establishment of a recruit training school and a flying instructors' school. Elementary flying training schools were to be formed at Taieri and New Plymouth, and an air-gunners' and observers' school at Ohakea. The Flying Training School at Wigram was already in operation, and the second Flying Training School was to be formed at Blenheim before the end of the year. A third EFTS and FTS were to form at Palmerston North and Harewood respectively in March and April 1940.

On 11 September Air Department issued a call for volunteers, both for aircrew and for ground staff. The response was excellent, although applications from the Civil Reserve of Ground Staff were not as many as expected. Volunteers were required to serve for the duration of the war, either in the RNZAF or in the RAF. For aircrew the age limits were 17 ½ to 28 years. The men had to be unmarried, able to pass the prescribed medical examinations, and

1 Air Cdre G. N. Roberts, CBE, AFC, Legion of Merit (US); Auckland; born Inglewood, 8 Dec 1906; company representative; SSC RAF, 1929–34; NZTAF 1937–39; RNZAF 1939–46; Commander NZ Air Task Force, Solomons, 1944–45; General Manager, TEAL, 1946—.

2 Sqn Ldr C. L. Monckton; Waipukurau; born Waipukurau, 19 Sep 1908; farmer.

3 Wg Cdr W. G. Coull; Christchurch; born Dunedin, 25 May 1898; company manager.

4 Wg Cdr R. J. Sinclair; Pahiatua; born Masterton, 3 Jun 1899; farmer.

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page 43 educated up to the standard of School Certificate or University Entrance Examination.1

It soon became apparent, however, that if conditions of enlistment were not changed the supply of men with the necessary educational qualifications would be exhausted fairly soon, while many potentially good men would be lost to aircrew because they just failed to come up to the educational requirements. In November, therefore, the requirements were modified as follows:

Pilots had to be educated to approximately University Entrance standard;

Air observers must have had two years' secondary education; and

Air-gunners must be able to be taught to send and receive Morse.

Conditions of enlistment for non-flying personnel were that they should be physically fit, up to RNZAF standards, be educated up to the sixth standard or its equivalent, be up to the required trade standard, and have the required experience in the trade in which they wished to enlist. They should preferably be unmarried and between the ages of 18 and 35.

Two selection committees were set up in Air Department, one for aircrew and the other for ground crew. The committees toured New Zealand interviewing candidates in the different centres.

1 The insistence on educational standards evoked a number of letters to Air Department and to the Minister of Defence on the subject of class distinction, and complaints to the effect that it was not fair that only those who could afford a higher education should be able to volunteer for aircrew.


The first necessity for carrying out the training plan was a flying instructors' school. This was formed at the Auckland Aero Club's aerodrome at Mangere on 10 September under the command of Squadron Leader D. M. Allan, Chief Instructor of the Auckland Aero Club. In the two months immediately before the war Wing Commander Hodson2 and Squadron Leader Calder,3 Commanding Officer and Chief Flying Instructor at Wigram, had visited all aero clubs in New Zealand and tested all their flying instructors. As a result a number of instructors had been given refresher courses at the Auckland Aero Club to bring their methods up to date so that the Civil Reserve and Air Force training carried out by the clubs should be improved. The first course at the new flying instructors'

2 Air Cdre G. S. Hodson, CBE, AFC; RAF; born England, 2 May 1899; attached RNZAF on loan, 1938–43.

3 Air Cdre M. F. Calder, CBE; RNZAF; born Temuka, 28 Aug 1907; RAF 1931–39; RNZAF 1939—; D of Training 1942–43; D of Postings and Personal Services 1944–45; AMP 1945–47 and 1952–53; AOC RNZAF HQ, London, Jan 1954—.

page 44 school was a further refresher course for aero club instructors. The next two courses were composed of experienced aero club pilots, and thereafter the majority of trainees were ex-pupils of the flying training schools.

Trainees did approximately a hundred hours' flying in their course, of which ten hours were dual instruction with a staff instructor. For the remainder of the time pupils flew in pairs practising their ‘patter’ upon one another. All phases of flying were practised, including aerobatics, instrument flying and night flying. After the third or fourth course lectures were introduced covering airmanship, the art of instructing, etc.

The first Elementary Flying Training School to open was No. 1 EFTS at Taieri, on the Dunedin Aero Club's aerodrome. Although it had been planned to build a station to house the Dunedin Territorial Squadron, work had not begun when war broke out, and the station was constructed by the Public Works Department and ready for use six weeks after work commenced.

Squadron Leader Stedman was appointed Commanding Officer with Flying Officer Burbidge1 as Chief Flying Instructor. The flying squadron was divided into two flights with eight Tiger Moths each, and at first operated from No. 1 hangar, which was the only one completed when the school opened. Maintenance staff for the first fortnight consisted of Flying Officer Temple2 and Sergeant Simpson,3 with eighteen airmen who were entirely untrained and most of whom had hardly seen an aircraft before. Only Temple and Simpson were capable of doing the daily inspections on the aircraft and certifying them fit to fly. In the first three days and nights of the school's operation Simpson had only six hours' sleep.

The first course of sixteen acting pilot officers arrived on the opening day, and at the last minute a further sixteen Civil Reserve pilots were posted to the school for a short refresher course before going to Wigram. The majority of them were partially trained aero club pilots who, but for the outbreak of war, would have gone direct to Wigram to train for short-service commissions with the RAF.

No. 2 Elementary Flying Training School was formed at Bell Block, New Plymouth, in November. The building of the station had started on 9 September and the RNZAF took it over in the middle of October. Flight Lieutenant Upham4 was appointed Commanding Officer, and the staff arrived in the third week of November. The original instructors were all ex-aero club pilots who

1 Sqn Ldr A. W. Burbidge; Christchurch; born England, 20 Jan 1897; engineer and flying instructor.

2 Wg Cdr W. Temple; Wellington; born Scotland, 21 Feb 1902; engineer.

3 Sqn Ldr J. J. Simpson; Lower Hutt; born Auckland, 22 Aug 1912; engineer.

4 Wg Cdr A. C. Upham, DFC; Taupo; born England, 19 Apr 1887; civil pilot.

page 45 had done a course at Mangere, and most of them had been members of the Western Federated Clubs. Unlike Taieri, New Plymouth did not at first have Tiger Moth aircraft but used an assortment of light machines which had been taken over from the aero clubs.

The last flying training school to begin operations before the end of the year was No. 2 FTS at Woodbourne. Work on the station to make it into a training school had been begun early in 1939, and by December was nearly enough completed to allow the school to be opened. Wing Commander Caldwell was appointed Commanding Officer and Squadron Leader Nicholl1 Chief Flying Instructor. The first course of eighteen airmen pilots arrived on 28 December.

The operational station at Ohakea was nearly completed when war broke out, and on 18 September the station was formed with Flight Lieutenant Gedge2 as Commanding Officer. Its main function was to train observers and air-gunners, but for the first few weeks of its existence it acted also as a Recruit Training Depot. The first course of recruits arrived on the 20th. After a month's training in drill and Air Force discipline they were posted to other stations. Observer and air-gunner training started on 20 November, after the pupils had been at Ohakea for a month doing a recruit training course.

In order to man the flying training schools a large increase in technical and administrative staff was necessary. A number of tradesmen registered in the Civil Reserve were enlisted and posted to stations after a short disciplinary course. It was also necessary to form a second Technical Training Depot in addition to the one already operating at Hobsonville. This depot was formed at Wigram in September to train wireless operators, wireless electrical mechanics, instrument makers and repairers, armourers and fitter armourers. Later Wigram was to become the home of an Electrical and Wireless School,3 but in the first few months of the war the work of the school was carried out at Canterbury University College. Early in 1940 trained technical personnel became available from the courses held in the railway workshops.

1 Gp Capt B. S. Nicholl; RNZAF; born Christchurch, 5 Dec 1906; journalist; D of Flying Training 1947–48; D of Reserves 1951; D of Postings and Personal Services 1951–52; CO Wigram 1952–54.

2 Wg Cdr E. G. Gedge, MC; England; born England, 5 Aug 1895; secretary.

3 Two classes of wireless operators had been trained at Wigram in 1938, and a dozen of the men were in England when war started, having been sent over to fly out with the Wellingtons. A third class was in training when war began. They had used one of the old wooden hangars as a school.

Training on a wartime basis started in October 1939. Owing to lack of space at Wigram, it was carried out at the School of Engineering, Canterbury University College. Personnel were accommodated at Rolleston House (students' quarters).

Initial numbers under training were 60 (two classes of wireless operators and one of wireless electrical mechanics). In December two more classes of wireless operators started training, making the total strength 100. In January 1940 the school returned to Wigram, where premises had been built for it.

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An Administrative Training School was formed at Wigram in October to train stores accounting clerks, pay accounting clerks, general duties clerks, and equipment assistants.

An Initial Training School was formed at Rongotai as a recruiting centre for pilots, observers, and air-gunners, and a course of thirty acting pilot officers began training on 20 September. A month later the Initial Training School moved to Levin, where the Government Training Farm at Weraroa had been taken over for the purpose. The first course of airmen pilots, observers, and air-gunners started training there on 20 October.

Early in November it was decided to delay the development of Palmerston North and Harewood as flying training schools pending the result of discussions in Canada on an Empire Air Training Scheme.


Recruits for aircrew were posted on enlistment to the Ground Training School, or the Initial Training Wing as it later became known. There they were formally attested, kitted, and given a four weeks' course of basic service training and drill. They attended lectures in subjects which would help them in their future careers, including elementary navigation, mathematics, airmanship, Air Force law, discipline and hygiene. Those who completed the course satisfactorily were then posted either to an Elementary Flying Training School or to the Observer and Air Gunnery School.

The pilots then did an eight-weeks' course at an EFTS. There they divided their time equally between learning to fly elementary aircraft and continuing their ground studies. Besides learning to fly light aircraft, they were also trained in elementary map reading and pilot navigation. The basic training given at elementary schools varied little throughout the war, although by 1945 instruction was more standardised than it was in the early years. The main developments in the EFTS syllabus were the introduction of night flying in 1941, more specialised instruction in pilot navigation in 1942, and increased emphasis on instrument flying during the latter half of the war.

Flying instruction was the responsibility of the Chief Flying Instructor, and the instructing staff was organised into flights of from six to nine instructors. Ground instruction and the general discipline of pupils were the responsibility of the Chief Ground Instructor, who had under him a number of officers and NCOs who instructed the pupils in their various subjects. The pupils were divided into squads, each squad spending half the day on lectures and the other half flying.

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From EFTS those pupils who had passed their tests successfully graduated to an SFTS. There they spent eight weeks in the Intermediate Training Squadron learning to fly service-type aircraft, and then passed on to the Advanced Training Squadron for another eight weeks and learnt how to apply their flying training in air gunnery, bombing, and navigational exercises. As at EFTS, they spent half their time at lectures, under the control of the Chief Ground Instructor, and half in flying.

The Chief Flying Instructor, who was also Officer Commanding Intermediate Training Squadron, was responsible for pure flying training and also for airfield discipline for the whole station. The Officer Commanding Advanced Training Squadron was responsible for all the applied flying training. New Zealand was the only country operating under the Commonwealth Air Training Plan in which the SFTSs retained the two-squadron organisation with a distinct break between intermediate and advanced training. In the latter part of the war at No. 1 SFTS, Wigram, the two squadrons were co-ordinated for administrative purposes into a flying wing under the control of a Wing Commander Flying.

Those pupils who successfully passed out of ATS were posted to the RAF, with the exception of the top three or four of each course, who were retained in New Zealand for further training as flying instructors. Later in the war, when operational training units were established, many pupils went to them after leaving SFTS.

Observers and air-gunners went to Ohakea when they left the Ground Training School. There they spent their time in lectures and in learning the practical sides of their trades. Air-gunners started their practical training in the air with camera guns and then progressed to firing machine guns, first at targets on the ground and then at drogues towed by other aircraft. An important part of their training was signalling. Their course lasted for four weeks, after which they were ready for posting overseas.

Observers, whose first four weeks' ground training was the same as that of the air-gunners, remained at the school for a further eight weeks, specialising in navigation. Their flying training comprised navigational exercises and bombing.


When it was decided to reduce the educational requirements for aircrew recruits, it was clear that a system of pre-entry training would be necessary to bring those who had not had sufficient secondary education up to a standard high enough to enable them to cope page 48 with aircrew training. In October 1939 Mr Edward Caradus,1 Senior Inspector of Secondary Schools, was appointed Director of Educational Services to the RNZAF in the honorary rank of Wing Commander. He prepared a scheme of educational training which covered elementary navigation, mathematics, elementary science, and some service subjects.

Prospective aircrew trainees who did not appear to measure up to educational requirements were obliged to complete the course after being accepted by the selection committee and before being called up for service training. At first those who already had sufficient educational qualifications did not have to do the pre-entry course. After a few weeks, however, it was found that men who were nominally up to standard were at a disadvantage on entering their service training in comparison with those who had done the pre-entry course. It was therefore decided that all except those with very high qualifications should take the course.

In towns where there were twenty or more applicants, instruction was given in evening classes, in most cases in secondary schools or technical colleges. Where there were not sufficient numbers to warrant the formation of a class, and also for men living in the country, correspondence courses were conducted from Air Department.

1 Wg Cdr E. Caradus, OBE; Wellington; born Auckland, 6 Dec 1885; civil servant; Director of Educational Services, RNZAF, 1939–45.


As the peacetime expansion of the RNZAF was planned to be completed in 1941, there were in 1939 many deficiencies of all types of equipment. The immediate expansion at the beginning of the war made it necessary to improvise, and to explore the possibilities of having goods made locally, to fill the gaps. Aircraft for the training scheme were still arriving. The Vildebeestes already in the country, twelve in number, had been new when they were bought and were in good condition. The Baffin aircraft of the Territorial squadrons, however, were secondhand and required much work to keep them serviceable. Other aircraft imported for training were Fairey Gordons and Vickers Vincents. Both these types had seen long service in the Middle East. Some of them, in addition, had been stored for a considerable time and various parts, particularly rubber parts, had deteriorated badly. Spare parts were in short supply and an even greater difficulty was caused by a lack of machine tools. These factors put a heavy strain on the Assembly Depot at Hobsonville and on the maintenance organisation throughout the RNZAF.

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Supplies of uniforms and clothing were also difficult to obtain, largely because of the heavy Army contracts which were being filled.

Large orders for all types of equipment were placed in the United Kingdom through the New Zealand Liaison Officer in London, Wing Commander Wallingford, and efforts were also made to procure goods from Australia. In New Zealand a Defence Purchasing Committee was formed to explore the possibilities of local resources. By the end of the year the immediate deficiencies were remedied, with the exception of some types of equipment which could not be made in New Zealand and which it was impossible to obtain immediately from overseas.


The very rapid expansion of the Air Force necessitated a corresponding expansion and reorganisation of Air Headquarters. The two branches which were most affected were those connected with training and with equipment.

In the branch of the Chief of Air Staff, which was responsible for training, the following appointments were made. Squadron Leader E. M. F. Grundy became Air I, responsible for operations and operational training and for liaison with Army and Navy. Flight Lieutenant J. D. Canning was appointed Air II, responsible for intelligence and internal security. Squadron Leader Olson was appointed TF I (Training Flying I), and was responsible for the training carried out at all FTSs, the training of flying instructors, of air-gunners and observers, and of recruits. Flight Lieutenant J. Buckeridge was designated TF II, and was responsible for flying training at EFTSs, and for training at all ground training schools. Flight Lieutenant P. E. Hudson became T Nav, responsible for navigation training and photographic training. Squadron Leader L. Crocker was appointed T Tech, in charge of technical training of all personnel at schools of technical training. Flight Lieutenant I. A. Scott became T Sigs, in charge of the training of signals personnel and also responsible for communications and the maintenance of electrical and wireless equipment.

The Equipment Branch, which at the beginning of September had a strength of two officers, one NCO and two civilian clerks, expanded in two months to seven officers and thirty clerks.

Other sections of Headquarters grew likewise. All new personnel had to be initiated into the workings of the service and had to learn their various duties as they did them. The lack of experienced staff was a serious obstacle to the efficient administration of the service, and gave rise to problems which became apparent later; but, considering the difficulties of the time, the organisation worked well.