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Royal New Zealand Air Force


THE German successes in Poland in the first weeks of the war convinced the British War Cabinet that air supremacy was necessary if Britain was to have any chance of survival. It was decided that a greatly enlarged air force must be built up which would have to carry out continuous and heavy operations. It was anticipated that wastage would be high and that no fewer than 20,000 pilots and 30,000 other aircrew would be needed annually to maintain the required force.

Britain would be unable to train nearly the numbers required. The country was too small to accommodate all the necessary aerodromes, which would take up valuable land needed for agriculture. Also, it was too close to the main theatre of war, and training would probably be interrupted by enemy raids.

It was therefore proposed to form fifty flying training schools, of which twenty-five would be for advanced training, in other parts of the Empire. The obvious country for the location of the main part of the training scheme was Canada.1 She had unlimited space for the development of aerodromes and had considerable industrial potential which could be turned to the manufacture of aircraft and other equipment. In addition, she was close to the resources of the United States. Canada was therefore suggested as the advanced training ground, while elementary schools were to be established in each Dominion according to its capacity.

Towards the end of September the scheme was proposed to the New Zealand Government, and it was decided that air missions from Britain, Australia, and New Zealand should go to Canada in October to discuss it. The New Zealand mission comprised the Chief of the Air Staff, Group Captain Saunders, and the Air Secretary, Mr Barrow. Discussions were held with a committee of the Canadian Cabinet comprising the Minister of Finance, the Minister of National Defence, the Minister of Transport, and the Minister of Pensions.

1 Pre-war planning had provided for a large expansion of training throughout the Empire, and after the Munich crisis of 1938 Air Ministry had proposed to establish RAF schools in Canada; but various factors had prevented anything being done before the war started.

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When the New Zealand mission arrived in Ottawa it was informed by the United Kingdom mission that proposals had already been submitted to the Canadian and Australian missions as a basis for discussion. They involved the training in the Dominions of 11,050 pilots and 17,940 observers and air-gunners per annum.1 Canada was to provide a total of 18,148 men annually, Australia 15,132, and New Zealand 4550. The cost of training was to be shared among the three Dominions on a basis of Canada 48 per cent, Australia 40 per cent, and New Zealand 12 per cent.

The suggested allotment of trainees to the three Dominions worked out at a ratio of 12, 10 and 3 for Canada, Australia, and New Zealand respectively. On a population basis, however, the correct ratio would have been 14, 9 and 2, and the New Zealand delegation pointed out that on that basis New Zealand should provide a total of only approximately 3000 trainees per annum. As New Zealand was also providing a division for service overseas it was unlikely that, even with a considerable reduction in the standard of recruits, she could maintain a figure of more than 3200.

The delegation also pointed out that if all advanced training was carried out in Canada the training facilities already existing or nearing completion in New Zealand as a result of the RNZAF expansion programme would not be fully used. Moreover, the estimated cost of training in Canada was high compared with that in New Zealand. It was therefore suggested that to make the best use of the facilities available in New Zealand as many pilots as possible should be fully trained there.

The agreement finally reached between the United Kingdom and the New Zealand Government was that New Zealand should provide 880 fully trained pilots per annum for service in the Royal Air Force; 520 pilots trained to elementary standard, whose advanced training would be carried out in Canada; and 546 observers and 936 air-gunners, trained only to the initial stage, who also would be sent to Canada for further training.

After finishing their training in Canada the men were to be sent to serve with the RAF, with the proviso that the RCAF might retain a limited number to fill vacancies in home defence and training establishments. The British Government undertook that all aircrew from the Dominions should be identified with their respective countries, either by organising Dominion units or in some other way.

Altogether seven squadrons with New Zealand identity were later formed in the RAF and manned very largely by New Zealanders, but in addition there was New Zealand representation in almost every unit which served during the war.

1 This represented five-ninths of the total of 20,000 pilots and 30,000 aircrew required The remaining four-ninths were to be trained in the United Kingdom.

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New Zealand's contribution to the cost of training in Canada was assessed as 8.08 per cent of the whole, on a basis of the relative numbers to be trained there. The amount was 28,603,000 dollars, which was to be spread over a period of three and a half years.

Under this agreement New Zealand's commitments had increased considerably beyond the 650 fully trained pilots and 650 observers and air-gunners which the RNZAF had planned to train annually for the RAF under the War Training Organisation. While now only initial ground training was required for the observers and air-gunners since their flying training would be carried out in Canada, their number had more than doubled. The number of fully trained pilots to be provided had been increased by a third, and in addition elementary flying training was required for another 520 pilots. It was now necessary to set up an organisation capable of accepting for training every four weeks 144 pilots for elementary flying training, 80 pilots for advanced training, and 42 observers and 72 wireless operator/air-gunners for initial training.

To do this the flying training schools already in existence or planned had to be expanded and a fourth EFTS was necessary. The Air Gunners' and Observers' School at Ohakea would no longer be needed and it was decided to put the third SFTS there instead of at Harewood. The third EFTS was to form at Harewood instead of Palmerston North, and the fourth EFTS at Whenuapai.

The first draft of 72 wireless operator/air-gunners was scheduled to leave for Canada under the new scheme in October 1940, the first 42 observers in November, and the first 40 pilots in March 1941. These dates were largely dependent on the supply of aircraft and equipment from the United Kingdom for training.

Throughout 1940 training was carried on at as large a scale as possible with the resources available. The limiting factors were shortages of instructors, aircraft and other equipment. At the same time, work on the construction of the new schools was pushed ahead. Harewood opened as a station in May under the command of Wing Commander Sir Robert Clark-Hall,1 and in August the EFTS started training with an intake of thirty pupil pilots.

The training of observers and air-gunners at Ohakea was continued until aircraft were available to form the Flying Training School. The last course of air-gunners passed out in September

1 Air Mshl Sir Robert Clark-Hall, KBE, CMG, DSO; RAF (retd); Christchurch; born London, 1883; appointed Sub-Lieut RN 1902; qualified as a pilot, 1911; commanded converted aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal at Dardanelles, 1915–16; commanded No. 1 Wing, France, 1917–18; permanent commission RAF 1919; AOC Egyptian Group 1924; AOC RAF Mediterranean 1925–29; Director of Equipment, Air Ministry, 1929–31; AOC Coastal Area 1931–34; retired 1934 at own request and settled in NZ; volunteered to serve in RNZAF on outbreak of war, and appointed to temporary commission in rank of Wing Commander; commanded RNZAF Harewood, 1940–43; AOC Southern Group 1943–44; AOC No. 1 (Islands) Group 1944–45; retired 1946.

page 53 and the last course of observers in December. The Flying Training School started to form in October and was in full operation by the end of the year. The fourth EFTS was formed at Whenuapai in December.

In May 1940, as a result of the German successes in Europe, Air Ministry asked New Zealand to prepare to increase the output of aircrews. The New Zealand Government replied that it was already taking steps and that the full development of the training organisation could be completed by December instead of in February of the following year. It was not possible, though, to increase the output of pilots before the end of the year.

In September the New Zealand War Cabinet approved proposals made by the British Government for the speeding up of training still further. These comprised a reduction in the length of each stage of flying training from eight weeks to six, and an increase of 25 per cent in the number of pupils in the flying schools without increasing the numbers of instructors or aircraft. These measures had already been adopted in the training organisation in Britain, and had been proposed to Canada and Australia. An increase of 60 per cent in the output of pilots was hoped for.

To provide for the greater number of pupils going through, accommodation at the Initial Training Wing had to be more than doubled and a slight increase in accommodation was necessary at the flying schools.

The intake into the Initial Training Wing was increased in November. It had been proposed to form a second ITW at Rongotai, but the idea was abandoned and additional accommodation built at Levin. The Elementary Training Schools felt the effect in December and the Service Flying Training Schools six weeks later. The first courses to be reduced to six weeks were those starting in various stages of training in January 1941.

To take some of the load of ground training off the flying schools the pilots' course at ITW was lengthened from four weeks to six, beginning with the course starting in December. At the same time, the ITW course for observers was lengthened to eight weeks to raise the standard of their initial training before they went to Canada.

As a result of these changes the output of fully trained pilots was increased to a total of approximately 1480 a year, while that of partially trained pilots to be sent to Canada increased to approximately 850 a year.

In January 1941 the British Government asked New Zealand to adopt what was known as the ‘Third Revise’ and reduce the length of courses to five weeks as had been done by the RAF. The proposal page 54 was rejected for two main reasons. First, the greater percentage of instructors was inexperienced, having only recently graduated from the Flying Instructors' School, and it was felt that they could not cope successfully with the training of pupils if courses were shortened still further. Second, aircraft and spare parts were still short of requirements and the problems of keeping machines serviceable would be intensified. Maintenance personnel had as much as they could do already to keep sufficient machines in the air.

Training was carried on throughout 1941 on the basis of a six-weeks' course. At first an attempt was made to give each pupil fifty hours' flying in each stage of his training, flying seven days a week if necessary to do it. This was found to be impossible owing to maintenance difficulties and lack of spares. Consequently from March onward pupils were trained to the standard reached by an average pupil in forty-five hours. Inevitably this policy resulted in a lower standard of training. Pupils were forced to assimilate knowledge in a shorter time than previously and had less opportunity to practise what they were taught. The wastage rate increased, as it was not possible to give extra attention to backward pupils and those who found difficulty in learning had, perforce, to have their flying training terminated. Fatigue became marked in both instructors and pupils, and medical examination showed that by the end of his flying training the average pupil's physical condition had deteriorated considerably. As a result of these factors there was a rise in the accident rate in all stages of flying training.

A request in October that New Zealand should increase the number of pilots sent to Canada by 15 per cent had to be refused on account of manpower difficulties.

Commitments for observers, which had remained unchanged since the beginning of the Commonwealth Plan, were increased in September when the RCAF, at the request of Air Ministry, asked New Zealand to increase the numbers sent to Canada by 130 a year. The first draft under the new commitment left New Zealand at the beginning of 1942.

At the end of 1941 Air Ministry reviewed pilot requirements in relation to training capacity. The training of aircrews was catching up with the production of aircraft, which had not come up to expectations. Much of the British aircraft industry's output in 1941, too, had been diverted to Russia, while operational casualties among aircrew had been fewer than expected. It was now possible, therefore, to spend more time in training and so raise the standard of flying, with particular emphasis on navigation, night flying, and instrument flying.

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New Zealand agreed that courses should be extended, and in February 1942 they were again lengthened to eight weeks. The flying times for pupils were increased again to sixty hours in each stage of training. The annual output under the new schedule was approximately 1170 fully trained pilots and 676 partially trained.

The rapid expansion of the flying training organisation in 1940–41 had necessitated a corresponding increase in the training of technical personnel. At the beginning of the war No. 1 Technical Training School had been formed at Hobsonville and No. 2 TTS at Wigram, while other tradesmen were trained in the railway workshops. Recruits were enlisted and given a month's course of drill and discipline at the Recruit Training Depot which formed at Ohakea and subsequently moved to Levin. From the Recruit Training School trainees were posted to one of the Technical Training Schools. In November 1939 a Central Trade Test Board was instituted to examine airmen at the end of their technical training courses. Prior to this, trade testing had been handled by the Senior Technical Training Officer at Air Department. The formation of the board was made necessary by the large numbers of men passing out from the schools.

In August 1940 a third Technical Training School was formed at Rongotai, and the railway workshops training scheme was allowed to lapse. This had the effect of eliminating the duplication of equipment in the four railway workshops, facilitating the handling of the greatly increased number of trainees and providing a service environment for the men while they were under instruction.

The Recruit Training Depot for airmen in ground trades was moved in July from Levin to Hobsonville owing to the increased demand at Weraroa for accommodation for future aircrew trainees.

Early enlistments into technical trades had included many men, some of them members of the Civil Reserve, who were already well qualified and required little training to adapt them to the needs of their respective Air Force trades. As the war progressed, however, the supply of these men rapidly diminished and with later recruits more intensive training was needed to bring them up to the required standard.

In 1939, when the Pacific Defence Conference met in Wellington, New Zealand had agreed, when all her own requirements were met, to train technical men for service with the Royal Air Force. The need for personnel in New Zealand to man the training schemes prevented the sending of many technicians to the United Kingdom, but throughout 1940 and 1941 a number were sent comprising mainly radio mechanics, wireless operators, instrument repairers, fitter armourers, fitters, and riggers.

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By the end of 1941 the demand in New Zealand was being met satisfactorily and the RNZAF tentatively undertook to send 350 flight riggers and flight mechanics annually for service with the RAF, beginning in 1942. This, however, was made impossible by the outbreak of war with Japan and the need for more personnel to man operational squadrons in the Pacific.