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Royal New Zealand Air Force



The aircraft were in various states of disrepair and needed a lot of work to make them serviceable for operational flying. No. 67 Squadron when it left had taken with it all its tools, spare parts and accessories, and No. 488 Squadron found that the total equipment left to it comprised six trestles, six chocks, one damaged ladder and six oil-draining drums. No preparation for the squadron's arrival had been made by the equipment section at Kallang, and the unit's equipment officer, Flying Officer Franks,1 had to start from scratch to build up a complete range of maintenance material.

The equipment organisation at Kallang suffered severely from the red tape of peacetime administration, and the acquisition of stores through official channels was painfully slow. Franks established friendly relations direct with the RAF equipment depot at Seletar, and was not only able to equip his own squadron in remarkably quick time but helped to equip No. 243 Squadron, RAF, which also was stationed at Kallang.

1 Sqn Ldr C. W. Franks, MBE; Wellington; born North Canterbury, 12 Jul 1912; civil servant.

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As equipment came to hand—tools, spare parts, etc.—the main tenance crews set about modifying and repairing the aircraft. By hard work and considerable ingenuity they had machines ready to fly by the time the pilots came back from their conversion course at Kluang towards the end of the month.

Clouston had been ordered to make his squadron operational in the shortest possible time, and throughout November training proceeded at high pressure in the face of many difficulties. The pilots, who should have been converted to Buffalos at Kluang, had had only a few hours' refresher flying there on Wirraways. Consequently, at Kallang they had to start from the beginning. They began by practising circuits and landings on the aerodrome, and then went on to aerobatics. When they could handle their machines proficiently, they progressed to operational exercises: map reading, reconnaissance, army co-operation, formation flying and combat tactics.

In the early stages training was hampered by the lack of any radio equipment, which meant that briefing on the ground had to be more than usually detailed and that no instructions, other than by visual signals, could be given in the air. Even when R/T (radio telephony) became available towards the end of November, the sets, obsolete TR9D type, were unsatisfactory and gave poor results.

Clouston was busy much of the time with administrative work, so most of the burden of training the squadron fell on the shoulders of the two flight commanders. Their load was lightened at the beginning of December when two more New Zealanders, Pilot Officers Hesketh1 and Oakden,2 were posted on loan from No. 243 Squadron as assistant flight commanders.

Two factors over which the squadron had no control helped to limit flying hours. The first was the weather. Nearly every day, flying was interrupted by heavy thunder showers which reduced visibility to zero and grounded all aircraft till they had passed. The second was the apparent indifference of the Higher Command in Singapore to the urgency of the situation. Although the threat of war hung over the island, peacetime routine, enforced by liberal quantities of red tape, was still in operation. Wednesdays were half-holidays, and no work was done on Sundays. Even on full working days, flying was permitted only between eight o'clock in the morning and three in the afternoon. To the New Zealanders,

1 Plt Off G. L. Hesketh; born Auckland, 24 Feb 1915; law clerk; killed in action 15 Jan 1942.

2 Flt Lt F. W. J. Oakden; Gore; born Dunedin, 29 Sep 1917; clerk; p.w. Mar 1942– Sep 1945.

page 82 imbued with the vital need for haste in reaching operational efficiency, it seemed that far too much valuable time was being wasted.

During the training period the aircraft, old and decrepit in the first place, suffered all the wear and tear that might be expected in a squadron manned by inexperienced pilots. Besides this, they had to be fitted for operations. As already mentioned, R/T sets had to be installed; armour plate had also to be fitted behind the pilot's seat.

The ground crews, who had been brought from New Zealand in accordance with the establishment laid down by Air Ministry, were not nearly sufficient to cope with the amount of work to be done. Additional men were posted to the squadron from other units in Singapore, but still they were overworked.

Under Flight Sergeant Chandler,1 who acted as squadron engineer officer, they performed prodigies in servicing, repairing, and modifying their aircraft. Because they were able to keep a good proportion of the machines airworthy, the squadron achieved a much higher standard of operational efficiency than could have been reasonably expected.

1 Fit Lt W. A. Chandler, BEM; RNZAF; born Hawera, 14 Aug 1914; motor mechanic.