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Royal New Zealand Air Force



At the end of December New Zealand again asked Britain to supply more aircraft for her defence. The most urgent need was for additional medium bombers. In addition Mark I Hurricane fighters were needed to provide operational training for RNZAF pilots and to give emergency support in land operations. The British Government replied that it could not supply aircraft, either then or in the immediate future, but that it hoped later to make available a few Hurricanes for defence against invasion.

New Zealand then asked Britain to provide complete fighter squadrons. Two squadrons of long-range fighters were wanted and two of single-engined fighters for interception work. The British Government replied that it could not send the squadrons which were wanted, but it did offer to release 142 Kittyhawks,1 which were destined for the Middle East, to the Australian and New Zealand theatre. After consultation between Australia and New Zealand it was agreed that the latter should receive eighteen of these aircraft, ten in March and eight in April.

By the middle of February the situation in the Pacific had become much worse and the possibility of New Zealand being invaded

1 P40 Kittyhawk; made by Curtiss-Wright, America; low-wing monoplane fighter; powered by a single Allison liquid-cooled engine; top speed over 350 m.p.h.; cruising range 700 miles.

page 109 had grown. The New Zealand Government made an additional request for aircraft, asking this time for two torpedo-bomber or medium bomber squadrons, two long-range fighter squadrons, one army co-operation or dive-bomber squadron, and four troop-carrying aircraft. As the country did not possess the trained pilots or the equipment to maintain the squadrons, it was requested that they should be sent completely manned and equipped. Again the request was refused because none could be spared.

On 20 February the operational strength of the RNZAF was: No. 1 GR Squadron stationed at Whenuapai, with 8 + 4 Hudsons;1 No. 2 GR Squadron at Nelson with 8 + 3 Hudsons; No. 3 GR Squadron at Harewood with 10 + 5 Vincents; No. 7 GR Squadron, which had recently been formed at Waipapakauri, with 12 + 6 Vincents; No. 4 GR Squadron at Nandi, Fiji, with 6 + 3 Hudsons; No. 5 Squadron, also in Fiji, with 4 + 2 Vincents. In addition No. 5 Squadron had three of the Short Singapore flying boats which had been flown out from Malaya at the end of 1941.2 These were old and in poor condition, but could be used for operations if required. This gave a total first-line aircraft strength of 32 Hudsons and 39 Vincents.

The training organisation had the following second-line aircraft which could be available in case of emergency: 4 Vincents, 61 Oxfords, 45 Harvards, 9 Fairey Gordons and 15 Hawker Hinds, giving a total of 134.

By this time all munitions for the Allied forces in all theatres of war came under the control of a Munitions Assignment Committee which had been set up in Washington; but as the RNZAF was not as yet included in any command, all demands for aircraft had to go through the British Chiefs of Staff and be approved by the Joint Chiefs of Staff for recommendation to the Air Assignment Committee, and then for confirmation by the Munitions Assignment Committee. In March the Air Assignment Committee recommended that New Zealand should be allocated thirty-four Kittyhawks from the United States as a March allotment. The Munitions Assignment Committee confirmed the allotment. In all, New Zealand was allocated 36 Hudsons, 80 Kittyhawks and 12 Harvards, to be delivered between March and May. All the fighters were deducted from RAF allotments originally intended for the Middle East.

The Japanese attack on Ceylon on 5 April resulted in the allocation of Kittyhawks being reduced. The RAF had only seventy

1 Aircraft were classified for supply purposes as initial equipment (IE), immediate reserve (IR), and stored reserve (SR). The figure 8 + 4 means eight IE plus four IR.

2 The fourth had run onto a reef and had been written off.

page 110 fighters in the Far East, and a number of those intended for New Zealand had to be sent to reinforce the defence of India.

In the first half of 1942, when it looked as though the Japanese would overrun the whole of the South Pacific, it was expected that New Zealand would be the forward base of the United States forces in the area. Preparations were made, which fortunately proved unnecessary, for the accommodation of over thirty operational squadrons of the American Air Force in the country.