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Royal New Zealand Air Force


THROUGH the first half of 1942 the Japanese advanced on all fronts with scarcely a check. On Christmas Day 1941 they had captured Hong Kong. In January they occupied Borneo and captured Rabaul and Kavieng. By the end of the month they were in possession of practically the whole of New Britain and the Bismarck Archipelago. The following month they captured Singapore. In March they occupied Java, Burma, and the northern Solomons and held a considerable part of New Guinea. By June they were firmly established on a line stretching from the Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean, round the north of Australia, to the central Solomon Islands. Darwin had been raided and Japanese submarines had attacked Sydney.

A week after Japan entered the war, Mr Churchill and his staff had flown to Washington to confer with the American authorities on the problems of the Allied Command. As a result of the conference it was decided that Britain would be primarily responsible for operations west of Singapore, and that Britain and the United States would exercise joint control over the Atlantic area. The United States, in conjunction with Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands East Indies, would be responsible for the Pacific area. The strategic direction of the war as a whole, excluding operations in Russia, was placed in the hands of the Combined Chiefs of Staff Committee in Washington, which comprised the three American Chiefs of Staff and a British Joint Staff Mission led by Sir John Dill.

A unified command was created in the south-west Pacific under General Sir Archibald Wavell, with an American deputy commander who was in charge of the naval forces in the area. The command included Burma, Malaya, the Philippines, the Netherlands East Indies, Dutch New Guinea and, later, Northern Australia. These territories became known as the ABDA area (American-British- Dutch-Australian). The defence of the Pacific area east of the Philippines and Australasia, including the eastern approaches to Australia—designated the Pacific Ocean area—became the responsibility of the United States Navy.

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In January another area was formed, known as the Anzac area. It was an adjunct to the Pacific Ocean area, and included eastern Australia, New Zealand, and part of New Guinea and the islands immediately to the north of it. The United States Navy was now responsible for the protection of New Zealand. This would have made the New Zealand Government much less apprehensive about the security of New Zealand had that navy not been so severely crippled at Pearl Harbour.

After the fall of Singapore in February and the Japanese invasion of Java, the ABDA Command was dissolved and the responsibility for the continuance of operations in the Netherlands East Indies was handed over to the Dutch Commander-in-Chief. Java fell shortly afterwards and a re-examination of strategic boundaries became necessary. There were now two main theatres, the Indian Ocean including Burma, which was a British sphere, and the Pacific theatre, including Australia and New Zealand, which was an American sphere. Early in March the United States suggested that the whole of the Pacific to a line west of Singapore should be the responsibility of America and the American Chiefs of Staff.

Finally the Pacific area was split up into the South-West Pacific area under General Douglas MacArthur and the Pacific Ocean area under the command of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. The South-West Pacific area comprised the Philippines, Borneo, the Netherlands East Indies east of Sumatra, New Guinea, New Britain, the northern Solomons and Australia. The Pacific Ocean area, which was subdivided into Northern, Central and South Pacific areas, comprised the rest of the Pacific to the west coast of America. Thus New Zealand, which was in the South Pacific, was placed in a different command from Australia. The New Zealand Government did not fully approve of the separation as it had always considered that Australia and New Zealand should be regarded as a stategic whole, but in view of the urgent necessity for finalising some arrangement it acquiesced. On 23 April it was officially announced that New Zealand was included in the new South Pacific Command.

The rapidity and comparative ease with which the Japanese had advanced south made it necessary to revise completely the ideas which had previously been held concerning New Zealand's defence requirements. Instead of needing protection only against isolated raids by enemy cruisers, she now had to be prepared to defend herself against full-scale invasion. The Air Force, from being primarily a training organisation, had to be developed into an operational service capable of taking part in active combat. The Government had never been convinced that the country was free page 108 from the danger of a major attack should Japan enter the war, and in the middle of 1941 it had asked Britain for additional supplies of operational aircraft. Apart from the small number of Hudsons which were sent, Britain was unable to promise any more.

On the day Japan entered the war, the RNZAF's first-line aircraft comprised 36 Hudsons, 35 Vincents, and 2 Singapore flying boats. Of these, six Vincents and the Singapores were in Fiji. Second-line aircraft, mostly used by the training organisation and available for operational use in emergency, comprised the following:

62 Harvards 46 Hinds
143 Oxfords 26 Vildebeestes
30 Gordons 13 Vincents
221 Tiger Moths 7 Multi-engined civil types (including 3 in Fiji)
20 Miscellaneous light aircraft (including 1 in Fiji) 1 Walrus amphibian

Personnel strength on the same date was 10,500 in New Zealand and 450 in Fiji.