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Royal New Zealand Air Force

CHAPTER 9 — Reorganisation of RNZAF to meet Threat of Invasion

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Reorganisation of RNZAF to meet Threat of Invasion

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.


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.


With the arrival of operational aircraft, including the first Kittyhawks in March, and the promise of more to come, it became possible to plan for the formation of further operational squadrons. In March a Bomber Reconnaissance Operational Training Unit was formed at Levin for the training of aircrews. It was equipped originally with Oxfords, but the intention was that these should be replaced by Hudsons when more became available. At the same time a Fighter Operational Training Unit formed at Ohakea. Originally it was equipped with Harvards but these, like the Oxfords, were to be replaced by operational aircraft when the supply of Kittyhawks allowed it. The Hawker Hind aircraft which were discarded by No. 3 SFTS when it disbanded were formed into an Army Co-operation Squadron based at Palmerston North.

In April No. 14 Fighter Squadron formed at the Fighter Operational Training Unit at Ohakea and moved to Masterton, where it continued its training with the Harvard aircraft until the end of the month, when it received Kittyhawks. From then on, until more of these were available, it was established with twelve Kittyhawks and six Harvards. The nucleus of the squadron comprised pilots and ground staff of No. 488 Squadron who had returned from Singapore. Squadron Leader MacKenzie, who had commanded the squadron in the latter stages of its operations in Malaya, was appointed CO.

A further bomber-reconnaissance squadron equipped with Vincents, No. 8, commanded by Squadron Leader C. L. Monckton, was formed at Whenuapai and then moved to Gisborne, where an RNZAF station was established. From there it carried out submarine searches and shipping escorts in protection of convoys passing down the east coast of the North Island.

In May the Kittyhawks which had been allotted by the Munitions Assignment Committee began to arrive, and two further fighter squadrons were formed. Personnel for No. 15 Squadron followed No. 14 at FOTU, and the squadron formed at Whenuapai on 1 page 111 June. No. 16 Squadron was established at Blenheim in August. The relative claims of Auckland and Wellington for the location of this squadron were discussed at some length, but it was decided to place it at Blenheim owing to the need to protect shipping in the Wellington area, and because it was thought that Auckland could be adequately defended by No. 15 Squadron and the American units which were expected to be based there.

By July only forty-four of the allotment of eighty Kittyhawks had arrived, and New Zealand was advised that the remainder of the allotment would have to be cancelled owing to urgent requirements in the Middle East.


At the beginning of 1942 when New Zealand had practically no operational aircraft, a scheme was put into operation whereby training units could, in emergency, be used as operational units. The aim of the project, which was known as the FAFAI Scheme, was that in case of invasion every aircraft in the country could be used offensively and every pilot who could fly an aeroplane employed. To this end, the following auxiliary squadrons were formed: a bomber-reconnaissance squadron of 12 Vincents at the School of General Reconnaissance at Nelson, a bomber-reconnaissance squadron of 18 Oxfords at each of the SFTSs, fighter-bomber squadrons of 12 Harvards at each of the SFTSs, a light bomber squadron of 18 Tiger Moths at each EFTS, an air transport squadron consisting of the civil aircraft belonging to Union Airways, and a composite squadron of Oxfords, Harvards, and Moths at the Central Flying School.

The main purpose of these units was to attack enemy shipping, particularly transport, and it was intended that every aircraft should be a potential bomber. A proportion of the aircraft was to be equipped also for ground strafing enemy troops, using machine guns or light bombs. All aircraft in the training schools were modified to enable them to carry out these tasks. Machine guns and bomb racks were fitted to the Vincents, Gordons, Oxfords and Harvards, and the Tiger Moths were equipped with racks for light anti-personnel bombs.

To allow the auxiliary squadrons to reach a sufficient standard of operational efficiency without interfering unduly with the flying training programme, a week of operational training was carried out between the end of each flying training course and the start of the next. In addition, to ease the burden on instructors and staff pilots at training units, their establishment was increased. page 112 The scheme continued until the latter part of the year when, as the danger of invasion was no longer imminent, it was suspended.


The development of the RNZAF as an operational service, together with the expected arrival of numerous American units, resulted in a need for a greater number of aerodromes and modifications to existing ones. A number of advanced landing grounds were built in the North Auckland area, and civil aerodromes in other parts of New Zealand were converted for Air Force use.

The aerodromes used by the RNZAF at the beginning of 1942 were limited in size to the probable requirements for British aircraft of the kind which it had been thought would be employed in New Zealand for general reconnaissance squadrons. The decision to employ American aircraft necessitated the construction of longer runways and, in many cases, of concrete runways, since the large American machines needed considerably more space in which to take off.

Early in the year the New Zealand Government was requested to provide concrete runways suitable for heavy American bombers at Whenuapai and Ohakea. Emergency aerodromes capable of handling large bombers were also commenced in other parts of the country.

The work of aerodrome construction was carried out with all possible speed by the Aerodrome Section of the Public Works Department, but was hampered in the early stages by lack of heavy earth-moving machinery.

The question of the defence of aerodromes had been raised towards the end of 1940, when it was laid down as a general principle that the Air Force would be responsible for defence up to the perimeters of the aerodromes, but that the Army should be responsible for the area beyond the boundaries. In addition, the Army made available officers to advise station commanders on the best employment of the limited resources of arms and personnel on the stations. Later the Army was asked to undertake the defence of all aerodromes occupied by the RNZAF, and also of a number of others to ensure both their availability as advanced landing grounds and their denial to the enemy. The Army, however, would give no assurance that this would be done except as incidental to its general plans.

When the Army took over the Home Guard, local Area Commanders were instructed to confer with station commanders about incorporating aerodromes in their local schemes of defence. It was pointed out that the defence of aerodromes would devolve page 113 almost entirely upon units of the Home Guard. Things remained substantially on this basis until the end of 1941, when the Japanese threat made the whole question of defence more real and urgent.

Early in 1942 the Army undertook to provide the men necessary for aerodrome defence, but it was not until June that the respective responsibilities of the Army and the Air Force were clearly defined. The RNZAF undertook responsibility for the close defence of aerodromes up to a radius covered by the field of fire of the light automatic weapons of the fixed defence, that is, up to about half a mile beyond the perimeter. This was made possible by the establishment within the RNZAF of Aerodrome Defence Squadrons which gradually took over the functions hitherto performed by Army troops, as well as some of the duties, including the manning of machine-gun posts, which had been carried out before by station personnel.

The ideal first line of defence against ground attack was recognised to be a mobile striking force in the vicinity of aerodromes. As the Army was unable to provide this force because the only suitable troops available formed part of the field army which was training for other operations, the Aerodrome Defence Squadrons were formed. The officers and sergeants in the squadrons were specially selected from RNZAF and Army personnel, and other ranks comprised men who were earmarked for eventual training in the RNZAF and who were doing preliminary training in the Army. The chief difficulty encountered in the formation and training of the squadrons was the shortage of officers. The Army helped in this respect and gave officer cadets a six-weeks' OCTU course at Trentham. The first output from this course, however, did not become available until November.

A further difficulty which quickly became apparent was caused through the dual role of the Aerodrome Defence Squadrons. The organisation was designed:


To provide a defence force for aerodromes, and


To give educational training to recruits to fit them for entry into either the Initial Training Wing or the Technical Training School.

This meant that there was a constant turnover of personnel as men were posted to their aircrew or technical training. There was at all times a conflict between the need for educational training and that for military training. By the end of 1942 the change in the strategic situation in the south and south-west Pacific made it unlikely that New Zealand would suffer a sea or air attack with less than six months' notice, and consequently the policy of the squadrons was revised. From then on they were no longer required page 114 to maintain the operational organisation, and their principal role became:


To provide facilities for twenty hours a week of educational training to all prospective aircrew personnel;


To give as much infantry training as possible to all men passing through the squadrons, to ensure that they would be fitted to fight effectively against enemy troops on the ground when they found themselves in the forward areas; and


To maintain a basic organisation to reform as operational squadrons should the need arise.

In March 1943 the squadrons ceased to exist as such and the personnel were regrouped with a view to training without reference to defence needs.

At the end of 1941 the only anti-aircraft artillery in New Zealand consisted of four Bofors guns. These were sent to Fiji early in 1942 as it was considered that they would be more profitably employed in the defence of Nandi aerodrome.1 Urgent requisitions were sent to Britain for further supplies, and the immediate response was the promise of sixteen 3.7-inch guns and twelve 40-millimetre Bofors by the next convoy. Whenuapai was the first station to be equipped with anti-aircraft artillery and had four light guns, either in position or about to go into position, at the end of March. By September five stations—Waipapakauri, Whenuapai, Hobsonville, Ohakea and Woodbourne—had been equipped with a total of forty guns.

Throughout 1942 the chief problem of preparing aerodromes against attack was lack of equipment. At the beginning of the year the RNZAF had only 800 rifles, 90 light machine guns, and 70 Thompson sub-machine guns which had been made available by the Army, with which to equip fourteen stations, with a total strength of 7000 airmen. In July only a third of the men on stations had been armed, although it was hoped that rifles, pistols, or Armaf guns would be available for issue to all personnel within another two months.

During the year dispersal pens were built on all operational aerodromes. All buildings and a number of flying fields were camouflaged and plans drawn up for the evacuation and demolition of aerodromes should that become necessary. By December the


page 115 RNZAF was in a position to defend its aerodromes adequately, but by that time the danger of immediate attack had passed.

1 This proof that New Zealand was willing to do its best for the general war effort, to the extent of stripping itself of AA defences, was later to have a very favourable effect on the attitude of the Allied supply authorities in Washington when considering the allocation of equipment.


Early in 1939 New Zealand was notified of the development of a ‘secret device connected with air defence’ which was sufficiently important to warrant the despatch of a physicist to the United Kingdom to study it. Accordingly the Director of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, Dr E. Marsden, was sent to England.

He arrived at the end of April and was attached to the office of the New Zealand Liaison Officer, Squadron Leader Wallingford, at the Air Ministry. With Wallingford he studied the new equipment, and the two made a joint report to the New Zealand Chief of Air Staff covering its technical and operational aspects.

As a result two radar sets, one a ground unit and the other an airborne unit, were ordered by the New Zealand Government. The sets were sent to New Zealand, and Marsden also brought back with him a large number of drawings and specifications. From these the DSIR was able to make plans for the local production of sets.

The first ground set, which had been ordered by Marsden, was used by the Electrical and Wireless School at Wigram for training, until the outbreak of war with Japan, when it was transferred to Fiji and installed on Malolo Island, near Nandi, in January 1942. The first ground radar set operated in New Zealand was constructed by Messrs Collier and Beale of Wellington from drawings and specifications of an early Admiralty-type set. It was installed by the DSIR at Fort Mototapu in the Waitemata Harbour.

As New Zealand, in the early years of the war, did not possess the fighter aircraft necessary to intercept attacking air forces, the development of a ground radar warning system was considered unnecessary. Consequently the RNZAF confined its activities in connection with radar to the development of airborne rather than ground equipment. The original airborne set which Marsden had brought with him from England was used as a pattern on which another set was designed by the staff of the DSIR, and fitted to a Waco aircraft in April 1940. The aircraft and set were later handed over to the Electrical and Wireless School for further experimental work and to assist in the training of maintenance personnel. Twenty airborne sets were manufactured by the Post and Telegraph Department and were fitted in the Vildebeeste and Oxford aircraft which carried out general reconnaissance duties round the coast.

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In the middle of 1941, when the threat of war with Japan was becoming more evident, priority was switched to ground radar, and from then until the end of the war maximum effort was directed to the erection, maintenance, and operation of air-warning systems, both in New Zealand and in the Pacific.

In March 1942 a sub-committee of the Chiefs of Staff Committee in London recommended that New Zealand should establish fifteen COL (Chain Overseas Low-flying) stations, seven TRU (Transportable Radar Unit) stations, and five GCI (Ground Control Interception) stations.

The only station operating at that time was one in the Auckland area. A second station on the Coromandel Peninsula was to have been completed by the end of 1941 but the equipment, which was being constructed in New Zealand, was unsatisfactory and the station did not become operational until July 1942. Four other stations, two near Auckland and two in the Wellington area, were also to have been completed by the end of February but development was delayed through lack of equipment.

It had been intended originally to manufacture as much as possible of New Zealand's radar requirements in the Dominion, but the essential components, particularly valves, had to be obtained from abroad, and many difficulties were encountered in getting them. It became obvious that dependence on New Zealand-built sets was not a practical proposition, and consequently it was decided that complete units should be ordered from Britain. Most of the equipment required for the air-warning system in New Zealand was ordered in May 1942 after receipt of the recommendations of the London Chiefs of Staff Committee.

By August three stations were in operation in the Auckland area and giving satisfactory results; and three more in the North Auckland area were being fitted with their technical equipment. Four stations in the Wellington area were in various stages of completion, and sites were being selected for another six stations in the North Island.

Three radar flights were established to administer the units which were formed or planned. No. 1 Flight, with headquarters at Whenuapai, embraced all units in the Auckland area; No. 2, at Rongotai, was responsible for stations from New Plymouth to the Clarence River; and No. 4, at Wigram, was to administer those in Canterbury and Otago. Later in the year the flights were expanded into squadrons, No. 60 Squadron replacing No. 1 Flight, and No. 61 No. 2 Flight. No. 62 Squadron was to form at Wigram to take the place of No. 4 Flight, but the radar warning system in the south was not developed, and the number was allotted instead to the squadron which formed at Guadalcanal in August 1943.

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As with other aspects of New Zealand's defence the completion of the radar system was dependent upon supplies from overseas, and it was not until the chief danger of invasion had passed that the organisation was functioning satisfactorily. By May 1943 there were sixteen radar units operating round the coast of New Zealand, most of them in the North Island. They were nearly all in remote parts of the country, cut off from the amenities of civilisation. Each unit had to be a small self-contained community, dependent on itself for its own well-being. Personnel were RNZAF, including WAAF, and in some cases Navy.

Shortly afterwards the air-warning system was reduced, partly because of the improving war situation and partly to release personnel for the manning of RNZAF radar units in the forward area.

Although New Zealand was not subjected to air attack, and the units were therefore never called on to perform their primary function, they did sterling work in other directions. Their major commitment was to assist the Navy by plotting all ships round their respective areas of the coast, and when vessels were reported in unexpected positions aircraft were sent out to investigate. In addition radar units, especially in the Auckland and New Plymouth areas, were often responsible for locating overseas aircraft which had lost themselves in bad weather and for guiding them in safely to a landing.

On one occasion a hostile aircraft, launched from a Japanese submarine, did make a reconnaissance flight over Auckland. It was plotted by radar units in the Auckland area, but for some time the plots were disbelieved. By the time it was recognised as an enemy plane, it had returned to its mother-ship and was safely out of harm's way. Enemy submarines were also reported on one or two occasions by radar stations at various points round the coast and aircraft were sent to search for them, but none was ever found.


Besides the radar warning system, an Observer Corps was formed in 1942 to report movements of aircraft. Various authorities— Navy, Army, Harbour Boards, and the Marine Department—had established watching posts at points round the coast, primarily to report shipping. These were incorporated—and other posts were established throughout the country—to form a comprehensive aircraft reporting system. The organisation, which was administered by the Air Force, consisted of Observer Posts, each manned by six or more people, connected by telephone with Observer Centres page 118 which, in turn, were connected with one of the Combined Group Headquarters in Auckland, Wellington, or Christchurch

The system was never completely developed. The main source of manpower was the Home Guard, and it could not supply enough to man the 300 posts which would have been necessary to cover the whole country. A further difficulty was the provision of adequate telephone lines. Had the war not receded from New Zealand in 1942, doubtless the shortages would have been overcome. As it was, the Corps operated during that and the following year on a limited basis. Its value was fully appreciated, but there were too many other claims on manpower, equipment, and accommodation. It did, however, give good observer cover over all vital areas until it was finally disbanded early in 1944.


The air-warning system depended primarily on plots from the radar stations. In a COL station these plots appeared as bright spots of light on the plan position indicator, which was covered by a gridded map in perspex, the centre of which represented the radar station. The number of aircraft and their exact range could be checked on what was termed the A tube. A COL team normally comprised four persons: a PPI tube observer, range tube operator, converter, and recorder. The usual procedure was for the observer to pass the plots to the filter room, where plots from various stations would be co-ordinated by experienced filter officers. The plots were then passed to the operations room.

In the operations room the plots were recorded on a large table similar to that in the filter room, and above this table sat the controller, normally an Air Force officer, with a Navy and an Army officer. The controller was responsible for alerting squadrons when hostile aircraft were detected by the radar units.

During 1942 two operations rooms were built, one at Auckland and the other at Wellington. Although no attacks were made on New Zealand by enemy aircraft or vessels, the radar organisation when it was established was responsible throughout the rest of the war for maintaining a constant watch on all aircraft and shipping within the area under its control.


When war was declared in 1939 New Zealand's communications system was inadequate for defence requirements. The Government had not been prepared before the war to authorise the nucleus of a tele-communications system which could be expanded page 119 in wartime, and the RNZAF had therefore to concentrate on developing wireless and radio communications, obtaining wireless equipment, and training personnel to operate point-to-point and ground-to-air radio services.

At the end of 1941 the RNZAF communications organisation comprised a point-to-point W/T system between Air Force Headquarters and stations, and a land-line service between Headquarters and the Inter-Command W/T Station at Ohakea. Wireless-telegraphy services were operated and maintained by the Air Force, but the land-line service, while operated by the Air Force, was installed and maintained by the Post and Telegraph Department. This department also operated aeradio services, which, besides providing a W/T service for internal commercial air lines, handled the RNZAF traffic as well.

The entry of Japan into the war and the possibility that New Zealand would become an active operational theatre made necessary the immediate expansion of the RNZAF communications organisation. A report on the country's defence needs in October 1941 had recommended a high-grade and extensive communications system throughout the country, involving a network of radio and telecommunications. Squadron Leader Scott,1 who was then Commanding Officer of the Electrical and Wireless School at Wigram, was sent to the United States Island Command, Hawaii, in March 1942 to study the communications system there. On his return the Government authorised the procuring of equipment sufficient to meet the needs of the projected organisation of the RNZAF. This included:


Three Group Headquarters which were to function as bomber and fighter sector controls.


Three sub-sectors for fighter control.


Ten bomber stations.


Ten fighter stations.


Four army co-operation squadrons.


Four air-support controls.


An air-warning radar chain extending from North Cape to the Bluff and including GCI stations for fighter control.


Eighteen VHF D/F stations comprising six triangulation systems for the control of fighter aircraft.


Six H/F D/F stations for long-range navigational purposes.

Part of this organisation was already in existence, but a part, owing to the changed aspect of the war in 1943, was not completed.

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The equipment needed for the plan was ordered, and in August Scott went to Washington to supervise its purchase. Until the arrival of the equipment ordered from the United States, communication facilities were provided by the purchase of amateur and commercial radio sets. Transmitting equipment obtained in this way was modified for Air Force requirements, while receiving equipment was generally delivered direct to stations. Equipment began to arrive from America and Canada early in 1943 and was immediately used to replace the amateur sets. By that time, however, it was clear that the full expansion of the RNZAF, on which basis the signals equipment had been ordered, would not be required. Consequently a reduced programme was approved and the orders for some of the equipment were cancelled.

Besides the expansion of the radio organisation, the RNZAF needed greatly increased long-distance telephone communications in 1942. Most of the lines needed were provided by withdrawing circuits from the civilian toll network, and others were obtained by installing additional lines. Early in 1942 the first direct long-distance telephone lines were obtained from the Post and Telegraph Department to link Air Department with Northern Group Headquarters, Ohakea and Wigram; and by June an RNZAF long-distance network existed with which every station and major unit was connected.

1 Wg Cdr I. A. Scott, OBE; Wellington; born London, 1 Nov 1913; RAF 1932–38; RNZAF 1939–47.


Up to the outbreak of war the RNZAF Stores Depot had been located at Hobsonville. To a lesser degree Wigram also acted as a depot. The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan necessitated a large expansion of the stores organisation. The depot at Hobsonville could not be expanded to meet the growing requirements of the service and, moreover, there were disadvantages in having a main stores depot in the far north in a vulnerable area and isolated from rail communications. An unnecessary amount of transport was involved in issuing stores from the depot to the existing RNZAF stations, and also, in the case of equipment manufactured in New Zealand, in moving it from the factory to the depot. In 1940, when the New Zealand centennial exhibition buildings at Rongotai became vacant, they were converted into an Air Force Stores Depot and No. 2 Stores Depot formed there officially in June.

The two depots were considered adequate until Japan entered the war, and then it was recognised that as both depots were vulnerable to attack some dispersal of stocks was essential. Additional storage space was obtained in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch and used for the dispersal of equipment. No. 1 Stores Depot at Hobsonville, moreover, was moved completely to Hamilton, where page 121 it was less liable to attack. It was accommodated for some months in the Winter Show Buildings there, but in August a new site had to be found as its premises were required for No. 1 Repair Depot, which was transferred from Hobsonville to Hamilton and Rukuhia. A new site had also to be found for a depot which was to be constructed for the American forces. Eventually two sites were chosen at Te Rapa and Te Awamutu. The American forces rejected the depot which was being built for them at Te Awamutu, and No. 4 Stores Depot RNZAF was formed there in November.

No. 3 Stores Depot was formed in Christchurch, using buildings in and around the city. Later it moved to Weedons, 11 miles out of the town.

No. 2 Depot was later moved from the Exhibition Buildings at Rongotai to Mangaroa, where it remained until it was closed down several years after the war ended.


The arrival of new types of aircraft in 1942 necessitated a considerable expansion and reorganisation of the repair and maintenance organisation. The pre-war plans for the Air Force had provided for only one Repair Depot, situated at Hobsonville. In the early stages of the war it was hoped that the depot would carry out all complete overhauls as well as the assembly of aircraft. The expansion of the service to meet the demands of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan however, made it impossible for Hobsonville to cope with all the work. Arrangements were therefore made for Wigram and Blenheim to be independent of the depot except for instrument and specialist repair work, and during 1940 it became increasingly obvious that all the FTSs would have to carry out their own overhauls. By the end of the year all three FTSs had their own engine repair shops and airframe repair shops. The EFTSs also carried out their own complete overhauls for a period until the De Havilland factory at Rongotai was able to undertake the work.

The system of a decentralised maintenance organisation was satisfactory as long as the RNZAF was armed with aircraft of comparatively simple design. The repair facilities necessary for the types of aircraft in use up to the end of 1941 were not very extensive and it was possible for both the EFTSs and the FTSs to carry out their own complete overhauls. When more modern types of aircraft were received, however, the organisation had to be revised, for the more complex equipment of these aircraft demanded a more complex maintenance scheme.

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In April 1942 the policy was changed towards centralisation. At that time the aircraft used in the FTSs were Harvards and Oxfords, although a few of the old Fairey Gordons were still in use. It was decided that all Oxfords should be overhauled at Wigram, which was also responsible for the Gordons. All Harvards were to be overhauled at Woodbourne, and this station was henceforth a repair depot for this work. Ohakea was allotted various commitments, including the inspection and overhaul of aircraft from No. 14 Fighter Squadron at Masterton and of the aircraft of the Bomber Operational Training Unit. These were preliminary steps to further centralisation of the whole repair organisation.

With the prospect of large numbers of operational aircraft being based in the country, it was decided to establish three repair depots to undertake work which had previously been done on stations. The depot at Hobsonville was moved, in the middle of the year, to Hamilton. This was made necessary partly because of the vulnerability of Hobsonville to attack and partly because, with the increasing numbers of aircraft arriving, it was necessary for Hobsonville to become purely an assembly depot. Hamilton was chosen because it was necessary to keep the depot in the Auckland area, as Auckland and Lyttelton were the only two ports in New Zealand where cased or semi-cased aircraft could be unloaded. By July a number of buildings to accommodate the engine repair shop and instrument repair shop had been begun in Hamilton, and the airfield at Rukuhia had been developed so that the airframe repair shop could be established there. The depot was designated No. 1 Repair Depot and began to operate in September. When it was first formed it was responsible for the repair and overhaul of all multi-engined operational aircraft in New Zealand and overseas, except flying boats, and for all single-engined operational aircraft in New Zealand except the P40s stationed at the OTU at Ohakea.

No. 2 Repair Depot was established at Ohakea in June for the purpose of maintaining two general reconnaissance, two army co-operation, and two fighter squadrons.

No. 3 Repair Depot was formed from Wigram units in the same way as Hamilton was formed from Hobsonville units. The airframe repair shop was moved from Wigram to Harewood in December, and the engine repair shop and general engineering section were established in buildings taken over by the Air Force in Christchurch. The unit started operations early in 1943.


In 1942 the RNZAF had three major commitments. It had to maintain the existing output of aircrew trainees required for the page 123 British Commonwealth Air Training Plan; to develop an organisation capable of playing its part in the defence of New Zealand; and to prepare to man operational squadrons in the Pacific. To achieve these objects a great increase in numerical strength was necessary and rapid expansion took place during the year. Between the beginning of January and the end of December over 16,000 recruits were enlisted. The strength of the service within New Zealand grew from 10,600 in December 1941 to 22,600 in December 1942. The number of men serving in the Pacific increased from just under 600, which included the two units in Malaya and the personnel in Fiji, to 1850 stationed in Fiji, New Caledonia, the New Hebrides and the Solomons. At the same time a constant flow of men was being sent to Canada and the United Kingdom for training and service with the Royal Air Force.

A large proportion of the increased strength lay necessarily in the skilled technical trades, particularly in the engineering and electrical groups, and a problem which had been apparent in 1941 now became acute. In the first year of the war recruits to the technical trades had been men with some skill in similar occupations in civilian life, and nearly all had been of good average educational standard. By the beginning of 1942 the supply of this type of recruit was exhausted and it became necessary to train men who had no previous knowledge of their subjects, and who, in many cases, had had only a limited education. In later years the policy of pre-entry training for technical personnel was developed and extended.

In 1942 a Preliminary Technical Training School was established at Rongotai and a Radio Selection Pool at Wigram to give basic technical training to men entering the engineering and electrical trades before they entered the Technical Training Schools or the Electrical and Wireless School. The results of this measure were seen in reduced wastage rates in the technical training courses.

Another difficulty developed in 1942 and became progressively more serious as the commitments of the RNZAF in the Pacific grew. While the Air Force had been concerned only with the training of pilots and air crews, it had been limited in its selection of men for ground staff mainly to those who were unfit for overseas service. When it became necessary to send men of all trades to the Pacific great difficulty was found in obtaining sufficient numbers who were medically qualified to go. In some trades unfit men comprised as much as 60 per cent of the total number employed. The trades most affected were in the administrative, clerical and equipment groups, although there were also serious shortages in the technical trades. In an effort to solve the problem the Minister of Defence authorised the enlistment of men fit for service overseas in these trades in June 1942.

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An important contribution towards solving the manpower problem was made by the WAAF. Women were first recruited for the Air Force early in 1941 and the first draft, of 200, was posted to Rongotai in April. By the end of the year there were WAAFs on ten stations, and during 1942 eleven more had them. Later WAAFs were posted to every major station in New Zealand, and a number served overseas in Fiji and on Norfolk Island.

At the beginning there were dire forebodings as to the effect of introducing women into what had been a purely masculine service; but the women very quickly proved their worth. Not only did their employment release men for overseas and combat duties, but in many trades they proved more efficient and reliable than men.

In the first eighteen months women were not granted service ranks; but by the Women's Auxiliary Air Force Emergency Regulations 1942 the WAAF was incorporated as part of the RNZAF, and thereafter members held ranks equivalent to those of the men, with similar badges. At the same time, those who were employed as supervisors and cipher officers were commissioned.

Originally, women were employed only as cooks, mess-hands, drivers, clerks, equipment assistants, medical orderlies and shorthand typists; but by the end of the war they were found to be in nearly every trade that was not beyond their physical capabilities.1

At its peak strength, in July 1943, the WAAF numbered over 3600, and during the course of the war approximately 4750 passed through its ranks. Of these, over a hundred were commissioned, mainly for cipher and administrative duties.

1 WAAFs were employed in the following RNZAF trades:

  • Cooks

  • Mess-hands

  • Clerks, General Duties

  • Clerks, Stores Accounting

  • Clerks, Pay Accounting

  • Clerks, Special Duties

  • Clerks, Signals

  • Clerks, Medical

  • Shorthand typists

  • Librarians

  • Fabric workers

  • Parachute packers

  • Equipment assistants

  • Instrument repairers

  • Tailoresses

  • Drivers, petrol

  • Meteorological assistants

  • Medical orderlies

  • Medical orderlies, Special Duties (Psychological Research)

  • Aircrafthands, General Duties (runners, cleaners, etc.)

  • Physical and recreational training instructors

  • Telephone operators

  • Wireless operators

  • Teleprinters

  • Telegraphists

  • Radio telephonists

  • Dental clerk orderlies

  • Dental mechanics

  • AML bomber teacher instructors

  • Link-trainer maintenance

  • Workshop assistants

  • Dry Canteen assistants

  • YMCA assistants

  • GRU (Gunnery Research Unit) assessor, tracers

  • Disciplinarians

  • Motor-boat crew

  • Shoe fitters (on loan to Ministry of Supply)