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War Economy

Pre-war Defence Construction

Pre-war Defence Construction

Some defence construction work had been commenced before the war, but it was hardly sufficient to make up for the arrears of defence works caused by retrenchment in the depression of the early 1930s.

page 223

Aerodromes had received most attention. As early as September 1930, a scheme had been advanced for the establishment of a chain of landing grounds. The Public Works Department was to undertake the work, using unemployed labour wherever possible. Apart from Hobsonville, the earliest military aerodromes were at Wigram, where work commenced in 1934, and at Ohakea, which was selected as a site in 1937. By 1938, Wigram was being developed as a flying training school and Hobsonville as an aircraft base and repair depot. Construction had commenced on new operational stations at Ohakea and Whenuapai. By 1939 expansion of RNZAF stations was recognised as urgent, but in September the only two Air Force stations which were occupied and functioning were the Flying Training School at Wigram and the depot at Hobsonville. Other stations at Ohakea, Whenuapai, Blenheim, and Taieri had reached varying stages of completion.1

For other branches of the armed forces, still less had been done. At the time of the Munich crisis, in September 1938, plans were completed for three mobilisation bases, each to accommodate 8000 men, but it was nearly a year before very much action was taken. By the end of July 1939, a schedule was available showing the approximate quantities of materials needed for emergency mobilisation buildings.2 The schedule read:

Corrugated galvanised iron 2,682 tons
Sarking 574,000 super feet
Weatherboarding 5,479,000 super feet
Scantling 10,367,500 super feet
T and G Flooring 3,227,800 super feet
Connector rings 68,700

In addition it was estimated that 3,000,000 super feet of timber would be needed for the initial phase, for canvas camps. It has already been noted that stocks of galvanised iron held by the Public Works Department at the outbreak of war amounted to only 2000 tons, compared with 2682 tons scheduled as needed for emergency mobilisation buildings alone.3

Some idea of Government thinking on defence works immediately before the war can be gleaned from the Budget statement of 1 August 1939, which included the following:

‘In the case of the Naval Forces, action lies chiefly along the lines of completing the Naval Dockyard, building and stocking a naval armaments depot and storehouses, building and equipping

1 New Zealand Official Yearbook, 1946, p. 181.

2 Official War History of the Public Works Department (cyclostyled), Vol. I, p. 96.

3 See also p. 113.

page 224 workshops, and the provision of adequate training facilities. In regard to the last named, three small sea-going training vessels are being built.

‘On land the fortifications of the defended ports are being modernized and strengthened. The establishment of the Territorial Army has been raised to 16,000, and recruiting for this Force, and also for the National Reserve, is proceeding satisfactorily. Training facilities in all directions are being increased correspondingly and every effort is being made to build up stocks of equipment, armament, ammunition, and stores necessary for training and for mobilization…. The Air Force as a fighting force hardly existed when the Government took office in 1935. The programme announced in 1937 has recently been expanded and great strides have been made in building up an efficient force….

‘As a result of the visit of the United Kingdom Air Mission, arrangements have been made for the establishment of an aircraft factory at Wellington, and an order is to be placed with the De Havilland Aircraft Company Ltd., for the manufacture of one hundred Tiger Moth fighting planes at a cost of £155,000….

‘During last year approval has been given to the establishment of a Flying Training School at Blenheim capable of an output of 140 pilots a year, and to an increase in size of the Flying Training School, Wigram, to ensure a similar output. Good progress has been made with the development of the station at Ohakea, with the provision of additional accommodation at Wigram and Hobsonville and with the establishment of the new station at Blenheim. The construction of the operational station at Whenuapai is proceeding satisfactorily, and it is anticipated that the expansion programme will be complete by December 1940….

‘Capital expenditure involved in the expanded programmes for the three Services will exceed £5,000,000, spread over the next two years. Maintenance costs will be in the vicinity of £3,000,000 per annum. For all purposes the expenditure during this financial year will be about £5,400,000.’1

1 NZPD, Vol. 254, p. 885.