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The Royal New Zealand Navy

CHAPTER 28 — Development of Radar

page 450

Development of Radar

RADIO direction-finding, or radar, more than any other scientific factor contributed to the victory of the United Nations in the Second World War. This device, the ‘most novel and versatile weapon of the century, with almost limitless applications in sea, air and land warfare’, was developed soon after Hitler's accession to power in February 1933.

At that time there was no known means of detecting the approach of aircraft at a distance and of observing and plotting their course in thick weather or by night. But scientists engaged in radio research in Britain conceived the idea that aircraft might be detected and located by an improved apparatus of the kind already built to receive radio echoes from the ionosphere. By the end of 1935, experimental work was sufficiently advanced to warrant the establishment of five radio-location stations on the east coast of England — the first operational radar system in the world. The chain of stations was rapidly extended to give complete cover to the whole of the east and south-east coasts. The detection of ships from aircraft and of aircraft from ships, the screening of harbours against the approach of small craft, the supplying of gunnery data to batteries, and the control of searchlights by radar with the certainty of instant illumination of aircraft targets were accomplished facts in September 1939. Thereafter, under the stimulus of war, came fantastic developments in radar. Theoretical prediction was generally ahead of experiment, which, in turn, was often ahead of production. The first great operational test and success of radar came in the Battle of Britain in 1940, when the timely information given by the coastal stations enabled the ‘few’ RAF fighters to be directed by ground control to the interception and defeat of the Luftwaffe.

Naval radar brought about what has been described as the ‘greatest revolution in Naval tactics since the change from sail to steam.’ Range-finding by visual means was supplanted by radar apparatus of extreme precision which enabled guns to open fire at greater ranges and engage unseen targets, both ships and aircraft, the ranges being accurate to within a few yards. Radar enabled the cruisers Suffolk and Norfolk to shadow the battleship Bismarck for thirty-one hours in May 1941, a feat which German official records page 451 have described as ‘most surprising and of decisive importance’. In mid-winter darkness in the Arctic in December 1943, the Scharnhorst was brought to action by means of radar and sunk by radar-controlled gunfire. The application of radar to anti-submarine warfare was the most important single factor in bringing about the defeat of the U-boat.

Radar came to New Zealand in the closest secrecy immediately after the outbreak of war. Early in 1939 the Dominions were invited to send physicists to England to receive information about a ‘new secret technique of a most important character concerning defence.’ The Prime Minister decided that Dr E. Marsden, Director of Scientific Development, should go on this mission, and he arrived in England at the end of April 1939. He was given every facility for the study of radar technique and the various types of apparatus then developed. He returned to New Zealand in October 1939 with an ASV set,1 a quantity of equipment and much technical information.

The development of radar in New Zealand was largely owing to the initiative and enthusiasm of Dr Marsden and a small group of young scientists. In respect to the Navy, they were strongly supported by Commodore Parry, who appreciated the great tactical importance of radio direction-finding. The Admiralty was preoccupied with the major problems of design and production and of equipping the ships of the Royal Navy, so that the early development of radar in New Zealand was largely a matter of self-help and improvisation; but remarkable success was achieved.

Soon after his return from England, Dr Marsden initiated work on the design of a radar set for shipboard installation, primarily for the detection and location of other ships. This was developed mainly by Professor F. W. G. White at Canterbury University College, but some of the work was done in the small radio development laboratory at Wellington East Post Office, where three young New Zealand scientists — C. W. N. Watson-Munro, E. R. Collins, and I. K. Walker — worked on the aerial and indicator systems. In Christchurch, Professor White was ably assisted by Mr T. R. Pollard, lecturer in radio physics at Canterbury College, and Messrs D. M. Hall and F. A. McNeill of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research.

Working in the deepest secrecy and with inadequate facilities, the scientists soon produced their first naval radar set. They used British developmental data and components mostly scraped from local sources. Valves of specially powerful design for radar work were later supplied by Admiralty, but these were in ‘painfully short

1 ASV: aircraft to surface vessel — a type of radar used in aircraft.

page 452 supply’. At the end of May 1940 the set was installed in HMS Achilles by the scientists, with the aid of the assistant torpedo officer, Lieutenant Harper, RNVR.1 There was little space for housing the apparatus, which was regarded at that time by some officers with questioning eyes as a cumbrous gadget of doubtful utility.

Shortly afterwards, at the request of Professor White, Lieutenant Harper was seconded for duty with the RDF Branch at Christchurch, where his scientific knowledge and naval experience proved of great value to the small team of scientists who worked on an improved radar set to give increased range, greater accuracy of range and bearing indication, and automatic transmission. In January 1941 Professor White reported to Navy Office that Lieutenant Harper had been responsible for the design of the ranging gear and produced excellent results. He suggested that Harper be employed on future radar design, though he should go to sea for a time when the new set was installed. This set, which worked on 73 centimetres, was tested at Godley Head, Lyttelton, and fitted into the Achilles in February-March 1941. After the preliminary trials at sea, Lieutenant Harper reported that its performance was exactly as expected. An increase in range was apparent, range-taking was straightforward, and its accuracy appeared to be within fifty yards.

From these experimental sets were evolved the SWG (ship warning, gunnery) and SW (ship warning) sets which were installed in the Achilles in August 1941. After a week's trials, the ship's radar officer reported that the performance of the SWG set had been greatly improved by the modifications. In a daylight exercise with the Aquitania at from 15,000 to 20,000 yards, the contrast between the radar range plot and the optical range-finders in the director control tower was most marked. The radar set produced a regular plot of perfect consistency, whereas the range-finder varied up to 500 yards either side of the mean. The radar plot would, therefore, greatly increase the accuracy of gunfire at those ranges. The SW set, in almost continuous operation during the week, functioned satisfactorily with only minor interruptions. Seamen boys were trained to assist the radar operators when continuous watch was being kept.

The Chief of Naval Staff, Commodore Parry, considered that the radar sets were of sufficient value to ships to warrant going into production as soon as possible, naval requirements to be met being increased range and more accurate direction, and a radar range-finder to give a plot with a maximum range of 12,000 yards against aircraft.

1 Lieutenant S. D. Harper, RNVR; born England, 1913; research engineer, British Post Office; Radar Officer, Navy Office, Wellington, 1941–42.

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HMNZS Leander was fitted with SWG and SW sets during her refit at Auckland in October—November 1941. These were non-standard in that they were laboratory-made equipments produced by adaptation of such components as were available. A cabinet-mounted SW set was supplied to the Leander in September 1943. HMNZS Monowai was fitted with a laboratory-made SW set in December 1941 and with a production model SWG set some months later. The Walrus amphibian aircraft carried by the cruisers were fitted with British ASV sets at different times.

In congratulating the New Zealand Naval Board on the fitting of radar sets in the Achilles, the Admiralty in August 1941 said there was no material development comparable in importance to radar. It was its considered opinion that ships not so equipped were placed at a very serious tactical disadvantage. As it would be some time before any radar sets could be supplied from the United Kingdom for fitting in ships on the China and East Indies stations, the Admiralty would take advantage of the Naval Board's offer to send spare sets as they became available to Singapore, Colombo, and Bombay for equipping ships at those bases.

A Radio Physics Board, later known as the Radio Development Board, had been set up in April 1941 to formulate policy regarding all radar questions, including priority in development and production. The Board comprised the Chiefs of Staff of the three services, the Director of Scientific Development, the Director-General of the Post and Telegraph Department, and the Secretary of the Organisation for National Security. At the same time, Lieutenant Harper was appointed for duty in Navy Office as RDF officer responsible for the organisation of naval radar. Later in the year he was joined by five other officers, one of whom, Electrical Lieutenant Marklew, RNZNVR,1 took over the duties of RDF officer when Harper reverted to the Royal Navy in February 1942.

In September 1941 the Radio Development Board decided that the order of priority in the development and production of radar equipment was to be (a) ships and aircraft, (b) coastwatching, and (c) coast defence. Three SW and three SWG sets were to be provided for the cruisers on the New Zealand Station. The Chiefs of Staff considered it of major importance to equip HM ships in the Far East as soon as possible, ‘as it is almost certain they will be first in contact with the enemy’. The Board, therefore, recommended that New Zealand should endeavour to produce a minimum of five SW and five SWG sets a month to meet the Admiralty's urgent requirements. These recommendations were approved by War Cabinet on 24 September 1941.

1 Lieutenant-Commander E. J. Marklew, MBE, RNZNVR; born Bristol, England, 4 Oct 1898; Assistant Engineer (Communications), Signal and Electrical Branch, NZ Railways.

page 454

This somewhat ambitious programme was compromised, not only by the onslaught of Japan in December 1941 but by delays due to the late arrivals of components and material, shortage of labour, and other factors. Sets were completed behind schedule only after immense effort to procure and convert sufficient component parts. Nevertheless, the devoted labours of the Radio Development Laboratory and the production effort of the radio industry combined to make the output of radar equipment in New Zealand a remarkable and worthwhile performance. New Zealand-built radar equipment was equal in standard to contemporary British and United States sets.

Lieutenant-Commander G. C. F. Whitaker, RN, from the Singapore base, arrived in New Zealand in November 1941 to discuss and provide for the radar requirements of the China and East Indies stations, as far as New Zealand production was concerned. It was arranged to supply him with sets of constructional drawings to facilitate the fitting of ships at Singapore, and that the Radio Development Laboratory should take immediate steps to procure the material for thirty SW and thirty SWG sets. In December, however, Whitaker reported from Australia that he had asked the Commonwealth Naval Board to supply forty Australian-built SW sets, which were to be used as well as the New Zealand SWG sets, especially in destroyers. The New Zealand Naval Board then informed the Commanders-in-Chief East Indies Station and Eastern Fleet that New Zealand would give priority to the production of SWG sets.

By November 1942 fifteen complete SWG sets had been shipped to Australia, of which nine had been sent on to Ceylon for the Eastern Fleet. One of these was lost when the Hauraki was captured by a Japanese raider in the Indian Ocean in July 1942. The Commander-in-Chief Eastern Fleet informed the New Zealand Naval Board in November that he did not need more than the eight sets already received, since deliveries from England had been increased.

A decision of the Chiefs of Staff Committee to establish sixteen radar coastwatching stations in New Zealand, controlled and manned by the Navy, had been approved by War Cabinet in July 1940. These stations were sited on headlands and islands around the coast to give maximum cover to the principal harbours, the approaches to Cook Strait and Foveaux Strait, and other focal areas. The ultimate complement of each station was one officer, eight or nine seamen operators, and two mechanics. The stations were self-contained units with good living quarters, storage for food, water and oil, and diesel-driven electric generators. The first was in operation in January 1941 and the others had been completed by page 455 March 1942. A radar coastwatching station built on Mbengga Island to cover the shipping approaches to Suva, Fiji, came into operation in April 1942. The radar was installed but not operated by the Royal New Zealand Navy.

The manning of the stations was discussed with the Naval Secretary by the Director of Scientific Development, who said that the men selected should be bright, intelligent types with an educational background of at least matriculation standard and, preferably, with some knowledge of or interest in radio. What was designated Scheme ‘R’ was submitted to the Minister of Defence in September 1940. The Navy proposed that candidates should be engaged on a civilian basis at a wage equivalent to naval pay and allowances. After a technical course of one month at Auckland University College, those who passed the tests would be entered in the New Zealand naval forces as telegraphists (Special Branch) to join HMS Philomel for the second part of the course, which would include some disciplinary training.

The Naval Secretary stated that it was proposed to enter twenty candidates to form the first class and that the total number ‘required eventually’ would be approximately forty. It is not known how this figure was arrived at, but it was inadequate for the manning of the proposed stations. A few days later the Minister of Defence was informed that ‘it is now fairly certain that extensive RDF installations will be necessary in all warships and that an RDF branch of the New Zealand Naval Forces will in any case be necessary for service afloat. For this reason the rates of pay should be related to the scale of Naval pay generally’.

As there were many more recommended candidates for service in the Royal Navy under Scheme ‘B’ than could be accepted, and as they had the required educational qualifications, it was proposed to offer a number of them entry under Scheme ‘R’. This was done by a confidential circular letter which outlined the scheme but did not disclose the nature of the duties, though it vaguely mentioned radio and indicated that those passing the course would serve as telegraphists at ‘certain coast stations’.

The first class, numbering eighteen, started on 2 December 1940 and spent about ten weeks at Auckland University College instead of four weeks there and four weeks in HMS Philomel as originally planned. No naval instructor was available at that time, certainly not for radar theory, but the DSIR lecturer at Auckland University College, Mr H. D. Dobbie, B.Sc., was well qualified as an instructor. At first, facilities for either practical work or demonstration were very limited. A New Zealand-built ASV radar set lent by the Air Force was set up in Philomel in January 1941, but the bulk of the page 456 laboratory equipment was not received until September 1941, in time for the fourth and last class.

In the early stages of the war, the United Kingdom authorities met the growing demands for technicians required by the rapid expansion of radar by recruiting large numbers of skilled radio mechanics. The first appeal to New Zealand for assistance was made to the Prime Minister by the High Commissioner for the United Kingdom in August 1940. Both mechanics with good practical and theoretical knowledge and officers who had a University scientific degree or its equivalent, as well as practical knowledge, were wanted. Recruitment was to be for the Royal Air Force.

The Air Department had already sent three radio physicists and thirty-three radio mechanics to England and was aiming to make twenty trained mechanics available every six weeks from the new electrical and wireless school at Wigram, when another more urgently worded telegram was received by the British High Commissioner. This stated that radar in all three services had assumed even greater importance. It could play a vital part in meeting the problem of the night bomber and attacks on merchant shipping and had been given the highest priority by the British Cabinet. Large numbers of radio mechanics would be needed to maintain radar apparatus in production or being rapidly developed. Further assistance from New Zealand would be of the greatest value.

At the beginning of May 1941, the Prime Minister informed the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs that all men offering as radio mechanics in response to the recent appeal were being entered for service in the Royal Air Force. So far, about 600 had volunteered and were being examined by the RNZAF Radio Mechanics Selection Committee. But it seemed clear that the need existed in all three services for radio mechanics. After outlining the Naval Board's Scheme ‘R’, the Prime Minister said the Government wished to know if any quota of volunteers should be allocated to each of the three services or whether the present procedure should be continued.

A reply was received that recruiting of RDF men for service in the Royal Navy should be separate from that for the other services. The Admiralty informed the New Zealand Naval Board that the Royal Navy was ‘dangerously short of trained RDF operators in the Battle of the Atlantic’ and asked for assistance by the release of ‘trained operators for service afloat rather than in shore stations’. The Royal Navy had started new branches called wireless mechanics and air fitters (RDF) to maintain wireless and RDF equipment both afloat and on shore, and in the Fleet Air Arm respectively. Requirements for the new branches would be about 2300 men during the page 457 next eighteen months. The Admiralty asked that a special effort be made to ‘enlist the maximum possible number of suitable men forthwith for loan to the Royal Navy’. It thought the New Zealand ratings under training would be most suitable as wireless mechanics. Some weeks earlier the Admiralty had indicated that it would be ‘glad to receive up to twenty trained RDF operators in any two months and twenty untrained men every month’. This was a modest request for only 360 men a year, but six months passed before War Cabinet approval was given to recruit men for RDF service in the Royal Navy, and by that time there had been important changes in both organisation and requirements.

In September 1940 the rating of Seaman (RDF) was created in the Royal Navy for the operation (and later, the maintenance) of RDF equipment. In addition to seaman's pay, qualified operators received non-substantive pay of 3d. a day. They were eligible for advancement to leading seaman (RDF) after six months, and petty officer (RDF) after a further twelve months, the latter subject to the passing of an examination after a course designed to fit them for maintenance duties. In May 1941 a wireless mechanics branch was instituted for the duration of the war. Ratings in this branch were given specialised training in the maintenance and repair of RDF equipment ashore and afloat. Their pay was 9d. a day more than that of the seaman's branch.

At the beginning of July 1941 the Naval Board recommended, and the Minister of Defence approved, that the New Zealand naval RDF stations afloat and ashore be organised on lines similar to those in the Royal Navy. There would be two classes of ratings, namely, RDF operators and RDF wireless mechanics. The former would undergo a training course in HMS Philomel and the latter receive specialised training at Auckland University College. Radio direction-finding operators would be entered in the special section of the seaman branch and receive the non-substantive rate of 3d. a day in addition to their ordinary pay. Men for RDF maintenance duties would be entered as wireless mechanics, their pay being on the same basis as in the Royal Navy. Ratings serving under Scheme ‘R’ would be transferred to the wireless branch.

Approval to recruit the RDF operators asked for by the Admiralty was first sought from the Minister of Defence on 24 May 1941. Four weeks later he was reminded of this and asked to authorise further courses of training for classes of twenty ratings at Auckland University College. Another reminder at the end of June was accompanied by a statement that 120 seamen (RDF) were needed as operators in the New Zealand cruisers and coastwatching stations. Approval ‘in principle’ was accordingly sought to train seamen page 458 (RDF) in classes of twenty, one month's disciplinary training in HMNZS Tamaki to be followed by one month's practical instruction in a school which it was proposed to establish at Mount Victoria, Auckland.

A more urgent note was sounded on 28 July 1941 when the Naval Secretary informed the Minister of Defence that a message from the Admiralty said it would be very glad to have twenty wireless mechanics and twenty ordinary seamen (RDF) every two months. The Admiralty attached ‘so much importance to having these men that, if absolutely necessary, they recommend they be provided at the expense of reduction in the number of ratings being trained in seamen, stoker and accountant branches.’

The first of the ratings trained at Auckland University College were drafted to coastwatching stations in March 1941 on a basis of one leading hand and four operators. In June the complement was increased to seven, an additional watch of two men to be added if circumstances necessitated continuous twenty-four-hour watchkeeping. In accordance with the Naval Board's decision, the ratings trained at Auckland University College were transferred to the wireless mechanics branch as from July 1941. One draft of ten men lent to the Royal Navy left for England that month. The fourth and last class to be trained at Auckland University College was entered in September 1941. Three months later, fifteen candidates were entered and commissioned as sub-lieutenants for radar duties in the Eastern Fleet. They were given a short course of training in HMNZS Philomel and sailed for Colombo in February 1942. From time to time other candidates with scientific and radio qualifications were similarly entered for radar duties.

In the meantime, the Chiefs of Staff Committee had submitted to War Cabinet a comprehensive scheme for the training of wireless mechanics for the Navy and Army at the Air Force electrical and wireless school at Wigram, which was to be enlarged for the purpose. As finally approved on 8 September 1941, the scheme provided for an output of 240 wireless mechanics a year, of whom 190 would be for the Navy and 50 for the Army. The authority given by War Cabinet on 13 October 1941 for increased numbers of ratings to be entered in the Royal New Zealand Navy for hostilities only, included the 190 wireless mechanics as well as 240 ordinary seamen (RDF) a year. At that time Commodore Parry wrote: ‘After a lengthy struggle I have managed to get approval from War Cabinet to train a surplus of radio mechanics and RDF operators beyond our own needs….’

The training of naval recruits as wireless mechanics at the electrical and wireless school at Wigram began in October 1941. page 459 The basic course was fifteen weeks, later reduced to thirteen weeks, and was followed by a fortnight, later increased to one month, in HMNZS Philomel for practical training on naval RDF and wireless equipment. The wireless mechanics branch of the Royal New Zealand Navy was formally instituted by a Navy Order promulgated in November 1942.

Of approximately 270 wireless mechanics trained for naval service up to the end of 1942, more than 150 were drafted overseas, 25 were promoted to commissioned rank, and the remainder served in New Zealand or the South Pacific area. Ten classes had been trained when it became necessary to get fresh authority to continue recruiting on the same basis. Three classes had already been entered in aerodrome defence units in anticipation of Cabinet approval, but it was so long before a Government decision was reached that, by the time the Navy was in a position to take them over, most of the men had been taken by the Air Force and the others by the Army.

The Rear-Admiral commanding HMS Assegai, the training establishment at Durban, reported in August 1943 that ‘the New Zealand radar ratings and radio mechanics are giving excellent service with the Fleets and it may be recorded here that a high standard of intelligence and keenness has always been found to exist amongst the New Zealand men who have passed through this establishment’. It was found, too, that the wireless mechanics in New Zealand stations kept the equipment working satisfactorily with no assistance and very limited facilities.

The classes for training ordinary seamen (RDF) began in October 1941. The course was three weeks' disciplinary training in Tamaki and three weeks' technical instruction in Philomel. For the latter purpose a school was built on Mount Victoria overlooking Auckland harbour, but it was not completed till February 1942. The initial equipment was a radar set lent by the Air Department, and naval-type coastwatching and ship sets were installed later. A total of 240 ratings completed the course during the first twelve months, and by November 1942 about half of them had been drafted overseas for service with the British Eastern Fleet and elsewhere, the others being absorbed by local commitments.

In October 1942 arrangements were made for forty seamen (RDF) to serve in coastal stations of the RNZAF in which the Navy had a special interest because they were able to detect and plot movements of ships and small craft. The RNZAF then decided that three of its first ten stations would be staffed by members of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force, and that the proportion so staffed would later be increased to six of the sixteen stations authorised.

It was considered that at such stations the Navy could employ members of the Women's Royal New Zealand Naval Service, and page 460 the RNZAF was requested to provide training for them. Five weeks later, the Air Secretary replied that the date for accepting WRNZS ratings for training ‘rests on the result of a WAAF recruiting campaign’. The Navy, however, had its Wren volunteers waiting and proposed that, irrespective of recruiting Waafs, their training should start immediately. No reply was received and, after another month's delay, the Navy suggested that sufficient Wrens to operate fully one or more stations be trained and commence duty, and that when Waafs were available to replace them they could be transferred to other stations. Nearly another month passed before the Air Department replied, ignoring the last suggestion and stating that the first class of Wrens was to report on 14 May 1943 to the new training school for radio operators at Levin and that a second class would be accepted in July. The first class of Wrens completed its training and reported in July at Rongotai for duty. It was then decided that, in view of the improved strategic situation, it was not necessary for the Navy to provide operators for the Air Force stations, which were being reduced.

In the meantime, the possibility of employing Wrens in naval radar stations was being discussed. The major difficulties were those of accessibility and accommodation and the fact that, as no Wrens had been trained as mechanics, it would be necessary to retain male radio mechanics at the stations. The most accessible station with the best facilities was at Takapuna, and nine Wrens were drafted there for radar and degaussing duties. Six were lent to the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research for the radar experimental station on Mount Victoria, Wellington, where they did excellent service. The others were trained as telegraphists for service at Auckland and Waiouru.

When Dr Marsden, Director of Scientific Development, visited Admiral Halsey, Commander of the South Pacific Area, at Noumea in February 1943, he was authorised by the Prime Minister to discuss ‘the question of the best use of New Zealand scientific resources in the Allied war effort in the South Pacific.’ This offer was ‘cordially and gratefully accepted’ by COMSOPAC, who asked for specific radar equipment and officers and men for its installation, operation, and maintenance.

Accordingly, three of the seven SWG radar sets held in store at Sydney as surplus to the requirements of the British Eastern Fleet were sent to Noumea, but had to be returned to New Zealand for reconditioning. The first of these was installed in March 1943 on Mount Ouen Toro overlooking the Amedee entrance to Noumea roadstead, where it was linked to a United States coastal battery of four 6-inch guns.

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COMSOPAC had also asked for two mobile microwave surface warning sets, a number of which were mounted on motor trucks adapted for the purpose in New Zealand. The first of these, known as ME1, arrived at Noumea early in April and was sent forward to Banika Island, in the Russell Group, 30 miles north-west from Guadalcanal, where it was attached to a coastal battery of the 10th Defence Battalion, US Marines. When the second SWG set from New Zealand arrived at Banika Island on 10 June 1943, ME1 set was moved across to Pavuva Island, but was later sent back to Guadalcanal as unserviceable.

In the meantime, preparations for the landing of American troops to capture Munda Point airfield on the south-west coast of New Georgia were being completed. The second mobile microwave set, ME2, was to be used to detect any attempt by the Japanese to reinforce their position by night. Unfortunately, the set was destroyed when LST 340, the landing craft in which it was loaded, was bombed and burnt out off Lunga, Guadalcanal. A spare microwave set designated ME3, already on its way from New Zealand, replaced ME2 and arrived at Lombari Island, off the north coast of Rendova, in time for the successful landing there on 30 June 1943.

About this time COMSOPAC asked for more New Zealand SWG sets and another mobile microwave set, bringing the total up to eight of the former and three of the latter, manned by 128 New Zealand officers and ratings. It was apparent that a forward workshop and store was necessary if these requirements were to be met in anything like reasonable time. Accordingly, a large hut known as Base 1 was erected at Noumea and fitted out with complete workshop, store, and office. Later, a temporary store and workshop was established under canvas at Camp Adams, Koli Point, on Guadalcanal.

Lieutenant Hunter, RNZNVR,1 the officer originally sent to Noumea to install the SWG sets, devised a time-saving method of mounting them on trailers which would enable the sets to be completely assembled in the workshop and towed to previously prepared sites. He visited New Zealand to get the trailers, and saved more time by making use of Army trailers already constructed which required but slight modification. In addition to the eight SWG sets asked for by COMSOPAC, two others were assembled as spares.

The third New Zealand SWG set, last of the non-trailer sets, was stationed on Savo Island and went into operation on 29 September 1943. It worked with a four 6-inch-gun coastal battery of the United States Army covering the strait between Savo Island and Cape Astrolabe on Florida Island. The mobile microwave set ME3 was moved across Blanche Strait from Lombari Island to a

1 Lieutenant W. E. Hunter, RNZNVR; born NZ 1914; radio technician.

page 462 hill close to Munda Point airfield, which had been wrested from the Japanese on 5 August after a long struggle. At the beginning of November, microwave set ME4 arrived from Noumea and was stationed at Visuvisu Point at the north end of New Georgia. A fifth naval microwave set was assigned to the 3rd New Zealand Division for its amphibious operations in the northern Solomons. By the middle of December 1943 the trailer-mounted SWG sets at Noumea were ready for service. One had been shipped to Guadalcanal and was operating with an American coastal battery covering the channel between Cape Esperance and Savo Island.

It had been intended that the other New Zealand sets and their crews were to be employed in the northern areas, but by the close of November 1943 the hard-fought campaign in the Solomon Islands had ended except for mopping-up operations.

Reviewing the position in December 1943, the Radar Planning Board of COMSOPAC came to the conclusion that the latest American sets were arriving in numbers more than sufficient to meet requirements, and as a consequence the New Zealand naval shore-based radar could be reduced considerably. It was decided that the SWG sets at the Russell Islands, Savo Island, and Cape Esperance and microwave ME4 at Visuvisu Point would remain in operation in the meantime, and that ME3 would be withdrawn from Munda airfield to Guadalcanal immediately. The SWG set on Ouen Toro was replaced by an American set after nine months of good service as an integral part of the defences of Noumea. Base 1 at Noumea was to be closed down as it became redundant, but Base 2 at Lunga, Guadalcanal, would continue to serve the ships of the 25th Minesweeping Flotilla and any other British-fitted ships in the area. A few months later the remaining New Zealand radar sets were withdrawn from the Solomon Islands, which had become a ‘back area’.

During the relatively short period they were in the Solomon Islands the Royal New Zealand Navy's shore-based radar sets and their crews gave valuable service to the United States Forces. They were landed and operated during the active bombing by the Japanese of the islands on which they were stationed. The crews lived in poor quarters under conditions of extreme discomfort in the heat, excessive humidity, and almost daily thunderstorms of the tropical climate. They were constantly assailed by clouds of mosquitoes and other insects and had to contend with countless myriads of ants and other crawling creatures. One of their worst troubles, however, was the deterioration in the insulation and fittings of their radar gear due to the torrential rains and high humidity.

The siting of the radar stations was extremely difficult because of the hard coral formations over which the sets had to be landed, frequently under enemy bombing, the deep mud on often steep page 463 gradients, and the high forest growth matted with dense undergrowth. Portable tubular steel towers 60 feet high were used to give the antennae of the radar sets a clear range over the jungle and coconut groves. All told, 13 officers and 173 ratings of the Royal New Zealand Navy served with the radar sets under COMSOPAC. There were many cases of sickness, mostly malaria, but only one death, that of a seaman who was accidentally killed.

A radar workshop was established at Auckland where, during 1943, the latest types of equipment were fitted in the Leander and the five ships of the 25th Minesweeping Flotilla. The inspection and repair of radar equipment in numerous warships and merchant vessels was also carried out at Auckland and Wellington.

At the beginning of 1943 the duties of RDF officer at Navy Office were taken over by Lieutenant-Commander Giles, RNZNVR,1 who had been released by the Admiralty at the request of the Government. Later in the year, however, when Giles went to Washington, Lieutenant-Commander Marklew again assumed the duties of senior RDF officer which he carried out with great efficiency till 1946.

Owing to the great advance in naval radar the Admiralty found it necessary in 1943 to change the system and classification of radar sets and their operation. Hitherto the practice had been to recruit men as radar operators and train them solely for that purpose. But as the numbers of radar sets in ships increased to double figures and each performed a separate function, it was found that the over-crowded ships could no longer accommodate all the operators required if they were employed solely on radar duties.2 For this reason it was decided that all radar operators would be transferred to the seaman branch and trained in seamanship as well as for radar duties. This procedure was adopted in the Royal New Zealand Navy in 1944.

Altogether seventy-six naval radar sets of various types, as well as other equipment, were produced in New Zealand during the war. At the request of the Admiralty six microwave sets mounted on trucks were supplied in 1945 to the British Pacific Fleet. The Commander-in-Chief reported that they were ‘excellently designed and highly efficient’. Two of them went to Singapore and two to Hong Kong. A large number of New Zealand radar officers and ratings served in ships of all types in the British Pacific Fleet.

1 Commander B. T. Giles, VD, RNZNVR, US Legion of Merit; born Wellington, 10 May 1909; Naval Member, NZ Joint Staff Mission, and Naval Attaché, Washington, 1943–45; company director; killed in aircraft accident, Singapore, Mar 1954.

2 The numbers of radar control and plot ratings borne in the New Zealand cruisers at the beginning of 1945 were 61 in the Gambia and 65 in the Achilles.

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