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Royal New Zealand Air Force



Although the RNZAF had laid its plans well before the war and was administratively ready to go into action, from the material aspect it was not in a good position. Had peace lasted for six page 68 months longer, the Vickers Wellingtons which were on order would have been despatched from the United Kingdom and would have provided a valuable addition to the country's defences. The Government's decision to hand them over to the RAF, together with the crews who were to bring them out, was undoubtedly correct and was warmly appreciated by the British Government. At the same time, the lack of modern equipment and the absence of many of its best-trained crews made it difficult for the RNZAF to provide the full measure of air defence which was desirable.

There were no long-range military aircraft in the country, and no modern ones at all. For defence against attack there were only the Territorial squadrons armed with Baffins and Vildebeestes, and a number of Fairey Gordons in the training organisation which could be used in an emergency. Of the Territorial units, only the Wellington Squadron had made much progress with its training.

In the early months of the war the three squadrons concentrated on operational training, and by early in 1940 had achieved a reasonable standard of efficiency as far as their limited equipment allowed.

A number of their pilots were withdrawn to form, with ex-aero club instructors, a nucleus of instructors and staff pilots in the training organisation. This, coupled with the fact that some of their aircraft were needed to meet training requirements, resulted in the units being large flights rather than fully manned and equipped squadrons. Two of the flights, those at Wigram and Woodbourne, occupied accommodation which was needed by the flying training schools. In March 1940 the three flights were combined to form the New Zealand General Reconnaissance Squadron, and stationed at the newly completed aerodrome at Whenuapai. The location was chosen because there was ample hangar space at Whenuapai to house both the squadron and No. 4 EFTS which was later to form there, and because Auckland was an important commercial centre and commanded the focal shipping area of the Hauraki Gulf. The operational strength of the Air Force was increased slightly by taking over a number of multi-engined commercial aircraft which were used both for training and for reconnaissance when the necessity arose. Arrangements were also made with Tasman Empire Airways Limited for their two flying boats, Awarua and Aotearoa, to be used when necessary on long-range sea reconnaissance. These aircraft periodically carried out patrols to the Chatham and Kermadec Islands.

Early in the war Britain was asked whether, in the event of war with Japan, she would let New Zealand have on short notice eighteen modern twin-engined bombers or general reconnaissance page 69 aircraft, or alternatively place an order for eighteen Hudsons from the United States for the RNZAF. In May 1940 Britain agreed that if Japan entered the war eighteen Hudsons would be released for shipment to New Zealand direct from America. Previously fifty Vincents had been offered from RAF reserves in the Middle East. They had been intended primarily for training purposes, but would also have formed a useful reserve in case of emergency. The RAF was so desperately short of aircraft in the Middle East, however, that the offer had to be withdrawn. Sixty Hawker Harts were offered instead, but they were not so suitable for New Zealand defence requirements as they had neither the range nor the striking power of the Vincents.

New Zealand then asked for twenty-four Hudsons to be sent instead of the Vincents, but this request had to be refused owing to the general shortage.