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Royal New Zealand Air Force



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.