New Zealanders with the Royal Air Force (Vol. I)
CHAPTER 1 — The Royal Air Force and Early New Zealand Representation
The Royal Air Force and Early New Zealand Representation
FOLLOWING the achievement of the Wright brothers in flying the first power-driven machine in 1903 at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, France led the way in the diverse experiments that took place in Europe. Britain, cautious in accepting new ideas, lagged behind and it was not until June 1908 that the first flight over English soil was made by A. V. Roe at Brooklands. However, between that time and 1912 when the British Government took a hand in the building up of an air service, many private organisations began, and with this birth of British aviation the names of men like Butler, Rolls, Sopwith, de Havilland and the Short brothers will always be associated. Their experiments in frail and unsteady machines make a story which is an epic in itself. In fact, the national air service was built up out of the mass of material offered by the skill and intelligence of such men.
1 Marshal of the Royal Air Force Viscount H. M. Trenchard, GCB, OM, GCVO, DSO, Legion of Honour (Fr), Order of St. Anne (Rus), Order of Leopold (Bel), Distinguished Service Medal (US), Order of St. Stanislas (Rus), Croix de Guerre (Bel), Order of the Crown of Italy, Order of the Sacred Treasure of Japan; England; born 3 Feb 1873; joined Royal Scots Fusiliers, 1893; seconded RFC 1912 and RAF 1918; permanent commission RAF 1919; commanded first Wing of RFC, France, 1914; appointed to command RFC, France, 1915; founded Independent Force in France, 1918; first Chief of Air Staff, RAF, 1918–29.
The time is rapidly approaching when the subordination of the air service can no longer be justified. It can be used as an independent means of war operations …. As far as can at present be foreseen there is no limit to the scale of its future independent war use. And the day may not be far off when aerial operations with their devastation of enemy lands and the destruction of industrial and populous centres on a vast scale, may become the principal operations of war to which the older forms of military and naval operations may become secondary and subordinate.
About the same time Winston Churchill, with similar foresight, advocated ‘not merely an ancillary service to the special operations of the Army and Navy but an independent arm co-operating in the general plan’.
Nevertheless there was still opposition to any change from both the Admiralty and the War Office so that it was not until April 1918 that the Royal Air Force was formed as an independent service, absorbing both the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service. Then, before the newly instituted force could show its paces, the war came to an end. A period of economy and retrenchment followed in which the young air force was cut down and little effort made to keep it up to date in equipment; indeed for a long time its few surviving pilots went on flying obsolete aircraft left over from the war. Even the principle of an independent service was continually opposed and was only maintained largely through the tenacity and courage of Trenchard, who had now become the first Chief of Air Staff. Indeed, throughout the period between the wars, when the British people were gripped by a strange mixture of idealism and pacifism, Trenchard was to remain a stalwart advocate of a strong and separate air force.
At the same time the air routes linking various parts of the Empire were being developed. Although these were eventually taken over by commercial firms, it was the Royal Air Force which blazed the trails by making the initial flights, reconnoitring territory, deciding upon landing grounds and then covering each route as a service exercise before handing it over. The flights across wide tracts of uncivilised and strange country, often under conditions of extreme heat and discomfort, demanded qualities of resource and endurance, and there is little doubt that such arduous and adventurous operations furnished the best possible experience and training to be found in peacetime. Other long-distance flights, apart from those connected with Imperial communications, were also made during the years between the wars. Records were deliberately sought since they provided opportunities for testing aircraft and maintaining a high standard of aviation. The Schneider Trophy was won outright, Everest was conquered from the air, while speed and height records were also established by Royal Air Force pilots.
1 Goering had commanded a squadron in Richthofen’s Fighter Geschwader (Wing) in the war of 1914–18; he had met Hitler in Munich in 1922 and then became the first leader of the Nazi Storm Troops, playing a prominent part as such in Hitler’s abortive Putsch of 1923. When in 1933 Hitler came to power he thus saw in Goering his perfect collaborator and a man with enough of the glory of the old Richthofen days to appeal to the popular imagination. Hitler therefore showered appointments on him, giving him four posts in the Government—amongst which was one of Special Commissioner for Aviation. In April 1933, when the Commissariat became the Air Ministry, Goering found himself as Air Minister.
An important feature of the expansion which took place during the late thirties was the large programme of aerodrome and factory construction. In eastern England there began the building of the chain of air bases from which the four-engined bombers were later to batter the German Reich, while in other areas the construction of new airfields for fighter and reconnaissance squadrons was commenced. Names later familiar to New Zealand airmen now began to appear in the lists of the new stations under construction. At the same time the industrial centres of Britain began the changeover from peace to war, with all the complicated planning and readjustment this involved.
By 1938, however, although these measures for the expansion of the Royal Air Force were steadily gaining momentum, its equipment was still very much in the transitional stage, with obsolescent types of aircraft predominating and replacements not yet available in any quantity. The Munich crisis, which came in September of that year, was both a lucky escape and an incentive to further effort. Nevertheless, even after a further year of respite and accelerated progress with the various expansion schemes, the strength of the Royal Air Force was still inadequate for the tasks which faced it.
Fighter Command1 was probably in the strongest position with sixteen squadrons of Hurricanes and ten of Spitfires, supported by eight Blenheim, four Gladiator and two Lysander squadrons. But it had virtually no reserves of fighter pilots. Furthermore Spitfires and Hurricanes were being produced only at the rate of two a day. A system for the control of fighter aircraft in the air was being developed, under which the whole of Britain would eventually be divided into groups and these in turn into sectors. This organisation was closely linked with the ground defence and the air-raid warning systems. Its efficiency, however, depended on accurate and timely information regarding the movements of hostile aircraft being passed by the Observer Corps and radiolocation posts to Group and Command headquarters. But the chain of radiolocation stations was far from complete and communications not fully developed, while sectors were short of equipment and satellite landing grounds inadequate.
1 The three operational commands, Bomber, Fighter and Coastal, had been created in 1936, when the former ‘Air Defence of Great Britain’ was abolished. A training command was established at the same time; it was subsequently subdivided into two commands for flying training and technical training. In 1938 three further commands were established—Maintenance, Balloon and Reserve.
At the end of August 1939, the fighter squadrons were deployed in three main operational groups covering roughly south-eastern, southern, and eastern England respectively. The first of these, No. 11 Group, was primarily responsible for the defence of London, while the others, Nos. 10 and 12 Groups, covered the vital areas of Southampton and the Tyne. However this left large regions unprotected, and it was not until late in 1940 that fighter cover could be provided over most of the British Isles. Meanwhile Fighter Command had the additional tasks of protecting East Coast convoys and the naval base at Scapa; it was also committed to provide support for the British Army in France.
Bomber Command possessed some thirty-five squadrons but many of them were not yet fully trained for operations. Furthermore ten of these squadrons were equipped with obsolescent Battles and a further ten with Blenheims. Only five had Wellingtons, and the rest of the force was made up of Whitley and Hampden squadrons in approximately equal numbers. None of the characteristic four-engined bombers which were to play so great a part in the strategic air offensive were yet available. In fact, the production of Stirlings and Halifaxes did not begin in earnest until the early months of 1939 while the Lancaster was, as yet, unknown.1 The bomber force was divided into six operational groups, located along the eastern side of England in areas designed to suit the range of their aircraft and the purpose for which they were to be used. Each group had training squadrons to the west of it. On 2 September 1939 however, No. 1 Group, the largest, comprising approximately 160 aircraft, was transferred to France, leaving only just over 350 aircraft available for operations from bases in the United Kingdom. But even this small force could not be maintained at a high rate of serviceability, while the size and surface of many of its airfields were not suitable for the aircraft they had to accom- modate. In fact, during the first winter of the war, many of the grass aerodromes could not be used at all for considerable periods. Altogether throughout the first two years of its operations, problems of supply, both of aircraft and aerodromes and their equipment, and of men to service and maintain them, were seriously to affect the efficiency of Bomber Command.
1 Thus during the early period of the war the term ‘heavy bomber’ was used to describe Wellington, Whitley, and Hampden aircraft. Later, with the introduction of four-engined bombers, the former aircraft were classified as ‘medium bombers’.
1 Later, in October 1940, when the U-boat threat in the Western Approaches began to assume serious proportions, a fourth Area Combined Headquarters was established at Liverpool. This system of operational control, fixed in 1938, provided a working arrangement for the co-ordination of the air effort of Coastal Command with that of the Royal Navy. Liaison officers were stationed at the Admiralty and at Coastal Command Headquarters in London, while at the Area Combined Headquarters the local naval staffs shared an operations room with the air staffs of the Coastal Command Group. Once initial difficulties had been overcome, this organisation worked well and contributed largely to the successful conduct of operations in the Battle of the Atlantic.
Assistance to the Home Fleet in the detection and prevention of enemy vessels escaping from the North Sea to the Atlantic.
Provision of anti-submarine patrols.
Air searches over home waters to afford reconnaissance for the Home Fleet.
Provision of an air striking force for attacks on enemy warships.
The Royal Air Force, on the other hand, was only at the beginning of its expansion and lacked much of this experience. Nevertheless it was splendidly trained and designed for operational employment in accordance with a sound strategic doctrine. In 1940 it was just strong enough to hold the fort against the Luftwaffe and then, in the following years, to push it back and keep it back from the heart of the Empire’s war effort. Eventually, gathering strength and stretching its wings over land and sea in company with powerful allies, it made possible those naval and military operations which brought about the complete collapse of the enemy.
1 The Deutsche Lufthansa was a heavily government-subsidised company which controlled all German airlines with the exception of one operating to Russia. It was formed in 1926, and although its aircraft were ‘civilian’, they were designed with a view to rapid conversion for military purposes.
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Airmen from the Dominion of New Zealand were associated with the Royal Air Force from its inception in 1918. Even before that time New Zealanders were flying with the squadrons of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service, sharing their hardships and difficulties in flying comparatively primitive machines. During the First World War 500 New Zealanders saw service in one or other of these units. On the cessation of hostilities in November 1918, the majority of these men returned to their own country, but a few remained in England to continue service with the Royal Air Force and several achieved further distinction before the Second World War began. In this respect the careers of Carr, Coningham and Park are of particular interest.
1 Air Marshal Sir Roderick Carr, KBE, CB, DFC, AFC, Orders of St. Stanislas and St. Anne (Rus), Croix de Guerre (Fr); RAF (retd); England; born NZ 31 Aug 1891; 1 NZEF, 1914; transferred RNAS 1915 and RAF 1918; permanent commission RAF 1926; served in France, 1939–40, with Advanced Air Striking Force; AOC Northern Ireland, 1940–41; AOC No. 4 Group, Bomber Command, 1941–44; DCAS, Supreme HQ, Allied Expeditionary Force, 1945; AOC Base Air Forces, SE Asia, 1945; AOC-in-C, India, 1946.
Air Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham,1 although born in Brisbane, was educated in Wellington and wished to be known as a New Zealander. He was, in fact, very proud of his nickname ‘Maori’ which somehow became corrupted to ‘Mary’. Two days after the outbreak of war in 1914, Coningham enlisted in the Canterbury Mounted Rifles, but after service in the Middle East was invalided home in 1916 with typhoid. On regaining his health he travelled to England at his own expense and within a week of his arrival had entered the Royal Flying Corps. Following a short period of training he joined a squadron in France, and before being wounded in July 1917 had gained the Military Cross and the Distinguished Service Order for his exploits as a fighter pilot. On his recovery Coningham returned to France as a squadron commander and won the Distinguished Flying Cross. In 1919 he was appointed to a permanent commission in the RAF, and after serving for four years on home establishments, went to Iraq to command a squadron engaged in restoring and maintaining order in this newly mandated territory. Later, while on staff duties in Egypt, he blazed the trail for the ferry route across Africa which was afterwards used for supplying aircraft to the Middle East and India. This was in October 1925 when, in command of a flight of three De Havillands, Coningham made the double journey from Cairo to Kano, in Nigeria. He was awarded the Air Force Cross in the following year and returned to England to serve at the Royal Air Force College, Cranwell, and the Central Flying School before being posted to Khartoum in 1932. Three years later he was back in England at Coastal Area Head- quarters, and was one of the first staff officers in Coastal Command on its formation in 1936. A few months before the Second World War began Coningham was appointed Air Officer Commanding No. 4 Group, Bomber Command. He was later to return to the Middle East and play an outstanding part in the conduct of air operations in that theatre; subsequently he was to command the Second Tactical Air Force in Europe.
1 Air Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham, KCB, KBE, DSO, MC, DFC, AFC, Legion of Honour (Fr), Distinguished Service Medal (US), Order of Leopold (Bel), Croix de Guerre with Palm (Bel); born Brisbane, 19 Jan 1895; 1 NZEF, 1914–16; entered RFC 1916; permanent commission RAF 1919; AOC No. 4 Group, Bomber Command, 1939–41; AOC Western Desert, 1941–43; AOC 1st TAF, North Africa, Sicily, Italy, 1943–44; AOC-in-C 2nd TAF, invasion of NW Europe and Germany, 1944–45; lost when air liner crashed during Atlantic crossing, Jan 1948.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Keith Park1 showed a taste for adventure early in life by going to sea in one of the vessels of the Union Steamship Company. Then, early in August 1914, he enlisted in the New Zealand Field Artillery and saw active service as a bombardier in Egypt. He also took part in the original landing at Gallipoli and remained on the Peninsula until the final evacuation. He then served for some time in France, through the first Battle of the Somme, until he was wounded a second time, invalided to England, and declared fit for home service only. Undaunted, Park joined the Royal Flying Corps and returned as a fighter pilot to France, where deeds of outstanding gallantry during 1917 won him the Military Cross and bar. He had ‘accounted for nine enemy aircraft, three of which were completely destroyed and six driven down out of control’. Sir Keith was himself shot down twice, once by anti-aircraft fire and once in combat, but he continued flying and the last months of the war saw him commanding the squadron in which he had already served both as a pilot and as flight com- mander. By this time his battle honours had been increased by the awards of the Distinguished Flying Cross and the French Croix de Guerre. He had also been mentioned in despatches. In the years which followed he saw service in Iraq and Egypt, returning to England in 1926 to command first a fighter squadron and then the fighter station at Northolt, during which time he organised the flying programmes for the air pageants at Hendon in 1929 and 1930. Shortly afterwards he became Commanding Officer of the Oxford University Air Squadron for two years and received the unusual distinction of the honorary degree of Master of Arts for his services. After a term as Air Attaché at Buenos Aires Park returned to England, and the outbreak of the Second World War found him serving as Chief of Staff to Lord Dowding,2 who was AOC-in-C Fighter Command. Then began a second period of distinguished war service, the highlights of which were to be his command of No. 11 Fighter Group during the Battle of Britain, and his brilliant conduct of air operations from Malta during 1942.
1 Air Chief Marshal Sir Keith R. Park, GCB, KBE, MC and bar, DFC, Croix de Guerre (Fr), Legion of Merit (US); RAF (retd); Auckland; born Thames, 15 Jun 1892; in First World War served Egypt, Gallipoli and France with NZ Field Artillery, 1914–15, and Royal Field Artillery, 1915–16; seconded RFC 1917; permanent commission RAF 1919; SASO, HQ Fighter Command, 1938–40; commanded No. 11 Fighter Group during Battle of Britain; AOC No. 23 Training Group, 1941; AOC RAF Egypt, 1942; AOC RAF Malta, 1942–43; AOC-in-C Middle East, 1944–45; Allied Air C-in-C SE Asia, 1945–46.
2 Air Chief Marshal Lord Dowding, GCB, GCVO, CMG; RAF (retd); England; born Moffat, Dumfries, 24 Apr 1882; joined Royal Artillery 1898; RFC 1914; seconded RAF 1918; permanent commission RAF 1919; AOC-in-C Fighter Command, 1936–40; on special duty (under Minister of Aircraft Production) in USA, 1940–41; Principal Air ADC to HM the King, 1937–43; retired Jul 1942.
Among other New Zealanders who remained with the Royal Air Force between the wars were Air Vice-Marshals MacLean,1 Maynard,2 and Russell.3 MacLean, after distinguished service with the Royal Fusiliers and the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War, which included command of a wing in France, served with the RAF in India and then in the Middle East, where he was in charge of air bases in Iraq, Egypt, and at Aden. Shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War he was appointed AOC No. 2 Group, Bomber Command. Maynard, who had begun his flying career in 1915 with the Royal Naval Air Service, flew with units in Britain, in the Middle East and Iraq before returning to command the University of London Air Squadron in 1935. In January 1940 he was appointed from Air Ministry to Malta, where as Air Officer Commanding he achieved notable success in organising the air defence of the island in the initial stages, when few people had any faith that Malta could hold out against sustained attack. Russell had joined the Royal Flying Corps in 1915 and won distinction in France before being taken prisoner in the following year. Between the wars he served in the United Kingdom and in Iraq, and then commanded the squadron stationed at Aden. Subsequently he served with Fighter Command in Britain and as Air Officer Commanding a group in the Middle East.
1 Air Vice-Marshal C. T. MacLean, CB, DSO, MC, Legion of Honour (Fr); England; born Greymouth, 18 Oct 1886; served with Royal Fusiliers, 1914–15; seconded RFC 1915; permanent commission RAF 1919; AOC No. 2 Bomber Group, 1938–40; AOC No. 23 Training Group, 1940; retired Dec 1940.
2 Air Vice-Marshal F. H. M. Maynard, CB, AFC, Legion of Merit (US); England; born Waiuku, 1 May 1893; served with RN Divisional Engineers, 1914–15; transferred RNAS 1915; RAF 1918; permanent commission RAF 1919; AOC RAF, Mediterranean, 1940–41; Air Officer in Charge of Administration, Coastal Command, 1941–44; AOC No. 19 Group, Coastal Command, 1944–45.
3 Air Vice-Marshal H. B. Russell, CB, DFC, AFC; RAF; born Hastings, 6 May 1895; commissioned Royal Field Artillery, 1914; seconded RFC 1915 and RAF 1918; permanent commission RAF 1919; SASO, No. 21 Training Group, 1939–40; SASO, No. 2 RAF Component, France, 1940; served with Fighter Command, 1940–41; AOC No. 215 Group, Middle East, 1942–43; AOC No. 70 Group, United Kingdom, 1943–45; Air Officer i/c Administration HQ FTC, 1946–49.
During the years which followed many of these men served in remote parts of the world where air power, because of its mobility, was proving invaluable in keeping the peace. In Egypt, Palestine, Iraq and in the Aden Protectorate, they became painfully familiar with scorching heat and blinding sandstorms as they successfully carried out the policy of ‘control without occupation’, which was economical in both manpower and equipment. This was particularly the case on the north-west frontier of India, where the warlike tribes who inhabited the wildest of country had always been difficult to control.
1 Air Vice-Marshal A. McKee, CB, CBE, DSO, DFC, AFC; RAF; born Oxford, Canterbury, 10 Jan 1902; joined RAF 1926; permanent commission 1936; commanded No. 9 Sqdn 1940; Wing Commander, Training, No. 3 Bomber Group, 1941; commanded RAF Station, Marham, 1941–42; RAF Station, Downham Market, 1942–43; Base Commander, Mildenhall, 1943–45; AOC No. 205 Group, Italy, 1945; SASO HQ Mediterranean and Middle East, 1946–47; Commandant RAF Flying College, Manby, 1949–51; AOC No. 21 Group, Flying Training Command, 1951–.
2 Air Commodore D. H. F. Barnett, CBE, DFC; RAF; born Dunedin, 11 Feb 1906; Cambridge University Air Squadron 1926–29; permanent commission RAF 1929; commanded No. 40 Sqdn 1940; RAF Station, Swanton Morley, 1942–43; Air Staff Strategic Bombing duties, Bomber Command, 1944; SASO (Org), Bomber Command, 1945; commanded Air HQ, Mauripur, India, 1947; Director of Operations, Air Ministry, 1949–.
3 Air Commodore H. D. McGregor, CBE, DSO, Legion of Merit (US); RAF; born Wairoa, 15 Feb 1910; joined RAF 1928; permanent commission 1932; commanded Nos. 33 and 213 Squadrons, 1939–40; RAF Station, Ballyhalbert, 1941; RAF Station, Tangmere, 1942–43; Group Captain, Operations, Mediterranean Air Command, 1943–44; Allied Deputy Director of Operations, Intelligence Plans, North Africa and Italy, 1944; AOC Levant, 1945–46; Planning Staff, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, Washington, 1949–50; AOC 2nd Tactical Air Force, Germany.
Somewhat different were the experiences of Wing Commander A. H. Marsack,1 who was employed as an Intelligence officer in the Aden Protectorate during the late thirties. In the course of his duties he was often called upon to investigate incidents with the local tribal chiefs, but by exercising initiative and tact he was usually successful in bringing about a peaceful solution to the difficult problems that arose. On one occasion, however, when a certain tribe defied government orders, he organised air action and, after being under fire from the rebels for two days, eventually effected the occupation of their village with a small band of irregulars. He was awarded the MBE in June 1938, and a few months later was mentioned in despatches for further work in this region. His brother, Group Captain D. H. Marsack,2 who was engaged on similar duties in Palestine about the same time, was mentioned in despatches in 1937. Both continued to do valuable work as Intelligence officers in the Middle East in the years which followed.
1 Air Commodore J. L. Findlay, CBE, MC, Legion of Honour (Fr), Legion of Merit (US); RNZAF; born Wellington, 6 Oct 1895; served East Surrey Regiment, 1914–16; served in RFC and RAF; joined NZ Air Force, 1923; commanded No. 48 Sqdn, 1938–40; RAF Station, Hooton Park, 1940–41; SASO, Air Department, 1941; AOC Central Group, 1942–43; Head of NZ Joint Staff Mission, Washington, 1943–.
2 Air Commodore S. Wallingford, CB, CBE, Legion of Merit (US); Wellington; born Hythe, Kent, 12 Jul 1898; served Rifle Brigade and RAF 1916–20; NZ Air Force, 1922–24; RAF 1924–29; NZPAF 1929–36; NZ Liaison Officer, London, 1938–40; Air Force Member for Personnel, 1941–42; AOC No. 1 (Islands) Group, 1943–44; Air Force Member for Supply, 1944–46; Air Force Member for Personnel, 1948–52.
3 Air Commodore E. G. Olson, DSO; born New Plymouth, 27 Feb 1906; joined RAF 1926; appointed RNZAF 1935; commanded No. 75 (NZ) Sqdn, 1942; commanded RAF Station, Oakington, 1942–43; AOC RNZAF HQ, London, 1944–45; died 15 May 1945.
4 Air Commodore, C. E. Kay, CBE, DFC; RNZAF; London; born Auckland, 25 Jun 1902; entered RAF 1926; appointed RNZAF 1935; commanded No. 75 (NZ) Sqdn, 1940–41; Air Staff, No. 8 Bomber Group, 1942; commanded RNZAF Station, New Plymouth, 1943; Ohakea, 1943–44; Wigram, 1944–45; Air Force Member for Supply, 1947–51; AOC RNZAF HQ, London, 1951–.
1 Group Captain A. E. Clouston, DSO, DFC, AFC and bar; RAF; born Motueka, 7 Apr 1908; joined RAF 1930; test pilot, Experimental Section, Royal Aircraft Establishment, 1939–40; served with Directorate of Armament Development, MAP, 1940–41; commanded No. 1422 Flight, 1941–43; No. 224 Sqdn, 1943–44; RAF Station, Langham, 1944–45; BAFO Communication Wing, 1945–47; RNZAF Station, Ohakea, 1947–49; RAF Station, Leeming, 1950; Commandant Empire Test Pilots’ School, 1950–.
2 The flight to New Zealand was made in March 1938, in a De Havilland Comet, the time taken being 4 days 8 hours.
Group Captain Isherwood1 was also engaged in the testing of new aircraft during the pre-war years. He had joined the Royal Air Force in 1930 and, after training in Egypt, served for four years on the North-West Frontier and then with a fighter squadron in Eritrea before returning to England in 1936. Early in that year he joined the staff of the experimental station at Martlesham Heath in Suffolk, where he later commanded one of the flights of the performance testing section. This section carried out the development flights of the Hurricane, Spitfire, Beaufighter and Typhoon, fighter aircraft that afterwards proved so successful in operations against the enemy. In the King’s Birthday honours for 1940 Isherwood received the Air Force Cross. He was later to lead a fighter wing in Northern Russia and serve with distinction in South-East Asia.
1 Group Captain H. N. G. Isherwood, DFC, AFC, Order of Lenin (USSR); born Petone, 13 Jul 1905; served with NZ Mounted Rifles, 1924–30; joined RAF 1930; permanent commission 1936; flying duties, Aeronautical and Armament Experimental Establishment, 1936–41; Sector Commander, No. 9 Fighter Group, 1941; Controller, HQ No. 9 Fighter Group, 1941; commanded No. 151 Hurricane Wing in Russia, 1941; commanded RAF Stations, Church Stanton, Valley and Woodvale, 1942–44; RAF Station, Mauripur, India, 1944–45; commanded No. 342 Wing, SE Asia, 1945; killed in aircraft accident, 24 Apr 1950.
3 Group Captain G. J. Grindell, DFC, AFC and bar; born Geraldine, 20 Aug 1910; joined RAF 1932; permanent commission 1938; flying duties, No. 5 FTS, 1939–40; Air Staff, HQ Flying Training Command, 1940–42; commanded No. 487 (NZ) Sqdn, 1942–43; RAF Station, Fiskerton, 1943–44; SASO, RAF Mission to Australia and New Zealand, 1944–46.
4 Group Captain D. McC. Gordon, OBE, AFC; born Waverley, Patea, 7 Apr 1905; joined RAF 1930; permanent commission 1936; CFI, No. 7 FTS, 1938–40; commanded an Initial Training School, Canada, 1940–41; control duties, HQ No. 18 Group, 1941–42; commanded No. 119 Sqdn, 1942–43; RAF Stations, Invergordon, Castle Archdale and Lagens, Azores, 1943–46.
5 Wing Commander W. E. Hooper, AFC; born Pihama, Waimate Plains, 17 Jul 1906; served RAF 1930–37; recalled Sep 1939; CFI, No. 8 EFTS, 1940–41; commanded No. 26 EFTS, 1941–45; No. 25 (Pilot) EFTS, 1945; killed in civil flying accident, Oct 1950.
In the pre-war years several New Zealanders engaged in civil flying after a period of early service with the Royal Air Force. Wing Commander Stead1 started the Stockholm service for British Continental Airways while Captain Glover,2 who had worked his passage to England in 1930 to serve with the RAF, later joined Imperial Airways and was one of the original pilots on the Durban and Singapore routes. Both these men rejoined the Royal Air Force in 1940 to fly Sunderlands. Stead was posted in turn to the Shetlands, Iceland, the Mediterranean and West Africa, before becoming chief instructor at the flying boat training centre in Scotland. Glover flew with a squadron in the Mediterranean and later returned to British Overseas Airways to fly on the ‘Horseshoe’ route from Durban to Calcutta, Cairo, Lagos, Mombasa and Mada- gascar. Two other pilots eventually found their way to the Pacific. Captain Burgess,3 after serving with the Royal Air Force for five years, joined Imperial Airways and in 1937 made the Australian and New Zealand survey flight in the flying boat Centaurus. He subsequently became chief pilot for Tasman Empire Airways. Captain Craig4 was with the Royal Air Force in the United Kingdom and India until he joined Imperial Airways in 1937. Subsequently he transferred to Tasman Empire Airways, and in 1941 was attached to the RNZAF to command the first New Zealand flying boat squadron in the Pacific.
1 Wing Commander G. G. Stead, DFC; England; born Hastings, 8 Sep 1911; served RAF 1930–34; recalled RAF 1940; flying duties No. 204 Sqdn, 1940–41; CFI, No. 4 OTU, Coastal Command, 1942; on loan to RNZAF, 1942–43; seconded BOAC, 1943–45; appointed Senior Captain BOAC 1945.
4 Captain W. J. Craig; England; born Wanganui, 25 Jun 1910; served RAF 1932–37; joined Imperial Airways 1937; later transferred BOAC; seconded Tasman Empire Airways 1939; attached RNZAF 1941; appointed Senior Captain BOAC, 1942.
By that time a much larger training scheme had commenced. In April 1939, as a result of the visit of an Air Mission from the United Kingdom, New Zealand offered, in the event of war, to train a thousand pilots each year for the Royal Air Force. In the following month, however, at the request of the United Kingdom, this proposal was modified to the provision of 650 pilots and the same number of navigators and air gunners each year. In addition the Dominion also agreed to train maintenance personnel. This plan was put into operation in September 1939, but it was soon replaced by the Empire Air Training Scheme, based on the agreement signed in Ottawa during November of that year—one of the most inspired and fruitful decisions of the war. The large majority of New Zealand airmen who served with the RAF during the Second World War were, in fact, trained under this latter scheme.2 But while those who went to Britain under the pre-war arrangements were members of the Royal Air Force, those who began their training later remained members of the Royal New Zealand Air Force and during their service overseas were regarded as ‘attached’ to the RAF. For all practical purposes, however, they were also members of the Royal Air Force since they were maintained, clothed, accommodated and paid equivalent rates of pay by the British Government.
Thus, in the early difficult months, the Dominion was represented in the Royal Air Force by this band of pioneers. Barely half were to survive the war. Many, in fact, were either killed or made prisoners of war during the first year of the conflict, when British airmen faced heavy odds in the air battles over Belgium and France, in the Battle of Britain, and in the early bombing raids over Germany. Those who remained continued to give of their experience and render sterling service as leaders, as commanders of various units and as specialists in many fields. The contribution they began and the comradeship they established were to provide a fine example for those who came later.
1 From the outset New Zealand adopted a generous attitude with regard to the disposal of the men she trained and provided. Early in 1940 the Dominion Government informed Britain that ‘they wished to emphasise that the formation of New Zealand squadrons was not desired where this may affect adversely the efficiency of the Royal Air Force, nor did they wish to restrict the posting of New Zealand personnel serving with either Royal Air Force or New Zealand Squadrons’.
In the New Zealand contingent with the Royal Air Force there was to be a significant contribution from the Maori people, whose representatives flew in each of the principal theatres of war. Flying Officer Pohe,1 who arrived in May 1941, was the first Maori pilot to reach the United Kingdom. He was posted to a bomber squadron and had the distinction of being the first of his race to bomb Germany. He also dropped parachutists in the famous raid on Bruneval. Pohe failed to return from a mission to Hanover on the night of 22 September 1943, and was taken prisoner. He took part in the famous escape from Luft III towards the end of March 1944 and was one of the fifty Allied airmen who were afterwards shot by the Germans. Among Maori fighter pilots, Flight Lieutenant Wetere2 flew with distinction in Hurricanes and later in Typhoons. In two tours of operations he made many attacks against German airfields, military installations, transport and shipping. Warrant Officer Wipiti3 shared in the destruction of the first Japanese aircraft shot down over Singapore in December 1941. He later lost his life while flying with a New Zealand fighter squadron in Britain. In the Middle East Flight Lieutenant Bennett,4 brother of Lieutenant-Colonel C. M. Bennett, DSO, commander of the Maori Battalion in 1942–43, served in the Desert Air Force and was also prominent in ground strafing attacks over Italy.
A small group of New Zealand girls was to serve with Britain’s WAAF and with the Air Transport Auxiliary. Miss Trevor Hunter, who joined the Wellington Aero Club in 1931 at the age of 16 and qualified as a pilot shortly afterwards, was with the Air Transport Auxiliary in the United Kingdom for four years, flying new aircraft from the factories to the operational units. Miss Betty Black, one of the earliest New Zealand women pilots, who flew with the Southland Aero Club, also served with the Air Transport Auxiliary for a long period.
Administration of Dominion personnel with the Royal Air Force came largely under the Air Ministry, but at the beginning of 1938 New Zealand had established a liaison office in London which, in June 1942, was expanded to an air headquarters under Air Commodore Isitt.1 This organisation, besides dealing with the more personal problems of New Zealand airmen serving in Britain, acted as a useful link between the Air Ministry in London and Air Department in Wellington. Throughout the war the New Zealand High Commissioner in London, Mr. W. J. Jordan, and his staff were keenly interested in the activities of New Zealand airmen and their welfare. Frequent visits by Mr. Jordan to units in which New Zealanders were serving did much to maintain high morale.
Altogether just under 11,000 men from the Dominion saw service with the RAF in the Second World War, and although seven squadrons were identified with New Zealand, the large majority of these airmen—over 90 per cent—became scattered throughout units in the United Kingdom and in various parts of the world. Many saw service in the Middle East, in South-East Asia, in East and West Africa, as well as in Canada and South Africa. They won many honours but they also suffered heavy casualties. No fewer than 3290 lost their lives, while a further 580 became prisoners of war. In all, their service was such that the people of the Dominion could read with justifiable pride the Air Council’s message at the end of hostilities paying tribute to ‘the illustrious part which New Zealand airmen had played’ and ‘the honour they had brought to their country and to the Royal Air Force by their gallant service in all theatres of war’.