New Zealanders with the Royal Air Force (Vol. I)
CHAPTER 10 — Increasing New Zealand Participation— Formation of Nos. 485,488, and 489 Squadrons
Increasing New Zealand Participation—
Formation of Nos. 485,488, and 489 Squadrons
AT the end of 1940 the Royal Air Force was confronted with a grave shortage of personnel. Fighter Command, whose losses had been heavy, needed strengthening against the reasonable expectation that Germany would resume the daylight attack against Britain in the following spring. Coastal Command’s responsibilities had widened with the passing of the French coast under German control and the growth of the U-boat threat to British sea com- munications. At the same time Bomber Command’s offensive against Germany was limited by the smallness of its first-line strength, while in the Middle East British air power was in urgent need of reinforcement. On all sides the demand for trained aircrew, particularly pilots, was urgent.
Along with the other nations of the Commonwealth, New Zealand was able to make a significant contribution towards meeting this demand, and the second year of war saw a rapid increase in the number of men sent from the Dominion. By September 1941 the total who had reached the Royal Air Force, including those serving at the outbreak of war, was 3230, a figure which represented a threefold increase over the previous year. The large majority of the new arrivals were Royal New Zealand Air Force personnel who had received their initial training in the Dominion, but individual New Zealanders had also enlisted in Britain and in other parts of the Commonwealth. Although aircrew predominated, the total included 350 men trained in New Zealand for duties as wireless operators, radio mechanics and fitter-armourers. Some of these technicians joined the New Zealand squadrons but, as with the aircrew, most became scattered among Royal Air Force units in the United Kingdom and the Middle East and later in India and Burma.
This relatively large contribution at an early stage of the war was the result of the direction of practically the whole air effort in the Dominion to the maximum output of trained men for service overseas and, in spite of limited resources in aircraft and equipment together with a shortage of instructors, the obligations accepted under the Empire Air Training Plan in December 1939 had been exceeded. This was no mean achievement, since it was not until page 208 April 1937 that the Royal New Zealand Air Force had been established as a separate branch of the defence forces of the Dominion. It then had a strength of only 21 officers and 157 airmen. Considerable reorganisation and expansion followed, much of the success of which was due to the work of three Royal Air Force officers who, as Air Vice-Marshals, successively held the appointment of Chief of the Air Staff in New Zealand—Air Marshal Cochrane,1 Air Chief Marshal Saunders,2 and Air Marshal Goddard.3 They were assisted by other Royal Air Force officers in various technical branches. Several New Zealanders who had completed short-service commissions with the Royal Air Force, notably Air Commodores Kay, Olson, and Wallingford and Group Captain Cohen,4 were also prominent among those who had helped to build up the air force in New Zealand during the pre-war years.
It was in June 1937 that New Zealand first began to train men for the RAF. During the next two and a half years 133 pilots were sent to England under various schemes; some of them joined fighter squadrons, others went to Bomber or Coastal Commands, but almost all had reached front-line units when the Battle of Britain began. Meanwhile a much more ambitious venture—the Empire Air Training Plan—had been started. Since this was to prove the main source of New Zealand’s contribution to the Allied air effort, its origin and development deserve brief mention.
1 Air Chief Marshal the Hon Sir Ralph Cochrane, GBE, KCB, AFC; RAF (retd); born Cults, Fife, 24 Feb 1895; joined RN 1912; transferred RNAS 1915 and RAF 1918; permanent commission RAF 1919; Chief of Air Staff, RNZAF, 1936–39; DDI, Air Ministry, 1939; commanded RAF Station, Abingdon, 1939–40; SASO, No. 6 Bomber Group, 1940; AOC No. 7 Bomber Group, 1940; DFT, Air Ministry, 1940–42; AOC No. 3 Bomber Group, 1942–43; AOC No. 5 Bomber Group, 1943–45; AOC-in-C, RAF Transport Command, 1945–47; AOC Flying Training Command, 1947–50; Vice-Chief of Air Staff, 1950–52.
2 Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh W. L. Saunders, KCB, KBE, MC, DFC, MM, Order of Polonia Restituta (Pol), Legion of Merit (US); RAF; born Johannesburg, 24 Aug 1894; joined South African Army 1914; transferred RFC 1917; RAF 1918; permanent commission RAF 1919; Chief of Air Staff RNZAF, 1939–41; AOC No. 11 Fighter Group, RAF, 1942–44; Director-General of Personnel, Air Ministry, 1944–45; AOC Air HQ, Burma, 1945–46; AOC-in-C, Bomber Command, 1947; C-in-C Air Forces, Western Europe, 1951; Air Deputy to Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, 1 Apr 1951–.
3 Air Marshal Sir Victor Goddard, KCB, CBE, DSM (US); RAF (retd); born Harrow, Middlesex, 6 Feb 1897; joined RN 1910; transferred RNAS 1916; seconded RAF 1918; permanent commission RAF 1919; Senior Air Staff Officer, GHQ BEF, France, 1940; DD Plans, Air Ministry, 1940; Director of Military Co-operation, Air Ministry, 1940–41; Chief of Air Staff and Commander NZ Air Forces, South Pacific, 1941–43; Air Officer i/c Admin, ACSEA, 1943–46; British Joint Services Mission, USA, 1946–48; Air Council Member for Technical Services, and Commandant Empire Flying School, 1948–51.
4 Group Captain R. J. Cohen, CBE, AFC; RNZAF; Wellington; born Feilding, 6 Sep 1908; joined RAF 1928; RNZAF 1935; commanded No. 2 (GR) Sqdn, Nelson, 1940–42; CO Whenuapai, 1942–43; OC NZ Ferry, 1943; CO Hobsonville, 1944; CO Ohakea, 1944–45; served with No. 1 (Islands) Group, 1945; CO Ohakea, 1946; DCAS, RNZAF, 1946–47; attached RAF 1947–49; DCAS, RNZAF, 1950–53.
Elementary training should take place in their own territories and, so far as possible, with equipment, including aircraft, produced by each Dominion.
Pilots from Australia and New Zealand, on completion of their elementary training, should go to Canada for further training on aircraft which he hoped would be produced in Canada but might have to be supplemented from the United Kingdom.
On completion of their training, pilots to proceed to Britain to join the squadrons of their own Dominions.
1 South Africa was left out because, at the time, the extent to which she was willing to co-operate was doubtful. Subsequently, however, training schools were established in both South Africa and Rhodesia. During 1941 and 1942 British pupils were also trained in the United States.
The establishment and operation of training organizations in each country.
The number of pilots and aircrew to be recruited and the numbers to be trained by each Dominion.
The operational employment of Dominion aircrew in the Royal Air Force or in Dominion units with it.
The distribution of costs, rates of pay, training syllabus and the provision of aircraft.
The New Zealand training schools were able to reach the full size scheduled for them under the Empire Plan as early as the end of 1940. Subsequently the Dominion’s contribution in flying training was to prove substantial, although her contribution in manpower was to be even greater.
The outbreak of war with Japan in December 1941 was to raise special problems, since a large number of personnel had to be recruited and trained for service with air units in the Pacific or in defence of the Dominion. Nevertheless, New Zealand continued to send her full quota of pupils to Canada for training, even though they had to cross the Pacific in small groups under adverse conditions in all kinds of ships. By the end of the war 2750 aircrew had been trained to advanced standard in New Zealand and sent overseas to serve with the Royal Air Force in Europe, the Middle East, and in South-East Asia. In addition 2900 pilots, 1800 navigators, 500 bomb aimers, and 2700 wireless operators were trained to elementary standard and sent to Canada to continue their training. A further 880 went to serve in various technical ground trades with the Royal Air Force.
One of the most interesting provisions of the Empire Training Plan was Article 15, by which the United Kingdom undertook that,
pupils of Canada, Australia and New Zealand shall, after their training is completed be identified, with their respective Dominions, either by the method of organising Dominion units and formations or in some other way, such methods to be agreed upon with the respective governments concerned. The United Kingdom government will initiate discussions to this end.
The first to be established was No. 485 Fighter Squadron. It began to form on 1 March 1941 at RAF Station Driffield, in York- shire, under Squadron Leader Knight,1 with Flight Lieutenant Brinsden and Flying Officer Martin2 as the first flight commanders. All three already had considerable flying experience. Knight had joined the Royal Air Force after working his way to England as a ship’s writer and during the early part of the war had done valuable work as an instructor. Towards the end of 1940 he went to No. 257 Hurricane Squadron, and subsequently flew as flight commander with a Czech unit before being posted to the New Zealand squadron. Brinsden and Martin had both joined the Royal Air Force in 1937. Brinsden went to No. 19 Fighter Squadron, with which he remained until the end of the Battle of Britain. Martin flew with bomber units until the end of 1940, serving in France with a Fairey Battle squadron during the German advance. Then he transferred to fighters and spent six months on operations flying Hurricanes. There were other experienced pilots among the twenty New Zealanders who joined No. 485 Squadron during the early weeks of its career. One of them, Pilot Officer E. P. Wells, who was to rise to command the squadron within the year, already had three Messerschmitts to his credit along with several more probables. Another was Sergeant Crawford-Compton, 3 who had joined the Royal Air Force as an aircraftsman. He was subsequently to become one of the Dominion’s outstanding fighter pilots. While most of the squadron’s ground staff were supplied by the Royal Air Force, there were, even in the early stages, several armourers and wireless mechanics from New Zealand.
1 Group Captain M. W. B. Knight, DFC, Legion of Merit (US); RAF; born Dannevirke, 8 Jul 1916; joined RAF 1935; commanded No. 485 (NZ) Sqdn, 1941; Operations Staff, HQ NWAAF, 1943; Planning Staff, HQ MAAF, 1944; commanded RAF Stations, Ismailia and Ramat David, 1945.
3 Wing Commander W. V. Crawford-Compton, DSO and bar, DFC and bar, Silver Star (US), Legion of Honour and Croix de Guerre with Palm (Fr); RAF; born Invercargill, 2 Mar 1916; joined RAF Oct 1939; commanded No. 64 Sqdn, 1942; Wing Leader, Hornchurch, 1943; Wing Leader, No. 145 Wing, 2nd TAF, 1944; Planning Staff, No. 11 Fighter Group, 1945; Air Attache, Oslo, 1950-.
The first weeks were devoted to intensive training and practice flying in rather worn Spitfires. Then, on 13 April, with 14 pilots fully operational by day, the unit began to fly convoy patrols off the East Coast. But apart from occasional ‘scrambles’ which failed to produce any notable incident, the next few weeks passed quietly. On the 21st the squadron moved to a new base at Leconfield, a few miles from Driffield, and throughout the next month protective convoy patrols were continued. Several pilots also flew sorties by night against the German raiders.
The first engagements with the enemy came on the evening of 2 June, when four pilots intercepted Junkers 88s attacking a convoy off the Yorkshire coast. In the first three encounters the enemy aircraft escaped into cloud after the initial shots had been exchanged, but in one combat Knight scored hits which eventually caused the enemy machine to crash into the sea near the convoy. Its destruction was confirmed by the crew of one of the escort vessels. Three weeks later the squadron began to take part in the larger offensive operations being flown by Fighter Command over the fringe of the Continent, and before long had won a high reputation for operational efficiency. Meanwhile, considerable interest had been taken by the people of New Zealand in the formation of this first Dominion fighter squadron and the sum of £126,000 sterling was raised by public subscription to provide aircraft for the new unit. In 1942, when No. 485 Squadron was re-equipped with an improved type of Spitfire, the aircraft were named after the provinces, giving an added New Zealand character to the unit. Pilots flying these machines subsequently accounted for more than twenty enemy aircraft. Altogether, by the end of the war, the squadron was to be credited by Fighter Command with the destruction of 58 enemy machines.
1 Group Captain J. A. S. Brown; born Alverstoke, Hampshire, 30 Oct 1911; joined RAF 1930; permanent commission 1936; commanded No. 489 (NZ) Sqdn, 1941–42; No. 152 Wing, 1943; No. 9 OTU, 1943–45; RAF Station, Gander, 1945.
1 Wing Commander B. J. Sandeman; born Glasgow, 18 Aug 1915; joined RAF 1935; CGI, No. 4 SFTS, Iraq, 1939–41; commanded No. 1 Torpedo Refresher School, 1943; RAF Station, Sumburgh, 1943–44; CI, No. 5 OTU, 1944–45.
5 A proportion of the aircrew trained in New Zealand under the Empire Plan was already being sent to RAF squadrons forming in Malaya. In addition, New Zealand sent an airfield construction unit which did valuable work before the Japanese attack began.
The formation of the new squadron was not without its difficulties, since there was an acute shortage of trained maintenance staff which affected aircraft serviceability and delayed training. As far as possible the crews were kept occupied by practice flights in which they used their AI equipment and in exercises in co-operation with searchlights and anti-aircraft batteries. The monotony of this training was relieved for some crews by occasional operational flights, the first of which was flown on 2 October by Flight Lieutenant McKinnon,2 with McChesney as his navigator-radio operator. This sortie was an attempt to intercept an enemy aircraft reported to be in the vicinity of Ayr, but no sighting was made. On the 13th B Flight under Rabone was detached to Drem, near Edinburgh, to operate against the German weather reconnaissance aircraft which made periodical flights over the North Sea; but as these machines usually kept well out to sea, the few sorties flown proved fruitless. On 21 November Rabone piloted a Beaufighter on an air-sea rescue search, during which he succeeded in finding the wreckage of the missing aircraft and was able to direct rescue ships to it. An early misfortune occurred on the night of 5 December when two aircraft of A Flight collided at the conclusion of an exercise, the four aircrew—McKinnon and McChesney in one aircraft, and Flying Officer Peacocke3 and his English navigator-radio operator in the other—being killed. Towards the end of the year the squadron was re-equipped with new Beaufighters fitted with improved AI equipment, and crews continued their training with added zest knowing the squadron would soon turn to the offensive. Subsequently No. 488 Squadron was to achieve considerable success in operations over enemy territory, particularly on intruder missions. In 1944, after the invasion of the Continent, the squadron was one of the units to move across the Channel in support of the advancing Allied armies, and in the last months of the war flew from an advanced base in Holland.
But meanwhile, and even after the formation of these units, the large majority of New Zealanders were to be found in Royal Air Force squadrons. Indeed the Dominion squadrons, particularly those with Bomber and Coastal Commands, did not achieve a full complement of New Zealanders. They were, in fact, a token of a more widespread contribution, an arrangement which had certain advantages. Those who lived and flew with men from other parts of the Commonwealth acquired a broader outlook and understanding which they would probably not have attained had the members of their units been drawn from one country alone.
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1 An account of the early work of these units is given in later chapters.
3 Group Captain J. Goodhart; born Perth, Australia, 21 Mar 1908; joined RAF 1931; permanent commission 1936; Air Staff armament duties, No. 1 Bomber Group, 1938–39; HQ Bomber Command, 1940–41, and Air Ministry, 1941–43; Ordnance Board, Ministry of Supply, 1943–44; killed on active service by enemy action, 21 Jan 1944.
New Zealanders were now also associated with air training in various parts of the Commonwealth, most of them men who had joined the Royal Air Force before the war and completed tours of operational duty in the United Kingdom. Wing Commander Seavill4 served in Canada from early in 1940, while Wing Commander D. McC. Gordon commanded a flying training school there during the same year. Others who followed in 1941 included Wing Commander McDonald5 and Squadron Leaders Hunt6 and Turner.7
1 Wing Commander R. M. Mackenzie, DSO, DFC, AFC; RAF; born Tai Tapu, 8 Sep 1916; joined RAF 1937; transferred RNZAF Jan 1944; commanded No. 227 Sqdn, Middle East, 1943; Training Staff, HQ RAF, Middle East, 1944; transferred RAF 1947.
3 Wing Commander D. W. Morrish, AFC; Miranda, NSW; born Takaka, Nelson, 25 Nov 1910; served RAF 1930–35; recalled Sep 1939; transferred RNZAF Jan 1944; commanded No. 51 Group Pool, Flying Training Command, 1942; CFI, No. 15 EFTS, 1942–43; CI, No. 29 EFTS, 1943–44; CFI, No. 21 EFTS, 1944.
4 Wing Commander F. C. Seavill; born Parnell, Auckland, 17 Jun 1910; joined RAF 1930; Admin Staff duties, HQ Flying Training Command, 1938–40; Air Staff duties, Canada, 1940–42; commanded No. 487 (NZ) Sqdn, 1942; killed on air operations, 6 Dec 1942.
5 Wing Commander G. E. McDonald; born Wainui, 29 Dec 1910; joined RAF 1932; Armament duties, No. 4 Bombing and Gunnery School, 1940–41; No. 31 Bombing and Gunnery School, Canada, 1941–42; HQ Army Co-operation Command, 1942; commanded No. 4 Sqdn, 1942–43; killed on air operations, 28 Apr 1943.
8 The Empire Air Training Scheme was extended to South Africa towards the end of 1940. The first flying training school in Rhodesia was opened in May of that year.
10 Group Captain L. H. Anderson; born Lower Hutt, 5 Aug 1910; joined RAF 1930; permanent commission 1936; commanded No. 217 Sqdn, 1940; commanded No. 1 EFTS, South Africa, 1941; CFI, No. 4 SFTS, South Africa, 1941–42; commanded Wings in Middle East, 1942–43; SASO, No. 201 Group, Middle East, 1943; commanded No. 247 Wing, Middle East, 1943–44; RAF Station, Berka, 1944; No. 4 Combined Air Observation, Navigation and Bombing School, South Africa, 1944–45.
11 Group Captain P. A. McWhannell, OBE; born Wellington, 5 Jun 1910; joined RAF 1933; permanent commission 1939; commanded No. 4 Combined Air Observation, Navigation and Bombing School, South Africa, 1941–44; SASO, No. 25 Group, 1944–45.
12 Wing Commander J. W. H. Bray, OBE; RNZAF; London; born Waimate, 7Apr 1913; entered RAF 1936; transferred RNZAF 1939; Instructor, Navigation School, South Africa, 1941; commanded No. 3 (GR) Sqdn, RNZAF, 1942; RNZAF Station, New Plymouth, 1942–44; Lauthala Bay, 1944; No. 5 (Flying Boat) Sqdn, 1944–45; Lauthala Bay, 1945–47.
During 1941 a small group of New Zealand airmen flew with the units training in the United Kingdom for close co-operation with the Army, establishing a basis upon which the Second Tactical Air Force was later to be built. Wing Commander Donkin2 was a squadron commander. In experimental work in Britain, Wing Commander A. E. Clouston was testing the Turbinlite searchlight for night fighters, while Squadron Leader Nicholls3 was a test pilot in the experimental station at Boscombe Down. Two New Zea- landers, R. McIntyre4 and H. L. Piper, were also making a significant contribution as members of aircraft firms, McIntyre as a designer with Hawker’s and Piper as a test pilot with Short and Harland Ltd.
2 Group Captain P. L. Donkin, CBE, DSO; born Invercargill, 19 Jun 1913; Cranwell Cadet; permanent commission RAF 1933; commanded No. 225 Sqdn, 1939–40; No. 4 Sqdn, 1940; No. 239 Sqdn, 1940–42; No. 33 Wing, 1942–43; No. 35 Wing 1943–44; Member of RAF Delegation, USA, to Pacific and India, 1944; CI, School of Air Support, 1944–45.
3 Group Captain C.W.K. Nicholls, DSO, OBE; RAF; born Palmerston North, 7 Oct 1913; joined RAF 1934; test pilot, Aeronautical and Armament Experimental Establishment; 1940–41; commanded Handling Sqdn, Empire Central Flying School, Hullavington, 1942–43; commanded Operational Training Wing, Ohakea, 1943–44; NZ Fighter Wing, Bougainville, 1944; SASO, Northern Group, 1944; SASO, No. 46 Group, Transport Command, 1945–46; commanded No. 24 Commonwealth Sqdn, 1946–48; Air Attache, Nanking, 1948–49.
6 Wing Commander R. F. T. Grace; born Taupo, 14 Dec 1895; served RAF 1924–31; recalled Aug 1939; medical duties, RAF Hospital, Ely, 1940–41; Specialist in Neuro-Psychiatry, RAF Hospital, Torquay, 1942–43; commanded RAF Hospital, Littleport, 1943; neuro-psychiatrist, Officers’ Hospital, Blackpool, 1943–45.
7 Group Captain J. G. Skeet; born New Plymouth, 20 Apr 1889; served in Australian Army Medical Corps in First World War; transferred RAF 1919 and served until 1934; rejoined RAF Oct 1939; medical duties, RAF Hospital, Torquay, 1941–42; SMO, Reykjavik, Iceland, 1942; commanded Rehabilitation Unit, No. 28 Group, 1943; SMO, RAF Station, Kirkham, 1945.
8 Wing Commander J. G. Stewart, MC; born Invercargill, 7 Aug 1890; joined RAF Sep 1940; President, SMEC, 1941; President, No. 10 CMB, CME, 1941; SMO, No. 11 Fighter Group, 1941–42; SMO, Nos. 224 and 225 Groups, India, 1943; SMO, Base HQ, Bombay, 1943–45.
9 Wing Commander H. E. Bellringer; born New Plymouth, 3 Dec 1906; joined RAF 1935; permanent commission 1940; MO, No. 1 FTS, 1939–41; medical duties, RAF Station, Blackpool, 1941; President, No. 8 ACMB, CME, 1942; SMO, No 7 PRC, 1942–43; DPMO, AHQ, West Africa, 1944–45.
10 Squadron Leader J. H. P. Gauvain; born Waiuku, 29 Aug 1915; joined RAF Sep 1939; medical duties, RAF Station, Martlesham Heath, 1939–40; RAF Station, Cardington, 1940; HQ No. 3 Bomber Group, 1941; MO, RAF Station, Aqir, Middle East, 1943–44; FPMO, HQ No. 203 Group, Middle East, 1944; killed in flying accident, 14 Aug 1944.
Two months earlier, when a Royal Air Force wing of two Hurricane squadrons had been sent to Russia, Wing Commander Isherwood was selected to command the unit. Isherwood had joined the Royal Air Force in 1930 and, after service in India and the Middle East, flew as a test pilot in the United Kingdom. The main purpose in despatching the Hurricanes to Russia was to demonstrate their performance and to give instruction in mainten- ance, as these machines were now being supplied to the Russian Air Force by Britain. The wing was also to assist in defending the vital Arctic port of Murmansk which was threatened by the German advance from Finland. Isherwood encountered many difficulties but, during the two months the wing remained in Russia, both purposes were achieved. By the middle of October instruction in flying and maintaining the Hurricanes had been completed and the last aircraft handed over. Meanwhile, under difficult conditions and at times in severe weather, patrols had been flown by British pilots escorting Russian bombers to their targets and intercepting German raiders. In all, they claimed 15 enemy aircraft for the loss of only one pilot.
1 Wing Commander G. B. MacGibbon; born Hawera, 30 Oct 1908; joined RAF 1936; permanent commission 1939; medical duties, No. 8 CMB, 1939–41; Ear, Nose and Throat Specialist, No. 8 ACMB, 1941; SMO, No. 114 Wing, West Africa, 1944; SMO, No. 44 Group, Transport Command, 1945.
2 Wing Commander H. L. Willcox; born Invercargill, 7 Nov 1907; joined RAF 1935; permanent commission 1938; Staff duties, DGMS, Air Ministry, 1940–42; SMO, No. 153 Wing, 1942; SMO, No. 17 Group, 1942; DPMO, AHQ, North Africa, 1943–44; DPMO, HQ Med, ME, 1944; DPMO, HQ Coastal Command, 1945.
3 Group Captain A. Wall, OBE; born Christchurch, 11 Jan 1908; Cranwell Cadet 1926–28; permanent commission RAF 1928; equipment duties DGE, Air Ministry, 1941–43; Group Captain, Equipment Staff, RAF Staff College, 1943–44; D of Policy, Air Ministry, 1944–45.
5 Group Captain R. H. Mason, OBE; born Weybridge, Surrey, 10 Sep 1918; joined RAF Sep 1938; served with RAF Mission to Russia on Port Equipment Staff, 1941–43; Staff duty, Admin Plans, India, SEAC and ACSEA, 1943–45.
The Dominion was also represented in the small band of British pilots who flew American-built aircraft to the United Kingdom during 1941. The organisation of an Atlantic ferry service had been commenced early in the previous year when aircraft were desperately needed in Britain to supplement home production, then still in the early stages of expansion. At this time Hudson aircraft were being bought in the United States for Coastal Command, but under the system of’cash and carry’ the machines were taking up valuable shipping space. Further, they were liable to loss at sea, and there was a lapse of three months between their test flights in America and their delivery to squadrons in the United Kingdom. By flying them across the Atlantic, shipping space would be released and the delivery time reduced to a matter of days. Eventually, with the assistance of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, an organisation for ferrying machines to the United Kingdom was established in August 1940 and volunteers for aircrew recruited from both sides of the Atlantic. British Overseas Airways supplied experienced pilots, such as Captain Bennett,1 who was later to command the Pathfinder Force in Bomber Command. Bennett led the first delivery flight of seven Hudsons which reached Northern Ireland on the morning of 11 November. A similar flight completed the crossing three weeks later and thereafter deliveries became more frequent until, by the end of 1941, over 750 aircraft had been flown to the United Kingdom. To deal with this rapid expansion Royal Air Force Ferry Command was formed in July of that year under Air Chief Marshal Sir Frederick Bowhill,2 with headquarters at Dorval near Montreal. It continued a service which was to deliver many thousands of aircraft to the United Kingdom and carry large quantities of urgent and valuable freight and many passengers across the Atlantic.
1 Air Vice-Marshal D. C. T. Bennett, CB, CBE, DSO, Order of Alexander Nevsky (USSR); England; born Toowoomba, Australia, 14 Sep 1910; served RAF 1931–35 and transferred RAAF 1935; Atlantic Ferry, 1940–41; rejoined RAF Sep 1941; commanded No. 77 Sqdn, 1941; No. 10 Sqdn, 1942; AOC No. 8 Pathfinder Group, Bomber Command, 1943–45.
2 Air Chief Marshal Sir Frederick Bowhill, GBE, KCB, CMG, DSO, Order of St. Vladimir (Rus), Order of St. Saveur (Gr), Order of Orange Nassau (Hol), Legion of Merit (US), Order of St. Olav (Nor), Order of Polonia Restituta (Pol); RAF (retd); England; born Morar, India, 1 Sep 1880; joined RN 1913; seconded RNAS 1914 and RAF 1918; permanent commission RAF 1919; AOC-in-C, Coastal Command, 1937–41; AOC-in-C, RAF Ferry Command, 1941–43; AOC-in-C, RAF Transport Command, 1943–45.
1 Wing Commander R. D. Max, DSO, DFC; RAF; born Brightwater, Nelson, 23 Nov 1918; joined RAF Aug 1938; transferred RNZAF Dec 1943; served on Atlantic Ferry, 1941; Flying Instructor, No. 11 OTU, 1941–42 and Deputy CI, 1943; commanded No. 75 (NZ) Sqdn, 1943–44; transferred RAF Mar 1947.
2 Wing Commander D. M. Brass, DSO; born Otautau, 1 Dec 1916; joined RAF 1937; served on Atlantic Ferry, 1941; Instructor, No. 3 School of GR, 1941–42; commanded No. 612 Sqdn, 1943–44; CI, No. 3 School of GR, 1945.
The expansion of the Atlantic Ferry was rapid. Additional bases were established, notably at Prestwick airport, in Ayrshire, which became the terminal for a steady flow of machines from Canada and the United States. Plans for the delivery of medium and light bombers resulted in surveys to seek new bases, culminating in the selection of a site close to the outlet of the Goose River in Labrador, which was destined to become one of the largest air bases in the world. Simultaneously ferry work and air transport in and from the United Kingdom were increasing, and New Zealanders were among those who delivered machines within the British Isles and flew reinforcement aircraft, passengers, and freight to the overseas theatres. The pioneering efforts in this field formed the basis upon which RAF Transport Command was later established.
Among the many eventful ferrying flights from the United Kingdom in the early war years, one mission in June 1940 holds special interest for the Dominion. At that time Hurricane fighters were urgently needed in the Middle East, and Pilot Officer Carter, 1 then flying with the ferry organisation, was selected to make a trial flight to see whether the Hurricanes, if fitted with extra fuel tanks, could be flown out and time saved. Carter left England the day after the capitulation of France; the Italians had already declared war and were occupying islands along his route. Refuelling at one French outpost had to be carried out at the point of a revolver, but the flight to Malta and then on to Cairo was completed successfully.
The work of the air-sea rescue squadrons had developed from the efforts of a few pioneers during the Battle of Britain when amphibian Walruses—one of them flown by ‘Digger’ Aitken— 2 and a few Lysanders co-operating with naval launches had rescued pilots from the Channel. The success achieved was so encouraging that early in 1941 an organisation was formed to co-ordinate and control all available means of rescuing ‘ditched’ crews.
At the same time various devices were under development for dropping help from the air to airmen in distress. RAF Station Thornaby produced the Thornaby bag, a strengthened parachute bag buoyed with floats and containing food, drink, cigarettes and first-aid equipment. Then RAF Station Bircham Newton provided the Bircham barrel, which was followed by the Lindholme dinghy; all proved their value in saving lives. By the end of the year specially trained units equipped with the faithful Anson and the longer range Hudson were available for searches over the North Sea, the Channel, and the Atlantic approaches. Flying Officers Hender3 and Stephenson4 were among those who navigated aircraft of these units in successful searches during 1942, when altogether over a thousand airmen were found and saved from the waters round the British Isles.
2 R. F. Aitken, then a flight lieutenant. It was while stationed at Gosport as an instructor in June 1940 that Aitken conceived the idea of employing amphibian aircraft to retrieve pilots from the sea; the suggestion meeting with the approval of his senior officers, he ‘scrounged a Walrus from the Fleet Air Arm’ and began operations in the Channel off the Isle of Wight. Sometimes a German Heinkel float plane landed nearby on a similar mission, and the two aircraft, watching each other suspiciously, would remain floating placidly on the sea until air battles started above. In the few months he was engaged on this air-sea rescue work Aitken picked up 35 British and German airmen.