Royal New Zealand Air Force
CHAPTER 12 — Establishment of No. 1 (Islands) Group and Development of Air Transport
Establishment of No. 1 (Islands) Group and Development of Air Transport
IN the months which followed the Japanese evacuation of Guadalcanal, the main concern of the American Command in the South Pacific was to build up sufficient forces to carry out the operations which were planned against the northern Solomons and New Britain. During the period the strength of the RNZAF was increased by the addition of further operational squadrons, and also by the formation of ancillary units and the administrative staff required to organise and direct them.
When No. 3 Squadron had first moved to the forward area, it had gone as a self-contained unit complete with its maintenance, medical, and signals organisation. The posting of further squadrons to the area made it desirable to establish most of the ancillary services on a station rather than a squadron basis in order to avoid unnecessary duplication. This was achieved in the first instance by withdrawing a number of men from the administrative and maintenance organisations of each squadron. Later, additional administrative personnel arrived from New Zealand, and by the end of the year squadrons going overseas comprised merely the aircrews and one or two specialist officers. All ground services were awaiting them when they reached their destination.
In October 1942 when No. 3 Squadron first moved to the combat area, Group Captain Wallingford was appointed RNZAF staff officer to COMAIRSOPAC to provide liaison between the American Command and the New Zealand unit in the field. He was at first quartered in the USS Curtiss, which was stationed in Segond Channel at Santo and served as COMAIRSOPAC'S headquarters.
The control of air operations from a ship was by no means easy owing to communication difficulties. For example, it frequently happened that the ship swinging with the tide rode around its buoy, and the telephone lines connecting it with the squadron and other units ashore were put out of action. Consequently, early in 1943 COMAIRSOPAC set up his headquarters ashore. Wallingford and his small staff had already moved ashore and set up a nucleus headquarters near No. 3 Squadron in the New Zealand camp at Pallikulo. His function was to co-ordinate the work of New page 160 Zealand units in the forward area (No. 3 Squadron at Santo and Guadalcanal and No. 9 Squadron in New Caledonia) and to maintain close contact with the American Command on supply matters.
FORMATION OF NO. 1 (ISLANDS) GROUP HEADQUARTERS
By early 1943 it was fairly certain that the RNZAF would be sending an increasing number of units to operate in the South Pacific. It was therefore decided to expand Wallingford's staff and establish a Group Headquarters overseas to administer them.
No. 1 (Islands) Group Headquarters was formed at Santo on 10 March 1943, and Wallingford, relinquishing his position as staff officer to COMAIRSOPAC, was appointed Officer Commanding. The following month he was promoted Air Commodore. His command included all RNZAF units in the South Pacific except those in New Zealand.
The group became one of the subordinate headquarters within the command of COMAIRSOPAC. Other subordinate headquarters were those of United States Naval Aircraft, 1st Marine Air Wing, and 13th United States Army Air Force.
Wallingford was responsible to COMAIRSOPAC for the operational efficiency of all units under his command, but operation orders were issued direct to the units concerned by the American commanders to whom they had been allocated. At the same time, as the Group Headquarters was within the headquarters of COMAIRSOPAC, the AOC and his operational staff had some voice in the employment of RNZAF squadrons and so retained indirect operational control.
The wireless-telegraphy point-to-point communications system, which had previously been operated by No. 3 Squadron, was transferred to Group Headquarters, through which in future passed all administrative signals traffic for squadrons in the forward area. Operational signals continued to be passed through COMAIRSOPAC channels.
The camp in which No. 3 Squadron had lived since it came to Santo—near the north end of the Bomber I airstrip at Pallikulo— was established as an RNZAF station in January under the command of Wing Commander Fisher, who also commanded No. 3 Squadron. The building of a new camp was begun by an American construction battalion, and in March and April the New Zealanders moved over to it, vacating the old site. Wallingford and his staff moved in early in March. The completion of the camp was held up for a long time by lack of materials. The huts for the camp had been ordered in November 1942 to provide better living page 161 quarters and reduce the incidence of fever, in case operational progress slowed down and it became necessary to use Santo as a permanent camp. In fact, the island was occupied by Americans and New Zealanders for the rest of the war and the improved accommodation proved valuable. During the next few months additional construction was carried on by RNZAF works personnel.
Until the Group Headquarters was fully staffed and could function as a complete unit, an interim organisation was set up within RNZAF Station, Santo. The Station Headquarters, under the direction of Group Headquarters, correlated policy, equipment, establishment, personnel, and other matters relating to the various units in the area, for reference or forwarding to higher authority. Each squadron organised its own headquarters on a unit basis, and became responsible to Station Headquarters for its own camp repair, maintenance and sanitation. The embryo Group Headquarters was fully occupied with air staff work and in organising its own administration.
|Senior Air Staff Officer||Wing Commander G. H. Fisher|
|Air I||Squadron Leader I. G. Morrison|
|Senior Administrative Officer||Squadron Leader J. H. J. Stevenson|
|Senior Medical Officer||Major J. E. Hardwick-Smith, NZMC|
|Senior Equipment Officer||Squadron Leader D. G. Sinclair|
|Group Signals Officer||Squadron Leader R. M. Kay|
|Staff Intelligence Officer||Squadron Leader J. D. Canning (replaced in May by Flight Lieutenant T. G. Tyrer)|
|Group Armament Officer||Flight Lieutenant W. A. Hopkins|
|Works Officer||Flight Lieutenant R. R. Parsons (replaced in May by Squadron Leader W. J. E. V. Grace)|
By the end of May the headquarters had a strength of 14 officers and 13 other ranks and was getting into its stride. Five months later, at the end of October, it had grown to 34 officers and 179 airmen.
In the period immediately following the formation of No. 1 (Islands) Group, the overall administration of the RNZAF units in the area was confused. No. 3 Squadron had its rear echelon at Santo and its advanced echelon at Guadalcanal. The advanced elements of No. 9 Squadron were at Santo while its ground and headquarters organisation was still at New Caledonia, hundreds of page 162 miles away. Nos. 14 and 15 Fighter Squadrons were also in the process of moving up and their ground organisations, also, were far in the rear, one in New Zealand and the other at Tonga. Consequently the task of administering them was not easy.
Considerable difficulties existed also with regard to supply, not only for the RNZAF but for all the Allied forces. Vast quantities of equipment of all kinds were by this time reaching the South Pacific from America, but few items were received by the units for which they were intended. Ships were sent from San Francisco with specific destinations, but once they crossed the international date-line they came under Admiral Halsey's command and were redirected according to operational necessity and the strategic situation at the time. Goods which were awaited in Santo might be unloaded at Noumea and might lie there for months before eventually reaching the unit which required them.
At Santo the unloading of ships was done under the control of the United States Army, who decided what cargo was most urgently required and what ships should be first unloaded. The result was that Navy and Air Force units frequently had to wait a long time before receiving goods, although the ships carrying them might have arrived safely where they were wanted. Unloading facilities at this time were few, and all the supplies had to be taken ashore in lighters and stored underneath the trees. Nobody had any inventory of the material and consequently no one knew what had come ashore. Anyone looking for a specific item went through the dumps and, if he was lucky, found what he wanted. This state of confusion was perhaps unavoidable in the early stages of the campaign. Things improved considerably when port facilities were developed, and by the middle of May 1943, 11,000 tons a day could be handled.
ESTABLISHMENT OF NO. 4 REPAIR DEPOT
The move of New Zealand squadrons to the forward area necessitated the setting up of a repair and maintenance organisation, in addition to the squadrons' own servicing units, to keep the aircraft serviceable.
At the end of November 1942, when Allied aircraft were still scarce in the forward area and before the RNZAF was established there in any great strength, New Zealand asked whether the Americans could make use of an RNZAF salvage party to repair wrecked American aircraft at Guadalcanal. The RNZAF, it was stated, would be very willing to supply such a party which, it was considered, would be of considerable value. COMAIRSOPAC replied that he did not need a salvage party at present at Guadalcanal, but would page 163 welcome it at the repair base being established at Santo, where it could also be available to overhaul RNZAF Hudsons in emergency.
The Deputy Director of Repair and Maintenance, Squadron Leader Grigg,1 flew from New Zealand to Santo to investigate the position and find out how many men would be required. When he came back he reported that the Americans wanted a force of 251 men. A ‘Lion’ unit, comprising the personnel of a complete repair depot, was due from America in two or three months' time, but in the meantime the New Zealanders would be most welcome and would at the same time gain valuable experience.
On the basis of his report it was decided to send a party of men to be used in the American Naval Air Service Repair Organisation at Santo until they could be replaced by the personnel coming from America. After that the unit was to remain at Santo and form an RNZAF Repair Depot to undertake the inspection and overhaul of New Zealand aircraft. Up till this time New Zealand Hudsons operating overseas had returned to New Zealand for their overhauls and major inspections, a practice which had had two disadvantages. In the first place it meant that they were out of the operational area for an unnecessarily long time, and secondly, the flying hours used in going to and from New Zealand reduced their periods of operational usefulness.
The unit was assembled and left Auckland by ship on 19 January 1943, arriving at Santo on the 25th. The men spent their first five or six days ashore in clearing the camp site in the jungle, putting up tents and digging slit trenches. Early in February the unit was split into three parties. The first, comprising aircraft hands, cooks, etc., was attached to the rear echelon of No. 3 Squadron for general station duties. The second was attached to the American Aviation Overhaul Organisation for service in the workshops. The third party went to the American Field Service to work on major inspections and repairs on F4F and SBD aircraft. On 15 February Flight Lieutenant Hughes2 arrived from New Zealand and took command of the unit.
Material for building hangars and workshops was sent from New Zealand, and a works party under Pilot Officer Sisson2 was also sent to do the construction work. The first hangar was completed on 20 July and the unit started work on its first major aircraft inspection. In the following weeks the men still employed at Field Service and Aviation Overhaul were gradually withdrawn and started work in the RNZAF Repair Depot.
Earlier in July the detachment at Guadalcanal had been strengthened to thirty-five men, while 100 of the men who had been working on SBDs at Field Service and Overhaul had been put through a co-ordinated course on those aircraft, and had returned to New Zealand to form the nucleus of ground staff for the RNZAF SBD and TBF3 squadrons which were forming there.
By the beginning of October four hangars had been completed at the repair depot, and it was decided to build no more. The depot consisted of the hangars, in which complete overhauls and major inspections of airframes and engines were carried out; the general engineering section, with coppersmith's and blacksmith's shop; and an electrician's shop, instrument shop, armoury, propeller shop, fabric workers' and carpenter's shop, parachute section, engine repair shop, engine store, main store and offices.
The unit by this time was working smoothly at high pressure, as was the Guadalcanal detachment. Its strength, owing mainly to the repatriation of the hundred men in July, was reduced to 73 at Santo and 34 at Guadalcanal. To bring it up to a strength sufficient to cope with its present work and the work it was expected to do in the near future, Air Headquarters was asked to post 50 more men to Santo and 15 to Guadalcanal.
3 SBD Dauntless; made by Douglas, America; single-engined scout and dive-bomber; maximum speed over 250 m.p.h.; cruising range over 1500 miles. TBF Avenger; made by Grumman, America; single-engined torpedo-bomber; maximum speed approximately 175 m.p.h.; cruising range approximately 1350 miles; used by the RNZAF as a dive-bomber.
The establishment of the Repair Depot was cancelled and was replaced by a larger establishment for a Base Depot Workshops. The manning position at home, and the difficulty of finding men in the required trades who were fit for tropical service, caused some delay in filling the new establishment, but the additional personnel were posted to Islands Group before the end of the year.
It had been intended originally that the Repair Depot at Santo should carry out complete overhauls of both airframes and engines, making the RNZAF in the forward area self-supporting as far as technical work was concerned. This policy was not fully implemented, as by August the Americans had established an Aircraft Engine Overhaul Base at lie Nou, New Caledonia, and the Aviation Repair and Overhaul Unit at Santo, and had offered their facilities to the RNZAF. There was some opposition from the RNZAF to allowing overhaul work to be done in the American workshops, as it was considered by a number of officers that it would be better to have all work on New Zealand aircraft done by New Zealanders. However, in view of the American offer the RNZAF Repair Depot was organised to do complete overhauls and repairs only to airframes. Deciding factors were the accelerated supplies of new aircraft arriving in New Zealand in the latter part of 1943 and the need to divert a number of technical men to assemble them. Had the Repair Depot been fully manned to cope with both engines and airframes, the assembly of aircraft arriving in New Zealand would have been delayed and it would have taken longer to have them ready for operations.
Under the revised policy the engines of fighter aircraft, when they became due for complete overhaul, were handed over to the Americans in exchange for new or reconditioned ones and were overhauled by the American depots and put into a common pool. Bomber-reconnaissance aircraft needing engine overhauls continued to be flown back to New Zealand, where the work could be done by the large number of technical men in the Air Force who were medically unfit for service in the tropics.
INTRODUCTION OF THE AIRCREW ROTATION SYSTEM
The problem of daily servicing of aircraft, as distinct from repair and overhaul, was met by the formation of servicing units. The first New Zealand squadrons to go overseas, both bomber-reconnaissance and fighter, went as complete units taking their servicing staffs as well as aircrews. American experience had shown, however, particularly with regard to fighter squadrons, that aircrews could remain in the combat area only for a short time if they were page 166 to stay efficient. The RNZAF decided to follow the American practice, giving them only short tours of duty. In May 1943 it was laid down that the tour for fighter pilots should consist of six weeks at Santo on training and garrison duties, followed by six weeks in the combat area. At the end of a tour they returned to New Zealand for leave and training before proceeding on another. The length of each stage of the tour was modified from time to time as operational conditions changed, but the principle remained the same for the rest of the war.
The practice of giving aircrew short tours in the tropics contributed greatly towards efficiency in the air and to a low wastage rate. It was costly in movement and loss of time, but it ensured a high standard and also reduced the necessity for training new crews.
FORMATION OF SERVICING UNITS
It was naturally impossible to transport whole squadrons, including ground staff, to and from New Zealand every three months; nor was it necessary, since the men working on the ground suffered less strain and could remain efficient in the forward area longer than those flying in combat. Consequently, in June 1943 the fighter squadrons already overseas and those forming in New Zealand were organised as flying echelons and maintenance echelons. The former were to move in accordance with the six-weekly rotation plan and the latter to remain stationed in one place and take over the maintenance and servicing of successive flying echelons. The maintenance echelons were divorced entirely from the flying echelons and were renumbered as fighter maintenance units. The engineer officer of the maintenance unit was responsible to the officer commanding the flying echelon—henceforth called the squadron—to which it was temporarily attached for the maintenance of its aircraft; and the maintenance unit as a whole came under the authority of the squadron commander. Whenever a maintenance unit was temporarily unattached to a squadron, it was treated as a lodger unit on the station at which it was based, under the command of the engineer officer, who was given the powers of a subordinate commander.
The principle was extended to bomber-reconnaissance squadrons in August. Up till then Nos. 3 and 9 Squadrons, which were in the forward area, relieved their crews by infiltrating fresh crews from the rear areas. In that month, however, it was decided that, taking all things into consideration, the divorcing of the maintenance units and the flying squadrons was the most efficient way to operate in the tropics. Henceforth bomber-reconnaissance squadrons, like the fighters, moved as complete aircrew units. In October the page 167 fighter and bomber maintenance units were renamed servicing units and were known as such for the rest of the war.
When the dual organisation of squadrons and servicing units was first proposed there were fears that it would break up the team spirit between ground crews and aircrews. Its introduction caused numerous complaints from officers and men, especially in the longer-established bomber-reconnaissance squadrons where they had been working together for a long time and had built up a solid squadron spirit. There is no doubt that at times a rift did develop between aircrew and ground staff, but the effects proved less serious than might have been expected. If squadrons in the forward area failed to combine as closely with the ground staffs as they would have done had they been stationed permanently with them, the effect did not result in any noticeable lowering of morale or efficiency.
CONSTRUCTION OF RNZAF CAMPS IN THE FORWARD AREA
When the RNZAF originally moved into the forward area there was no intention that any works personnel should be sent. Although a party had been sent to New Caledonia in July 1942 to erect prefabricated huts for No. 9 Squadron, generally speaking RNZAF units in the tropics had at first to fend for themselves under active-service conditions.
Early in 1943 it was agreed that all RNZAF units should arrive at their destination with tents for accommodation and with cooking and other amenities in keeping with life under canvas. American supply services were to be responsible for equipping the camps on a similar scale to that provided for their own squadrons in the area. For many months the Americans were unable to give much assistance in the construction of RNZAF camps, and during the first part of 1943 many urgent requests were received by Air Headquarters from No. 1 (Islands) Group for additional domestic and technical accommodation. As the number of men in the area increased the problem became more pressing.
Since the Americans could not help in bringing the New Zealand camps up to the required standard, it became necessary during 1943 to send more and more works personnel overseas. The first party, consisting of about fifty men under the command of Flying Officer Puddy,1 left New Zealand by ship in mid-January and arrived at Guadalcanal on 7 February. It consisted of tunnellers, bushmen, carpenters, tractor drivers, and men in other similar trades. It took with it a small sawmill plant so that it would be able to mill its own timber.page 168
The most urgent need at Guadalcanal was the provision of dugout accommodation to give the personnel of No. 3 Squadron protection from the nightly Japanese air raids. This was achieved by driving a tunnel right through a ridge close to the squadron's camp site. When that was complete, the works party built a new RNZAF camp. Hitherto the New Zealanders had been living in tents in a jungle-clad gully where rain, mosquitoes, and mud made life very trying. The new camp was built on a nearby ridge, and eventually, when board floors and mosquito-net sides had been made for the tents, it became relatively comfortable.
During March and April No. 3 Squadron was joined at Guadalcanal by No. 52 Radar Unit and No. 15 Fighter Squadron. In each case the units had to set up their own camps with what assistance could be given by the overworked Works Detachment, and it was some months before all units were adequately housed.
Another works party was sent to Santo in March and was immediately employed in moving the original RNZAF camp, which had been built in the jungle, into an adjoining coconut plantation. The Americans assisted with the clearing of the undergrowth, the formation of roads and some construction work. All other work, including internal work on all buildings, provision of water supply, electric lighting and sewerage, was done by the small RNZAF works unit.
At the end of May more than a hundred additional works personnel were sent to Guadalcanal and Santo to assist in construction and maintenance work in the various camps, and particularly to help in the erection of buildings for No. 4 Repair Depot. Towards the end of the year the unit known as No. 1 (Islands) Works Squadron was formed within No. 1 (Islands) Group, and became responsible for all camp construction carried out by the RNZAF. Throughout the rest of the war it consisted of a number of detached flights which were stationed wherever construction work or sawmilling was needed.
LOGISTIC SUPPORT IN THE FORWARD AREA
Another matter with which No. 1 (Islands) Group Headquarters was intimately concerned was the question of supply. Although the broad principles of obtaining supplies for the RNZAF had been recognised by the Mutual Aid Agreement signed in September 1942, the actual mechanism by which New Zealand units obtained their supplies in the Pacific was confused until some months later.
By the end of 1942 it was clear that the RNZAF, operating throughout the Pacific under American command, would not be able to use its own exclusive supply channels, partly owing to its small page 169 size compared with the United States Forces in the area, and partly because of the lack of shipping under New Zealand control. It would have been uneconomic and almost certainly impracticable to set up separate stores depots to handle the equipment it required.
In June 1943 approval was finally given from Washington for all RNZAF squadrons operating United States Navy-type aircraft to be treated for supply exactly as if they were United States Navy squadrons, and in the same month the United States War Department issued a directive outlining a policy under which the United States Army Air Forces were to assume responsibility for supplying aircraft and equipment to Allied air forces using American Army-type planes. In the meantime, however, the principle had already been adopted by the commanders in the field, and from early 1943 New Zealand squadrons were being supplied with most of their equipment from local American stores depots.
FORMATION OF BASE DEPOT, SANTO
During 1943 the number of RNZAF units in the forward area increased steadily as has already been mentioned, and more increases were planned for 1944. This, together with the additional ancillary supply and maintenance organisations which were necessary to maintain the squadrons, involved an increasing amount of administrative work. At the same time, the changing strategic situation following the occupation of New Georgia in August made it desirable that Group Headquarters should eventually move farther forward. Much of the administrative work at Santo was becoming more appropriate to a base organisation than a forward group headquarters. It was therefore decided to form a base depot at Santo and maintain the Group Headquarters on as mobile a basis as possible so that it could be moved when required. The Group Headquarters was to consist of an adequate air staff and a minimum number of specialist staff officers to co-ordinate the requirements of forward squadrons and to act as a link between the AOC and the base organisation.
Air, surface, and mechanical transport
Supply, maintenance, and works
Equipment, technical and non-technical
Personnel matters, other than those concerning officers and aircrew which remained under the administration of the Senior Personnel Staff Officer.
The re-allocation of duties following the establishment of Base Depot resulted in a number of postings from Group Headquarters to the base strength. At the end of November the strength of Group Headquarters had fallen to 17 officers and 60 other ranks.
Wing Commander Rawnsley,1 who had been in command of RNZAF Station, Santo, was posted at the end of October to command RNZAF Station, Guadalcanal, and Wing Commander Tancred2 was appointed Officer Commanding Base Depot. At the end of November Air Commodore Wallingford relinquished command of No. 1 (Islands) Group and was succeeded by Air Commodore Buckley.
At its inception the Base Depot comprised the following units:
No. 4 Repair Depot
No. 14 Squadron
No. 3 Squadron, which had recently returned from Guadalcanal.
Nos. 1 and 12 Servicing Units
No. 6 Flying Boat Squadron, located at Segond Channel
Base Depot Headquarters, which included No. 2 RNZAF Hospital.
The total strength of these units amounted to 1196 men. Group Headquarters was also located at the Base Depot, as was a transit camp which was independent of the Base.
MOVE OF NO. 1 (ISLANDS) GROUP HEADQUARTERS TO GUADALCANAL
Although it was desirable that the Group Headquarters should be in touch as closely as possible with the forward squadrons, its location was so closely related to that of COMAIRSOPAC that it was not possible to make a move until the higher command also moved forward. It had been intended to move the headquarters forward in November, but owing to lack of accommodation at Guadalcanal the move was delayed until January 1944. Between the 5th and 7th of the month the entire personnel of the headquarters was carried by C47 aircraft running a shuttle service from Santo to Guadalcanal. There a camp was occupied which had been prepared near the existing RNZAF station under the direction of Squadron Leader Grace.3page 171
The camp was not yet fully completed, but, allowing for this, all ranks found it moderately comfortable. Its completion was delayed by bad weather, and it was some weeks after the Group moved into it before it was entirely satisfactory. The splitting up of functions between Group Headquarters and Base Depot, and the subsequent move of the group to Guadalcanal, gave rise to certain administrative difficulties. Differences of opinion as to the respective responsibilities of the operational and base organisations took some time to settle. The base administration tended to become out of touch with operational requirements, and it was not until several reallocations of functions had been tried that the organisation settled down to run smoothly.
The need for the development of the Group Headquarters, and indeed for much of the administrative organisation in the South Pacific, was at times questioned by people who regarded it as a waste of manpower. The opinion was expressed that it would have been more economical if New Zealand squadrons had been formed and worked entirely under United States administration, becoming in effect American units.
Such criticism failed to take account of the practical difficulties which would have been involved, even had the Americans wanted us to take such a course, as well as the effect on morale both in the Air Force and in New Zealand as a whole. Technical difficulties could doubtless have been overcome, and if all administrative services had been provided by the Americans there would have been a saving in New Zealand manpower. But the South Pacific war vitally concerned New Zealand, and national sentiment would not have permitted men to be sent to fight under a foreign flag, no matter how close and friendly was the feeling between the Allies.
That being the case, it became necessary to evolve our own administration in the Pacific, co-ordinated and controlled by one headquarters. The difficulties caused by the vast distances between different units, and at times between sections of the same unit, have already been referred to. They were heightened by the fluid nature of the war. As the operational zone moved northwards new bases had to be established and the role of old ones changed.
The detailed planning of all changes dictated by higher policy, as well as the maintenance of supply and personnel services, was the responsibility of the Group Headquarters. Policy was often changed at short notice, making necessary sudden and drastic changes in planning. Shortages of shipping space delayed the execution of projected moves sometimes for weeks, and in turn upset other plans already made. By executing the policy of the American command on the one hand and co-ordinating the administration of the lower formations on the other, the headquarters page 172 performed an essential function in maintaining the effectiveness and efficiency of RNZAF units in the area.
THE NEED FOR AIR TRANSPORT
The support of the RNZAF units under the control of No. 1 (Islands) Group was very largely dependent upon air transport. Shipping between New Zealand and the forward area was scarce and subject to delays and cancellations, and was beyond the direct control of the Air Force. While a great deal of the equipment used by New Zealand units was shipped to island bases direct from America, and was obtained by the RNZAF on the spot, a considerable quantity of goods, and practically all personnel, had to be carried to the forward area from New Zealand.
Early in 1942, when it had appeared that a balanced air force would be necessary in New Zealand to fight off an invasion, troop-carrying aircraft had been requested from the British Government, but none could be spared. Later, when plans were made to send RNZAF squadrons up to the Pacific, the need for transport aircraft became more intense. Towards the end of 1942 the Chief of Air Staff visited Washington and discussed the matter with General Arnold, Chief of Staff of the USAAF, and eventually, in December, the RNZAF was allocated six C47 Dakotas and nine C60 Lodestars for 1943.
Until these became available the RNZAF depended for overseas transport mainly on the two American transport organisations operating in the Pacific, the Naval Air Transport Service and the Services Command Air Transport, both of which had terminals in New Zealand. Liberators passing through Whenuapai from time to time also carried New Zealand personnel when space was available, and use was made of RNZAF Hudsons going to or returning from overseas stations. In the early part of 1943 the Hudsons carried an average of about forty-five persons a month in each direction. As the amount of traffic increased it became necessary to make increasing use of Hudsons for inter-island transport. The practice was doubly unsatisfactory in that the payload of a Hudson was extremely small and, moreover, each aircraft used on transport work reduced the already limited number available for combat operations.
FORMATION OF NO. 40 (TRANSPORT) SQUADRON
With the promise of transport aircraft to be supplied in 1943, preparations were made to form a transport squadron based on page 173 Whenuapai. Squadron Leader Lucas, DFC,1 who had returned to New Zealand after two tours of operations in Europe, was appointed to command it. The first aircraft, a C47, was flown out from the United States by an American delivery crew, and reached Whenuapai towards the end of March. All the C47s were delivered by the end of May, while five of the C60s arrived by sea during June and the rest later in the year. No. 40 Squadron was officially formed on 1 June, its mission being to carry aircrew, ground staff, mail and urgent freight, in that order of priority, between New Zealand and the forward area.
A Pacific ferry flight was formed in April 1943, under the command of Wing Commander R. J. Cohen, to assist in the delivery of aircraft by flying them from America or Hawaii to New Zealand. C47s for the transport squadron and PBYs for the flying-boat squadrons were flown from the west coast of America by New Zealand crews, while PV1s for the bomber-reconnaissance squadrons were generally shipped to Kaneohe in Hawaii, assembled there by the United States Navy, and then flown to New Zealand. In June a small RNZAF detachment was stationed at Kaneohe to help to assemble and test the aircraft before they were picked up by the ferry crews. In September the detachment was withdrawn and the ferry flight absorbed by No. 40 Squadron, which took over its responsibilities.
For the first two months after the formation of No. 40 Squadron in June 1943 its aircraft operated only as and where they were required. The irregular flying hours which resulted made it impossible to plan the maintenance of the aircraft in relation to flying commitments, which meant that at times there were several serviceable planes lying idle, and at others none was available because all were undergoing inspections.
This difficulty was overcome when the squadron obtained its full quota of aircraft and trained crew and was able to start operating on regular schedules. The first schedules to be flown, starting in August, provided two C47s and four C60s from Whenuapai each week. One C47, leaving on Monday, flew the route Whenuapai-Nausori-Santo-Guadalcanal-Santo-Whenuapai, arriving back in New Zealand on Thursday; the other, which left on Friday, flew the same circuit in the opposite direction. Two C60s, departing on Wednesdays and Sundays, operated over the same route with an additional call at Tontouta, New Caledonia. The third C60 carried passengers and freight to Norfolk Island page 174 each Friday, returning the same day. The fourth, which left Whenuapai every Thursday and arrived back the following Monday, carried mail to all RNZAF bases in the South Pacific. At the end of October the schedules were amended to include Ondonga, New Georgia, where the RNZAF fighter wing had recently been established.