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As a loyal member of the Commonwealth, New Zealand had dispatched a considerable number of army and air force personnel to bolster Britain's perilous position in the Middle East and elsewhere during 1940-41, but after the December '41 attack on Pearl Harbour and the rapid Japanese advance to within striking distance of Australia, New Zealand suddenly found itself dangerously close to the firing line.
Despite its relatively small population (some 2 million during W.W.2), New Zealand was ready to play its part but was woefully short of modern aircraft. This all changed when the RNZAF was integrated into the American South Pacific Command (SOPAC) and began to receive deliveries of the main types of US warplanes - some diverted from British orders.
Within a year, the number of RNZAF squadrons had increased sevenfold and by the end of 1944, 80% of the RNZAF operational squadrons had been transferred from defensive duties to offensive operations in the SW Pacific theatre. A total of 28 home squadrons saw active service before the war ended.
|SBD-3 at Whenuapai, Auckland 1943. The aircraft were first operated in their U.S. Marine Corps markings of Blue-Grey Upper surfaces with Light Grey Undersurfaces. Insignia was the early U.S. White Star in a Blue circle in six positions. Most of these aircraft were marked with a white number on the fuselage behind the star, some quite crudely painted, with the number repeated on both sides of the nose cowling in a smaller size. (John Regan)|
|A caption from Dave Homewood... A second photo of Dauntless "23" at Whenuapai. That's No. 2 Hangar (now housing 5 Squadron) in the background with the HQ building between the hangar and Dauntless. (John Regan)|
No 25 Squadron occupies a unique place in the history of the Royal New Zealand Air Force. It was formed specifically to fly one type of aircraft, the Douglas SBD Dauntless and, as part of the US 5th Air Force, only carried out one operational tour against one major target - the Japanese base at Rabaul on the island of New Britain in the Bismarck Sea.
The US Navy, RNZAF, along with the French AF in 1944-45, were the only Allied Air Forces to use the Dauntless in combat.
The idea of equipping the RNZAF with Dauntless dive-bombers was first mooted in February, 1943. At that time, the Allied forces under the command of General MacArthur were firmly established on the island of Bougainville and in the western half of New Britain - positions which allowed the heavily defended base of Rabaul to be attacked from both east and west. But in spite of prolonged and intensive bombing raids throughout 1943, Rabaul - although weakened - remained a formidable fortress.
Since a direct assault would require massive sea and land forces and could result in heavy casualties, the decision was taken in early 1944 to beef up the air campaign even further before committing ground troops. The RNZAF had expressed its willingness to provide additional air crews and, under the original plan, No 25, 26, 27 and 28 Sqn RNZAF were to be equipped with the Dauntless, in the event, only 25 Sqn used the type operationally.
Created on July 31st, 1943 at Seagrove near Auckland, North Island, No 25 Sqn RNZAF was allotted twelve aircrews and a handful of ground staff under the command of Sqn. Ldr T.J. McLean de Lange.
|SBD-3 Dauntlesses of 25 Sqn Seagrove 1943.|
|Dauntless of 25 Sqn, nosed over, Seagrove 1943.|
It was initially equipped with nine war weary ex-U.S.Marine Corps SBD-3 and -4 aircraft reputed to have seen service at the battle of the Coral Sea and the initial battles for Guardalcanal (is this true???). These nine Douglas SBD-3s were on loan from MAG-13 (Marine Air Group) of the USMC who were then based at Seagrove for a period of rest and recuperation. The SBD-3s - referred to by the American pilots as ‘Slow But Deadly’ due to its ability to absorb combat damage - were combat-weary machines and it took a solid week’s work before the No 25 Sqn could get the first aircraft airborne.
In addition, spares were in short supply and several of the machines had to be cannibalised with the help of mechanics from MAG-13 to restore the remainder to flying condition. The maintenance problems continued to hamper training and with with a 40% serviceability rate being the norm!
The squadron’s requests for better aircraft were finally answered at the end of September when the number of SBDs was incrased to 17. Eighteen aircraft were delivered (RNZAF serials NZ205 - NZ222) plus a further batch in November ’43 (NZ5001 - NZ5018).
NZ211 crashed during a training flight on September 13th, 1943 near Waiuku, North Island, NZ, killing both crewmen - pilot, Fl.Off W.D. McJannett and gunner, Sgt. D.M.J.Cairns. Despite being struck off charge, NZ211 was subsequently renumbered as NZ5007. (Cliff Jenks)
By August, these aircraft began to receive temporary RNZAF serial numbers (NZ205-NZ222) but by late November, early December, had been allocated full RNZAF serials (NZ5001-NZ5018). A further nine aircraft were borrowed and received RNZAF serials - NZ5019 - NZ5027. (Peter Mossong)
At this time, many were repainted in similar colours, but with the addition of Blue/White/Blue RNZAF roundels without White bars, in six positions. Those on the fuselage sides had a Yellow outer ring as per contemporary RAF fuselage roundels. Fin flashes do not appear to have been added to the aircraft in photos taken at this time, but the last number of the serial was added in White to the fin and the nose cowl on some aircraft.
|NZ5003. by Peter Mossong|
Continue to RNZAF Dauntless Part 2
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