FAA Squadron Number Allocation to the RNZN

No RN air squadron numbers were ever allocated to the RNZN to the best of our knowledge. At present, The RNZN has operated its Seasprite and WASP helicopters from ships at sea with the helicopters concerned appearing in the order of battle as part of No. 3 Squadron RNZAF.

 

Background:

No RN air squadron numbers were ever allocated to the RNZN to the best of our knowledge. The RCN and RAN had a definite requirement in 1945 and certain numbers were turned over to them but the RNZN had no intention of operating aircraft at sea.

There were two options, either 720 Squadron or 834 Squadron. Between the autumn of 1943 and the spring of 1944, the fighter flight of 834 Squadron, the composite Swordfish/Seafire ASW unit serving aboard the escort carrier HMS Battler in the Indian Ocean, was manned almost entirely by New Zealanders (the only foreigner was Lieutenant W F H Schwenk RNVR).

Some awards given to members of this squadron include:

Lieutenant F A J Pennington DSC & Bar

Sub Lieutenant J D Alexander MiD (submitted for VC)

Sub-Lieutenant A B Cookson DSC

Sub-Lieutenant A S Macleod DSC

Sub-Lieutenant R A Ringer DSC

“Fadge” Pennington had won his first DSC while flying Fulmars from HMS Victorious during the August 1942 Malta convoy and the second for the Salerno invasion; he was CO of 834 Fighter Flight and at the end of March 1944 became CO of 889 Squadron, a Seafire unit operating from HNS Atheling in the Indian Ocean. He was killed, together with two of his pilots, in a horrific deck landing accident, at the end of May 1944. The other four RNZN pilots (and Schwenk) went with him to 889 Squadron but survived. Macleod and Alexander joined No 24 Naval Fighter Wing (Seafires) aboard the HMS Indefatigable at Sydney in February 1945. The former became Senior Pilot of 887 Squadron and was awarded the DSC for his part in the Okinawa campaign, during which his division shot down most of a small Kamikaze formation heading for the carriers. Alexander was lost in late July 1945 over the Inland Sea: hit by AA while attacking coasters, he deliberately drew fire for his wingmen and was shot down. His was one of six names proposed for a Victoria Cross. The posthumous award of a Mention-in-Dispatches was regarded as a “near miss VC” until recent times, and Alexander’s courage should be seen in these terms.[1]

Present Day:

The RNZN has operated its Seasprite and WASP helicopters from ships at sea with the helicopters concerned appearing in the order of battle as part of No. 3 Squadron RNZAF. This arrangement has successfully endured for some twenty seven years of RNZN air operations. When the WASP reached the end of their service lives some consideration was given to the possibility of a Squadron entirely devoted to the support and operation of naval helicopters. Should such a situation occur, it was considered desirable that a squadron of this nature should conform to the Fleet Air Arm series of squadron numbers and hold historical significance to the RNZN or New Zealand.

It would appear that no squadron number was ever allocated to the RNZN although two squadrons have clear connections with New Zealand dating back to 1936. Both Achilles and Leander had Walrus aircraft of 720 Flight embarked from commissioning until at least 1943 when it was decided that cruisers would operate in company with aircraft carriers. At that point, cruiser flights were progressively withdrawn from service. In both cases the aircraft concerned were serviced by the Permanent New Zealand Air Force and the RNZAF post 1937.

The second squadron with New Zealand connections is 834 Squadron which was a composite Swordfish/Seafire unit which embarked in the escort carrier Battler between autumn 1943 and spring 1944. This squadron appears to have been manned almost entirely by New Zealanders during that period, and between them they managed to accumulate a Distinguished Service Cross and bar, and a Distinguished Service Cross. One of the squadron members later received a recommendation for the Victoria Cross, ultimately being awarded a posthumous Mention-in-Despatches.

In 1993 the CNS I A Hunter, noting the close ties between the Royal New Zealand Navy and the Royal Navy, requested that consideration be given to transfer of these squadron numbers to the RNZN, for possible future use. This would certainly maintain the heritage and tradition associated with these two Fleet Air Arm Squadron Numbers and would highlight their close association with New Zealand.

If only one number was to be considered more appropriate, Hunter’s preferred option would be 834 Squadron, as this is a “front-line” number and would come with its associated battle honours and conform to the current Fleet Air Arm “front-line” numbering system.

It was suggested that should a transfer eventuate, that all the associated documentation, battle honours and badges etc be transferred also. These would be retained in the custody of the RNZN Museum pending any requirement to commission a Naval Air Squadron.[2]

On 9  March 1994, at a formal Presentation at RNAS Yeovilton the head of NZDS in London accepted on behalf of the RNZN the 834 Squadron Crest and Battle Honour Board and these were sent back to New Zealand in May 1994.[3]

It is held by the RNZN Museum as a Fleet trophy 961.

 [1] Letter to Lt Cdr Dennerly from MOD London dated 4 January 1989.

[2] Letter from I A Hunter RNZN CNS to Flag Officer Naval Aviation FONA HQ RNAS Yeovilton 24 February 1993. See also Letter to CNS RNZN from Commodore Auckland K R Moen dated 12 February 1993.

[3] Letter from Commodore J G Peddie Head NZDS London to CNS Wellington dated 22 March 1994.