RNZN and the Fleet Air Arm

New Zealand’s involvement in naval aviation goes back to before the First World War when New Zealand citizens volunteered to fly as part of the Royal Naval Air Service. ‘Scheme F’  was introduced in World War Two where New Zealanders were recruited to serve with the Fleet Air Arm (FAA). Read about the FAA General Policy and the Comparative Costs of Aircraft and Men-Of –War.

New Zealand’s involvement in naval aviation goes back to before the First World War when New Zealand citizens volunteered to fly as part of the Royal Naval Air Service. Many saw service during WW I, several being decorated for gallantry. This close involvement came to a close in April 1918 with the formation of the Royal Air Force, which absorbed both the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service. During the 1920s aviation at sea went through a major period of development which saw the advent of aircraft being carried on cruisers. New Zealand was generally on the periphery of such developments; however, an Avro aircraft of the New Zealand Permanent Air Force, fitted with floats, was embarked on HMS Diomede for the expedition to Samoa in 1928. The aircraft was simply craned outboard and took off from the water and later recovered by crane. Stowage arrangements left something to be desired and on the return voyage a large weight landed on the aircraft, considerably reducing the space taken up, but also causing major damage.

The commissioning of HMS Achilles into the New Zealand Naval Forces in 1936 saw the arrival of regular naval aviation in this country. By this time the Royal Navy had a number of pilots and the Walrus aircraft embarked in our cruisers invariably had naval pilots. As in the Royal Navy ground crew was provided by the air force, in the case of New Zealand this was initially the New Zealand Permanent Air Force, after 1937 renamed the Royal New Zealand Air Force. The aircraft were from 720 Flight and were launched by catapult and recovered after landing on the sea by being craned inboard. Achilles and Leander were the only two aircraft carrying cruisers operated by the RNZN, as by 1943 the aircraft carrier had really become of age and HMS Gambia had her aircraft facilities removed prior to commissioning into the RNZN. Post WW II cruisers were intended to operate as part of a carrier task force and therefore had no requirement for their own aircraft.

The rapid increase in the number of aircraft carriers in the Royal Navy during the Second World War created a great need for pilots and aircrew. In 1942 New Zealand was invited to recruit personnel for the Royal Navy to serve in the Fleet Air Arm, under what was called ‘Scheme F’. The initial intake consisted primarily of personnel who had volunteered to join the air force, but for whom there was not yet a place. Recruiting for Scheme F continued, somewhat sporadically until June 1945.

Some 1066 recruits left New Zealand under this scheme of whom something in the order of 600 served as frontline pilots or aircrew, with a maximum of about 450 in May 1944. This number formed a significant proportion of the Fleet Air Arm and they saw action in many operations, from the attack on Tirpitz in 1943 to the final attacks on Japan in 1945. Of the New Zealand personnel who saw service with the Fleet Air Arm, about 150 were lost and there were many awards for gallantry. By the early 1960s aircraft carriers had become fewer and cost dictated that there would be even less in the future. At the same time the range of shipborne sonar had outstripped the range of antisubmarine weapons then available. Accordingly there was a requirement for a light aircraft for reconnaissance and as an antisubmarine weapon platform. In the Royal Navy the answer was the WASP helicopter, which came into service in the RNZN with the commissioning of HMNZS Waikato.

N Series 1 Box 82 5/2 Air – Fleet Air Arm General Policy

  1. 4605/37 12/8/1937

1694 HM Government has decided that ship-borne aircraft are to be placed under the administrative control of the Admiralty. Pending the working out of a scheme to give effect to this decision, all the existing arrangements for exercising administrative and operative control are to continue until further orders defining the new organisation are issued.

Note c. October 1939

Comparative Costs of Aircraft and Men-Of –War

The comparative costs, spread over a period of 20 years, of Service T/B aircraft and various classes of ships, including the cost of replacement, personnel, fuel, stores docking, refitting, armament and ammunition for ourfit [sic] and practice, and experimental work in connection with new design, has been computed to be:

35,000 ton battleship   =          43 aircraft

10,000 ton cruiser       =          22 aircraft

7,000 ton cruiser         =          13 aircraft

Tribal class leader       =          6 aircraft

Destroyer                    =          4 aircraft

Sloop                           =          2

Navy Office Minute Sheet – Policy with regard to Fleet Air Arm Aircraft 1937

Noted handwritten dated 3/9/1937

At this state of the development of land and sea air bases in the Pacific in view of the shortage of suitable aircraft and personnel for operation over the sea it would seem unwise to do away with cruiser-borne aircraft at present. This aircraft would be of great value in operations against raiders when air reconnaissance favours the pursuer rather than the pursued. There are many islands in the Pacific at present out of range of shore based aircraft when cruiser-borne aircraft of the amphibious type could land and be retrieved.

The writer then suggests keeping the aircraft until aircraft carriers would work with cruisers.

Memo for the Air Secretary Air Department Wellington from Naval Secretary 26/7/1937

Notes that the Naval Board at this time could not develop an independent policy with regards to the fleet air arm because there were only two naval aircraft – the two Walrus planes that came with HMS Achilles and Leander. – therefore a policy had to be developed in light of the heavy expense of maintaining aircraft in New Zealand

CCNZS to Naval Secretary NZ26/11326 12/5/1937

Felt that the cost of the cruiser borne aircraft in a time of war too high as recovery is a problematic area plus the loss of one aircraft would hamstring the cruiser. Thought that the provision of a small aircraft carrier working with the cruisers would be sufficient.