ZEALAND PACIFIC AVIATION
General Report on Activities and
events prior to departure of Expedition.
it had long been realised in New Zealand that ultimately an expedition
would be required to investigate many islands in the British Pacific
with a view to determining their value from an aviation viewpoint,
any enthusiasm towards proceeding with this important work was confined
to a few officials and nothing of much importance occurred until the
dispatch of an aerodrome engineer from New Zealand in H.M.S. Achilles was authorized early in 1937. This officer was required to carry out
a comprehensive inspection of as many islands as possible and furnish
preliminary advance reports of his impressions of their general value
for aviation purposes. This advance information has since proved to
be in general very accurate and a most valuable aid to the work now
On the return of this officer to New Zealand steps were taken to allocate,
tentatively, certain staff and prepare, in advance, organization and
equipment against the time when this work would have to be undertaken
in the hope and anticipation that His Majesty’s Government in the
United Kingdom would entrust New Zealand with the work. Unfortunately
when the recent decision to proceed with this work was arrived at
the preparations had not reached the stage where expenditure had been
authorized by New Zealand for the purchase, for example, of such an
important item of equipment as a survey and depot ship. However expenditure
for “Pacific Island Surveys” had been authorized by Parliament
in the Supplementary Estimates of 1938 under the vote item “Maintenance
of Aerodromes and Services.”
When a decision by the Home Government was made that portion of these
further investigations were to be proceeded with as an emergency measure,
the time available did not permit of a completely manned and equipped
expedition being organized and in consequence the results achieved
are not as complete as would otherwise have been the case. However
sufficient information has been obtained in those islands visited
to enable a decision as to their air value to be arrived at, as well
as some measure to be gauged of the task to fit those selected as
of Expedition’s Itinerary.
was composed of the following personnel:
leader E. A. Gibson, Officer in Command (New Zealand).
Mr. J. A. Henderson, Surveyor, Second in Command (New Zealand).
Mr. E. W. Lee, Aerodrome Engineer, Third In Command (New Zealand).
Mr. R. A. Wimbush, Imperial Airways, on loan to Air Ministry,
United Kingdom, Echo-sounding Expert.
Mr. R. B. Roberts, Engineering Assistant (Fiji).
Mr. C. Harlen, Surveyor (Fiji).
Mr, B. J. Patten, Draughtsman (New Zealand)
Mr. T. W. Hoult, Chainman and Instrument Man (New Zealand)
Mr. B. O. Carr, Launch Coxswain and Survey Assistant (New Zealand)
Lieutenant J. A. Ritchie, R.N.R. (Retd.) Commissariat and Stores
Acting Petty Officer M. H. Hay, Telegraphist (New Zealand Division
of Royal Navy).
One Fijian Chainman-Headman and three Fijian general labourers.
The New Zealand Party embarked at Auckland in H.M.S. Leander on November 5th 1938, and was joined in Suva on 17th November by the
leader of the expedition, a Naval wireless operator, an official from
the British Air Ministry on loan from Imperial Airways, two Fiji officers,
and four native boys, making a total expedition personnel of 15.
Owing to the impossibility of delaying H.M.S. Leander indefinitely
at some of the islands to be visited portion of the expedition was disembarked
and sent forward by the chartered vessel T.M.V. Yanawai sailing
from Suva on the 24th November. The remaining members of the party sailed
from Suva for Christmas Island via Hull Island on the 17th November
in H.M.S. Leander.
Hull Island was reached on the 21st November eastern time, where one
Surveyor and one Fijian boy were disembarked and opportunity was afforded
during the eight hours stay for a brief inspection to be made, the
Leander sailing for Christmas Island the same day.
Christmas Island was reached on the 24th November eastern time, where
the leader of the expedition, the Air Ministry official, one Fiji
Engineer, and three native Fijian boys were disembarked. During the
Leander’s three day stay opportunity was taken of using
naval personnel to assist with landing of stores and other preliminary
work, the Leander sailing for Suva via Fanning and Gardner
Islands at 5 p.m. on the 26th November. Meanwhile the Yanawai having
sailed from Suva on the 24th November arrived at Gardner Island
in the Phoenix Group on the 30th November at 6 a.m. where the Leander was contacted on the 1st December and use made of the Naval personnel
for landing six European officers and men with their stores and equipment.
Mr. J. A. Henderson owing to the recurrence of an ailment following
on an accident in the surf at Raoul Island reported sick and was evacuated
by the Leander to Suva and thence to New Zealand by the
Aorangi. Mr. Lee from this date took over as Second In
Charge of the expedition and assumed command of the Gardner and Hull
Leander sailed the same day for Suva, the Yanawai
leaving for Hull Island on the 6th December at 11.50 a.m. Arriving
at Hull Island at 11 a.m. on the 7th December, the Yanawai,
after discharging equipment and explosives, sailed for Christmas Island
on the 8th December at 6 p.m. where she arrived on the 16th December
at 8 p.m. After arrival the equipment and crew of the Yanawai
were pressed into service until the 25th December when the work being
sufficiently far advanced two officers and two Fijian boys were embarked
and the expedition left for Fanning Island at 5 p.m. One European
officer and one Fijian boy and two Fijian members of the crew were
left behind to complete the investigations. An event having a bearing
on the departure of the ship prior to the completion of the work was
the necessity of obtaining surgical aid for the wife of a Christmas
Island labourer, a Tahitian woman suffering from acute sepsis. This
woman was rushed to Fanning Island and after a minor amputation eventually
made a complete recovery.
Island was reached on the 26th December where the expedition was engaged
on investigations until the 4th January when the Yanawai
sailed for Christmas Island at 1 p.m. During the stay at Fanning Island
one of the Fijian crew developed influenza in an acute form, this
afterwards leading to complications to which he eventually succumbed,
and which also affected the expedition’s itinerary.
at sea on the night of the 4th-5th January orders were received from
New Zealand to proceed to Washington Island, which was reached at
5.30 p.m. on the 5th January.
the 5th to the 8th January work proceeded at Washington Island, the
expedition sailing from this island for Fanning Island at 5 p.m. on
the 8th January to obtain medical attention for the Fijian patient
whose condition was now causing serious alarm. On arrival at Fanning
Island on the 9th January the case was diagnosed as pneumonia influenza,
the patient landed into isolation hospital, and the ship placed in
quarantine until the 22nd January. The quarantine period having expired
the ship was passed by the doctor and sailed for Christmas Island
at 3 p.m.
Island was reached at 6 a.m. on the 24th January where trio party
left behind was embarked and the ship departed for Gardner Island
at 8 p.m. the same day, arriving at the latter place at 6 a.m. on
the 30th January.
remaining work at Gardner Island was completed as soon as possible
and the expedition sailed for Hull Island at 12 noon on the 5th February
(E.S.T). At Gardner Island an anchorage of sorts was found about one
mile south of the wreck of the "City of Norwich." This was
used throughout the stay and a buoy marking the spot left for any
visitor to the island in the near future.
Island was reached at 4.30 p.m. on the 6th February where a similar
procedure regarding the completion of work to what had been followed
at Gardner Island was adopted. All expedition equipment and personnel
was embarked including the party originally left by H.M.S. Leander,
the ship departing for Nukunono on the 12th February at 3 p.m. and
arriving there at 6.30 a.m. on the 14th February. Only 34 hours were
spent at Nukunono, the ship selling for Apia at 4.30 p.m. on the 15th
February and coming to anchor in Apia Harbour at 9 a.m. on the 17th.
All day was spent in connection with surveys in hand by a New Zealand
party in Samoa, the expedition sailing for Suva at 5 P.M. Suva was
reached at 2 a.m. on the 23rd February.
of Results of Investigations.
||From a perusal
of all correspondence available leading up to the dispatch of the
present expedition it would appear doubtful if anyone connected with
the authorising of investigations visualised clearly the technical
and geographical factors having a bearing on the ultimate adoption
of any particular route, and, therefore, the routes which, from the
technical viewpoint, are most likely to be adopted and to require
close investigation. There would also appear to have been a certain
measure of confusion between military, commercial and political objectives
which, if continued, is not likely to produce the most desirable results
technically in any one of those directions. This observation is made
with all due deference to the many eminent and senior officers who
have no doubt given time and thought to the matter, and is made merely
to draw attention to the fact that in the adoption of any route across
such a vast expanse as the Pacific Ocean, where different objectives
may exist at either extremity and where several routes or combination
of routes may exist between the extremities chosen or considered as
probable likely terminal points, it is important from the economic
point of view that during initial investigations commercial considerations
should be clearly visualised apart from political and military ones.
axiomatic the statement that within the limits of present technical
knowledge no trans-Pacific air service can be contemplated in the
near future that does not use Hawaii as a “stepping stones”
it next becomes obvious that no matter what route is followed towards
Australia and Now Zealand the next inescapable “stepping stone”
is some island in the Line Group. Of these islands the United States
of America has tried Kingman Reef and as the advantages of this place,
notwithstanding its ideal geographical situation, are evidently not
what was anticipated, is now turning attention to Palmyra Island.
The three British islands are situated geographically in relation
to any air route to the South Pacific in order of value Washington,
Fanning, Christmas; but unfortunately their value technically is in
the reverse order. Washington is of little use for either land or
marine aircraft, Fanning is suitable us an alighting area for flying-boats
only and is not suitable for land planes either in so far, as the
type of aerodrome that can be constructed to suit local winds or in
cost of producing such emergency landing field.
Island while having large areas of water has in general a shallow
and badly obstructed lagoon which, nevertheless, does give every indication
of providing a suitable sea aerodrome at not unreasonable expense.
Many alternatives for a cheaply constructed land aerodrome are available
while the natural port facilities, climate, natural resources and
size of the island put it far ahead of any other island in the Group.
It is therefore stressed that in the Line Group, Christmas Island
is, from the aviation viewpoint, the key island and every precaution
should be taken to preserve its sovereignty.
lagoon areas at Fanning and Christmas Islands have been marked out
and buoyed no survey flight can be undertaken without a competent
aviation officer being stationed there and certain further work carried
out prior to such a flight.
from the Line Group the geographical importance of the various islands
is not so clearly defined and depends on the terminal objectives
aimed at. If New Zealand is the chosen terminal then technically
the islands for investigation in order of geographical importance
are as follows: (1) Danger Island and Nukualofa, (2) Suwarrow and
Nukualofa, with (3) Nukunono and Samoa as alternative alighting
If Sydney is
the chosen terminal then the most important islands are Nukunono
and Viti Levu, with the Phoenix Group as an alternative.
or some place further north is chosen then the Phoenix Group becomes
of paramount importance.
investigations it is clear that Hull Island in the Phoenix Group has
the most suitable lagoon for seaplanes while Gardner can only be regarded
as an emergency alighting area. For land aerodromes, while Hull is
better than Gardner and parts of both are worth reserving for such
a purpose, neither is really good. So far the Phoenix Group in concerned
Hull is the most important and really only satisfactory island, and
is a most valuable potential base. Gardner island is only a poor alternative
to Hull Island and while valuable for aviation purposes all efforts
should be concentrated on securing the sovereignty and use of Hull
Island for British aviation.
has a most suitable lagoon which could be made available for use immediately.
Unfortunately sea transport landing facilities are very poor and no
suitable area for a land aerodrome exists.
of Upolu, west of Apia, possesses a suitable lagoon while a land aerodrome
site is at present under survey.
||It is recommended
that a further completely equipped expedition be organized and despatched
from New Zealand to complete these important investigations as soon
as possible and that such expedition should be equipped to prepare
prepare Christmas, Fanning, Hull, Nukunono, Apia, and Suva for survey
flights by flying boats.
||It is further
recommended that certain equipment given in the attached list should
be supplied to the Acting Administrative Officer in Christmas Island
as soon an possible so that he will be equipped and in a position
to meet the demands likely to be made on him at very short notice
in the near future.
|(Signed) E. A.
Royal New Zealand Air Force.
28th February, 1939.