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Flying Navy – New Zealanders who flew in the Fleet Air Arm

By David Allison with Ray Richards

Published by the Fleet Air Arm Museum of New Zealand
320pp, illustrated
Available from MOTAT, P.O.Box 44-114, Point Chevalier, Auckland 1022.

Reviewed by Bill Hopper
September 2010 

Fleet Air Arm covers lifted

This is a story that should have been told years ago. As former chief of navy, Rear Admiral David Ledson RNZN (Rtd), says in the foreword: “The contribution made by New Zealand pilots serving at sea in peace and war lies in a dim corner of New Zealand’s military and naval history.”

This is a story that needs be dragged out of the murk and presented to our country with all due fanfare. Ask the average person about the FAA, and the answer is usually, “FAA, what’s that?” Allison is to be commended for lifting the dust covers and
giving us a glimpse of this little known aspect of military aviation.

In the overall scheme of things of World War 2, the 760 New Zealand airmen in the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) were just a drop in the ocean compared with those serving in our other military forces. But they made up 20% of the Royal Navy’s FAA, a great contribution of gallant young seafaring airmen from a small country. Of those, 155 lost their lives, including two, Lt (A) Evan Baxter and Lt (A) John Haberfield, executed by the Japanese at Changi Beach, Singapore in July 1945.

The author looks into the FAA’s origins, its predecessor (the Royal Naval Air Service formed in April 1914), and the high-ranking squabbles over whether the young service should be the responsibility of the Royal Navy or the newly established Royal Air Force.

Sixty New Zealanders served in the fledgling RNAS during World War 1 – five died, four on operations and one during training.

In a chapter devoted to prisoners of war, Allison records some of the inhumane treatment suffered by naval airmen at the hands of the Japanese. It makes harrowing reading. In essence, Flying Navy is a memorial. Its roll of honour presents illustrated pen pictures of the 179 New Zealand naval aircrew who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving in the RNAS or the FAA – a large and compassionate piece of personal research.

Allison, himself a FAA pilot during World War 2, has presented an interesting and informative view of an almost unheralded (in New Zealand) arm of naval service. The few pages covering wartime operations just whets your appetite for more. More in-depth reporting of the FAA’s role in the European and Pacific campaigns, more on the dangers and courage needed in flying off and on to carriers to face formidable foes and hazardous seas, would have added much to the narrative. However, Flying Navy is a fine tribute to those brave seagoing aviators whose airfield has been the heaving deck of an aircraft carrier.

All proceeds from the sale of this book go to the Fleet Air Arm Museum of NewZealand, Auckland of which Allison is chairman and curator.



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