40 Squadron RNZAF at Whenuapai operates five C-130Hs, including the first three production H models which, were delivered in April 1965. The squadron’s duties include flights to the Antarctic base at McMurdo. The first major operation carried out by the RNZAF C-130Hs was in July 1965 when the three aforementioned C-130Hs (followed by the other two in January 1969) airlifted the New Zealand Army’s 161 Artillery battery and its equipment from New Zealand to Biên Hòa AFB in South Việtnam. Over seven days, 14-21 July, the aircraft carried ninety-six soldiers, five 105mm howitzers, fourteen laden Land Rovers, eight trailers, two water tankers and other equipment – a total of seventy tons. 40 Squadron continued regular flights in support of New Zealand’s contribution to this war, flying into Saïgon and Vũng Tàu. Between 6-19 April 1975 it made three trips between Saïgon and Singapore to evacuate New Zealand Embassy staff, refugee children and news media representatives.
‘There is no doubt that the C-130E is the right aircraft for the job. It will perform effectively, efficiently and economically, in both strategic and tactical roles.’ These were the words of Air Vice-Marshal Ian Morrison, Chief of the RNZAF Air Staff in August 1962. When the RNZAF entered the 1960s its heavy transport fleet consisted of three Handley Page Hastings Mk.IIIs. These aircraft were required to over the globe to meet RNZAF and New Zealand Government requirements. Delivered during 1952 and 1953, the Hastings was World War Two technology and at the end of their economical life. Furthermore, as ‘tail-draggers’, with only side doors for loading they were not suitable for the vast range of cargoes moved by the RNZAF. The search for a replacement heavy transport aircraft commenced as a result of the 1961 ‘Defence White Paper’, which directed replacement of the existing transport fleet. As an interim measure, three DC-6 aircraft were purchased from Tasman Empire Airlines Limited (TEAL) to augment the Hastings.
Air Staff in Defence Headquarters, Wellington, commenced research into the selection of a suitable aircraft to replace the Hastings and DC-6s. One of the officers involved, Wing Commander Richard Bolt, described the process for developing the specifications for the new transport. ‘I took the specifications and information on the Hercules from the Lockheed brochures and this formed the basis for the Air Staff Requirement.’ The proposal also required the selected aircraft to carry out maritime surveillance using ‘roll-on’ maritime modules. The maritime role was later dropped when the Orion aircraft became the obvious choice for this role. The 17th of June 1963 was a red letter day for the RNZAF. ‘HERCULES ARE ON!! three now, five later.’ The headlines of the RNZAF News said it all. Cabinet had approved an immediate order of three C-130E aircraft, including spares and support equipment, at a cost of £13.5 million (NZ). Approval in principle was also given for the eventual purchase of five maritime versions. By July 1964 the production of the RNZAF’s first three Hercules (NZ7001-7003) was under way at the Lockheed plant at Marietta, Georgia. By then the choice had been made to take the new C-130H model aircraft – the first production models of this variant. At that time, the primary difference, between the E and H models was the more powerful T56-A-15 engines in the H model. Three technical officers and 32 airmen commenced sixteen weeks of training at Travis Air Force Base on 17 June 1964. They then trained at various AFBs for the remainder of that year. Three aircrews were sent to the US for conversion training at the end of 1964. It was a profound shock to the aircrews when they arrived for training at Lackland AFB to find that they were scheduled to attend a school for ‘language training’.
Air Commodore Carey William Adamson, a Flying Officer at the time, recalls the incident. ‘We were to take a written test to establish our level of proficiency in English. This we refused to do. A senior officer was summoned and it was quickly apparent that there had been a major misunderstanding. Whoever had made up the training package for the RNZAF was not aware that New Zealanders spoke English. It was not possible to bring forward the rest of our training, so we spent the time at Lackland learning about the Constitution, the history of the United States, the federal system of Government, the philosophy and rules of American football and the finer technical points of baseball. This information was not wasted and proved valuable in following years.’
Air Commodore Adamson also recalls the delivery flights of the Hercules. ‘We went to the Lockheed plant in Georgia to pick up our new aircraft and on 1 April 1965 our crew flew NZ7002 for the first time. That was the beginning of a thirteen year personal relationship with a magnificent and elegant lady. We went on a navigational exercise on 5 April to check out cruise procedures and left for New Zealand on 8 April 1965.’ The other two Hercules also headed home that day.
Navigator Bob Howe, then a Flight Lieutenant, recalls his arrival in Wellington, New Zealand on NZ7003. ‘We were directed to return to Wellington first for a reception by the Prime Minister and the Chief of Air Staff. Two things stand out about the arrival: Firstly we got too close for comfort to the Hutt Valley power lines on a holding run; and secondly we knew we were home when a civil pilot, forced to hold because of our arrival, complained ‘what about us taxpayers?’ Shortly after noon on 14 April 1965 the first three Hercules arrived at Wellington’s Rongotai Airport, to a formal reception ceremony, headed by the Prime Minister (The Right Honourable Keith Jacka Holyoake). ‘I am sure that we have chosen wisely and well,’ he said of the Hercules.
In the months immediately after arrival, the three Hercules were seen above most New Zealand cities and towns as the RNZAF showed off its new acquisitions. Overseas trips were undertaken. On 29 April 1965 NZ7001 and its crew flew from RNZAF Base Auckland to Honolulu. Covering 3,840 nm in twelve hours and twenty minutes, it was the longest distance flown by New Zealand civil or military aircraft in a single day. Another major overseas trip was in May 1965, when one aircraft flew to Singapore and returned home via the Philippines where it uplifted support equipment for 5 Squadron Sunderlands.
The first major operation carried out by the RNZAF’s new Hercules took them straight into a war! The three aircraft airlifted the New Zealand Army’s 161 Artillery Battery and its equipment from New Zealand to Biên Hòa AFB in South Việtnam. Over seven days the aircraft carried 96 soldiers, five 105mm howitzers, fourteen laden Land Rovers, eight trailers, two water tankers and other equipment – in total seventy tons. The first flight was made on 14 July and the last on 21 July 1965. Each aircraft stopped only for fuel and a crew change at Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Just twenty hours after leaving New Zealand the soldiers were in the harsh operational environment of South Việtnam. There was much public dissension over the role of the New Zealand Armed Forces in the Việtnam War. The Air Force’s involvement in the carriage of the Army Artillery units was conducted in utmost secrecy before the event. Sergeant Air Quartermaster Vern Carter remembers the degree of subterfuge used to disguise the involvement.
‘We were scheduled to fly to Singapore, leaving Whenuapai (RNZAF Auckland) on Monday morning 5 July 1965. We loadies were asked to come in on the Sunday morning and supervise the loading. On arrival at the Squadron hangar, there were no signs of aircraft on the tarmac. Instead we were confronted by the sight of 161 Battery’s Land Rovers and artillery waiting outside. They had driven up from Papakura at 0600 hours to avoid confrontation with the Progressive Youth Movement which was opposed to the Việtnam War. Thus we learnt that our ultimate destination was a little further than Singapore and we also learnt the reason for those nasty ‘plague’ jabs. Loading was a doddle, though carried out inside the hangar and the seats were rigged for the accompanying gunners. The technique for landing [at Biên Hòa, Việtnam] was to spiral down from 20,000 feet, remaining within the confines of the airfield, or you could get shot at by the VC around the perimeter of the field. When the aircraft commenced descent, the gunner’s staff sergeant leapt to his feet and bellowed ‘Load weapons’.
‘Whoa,’ yelled a startled Air Quartermaster. ‘Not on my aircraft you don’t.’ He visualised everyone disappearing through a small hole in the side of the still pressurised aircraft. The first confrontation of the war! 40 Squadron Hercules were to continue regular flights in support of New Zealand’s contribution to this war, flying into Saïgon and Vũng Tàu.
Acting Sergeant (later Squadron Leader) Warren Dale who was awarded the Việtnam Medal for duty was an Air Quartermaster on RNZAF Hercules transport flights operating between Singapore, Vũng Tàu and Saïgon.
‘Our Hercules’ were new and well capable of the work. Our course of air quartermasters were among the conversion courses to be trained in New Zealand by the RNZAF crews who had trained and brought the aircraft home from the United States. Vern Carter and Jock Scott (who both went on to become Master Air Loadmasters) made a good job of our training and we were confident because of this good solid grounding and the quality and capability of our aircraft and equipment. It was a time of contrasts; from seeing the mist still gathered just under the top of the jungle canopy as we flew low level over the Mekong Delta in the peace in the early morning just after dawn to the busy, somewhat dirty day-to-day business of an operational airfield. The air and the ground would shudder with the thudding beat of dozens of Iroquois and helicopter gunships lifting off in streams for their morning missions.’ The RNZAF contribution during the conflict saw 40 Squadron airlift New Zealand troops to South Việtnam and 41 Squadron freighters began regular re-supply missions from Singapore. In 1967 the first RNZAF helicopter pilots commenced duties with 9 Squadron RAAF in Việtnam. Other pilots served with USAF squadrons as Forward Air Controllers, bringing a total of thirty pilots who served in Việtnam between 1967 and 1971; ten of these received decorations for gallantry.
‘Getting to know our troops and gunners over the 2-3 days from New Zealand into South Việtnam was a highlight. Watching good, solid, quiet and determined New Zealand soldiers unloading their weapons, artillery and stores and going calmly about their business when we arrived was always impressive. We would sometimes lend the gunners aircraft ear defenders, for a few short months, as they looked to be better than the gear they had. Occasionally, we would collect the same people after their tour and remember each other. They were changed, but there was always a cheer as we lifted off for the flight home. Unfortunately, we needed to bring out some of them in their coffins which were a sobering reminder of the real war that our people were facing.
‘The war in Việtnam touched the public consciousness like no war previously, due in large part to the powerful then-new medium of television. It brought war – its sacrifice and horror – into the living rooms of ordinary kiwi families. People questioned New Zealand’s role in the engagement and protests were widespread. Our servicemen were not immune to these protests and were often the easy target of unpopular government policies. I was comfortable with our engagement in Việtnam. I saw it as New Zealanders helping to defend a small country threatened by insurgency and invasion by larger and more powerful enemies. By the same token I was comfortable with the demonstrations. We felt that the demonstrators’ freedom to do this was part of being New Zealanders and the sort of thing that our duties in Việtnam were intended to defend.’
Between June 1964 and December 1972 over 3,400 New Zealand military personnel served in the Republic of South Việtnam. Of that number 37 died in active service, including one RNZAF serviceman Sergeant G. S. Watt and 187 were wounded.
Meanwhile, in July 1965 a Hercules made the first around-the-world flight for this new RNZAF type, completing a circuit of the globe in 85 hours. Back home they assisted 3 Squadron Bristol Freighter aircraft in redistributing civilian prisoners throughout New Zealand after prison riots at Mount Eden (Auckland) and Paparua (Christchurch). The Hercules were beginning to show their versatility. On 12 September New Zealand Prime Minister Keith Holyoake used NZ7003 on a VIP trip from Rarotonga to Wellington. It was the first of many overseas VIP missions the Hercules flew until the Boeing 727s took over the role on their arrival in 1981. Towards the end of 1965 the three Hercules’ of 40 Squadron were busily engaged on a wide range of worldwide tasks. In October 1965 they provided support to 14 Squadron Canberras in a major international exercise in Australia. The first paradrops were made over RNZAF Auckland and training exercises to develop supply dropping techniques were carried out over Matamata airfield. In December the RNZAF’s first six Bell Sioux helicopters were delivered from the United States by Hercules. They went to Hobsonville at RNZAF Auckland, the home of 3 Battlefield support Squadron (3 BSS). In June 1966 the Hercules began delivery of five new Iroquois helicopters to 3 BSS. ‘The first flight out of Christchurch, the first ever made to the Antarctic by an RNZAF aircraft, left at noon on Wednesday 27 October and the last flight landed there at 5.25 on Saturday, 30 October 1965.’
This statement in the RNZAF News was the first comment on what has become the annual sojourn of 40 Squadron to the great white continent. Air Commodore Carey Adamson, then a young Flying Officer co-pilot, was on that first trip. He recalls this historic flight: ‘We had to deliberately fly past a point of no return to a destination with no alternate. We had heard horror stories of the destination weather closing in with no warning and shutting down the airfield in a matter of minutes. Although we knew all the theory, we were not sure what landing on the ice would actually be like. When the coast of Antarctica came into sight, the intercom became silent as everyone took in the grandeur of the scenery and the alien nature of the continent. After seven hours and ten minutes the first RNZAF flight to the Antarctic ended with an uneventful landing at Williams Field. We had proved that we now had the means to support our own people with our own aircraft.’
During this first venture to the deep-south, Hercules NZ7003 travelled 12,900 miles on round trips between Christchurch and Williams Field (McMurdo), carrying a total of 75,000lb of miscellaneous cargo for the New Zealand Antarctic Research Programme (NZARP) and for the United States ‘Deep Freeze’ programme. ‘It was different and challenging flying,’ Captain of the flight, Wing Commander Allan Wood AFC said. ‘It was with joy and pride that we watched the first RNZAF Hercules land at McMurdo Sound, Antarctica’ said Mr. M. M. Prebble, the leader of the New Zealand Party at Scott Base. In 1968 the New Zealand Government announced it had approved the purchase of a further two Hercules. These new aircraft (NZ7004 and NZ7005) were officially accepted at Dobbins AFB during the first week of January 1969 and arrived in New Zealand on the 9th.
On 28 July 1969 the Squadron had all five Hercules in the air for the first five ship formation over Auckland city. During May – June 1969, Hercules carried out flights to the Cook Islands in support of a Government requirement to assist this island nation. These flights were typical of those still carried out today by the Hercules to various island nations of the South Pacific. One of the first occasions the Hercules showed its skills to the New Zealand public was in April 1968. A severe tropical storm disrupted commercial shipping and Hercules’ were used to carry passengers over Cook Strait. Up to ninety people a time were carried on the twelve-minute flight between Wellington and Blenheim. The geographical nature of New Zealand, with Cook Strait dividing the land mass, made for an interesting industrial dispute situation. New Zealand Railways ran a ferry service between the two main islands. The link was treated as an extension of the national highway system, so when threatened by industrial action, the Government used other means to ensure the link was maintained. In late 1969 a Hercules and three Bristol Freighters carried priority freight across the Cook Straight when industrial action halted the ferry service. Code named Operation ‘Pluto’, 1,750 tons of freight were transported over 22 days. The operation has been regularly repeated, with the range of cargo expanded to include light vehicles and passengers. The most recent was in April 1991.
40 Squadron’s motto is Ki Nga Hau E Wha (‘To the Four Winds’). During the 1970s the men, women and Hercules of 40 Squadron lived up to this motto by visiting a wide range of countries. The Hercules had become a very important part of the projection of New Zealand’s foreign policy. In addition to the usual military work carried out during this decade, many new tasks for New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs were undertaken. Some of the decade’s highlights are recalled here.
One of the first major deployments in the early 1970s was to the People’s Republic of Bangladesh in early 1972. Replying to a worldwide call for assistance to the war ravaged country, Detachment Commander, Squadron Leader Noel Rodger and the crew of NZ7002 under the command of Flight Lieutenant Peter Hensby-Bennett left Auckland on 23 February. During a fourteen day airlift in Bangladesh more than one million pounds of urgently needed food was distributed throughout the country. Another detachment, led by Squadron Leader Peter Tremayne, followed. Hercules NZ7002 returned to Bangladesh, captained by Flight Lieutenant Colin Harris, spending three weeks airlifting 3.1 million pounds of supplies. Flying conditions were harsh, with long days, extreme temperatures and no internal air traffic organisations to co-ordinate the many international aircraft crisscrossing the country. For its efforts the RNZAF was awarded the Red Cross Medallion for Meritorious Service. During regular overseas operations Hercules NZ7004 made the first nonstop flight from Changi (Singapore) to Whenuapai, on 12 May 1970. Captained by Wing Commander Mervyn Hodge, Officer Commanding 40 Squadron, the aircraft made the 5,290 mile flight in fourteen hours 45 minutes. All five Hercules visited the Far East on many occasions during this decade, flying missions in support of Exercise ‘Vanguard’ (a 75 Squadron RNZAF exercise) and the New Zealand Army Battalion based at Singapore. On 20 October NZ7005 appeared out of the hangar wearing the new ‘Kiwi’ roundel, adopted by the RNZAF to clearly identify New Zealand military aircraft. ‘As our most prominent ambassadors, it was appropriate that a Hercules should be one of the first types to carry the new national marking’.
Throughout the seventies the Hercules were pressed into service as VIP and VVIP transport aircraft, carrying these people around New Zealand and the South Pacific. Initially, a C-130 VIP Rig with plush seats mounted on a pallet was used. The pallet had screens around it with an open top. At least one Royal referred to it as ‘the horse box’. On 1 October 1978, NZ7002, under the command of Squadron Leader Carey Adamson, flew to Tuvalu to uplift Her Royal Highness the Princess Margaret, who had fallen ill during a visit there. The Princess was flown to Sydney for treatment. A fully enclosed VIP module was developed by the Squadron, mounted or a large pallet ‘liberated’ from the Canadians. Another Princess, Princess Anne, also travelled by RNZAF VIP Hercules. Squadron maintenance flight commander, Flight Lieutenant Alan Gill, remembers the rush to complete the module in time. ‘The box arrived the day before the scheduled flight. Much effort was expended to get a satisfactory air-conditioned airflow through the enclosed room. Work continued through the night to complete the fit in time for the 0900 departure. After the mammoth effort, Princess Anne apparently spent very little time in ‘the box’. Probably the lack of windows and the carpet glue smell led her to decide that the flight deck was a more enjoyable vantage point.’
With some improvement in East-West relations, New Zealand decided to establish an Embassy in Peking. NZ7002 captained by Wing Commander Mervyn Hodge, set out for China on 22 July 1973 with a cargo of furniture and equipment for the new Embassy. The aircraft stopped at Canton to collect a Chinese navigator, radio operator and interpreter for the final leg of the journey. It was a very wet day in Peking on 25 July, but the crew quickly assisted local personnel in unloading the cargo before beginning the trip home. On 5 December Hercules NZ7002 arrived in Moscow after a six hour flight from England. Captained by Wing Commander Mervyn Hodge, the aircraft carried equipment for the New Zealand Embassy being built in Moscow. It was the first RNZAF aircraft to land in the Soviet Union and was the first of three flights made by New Zealand Hercules to the Soviet Union’s capital city. To enter Russian airspace each flight needed a Russian navigator and radio operator. One of the crew was a loadmaster named Sergeant Warren Dale. He recalls an unusual incident at Copenhagen while collecting the Russian escorts: ‘The tarmac was covered in a deep layer of clear ice. Our fancy little wooden chocks wouldn’t hold the aircraft – it slid happily off down the tarmac, chocks and all, immediately the brakes were released – the Danes fixed that with the meanest-looking set of spiked chocks I’ve ever seen.’
On 25 December 1974, when most Hercules crews were enjoying an antipodean summer, a cyclone hit Darwin on the northern coast of Australia. New Zealand’s Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Wallace Rowling, offered immediate air assistance and on 27 December a Hercules with two crews was on its way to Darwin. 40 Squadron had a close affinity with Darwin, as it had been a major staging post for the Squadron since the mid 1950s. During the next five days the Kiwi crews flew 65 hours, carrying urgently needed equipment to Darwin and evacuating residents to safer areas. With the impending collapse of South Việtnam in early 1975, a Hercules Detachment, under the command of Wing Commander A. E. ‘Tommy’ Thomson (CO 40 Squadron), made three trips between Saïgon and Singapore between 6 and 19 April 1975 to evacuate New Zealand Embassy staff, refugee children and news media representatives. In 1977 and 1978, 40 Squadron Hercules flew into Burma. Here was a country shut off from the world for many years, now seeking assistance from New Zealand on a number of technical education projects.
On 27 January 1977 NZ7005 captained by Squadron Leader Peter Bevin headed for the northern city of Myitkyina with an ambulance and machinery for a school. Further flights carrying other aid equipment were made to Myitkyina in March 1978 and January 1980. Navigator, Flight Lieutenant Terry Gardiner, remembers the hospitality shown by local ‘armed civilians’ at Myitkyina. ‘By unmistakable gestures, they insisted on entertaining us with afternoon tea before we left. This consisted of sweet biscuits, cakes and beer served to us in a fairly ramshackle airport building which appeared to have been left untouched since the end of World War Two. Our Captain looked askance at the beer and then at the size of the cannons draped across our hosts’ shoulders and made his wise decision. The rest of the crew were to drink; he would abstain and trust that it would not prove too much of a provocation. It didn’t. The return flight in my memory has a warm mellow hue.’
When the Iranian revolution reached its peak in 1979, Hercules NZ7004 captained by Flight Lieutenant Ray Robinson flew to Teheran at short notice to evacuate NZ Embassy staff. RNZAF Hercules had previously visited Iran in January 1976, transporting material for the New Zealand Embassy in Teheran.
New Zealand provided an Army component to monitor the truce in Zimbabwe during 1979. On 20 December Hercules NZ7003 captained by Flight Lieutenant Scott Glendinning flew through Australia, Cocos Island, Mauritius, Durban and Salisbury with the main body of troops. They were recovered from Zimbabwe by Hercules in March 1980. In July 1979 the RNZAF’s most senior Hercules, NZ7001, travelled to Greenham Common, England to take part in the International Air Tattoo. The theme for that year was the 25th anniversary of the first flight of the Hercules. In a line-up of 26 Hercules representing fourteen nations, the RNZAF Hercules was judged best aircraft on display. It was a very proud crew headed by Squadron Leader Trevor Butler, which brought home the prestigious Concours-d’-elegance trophy. The Hercules had undertaken a standard freight/passenger task to the United Kingdom before being meticulously prepared for the line-up. Another award also went to the Kiwis – Warrant Officer S. Peyton won the trophy for best crew chief. Throughout the decade, the RNZAF also enjoyed successes at ‘Bullseye’ competitions and at ‘Volant Rodeo’ in the United States.
Throughout the 1970s Hercules carried Iroquois helicopters and relief aid to a number of New Zealand’s South Pacific Island neighbours struggling to recover from cyclones. Other flights carried injured patients to New Zealand for treatment. Often a crew would be called out at short notice to evacuate a seriously ill patient from somewhere in the Pacific. RNZAF medical staff provided medical assistance on these flights. Closer to home, NZ7003 made an airdrop of young trees to the Chatham Islands during April 1978. These were planted to assist the survival of the rare Chatham Island Robin.
Constant demands on such a small Hercules fleet, was tremendous. Often there were only three or four aircraft available due to servicing. Meeting requirements meant dedication from the Squadron’s small maintenance team. One of the maintenance flight commanders was Flight Lieutenant Alan Gill. He recalls the degree of effort required to keep the fleet in the air.
‘The NCOs were the backbone of the maintenance operation. Their dedication in ensuring serviceable aircraft were available to taskings is something I will never forget. The nature of 40 Squadron’s tasking saw aircraft departing in the morning, returning in the evening and needing to be ready again the next day. The night shift was busy and the day shift was sometimes just cleaning up the mess from the night before. The ‘groundies’ very rarely went on the aircraft to see what it was all about. My predecessor had argued for a maintenance position on the crew for some flights and also for a training exercise base in Fiji. That maintenance position enabled the ground crew to observe that long flights through various time zones were mostly hard and tiring work. Late arrivals and early departures, invariably the norm, left little time to enjoy the ‘exotic places’.
‘Allowing the ground crews to see air crews at work enabled better empathy between them and consequently provided a more cooperative dialogue and work arrangement.’
The decade ended on a sad note when an Air New Zealand DC-10 crashed on Mount Erebus in Antarctica. All 257 people on board the 29 November 1979 flight died. Within hours, Hercules NZ7004 captained by Flight Lieutenant Scott Glendinning was on its way to the southern continent, carrying a civilian police contingent and an air accident investigation team. The Hercules then recovered to Christchurch ending 28 hours of flying for one crew.
Other Hercules had the unenviable task of recovering bodies back to Christchurch. This whole operation greatly affected the crews and support personnel involved. As the Squadron history records, it was a sad way to end what had been a very successful year.
When the Hercules fleet entered the 1980s they and their crews were seasoned campaigners of military air lift operations. This decade continued to provide challenges and changes in emphasis. With the introduction of the two Boeing 727 trijets into the squadron, the Hercules crews could concentrate more on tactical airlift, paratrooping, aerial delivery and heavy freight movements. However, the responsibility of moving personnel both internally and externally remained an important task. March 1980 was a typical month with eleven overseas tasks, ten internal tasks and the commencement of a Hercules conversion course, put heavy demands on the Squadron and its aircraft. Tropical cyclone ‘Wally’ in Fiji during April saw the Hercules complete six return flights to Fiji carrying two helicopters and approximately 75,000lbs of tents and blankets.