Episode 118 – No. 5 Squadron Reunion

“We Span The Ocean”
The No. 5 Squadron RNZAF 75th Anniversary Reunion

Show Guests, As Below:
•  Wings Commander Daniel “D.J.” Hunt
Current Commander of No. 5 Squadron, Navigator, P-3K and P-3K2 Orions
•  Wings Commander Gordon Ragg AFC, JP
Former Commander of No. 5 Squadron, Pilot, P-3B Orions, and No. 5 Squadron Association president
•  Peter Culpan
Former No. 5 Squadron, Air Signals, Sunderland and P-3B Orions
•  Pilot Officer Jack Barnett
Current No. 5 Squadron, Air Warfare Officer, P-3K2 Orions Training Crew
•  Mike Karsten
Former No. 5 Squadron, Air Ordnance, P-3K Orions
•  Flying Officer Kate Galbraith
Current No. 5 Squadron Air Warfare Officer, P-3K2 Orions
•  Sergeant Trent Wyatt
Current No. 5 Squadron Flight Engineer, P-3K and P-3K2 Orions
•  Flying Officer Ben James
Current No. 5 Squadron, P-3K2 Orions
•  Alan Bleakley
Former No. 5 Squadron, Flight Engineer, Catalinas, Sunderlands
•  Peter Burch
Former No. 5 Squadron, Electrician, Sunderlands, Hobsonville Old Boys Association
•  Harry Hider
Cancer patient and special guest of No. 5 Squadron RNZAF Reunion
•  Squadron Leader Hilton Baker
Current No. 5 Squadron Maintenance Flight Commander, P-3K and P-3K2 Orions

Host: Dave Homewood

Recorded: 23rd and 24th of September 2016

Duration:  2 hour 33 minutes 15 seconds

In this very special episode Dave Homewood had the great pleasure to visit No. 5 Squadron, Royal New Zealand Air Force, to join in on the squadron’s double-celebration reunion that marked 75 Years since the unit first formed, and 50 Years since the introduction of their current aircraft, the Lockheed P-3 Orion.

No. 5 Squadron RNZAF formed on the 18th of November 1941, operating Short Singapore flying boats from Princes Wharf, Suva, in Fiji, under the command of Squadron Leader Eric Lewis. They were the first RNZAF flying boat squadron, and their mission was patrolling the shipping lanes and seaways around Fiji, Tonga and other pacific areas, searching for submarines, surface raiders and anyone in need of rescue.

On the 24th of June 1942 the squadron was expanded, incorporating eight Vickers Vincents based at Nausori. While the Vincents made short and medium range patrols and operated with the New Zealand Army in Fiji, while the Singapores continued longer range reconnaissance patrols.

On the 13th of September 1942 the Singapores moved to the purpose built RNZAF Station Lauthala Bay,a new flying boat station built by the New Zealand Government. This place would become the centre of RNZAF maritime operations in the Pacific for the next two and a half decades. 

With the impending introduction of Consolidated Catalinas to RNZAF Service the squadron’s crews were slowly transferred to a US Navy Catalina unit for retraining, and the squadron was reduced in size. The last Short Singapore operation flown by the squadron took place on the 27th of November 1942, and the final Vincent patrols three days later on the 30th of November. On that same day the squadron was disbanded.

However delays that arose with the deliveries of the New Zealand Catalinas and posting away of the US Navy Catalina squadron meant a large gap in the patrolling around Fiji and so on the 1st of March 1943 two of the Singapore III’s were reactivated, and former No. 5 Squadron crews began patrolling in them again. As a reduced size unit this was known simply as the Singapore Flight. This only continued to the 16th of April 1943.

It was not till July 1944 that No. 5 Squadron would again reform, initially forming within No. 3 Flying Boat Operational Training Unit. The squadron now also equipped with Consolidated PBY-5 Catalinas. The squadron served in Fiji till October 1944, and then moved as a unit to Luganville Seaplane Base at the Segond Channel, Espirtu Santo from where they made patrols and flew Dumbo rescue operations. There was also a Detachment established in the Admiralty Islands. As well as Consolidated PBY-5 Catalinas the squadron was also operating licence built Boeing-Canada built PB2B-1 Catalinas.

When the war ended No. 5 Squadron returned to Lauthala Bay in Fiji, and continued as a defensive presence there flying Catalinas. In August 1953 the first Short Sunderland flying boats arrived on No. 5 Squadron and the type would eventually see the Catalinas phased out of service.

In 1966 No. 5 Squadron relocated to RNZAF Base Whenuapai in Auckland, to re-equip with the new Lockheed P-3B Orion. The first of these was delivered to New Zealand on the 27th of September 1966 and a new era began. As the squadron refocused to land-based operations the Sunderlands were phased out by April 1967.

The P-3 Orion has now served for 50 years with the RNZAF, and in that time has become an icon of the Air Force and a household name with the public, most notably for the many maritime search and rescue operations the crews perform every year around New Zealand, the Pacific region and down into Antarctic waters.

In 1985 a sixth P-3 Orion was added to the fleet of five, purchased from the Royal Australian Air Force. And around the same period the fleet began undergoing a major upgrade programme, Project Rigel, which re-winged the aeroplanes and totally overhauled and updated their electronics package.

In 2005 another major upgrade to the airframes began with another overhaul of electronic surveillance and search systems, and the introduction of glass cockpit features and modern avionics packages. Today the Orions continue on giving tremendous service to New Zealand, thanks to the men and women who fly and maintain them.

The 75 years of service given by this most important squadron was marked by the reunion, which was opened by the current Commanding Officer, Wing Commander Daniel “D.J.” Hunt”, here in the cavernous and noisy squadron hangar. The opening speeches by W/C Hunt and former C.O. of the squadron, Gordon Ragg, are in this podcast but the sound quality is sadly poor. I can assure you however this is exactly how the speeches sounded, the acoustics in that huge concrete hangar and the P.A. system really did not combine too well.

Dave then met with several people individually, including Wing Commanders Hunt and Ragg again, and past and present members of the squadron, to record their thoughts and memories of serving on this historic unit, and the current and past duties it has undertaken. It’s hoped that these interviews form a fine tribute to the squadron’s long and admirable history, and its current and future roles.

Happy 75th Anniversary No. 75 Squadron, and Happy 50th to the Orions!

Quick Links:

•  The Royal New Zealand Air Force’s Website

•  The Royal New Zealand Air Force’s Facebook Page

•  The No. 5 Squadron Royal New Zealand Air Force Association’s Page

Photos:

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Wing Commander D.J. Hunt opening the Reunion

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Wing Commander D.J. Hunt

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Wing Commander Gordon Ragg AFC, JP, Retired

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Sunderland Air Signaller Peter Culpan is seated far right
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The second day’s events being officially opened by the organisers.
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Current aircrew members F/O Kate Galbraith, F/O Ben James and P/O Jack Barnett
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Catalina and Sunderland Flight Engineer Alan Bleakley
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Sunderland Air Electrician Peter Burch
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Special Guest of the Squadron Harry Hider, 15, flying the P-3K2 simulator (Photo Peter Wheeler)
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Maintenance Flight Commander, Squadron Leader Hilton Baker

Other Photos from the Reunion
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