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Army Launches

This article has previously appeared in the RNZAF Marine Section Newsletter and the NZPFOCA Newsletter.

The New Zealand Permanent Air Force (formed in 1923 as a branch of the Army) acquired its launches by 1930, when the 8.5m (28ft) W2 was built in Auckland by Charles Bailey & Son. Late in 1939 a 19.5m (64ft) high speed launch of the type used by the RAF for air sea rescue and target towing was delivered to the RNZAF by the British Power Boat Co., Hythe England. (The RNZAF was established 1/4/1937.) Based at Hobsonville, and eventually not named, this vessel had three 500bhp petrol engines amd a top speed of 38 knots. The cost was shared equally by the air force and army. The army used it for towing targets for the Auckland Coastal Defence Batteries. It was also a regular visitor to Wellington and Lyttelton towing targets. On the 19th of June 1940 she took part in the rescue of Niagara survivors after she hit a mine off the east coast of Northland.

In about 1935 the RNZA planned to have a launch built for target towing purposes, but were later persuaded to share a high speed craft with the RNZAF. This standard RAF-type rescue launch was ordered late in 1938 and delivered soon after the start of WW2, late in 1939. Costs were split equally between army and air force and the army use was for coastal battery target towing. This craft was based at Hobsonville and does not appear to have a name.

At the end of WW2 some of the coastal gun batteries remained in commission. In the Auckland area a launch was needed to tow targets and to carry personnel and stores between Waiheke Island, Motutapu Island and the Torpedo Bay wharf, Devonport. The Navy was asked late in 1945 for a surplus HDML. This was approved in Jan 1946 and HDML 1185 was converted by the dockyard, handed over to the army in March 1946 and renamed 'Bombardier'. With a towing bit fitted, Bombardier carried out her tasks for 9 Coast Regiment Auckland. In November 1953 she was delivered to Wellington where she carried out target towing duties for 10 Coast Regiment. This visit lasted 7 weeks. Bombardier made three more visits to Wellington to assist with CMT training in November 1954, March 1956 and March 1957. RNZAF and RNZN crews delivered Bombardier to and from Wellington, these crews hada the necessary out of harbour qualifications. The RNZAF Marine Section also cooperated with the army towing targets with vessel no. W275. Most of this towing was for live shoots in the Whangaparaoa are and for night shoots off Fort Cautley in the Rangitoto Channel early in the 1950s. The writer of this article, Roy Mitchel ex RNZAF Marine Fitter, reports that the coastal gunners were pretty good shots. Bombardier's dimensions were 72ft long with a beam of 15.8ft. She was twin screw and was powered by two Grey Marine Diesel Two Stroke engines. Total horsepower was 330bhp and with a speed of 10 to 12 knots. Many Old Comrades will remember Bombardier.

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