By Wayne Joseph
New Zealand purchased 88 Mosquitoes in late 1940 at a bargain price of 6,000 Pounds each plus spares. They were produced by De Havillands at Hatfield, Airspeeds at Portsmouth, Standard Motors at Coventry and some at Bankstown in Australia.
They served in New Zealand with 75 Squadron in the role of fighter bombers. Only a quarter of the aircraft ever saw service. The rest were placed in storage at Woodbourne until they were sold for scrap in the 1950s.
The Mosquito was made almost entirely of wood and this proved to be its strongest feature. The fuselage was a sandwich of plywood and balsa made in two halves and joined after all the internal fittings had been added. The Wings, 2 Spars with plywood skinning were made of wood. The aircraft could absorb tremendous damage and still fly.
The New Zealand Mosquitoes were offered for tender by the Government Stores Board between 1953 and 1956. The majority were purchased by a Mr Morrell who removed the Rolls Royce Merlin engines at Woodbourne for melting down in Christchurch. The aircraft were then broken up and burnt.
Seven were sold in the North Island. Six of these to a Palmerston North firm who intended to refurbish them for sale overseas. Only one left New Zealand as the Government stopped the sale. The others were scrapped in a field at Longburn. One aircraft was sold to Mr Coleman, a farmer near Marton. This one ended up in the Museum of Transport and Technology.
It is a little known fact that New Zealand played a big part in the manufacture of the first Mosquitoes. Lt. Col Gamman of the New Zealand Forestry Group of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force with a company strength of 200, sailed from home on 1 May 1940 and arrived in England on 19 June. Their equipment had gone ahead and was lost in France, following the evacuation of the BEF from Dunkirk. The Company extracted approximately 6,000,000 cubic feet of timber from three forests over three years at Cirencester Park Woods.
The trees were processed using four large New Zealand type mobile mills, with circular saws cooled by water. They built these themselves using timber. The trees were felled and moved using bulldozers, a process was unheard of in England prior to this time.
Much of the timber processed by the New Zealanders was used to make plywood at Pine End Works on a 14 acre site at Lydney in Gloucestershire. This “shadow factory”, known as Factories Direction Ltd, was set up in secret in 1940, in a location away from the route of German bombers, to manufacture specialised plywood which was used in the construction of Mosquito fighter bombers and also Horsa assault gliders for D Day.
Another New Zealand connection to this story is the fact that Lydney was the family home of Charles Bathurst, 1st Viscount Bledisloe, 4th Governor General of New Zealand 1930-35. While in New Zealand he purchase the Waitangi Treaty Grounds and gifted it to the nation.