THE RNZAF AIRFIELD
The WWII Te Kopuru Aerodrome was opened on 27th May 1943. Two runways NW-SE 1738 yards SW-NE 1628 yards. Located approx 4ft above mean sea level with a good grass surface and reasonably hard
Three runways were originally planned but in the end only the two shown above were completed. A considerable amount of correspondence was generated in the years immidiately proceeding WW2 for the construction of an airfield at Te Kopuru, the potential invasion of New Zealand by Japan finally saw the project become a reality. The information below is taken from official records and from documents from the Gordon Burns Collection held by the RNZAF Museum located st the former RNZAF Base at Wigram in the South Island of New Zealand
24/01/1935. Eng I/C (Engineer in charge) to C Franson, Te Kopuru. Herewith enclosed please find a pamphlet giving particulars of the area required for an aerodrome. I should say that a Class 'D" ground would be satisfactory for Te Kopuru. (There is a Survey Map enclosed with this letter which shows an area to the North of Te Kopuru Village and is NOT the area which was finally selected for the Satellite Airfield in 1942. During the 1935-36 period there was a lot of correspondence relating to the establishment of an aerodrome from the 'Te Kopuru Aerodrome Committee'. ghb). PWD 23/381/73, Part 1.
09/0711942. Eng l/C to Air/Sec (Air Secretary) . Suggested Aerodrome Ruawai. The site was inspected at Ruawai but was a low lying mud-flat area. The land is below the high spring tide level and in normal wet weather there is about 6" of freeboard and from a military point of view damage to the automatic drainage gates would flood large tracts of country and this site is not considered suitable.
Other sites were inspected and the only promising one was on the western side of the Wairoa River about one mile south of Te Kopuru. At this point the soils are of an entirely different character to others in the District and are suitable for a turf aerodrome. Surface conditions are almost satisfactory in the natural state, Time did not permit a thorough investigation but if desired a preliminary report can be submitted for this area. (There is a map following this letter which shows the area around the site selected on the west bank of the river ghb). PWD 23/381/73, Part 1
14/07/1942. Eng l/C to CAS (Chief of Air Staff). Suggested Aerodrome Ruawai. It was inspected by Mr Langbein, Highways Engineer accompanied by LtCommander H H Houk of US Forces. They inspected various sites on the Ruawai side and also on the Te Kopuru side. The major difficulties with the Ruawai side were the extreme unevenness of all suitable land, low margins between high water, spring tide level and surface level of all sites, unstable soil and liability of fog.
The site on the Te Kopuru side would require investigation as to level and possibility of satisfactory layout before it would be possible to compare it with other sites. If a decision is made to construct an aerodrome in the locality it would be necessary to build up the runways with stable material, which is apparently available within reasonable range, to a depth of from 12" to 18”. The construction of an aerodrome in the locality is a summertime Job and should, on no account, be attempted under winter conditions.
PWD 23/381/73; Part 1.
18/08/1942. Eng I/C to Air/Sec. Enclosed preliminary report on proposed aerodrome site on Te Kopuru Flats.
You will see a full strip development is possible up to 7000' in length and from an analysis of the penetration test carried out on the Ruawai and Te Kopuru Flats it is obvious that the Te Kopuru site is preferable. Construction will take about four months to complete two stabilised strips. Work would commence about the beginning of November, the estimated costs, including purchase of land, laying of strips and clearing of obstructions is £45,000.
The property is Toka Toaka SD, Part DP 25146, Block 5, Part section 15, 16, 17, 19 ~ 20 and is situated between the west bank of the Northern Wairoa River and the Dargaville - Tikinui Highway on flats, one mile south of Te Kopuru. PWD 23/381/73, Part 1.
20/08/1942. A H Neville to Min of Defence. As you are aware a new aerodrome is under construction at Kaitaia which it is proposed to use as a fighter station for the defence of the vital area of the Bay of Islands. An extension has been made to the landing ground at Waipapakauri to enable this aerodrome to be used by modern types of aircraft. Owing to the nature of the soil in winter conditions there is little chance that these aerodromes will be available for use before the end of next summer.
The North Auckland Province is not generally suitable for the construction of aerodromes. Other than Kaitaia and Waipapakauri, which are under construction, there are no aerodromes suitable for the operation of modern service types until Whenuapai is reached which is 150 miles further south. The two small aerodromes at Kerikeri and Whangarei are incapable of extension and cannot be used for modern service types. The lack of any suitable aerodrome south of the Bay of Islands Fortress Area constitutes a serious disability to the general defence schemes in the North Auckland Province. Moreover the lack of any aerodrome north of Auckland for Hudsons involves greatly increased flying hours for reconnaissance aircraft which could otherwise be avoided. Surveys have been carried out for some time with the object of finding a suitable site in the Dargaville area and the sites at Ruawai and Te Kopuru have both received detailed examination. The latter site, one mile south of Te Kopuru, is in all respects suitable for the development of a modern aerodrome and could be brought into use at a relatively small expense within six weeks or two months for use by Hudsons and similar types during summer conditions. While this landing ground fills a vital gap in the distribution of operational aerodromes in the North Auckland Province it is not proposed to develop an Air Force Station on/this site until the necessity becomes more apparent and the number of aircraft available justify such action. It is proposed however in the meantime, to use this aerodrome as an advanced landing ground for reconnaissance aircraft of the Hudson type which will involve a limited amount of stabilisation of the runways and a minimum of operational facilities. It is proposed that the area required should be leased from the farmers, rather than purchased, and the ground taken over by the Air Force is limited to the minimum required for runways. One important advantage of this proposal is the provision of a suitable aerodrome in the North Auckland Province from which modern types could operate this summer pending the construction of the more advanced aerodromes at Kaitaia and Waipapakauri. The cost of preparing the landing ground, exclusive of the cost of leasing the land, is estimated at £7,000. It was recommended that he obtain approval from War Cabinet. PWD 23/381/73, Part 1.
20/08/1942. DCAS (District Chief of Airs Staff)to Eng I/C. Contents of this letter follow the same general lines as the one of the same date from Neville to Min of Defence. Re the development of suitable runways satisfactory for the operation Hudsons or similar types, he goes on "the earth works involved do not appear to be heavy and it is possible the project could be most suitably be carried out by No 1 Aerodrome Construction Unit . . PWD 23/381/73, Part 1.
29/09/1942 AMS to OC NG (Officer Commanding Northern Group) Te Kopuru. The policy to be followed in connection with the provision of a landing ground at Te Kopuru has been given further consideration by Air Staff and a ruling has been given as follows: "The construction of a temporary strip landing ground as recommended by the ADeNG is approved. It was decided that work should be commenced as soon as possible, preferably by No 1 Aerodrome Construction Unit. The question of making a permanent aerodrome at Te Kopuru, or at any other site in this vicinity, should not be considered until Kaitaia is finished."
Would you please arrange for the Area Engineer to take the necessary action to provide this temporary landing strip, to your requirements, as soon as possible. (In this file is Drawing WR 5494, Te Kopuru Aerodrome). PWD 23/381/73, Part 1.
03/1011942. AOeNG to OC No 1 Construction Unit, Rukuhia. Instructions received from Air HQ that your Unit is to proceed with the construction of a temporary field, as per our Scheme No 2 Te Kopuru.
This HQ is of the opinion that this work is of no value unless completed by the end of November and it is hoped that you will be able to allocate a Section to proceed forthwith with the work of clearing and culverting.
The following arrangements have been made;
1. Air HQ asked to instruct the Eng I/C (in charge) re taking of land.
2. D/E (District Engineer)asked to provide 12 PWD (Public Works Department)
3. D/E asked to provide temporary cook-house facilities.
4. One 36'x10' tropical type hut has been forwarded by rail for use as a dining room/recreation room. Trucks will be obtainable on hire should service vehicles not be available.
PWD 23/381/73, Part 1.
16/10/1942. DOW (Air) (Director of Works) to Eng l/C. Advised that the Min of Defence had approved work in connection with the Te Kopuru aerodrome and for him to proceed. PWD 23/381/73, Part 1.
22/1011942. Copy, AOCNG to Air HQ. Enclosed plans showing proposed runways and drainage. Action taken so far;
1. Survey made by Construction Sqdn estimates submitted.
2. PWD instructed by you on 30 Sept to arrange lease of land.
3. PWD asked to provide camp of 12 PWD tents and temporary cook-house.
4. Official authority received on 16 October.
5. Plans showing runways submitted to District Engineer (D/E).
6. A slightly revised layout of runway system prepared in this HQ in order to reduce the drainage problems.
Arrangements have been made for No 1 Construction Unit to send a Section to Te Kopuru but before this can take effect it is necessary to confirm what arrangements the DIE has been able to make towards camp accommodation, whether a drag-line shovel can be allocated from the District and to arrange for the supply of six Air Force trucks to No 1 Construction Sqdn. This last has not been pressing pending completion of arrangements for Waipapakauri but should you be in a position to allocate a further six trucks to No 1 Const Unit, these should be sent to Dargaville. PWD 23/381/73, Part 1.
22/1011942. ADONG to Air HQ. Relates in the main to laying of drains etc and the costs. There was also some problem in obtaining the dragline. PWD 23/381/71, Part 1.
22/12/1942. Asst Und/Sec to J G Coates, Wgton. Regarding Te Kopuru, he has ascertained what the definite proposals of the Air Force are. The Air Force No 1 Const Unit will construct two runways, put them in pasture grass then restore the fences to their original positions. The Air Force will then have the runways available should their use be required in an emergency. In the meantime the farms concerned will not be disturbed apart from the disturbance consequent upon the grading of the runways. The Air Force hopes to have the whole of the work done and be out of the place by the end of January. (1943). PWD 23/381/73, Part 1.
27/05/1943. D/E to Perm Head. Advising that the flying field at Te Kapuru is available for use as regards to the conditions of surface etc. The original boundary fences across the runways have been replaced with electric fences as these can be easily removed if the field is to be used. Enclosed were two copies of the plan far Air Pilot information as received in Wellington on 31 May 1943. Information in the letter placed the field on the eastern side of the Dargaville-Tikinui main road, approx 1.5 miles south/east of Te Kopuru Village and between the main road and the Wairoa River.
The airfield being 4' above sea level. East of the airfield and on the opposite bank of the river is the settlement of Tokatoka. (The enclosed plan is too large to go an one sheet of A4 but could go on perhaps two or be reduced to A4 ghb **).
The airfield is under the control of the PWD.
Surface Conditions, Good grass surface, reasonable hard with usual obstructions, Phone Lines, electric fences crossing runways.
Refueling, available from Whangarei.
Repair and hangar facilities, Nil.
Transport, Daily services from Te Kopuru to Dargaville. Accommodation, Aratapu Hotel - 3.25 miles.
Weather Conditions, Available from the North Auckland Times Office, Dargaville. PWD 23/381/121.
30/06/1943. Inspection Report By F E T Suckling DSIR. Te Kopuru was inspected and the work required to be done;
The general condition of the turf, grass has established fairly well on the runways and is spreading well to fill up the gaps. Paspallum is recovering quickly, stock grazing on the area are causing damage by pugging and making tracks.
Work required to be done; Grass has made a good strike over most of the field and is still making some growth. Large areas are water logged and may cause some new grass to die off. Heavy grazing has been the practice of the farmers on the runways and this is causing poaching and other damage before grass is properly established.
Tracks across the runways are common showing that the farmers are not making their stock use the metal races provided. There appears to be no definite policy regarding this field. It was our recommendation that no grazing should be done until that grass had properly established. This recommendation was obviously not adhered to. PWD 23/381/73, Part 1.
/ /1943. Air Pilot Information. There is a tracing for the Air Pilot at the end of the file, which I will get photocopied (25/6/90).
The Te Kopuru Aerodrome Information is as follows :-
Magnetic Variation: 15 deg East approx.
Telephone: Post Office, Te Kopuru, 1.25 miles from aerodrome. Telephone in Private House 0.5 Mile, Mr C. Moore, Phone 26D Te Kopuru. Controlling Authority: PWD.
(A) Dimensions N/W - S/E, 1738 yards.
S/W - N/E, 1628 yards.
(B) Altitude above Mean Sea Level. 4 ft approximately.
(C) Surface Conditions. Good grass surface, reasonably hard.
(3) Obstructions requiring special precaution. Light electric fences, metal crossings. Telephone line along main road.
(4) Special Signals. None.
(5) Lighting. Nil.
(6) Facilities for Aircraft.
(a) Refuelling, Shell Company, Phone ~690, Whangarei, 49 Miles.
(b) Repairs, Nil.
(c) Hangar, Ni1.
(7) Facilities for- Personnel: (a) Transport. Daily services Te Kopuru -Dargaville. Junction 1.25 miles.
(b) Accommodation, Aratapu Hotel, 3.25 miles.
(8) Housing and Landing Charges: Nil.
(9) Radio Facilities. Nil.
(11) Special Regulations: -
(12) Meteorological: Local weather- conditions obtainable from North Auckland Times, Dargaville, Phone 14. PWD 23/381/121.
NZAM ex-RNZAF Air Film. NZAM Film No's.
160 30/8/42 Te Kopuru, 17 frames. Neg A/6 is target site before construction started.
Members of the Tatarariki Tennis Club c1942 pose in front of the hopper used to supply the Construction Unit with sandstone for the construction of the airfield.
Left to right,back row, Mavis Bassett, Elsie Marshall, Kate Marinkovich, front row Kathleen Kidd, Kath Searle, Marjorie Woollam.
In the final monthly “Turf Report“ report filed in December 1943 it was noted that Air Ministry would be meeting soon to decided on the disposal of the airfield and that the local landowners had been subcontracted to replace the boundary fences.
It was also noted that the following work was required to re seed the 35 acres used.
880lbs Chewing fescue
400lbs Brown top
200lbs Poa pratensis
80lbs Italian Rye Grass
160lbs Perenial rye
And the following application of fertiliser.
3 ton Sulphate of Ammonia @ 1.5cwt per acre
2 ton Super phosphate @ 1cwt per acre
It is not known if the airfield was ever used “in anger” however local legend has it that one aircraft did land and take off but details of that are sketchy. The airfield was handed back to owners at the end of the war and little remains to indicate it was ever an airfield. No doubt the successful but costly intervention of the United States Forces in the Pacific Campaign made the requirement of an airfield no longer needed
Aerial Photagraph of the completed airfield, April 1943