The lost Airmen of 41 Squadron
During the Vietnam War, the 41 Squadron was a Royal New Zealand Air Force Transport Squadron based in Singapore. Many of the pilots of the 41 Squadron and the 40 Squadron flew virtually all New Zealand troops into and out of Vietnam, the 41 Squadron also flew equipment and supported both military and civilian efforts. These included supporting the New Zealand Army at Nui Dat, Vung Tau and other locations, supporting the New Zealand Surgical team at Qui Nhoon and the New Zealand Medical Team at Bong Son. Diplomatic efforts were maintained through the New Zealand embassy at Saigon and support was also provided to civilian efforts including the NZ Red Cross and Save the Children Fund Team.
Over the thirteen years of the Vietnam War, 41 Squadron RNZAF made 1,979 landings into the conflict. Each flight took a full crew, including technical ground crew whose role was to ensure the Squadron’s Bristol Freighters remained serviceable, able to do their job, and get home safely again. These ground crew servicemen were rarely armed, they picked up toolboxes and did what was required of them. But, despite being a part of this bitter and toxic conflict, many of the 41 Squadron ground crew technicians have not been acknowledged or recognized for their Vietnam service.
Ground crew names were seldom recorded in Squadron records, which makes it very difficult - and in many cases impossible - for them to find evidence of their Vietnam service and receive the recognition they deserve. Many Airmen have sought recognition from the New Zealand Defence Force but have been turned away for lack of evidence. To compound this situation, many records have been lost, including 10 years of the Squadron’s ‘Flight Authorisation Books’ that covered the period from April 1965 through to April 1975. Ground crew names would have been recorded in these records.
One of these Airmen was former ground engineer Douglas (Scotty) Wingfield who, like other technical ground crew, flew into and stayed in Vietnam on numerous occasions. After struggling to find evidence of his own service, he took on a lone battle to right a wrong for his comrades. It’s a mission that has amounted to ten years of research. His work now provides evidence of every flight that went into Vietnam and every landing made by 41 Squadron during the conflict. He has linked each piece of evidence to its original source, including Air Crew Log Books, Flight Authorisation Books, photographs or the Unit Histories themselves.
Most importantly, his research identifies many of the names and ranks of the ground crew who served in Vietnam, the date they first entered Vietnam, the locations they stayed at, and the number of sorties they flew into the conflict. These names are recorded in what has become known as ‘Scotty's List’. The NZDF advises that they are using the list and the research behind it as a reference point for enquiries from RNZAF Airmen around Vietnam service.
As at the end of 2019, Scotty has used his research to assist at least 90 of these Airmen to receive their Vietnam Medals and Vietnam Veteran status. He continues his search. Scotty has provided his list to Online Cenotaph and those he has idenitified from the 41 Squadron, which can be found here.
Images of the RNZAF 41 Sqaudron can be found at the Air Force Museum of New Zealand and Gary Danver's Flickr page.
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Cite this article
The lost Airmen of 41 Squadron. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 2 March 2020. Updated: 11 May 2020.