No. 3 Squadron RAAF

No. 3 Squadron RAAF

No. 3 Squadron's crest
Active 1916–19
Country Australia
Branch Royal Australian Air Force
Role Multi-role fighter
Part of No. 81 Wing, Air Combat Group
Garrison/HQ RAAF Base Williamtown
Motto(s) Operta Aperta
("Secrets Revealed")[1]

World War I

World War II

Cold War

Notable commanders[2][3] David Blake (1916–18)
Bill Anderson (1918–19)
Henry Wrigley (1919)
Frank Lukis (1925–30)
Harry Cobby (1930–31)
Bill Bostock (1931–36)
Allan Walters (1938–39)
Ian McLachlan (1939–41)
Peter Jeffrey (1941)
Alan Rawlinson (1941)
Bobby Gibbes (1942–43)
Brian Eaton (1943–44)
Jake Newham (1967–68)
Geoff Brown (1997–2000)
Aircraft flown
Fighter F/A-18 Hornet
F-35A Lightning II (planned)[4]

No. 3 Squadron is a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) fighter squadron, headquartered at RAAF Base Williamtown, near Newcastle, New South Wales. Established in 1916, it was one of four combat squadrons of the Australian Flying Corps during World War I, and operated on the Western Front in France before being disbanded in 1919. It was re-raised as a permanent squadron of the RAAF in 1925, and during World War II operated in the Mediterranean Theatre. The Cold War years saw the squadron disbanded and re-raised twice. It was based at RAAF Butterworth during the Malayan Emergency and the Indonesia–Malaysia Konfrontasi. Equipped with McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet multi-role fighters from 1986, the squadron deployed to Diego Garcia in 2002 to provide local air defence, and the following year contributed aircraft and crews to the invasion of Iraq as part of Operation Falconer. In April 2016, it deployed to the Middle East as part of the military intervention against ISIL.


World War I

No. 3 Squadron was formed at Point Cook, Victoria, on 19 September 1916 under the command of Major David Blake.[5] It was one of four operational squadrons of the Australian Flying Corps, and its personnel were members of the Australian Army. Shortly afterwards, the unit embarked upon the HMAT Ulysses and sailed to England for training, before becoming the first AFC squadron deployed to France, in September 1917, equipped with the R.E.8 two-seat reconnaissance/general purpose aircraft.[6] To avoid confusion with the British No. 3 Squadron RFC, it was known to the British military as "No. 69 Squadron RFC".[7] This terminology was never accepted by the squadron or the Australian Imperial Force who continued to use the AFC designation regardless,[8] and in early 1918, the British designation was dropped.[5]

R.E.8s of No 3 Sqn AFC

After moving to the Western Front, the squadron was initially based at Savy. In November 1917, it was assigned the role of being a corps reconnaissance squadron and allocated to I Anzac Corps, which was based around Messines, and established itself at Bailleul.[5] No. 3 Squadron would remain with I Anzac for the remainder of the war,[5] and participated in bombing, artillery spotting and reconnaissance missions supporting ANZAC and other British Empire ground forces. Its first air-to-air victory came on 6 December 1917; by the end of the war it would eventually shoot down another 15 German aircraft,[5] and would fly a total of 10,000 operational hours.[9]

In early 1918, the collapse of Russia allowed the Germans to concentrate their strength on the Western Front, and launched a major offensive.[10] As the Allies were pushed back, the squadron's airfield at Baileul came into range of the German guns and it was moved first to Abeele and then, as the Allies were pushed back further, it moved again to Poulainville.[11] During the offensive, the squadron operated mainly in the Somme Valley, providing artillery observation.[6] In April 1918, the squadron became responsible for the remains of the "Red Baron", Manfred von Richthofen, after he was shot down in its sector.[11] Blake initially believed that one of the squadron's R.E.8s may have been responsible but later endorsed the theory that an Australian anti-aircraft machine gunner actually shot down the Red Baron.[12] In July, the squadron undertook reconnaissance and deception operations in support of the Australian attack at Hamel,[13] before later joining the final Allied offensive of the war around Amiens in August, flying support operations until the armistice in November.[6] Shortly before the end of the war, the squadron began converting to the Bristol F.2 Fighter.[11]

Following the end of hostilities, the squadron was engaged briefly in mail transport duties before being withdrawn to the United Kingdom in early 1919. It was disbanded in February and over the course of the next couple of months its personnel were repatriated back to Australia.[6][11] Casualties amounted to 32 killed and 23 wounded,[6] of which the majority were aircrew; the squadron lost 11 aircraft during the war.[14]

World War II

No. 3 Squadron ground crew in front of a P-40 in 1942

In 1925, the squadron was re-formed as part of the fledgling independent Royal Australian Air Force. Under the command of Squadron Leader Frank Lukis,[15] it was based initially at Point Cook and then at Richmond, operating a variety of aircraft including S.E.5As, DH.9s, Westland Wapitis and Hawker Demons.[14] Upon the outbreak of World War II, the squadron was one of 12 permanent RAAF squadrons, and it was assigned to the 6th Division as an army co-operation squadron when it was deployed to the Middle East in mid-1940.[16]

No. 3 Squadron would serve the entire war in the Mediterranean Theatre as part of the Allied Desert Air Force (later the First Tactical Air Force), supporting the 8th Army.[17] After deploying from Australia without its aircraft, under the command of Squadron Leader Ian McLachlan,[15] the unit sailed to Egypt. The squadron first saw action in late 1940, operating obsolete Gloster Gladiator biplane fighters against the Italian Regia Aeronautica,[18] which it encountered while conducting reconnaissance and ground attack sorties. It also operated some Westland Lysanders and Gloster Gauntlets, before briefly being converted to Hawker Hurricanes, and then flew P-40 Tomahawks and Kittyhawks from 1941, often engaging in intense air battles with the German Luftwaffe, as well as Vichy French pilots during the Syria–Lebanon campaign.[19]

A CAC CA-18 Mustang warbird painted to represent a North American P-51 Mustang of No. 3 Squadron used in Italy during World War II

No. 3 Squadron's longest-serving commanding officer (CO) during the war was Squadron Leader Bobby Gibbes, whose tour lasted from February 1942 to April 1943.[20] Gibbes was replaced by Squadron Leader Brian Eaton, who led the unit until February 1944.[21] During this period, No. 3 Squadron took part in the Allied invasions of Sicily and Italy. It re-equipped with P-51 Mustangs in November 1944 and continued to operate in Italy and Yugoslavia until the end of the European war in May 1945. No. 3 Squadron's record of 25,663 operational flight hours and 217.5 enemy aircraft destroyed made it the highest-scoring RAAF fighter squadron.[16][22]

Cold War

At the end of the war, No. 3 Squadron returned to Australia and disbanded at Point Cook on 30 July 1946. It was re-formed at RAAF Base Fairbairn in Canberra in early 1948 when No. 4 Squadron RAAF was renumbered as No. 3 Squadron. Equipped with Mustangs, CAC Wirraways and Austers, the squadron served briefly as a tactical reconnaissance and close support squadron before disbanding again in 1953.[23] The squadron re-formed on 1 March 1956 at RAAF Base Williamtown, New South Wales. It operated CA-27 Sabres out of Butterworth, Malaya, from 1958 engaging in warlike operations associated with the Malayan Emergency and Konfrontasi.[22]

As Australian involvement in the Vietnam War intensified, No. 3 Squadron returned to Australia and re-equipped with Mirage IIIO fighters at Williamtown in 1967.[24] An acting CO, Wing Commander Vance Drummond, was killed during this period in air combat manoeuvres at No. 2 Operational Conversion Unit RAAF.[25] Wing Commander Jake Newham (later RAAF Chief of Air Staff) became the CO.[15] After training in air-to-air and air-to-ground roles, the squadron deployed to RAAF Butterworth in Malaysia in February 1969, detachments were also deployed to RAF Tengah and Paya Lebar Air Base.[24] During this period, the aircraft became known as "lizards", in reference to their camouflage paint scheme and low altitude operations. The frill neck lizard was adopted as an informal squadron insignia.[26]

After 15 years deployed to Malaysia, No. 3 Squadron returned to Australia, and after transferring aircraft and personnel to No. 79 Squadron, on 29 August 1986 No. 3 Squadron became the first operational RAAF unit to receive F/A-18 Hornets.[22]

Post-Cold War

Two No. 3 Squadron Hornets in 2013

The squadron continues to operate the Hornets from its home base at RAAF Base Williamtown. In February 2002, during the Afghanistan War, elements of No. 3 Squadron were deployed to Diego Garcia, in the Indian Ocean, to relieve No. 77 Squadron, providing air defence for the Coalition base there.[27] No. 3 Squadron personnel also participated in Operation Falconer, No. 75 Squadron's deployment to the Iraq War during 2003, conducting air interdiction operations and combat air patrols.[28][29] The squadron currently forms part of the Air Combat Group's No. 81 Wing RAAF.[30] In April 2016, No. 3 Squadron deployed to the Middle East during Operation Okra as part of the military intervention against ISIL, taking over from No. 77 Squadron.[31]

In 2018, the F-35A Lightning will begin entering service in the RAAF. No. 3 Squadron has been named as the first operational RAAF squadron to receive the F-35, with the unit reaching operational capacity by 2021.[32]

Aircraft operated

No. 3 Squadron has operated the following aircraft:[11][24]

See also



  1. RAAF Historical Section, Fighter Units, p. 1
  2. RAAF Historical Section, Fighter Units, pp. 6–7
  3. "Air Marshals". Air Power Development Centre. Retrieved 18 October 2016.
  4. "F-35A Lightining II". Royal Australian Air Force. Retrieved 2 December 2016.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 Eather, Flying Squadrons of the Australian Defence Force, p. 11
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 "3 Squadron AFC". First World War, 1914–1918 units. Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 23 November 2013.
  7. Halley, The Squadrons of the Royal Air Force & Commonwealth, p. 135
  8. O'Connor, Airfields and Airmen of the Channel Coast , p. 173
  9. Stephens, Royal Australian Air Force, pp. 9–19
  10. Baldwin, World War I: An Outline History, p. 127 & 141
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 Eather, Flying Squadrons of the Australian Defence Force, p. 12
  12. McGuire, The Many Deaths of the Red Baron, p. 82
  13. Nunan, Diggers' Fourth of July, pp. 31–32
  14. 1 2 Barnes, The RAAF and the Flying Squadrons, p. 20
  15. 1 2 3 Barnes, The RAAF and the Flying Squadrons, p. 24
  16. 1 2 "3 Squadron RAAF". Second World War, 1939–1945 units. Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 23 November 2013.
  17. Eather, Flying Squadrons of the Australian Defence Force, p. 25
  18. Gustavsson, Håkan. "Squadron Leader Alan Hill Boyd, RAAF no. 561". Biplane Fighter Aces from the Second World War. Retrieved 30 January 2013.
  19. Eather, Flying Squadrons of the Australian Defence Force, pp. 25–26
  20. "Wing Commander Bobby Gibbes". Times Online. 1 May 2007. Retrieved 20 October 2007.
  21. "Air Vice Marshal Brian Alexander Eaton". Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 10 April 2010.
  22. 1 2 3 Barnes, The RAAF and the Flying Squadrons, p. 23
  23. Eather, Flying Squadrons of the Australian Defence Force, pp. 27 & 29
  24. 1 2 3 Eather, Flying Squadrons of the Australian Defence Force, p. 27
  25. Newton, Dennis (1996). "Drummond, Vance (1927–1967)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Australian National University. Retrieved 23 November 2013.
  26. Keightley, Michael. "History of 3 Squadron in Malaysia". Retrieved 23 November 2013.
  27. "No. 3 Squadron". RAAF Museum.
  28. Holmes, US Marine Corps and RAAF Hornet Units of Operation Iraqi Freedom, pp. 87–93
  29. Bowes, Ken. "Operation Falconer RAAF F/A-18 Hornets: Part One – Operations & Modelling". Hyper Scale. Retrieved 23 November 2013.
  30. "No. 81 Wing". Royal Australian Air Force. Retrieved 23 November 2013.
  31. "77 SQN Completes strike rotation in the Middle East". Department of Defence. 12 April 2016. Retrieved 14 April 2016.
  32. "F-35A Lightning II". Royal Australian Air Force. Department of Defence. Archived from the original on 15 March 2016. Retrieved 15 March 2016.
  33. "F-35A Lightining II". Royal Australian Air Force. Retrieved 2 December 2016.


  • Baldwin, Hanson (1962). World War I: An Outline History. London: Hutchinson. OCLC 988365. 
  • Barnes, Norman (2000). The RAAF and the Flying Squadrons. St Leonards, New South Wales: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1-86508-130-2. 
  • Eather, Steve (1995). Flying Squadrons of the Australian Defence Force. Weston Creek, Australian Capital Territory: Aerospace Publications. ISBN 1-875671-15-3. 
  • Halley, James (1988). The Squadrons of the Royal Air Force & Commonwealth, 1918–1988. Tonbridge, Kent: Air-Britain (Historians). ISBN 0-85130-164-9. 
  • Holmes, Tony (2006). US Marine Corps and RAAF Hornet Units of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Osprey Combat Aircraft 56. Oxford: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1-84176-847-2. 
  • McGuire, Frank (2001). The Many Deaths of the Red Baron: The Richthofen Controversy, 1918–2000. Calgary: Bunker to Bunker Publishing. ISBN 978-1-894255-05-9. 
  • Nunan, Peter (2000). "Diggers' Fourth of July". Military History. 17 (3): 26–32, 80. ISSN 0889-7328. 
  • O'Connor, Michael (2005). Airfields and Airmen of the Channel Coast. Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military. ISBN 978-1-84415-258-2. 
  • RAAF Historical Section (1995). Units of the Royal Australian Air Force: A Concise History. Volume 2 – Fighter Units. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service. ISBN 0-644-42794-9. 
  • Stephens, Alan (2006) [2001]. The Royal Australian Air Force: A History (2nd ed.). London: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-555541-4. 

Further reading

  • Molkentin, Michael (2010). Fire in the Sky. The Australian Flying Corps in the First World War. Crows Nest, New South Wales: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 978-1-74237-072-9. 
  • Wrigley, Henry (1935). The Battle Below: Being the History of No. 3 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps. Sydney: Errol G Knox. OCLC 2634858. 
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