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Click here to return to 3SQN History Part 1: WW1

PART 2 of Neil Smith's 3 Squadron History

Between WW I and WW II

In the days following the Armistice in 1918, 3 Squadron was kept busy carrying out reconnaissance flights to assist the Army command in ascertaining the placement and disposition of the still-advancing troops as well as picking out possible new aerodrome sites for the forthcoming move into Germany.  They were also given the responsibility of carrying out air-postal deliveries between Headquarters and Divisional locations.  By the wintry Christmas of 1918, the Squadron was settled in Tarcienne and flying was kept to a minimum.

A Royal Aircraft Factory RE.8 aircraft, marked "H" and with serial C2326, of No 3 Squadron, AFC, at Bickendorf aerodrome near Cologne, Germany.  
The word 'Digger' is written under the rear cockpit.  [AWM A03950 and A03957

On the 3rd of January, 1919, an officer who had already given exemplary service and who later that year flew the first two-man aircraft across Australia, Captain (later to become Air Vice Marshal) Henry N. Wrigley, DFC, took over command from Major Anderson and had the responsibility of making arrangements for the Squadron to phase out its operations in Europe.  - Although not before final photographic missions had been completed to obtain historical pictures of such places as Amiens, Hamel, Peronne and Mont St. Quentin.

The last of the RE8s was phased out by the end of January, to be replaced by a full complement of Bristol Fighters.  As well, a lot of RAF officers were posted to the Squadron when their own Squadrons were demobilised.  On the 20th of February 1919, all aircraft were handed over to the RAF at St. Omer and, at 9.00am the next day, all personnel left Tarcienna for Charlero in Belgium where they stayed until the 28th, after which they left for Le Harve to embark on a cross channel ferry on which 2 Squadron were also travelling, bound for Weymouth.

On the 5th of March, they proceeded to Hurdcott Camp, where new uniforms were issued to the remaining 29 officers and 216 other ranks before they were given a well deserved 14 days leave. On the 6th of May, they embarked with 2, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 Squadrons, AFC, on the "Kaisar-i-Hind" to return to Australia.

On the 9th of June, 1919, the ship entered Fremantle and after dropping off all the Western Australians, then proceeded to Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane taking home the men who'd fought so valiantly in 3 Squadron; described by Major-General Sir J. M. Salmon, the Commander of the Air Forces in France, as being, "a great Squadron … the best Corps Squadron in France."

Thus 3 Squadron was officially stood-down and the Squadron’s personnel dispersed into a new post-war Australian way of life.

Military matters were all but forgotten for the five years following 1919.  People spent their time and money re-organising their lives and the last thing most wanted to think about was war and any military force that Australia may have to finance through taxes.  As a consequence, the Government had cut Defence budgets to a minimum and only the dedicated remained in the services … trying hard to seek appropriations of finance to build a Defence Force.

But, in 1924 Australians in every state were overwhelmed as they saw for themselves the sheer might of the Royal Navy's visiting H.M.S. Hood, Britain’s newly built 44,600-ton battle-cruiser, measuring 860 feet in length and carrying a crew of almost 1,200 seamen.  The Hood and her accompanying fleet of five light cruisers and another smaller battle-cruiser, the H.M.S. Repulse, by their very presence, created, through heavy media coverage of their world-wide ‘flag waving’ mission, great excitement and a definite awareness of responsibility that Australia as a nation had to plan for her defence, as a part of the British Empire, in the event of another war.

This dramatic goodwill mission, executed by Great Britain’s Senior Service, widely affected the Empire-loyal Australian people's imagination and influenced, it seems, strong encouragement for the ruling Government to open the Australian purse-strings for Defence expenditure.  The visit clearly had the effect of providing a critical turning point that swayed public acceptance that more of their taxes could well be spent on defence for the benefit of the nation. This helped the revival of the disbanded 3 Squadron. 

The following enlightening extract explains reactions in Australia at the time that Hood visited:

"The Mighty Hood" by Ernle Bradford (Published 1959 by Hodder and Stoughton)

"The Australian reception of the squadron was tumultuous, ecstatic; something that people in Fremantle, Melbourne, Perth and Hobart still talk about.  The advent of the ships coincided with Australia's new sense of herself as a growing country, with a large stake in the future.  It was the first time that the friendly open-hearted Australians had had a chance to see the great ships about which they had heard so much.  It was a chance for many of them to renew old friendships formed with the Navy in the Dardanelles and other theatres of the World War.

The Hood was the focus of attention.  Every move and activity aboard her was watched by dozens of reporters circling round her in motor boats.  As soon as the official reception was over and the Admirals had gone ashore, one Fremantle journalist noted that the sailors, "set to cleaning their ship, polishing and painting, while those who were not on duty leant over the sides and whistled at the pretty girls in our boat."  He remarked that: "Several motor cars are carried aboard her, including the Admiral's Rolls Royce. All of these were quickly disembarked."  

Today, it is common enough for large warships to land motorised patrols, but Hood was probably the first ship to carry her own motor transport.  The Rolls Royce itself lends the flavour of a more sumptuous and 'jeepless' age.

The Western Australian interviewed Admiral Field in his day cabin and commented:

"In its space and appointments and quietness there is nothing to distinguish it from an apartment in some luxurious city hotel - nothing, that is to say, but the occasional piping of a whistle or the faint echo of a smartly rapped-out order overhead.  In the adjoining room, with its dining accommodation for 35 or 36 persons, the mahogany furniture was matched by two mantelpieces enclosing capacious grates designed for coal fires."

He remarked on the ornaments on the mantelpieces, and the absence of any 'fiddles' or retaining pieces for glasses, photographs and china. The Admiral told him that, except in very heavy weather, the ship's motion was so easy such things were unnecessary.  Field's charm and easy manner endeared him to the Press as much as to the official reception committees.  "Many of the published photographs of Admiral Field are libellous.  One expected to meet a man of sunken cheeks and world-weary eyes.  Instead one was confronted with a cheery countenance - bright alert eyes and a twinkle of humour in them."

At Melbourne the city went mad.

"... I was a girl of eighteen at the time and I remember quite clearly my father taking us all out to Port Phillip Heads to see the squadron come in.  It was early March and glorious weather.  There were thousands of other people up with us.  Every road and pathway was thick and many families were making a day of it, taking out all the children and hampers of food and bottles of beer.  The Bay was dotted with sailing boats.  Everyone who had anything that would float - big yachts to small rowing boats - was out there on the water.  It was hot and very still, and at sea there was a white sea mist.  I believe the papers said there were 500,000 people waiting to see the ships.

'Here they come!' said my father, and then we could hear the aircraft.  It was a wonderful sight - something I can never forget.  The mist out at sea, and then the aircraft coming through it, and then few minutes later the Hood herself with the white cloud seeming to peel away from her as she came on into the bright sunlight of Port Phillip.  Everyone cheering and the kids running up and down and the sirens of all the ships in the harbour going off…"

It had been the same at Albany and Adelaide.  When they left the latter, the weather had been perfect, with a light heat haze lying over the water. The Advertiser had reported her departure:

"The sea as calm as a mill pond. The pinnacles from the cruisers at the jetty at an early hour, gathering up final supplies, mails and papers. At 9.15 the light cruisers, which had cast off from the wharfs at the outer harbour, were picked up 4 or 5 miles in the offing, lying almost hull down in the horizon, and appearing like ghost ships as they leaned through the light haze. The winking of a signal lamp on one of the distant craft elicited answering flashes from high up in the superstructure of the Hood, and in a few minutes the water began to churn beneath her stern. The flagship of the Special Service Squadron moved out into the waters of the gulf. With the bright rays of the sun glinting on her brass-work and throwing into relief the grim turrets and guns, set off by the regulation dreadnought grey, she furnished a never-to-be-forgotten sight as she sped away with all the grace of a launch. Scarcely less majestic was the Repulse which followed a few cable lengths astern. Thousands along the foreshore, from the Outer Mole to Marino, watched the grey hulls as they gradually grew less and less and finally faded away into the haze...."

At every port of call there were sports events against local teams, ceremonial marches through the cities, and, as well as official dinners and banquets, there were dances, cocktail parties and open-air barbecues.  At Melbourne the same lady recalls a dance given by the junior officers:

"... I and my elder sister were both invited.  People sometimes talk about the first big dance that a young girl goes to, but I think no one could have had a more wonderful time than I did.  Dinner was at half-past seven, I think, and before that we had champagne.  Champagne seemed to 'go with' the ship somehow and I never drink it now without remembering the Hood.  At that time I had never tasted it before.  I remember my sister telling me not to have more than one glass!  Then there was the dance on the quarterdeck.  They had a squadron song, I am afraid I have forgotten it ... I remember sitting on one of the turrets of the big guns, there was a whole group of us and a young lieutenant with a ukulele, he was playing the tune and the others were singing."

"Gangway, please, let the girl see the big gun!" was the cry as the guests were ferried ashore.

At Perth a correspondent to the local paper confirmed the opinion of the young girl at Melbourne: "...but to be filled with the joy of life and to experience the exhilaration of the dance one must accompany the lieutenants and midshipmen.... Cocktails, champagne and liqueurs started things going!"

It was at this moment that in America the magazine Scientific American was rash enough to publish the statement that U.S.S. Colorado was the largest battleship afloat.

Australian Press, primed with data, sprang to battle and compared the dimensions of the Hood with the Colorado: "Our American friends need to get their facts right."

The fact was that the Colorado certainly carried a heavier main armament, but Australia was in no mood at that moment to accept the suggestion that there could be any ship in the world to compare with the 'Mighty Hood'.  At every port, more trophies and more mascots joined the ship.  A number of parrots were easy enough to house, but one wonders what happened to the kangaroo that was formally presented in Adelaide?

Everywhere the sailors were welcome and popular.  It was not surprising that, with Australia crying out for young immigrants and offering them many inducements, a few of the sailors deserted.  It was not only the lure of a new and rich country that attracted the adventurous:

"There is no doubt the sprinkling of uniforms of the sailors about the streets during the last few days has gone a long way towards brightening up the city [Adelaide].  At any rate the ladies appear to think so, for it is very noticeable that every tar has his admirers among the fair sex, and the undisguised glances of admiration that follow the men in blue as they stroll unconcernedly down the streets would turn the heads of many older men less used to being the cynosure of all eyes."

As the Hood left Melbourne, a broad web of coloured streamers was spun between the flagship and the pier, officers and men holding one end of the paper streamers: 'frail link with the friends they were leaving behind'.  The twisting, coloured ribbons grew longer and longer, rainbow bright in the early sunlight, and then trailed broken in the water as the battle-cruiser crept out to sea.

The Admiral and his company could congratulate themselves on one of the most successful visits in history.

The attitude of the Australian Press was summarised by the editorial of the Melbourne Sun: "To say that Australia was cradled in the strong arms of the British Navy is more than a figure of speech.  It was the command of the seas that made a British Australia possible.  It is due to British sea-power that Australia is the only continent that has never had to suffer an invasion...."

There was only one dissentient voice. If it is worth quoting today, it is only because it faithfully reflected the attitude of Labour throughout the inter-war years, both in Australia and in Great Britain.  Frank Cotton in the Australian Worker wrote: "The amount of money expended in building a battleship like the Hood would have built 10,300 comfortable cottages for British one-room slum-dwellers. The idea that a state of military or naval preparedness is any factor in the security of a nation is a myth that has long since been exploded."

As a consequence of all this positive mother-country flag-waving, Government funding for Defence was increased and within 12 months, the Air Board had decided to form an Army Co-operation Squadron. They named it  3 Squadron to perpetuate the excellent tradition already a part of Australia's proud war history but, since the Australian Flying Corps had been disbanded when the Royal Australian Air Force was formed on the 31st of March, 1921, the new name became "3 Squadron, RAAF".

At Point Cook, on the 1st of July, 1925, Flight Lieutenant Frank W. Lukis took command of this newly formed "composite squadron" made up of three flights ... one for Army co-op. equipped with DH9 aircraft, a second with SE5A fighters and the third with DH9A bombers.  The Squadron moved to Richmond, NSW.  In those days the Richmond town-common doubled as the landing ground once the sheep and cows had been chased off.  Many famous early aviators including Amy Johnson, Jean Batten, Sir Charles Kingsford Smith and Charles Ulm were guests of 3 Squadron at some stage or other of their flying careers.

The Squadron flew general operations for the next 10 years flying Wapiti and Hawker Demon aircraft.  The various C.O.s placed in command during those years included a World War I ace from 4 Squadron, Squadron Leader A. H. Cobby, D.S.O., D.F.C.

By 1935, the Squadron was engaged in providing senior army officers with air experience and perfecting army co-operation exercises and during March that year, the Governor of NSW presented a medal for the "Most Efficient Air Cadet" to a young Peter Jeffrey, who was later destined to lead 3 Squadron during World War 2 in the Western Desert.

A line-up of Waputis.  These aircraft performed airshow displays in many parts of Australia.


In the years between 1935 and 1939, the Squadron’s routine duties  included meteorological flights for the Weather Bureau, which involved ascents to 10,000 feet, measuring temperatures and gathering other information on clouds, haze, wind and rain every 1000 feet.

Photographic patrols and liaison exercises with Army units still continued to play an important part of the Squadron’s activities, until everything changed dramatically on the 3rd of September, 1939, when a black storm cloud burst with a vengeance over Europe.

Click here to proceed to Part 3a: EARLY WORLD WAR 2

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