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Click here to return to Part 3b: WW2 Alamein to Victory

PART 4 of Neil Smith's 3 Squadron History

From 1948 to the Modern Day...


However, in less than two years, the Squadron was active again.  On the 8th of March, 1948, it was re-formed at Fairbairn in Canberra, ACT, as 3 Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron under the command of Squadron Leader T. H. Saunders.  With nine Mustangs, eight Austers and two Wirraway trainers, the Squadron carried out general flying duties and training operations, with the Austers being used in Army cooperation exercises because of their short take-off and landing capabilities.

Several Commanding Officers were appointed during the years that followed, including Squadron Leader J. W. Hubble, A.F.C. who was C.O. for almost three years.

In December, 1951, the Squadron's name was officially changed to "3 Fighter Reconnaissance Squadron" but it was changed again on the 15th of June, 1953 to "3 Squadron DF/GA", the letters classifying the Squadron as non-operative and, to all intents and purposes, disbanded.

On the 1st of March, 1956, the Squadron was re-formed as 3 Fighter Squadron.  It was formed with a flight of Sabre Jets which had successfully completed trials in Canberra.  Various models of these swept-wing jets had been used by both the U.S. Air Force and the South African Air Force, with excellent results against the very versatile and nimble Russian MiG-15 during the Korean war that had started on the 23rd of June, 1950 so the Sabre's history was already favourable.


The Squadron was then based at Williamtown for the next two years flying A94 C.A.C.-manufactured Sabres with Squadron Leader F. W. Barnes, D.F.C., A.F.C. as their C.O.

On the 12th of September, 1957, Air Marshal Sir Richard Williams, K.B.E., C.B., D.S.O., presented the Squadron with its Standard, which is now referred to as the 'Old Standard' because it didn't include all of the Squadron's battle honours.  Twenty-nine years later it was replaced with the 'New Standard'.

Wing Commander C. G. Thomas, D.F.C. took over command on the 13th of January, 1958 and, in October that year the Squadron was posted to Butterworth in Malaysia.

Butterworth was under R.A.F. administration but had been selected by R.A.A.F. Command as the logical off-shore airfield from which its aircraft could provide air defence of the Malaysia-Singapore region in the event of an attack by revolutionary Asian forces. 

The Squadron travelled via Townsville and Darwin through Biak and Labuan until they reached Butterworth on the 5th of November, 1958.


The Squadron stayed there for over eight years, attached to 78 Wing ... flying their Sabres alongside those of 77 Squadron and the Canberra jet bombers of 2 Squadron, with 478 Maintenance Squadron and a Transport Squadron providing support.

Officers commanding the Squadron and various other personnel changed during those years in which the Squadron was carrying out its air defence exercises until in December 1966, it was reduced to a nucleus of men and aircraft, and operations were wound down. In February 1967, the Squadron, with only eight Sabres, returned to Williamtown to be re-equipped with A3 Mirage aircraft.

The Mirage had been developed over the previous ten years and, with turbojet propulsion, was the first aircraft to exceed twice the speed of sound.  It could fly at over 55,000 feet and at the time was considered to be one of the world’s top five aircraft.  For the next two years, the Squadron was trained to fly and service their new aircraft.  Shortly after training started, an unfortunate happening occurred on a training flight when a Mirage flown by Wing Commander V. Drummond, who was the Squadron C.O. at the time, dived into the sea about 50 miles from Newcastle and both pilot and aircraft disappeared.

In February 1969, 3 Squadron returned to Butterworth to give further support to the Royal Malaysian Air Force.  This was happening about the same time that the war in Vietnam was escalating and Australian forces had already become  involved in fighting alongside the US forces against the Vietcong.

In August 1969 two Mirages were flown via Phan Rang, South Vietnam, to Clark AFB in the Philippines where they spent several days evaluating an American "Electronic Countermeasures" pod for training.  [The Operations Record Book notes: "As usual, the American entertainment was rather overwhelming..."]

During the next fifteen years, many regular detachments were sent from Butterworth firstly to Tengah in Singapore to help train the Singapore Air Defence Forces and later to Paya Lebar Air Force Base. 

In 1981 and again in 1983 and 1985, a section of 3 Squadron joined in Exercise Cope Thunder held at the United States' Clarke Air Force Base in the Philippines.

On the 31st of March 1986, after being away from Australia for over seventeen years, the Squadron transferred its aircraft and most of its personnel to 79 Squadron and the 45 personnel remaining returned, without aircraft, to Williamtown to prepare for re-equipping and training on Australia's newly purchased F/A-18 fighters.

Called the Hornet, the 17-metre long F/A-18's twin low-bypass engines provide a flying range of about 3,700 kilometres without refuelling, which can be done in flight when required.  It can fly at Mach 1.8, which is over 2,000+ kph, and it can climb and manoeuvre with extraordinary capability.

On the 29th of August, 1986, at a ceremony at the Government Aircraft Factory in Avalon, Victoria, the first of the Hornets, numbered A21-8 and A21-9, were handed over to the C.O., Wing Commander Bruce Mouatt, and he and Squadron Leader Ross Fox flew them back to Williamtown.  [The RAAF's first "Operational" F/A-18s!]

The Squadron continues to operate from Williamtown and often participates in exercises carried out by the Australian Defence Forces and, on occasions, provide support to other Allied Forces ... duties which the Squadron has been meticulously carrying out since its inception in 1916.

3 Squadron then had the great honour of introducing the F-35 to RAAF service, with the deliveries of operational aircraft to Williamtown commencing on 8 December 2018.

The winged, flaming grenade on the Squadron’s Badge symbolises both the early days as a squadron of the Australian Flying Corps and as an R.A.A.F. Army Co-operation squadron after that ... and the Fleur-de-Lis was added to indicate that the Squadron was one of the three Australian squadrons that served in France during the first war.

It's a history that everyone who has ever served with 3 Squadron can justly be proud of; as can each and every member of their families.  Obviously, courage and discipline were the backbone of every young 3 Squadron man who fought in those two terrible wars so long ago, where death was watching their every move.  But afterwards, the survivors of those wars didn't dwell on those constant threats, or any memories of their personal hardships, sacrifices or dangers.  They just spoke proudly of the Squadron's accomplishments; of the part it played in beating an enemy threatening the freedom of their families, their country, and the world as a whole. 

And when they mentioned their colleagues who lost their lives fighting in war, or those who have died since, they spoke of them as friends - brothers-in-arms they'll never forget. From their unconquerable spirit rises a heritage of camaraderie and respect that every 3 Squadron member, regardless of rank, or time and place of service, can carry forward in perpetuity.

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