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Correcting the History of No.3 Squadron's "Official" Victory Total in WWII

From Peter Jeffrey, June 1992.

Group Captain Peter Jeffrey, D.S.O., D.F.C., was Commanding Officer of 3 Squadron for nine critical months during 1941.  He was then promoted to command No.2 Wing, which oversaw 3 Squadron, and then returned to Australia to perform a nationally-important role in preparing the two first RAAF Pacific-theatre Kittyhawk Squadrons; No.75 (which defended Port Moresby down to their last aircraft) and No.76 (who partnered with the re-equipped No.75 to deliver the Allies' first land-victory over the previously-invincible Japanese, at Milne Bay). 

Nearly 50 years after the war, Peter was contacted by an author, Russell Guest, who expressed concern that the Squadron's "victory tally" did not appear to have been correctly recorded during the ebb and flow of desert warfare during the 1940 to 1942 period.  In 1990, Peter thoroughly researched the Squadron's "tally".  It became clear that a single tabulation process in August 1942 by a relatively junior and inexperienced officer, Flt. Lt. Barnes, had assumed two dozen extra victories, over and above what had previously been officially claimed by the Squadron.  (While the exact causes of this error cannot be known today, it did occur at a particularly fraught time in the course of the war and followed a significant turn-over of experienced Squadron personnel.  The error remained undetected for the rest of the war.) 

Here is Peter's official report to the Association:

Wing Commander Peter Jeffrey (centre) at the 100th Victory celebration.

On 30 November 1941, No. 3 celebrated its 106th victory, as all those members who were there will recall and verify.  This figure has been vouched by Wing Commander John Watson and Louis Jones in "No.3 Squadron at War", John Herington in the "Official History of the RAAF in World War II", and recent independent research.

When the last of the original pilots left the Squadron at the end of 1941, the "score" had grown to 115.  These claims, and those that came later, were carefully vetted by the Squadron, but only became official after final approval by the respective RAF Authorities under whose command the Squadron operated from time to time.

Some time between the end of 1941 and August 1942 some confusion arose in the Squadron's progressive "tally".  What this was and how and when it happened is unclear after 50 odd years.  No doubt the switch in the primary role from Air Combat to Bombing was a contributing factor.

No matter what the cause of the uncertainty, a check count of all the Squadron's claims up to 13.8.42 was made.  The results were entered in a "Book of Original Entry", as were subsequent claims.

This book has not been located, but a list - up to and including 26.12.44 - was compiled from the book, setting out the "Enemy Aircraft Officially Credited to members of No.3 Squadron RAAF".  This list was signed by the then C.O., Murray Nash, and a copy has been located in the RAAF Historical Section, Department of Defence, Canberra.

There are numerous mistakes in this list for the 1940/41 period.  Some of the errors are obviously 'clerical' in nature, whilst others arise from ignorance of the period, the specific combats, the pilots concerned and the assessment criteria of the period.

As far as totals are concerned, the list gives 130 on 30.11.41, instead of 106; and 140, instead of 115, at the end of 1941 - an error of 25.

In the post-1941 period, the Book of Original Entry list gives a total of 75½.  Adding two Fi156 Storch shot down over Yugoslavia in 1945 makes it 77½.

These claims, both individually and in total, are confirmed by recent research, which adds another two, making 79½.  In this figure, the Squadron claimed 2 x 109's shot down by the RAF CO of NO.239 Wing "as he flew with the Squadron" at the time.  It is understood that it was RAF practice to allot Wing scores to Squadrons in this manner.  However, whether this holds good between RAF and RAAF is a moot point.  The RAF pilot was not seconded, attached or on strength of No.3, nor would he have appeared on the Squadron Honour Roll if he'd been killed.

The Squadron's World War II claims of enemy aircraft destroyed in Aerial Combat would therefore appear to be:

(i) 106 as at 30.11.41

(ii) 115 at the end of 1941.

(iii) 115 + 77½ = 192½ overall - NOT 217½.

(iv) (Or 194½ with the two 109s from 239 Wing.)

Both Wing Commander Watson and John Herrington were no doubt misled by the Book of Original Entry list total of 215½ or 217½ with the 2 Fi156 Storch.  A simple addition of the list to 30.11.41 would have shown that 106 and 217½ were not compatible.

The Squadron has already been accused of counting aircraft destroyed on the ground to make up the total.  Luckily, this was referred to the Squadron for checking before publication and, luckily, wartime members were still around to do so.

Steps have been taken to ensure this does not recur and that historians and researchers do not fall into the same trap.  A submission signed by all the presently surviving C.O.s (viz. P. JEFFREY, A. C. RAWLINSON, R. H. GIBBES, A. W. BARR, B. A. EATON, R. N. B. STEVENS, K. A. RICHARDS and P. M. NASH) has been forwarded to the following addressees with the request that it be cross-referenced to the Squadron World War II Records, "No.3 Squadron at War", and the "Official History of the RAAF in World War II".

Copies: (i) No.3 Squadron, RAAF Base, Williamtown

(ii) RAAF Historical Section, Department of Defence, Canberra

(iii) Australian War Memorial

(iv) RAAF Museum, RAAF Base, Williams

(v) Imperial War Museum, London

(vi) President, No.3 Sqn. Association

The mistakes in the Air Combat Claims had to be corrected or they would have remained a constant threat of embarrassment to members of the war-time Squadron, and indirectly to the Squadron in being, and to the RAAF.

This does not suggest or infer that the Squadron's Air Combat results were its sole or even its main contribution to the war effort.  Its achievements in all its roles were not surpassed by any other Squadron in the same theatre of operations carrying out the same tasks with the same equipment

We are right to walk tall and be proud that we served in No.3 RAAF.

Editor's Note:  Despite this revision, No.3 Squadron remains, by far, the highest-scoring RAAF squadron in WWII.  However, this revision does mean that 3 Squadron was narrowly pipped by the famous 112 RAF Squadron for the title of "Highest-Scoring Fighter Squadron in the Desert Air Force." 

However, readers should also note that "air-combat claims" are one of the most notoriously difficult statistics for squadrons to accurately compile.  The rapidity of engagements and the inaccessibility of wrecks across enemy lines (for verification) are only some of the factors tending to produce errors in claiming, despite the most honourable intentions.  Modern-day historical reviews of both Allied and Axis records show many instances where official victory claims on one side cannot be matched to the actual loss of an aircraft on the other side.  e.g.  3 Squadron's Tom Russell was claimed as a "kill" by the famous German Ace Major Müncheberg, but in fact Tom was able to fly his Kittyhawk back to base.  (Albeit with his instrument panel blown away!)

Some further episodes can also be found where aircraft that were actually destroyed were not claimed.  (Such as in 3 Squadron's "Boxing Day" battle). 

- All examples of the famous "Fog of War".

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