3 Squadron Events 

3 Squadron RAAF HOME / Search

18th APRIL 2021
RAAF Base.

After all the cancellations of 2020, it was a real pleasure for the Association to revisit our 3SQN Memorial inside Richmond RAAF Base in the week leading up to Anzac Day. 

[3SQN founded Richmond in 1925.  It remained 3SQN’s home until they marched out to war in 1940.] 

Being the RAAF Centennial Year, the Richmond personnel really provided a great welcome.  They did a fantastic job with infrastructure and music.  A number of interested Richmond uniformed personnel also attended, including their Official Photographer and History Unit, who recorded Vicki’s memories of all the reunions she has attended on that spot – since they started in 1958! 

Below is a selection of official photos.  [Photo Credit: CPL David SAID - 464 SQN Imagery Dept.]


Good morning. My name’s James Oglethorpe. I'm the Association's Treasurer.

This is the RAAF's 100th year, but it's actually 3SQN’s 105th year, since its formation in 1916!

The Squadron has had eight distinct chapters in its history.  Over that time:

The "World War One Era", for 3SQN, went from 1916 to 1919.
- They shipped out from Melbourne to England as part of the "Australian Flying Corps"
(That was an Army unit in those days.  There was no separate "Air Force".)
- Their sea voyage took nine weeks, zig-zagging to avoid being sunk by German U-Boats.
- They then did nine months’ of intensive training in England to become battle-ready.
- From September 1917, they fought on the Western Front, in Belgium and France, with great distinction.
- They made important contributions to huge battles.  In the Battle of Hamel (July 1918) 3SQN invented a system of parachuting ammunition to the forward troops. (This was immensely valuable to the Allies for the final “One Hundred Days” of the War.)
- They flew 2-seat RE8 aeroplanes, and later Bristol Fighters.  These communicated by Morse Code over radio.
- The Squadron was also famous for burying the Red Baron, the top German fighter ace of WW1, after he was shot down by Australian machine-gunners.
- There were no women at all in the Squadron in WW1.
- The men lived mostly in tents.
- Their portable aircraft hangars were made of canvas.
- However during the cold winters they were lucky to get warmer huts.  (Vastly better conditions than for the soldiers in the trenches, only a few kilometres away.)
- Because the aeroplanes were skinned with fragile varnished canvas, flying could be cancelled during really rainy weather, and the boys got a "day off" from the war!
- Communication to Australia was by post, which took at least six weeks on ships, each way.
- There was no air-mail, no international telephones, but short telegrams could be used for urgent family messages.
- Comfort parcels from Australia were well-received by the men.
- In WW1, 48 members of 3 Squadron were killed - mainly aircrew.
- Four died after being struck by our own artillery shells in mid-air.  If their plane was smashed, they had no parachutes to escape.
- Two ground crew were killed by German shellfire.
- And eight 3SQN members died in the 1918 Flu pandemic.

After WW1, they were shipped back to Australia and 3 Squadron was disbanded.  There was then a six-year gap.

In 1925, the "Richmond Era" began.  3 Squadron founded the base here.
- The grass aerodrome in 1925 had a single hanger made from corrugated-iron, but more infrastructure was built up over the years.
- 3 Squadron trained a lot of "Citizens Air Force" aircrew who did part-time flying with the Squadron.
- They used several types of biplanes over those years: SE5As; DH9s; Westland Wapitis and Hawker Demons.
- Peacetime aviation was still quite risky.  Eight aircrew died in crashes over the 15 years.
- Living conditions were a great improvement over WW1.  Family members lived in houses around the Base.
- While their mode of transport was seldom by car, the ground staff often used bicycles and they could walk directly across to the nearby train station at Clarendon.
- Some of the streets here are named after 3 Squadron personalities, including Lukis Street over there, and Bostock Street just here.
- Only in 1936 did the Squadron become fully staffed with permanent RAAF members, as international tensions mounted towards WW2.
- From 1939, Richmond was massively expanded, a “tin city” was built to house the growing numbers of service personnel.

On the 15th of July 1940, 3 Squadron marched out through the historic brick gates (just over there) and the Squadron's "WW2 Era" began.  The Squadron was overseas for five long years, in North Africa, Syria and Italy.
- Although originally an "Army Cooperation Squadron", they quickly became a pure “Fighter” Squadron, and fought the Italians and Germans with great success.
- They flew Gloster Gladiator biplanes, Hawker Hurricanes, Curtiss Tomahawks and Kittyhawks, and were the only Australian squadron to fly the superlative North American Mustang in combat in WW2.
They became our Air Force's "top guns".  3SQN have shot down more enemy aircraft than any other RAAF Squadron.
- However, "Air Superiority" was only a fraction of their work.  They also had many successes in Ground Attack and Anti-Shipping missions.
- Living conditions for the men were often very difficult.  (And yes, there were still no women in the overseas squadrons, although many were employed back in Australia in support roles.)
- The men shared tents with up to eight comrades.
- The Squadron was highly mobile, with a fleet of vehicles - made even larger by using some captured from the enemy.
- Water was often very scarce and the food monotonous ("bully beef" and Army biscuits), despite the best efforts of the cooks.
- It still took several weeks to get mail, although faster air-mail services became available later in the war.
- Some of the ground crew were overseas for more than three years of steady campaigning, although they did get occasional leave behind the battle area.
- Aircraft maintenance was usually done in the open, with sand and rain blowing through everything. The environmental wear-and-tear meant hundreds of 3 Squadron fighters were retired or scrapped during WW2.
- Enemy aircraft often raided 3SQN landing grounds at night.
- The Squadron had 65 aircrew killed in combat and flying accidents over the course of WW2.  (That’s three times the normal establishment of Pilots on the Squadron.)
- A dozen groundcrew were killed by enemy raids, landmines, accidents and illnesses.
- Despite the Squadron's outstanding success, once back in Australia, it was disbanded again!

After a two year hiatus, in 1948 the "Canberra era" began.  3SQN’s role was Training and Army Cooperation - quite similar to WW1!  They had photo-reconnaissance Mustangs, some high-wing Auster aircraft for artillery-spotting and a few Wirraway trainers.
- Living conditions at the Fairbairn Base were comfortable compared with the Squadron's war service, and once again the Squadron members enjoyed weekends off and families living nearby.
- Women were now a visible part of the RAAF ground establishment, although still only about 5% of total numbers.
- One 3SQN aircrew member lost his life at Fairbairn, in a mid-air collision.

In 1953 the Squadron was again shut down, and became dormant for 3 years.

In 1956, 3 Squadron entered the "Jet Age".  Re-established at Williamtown, they trained-up on shiny new Sabre jets.  These aircraft were manufactured in Melbourne with powerful Rolls Royce engines.  Amazingly, the manufacturer - Sir Lawrence Wackett of Commonwealth Aircraft - had flown wood-and-canvas biplanes with 3 Squadron 40 years beforehand, in WW1!

1958 brought another major change, the 26-year-long "Butterworth Era".
The Sabres were flown to Malaya right around the perimeter of Indonesia, in a very risky operation called "Sabre Ferry".  (Tensions with Indonesia had prevented a "direct" flightpath.)
- In 1963-66 the Sabres went onto a full "war" footing, during the "Indonesian Confrontation".
(Most Australians know nothing about this Confrontation.  There were many borderline intercepts of Soviet-supplied Indonesian jets, while our Army engaged in secretive firefights in the Borneo jungles.)
- Ironically, as time passed, tensions subsided and some of the Sabres were later gifted to Indonesia as economic aid!

In 1967-69, the Squadron returned to Williamtown for two years, to convert to the new ground-attack version of the supersonic Mirage.  Then back to Butterworth again - this time directly via Indonesia!
- Three Squadron had no involvement in the Vietnam War, but its positioning in SE Asia reflected Australia's thinking about "forward defence" at the time.
- A big difference in international transport by then was that commercial jetliners were mainly used to move personnel and their families to and from Malaysia.  Journey time was cut from weeks to one day.  Air mail was the norm, and international telephone calls were possible, but very expensive.
- Single men were accommodated in barracks on the airbase, but men with families were provided with houses.  Their living conditions were considerably boosted by the provision of Malaysian house servants - cooks, drivers, cleaners, gardeners and nannies.  (The families’ eventual return to Australia, after these privileges, often came as something of a shock!)
- Personnel joined the Squadron on regular multi-year posting cycles and there was a general atmosphere of order, despite the international tensions all around.
- During the Butterworth era, four aircrew members lost their lives in accidental crashes.

In 1986, the Squadron's Mirage aircraft and most of the personnel at Butterworth were transferred to 79 Squadron, and on the same day in Williamtown a new-look 3 Squadron was formed to pioneer the F-18 Hornet into RAAF operations.
- The "Hornet Era" was to last an amazing 31 years, until 2017.
- This era finally saw the proper utilisation of women in all roles in the RAAF.
- It was also a transition period where some duties - such as Base Security, Mess Staff and Transport - passed to civilian contractors.
- Manual typewriters and paper files eventually gave way to computer systems, emails and video calls over the Internet.
- Very significantly, 3SQN made it through the entire Hornet era without losing a single F-18!  (This incredible safety record speaks volumes for the Squadron's Engineering and Pilot Training.  -And also some good luck!)
- In 2016, 3SQN’s men and women took the "Classic" Hornets to war against ISIS in Syria and Iraq.  This was the first time that the Squadron had dropped a bomb "in anger" for 57 years!

In 2018, a new generation of 3SQN personnel began to assemble in the USA, to yet again begin the task of introducing a revolutionary new aeroplane to RAAF operations - the F-35 Stealth Fighter.
- What will we call this era, I wonder?  The "Lightning Era"?
- The triumphal return of 3 Squadron to Williamtown on 10 December 2018 with the first Australian-based F-35s gained a huge splash of publicity.

The Squadron is now "fully operational" and in the capable hands of WGCDR Matt Harper, whom I will hand-over to now!

3 Squadron Events 

3 Squadron RAAF HOME / Search