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No. 3 Squadron RAAF
File:Raaf 3sqn.jpg
Active 19 September 1916 – 1946
1956 – Present
Branch RAAF
Role Multi-Role Fighter
Part of No. 81 Wing, Air Combat Group
Base RAAF Base Williamtown
Motto(s) "Operta Aperta"
Latin: "Secrets Revealed"
Engagements World War I: Western Front
World War II: Western Desert, Syria-Lebanon, Tunisia, Italy
Cold War: Malayan Emergency, Konfrontasi
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)
Nicky Barr (1941–42)
Bobby Gibbes (1942–43)
Brian Eaton (1943–44)
Aircraft flown
Fighter F/A-18 Hornet

No. 3 Squadron is a Royal Australian Air Force fighter squadron. It was first formed in 1916 and currently operates F/A-18 Hornet aircraft from RAAF Base Williamtown, near Newcastle, New South Wales.


R.E.8s of No 3 Sqn AFC

World War I

No. 3 Squadron Australian Flying Corps was formed at Point Cook, Victoria on 19 September 1916. Shortly afterwards, the unit moved to England for training, before becoming the first AFC unit deployed to France, in 1917, equipped with the R.E.8 two-seat reconnaissance/general purpose aircraft. To avoid confusion with the British No. 3 Squadron RFC, it was known to the British military as "No. 69 Squadron RFC",[1] until early 1918. This terminology was never accepted by the squadron or the Australian Imperial Force.

The squadron participated in bombing, artillery spotting and reconnaissance missions supporting ANZAC and other British Empire ground forces, and by the end of the War had flown over 10,000 operational hours, shooting down 51 enemy aircraft.[2]

In April 1918, the squadron under Major David Blake, became responsible for the remains of the "Red Baron", Manfred von Richthofen, after he was shot down in its sector. 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.

World War II

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

3 Sqn Gladiators at RAF Helwan, Egypt, in November 1940.

During World War II, No. 3 squadron served in the Mediterranean Theatre as part of the Allied Desert Air Force (later the First Tactical Air Force), supporting the 8th Army.

The unit first saw action over Egypt in late 1940, operating obsolete Gloster Gladiator biplane fighters against the Italian Regia Aeronautica.[3] It briefly converted to Hawker Hurricanes, and then flew P-40 Tomahawks and Kittyhawks from 1941, often engaging in intense air battles with the German Luftwaffe. 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.[4]

Gibbes was replaced by Squadron Leader Brian Eaton, who led the unit until February 1944.[5] 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 until the end of the European war in May 1945. No. 3 Squadron's record of 217.5 enemy aircraft destroyed made it the highest-scoring RAAF fighter squadron.[6] It was disbanded after the war and No. 4 Squadron RAAF was renamed No. 3.

Cold War

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. The squadron was disbanded in 1967.

As Australian involvement in the Vietnam War intensified, 3 Sqn was reformed and equipped with Mirage IIIO fighters at Wlliamtown in August–September 1967. An acting CO, Wing Commander Vance Drummond, was killed during this period in "2v2" air combat manoeuvres at No. 2 Operational Conversion Unit RAAF. Wing Commander Jake Newham (later RAAF Chief of Air Staff) became the CO. No. 3 Squadron's role was fighter ground attack and its aircraft were camouflaged and fitted with a Doppler navigation system and radar with additional ground mapping and terrain avoidance capability.

A photo reconnaissance capability was developed using the Fairchild KA56 panoramic camera and a transportable high speed photoprocessing and interpretation cabin. The role of the squadron included being able to deploy at eight days notice to a bare base and operate there unsupported for 28 days.

The Mirage III was a maintenance intensive aeroplane and tasks such as engine overhauls and radar and instrument repair had to be performed while deployed. As a result there were about 190 personnel in the squadron including four engineer officers and a supply officer. Six C130 aircraft were needed to move the squadron.

Pilots were required to be proficient in both the air to air and air to ground roles including 45 degree dive bombing at night. Once these capabilities had been demonstrated, the Squadron deployed to RAAF Butterworth in February 1969.

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. With 75 Squadron RAAF, 3 Sqn maintained a detachment at RAF Tengah, Singapore and both squadrons were temporarily based at Tengah for several months while the runway at Butterworth was being resurfaced. HMS Sir Galahad was used to move the squadron's equipment.

On 29 August 1986, after returning to Australia, 3 Sqn became the first operational RAAF unit to receive F/A-18 Hornets (serial numbers A21-8 and A21-9).

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 3 Sqn were deployed to Diego Garcia, in the Indian Ocean, to relieve 77 Squadron, providing air defence for the Coalition base there.

3 Sqn personnel also participated in Operation Falconer, 75 Sqn's deployment to the Iraq War during 2003.

Aircraft operated

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

See also



  1. Halley, The Squadrons of the Royal Air Force & Commonwealth, p. 135
  2. Stephens, Royal Australian Air Force, pp. 9–19
  3. Gustavsson, Håkan. "Squadron Leader Alan Hill Boyd, RAAF no. 561". Biplane Fighter Aces from the Second World War. Retrieved 30 January 2013. 
  4. "Wing Commander Bobby Gibbes". Times Online. 1 May 2007. Retrieved on 20 October 2007. 
  5. Air Vice Marshal Brian Alexander Eaton at Australian War Memorial. Retrieved on 10 April 2010.
  6. 3 Squadron RAAF at Australian War Memorial. Retrieved on 10 April 2010.


  • Halley, James J. The Squadrons of the Royal Air Force & Commonwealth, 1918–1988. Tonbridge, Kent, UK: Air-Britain (Historians) Ltd., 1988. ISBN 0-85130-164-9.
  • Stephens, Alan. The Royal Australian Air Force: A History. London: Oxford University Press, 2001 (2nd edition 2006). ISBN 0-19-555541-4.

External links

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