RAAF 3 Squadron

Motto: Operta Aperta - ("Secrets Revealed")
Active: 1916-1919, 1925-1946, 1948-1953, 1956-current
Country: Australia
Branch: Royal Australian Air Force
Role: Multi-role fighter, Part of No. 81 Wing, Air Combat Group
Garrison/HQ: RAAF Base Williamtown
World War I Western Front World War II Western Desert Campaign Syria-Lebanon Campaign Tunisia Campaign Italian Campaign Cold War Malayan Emergency Indonesia-Malaysia Konfrontasi Commanders:
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)
Bobby Gibbes (1942-43)
Brian Eaton (1943-44)
Jake Newham (1967-68)
Geoff Brown (1997-2000)


No. 3 Squadron was formed at Point Cook, Victoria, on 19 September 1916 under the command of Major David Blake. The squadron was one of four operational squadrons of the Australian Flying Corps, and its personnel were members of the Australian Army. Shortly afterwards, the unit embarked upon the HMAT Ulysses and sailed to England for training, before becoming the first AFC unit deployed to France, in September 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". This terminology was never accepted by the squadron or the Australian Imperial Force who continued to use the AFC designation regardless, and in early 1918, the British designation was dropped.

After moving to the Western Front, the squadron was initially based at Savy. In November 1917, it was assigned the role of being a corps reconnaissance squadron and allocated to I Anzac Corps, which was based around Messines, and established itself at Baileul. No. 3 Squadron would remain with I Anzac for the remainder of the war, and participated in bombing, artillery spotting and reconnaissance missions supporting ANZAC and other British Empire ground forces. Its first air-to-air victory came on 6 December 1917; by the end of the war it would eventually shoot down another 15 German aircraft, and would fly a total of 10,000 operational hours. In early 1918, the collapse of Russia allowed the Germans to concentrate their strength on the Western Front, and launched a major offensive. As the Allies were pushed back, the squadron's airfield at Baileul came into range of the German guns and it was moved first to Abeele and then, as the Allies were pushed back further, it moved again to Poulainville. During the offensive, the squadron operated mainly in the Somme Valley, providing artillery observation. In April 1918, the squadron 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. In July, the squadron undertook reconnaissance and deception operations in support of the Australian attack at Hamel, before later joining the final Allied offensive of the war around Amiens in August, flying support operations until the armistice in November. Shortly before the end of the war, the squadron began converting to the Bristol F.2 Fighter.

Following the end of hostilities, the squadron was engaged briefly in mail transport duties before being withdrawn to the United Kingdom in early 1919.


In 1925, the squadron was re-formed as part of the fledgling independent Royal Australian Air Force. Under the command of Squadron Leader Frank Lukis, it was based initially at Point Cook and then at Richmond, operating a variety of aircraft including SE-5As, DH-9s, Westland Wapitis and Hawker Demons. Upon the outbreak of World War II, the squadron was one of 12 permanent RAAF squadrons, and it was assigned to the 6th Division as an army co-operation squadron when it was deployed to the Middle East in mid-1940.

No. 3 squadron would serve the entire war in the Mediterranean Theatre as part of the Allied Desert Air Force (later the First Tactical Air Force), supporting the 8th Army.

After deploying from Australia without its aircraft, under the command of Squadron Leader Ian McLachlan, the unit sailed to Egypt. In late 1940, the squadron first saw action, operating obsolete Gloster Gladiator biplane fighters against the Italian Regia Aeronautica, which it encountered while conducting reconnaissance and ground attack sorties. It also operated some Westland Lysanders and Gloster Gauntlets, before briefly being converted to Hawker Hurricanes, and then flew P-40 Tomahawks and Kittyhawks from 1941, often engaging in intense air battles with the German Luftwaffe, as well as Vichy French pilots during the Syria-Lebanon campaign.

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. 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. Gibbes was replaced by Squadron Leader Brian Eaton, who led the unit until February 1944.

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 and Yugoslavia until the end of the European war in May 1945. No. 3 Squadron's record of 25,663 operational flight hours and 217.5 enemy aircraft destroyed made it the highest-scoring RAAF fighter squadron.

Cold War

At the end of the war, No. 3 Squadron returned to Australia and disbanded at Point Cook on 30 July 1946. It was re-formed at RAAF Base Fairbairn in Canberra in early 1948 when No. 4 Squadron RAAF was renumbered as No. 3 Squadron. Equipped with Mustangs, CAC Wirraways and Austers, the squadron served briefly as a tactical reconnaissance and close support squadron before disbanding again in 1953. 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.

As Australian involvement in the Vietnam War intensified, No. 3 Squadron returned to Australia and re-equipped with Mirage IIIO fighters at Williamtown in 1967. An acting CO, Wing Commander Vance Drummond, was killed during this period in air combat manoeuvres at No. 2 Operational Conversion Unit RAAF. Wing Commander Jake Newham (later RAAF Chief of Air Staff) became the CO.

After training in air-to-air and air-to-ground roles, the squadron deployed to RAAF Butterworth in Malaysia in February 1969, detachments were also deployed to RAF Tengah and Paya Lebar Air Base. 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.

After 15 years deployed to Malaysia, the No. 3 Squadron returned to Australia, and after transferring aircraft and personnel to No. 79 Squadron, on 29 August 1986 No. 3 Squadron became the first operational RAAF unit to receive F/A-18 Hornets.

Post-Cold War

The squadron continues to operate the Hornets from its home base at RAAF Base Williamtown. In February 2002, during the Afghanistan War, elements of No. 3 Squadron were deployed to Diego Garcia, in the Indian Ocean, to relieve No. 77 Squadron, providing air defence for the Coalition base there. No. 3 Squadron personnel also participated in Operation Falconer, No. 75 Squadron's deployment to the Iraq War during 2003, conducting air interdiction operations and combat air patrols. The squadron currently forms part of the Air Combat Group's No. 81 Wing RAAF.

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This webpage was updated 30th June 2023