RAAF No. 79 Squadron
No. 79 Squadron is a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) training squadron. The squadron has been formed on four occasions since it was first established in 1943 and saw combat during World War II as a fighter unit before being disbanded in 1945. It was stationed in Thailand between 1962 and 1968 and was active in Malaysia between 1986 and 1988. The squadron was reformed in its present incarnation during 1998 and is currently stationed at RAAF Base Pearce where it has operated Hawk 127 jet training aircraft since 2000.
World War II
No. 79 Squadron was formed at RAAF Base Laverton on 26 April 1943 and moved to Wooloomanata Aerodrome several days later. It received its first Spitfire Vc fighter aircraft on 3 May and on 17 May began moving to Goodenough Island. The squadron suffered its first fatality on 13 June, when Flight Lieutenant Virgil Brennan—an experienced fighter pilot, who had shot down 10 Axis aircraft over Malta—died as a result of the wounds he incurred during a landing accident at Cairns.
The squadron completed its movement to the island on 26 June, and began flying operational sorties from Vivigani Airfield as part of No. 73 Wing. No interceptions were made from this base, and the squadron moved to Kirwina Airfield on Kiriwina between 9 and 18 August where it operated alongside No. 76 Squadron.
This was the Allied airfield nearest to the major Japanese base at Rabaul, and it was expected that it would be regularly raided. These attacks did not eventuate, however, to the disappointment of No. 79 Squadron's pilots. On 31 October the squadron claimed its first victory when one of its Spitfires shot down a Kawasaki Ki-61 'Tony' fighter. After a period of training No. 79 Squadron flew its first sweep over Japanese-held territory on 27 November when eight Spitfires were dispatched to Gasmata on New Britain. The next day one of the squadron's Spitfires shot down a Mitsubishi Ki-46 'Dinah' reconnaissance aircraft south of Kitava. As few Japanese attacks were made against Kirwina, No. 79 Squadron's pilots became restive. The offensive patrols over New Britain improved their morale, however.
Another Tony was intercepted and shot down by a Spitfire on 21 December and an A6M Zero was destroyed on the ground at Gasmata seven days later. In exchange, a Spitfire was lost during a patrol over New Britain on 31 December. During January and February 1944 the squadron conducted offensive sweeps over New Britain, strafed Japanese positions and escorted Allied bombers. On 17 January eight No. 79 Squadron Spitfires took part in an attack involving 73 Australian aircraft on a Japanese camp near Lindenhafen; this was the largest RAAF operation of the war up to that point. Two Spitfires were lost during the operations in January and February.
No. 73 Wing moved to Momote Airstrip on Los Negros Island in March 1944, and No. 79 Squadron become operational there with 24 aircraft on the 29th of the month. From Momote the squadron flew ground attack sorties in support of US troops engaged in the Admiralty Islands campaign until Japanese resistance ceased. No Japanese aircraft were encountered throughout this operation. By the end of April No. 79 Squadron was mainly engaged in escorting Allied shipping, though flying was hampered by a shortage of spare parts. The squadron's commanding officer, Squadron Leader M.S. Bott, was killed during an accident on 16 April. Shipping escort patrols continued in May, but difficulties in maintaining the Spitfires reduced the squadron to just two operational aircraft with another 12 awaiting repair. This situation continued until late November. On 9 November, two Spitfires unsuccessfully attempted to intercept three Japanese aircraft which had raided Hyane Harbour; No. 79 Squadron subsequently maintained a three-aircraft patrol over Los Negros during daylight hours until 22 November. Two days later the Squadron was released from operations ahead of moving to Darwin in northern Australia.
No. 79 Squadron arrived at Sattler Airfield south of Darwin on 12 January 1945 and was reequipped with Mark VIII Spitfires. It began to move to Morotai in the Netherlands East Indies (NEI) on 6 February and became operational there as part of No. 80 Wing at the end of March. The squadron conducted ground attack sorties against Japanese positions on nearby islands until the end of the war. Although it did not encounter any Japanese aircraft in this area, several Spitfires were shot down by anti-aircraft fire. No. 79 Squadron dropped leaflets on Japanese positions after Japan's surrender, and returned to Australia in October 1945. The squadron was disbanded at Oakey Airfield on 12 November that year. No. 79 Squadron suffered 13 fatal casualties during the war.
In mid-1962 Minister for Defence Athol Townley announced that Australia would deploy a squadron of CAC Sabre fighters to Thailand to bolster that country's defences. This action was undertaken as part of Australia's Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) commitment to defend Thailand against attack from its Communist neighbors, which was thought to be increasingly likely to occur. Accordingly, No. 79 Squadron was re-formed at Ubon Air Base in Thailand on 1 June 1962 with a strength of eight Sabres.
These aircraft had been drawn from Australia's Commonwealth Strategic Reserve forces in Malaysia, and had flown to Thailand from RAAF Base Butterworth via Singapore in order to preserve Malaysia's neutrality. Living facilities at Ubon were initially basic, and the pilots and ground crew lived in tents. Construction of permanent accommodation began in September 1962, however, and faculties were later further improved.
No. 79 Squadron was tasked with defending Thailand's air space against intruders. It maintained armed aircraft on alert at all times, and scrambled Sabres when unidentified aircraft were detected. No air threat eventuated, however. From early April 1965 Ubon became an important base for United States Air Force (USAF) attacks on North Vietnam during the Vietnam War and No. 79 Squadron became part of an integrated air defence system controlled by the USAF on 25 June. This changed the status of the squadron's presence at Ubon, and RAAF Headquarters assessed that the North Vietnamese would be justified in regarding No. 79 Squadron as forming part of the air campaign against their country. While the squadron did not play an active role in the war, it supported the US effort by providing air defence for Ubon and taking part in exercises with USAF aircraft in which the Sabres adopted tactics used by North Vietnamese MiG-17 fighters. These operations continued until mid 1968 when the Australian Government determined that the Australian presence at Ubon had outlived its political and military usefulness. Accordingly, the squadron was taken off alert status on 26 July and was disbanded at the end of the month.
On 31 March 1986 No. 79 Squadron was re-formed at RAAF Base Butterworth to replace No. 3 Squadron after it returned to Australia to Australia to be reequipped with F/A-18 Hornets. The squadron was equipped with twelve ex-No. 3 Squadron Mirage III fighters and a single DHC-4 Caribou. It participated in routine training exercises in South East Asia, including regular deployments to Paya Lebar Air Base in Singapore and a deployment to Clarke Air Force Base in the Philippines during May 1987. The Caribou supported Australian Army units in Malaysia and flew training sorties to neighbouring countries. Once the RAAF's fighter squadrons had completed their transition to the F/A-18 No. 79 Squadron was disbanded at Butterworth on 30 June 1988.
No. 79 Squadron was formed for a fourth time at RAAF Base Pearce in on 1 July 1998 from No. 25 Squadron's Permanent Air Force personnel. The Squadron initially operated Aermacchi MB-326 aircraft before being re-equipped with Hawk 127 aircraft in 2000. The squadron's main responsibilities are providing introductory fast jet training to pilots who have recently graduated from No. 2 Flying Training School and refresher training on the Hawk aircraft for experienced fighter pilots. In addition, it also provides aircraft to support Navy and Army training exercises.
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