RAF No 3 Squadron emblem

RAF 33 Squadron

Motto: Tertius primus erit (The Third shall be first)

Formed on 13 May 1912 at Larkhill, it moved to France in support of the BEF in August 1914. Operating as a Corps reconnaissance squadron with Morane Parasols from 1916, the squadron re-equipped with Camels in September 1917, becoming a fighter unit. Returning to the UK in February 1919, the squadron disbanded on 27 October 1919. Reforming in India on 1 April 1920 it operated as a fighter unit with Snipes until 30 September 1921.

A change of role followed, when the next day the mobile flight of No 205 Squadron at Leuchars was re-numbered No 3. Initially equipped with DH9As it later used the Westland Walrus for fleet co-operation work before disbanding into No's 421 and 422 Flights on 1 Apr 1923.

Exactly a year later, it reformed with Snipes at Manston, but soon moved to Upavon. Successively equipped with Woodcocks, Gamecocks and Bulldogs it remained at Upavon until October1935 when it was deployed to the Sudan as a result of the Abyssinian crisis. Returning to UK in August 1936 it moved to Kenley where it converted to Hurricanes in 1938, but Kenley was too small for these aircraft, so it reverted to biplanes in the form of Gladiators. A move to Biggin Hill brought back the Hurricanes in 1939 and the squadron remained there on the outbreak of war.

However, setbacks in France soon led the No 3 to be sent to France as reinforcements for the Air Component of the BEF. Evacuated back to Britain it moved to Scotland to 'recuperate', remaining there to defend Scapa Flow until April 1941. It then became a night fighter/intruder unit until February 1943 when the first Typhoons arrived. It continued fighter bomber operations over Northern France until March 1944 when it received the Hawker Tempest, just in time to take part in anti V1 (Diver) operations.

In September 1944 the squadron joined 2TAF and supported the Army all the way to Germany where it remaining after the war as part of BAFO. Conversion to Vampires followed in April 1948, Sabres in May 1953 and Hunters in May 1956. However, the squadron disbanded on 15 June 1957 at Geilenkirchen to where it had moved on 21 July 1953 from Wildenrath. Less than two years later on 21 January 1959, it was reformed by re-numbering No 96 Squadron, again in RAF Germany but this time at Geilenkirchen operating Javelins until 31 December 1960 when it was again disbanded. The next day No 59 Squadron, also at Geilenkirchen, was re-numbered and No 3 became a Canberra intruder unit until re-equipping with the Harrier GR1 in 1972.

With the Harrier, the unit moved to Wildenrath, Gutersloh and finally Laarbruch, from November 1992, having re-equipped with the GR5 version in March 1989. With the closure of Laarbruch the unit, now equipped with the Harrier GR7 (from November 1990), returned to the UK and joined the RAF/RN 'Joint Force Harrier' as part of No 3 Group based at RAF Cottesmore. On 31 March 2006, the squadron became the first operational unit to operate the Typhoon F Mk 2, when it moved to RAF Coningsby.

Post War

The squadron moved onto jets with the De Havilland Vampire during 1948, in Germany, where it had remained after moving there in the latter stages of the war. Sabres and Hunters replaced the Vampires during the 1950s, followed by Gloster Javelins and then a conversion onto Canberra bombers. Most of its time with Canberras was spent at RAF Geilenkirchen moving to RAF Laarbruch in January 1968.

3 Sqn's association with the Harrier began in the early 1970s with the Harrier GR1. The squadron received the later GR3 and GR5 model Harriers successively at RAF Station G├╝tersloh, finally receiving the GR7 and relocating to RAF Station Laarbruch in the 1992. In 1999, with the drawdown of the RAF in Germany, the Squadron moved back to the UK along with its sister squadron No IV (AC) Squadron RAF. The two squadrons operated at RAF Station Cottesmore, being joined by the other Harrier operator, No 1 Squadron RAF, in 2001.

No 3 Sqn, as part of Joint Force Harrier, operated alongside the Fleet Air Arm Sea Harriers, and itself was capable of deployment from the Royal Navy aircraft carriers. Operations have included Operation Allied Force over Kosovo in 1999, Operation Palliser over Sierra Leone in 2000 and Operation Telic over Iraq in 2003. In August 2004, it was announced that 6 Harriers will be deployed to Afghanistan in support of NATO forces.

No 3 Sqn became the first operational front line squadron equipped with the Eurofighter Typhoon on 31 March 2006. The Squadron was declared operational in 2007. Its Harrier GR7s have now been passed to the Fleet Air Arm to be used by the recommissioned No 800 Naval Air Squadron.

No 3 (F) Squadron celebrated its 95th anniversary over the weekend of 11 12 and 13 May 2007 at RAF Coningsby.

No 3 Sqn is unique in the RAF having 2 official crests; the main one, the cockatrice on a monolith ('chicken on a brick') and the ground crew (Aircraft Engineers) having 3 vertical monoliths and 2 'capping' monoliths ('The Wickets') representing the association of Larkhill with stonehenge. The reasons for this distinction is hotly debated.

Standards Battle Honours*

Award of Standard originally announced on 7 Sep 1943, effective from 1 Apr 1943 but presented:-
lst - 11 December 1953 ACM Sir Philip Joubert de la Ferte
2nd - 3 June 1983 AM Sir Patrick Hine.

Western Front, 1914-1918: Mons: Neuve Chappelle: Loos: Somme, 1916: Cambrai, 1917: Somme, 1918: Hindenburg Line: France & Low Countries, 1940: Battle of Britain, 1940: Home Defence, 1940-1945: Dieppe: Fortress Europe, 1942-1944: Channel & North Sea, 1941-1945: Normandy, 1944: Arnhem: Rhine: France & Germany, 1944-1945: Iraq 2003:

Squadron Codes used: -
OP Nov 1938 - Sep 1939
QO Sep 1939 - May 1944
JF May 1944 - 1946
J5 1946 - Apr 1951
A Apr 1951 - May 1953
AA - AZ Aug 1986 - Current

Previous aircraft operated

Sopwith Camel September 1917-February 1919
Sopwith Snipe April 1920-October 1921; April 1924-October 1925
Airco DH.9A October 1921-October 1922
Westland Walrus January 1922-April 1923
Hawker Woodcock II July 1925-September 1928
Gloster Gamecock I August 1928-July 1929
Bristol Bulldog II May 1929-December 1932
Bristol Bulldog IIA February 1931-January 1932; December 1932-June 1937
Gloster Gladiator I March 1937-March 1939; July 1938-July 1939
Hawker Hurricane I March-July 1938; July 1939-April 1941
Hawker Hurricane IIA/IIB April-November 1941
Hawker Hurricane IIC April 1941-May 1943
Hawker Typhoon IB February 1943-April 1944
Hawker Tempest V February 1944-April 1948
De Havilland Vampire F.1 April 1948-May 1949
De Havilland Vampire FB.5 May 1949-May 1953
North American Sabre F.1/F.4 May 1953-June 1956
Hawker Hunter F.4 May 1956-June 1957
Gloster Javelin FAW.4 January 1959-December 1960
English Electric Canberra B(I).8 January 1961-January 1972
Hawker Siddeley Harrier GR.1A, T.2 January 1972-March 1977
Harrier GR.3, T.4 March 1977-May 1989
BAE Harrier GR.5, T4 May 1989-February 1992
BAE Harrier GR7, T10 February 1992
BAE Harrier GR7A 2004

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This webpage was updated 30th June 2023