May the 13th 2012 saw 3 Squadron become 100 years old and celebrate the event with a ceremony full of pomp and circumstance, as would be expected in both Jubilee and Olympic year.  Steve Smith and Craig Sluman were at RAF Coningsby for AeroResource...

The History
Although the Squadron had been assigned the Number 3, they were the first squadron to operate heavier than air aircraft from Larkhill, hence their moto – “The third shall be first”. In August 1914 they deployed to France as part of the BEF flying reconnaissance missions. By 1917 the squadron had become a Scout/Fighter squadron, equipped with the Sopwith Camel with 59 enemy aircraft being claimed by the end of the war.

After the Armistice in 1918, the Squadron was disbanded.  In 1924, 3 Squadron were re-activated and went to Upavon where they were equipped with Sopwith Snipes. During their ten-year stay, the Squadron flew most of the RAF’s modern fighters, such as Woodcocks, Gamecocks and Bulldogs. The squadron saw little action but was deployed to Sudan during the Abyssinian crisis in 1935. No 3 Squadron was given the task to introduce the Gloster Gladiator into RAF service. A future ace joined the squadron at this stage, his name was Bob Stanford Tuck who went on to be one of Britain’s leading fighter pilots during World War II.

As the Second World War started 3 Squadron received Hurricanes at Biggin Hill and deployed to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) during the last few weeks of the Battle of France. 3 Squardon were forced to withdraw after 10 days, having claimed 60 German aircraft for the loss of 21 of its own. Recovering from its losses, the squadron was sent to Scotland and worked on the “Turbinlite” night fighter role protecting Scapa Flow.

In February 1943 it re-equipped with the Hawker Typhoon for fighter-bomber and anti-shipping strikes. In March 1944 the Squadron received the new Hawker Tempest fighter, operating over Normandy and being part of the defense line against German V1 Flying Bombs, claiming a total of 288 V-1s shot down. The Squadron progressed to the Continent as part of the advance towards Germany once the V1 menace was overcome. Amongst its pilots was F/L Pierre Clostermann, France’s top scoring ace who flew with 3 Squadron from March 1945 until the end of the war in Europe.

The Squadron remained in Germany after the armistice, converting to De Havilland Vampires in 1948, F-86 Sabres in 1953 and the Hawker Hunter in 1956. A short time with Gloster Javelin fighters was followed by a long period of English Electric Canberra flying, before the Squadron received Harriers in the early 1970s. The Squadron then had a extensive association with the Harrier, being stationed at Gutersloh and Laarbruch working closely with the Jaguars in a ground attack roles.

The squadron returned back to the UK in the spring of 1999, flying the Harrier GR.7 at RAF Cottesmore in Rutland. Along with its sister RAF Harrier and Royal Navy Sea Harrier units, the Squadrons combined under the umbrella of Joint Force Harrier. The combinaion undertook a number of deployments on board aircraft carriers including an operational tour to Sierra Leone as part of Operation Basilica.

On the 31 March 2006 the Squadron moved to RAF Coningsby to become the third RAF and first front-line RAF Squadron to be equipped with the Eurofighter Typhoon and was declared operational in 2007.

In March 2011 3 Squadron deployed to Southern Italy to take part in Operation Ellamy over Libya.

The Squadron is very much at the front of the RAF’s fighter force and on the 13th May 2012 the Squadron paid Honour to its achievements and 100 year history.

The Celebrations
A two and a half hour long parade took place, with much pomp and posturing as the Squadron were presented with their new colours.  Also recently unleashed from the paint shop is a delightful ‘special tailed’ Typhoon, adorned in a special paint scheme to the tail and spine, with one or two other touches as well.

The day also saw the unveiling of a late addition to the painted aircraft, being the ground-crew “wickets” emblem on the airbrake, the wickets symbolising Stonehenge, a place associated with their original base at Larkhill.  Only the 3 Squadron ground-crew can wear this emblem, apparently dating back to World War I days, when a decision was made to evacuate all the aircrew, leaving the ground-crew behind with their aircraft.  The emblem was awarded to the ground-crew after this event.

Wing Commander Dicky Patounas, or “OC3” as his is known to the Squadron, went on to explain how proud both he and his colleagues were to be associated with 3 Squadron and it’s history and that the airman and airwomen who served were all keen to get on with the next “job” what ever they were asked to do.  Dicky was formerly ‘a Jaguar man’ as well as being the Officer Commanding The Red Arrows.

Some special guests turned up to help celebrate 3 Squadrons Centenary in the shape of four French Air Force Rafales, also two Dutch F16’s arrived to show their appreciation and support to one of the RAF’s finest Squadrons.

3 Squadron’s Battle Honours

  • Somme 1916

  • Cambrai 1917

  • Western Front 1914-1918

  • Battle of Britain 1940

  • Home Defence 1940-1945

  • Fortress Europe 1942-1944

  • Channel and North Sea 1943-1945

  • France and Germany 1944-1945

  • Iraq 2003

Thanks must go to Jim Robinson and everyone who organised the celebrations as well as Dicky Patounas for speaking to us…