3(F) SQUADRON: THE OLDEST FLYING SQUADRON
In 1911, following the growth in early aviation activity, the War Office issued instructions for the School of Ballooning to be expanded into a battalion. An order was issued on 28 February 1911 for the formation of the Air Battalion of the Royal Engineers.
Formed on 1 April 1911, the Battalion comprised two companies and an HQ. The commander of the Air Battalion was Maj Sir Alexander Bannerman. At Farnborough were the Headquarters and No.1 (Airship) Company, as the name suggests, equipped with airships, under the command of Capt Edward Maitland. No.2 (Aeroplane) Company was commanded by Capt John Fulton. Established at Larkhill on Salisbury Plain, No.2 (Aeroplane) Company was the first unit to use ‘heavier than air’ machines as opposed to balloons.
The Air Battalion of the Royal Engineers had a very short existence, and its successor, the Royal Flying Corps, was constituted by Royal Warrant on 13 April 1912, the Air Battalion being absorbed into it on 13 May. On 13 May 1912, No.2 (Aeroplane) Company, Air Battalion RE became No.3 Sqn RFC, commanded by Major H.R.M Brooke-Popham, as one of the three founder Sqns. The organisation chart below illustrates the unit relationships leading up to the formation of the Royal Flying Corps.
The Roman numeral III of the initial badge adopted by the Sqn, represents the monoliths of Stonehenge, which is close to the unit’s location at Larkhill on Salisbury Plain.
The Sqn’s motto “Tertius Primus Erit” (The Third shall be First) signifies the well documented fact, traceable back the activities of the Air Battalion, Royal Engineers in 1911, that the unit was the first British, Empire or Commonwealth formation to operate heavier-than-air machines.
In August 1914, the Sqn deployed to France on reconnaissance duties as part of the British Expeditionary Forces. In 1917, the Sqn re-equipped with the Sopwith Camel aircraft and became a Fighter/Scout unit. After the Armistice in 1918, the Sqn disbanded before arriving at Upavon in 1924 with Sopwith Snipes. During their stay, the Sqn flew Woodcocks, Gamecocks and Bulldogs and also deployed to Sudan during the Abyssinian crisis in 1935. Upon its return to the UK, 3 Sqn introduced the Gladiator into RAF service and, just as the Second World War started, received Hurricanes at Biggin Hill.
A brief deployment to France was followed by relocation to Scotland on night-patrol duties. During 1943, the Sqn replaced the Hurricanes with Hawker Typhoons and switched to the anti-shipping and intruder roles. A switch to Tempests in 1944 saw 3 Sqn destroy 288 V1 flying bombs, and move on to the Continent as part of the advance towards Germany. The Sqn remained in Germany, converting to Vampires in 1948, Sabres in 1953 and the Hunter in 1956. A short time with Javelin fighters was followed by a long period of Canberra flying, before the Sqn received Harriers in the early 1970s.
In 1977, the unit moved to Gutersloh near the old East German border, before relocating to Laarbruch with Harrier GR7s. Following the decision to close Laarbruch, the Sqn returned to the UK in the Spring of 1999, arriving at RAF Cottesmore in Rutland. 3(F) Sqn combined with other RAF and Royal Navy units to form Joint Force Harrier and undertook a number of deployments on board aircraft carriers including an operational tour to Sierra Leone as part of Op BASILICA. 3(F) Sqn was also involved in Op TELIC.
On 31 March 2006, the Sqn moved to RAF Coningsby to become the first front-line RAF squadron to be equipped with the Eurofighter Typhoon. In addition to providing pilots and engineers for Quick Reaction Alert duties at RAF Coningsby and at RAF Mount Pleasant, the Sqn deployed to Gioia del Colle, Italy in 2011 in order to take part in Op ELLAMY after having quickly trained pilots to drop Enhanced Paveway II guided bombs.
3(F) Sqn celebrated its centenary on 13 May 2012 with the presentation of a new Sqn Standard and, a formal dinner and an open day for families and 3(F) Sqn Association members.