Unit Details

 No. 77 Squadron RAAF – North American P-51D Mustang / Gloster Meteor (1950–55)

No. 77 Squadron RAAF

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No. 77 Squadron RAAF
Crest of 77 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force, featuring a lion and the motto "Swift to Destroy"
No. 77 Squadron's crest
Active 1942–current
Country Australia
Branch Royal Australian Air Force
Role Air-to-air/air-to-surface combat
Part of No. 71 Wing (1943)
No. 73 Wing (1943–44)
No. 81 Wing (1944–48, 1987–current)
No. 91 Wing (1950–54)
No. 78 Wing (1955–67)
Garrison/HQ RAAF Base Williamtown
Motto(s) "Swift to Destroy"
Engagements World War II
  • South West Pacific theatre
  • New Guinea campaign
  • Borneo campaign
Occupation of Japan
Korean War
Malayan Emergency
Indonesia–Malaysia confrontation
War in Afghanistan
Military intervention against ISIL
Decorations Presidential Unit Citation (South Korea)
Commanders
Notable
commanders
Dick Cresswell (1942–43, 1944–45, 1950–51)
Gordon Steege (1951)
John Quaife (1996–98)
Mark Binskin (1998–99)
Aircraft flown
Fighter F/A-18 Hornet

No. 77 Squadron is a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) squadron headquartered atRAAF Base Williamtown, New South Wales. It is controlled by No. 81 Wing, and equipped with McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet multi-role fighters. The squadron was formed atRAAF Station Pearce, Western Australia, in March 1942 and saw action in the South West Pacific theatre of World War II, operating Curtis P-40 Kittyhawks. After the war, it re-equipped with North American P-51 Mustangs and deployed to Japan as part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force. The squadron was about to return to Australia when the Korean War broke out in June 1950, after which it joined United Nations forces supporting South Korea. It converted from Mustangs to Gloster Meteorjets between April and July 1951 and remained in Korea until October 1954, claiming five MiG-15s and over five thousand buildings and vehicles destroyed during the war for the loss of almost sixty aircraft, mainly to ground fire.

The squadron re-equipped with CAC Sabresat Williamtown in November 1956. Two years later it transferred to RAAF Butterworth inMalaya to join the air campaign against communist guerrillas in the last stages of theEmergency. The squadron remained at Butterworth during the 1960s, providing regional air defence during the Konfrontasibetween Indonesia and Malaysia. It returned to Williamtown in early 1969 to re-equip withDassault Mirage III supersonic jet fighters. No. 77 Squadron began converting to Hornets in June 1987. It supplied a detachment of four aircraft to the American base on Diego Garcia in 2001–02, supporting the war in Afghanistan, and deployed to the Middle East as part of the military intervention against ISIL in 2015–16. Along with its Hornets, the squadron briefly operated Pilatus PC-9s in the forward air control role in the early 2000s. The RAAF plans to replace its Hornets with Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighters commencing in 2018, and No. 77 Squadron is scheduled to convert to the new type in 2021.

Role and equipment

 A row of helmeted pilots in the cockpits of their fighter jets

Pilots of No. 77 Squadron in their F/A-18 Hornets, 2010

No. 77 Squadron is located at RAAF Base Williamtown, New South Wales, and controlled by No. 81 Wing, which is part of Air Combat Group. No. 81 Wing maintains three fighter squadrons for offensive and defensive counter-air operations. As well as air-to-air combat, No. 77 Squadron is tasked with land strike,close air support and maritime strike missions. Its staff includes maintenance, supply and other support personnel. The unit motto is "Swift to Destroy" and the crest features anoriental temple lion, a legacy of No. 77 Squadron's role in the Korean War. Nicknamed the "grumpy monkey", the lion represents "a defender of peace, which, when disturbed, is swift to destroy".

The squadron operates McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet multi-role fighters, the first of which was delivered in June 1987. The twin-engined Hornet is armed with a 20 mm cannon and can carry short- and medium-range air-to-air missiles and a variety of guided and unguided air-to-surface ordnance. It can be refuelled in flight by the RAAF's Airbus KC-30A Multi Role Tanker Transports.No. 77 Squadron primarily operates the single-seat F/A-18A Hornet; each Hornet squadron also operates one or two F/A-18Bs, a two-seat model used for pilot conversion. Squadron staff are responsible for day-to-day servicing and some heavy maintenance tasks. Other heavy maintenance is carried out by an industry coalition contracted through Boeing. No. 77 Squadron regularly undertakes exercises with air forces from South-East Asia, New Zealand and the United States.

History

World War II

As the Japanese advanced in the South West Pacific during early 1942, the RAAF hurriedly established three fighter units—Nos. 75, 76 and 77 Squadrons—equipped with Curtiss P-40E Kittyhawks recently delivered from the United States. No. 77 Squadron was formed at RAAF Station Pearce, Western Australia, on 16 March, with a complement of three officers and 100 men. Temporarily commanded bySquadron Leader D. F. Forsyth, the unit was initially responsible for the defence of Perth.Squadron Leader Dick Cresswell assumed command on 20 April. The squadron transferred toBatchelor Airfield near Darwin, Northern Territory, in August, the first RAAF fighter unit to be stationed in the area. Until this time, air defence over Darwin had been provided by the P-40s flown by theUSAAF's 49th Fighter Group. No. 77 Squadron moved to another of Darwin's satellite airfields,Livingstone, in September. Among its pilots was John Gorton, future Prime Minister of Australia.No. 77 Squadron saw action defending Darwin from Japanese air raids and claimed its first aerial victory just after 5 a.m. on 23 November 1942, when Cresswell destroyed a Mitsubishi "Betty" bomber. It was the first "kill" for an Australian squadron over the mainland, and the first night victory over Australia. As of 24 December, the unit's strength was twenty-four Kittyhawks.

Three rows of men light-coloured military uniforms, in front of the single-engined aircraft

Pilots of B Flight, No. 77 Squadron, including Flying Officer John Gorton (back row, fourth from left) with a P-40 Kitty hawk in the Northern Territory, January 1943

In February 1943, concurrent with No. 1 Wing and its three Supermarine Spitfire squadrons becoming operational in the Darwin area, No. 77 Squadron was transferred to Milne Bay in New Guinea. Along with Nos. 6, 75 and 100 Squadrons it came under the control of the newly formed No. 71 Wing, which was part of No. 9 Operational Group, the RAAF's main mobile formation in the South West Pacific Area.No. 77 Squadron registered its first daytime victory on 11 April, when a Kittyhawk shot down a Mitsubishi Zerotaking part in a raid on Allied shipping near Buna. Four days later the Japanese attacked Milne Bay; the squadron claimed four bombers and a fighter for the loss of one Kittyhawk. By this time, Allied headquarters had finalised plans for a drive north to the Philippines involving heavy attacks on Rabaul and the occupation of territory in New Guinea, New Britain and the Solomon Islands. No. 77 Squadron began moving to Goodenough Island in May, and was fully established and ready for operations by 15 June. As Japanese fighter opposition was limited, the squadron took part in several ground-attack missions in New Britain, armed with incendiaryand general-purpose bombs, a practice that had been employed by Kittyhawk units in the Middle East. During one such raid on 2 August, Cresswell's designated successor as commanding officer,Flight Lieutenant Daryl Sproule, was forced to crash-land on a beach and was captured and executed by the Japanese. Cresswell remained in command until Squadron Leader "Buster" Brown took over on 20 August. Japanese fighter strength in New Britain and New Guinea increased in September and October, and eight of No. 77 Squadron's Kittyhawks were briefly detached to Nadzab as escorts for the CAC Boomerangs of No. 4 Squadron, which were supporting the 7th Australian Division.

In January 1944, No. 77 Squadron took part in the two largest raids mounted by the RAAF to that time, each involving over seventy aircraft attacking targets in New Britain. It was subsequently assigned toLos Negros in the Admiralty Islands, under the control of No. 73 Wing, along with Nos. 76 and 79 Squadrons. No. 77 Squadron's ground party went ashore at Los Negros on 6 March, in the middle of a firefight with Japanese forces. Fourteen of the squadron's Kittyhawks arrived a week later, and another ten on 28 March. Their primary duty was providing air cover for Allied shipping, though no Japanese aircraft were encountered; they also flew ground-attack missions in support of US troops onManus Island. Following the capture of the Admiralties, which completed the isolation of Rabaul, No. 77 Squadron remained with No. 73 Wing on garrison duty at Los Negros from May to July 1944. Between 13 August and 14 September, the squadron transferred to Noemfoor in western New Guinea to join Nos. 76 and 82 Squadrons as part of No. 81 Wing under No. 10 Operational Group (later the Australian First Tactical Air Force), which had taken over the mobile role previously performed by No. 9 Group and was supporting the American landings along the north coast of New Guinea.Cresswell, now a wing commander, arrived for his second tour of duty as commanding officer on 26 September. Operating P-40N Kittyhawks, No. 77 Squadron bombed Japanese positions on theVogelkop Peninsula in October and on Halmahera in November. Cresswell handed over command in March 1945. The squadron moved to Morotai on 13 April and conducted ground-attack sortiesover the Dutch East Indies until 30 June, when it redeployed with No. 81 Wing to Labuan to support the9th Australian Division in North Borneo until hostilities ended in August 1945. The squadron's tally of aerial victories during the war was seven aircraft destroyed and four "probables", for the loss of eighteen pilots killed.

Occupation of Japan

Three single-seat military monoplanes, two with engines exposed, parked on tarmac with huts and mountains in the background

No. 77 Squadron P-51 Mustang fighters undergoing maintenance at Iwakuni, Japan, c. 1950

No. 77 Squadron began re-equipping withNorth American P-51 Mustangs at Labuan in September 1945. In the wake of Japan's surrender, No. 81 Wing became part of Australia's contribution to the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF). No. 77 Squadron was the last of the wing's three flying units to deploy to Japan, arriving atBofu, a former kamikaze base, on 21 March 1946. No. 481 (Maintenance) Squadron provided technical service for the Mustangs.Occupation duties proved uneventful, the main operational task being surveillance patrols, but units maintained an intensive training regime and undertook combined exercises with other Allied forces. Many RAAF personnel were accompanied to Japan by their families.

No. 81 Wing transferred to Iwakuni in April 1948, the same month that the Federal government decided to reduce Australia's contribution to BCOF, retaining only No. 77 Squadron in Japan. Wing headquarters and No. 481 Squadron disbanded in November 1948, and No. 77 Squadron came under the aegis of a new organisation called RAAF Component. The squadron was now the largest operational unit in the RAAF, with a strength of 299 officers and men, forty Mustangs, three CAC Wirraways, two Douglas C-47 Dakotas and two Austers. The Dakotas and Austers formed the No. 77 Squadron Communications Flight. In December 1949, the Mustangs competed in a gunnery competition against three groups of Mustangs and two groups of F-80 Shooting Star jets belonging to the US Far East Air Force (FEAF). No. 77 Squadron's Flight Lieutenant "Bay" Adams achieved the highest individual score of the competition, earning the personal congratulations of Lieutenant GeneralsGeorge E. Stratemeyer, commander of FEAF, and Horace Robertson, commander of BCOF. The RAAF personnel were preparing to return to Australia when, on 25 June 1950, they were placed on standby for action in the Korean War, which had just broken out.

Korean War

Twelve men in flying suits in a semi-circle around another man in front of a twin-engined jet aircraft

Squadron Leader Dick Cresswell (centre), on his third tour as commanding officer of No. 77 Squadron, briefs Meteor pilots at Kimpo prior to a mission over North Korea, August 1951

Led by Wing Commander Lou Spence, No. 77 Squadron was committed to action over Korea as part of United Nations Command, and came under the operational control of the US Fifth Air Force. The Australian unit was specifically requested by General Douglas MacArthur, commander of UN forces; the Mustang was considered the best long-range ground-attack aircraft in the theatre, and Stratemeyer contended that No. 77 Squadron was the best Mustang outfit in Japan. The squadron flew its initial escort and patrol sorties from Iwakuni on 2 July 1950, becoming the first non-American UN unit to commence operations. Several Australian families were still living at Iwakuni pending their repatriation from what had become an operational theatre, and could watch the Mustangs depart for missions over Korea. A friendly fire incident occurred on 3 July, when No. 77 Squadron attacked a train full of US and South Korean troops on the main highway between Suwon and P'yongtaek, inflicting many casualties, twenty-nine of them fatal. Spence had raised concerns before the mission that the North Koreans could not have penetrated so far south, but was assured by Fifth Air Force controllers that the target was correct; the incident was widely reported in US newspapers but a public statement by Stratemeyer cleared the RAAF of any blame. No. 77 Squadron did not encounter enemy aircraft in the opening phase of the war but often faced intense ground fire. It suffered its first fatality on 7 July when its deputy commander, Squadron Leader Graham Strout, was killed during a raid on Samchok.He was also the first Australian, and the first non-American UN serviceman, to die in Korea.

For the next two months, equipped with bombs, rockets and napalm, No. 77 Squadron supported UN troops retreating before the North Korean advance. To expedite turnaround times between missions, the Mustangs, which were still based at Iwakuni, often refuelled and rearmed at Taegu near the Pusan Perimeter, where UN forces made a last-ditch stand on the southern tip of Korea. One of the squadron's Dakotas regularly flew between Iwakuni and Taegu carrying ordnance and spare parts.According to the official history of the Air Force in 1946–71, the squadron's part in the victory at Pusan earned recognition "not only for the RAAF but also Australia at the highest political levels in the United States". During a visit to Japan in August 1950, Prime Minister Robert Menzies presented theGloucester Cup to No. 77 Squadron as the RAAF's most proficient unit of the past year. That month, the squadron claimed thirty-five tanks, 212 other vehicles, eighteen railway engines or cars, and thirteen fuel or ammunition dumps destroyed. On 3 September, Sergeant Bill Harrop was forced down behind enemy lines and executed by the North Koreans. Six days later, Spence was killed when his Mustang failed to pull out of a dive during a napalm attack on Angang-ni. His death was a serious blow to the squadron, and the RAAF despatched Cresswell on his third tour as commanding officer to replace him. Cresswell arrived at Iwakuni on 17 September and set about restoring morale, undertaking four sorties on his first day of operations three days later. MacArthur had meanwhile launched an amphibious landing behind North Korean lines at Inchon, forcing the communists to retreat from the Pusan Perimeter. No. 77 Squadron was transferred from Iwakuni to Pohang, South Korea, on 12 October, to support UN forces advancing northwards. On 20 October, the squadron became a component of the RAAF's newly established No. 91 (Composite) Wing, which also included No. 391 (Base) Squadron, No. 491 (Maintenance) Squadron, and No. 30 Communications Flight, formerly the No. 77 Squadron Communications Flight. The wing and all units except No. 77 Squadron, which came under the operational control of the US 35th Fighter-Interceptor Group, were headquartered at Iwakuni.

Twin-jet military aircraft parked at airfield

No. 77 Squadron Meteor at Kimpo preparing for a bomber escort mission over North Korea, 1951

China entered the war in mid-October 1950, as advancing UN troops closed in on the Yalu River. No. 77 Squadron undertook its first sorties against Chinese ground forces on 1 November. The squadron flew its first missions supporting theAustralian Army on 5 November, when it attacked Chinese troops opposing the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, at Pakchon. No. 77 Squadron personnel were housed in tents in freezing conditions at Pohung; two pilots died from burns after a fire in their quarters on 14 November. Two days later the Australians began moving forward with the 35th Group to Yonpo, near Hamhung. North Korea's counter-attack, supported by Chinese forces, led to the squadron being withdrawn to Pusan on 3 December 1950. The Chinese operated a Russian-designed swept-wing jet fighter, the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15, that outclassed all other fighters in the theatre except the new North American F-86 Sabre. The RAAF attempted to procure Sabres to replace No. 77 Squadron's Mustangs but the priority being given to re-equipping the USAF meant that deliveries would not be possible until 1954. The Australian government agreed to purchase Gloster Meteor straight-wing jet fighters from Britain as the only viable alternative; the initial order included thirty-six single-seat Mk.8 interceptors and four two-seat Mk.7 trainers. No. 77 Squadron completed its last Mustang mission on 6 April 1951 and returned to Iwakuni the next day to begin converting to Meteors. It subsequently transferred to Kimpo, South Korea, and commenced operations with its new aircraft on 29 July. The squadron deployed twenty-two Meteors at Kimpo, and came under the control of the USAF's 4th Fighter-Interceptor Wing. Although it had operated effectively as a ground-attack unit with its Mustangs, No. 77 Squadron's primary role in the RAAF was interception, and it was expected that with the Meteor it could again focus on fighter duties, particularly as by this stage the USAF had only two squadrons of Sabres in the theatre.

Wing Commander Gordon Steege succeeded Cresswell on 16 August 1951, by which time No. 77 Squadron's Meteors had conducted offensive sweeps up the Yalu River with USAF Sabres, and escorted Boeing B-29 Superfortresses on bombing missions. MiG-15s had appeared on several occasions without engaging the Meteors; it was speculated at the time, and subsequently confirmed, that they had been observing the performance of the newly arrived RAAF jets. No. 77 Squadron's first Meteor fatalities occurred on 22 August, when two aircraft collided in mid-air as they returned to Kimpo after a sweep. The Meteors first engaged MiG-15s on 25 August, but scored no hits. Four days later, eight Meteors and sixteen Sabres fought twelve MiGs; one RAAF pilot ejected when his aircraft was shot down, and a second Meteor was badly damaged. One week later another Meteor suffered severe damage in a dogfight with MiGs. As a result of these clashes, Steege became convinced that the Meteor was outclassed as a fighter. Following discussions with the Fifth Air Force, he decided to take No. 77 Squadron out of its air-to-air combat role and curtail its operations in "MiG Alley", the area between the Yalu and Chongchon Rivers on North Korea's border with Manchuria. This caused controversy among those who believed that proper tactics exploiting the Meteor's manoeuvrability and heavy armament would have allowed it to remain competitive as a fighter; for the Australian pilots the change of role amounted to a loss of prestige. The Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal George Jones, backed the decision, which relegated the squadron mainly to escort duty and local air defence. Morale suffered and it was not until Wing Commander Ron Susans succeeded Steege on 26 December 1951 that the Meteors were once more assigned an offensive role, namely ground attack.

Three men in flying suits walking among twin-jet military aircraft

No. 77 Squadron pilots and their Meteors at Kunsan, South Korea, June 1954. The nose section of aircraft A77-368 later went on display at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

In the intervening period, Flight Lieutenant "Smoky" Dawson registered No. 77 Squadron's first jet combat claim when he damaged a MiG during an escort mission on 26 September 1951. On 27 October, Flying Officer Les Reading was credited with damaging another MiG; it was subsequently confirmed as having been destroyed, making it the squadron's first MiG "kill".The squadron was awarded the Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation for "exceptionally meritorious service & heroism" on 1 November. Fifty MiGs attacked a formation of fourteen Meteors on 1 December 1951; at least one MiG was shot down and another damaged, for the loss of three Meteors. On 8 January 1952, Susans led the squadron on its first ground-attack mission in Meteors, which were armed with eight rockets under the wings as well as their four internal 20 mm cannon. They continued to operate mainly in the ground-attack role until the end of the war, but registered two more victories over MiGs on 4 and 8 May 1952. The squadron took part in a mass air strike on 29 August, when 420 UN aircraft attacked Pyongyang. One Meteor was shot down and another damaged by MiGs on 2 October 1952. No. 77 Squadron was credited with downing its last MiG on 27 March 1953. Squadron Leader Len McGlinchey became its final wartime fatality when his Meteor crashed while taking off from Kimpo on 16 July.

Following the armistice on 27 July 1953, the squadron remained in South Korea on garrison duties—initially at Kimpo, later at Kunsan—until transferring to Iwakuni on 12 October 1954. It departed for Australia on 19 November and arrived in Sydney on 3 December, having been based overseas for eleven years, a record for an RAAF unit. Its performance in the early days of the war has been cited as a factor in the United States' decision to ratify the ANZUS treaty in September 1951. The squadron's casualty rate in Korea was twenty-five percent killed or captured. Forty-one pilots died, thirty-five from the RAAF and six on exchange from the Royal Air Force. A further seven pilots became prisoners of war. Aircraft losses totalled almost sixty, including over forty Meteors, mostly to ground fire. The squadron flew 18,872 sorties, including 3,872 in Mustangs and 15,000 in Meteors. It was credited with shooting down five MiG-15s and destroying 3,700 buildings, 1,408 vehicles, ninety-eight railway engines and carriages, and sixteen bridges.

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December 1, 1950

The Battle of Sunch'ŏn was an air battle fought near the city of Sunch'ŏn during the Korean War. On 1 December 1951, 12 Gloster Meteor jets of the RAAF's 77 Squadron were on a sweep at 19,000 feet over Sunch'ŏn when they were attacked by 40-50 Soviet and Chinese MiG-15s. During the ensuing ten-minute action the battle ranged across North Korean airspace at altitudes between 20,000 to 33,000 feet (6,100 to 10,000 m). The Australian pilots managed to score the first victories—destroying one MiG and probably another—but later lost three Meteors to the far superior MiG aircraft. Two Australian pilots, Sergeant (later Wing Commander) Vance Drummond and Flying Officer Bruce Thompson, managed to eject and landed in North Korea where they became prisoners of war, while the third pilot—Flying Officer Ernest Donald Armit—was reported missing in action, presumed killed. This encounter, along with previous actions between the Meteors and MiGs, highlighted the inferiority of the Meteor in aerial combat against the newer Soviet aircraft and No. 77 Squadron was subsequently re-assigned to ground attack.

June 26, 1950

Bio   Bio   Bio

At 0045 hours on 26 June Brig. Gen. Jarred V. Crabb, the FEAF Director of Operations, awakened General Partridge with a telephone call: General MacArthur had ordered FEAF to provide fighter cover while the freighters loaded and withdrew from Inch'ŏn. The fighters were to remain offshore at all times, but they were to shoot in defense of the freighters.

General Partridge instructed the 8th Fighter-Bomber Wing to furnish the freighters with combat air patrols. Within a few minutes, however, Fifth Air Force operations let General Crabb know that Colonel Price anticipated difficulties. This patrol work was a job for long-range conventional aircraft, not for the speedy but fuel-hungry jets. Colonel Price's 68th Fighter All-Weather Squadron had twelve operational F-82's, but he needed more aircraft than this. The Fifth Air Force first asked if it would not be possible to use the RAAF No. 77 Squadron's Mustangs, but General Crabb replied that the British had not yet taken a stand in the Korean war. The Fifth Air Force therefore ordered the 339th Fighter All-Weather Squadron to move its combat-ready F-82's from Yokota to Itazuke. This was still not enough of the long-range fighters, and General Crabb ordered the Twentieth Air Force to send eight of the 4th Squadron's planes up to Itazuke from Okinawa. To clear his ramps to receive these additional fighters, Colonel Price moved the contingent of C-54's from Itazuke to nearby Ashiya.