No. 9 Squadron RAAF
|No. 9 Squadron RAAF|
A No. 9 Squadron Walrus aircraft embarked on an Australian light cruiser in 1939
|Branch||Royal Australian Air Force|
|Engagements||World War II
|Angus Houston (1987–89)|
No. 9 Squadron was a unit of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). The squadron was formed in early 1939 and saw active service in World War II as a fleet co-operation unit providing aircrews for seaplanes operating off Royal Australian Navy cruisers. It was disbanded in late 1944, but was re-raised in 1962 and later became an Army co-operation unit, flying helicopters in support of Australian troops during the Vietnam War. The squadron was disbanded in 1989 when the RAAF transferred its battlefield helicopters to the Australian Army's aviation regiments.
No. 9 Squadron was formed on 1 January 1939 at RAAF Base Richmond by renumbering No. 5 Squadron. On formation, the squadron's first commanding officer was a Royal Air Force officer, Squadron Leader J.A.S. Brown. As Australia's only fleet co-operation squadron No. 9 Squadron operated amphibious aircraft from the Royal Australian Navy's heavy and light cruisers; each cruiser was assigned a single Seagull or Walrus amphibian.
During the Second World War aircraft from No. 9 Squadron saw action with their parent ships in most of the world's oceans, ranging from the Arctic to the South Pacific on vessels such as HMA Ships Hobart, Sydney, Australia, Perth and Canberra. The amphibians were used to provide their parent ships with reconnaissance, anti-submarine protection, artillery spotting and general support. While the amphibians provided important support during the early years of the war, as the war progressed the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) enjoyed considerable support from land and carrier based aircraft and the amphibians were no longer necessary. In early January 1943, the squadron was transferred to Bowen, Queensland, from where its aircraft flew patrol operations. During 1944, all remaining RAN cruisers had their catapults removed and No. 9 Squadron was disbanded at RAAF Base Rathmines on 31 December 1944. Casualties during the war amounted to 22 killed, many of whom were lost when the ships they were serving on were sunk.
No. 9 Squadron was re-formed at RAAF Base Williamtown on 11 June 1962 equipped initially with Walruses before being re-equipped with UH-1 Iroquois helicopters and moving to RAAF Base Fairbairn. While originally formed to provide the RAAF with a search and rescue capability, the squadron's main role rapidly became providing airlift to the Australian Army.
The squadron deployed to South Vietnam in mid-1966 and, as part of the 1st Australian Task Force (1 ATF), and began flying operations on 30 June 1966. The squadron provided the Task Force with part of its helicopter support, although most of it was provided by the US Army. Problems soon arose between No. 9 Squadron and Army commanders as the Air Board insisted "regulations, framed for peacetime, should apply". This limited the scope of No. 9 Squadron's operations, and according to Owen Eather, prevented the Iroquois helicopters from operating in "'insecure locations' or undertaking roles that were 'offensive'". Eather contends that this "exhibited a lack of awareness by the RAAF of the requirements of the ground force in South Vietnam", and it hampered Army operations to the extent that No. 9 Squadron was temporarily grounded. Alan Stephens, in the official history of the post-war RAAF, asserts however that the latter report is a myth and that squadron records indicate it operated constantly during the period of its supposed grounding between June and September 1966.
During the Battle of Long Tan on 18 August 1966 two No. 9 Squadron Iroquois flown by Flight Lieutenants Cliff Dohle and Frank Riley completed a hazardous mission to resupply D Company, 6 RAR which was heavily outnumbered and running dangerously low on ammunition. The mission proved vital in ensuring the survival of the Australian infantry until a relief force could fight its way through from Nui Dat and was completed despite heavy rain and the risk of ground fire. Following the withdrawal of the Viet Cong a number of helicopters were used to evacuate the Australian casualties from the battlefield. RAAF-Army relations improved considerably following Long Tan. No. 9 Squadron subsequently developed new operational concepts and procedures, achieving consistently high rates of aircraft availability, mission success and a low loss rate. A close professional relationship was also developed with the Special Air Service which saw the squadron provide rapid and precise insertion and extraction of patrols into jungle landing zones at tree top height.
While deployed to Vietnam, in 1967 the squadron was re-equipped with updated versions of the Iroquois, and was also reinforced with personnel from the RAN and the Royal New Zealand Air Force. Operations in South Vietnam proved hazardous, with aircrews regularly exposed to ground fire, poor flying conditions, nighttime medevacs and dangerously small jungle landing zones that were sometimes booby trapped with land mines. The unit lost seven Iroquois and two crewmen in action during its deployment. As part of the general Australian withdrawal, No. 9 Squadron departed South Vietnam on 8 December 1971. Upon its return to Australia, No. 9 Squadron was based at RAAF Base Amberley, where it continued to provide airlift to the Australian Army and search and rescue for the civilian community. Between 1982 and 1986 the squadron contributed eight aircraft and aircrew to the Australian helicopter detachment which formed part of the Multinational Force and Observers in the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt.
In 1986, the Australian Government decided to transfer all of the RAAF's battlefield helicopter capability to the Australian Army after a decision that all battlefield helicopters should be controlled directly by the Army – a decision partly based on the Vietnam experience and problems that arose during the first few months of the deployment by having No. 9 Squadron based in Vung Tau under separate command, rather than co-located with 1 ATF at Nui Dat, approximately 50 kilometres (31 mi) north. This had caused a number of problems with support for the task force with the Army initially regarding No. 9 Squadron as being unreliable and unwilling to expose themselves to enemy fire, unlike US Army units.
During February 1988 No. 9 Squadron was re-equipped with S-70A Blackhawk helicopters. Upon converting to the new aircraft the squadron moved to Townsville where it was disbanded on 14 February 1989. The squadron's aircrew and aircraft were then used to form 'A' Squadron of the Australian Army's 5th Aviation Regiment. The squadron's last commanding officer was Wing Commander (later Air Chief Marshal) Angus Houston.
No. 9 Squadron operated the following aircraft types:
- Supermarine Seagull (1939–1944)
- Supermarine Walrus (1939–1944 & 1962)
- UH-1 Iroquois (1962–1988)
- S-70A Blackhawk (1988–1989)
- Barnes 2000, p. 60.
- Barnes 2000, p. 64.
- Barnes 2000, pp. 60–61.
- "9 Squadron RAAF". Second World War, 1939–1945 units. Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 10 October 2013.
- Barnes 2000, p. 61.
- "No. 9 Squadron". RAAF Museum. Retrieved 12 October 2013.
- Barnes 2000, pp. 61–62.
- Barnes 2000, p. 62.
- Eather 1993, p. 14.
- Stephens 1995, p. 295.
- Eather 1995, p. 39.
- Stephens 2001, pp. 265–268.
- Stephens 1995, pp. 297.
- Barnes 2000, p. 63.
- Eather 1995, p. 40.
- Stephens 2001, p. 298.
- McAulay 1986, pp. 16–17.
- Barnes 2000, pp. 60–64.
- Barnes, Norman (2000). The RAAF and the Flying Squadrons. St Leonards, New South Wales: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1-86508-130-2.
- Eather, Steve (1995). Flying Squadrons of the Australian Defence Force. Weston Creek, Australian Capital Territory: Aerospace Publications. ISBN 1-875671-15-3.
- Eather, Owen (January–February 1993). "The Tactical Air Support Group" (PDF). Australian Defence Force Journal (98): 7–22. ISSN 1444-7150.
- McAulay, Lex (1986). The Battle of Long Tan: The Legend of Anzac Upheld. London: Arrow Books. ISBN 0099525305.
- Stephens, Alan (1995). Going Solo: The Royal Australian Air Force 1946–1971. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service. ISBN 0-644-42803-1.
- Stephens, Alan (2001). The Royal Australian Air Force. The Australian Centenary History of Defence. Volume II. Melbourne: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-554115-4.
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