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Tips for Researching RAAF Personnel and Operational Records

Watercolour by Henry Fulwood - "Death of the Red Baron" [AWM ART02495]
(Except that the scene wasn't really like this...!)

 Many useful Internet resources are now available for researching the individuals who served in No.3 Squadron and the daily history of the Squadron.  
Follow our Step-by-Step Guide below:

Finding References in the No.3 Squadron Association Website

The 3 Squadron website holds a wide variety of history articles, anecdotes and photos.  The Google search box below will allow you to find all mentions of a word or phrase in the 3 Squadron website.  We recommend that you start with the  family name of the person you are searching for.  Sometimes the nickname of a well-known personality, e.g. Bobby, Nicky, Slim, etc. may give further results where the  family name has not been mentioned. 
(To find only a specific phrase, include quote marks when you type the phrase into the search box; e.g. "Bobby Gibbes".)


WWW 3squadron.org.au

Confirming Official Identification Details

Internet searches are much more productive if you know the full name of your research subject, and their service number. 

"World War Two Nominal Roll"
To trace men who served in WW2, your first stop should be the Department of Veterans Affairs website:
http://www.ww2roll.gov.au/ .   It is usually fairly simple to track down all of the key identification details for any individual, even if starting with just a surname. 

For example, the record for Bobby Gibbes can be seen by clicking here.  

Finding Official Records

National Archives of Australia
The National Archives of Australia can then be used to track down a wealth of personnel details.  Go to the NAA Website and click the box at top right Explore: Search the Collection and then type in the surname or service number that you are seeking to trace.    The information in these files can be quite fascinating.  While it may be necessary to pay approximately $20 if a digital image is not yet available, many files are already available online for free as glorious colour scans.  - For example, the Personnel file of a 3 Squadron veteran from World War One , Alfred Boxall-Chapman (who helped recover the wreck of the Red Baron’s plane in 1918!), can be seen at:  https://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/Interface/ViewImage.aspx?B=3231366  

The NAA also has many dozens of RAAF files that mention 3 Squadron.  The most important of these documents, the Operations Record Books”,  can be viewed online (see box below).  There is impressive detail regarding every mission flown by each pilot in 3 Squadron, and other administrative records such as the movement of Squadron personnel and also the incidence of non-operational flying missions.

3SQN Operations Record Books:

Note that the "O.R.B." pages are in date order by month.  For each month, there are usually two sets of records:
A short Monthly Administrative Summary, which briefly describes operations and also lists personnel movements, base relocations, etc.,
  - Followed by
detailed day-by-day descriptions of each Operation flown.

It's easy to home in on a particular date.  Simply type in a "Page Number" and hit your ENTER key to jump to that page.   On each page, an "Enlarge" button shows more detail of the text.  

World War Two:

 1) July 1925 to August 1943
RAAF Unit History sheets (Form A50) Number 3 Squadron

    [Also the 450 Squadron Operations Record Book may be of interest, as the two Squadrons flew many missions together between 1942 and 1945.]

 2) September 1943 to July 1946.
RAAF Unit History sheets (Form A50) Number 3 Squadron

Post-War Australia and Malaysia:

3)  March 1948 to November 1961
RAAF Unit History sheets (Form A50) Number 3 Squadron
(NB.  Unfortunately this file is sorted in "reverse date" order)

4) December 1961 to November 1987.
RAAF Unit History sheets (Form A50) Number 3 Squadron  

First World War:  3rd Squadron Australian Flying Corps (a.k.a. No.69 Sqn. RFC) "War Diaries" 1917-18 online from the AWM

The Australian War Memorial (see box below) displays the complete set of 3 Squadron AFC War Diaries from the First World War.  The level of detail is astounding; including the daily mission reports of individual RE8 crews in the air, plus copious administrative records on the ground.  Most months have been scanned in two parts to keep the size of PDF downloads manageable.

One further useful example of a WW2 File digitised in the National Archives (there are many more):

3 Squadron WW2 Narrative Combat Reports, 1940-45.
The Forms submitted by 3SQN pilots after significant combat incidents.  Often containing more detail than was transferred to the Squadron Operations Record Book.  The number of reports tapered off markedly in the latter years of the war, as the skies were swept of Axis aircraft.
1940 (p7); 1941 (p45); 1942 (p700); 1943 (p1200); 1944 (p1264): 1945 (p1292)

No 3 Squadron - Aircraft Flying Control.  
Contains various interesting reports of operations of the Squadron, 1940-45; including first-hand reports of pilots who evaded capture after being shot down in 1945 (Williamson p5, Redenbach p8, Clark p13, McInerhenry p15, Tennent p17, Davies p19); WW2 squadron summary history up until mid-1944 (p21); Desert Air Force African campaign summary (p26);  Pilot report extracts (p42); Gibbes Tribute (p43);  Description of the work of Specialised ground-maintenance personnel p47;   Ken McRae Kittyhawk Armament, bombs, parachutes (p50); Operational procedures, organisation, navigation aids (p55); and the 239 Wing report on "Operation Bowler", the spectacular 1945 Wing attack on Venice Harbour (p79).


Worldwide Internet Sources

Once you have the full identification details of a 3 Squadron member, it is worth trying some general Internet searches to see what else may be available.  For example, try searching just the service number, or the exact phrase of their name (indicated by using "quote marks" in the search), such as:

"Bobby Gibbes" RAAF
"R. H. Gibbes"
 Gibbes "3 Squadron"
 Gibbes 260714

Important Note: Some Internet sites are NOT thoroughly searched by Google.

The content of several useful Internet sites is not necessarily picked up by Internet Search Engines such as Google.  It may sometimes be best to go to specific sites to use their internal Search Engines. 

An important example of this is the enormous online collection of the Australian War Memorial.  See our detailed instructions below on finding AWM online photographs, interview transcripts, memorabilia, artworks and documents concerning particular individuals, aeroplanes or places.


Other Significant Internet Sources are:

Websites Catalogued on the 3SQN 'Links' Page

We've already done the work to find lots of 'background' information for each era of the Squadron's History! 
Click here.

Australian Newspaper Search ("TROVE" - National Library of Australia)

A fantastic resource - search the text of newspapers from many Australian States across nearly 200 years of Australian history

Online Picture Search ("TROVE" - National Library of Australia)

A great system for quickly finding images from the best online collections in Australia (including Australian War Memorial, National Library of Australia and State Libraries). 
Click: http://trove.nla.gov.au/picture/result?q=3+squadron.

The Australians at War Film Archive

A huge project by the Australian Department of Veterans Affairs, running since 2002, has collected thousands of hours of videotape of the reminiscences of Australian Defence Force Veterans.  Transcripts and some photos are displayed online.  Many 3 Squadron personalities have been included in the interviews.  Veterans from many other units have also made interesting mentions of 3 Squadron and its battles. 

The notable 3SQN interviews listed below were found using the AAW Search Page and entering the Keywords: "3 Squadron" RAAF [including the quote marks].  Many other interesting references can be obtained by searching for other keywords.  For example, the name of 3 Squadron's sister units [e.g. "450 Squadron", "260 Squadron"]  or particular place names, or people.  
(NB. Some names may be incorrectly spelt in the transcripts - eg. "Gibbs" for Gibbes.  - So you should also check any likely garbles.) 

Notable No.3 Squadron Interviews on the "Australians at War" Database (sorted by era of service):

Thomas Jensen; Demon Observer 1939.  Tom Trimble; Lysander, Gladiator, Hurricane and Tomahawk Pilot 1940-41; shot down and evaded capture.  Eric Canning: Radio Operator 1940-41, POW, Escaper.  Bob Gibbes; Tomahawk and Kittyhawk Pilot, Squadron Leader, DSO, DFC and Bar, 1941-43.   Wal Mailey, Tomahawk Pilot 1941.  Felix Sainsbury; Armament Fitter 1941-43.  Ken McRae MBE; Squadron Engineering Officer 1942-45.  Stan Brown; Engine Fitter 1942-45.  Alan Righetti; Kittyhawk Pilot, 1942-43, POW.  Tom Russell; Kittyhawk Pilot 1942-43.  Charlie Wannan; Kittyhawk Pilot 1944.  Jack Doyle;  Kittyhawk Pilot, Flight Commander, 1943; Forward Air Controller Italy 1944.  Barry Finch; Kittyhawk and Mustang Pilot 1944-45.  Jock McAuley; Mustang Pilot 1945.  Dick Cresswell; Demon Pilot 1939; Sabre Pilot /Chief Instructor 1950s.  Fred Barnes; Sabre Pilot, Squadron Leader 1950s.  Malcolm Rose; Sabre Groundcrew, Butterworth; Malayan Emergency late 1950s.  Barry Schulz, Mirage Fighter Combat Instructor, Butterworth 1969. 

NB: Some of these individuals also gave interviews to the Australian War Memorial in the 1990s - see our separate AWM interview list at the bottom of this page.


Commonwealth War Graves Commission

For each death in WW1 or WW2, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Website provides extensive personal commemorative information, plus detailed cemetery history and visitor access directions.  Large colour photographs of the beautifully-maintained war cemeteries are also available.  Gravestone inscriptions from family are often noted and an attractive memorial certificate for each casualty can be printed.  

Finding 3 Squadron Memorabilia On-Line  
in the Australian War Memorial Collection

 The Australian War Memorial has a lavish collection of items related to 3 Squadron.  Below are suggestions on how to access this material via the Internet using the AWM's website:

Old RE8 "S", Struck Off Strength after 10 Months' Service
Depicts an RE8 aircraft on the No.3 Squadron airfield at Poulainville, France, stripped of engine cowling and wings.  
Watercolour by
Arthur Streeton.   [AWM Copyright ART03508]

AWM Historical Images

There are more than 800 photographs and another 30 artworks depicting 3 Squadron in the AWM collection.  Some of these images were created by now legendary Australians such as:

·        Frank Hurley (Photographer).  Who made his name with his magnificent coverage of the 1915 Shackleton Antarctic expedition, and who photographed No.3 Squadron in both world wars!

·        Damien Parer (Photographer).  Who later won an Oscar for the iconic documentary Kokoda Frontline.

·        Arthur Streeton (Artist).  The impressionist master who was an official War Artist in France in WW1. 

Mustang Dawn

AWM 3SQN Themes:

To break the huge AWM collection down into more manageable photo-sets, the following eight themes are recommended for  browsing (in roughly chronological order):

Note 1: Once the first page of search results has displayed, click the ‘Long Information’ option at the right of the page to see the full captions.

Note 2:  AWM pictures can also be searched through "TROVE", which also covers other Australian Library collections, but TROVE has less fine-control than the AWM's own Search Engine.


a) 3 Squadron  in World War One

For photos of 3 Squadron aircraft and personnel serving in World War One:


[NB: This search-string was built up in the following way:
Go to http://www.awm.gov.au/search/collections,  and enter the phrase: 3 squadron afc
- But before hitting the “Search” button, select the option: ‘First World War 1914-1918’.]


b) The Last Fighting Biplanes

For images of Gladiator operations in 1940-41: 


c) Hurricanes Against the Storm

Hurricane pictures from 1941: 


d) New Planes, New Challenges.

Photos of Tomahawk operations in 1941, a dramatic period with battle successes in Syria and Cyrenaica but also some serious losses.  Damien Parer gives the boys the full Hollywood treatment! 


e) Kittyhawk Operations 1942. 

Images, including a Nelsonian "Never mind the fighters..." quote from a grinning Bobby Gibbes: 


f) Kittyhawk Operations 1943  /1944.

A substantial number of images, including some pretty impressive flak damage and the eerie sight of German flares lighting up the sky during their bombing strike on Agnone airstrip. 

The 'friendly fire' incident at Cutella (below) features in the 1944 Kittyhawk images:

Kittyhawk burning after a mistaken "friendly fire" attack by USAAF fighters at Cutella, April 1944.

g) Shiny New Planes and Winning Smiles

Late-war images 1944-45. 


h) Later Conflicts

The AWM has only gappy coverage after WW2, but it is still possible to find interesting items


Local Colour

There are many other excellent paintings in the AWM collection showing the areas that 3 Squadron travelled through.  These artworks convey the colours and atmosphere of each theatre in a way that monochrome photographs cannot.  It is recommended that you search the following artists and click "Art" to see the collection of their images:

Harold Herbert 1941

Dargie North Africa

Dennis Adams Italy

Many other searches are of course possible, for instance based on specific dates, individual personnel or place names, etc.


NB. The New Zealand Government has a similar online war-art gallery, with brilliant depictions of the much of the landscape that 3 Squadron operated over:
 e.g. http://warart.archives.govt.nz/taxonomy/term/186/.  These images are also available in generous large formats suitable for framing.

Imperial War Museum (London) Photo and Art Collection Online Search
Click Here for  a small selection tagged "3 Squadron", but there are many many other possible searches that bring up relevant images from the huge IWM collection.

Battlefield Tours - Another interesting gallery of modern-day photos showing the colours of the African battlefields is Western Desert Battlefield Tours.

AWM Taped Interview Transcripts

The AWM has an extensive collection of taped interviews with 3 Squadron WW2 veterans (mostly recorded in 1990).  The transcripts are each up to 30 pages long and contain a wealth of information.

Click on a name highlighted below (alphabetical order).  Reading all of these transcripts would be something of a long-term project, but it is very interesting to hear the story of 3 Squadron in the veterans' own words.  (Beware - these interviews are quite addictive!)   The interviews cover a wide diversity of subjects, including family history and operational anecdotes.   

Wilfred 'Woof' Arthur Pilot 1940-42.
DSO, DFC, MID.  (Moratai Mutiny Instigator!)

Nicky Barr Pilot - Squadron Leader 1941-42 / POW / Escaper.
OBE, MC, DFC and Bar.

Wally Bottin.  Transport Driver 1940-42.

Rod Butler.  Pilot 1940-41.

Jack Donald.   Pilot 1942 / POW.

Jack Doyle.  Pilot 1943-44 / Forward Air Controller. 
Led 450 Sqn.  DSO, DFC and Bar.

Marcus 'Mac' MacInnis.  Supply Officer 1939-42.

Jock Thom.  Airframe Fitter 1940-41.  Wounded.

Brian Eaton.  Pilot - Squadron Leader & 239 Wing Commander. 


Fred Eggleston.  Pilot 1941 / POW / Escaper.

Bobby Gibbes.  Pilot – Squadron Leader 1941-43.
DSO, DFC and Bar.
2nd Interview 1993

Leon Henry.  Airframe Fitter 1942-45.

Peter Jeffrey.  Pilot 1937/ Signals Officer /
Squadron Leader 1940-42.  DSO, DFC MID(2).

Wal Mailey.  Pilot 1941-42.  Desert rescue.

Dick Hickson.  Equipment Officer 1940-42.

Ken McRae.  Engineering Officer 1942-45. 
Awarded MBE.

Fred McKay - Padre.  1943-45.
Reg 'Slim' Moore.   Engine Fitter 1942-45. 
Mentioned in Despatches (MiD) for Bravery.

Ted Medhurst.   Radio Operator 1940-41.

Tom Russell.  Pilot 1942-43.

Bert Pearson.  Radio Operator / Mechanic  1940-42.

Harry Silk.  Admin. Clerk 1940-42.

Bill Shoesmith.  General Hand / Canteen Sergeant 1942-45.

Reg Stevens.  Pilot / Squadron Leader 1942-43.
DFC and Bar.

Bob Smith.  Radio Mechanic 1943-45.

Allen Wand.  Airframe Fitter Sergeant 1942-45.
Clarence Wilson.  Post-war Mustang Airframe Fitter in Canberra.  Suddenly posted out at the start of the Korean War.
AVM Henry Wrigley, who flew with 3 Squadron AFC in WW1 and later visited 3 Squadron in WW2 as the most
senior RAAF officer in the European Theatre.

[NB.  Interview transcripts, from the "Australians at War" project, one decade later, are shown in a separate list above.]


Other AWM Reference Articles 

The AWM also has more than 50 other web-pages and reference articles referring to 3 Squadron, ranging from scholarly papers to pages with data and photographs of the Squadron and its key personalities.  Click: Here.

One example which should not be missed is AVM Peter Scully's excellent  historical paper "The Sandgropers" , about 3 Squadron's early days in the Egyptian Desert in 1940-41, and the outstanding results achieved despite the privations that they suffered.

Another delightful story tells of Henry Marston's WWI "lucky charm"  that really worked!   (This charm is now displayed in the AWM's excellent "Over the Front" exhibition, along with the restored Albatros fighter shot down by 3 Squadron AFC.)

An Especially Rich AWM Online Collection: No.3 Squadron AFC - World War I "War Diaries"

The Australian War Memorial has scanned the complete set of 3 Squadron AFC War Diaries from the First World War. 
Click: http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/war_diaries/first_world_war/subclass.asp?levelID=1430  to download.

Medals and Awards

The AWM has an excellent Honours and Awards Database showing the 3 Squadron members who received medals for exceptional service: 


If one selects "Distinguished Flying Cross" in the Search box and types in "3 Squadron", the 3AFC awards for WW1 will be displayed (each individual has several mentions in the database). 

- Don't miss the "Digitised PDF Record" of their award citation (which is usually included).   

[A few WW1 3AFC aircrew also received French and Belgian decorations.  These are not listed by the AWM.]


To search WW2 awards, use "3 sqn raaf" (including quote marks) as the Unit. 
(But you'll see that you still have to pick through other Squadrons ending in "3".)

The "Recommendation" records tend to have a Citation PDF attached, but the filing is not perfect, so it is also a good idea to check the "Award" record too. 

Unfortunately, in some cases there is no citation attached (possibly the Orderly Room Clerk had to retreat from Rommel, or some such thing, at the time!). 
However, try searching for a press article about the award in the National Library ‘Trove’ database. 
eg. http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/result?q=chinchen%20dfc

Or the London Gazette (searchable by date-range and citations are sometimes listed, but it often shows just a surname) http://www.london-gazette.co.uk/ - see the "Historians" Search.

Also check the "Bar to DFC" records, which are listed separately.  (Such as Bobby Gibbes.) 

Finally, don’t forget the gallant Sergeant Pilots who won DFMs, and the MBEs and MiDs awarded for various other brave and dedicated acts. 


(Text by James Oglethorpe)

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