No. 81 Wing RAAF

No. 81 Wing RAAF

No. 81 Wing (81WG) is the Royal Australian Air Force's air superiority wing. Formed during World War II, it operated in the South West Pacific, and was based in Japan as part of the Allied occupational forces following the end of hostilities. 81 Wing is currently headquartered at RAAF Base Williamtown, New South Wales, and operates three squadrons of F/A-18 Hornet aircraft.


World War II

No. 81 Wing was established in the latter half of World War II and operated P-40 Kittyhawk fighters in the South West Pacific theatre. It saw action in the Battle of Noemfoor in July 1944. Comprising Nos. 76, 77 and 82 Squadrons, it joined Nos. 77 and 78 Wings as part of No. 10 Operational Group in September; the Group was renamed the First Tactical Air Force (1TAF) the following month.

The relegation of 1TAF to areas of operations bypassed by the main Allied thrust towards the Philippines and Japan led to poor morale late in 1944. In December, 81 Wing's commander, Group Captain Wilfred Arthur, produced a "balance sheet" to demonstrate that the unit's results were not worth the cost in ordnance and casualties, setting in train a series of events that culminated in the so-called "Morotai Mutiny" of April 1945. 81 Wing took part in the invasion of Labuan from June 1945 and was based on the island when the Pacific War ended in August.


In September 1945, the Wing began re-equipping with P-51D Mustangs. Headquartered at Bofu, a former kamikaze base, it formed the Australian air contingent of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in Japan from 1946 until 1949, when the RAAF presence was reduced to 77 Squadron alone. The first of the Wing's units to arrive in Japan was No. 5 Airfield Construction Squadron (5ACS) in December 1945, followed by the three flying squadrons in February-March 1946. 82 Squadron lost three Mustangs and a de Havilland Mosquito in bad weather en route to Bofu in March, killing all crew members. The Wing's strength was augmented later in 1946 by No. 481 (Maintenance) Squadron and No. 111 Mobile Fighter Control Unit. As well as military construction, 5ACS contributed to the rebuilding of local infrastructure.

In September 1964, 76 Squadron and 481 Squadron were deployed to RAAF Base Darwin in the Northern Territory as part of Operation Handover, a little-publicised contingency plan put into effect during the Indonesia-Malaysia confrontation. 76 Squadron's CAC Sabres, armed with Sidewinder missiles, were to defend against possible attack by Indonesian forces following the recent establishment of the Federation of Malaysia. This was the first time since World War II that an RAAF flying squadron was positioned "in harm's way" on Australian territory. The Officer Commanding No. 81 Wing, Group Captain A.F. Mather, took on the role of Area Air Defence Commander. Although no combat ensued, the experience revealed deficiencies in the defence of Northern Australia and contributed to the decision to maintain a permanent detachment of 81 Wing fighters in Darwin, and later at RAAF Base Tindal.

81 Wing currently comprises Nos. 3 and 77 Squadrons, based at RAAF Williamtown, and No. 75 Squadron, based at RAAF Tindal. For many years part of RAAF Air Command's Tactical Fighter Group (TFG), it became part of Air Combat Group when TFG merged with Strike Reconnaissance Group in February 2002.



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