No. 4 Squadron RAAF

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No. 4 Squadron RAAF
No. 4 Squadron's crest
Active 1916–19
Country Australia
Branch Royal Australian Air Force
Role Fighter
Army co-operation
Forward air control
Part of No. 82 Wing
Motto "Cooperate to Strike"
Engagements World War I
World War II
War in Afghanistan
Aircraft flown
Fighter Sopwith Camel
Sopwith Snipe
Hawker Demon
CAC Wirraway
CAC Boomerang
P-40 Kittyhawk
CAC Mustang
Reconnaissance Auster AOP III
Trainer De Havilland Moth Minor
Avro Anson
Pilatus PC-9

No. 4 Squadron (4SQN) is a Royal Australian Air Force squadron composed of the RAAF special forces Combat Controllers, aircrew who operate the PC-9/A (Forward Air Control variant) aircraft and instructors for the ADF Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) course.

The squadron was previously a fighter and army co-operation unit active in both World War I and World War II. Formed in late 1917, the squadron operated on the Western Front as part of the Australian Flying Corps until the armistice in November 1918. It was disbanded after the war in mid-1919, but re-raised in 1937 and 1940. In 1942 it deployed to New Guinea, where it supported military forces by spotting for artillery and providing reconnaissance and close air support. As the war progressed, the squadron took part in the Huon Peninsula, New Britain and Borneo campaigns. It was disbanded in early 1948, but was re-formed in 2009 to provide training to forward air controllers and to support Special Operations Command.


4 Squadron consists of three flights, as well as maintenance / logistics sections and a small administrative team. The three flights are designated A, B and C Flights. A Flight is composed of aircrew responsible for operating the Pilatus PC9/A Forward Air Control (FAC) variant aircraft. B Flight personnel are employed as Combat Controllers integrate and control the elements of air and space power to enable precision strike and advanced military force operations. C Flight members train students undertaking the ADF Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) course as well as facilitating the continual development and assessment of current ADF JTAC qualified personnel.[1]

A Flight

A Flight comprises four modified PC-9/A (Forward Air Control variant) aircraft in grey paintwork. They differ from standard PC9s in several ways, including external stores carriage, communications equipment, undercarriage and are fitted with smoke grenade dispensers for target marking.[2] These aircraft are based at RAAF Base Williamtown, to train ADF Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs, formerly forward air controllers), who coordinate air support to troops on the ground.[3]

B Flight Combat Control Team (CCT)

B Flight is the Combat Control Team (CCT) comprised of Combat Controllers responsible for reconnaissance, joint terminal attack control and advanced force operations either as part of a larger advanced force (supporting the SASR or Commandos from the 1st or 2nd Commando Regiment) or independently.[4][5] Combat Controllers provide a range of capabilities, including from Forward Air Control of Offensive Air Support, Landing Zone Reconnaissance, Aviation Meteorology Observation and Airspace Management.[4]

In 2006, Special Operations Command asked the RAAF if the Air Force was capable of fielding battlefield airmen similar to US Air Force combat controllers.[6][7] Between 2008 and 2009 three intakes completed initial training and four members deployed during combat operations in Afghanistan with the Special Operations Task Group (SOTG).[7][8] Combat Controllers served continuously with the SOTG from 2008 rotating controllers at each SOTG rotation until withdrawal.[9]

Selection to become a Combat Controller is open to any ADF member and involves completion of the 8 week CCT Intake Course providing preparatory ground skills training and to prepare volunteers for the Special Forces Entry Test.[10] Volunteers need to successfully pass the Special Forces Entry Test, complete the Commando Reinforcement Training Cycle, Joint Terminal Attack Controller, Aviation Meteorology, Assault Zone Reconnaissance and Air Weapons Delivery courses.[4][11] After passing selection and completing nearly two years of training the Combat Controller is issued with a grey beret featuring a Sykes-Fairbain (commando) dagger.[7]

C Flight

C Flight members train students undertaking ADF Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) course as well as facilitating the continual development and assessment of current ADF JTAC qualified personnel.[1] In 2006, the Royal Australian Air Force became the first foreign air force to receive Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) accreditation from the United States Joint Forces Command (USJFCOM).[12] The five week JTAC course teaches planning, briefing, controlling and reporting of close air support (CAS). The JTAC course is conducted twice a year with aim of graduating 32 students a year. More than 300 students have graduated since 1997.[13]


World War I

 A chalked scoreboard for No. 80 Wing RAF claims by squadron. The claims are categorised as under columns headed "In Flames", "Crashed", "O.O.C." (Out of Control), "Driven Down" and "Balloons Destroyed".
France, November 1918. A scoreboard of aerial victories claimed by No. 80 Wing RAF from July to November 1918. The units listed are: No. 4 Squadron AFC, No. 88 Squadron RAF, No. 2 Squadron AFC, and Nos. 92, 103, 46 and 54 Squadrons RAF.

No. 4 Squadron was established as a unit of the Australian Flying Corps (AFC) at Point Cook, Victoria, on 16 October 1916. Shortly after its formation the squadron departed for Britain, arriving at Castle Bromwich for further training in March 1917.[14]

The unit arrived in France on 18 December 1917. During its time on the Western Front, it was assigned to No. 80 Wing. Operating Sopwith Camels and Snipes, it performed fighter sweeps, provided air support for the army, and raided German airstrips. No. 4 Squadron claimed more "kills" than any other AFC unit: 199 enemy aircraft destroyed.[15] In addition, 33 enemy balloons were destroyed or driven down.[16]

Members of the unit included Captain Harry Cobby, the AFC's leading ace of the war, credited with destroying 29 aircraft and observation balloons, and Captain George Jones, who shot down seven aircraft and later served as the RAAF's Chief of the Air Staff for ten years.[15] Aces Roy King, Edgar McCloughry, Herbert Watson, Thomas Baker, Leonard Taplin, Thomas Barkell, Arthur Palliser, Norman Trescowthick, Garnet Malley and Albert Robertson also served in the squadron.[17]

Following the armistice, No. 4 Squadron remained in Europe and was based in Cologne, Germany, as part of the British Army of Occupation. It returned to Australia in March 1919 and was disbanded in Melbourne in June.[18]

World War II

No. 4 Squadron was re-formed as a general reconnaissance unit at RAAF Station Richmond, New South Wales, on 3 May 1937, flying Hawker Demons before taking delivery of its first Avro Anson the following month. Re-numbered No. 6 (General Reconnaissance) Squadron on 1 March 1939, No. 4 Squadron was re-formed again at Richmond on 17 June 1940, this time as an army co-operation unit. Originally equipped with Demons and De Havilland Moths, it converted to CAC Wirraways in September and relocated to Canberra later that month.[19] On 20 May 1942, No. 4 Squadron deployed to Camden Airfield, where it flew anti-submarine patrols as well as army co-operation training sorties until redeploying to Queensland and then in November to New Guinea.[18]

Six men in front of a single-engined military monoplane parked on a jungle airfield
No. 4 Squadron Boomerang fighter and ground crew in New Guinea, October 1943

The squadron's initial task in New Guinea was to support the American and Australian forces in the Battle of Buna-Gona. Until the end of the war the squadron operated in the army co-operation role, providing ground forces with artillery observation, reconnaissance and close air support. On 26 December 1942, a No. 4 Squadron Wirraway piloted by Pilot Officer John Archer shot down an A6M Zero. This was the only kill achieved by a Wirraway during the war and earned Archer the US Silver Star.[20][21] On 31 January 1943, the squadron sent one of its flights to Wau, where it participated in the Battle of Wau.[22]

In May 1943, No. 4 Squadron was re-equipped with CAC Boomerang fighter aircraft,[22] to be operated in a tactical reconnaissance role. Operating with these new aircraft and also some Wirraways it had retained, the squadron supported the Australian 7th and 9th Divisions during the Huon Peninsula campaign.[23] It also operated six Piper Cubs as liaison aircraft during these campaigns.[24] The squadron continued to support Australian, US Army and US Marine Corps units in New Guinea and New Britain until March 1945 when it deployed to Morotai and then to the island of Labuan to support Australian ground forces in the Borneo campaign. It supported the 9th Division's campaign in North Borneo and the 7th Division's landing at Balikpapan.[25] Casualties during the war amounted to 37 personnel killed.[26]

Post-war years

After the war, No. 4 Squadron returned to Australia on 14 November 1945 and was again based at Canberra. It re-equipped with late-model P-40 Kittyhawks, having received a few of these aircraft while in Borneo, and this was followed by CAC Mustangs and Austers in early 1947.[25] After completing training on its new aircraft, the squadron provided a firepower demonstration for cadets of the Royal Military College, Duntroon, during an exercise at Braidwood in September 1947.[27] On 7 March 1948, No. 4 Squadron ceased to exist, having been re-numbered No. 3 Squadron.[28][29]

No. 4 Squadron was re-formed on 3 July 2009 at RAAF Base Williamtown to train forward air controllers.[30] The Forward Air Control Development Unit (FACDU) of No. 82 Wing, which operated Pilatus PC-9s, was merged into the new unit, along with the RAAF's special tactics project team.[31][32] This continued the FAC presence at Williamtown that had been maintained by FACDU and No. 4 Flight, which operated Winjeels out of Williamtown from 1970 to 1989.[33]

Aircraft operated

A No. 4 Squadron Pilatus PC-9A in 2015

No. 4 Squadron has operated the following aircraft:[28][34]


  1. 1.0 1.1 "No. 4 Squadron - Royal Australian Air Force". Royal Australian Air Force. Retrieved 23 October 2015. 
  2. "First in JTAC accreditation". Defence: The Official Magazine (June 2006). Retrieved 23 October 2015. 
  3. "PC-9/A - Royal Australian Air Force". Royal Australian Air Force. Retrieved 23 October 2015. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 "Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Combat Controllers". 2nd Commando Regiment. Retrieved 23 October 2015. 
  5. Air Power Development Centre (June 2014). "Combat Control in the RAAF". Pathfinder Issue 224. Royal Australian Air Force. 
  6. Allard, Tom (17 March 2008). "New squadron will aim to cut civilian deaths". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 19 September 2008. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 "Controllers get berets" (PDF). Air Force newspaper (5512 ed.). 4 July 2013. 
  8. Air Power Development Centre (June 2014). "Combat Control in the RAAF". Pathfinder: Air Power Development Centre Bulletin. Royal Australian Air Force (224). Retrieved 8 June 2015. 
  9. "Control team drops in" (PDF). Air Force newspaper (5617). Royal Australian Air Force. 11 September 2014. Retrieved 23 October 2015. 
  10. "Pushing the limits" (PDF). Air Force newspaper (5712). Royal Australian Air Force. 2 July 2015. Retrieved 23 October 2015. 
  11. "Special force of our own" (PDF). Air Force newspaper (5407 ed.). 26 April 2012. 
  12. "First in JTAC accreditation". Defence: The Official Magazine (June 2006). Retrieved 23 October 2015. 
  13. "JTACs pass final hurdle" (PDF). Air Force newspaper (5407 ed.). 26 April 2012. 
  14. Barnes, The RAAF and the Flying Squadrons, p. 26
  15. 15.0 15.1 Stephens, The Royal Australian Air Force, pp. 16–21
  16. Isaacs, Military Aircraft of Australia 1909–1918, p. 158
  17. Newton, Australian Air Aces, pp. 60–61
  18. 18.0 18.1 Barnes, The RAAF and the Flying Squadrons, p. 27
  19. Roylance, Air Base Richmond, pp. 41–42, 124
  20. Barnes, The RAAF and the Flying Squadrons, p. 28
  21. "Beachhead Battles". Australia's War 1939–1945. Retrieved 12 October 2013. 
  22. 22.0 22.1 Barnes, The RAAF and the Flying Squadrons, p. 29
  23. Barnes, The RAAF and the Flying Squadrons, p. 30
  24. Cowan, Brendan. "Piper L-4 Grasshopper/Cub". Australian & New Zealand Military Aircraft Serials & History RAAF. Retrieved 12 October 2013. 
  25. 25.0 25.1 Barnes, The RAAF and the Flying Squadrons, p. 31
  26. "4 Squadron RAAF". Second World War, 1939–1945 units. Australian War Memorial. Archived from the original on 14 October 2013. Retrieved 12 October 2013. 
  27. Barnes, The RAAF and the Flying Squadrons, p. 32
  28. 28.0 28.1 "No 4 Squadron". RAAF Museum. Retrieved 12 October 2013. 
  29. Barnes, The RAAF and the Flying Squadrons, p. 23
  30. "New Air Force Capability at Williamtown" (Press release). Department of Defence. 3 July 2009. Retrieved 3 July 2009. 
  31. "Air Combat group set to fly". Air Force News. September 2001. Retrieved 24 August 2014. 
  32. "Special Tactics people wanted". Air Force News. 26 July 2007. Retrieved 20 March 2008. 
  33. "FAC flight formed". Royal Australian Air Force Air Power Development Centre. Retrieved 12 October 2013. 
  34. Barnes, The RAAF and the Flying Squadrons, pp. 26–32


  • Barnes, Norman (2000). The RAAF and the Flying Squadrons. St Leonards, New South Wales: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1-86508-130-2. 
  • Isaacs, Keith (1971). Military Aircraft of Australia 1909–1918. Canberra: Australian War Memorial. ISBN 9780642993748. 
  • Newton, Dennis (1996). Australian Air Aces: Australian Fighter Pilots in Combat. Fyshwick, Australian Capital Territory: Aerospace Publications. ISBN 1-875671-25-0. 
  • RAAF Historical Section (1995). Units of the Royal Australian Air Force: A Concise History. Volume 2: Fighter Units. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service. ISBN 0-644-42794-9. 
  • Roylance, Derek (1991). Air Base Richmond. RAAF Base Richmond: Royal Australian Air Force. ISBN 0-646-05212-8. 
  • Stephens, Alan (2006) [2001]. The Royal Australian Air Force: A History. London: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-555541-4. 
  • McLaughlin, Andrew (2009). "4SQN: A new era for JTAC training". Australian Aviation. Canberra: Phantom Media (265). ISSN 0813-0876. 

Further reading

  • Eather, Steve (1995). Flying Squadrons of the Australian Defence Force. Weston Creek, Australian Capital Territory: Aerospace Publications. ISBN 1-875671-15-3. 
  • Johnston, Mark (2011). Whispering Death: Australian Airmen in the Pacific War. Crows Nest, New South Wales: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 978-1-74175-901-3. 
  • Molkentin, Michael (2010). Fire in the Sky: The Australian Flying Corps in the First World War. Crows Nest, New South Wales: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 978-1-74237-072-9. 
  • Richards, E.J. (1919). Australian Airmen: History of the 4th Squadron, Australian Flying Corps. Melbourne: Bruce & Co. OCLC 220037434.