35 Squadron RAAF

After continued lobbying from the United States government for a larger contribution to the war, the Australian government decided in May 1964 to send six of the Royal Australian Air Force’s (RAAF) new Caribou transport aircraft to Vietnam. The RAAF had just received three of its ordered 18 Caribou from de Havilland of Canada, which the government decided would deploy in June, followed with another three by October. As the Caribou were being flown from Canada to Australia via Butterworth, Malaysia, it was decided to establish the new unit for Vietnam in Butterworth and the RAAF Transport Flight Vietnam (RTFV) was formed on 21 July 1964.

On 8 August RTFV’s first three Caribous took off from Butterworth and landed at the United States Army base at Vung Tau, Vietnam, three hours later. Three more aircraft arrived in late August and a seventh in May 1965. Twelve Caribous would eventually serve in Vietnam.

The Caribous were integrated into the Southeast Asia Airlift System, operated by the United States Air Force (USAF), and became part of the 315th Troop Carrier Group (Assault), which later became the 315th Air Commando Wing. RTFV flew its first operational mission on 14 August.

The unit transported personnel and equipment into “some 115 airfields of varying surfaces and dimensions” throughout the Republic of Vietnam. The Caribous also carried livestock, mail, fuel drums, and even peasant workers. As the RTFV aircraft used the call-sign “Wallaby”, the unit quickly became known as “Wallaby Airlines”. The unit performed to higher standards than American squadrons with similar aircraft.

On I June 1966 RTFV was renamed 35 Squadron and operational control for the squadron passed to the 834th Air Division of the USAF Seventh Air Force.

Although the work was routine, flying in a war zone was still dangerous. The weather was often poor and aircraft were hit by enemy ground fire, wounding aircrew. Two aircraft were destroyed in landing accidents, while a third was destroyed in March 1970 by mortar fire at That Son air base, near the Cambodian border.

In June 1971, the squadron’s remaining seven aircraft were reduced to half strength, when three Caribous returned to Australia as part of the government’s decision to decrease Australia’s involvement in the war. Due to servicing requirements, this meant that only two aircraft were operational. In October and November the squadron Caribous lifted 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR); and 2 Squadron, Special Air Service; and some of the last army personnel from the Australian base at Nui Dat to Vung Tau, from where the troops returned to Australia. The squadron’s time came a few months later. Flying ceased on 13 February 1972 and all personnel prepared for their return to Australia. The four Caribous took off six days later and arrived in at Richmond Air Force base on 26 February. It was the last RAAF unit to leave Vietnam.

In its seven and a half years in Vietnam, 35 Squadron flew nearly 80,000 sorties (totalling 47, 000 hours of flying time) and carried 677,000 passengers, 36 million kilos of freight, and 5 million kilos of mail.

Glossary

Equipment

Battle Honours

  • nil

Casualties

  • nil

For more information please see the Roll of Honour and Vietnam War Nominal Roll (external website) databases.

Commanding Officers

Decorations

  • 2 MBE
  • 8 DFC
  • 1 DFM
  • 1 BEM
  • 1 QC
  • 36 MID
  • 1 foreign award

For more information please see Honours and Awards database

Collection items

Search for related collection items.

References

  • Coulthard-Clark, Christopher D, Official History, Vietnam Vol.IV: The RAAF in Vietnam : Australian air involvement in the Vietnam war 1962-1975, (St Leonards, N.S.W. : Allen & Unwin in association with the Australian War Memorial, 1995)
  • Stephens, Alan, The Australian centenary history of defence Vol. 2, The Royal Australian Air Force, (Melbourne : Oxford University Press, 2001)