No. 3 Group RAF


No. 3 Group RAF (3 Gp) of the Royal Air Force was an RAF group first active in 1918, again between 1923 and 1926, then as part of RAF Bomber Command from 1936 to 1967, and recently part of RAF Strike Command from 2000 until it disbanded on 1 April 2006.

No. 3 Group
Active10 May 1918 - 31 August 1921
1 April 1923 - 12 April 1926
1 May 1936 - 1 November 1967
1 April 2000 - 1 April 2006
Country United Kingdom
Branch Royal Air Force
TypeRoyal Air Force group
RoleStrategic and tactical bombing
Part ofRAF Bomber Command
RAF Strike Command
BaseRAF Mildenhall (1936–1938)
Motto(s)Dutch: Niet zonder arbyt
("Nothing without Labour")[1]
Royal Air Force Ensign
Air Chief Marshal Sir Ralph Alexander Cochrane
Group badgeThree swords in pile, the points upwards, and each enfiled by an astral crown[2][a]

First World War


No. 3 Group was first formed on 10 May 1918 as part of South-Eastern Area. No. 13 Group RAF was merged into No. 3 Group on 18 October 1919. Group Captain U J D Bourke took command on 30 November 1919. The Group was disbanded on 31 August 1921.



Reformed in 1923, 3 Group was disbanded on 12 April 1926 at RAF Spitalgate by renumbering it No. 23 (Training) Group.

The 1930s and the Second World War


The Group was reformed at Andover, Wiltshire on 1 May 1936, under Air Vice-Marshal Patrick Playfair.[4] Ten months later Group HQ moved to RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk, a direct result of the Air Ministry's decision to form two new bomber groups and reorganise its existing groups. No. 3 Group was initially equipped with the ungainly Vickers Virginia and Handley Page Heyford, which was the RAF's last biplane heavy bomber.

With the arrival of the then revolutionary twin engined Vickers Wellington it was decided that No. 3 Group would be tasked with introducing the type into front line service. The first squadron in Bomber Command to be equipped was No. 99 Squadron RAF based at Mildenhall, on 10 October 1938. Air Commodore A A B Thomson, Playfair's successor, was killed on 8 August 1939 while viewing the bombing up of a Vickers Wellington of No. 115 Squadron RAF.[5] While under the fuselage, he slipped and was struck on the head by the rotating airscrew. Air Vice-Marshal J E A Baldwin took over the Group on 29 August 1939. By September 1939 the entire group (totalling six front line squadrons and two reserve squadrons) was fully equipped with an all-Wellington force totalling over 100 aircraft located at five East Anglian airfields. 3 Group continued to be primarily based in East Anglia for the rest of WWII. 3 Group's first wartime operations were attacks against German warships at Wilhelmshaven and Brunsbüttel.

Group HQ moved to Harraton House, Exning, Suffolk, in March 1940. On 2 April 1940, two squadrons were temporarily transferred to RAF Coastal Command and advanced bases in Northern Scotland, and they had hardly settled in before the Germans invaded Denmark and Norway.[6] The squadrons went into action immediately and on 11/12 April one of them (115 Sqn) became the first RAF unit to bomb deliberately a mainland target (Stavanger Airport, Sola) during the Second World War. In September 1940 3 Group Bomber Command assumed administrative control of No. 419 Flight, the first of the Royal Air Force Special Duties Service units. The group provided administrative support for all the Special Duties squadrons til the end of the war.[7]

In 1942 the Group’s strength was almost halved when 7, 156, and 109 Squadrons were transferred to the newly created No. 8 Group – the Pathfinder Force.

3 Group Headquarters – Harraton House, Exning, Suffolk.

March 1943 3 Group[8]
Squadron Station Aircraft
15 Sqn RAF Bourn Short Stirling
75 Sqn RAF Newmarket Stirling
90 Sqn RAF Ridgewell Stirling
115 Sqn RAF East Wretham Wellington, Lancaster
138 (Special Duties) Squadron[b] RAF Tempsford, Bedfordshore Halifax
149 Sqn RAF Lakenheath, Suffolk Stirling
199 Sqn RAF Lakenheath Stirling
161 (Special Duties) Squadron[b] RAF Tempsford Westland Lysander, Halifax, Lockheed Hudson, Douglas Havoc , Armstrong Whitworth Albemarle, Hudson Cygnet
192 (Special Duties) Squadron RAF Gransden Lodge Halifax, Wellington Mk.X de havilland Mosquito, Wellington Mk.IC
214 Sqn RAF Chedburgh Stirling
218 Sqn RAF Downham Market, Norfolk Stirling

No. 3 Group controlled the following bases at various times between March 1943 and November 1944:

No. 31 Base No. 32 Base No. 33 Base
RAF Stradishall (HQ), Suffolk RAF Mildenhall (HQ) RAF Waterbeach (HQ)
RAF Chedburgh, Suffolk RAF Birch, Essex RAF Mepal
RAF Feltwell, Norfolk RAF East Wretham, Norfolk RAF Waterbeach
RAF Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire RAF Gosfield RAF Witchford
RAF Wratting Common RAF Lakenheath, Suffolk
RAF Shepherds Grove RAF Methwold, Norfolk
RAF Birch RAF Newmarket
RAF Gosfield RAF Tuddenham
RAF Matching

After the invasion of Normandy, Bomber Command joined in the campaign against German oil targets. Although daylight bombing against targets within Germany itself still incurred too many casualties closer targets could be attacked by day with fighter escorts. 3 Group carried out blind bombing techniques by day using Gee-H.[10]

3 Group, April 1945[11]
15 Sqn RAF Bourn Avro Lancaster Mks. I and III
75 Sqn RAF Mepal Lancaster Mks. I and III
90 Sqn RAF Tuddenham, Lancaster Mks. I and III
115 Sqn RAF Witchford Lancaster Mks. I and III
138 (Special Duties) Squadron[c] RAF Tuddenham Lancaster Mks. I and III
149 Sqn RAF Methwold Lancaster Mks. I and III
186 Sqn RAF Stradishall Lancaster Mks. I and III
195 Sqn RAF Wratting Common Lancaster Mks. I and III
218 Sqn RAF Chedburgh Lancaster Mks. I and III
514 Sqn RAF Waterbeach Lancaster Mks. I, II and III
622 Sqn RAF Mildenhall Lancaster Mks. I and III
Training units, e.g. No. 1688 Flight RAF Feltwell
Headquarters Exning

Post war


The Group HQ moved back to Mildenhall in January 1947. In June 1948, No.3 Group consisted of 35, 115, 149, and 207 Squadrons operating Lancasters from RAF Stradishall, Nos 7, 49, 148, and 214 Squadrons operating Lancasters from RAF Upwood, and 15, 44, 90, 138 Squadrons operating Lincolns from RAF Wyton.[12] For a period in the early 1950s several squadrons flew Boeing Washingtons, the British name for Boeing B-29 Superfortresses lent to the UK until the English Electric Canberra could enter service. Most of the Vickers Valiant and Handley Page Victor, squadrons, made operational in the late 1950s, formed part of No. 3 Group. During the Suez Crisis of 1956 Valiants of 138, 148, 207 and 214 Squadrons were deployed to RAF Luqa in Malta and the first Valiant attacks against Egyptian airfields began on 31 October 1956, with limited results due to the lack of experience operating the Valiant.

No. 3 Group was also responsible for the Thor ballistic missile between 1 September 1958 and August 1963, with ten squadrons, including Nos:-

each with three missiles, being equipped with the weapon.[13]

During April 1962 the group also controlled:[14]

On 1 November 1967 the Group was absorbed by No. 1 (Bomber) Group RAF.

The Group was reformed on 1 April 2000 to control Joint Force Harrier and maritime aircraft transferred from the former No. 11/18 Group RAF. It came under a Royal Navy officer, the Flag Officer Maritime Aviation. Rear Admiral Iain Henderson was the first occupant of the post, who also had the NATO roles of COMAIREASTLANT and COMMARAIRNORTH. AOC 3 Group/FOMA had two RAF subordinates, Air Commodore Harrier (for all the RAF Harriers and FAA Sea Harriers) and Air Commodore Maritime (for the Nimrods and SAR helicopters).[15] After a further reorganisation in 2003-4, the group became known as the Battle Management Group and controlled the Airborne Early Warning aircraft, ground-based radar installations, maritime reconnaissance aircraft and the search and rescue helicopters in the UK. The group was based alongside Strike Command at RAF High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire.

In 2006 the Group consisted of:

3 Gp Headquarters – RAF High Wycombe

As from 1 April 2006, the stations and squadrons which were under the command of 3 Group RAF were brought under the command of No. 2 Group RAF.



1919 to 1921

1923 to 1926

1936 to 1967

2000 to present

See also



  1. ^ The crowns represent the three Royal Abbessess of Ely, the three daughters of the Anglo-saxon King Anna of East Anglia of Exning; as most of the group's airfields were located around Ely, this was appropriate. The three swords represent the fighting spirit of the group and the Dutch motto is from the house of Cornelius Vermuyden, who drained the fens around Ely.[3]
  2. ^ a b Special Duties squadrons flew supply and transport missions to enemy occupied Europe
  3. ^ re-equipped with Lancaster replacing Halifax and reassigned to 3 Group in March 1945




  1. ^ Pine, L.G. (1983). A dictionary of mottoes (1 ed.). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. p. 149. ISBN 0-7100-9339-X.
  2. ^ Moyes 1976, p. 334.
  3. ^ Delve, Ken (2005). Bomber Command 1939-1945 : a reference to the men - aircraft & operational history. Barnsley: Pen & Sword Aviation. p. 156. ISBN 1-84415-183-2.
  4. ^ An Introduction to Bomber Command No. 3 Group, accessed 30 May 2008 Archived 6 January 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ An Introduction to Bomber Command No. 3 Group. Retrieved 1 June 2008. Archived 6 January 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ Philip Moyes, 'Bomber Squadrons of the Royal Air Force,' MacDonald, London, 1964, p. 334, via Royal Air Force, Bomber Command 60th Anniversary: No. 3 Group Archived 17 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 1 June 2008.
  7. ^ Verity 1978, p. 38.
  8. ^ Bomber Command Order of Battle March 1943
  9. ^ Sturtivant & Hamlin 2007, p. 77.
  10. ^ Levine, Alan J. (1992). The strategic bombing or Germany 1940–1945. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 147. ISBN 978-0-275-94319-6. Retrieved 7 April 2009.
  11. ^ Bomber Command Order of Battle, April 1945
  12. ^ John D. Rawlings et al., 'The History of the Royal Air Force,' Temple Press Aerospace, 1984, p.187
  13. ^ Martin Powell, "The Douglas Thor in Royal Air Force Service" Archived 20 September 2008 at the Wayback Machine, Rossendale Aviation Society – Article. Retrieved 2 June 2008.
  14. ^ Delve 1994, p. 88.
  15. ^ Richard Cobbold, 'My Jobs: Joint Force Harrier Commander,' RUSI Journal, Vol. 145, No.3, June 2000, pp.21–27


  • Delve, K. (1994). The Source Book of the RAF. Shrewsbury, UK: Airlife Publishing. ISBN 1-85310-451-5.
  • Moyes, Philip J.R. Bomber Squadrons of the RAF and their Aircraft. London: Macdonald and Jane's (Publishers) Ltd., 2nd edition 1976. ISBN 0-354-01027-1.
  • Sturtivant, R.; Hamlin, J. (2007). Royal Air Force flying training and support units since 1912. UK: Air-Britain (Historians). ISBN 978-0851-3036-59.
  • Verity, Hugh (1978). We Landed by Moonlight: Secret RAF Landings in France, 1940–1944. Sheperton, Surrey: Ian Allan. ISBN 978-0-7110-0886-1.
  • Ward, Chris. 3 Group Bomber Command: An Operational Record. Barnsley, UK: Pen and Sword Books Ltd.,2008. ISBN 978-1-84415-796-9.
  • Webster, Charles and Noble Frankland, The Strategic Air Offensive Against Germany, 1939–1945 (HMSO, 1961 & facsimile reprinted by Naval & Military Press, 2006), 4 vols. ISBN 978-184574-437-3.
  • Air of Authority – A History of RAF Organisation – Group No's 1 – 9
  • Story of No 3 Group