No. 3 Group
3 Group badge.jpg
No. 3 Group badge
Country United Kingdom
Branch Royal Air Force
Part ofRAF Bomber Command
RAF Strike Command
BaseRAF Mildenhall (1936–1938)
Motto(s)Dutch: Niet zonder arbyt
("Nothing without Labour")[1]
Ralph Cochrane
Group badgeThree swords in pile, the points upwards, and each enfiled by an astral crown[2]
The crowns represent the three Royal Abbessess of Ely, the three daughters of King Anna 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]

No. 3 Group (3 Gp) of the Royal Air Force was an RAF group first active in 1918, again in 1923–26, part of RAF Bomber Command from 1936 to 1967, and part of RAF Strike Command from 2000 until it disbanded on 1 April 2006.

No. 3 Group was first formed on 10 May 1918 as part of South-Eastern Area. No. 13 Group RAF was merged into 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.

The 1930s and the Second World War

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

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.

In March 1943 3 Group consisted of:[8]

3 Group Headquarters – Harraton House, Exning, Suffolk.

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 G-H.[9]

By April 1945 3 Group consisted of:[10]

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.[11] 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.[12] 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).[13] 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. ^ 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. ^ 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.
  10. ^ Bomber Command Order of Battle, April 1945
  11. ^ John D. Rawlings et al., 'The History of the Royal Air Force,' Temple Press Aerospace, 1984, p.187
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ Richard Cobbold, 'My Jobs: Joint Force Harrier Commander,' RUSI Journal, Vol. 145, No.3, June 2000, pp.21–27


  • 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.
  • 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.