“No. 35 Squadron RAAF in Vietnam: The Unsung Heroes of ‘Wallaby Airlines'”
The year 1966 marked a significant transformation for the Royal Australian Air Force Transport Flight Vietnam (RAAF TFV) as it was redesignated as No. 35 Squadron at Vung Tau Air Base in South Vietnam on 1 June. The squadron, equipped with DHC-4 Caribous, played a crucial role in supporting Australian, South Vietnamese, and United States forces through cargo, passenger, and medevac flights. Operating in a non-offensive capacity, the squadron, nicknamed “Wallaby Airlines,” became a symbol of resilience and efficiency amid the challenges of the Vietnam War.
Operational Challenges and Dangers:
Despite its non-combatant role, No. 35 Squadron faced numerous challenges in the conflict zone. Operating in dangerous areas, often at low altitudes, the squadron’s aircraft were not spared from hostile fire. The callsign “Wallaby” echoed through the tumultuous skies, signifying the squadron’s commitment to providing essential services in perilous circumstances. On several occasions, Caribous were fired upon, resulting in aircrew injuries, emphasizing the perilous nature of their missions.
Drawdown and Reductions:
As the Vietnam War drew to a close, Australia began reducing its forces in Vietnam. By June 1971, No. 35 Squadron’s aircraft complement was reduced from seven to four. However, due to maintenance requirements, only two aircraft remained operational at any given time. Despite these challenges, the squadron continued its vital missions until its last flight on 13 February 1972. The departure from South Vietnam on 19 February 1972 marked the end of an era, with No. 35 Squadron being the last RAAF unit to leave following the decision to withdraw.
No. 35 Squadron faced not only the dangers of enemy fire but also the treacherous weather conditions and difficult landing grounds inherent to the Caribous’ mission profile. Two aircraft were lost due to accidents caused by poor weather, highlighting the inherent risks of their operations. Additionally, a Caribou was destroyed by Viet Cong mortar fire during a resupply mission at Thất Sơn in 1970, further underscoring the constant threat faced by the squadron.
Unsung Heroes and Recognition:
While their work may not have been glamorous, No. 35 Squadron earned a commendable reputation among U.S. air commanders for its efficiency and effectiveness. The squadron’s achievements prompted U.S. personnel to study their techniques, recognizing the valuable contributions of the Australian unit. For their dedication and bravery, members of No. 35 Squadron received numerous honours and decorations, including appointments to the Member of the Order of the British Empire, Distinguished Flying Crosses, a Distinguished Flying Medal, a British Empire Medal, and 36 Mentions in Dispatches.
No. 35 Squadron RAAF, operating as “Wallaby Airlines,” exemplified the unsung heroes of the Vietnam War. Despite not engaging in offensive operations, the squadron faced considerable dangers and challenges, delivering crucial support to troops on the ground. Their efficient and effective performance earned them recognition and respect, highlighting the significant contributions made by Australian forces during this tumultuous period in history. The legacy of No. 35 Squadron serves as a testament to the sacrifices and dedication of those who served in the shadows, ensuring their place in the annals of military history.