On this Day – 31 March 1970 – Butterworth Airbase handed to RMAF
Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Base Butterworth was established in Province Wellesley, north Malaya, on the mainland opposite the island of Penang, in 1955. As part of Australia’s commitment to the Commonwealth’s Far East Strategic Reserve, two RAAF fighter squadrons and a bomber squadron were stationed at Butterworth throughout the 1950s and 1960s.
The Royal Air Force (RAF) developed the airfield at Butterworth on a “care and maintenance” basis, leaving it ill-prepared when the Japan attacked the base in December 1941. Both RAF and RAAF aircraft were destroyed mostly on the ground and, following its rapid invasion of Malaya, Japan occupied the base for the rest of the war.
After the war, in 1950, the RAF established Butterworth as part of their Far East bases, and squadrons based there were heavily involved in attacking communist targets during the Malayan Emergency.
In 1955 the airfield was upgraded by 2 Airfield Construction Squadron, which took two-and-a-half years. Although owned by the RAF, Butterworth was placed under the RAAF’s control in July 1958. Butterworth became home to the RAAF’s No. 78 Fighter Wing, comprising No 3 Squadron RAAF and No. 77 (Fighter) Squadron RAAF. Other units that rotated though Butterworth were:
No. 2 (Bomber) Squadron RAAF
No. 5 Squadron RAAF
No. 9 Squadron RAAF
No. 35 Squadron RAAF
No. 75 Squadron RAAF (replacing No. 3 Squadron on 18 May 1967)
On 31 March 1970 Butterworth was handed over to the Malaysian government. However, two RAAF squadrons remained at Butterworth until May 1988, as part of the Five Power Defence Agreement between Malaysia, Australia, Singapore, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.
A RAAF presence remains at Butterworth, with the Australians sharing facilities with the Royal Malaysian Air Force, and RAAF aircraft are rotated through the base. In January 1999 the 324 Combat Support Squadron was formed at Butterworth to provide support for military exercises and defence force deployments throughout south-east Asia.
Source: Australian War Memorial www.awm.gov.au/collection/PL2027