Establishment of RAAF Base Williams - Laverton

01 Mar 1926

RAAF Base Williams - Laverton is located beside the Princes Highway next to the Laverton railway station, Victoria, about seven kilometres away from RAAF Base Point Cook. Since the airfield was decommissioned in 1996 there have been no flying units or flying activity at Laverton.

In May 1921, the Australian Air Force (AAF), acquired 160 acres of a Closer Settlement Farm allotment at Laverton intended as the future permanent home of No 1 Aircraft Depot (AD). The depot’s official formation took place at Point Cook on 21 July 1921 and it became the first unit to occupy Laverton when it moved from Point Cook on 1 March 1926.

In 1927, the Northern and Papuan Survey Flights were formed at Laverton and proceeded to carry out a reconnaissance of the coastal district of Papua and the Mandated Territories using two Seagull amphibian aircraft.

No 1 Squadron relocated to Laverton on 16 January 1928 and carried out Army co-operation duties. Wing Commander Francis H. McNamara VC assumed command of No 1 Aircraft Depot and RAAF Station Laverton in February 1933. In March 1935, Recruit and Training Section formed within No 1 AD at Laverton. As well as recruit training, the section provided Armament training and became the basis for the No 1 AD Armament School which formed into a separate unit in January 1940.

As the RAAF expanded during the 1930s, the number of units stationed at Laverton grew. No 21 (Cadre) Squadron, a Citizen Air Force unit, was formed on 20 April 1936 and was later renamed No 21 (City of Melbourne) Squadron on 1 July. On 3 May 1937, No 2 (General Reconnaissance) Squadron and No 23 (General Purpose) (Cadre) Squadron were formed at Laverton. General Reconnaissance School moved to Laverton on 1 July 1940.

In response to a rapid escalation of operations in the Pacific theatre, Australia imported and also undertook local manufacture of aircraft and airborne systems. In response, on 21 July 1941, No 1 AD formed a Special Duties and Performance Flight at Laverton to provide technical and flight test support services for the introduction of new aircraft and systems. This flight was absorbed into the new No 1 Aircraft Performance Unit formed at RAAF Base Laverton on 1 December 1943 to provide a more focused support organisation.

The Equipment Training School formed as a separate unit at Laverton on 30 November 1942, with the role to train personnel in equipment and stores procedures, administration and accounting. Several more flying squadrons were formed at Laverton in 1943, including No 67 (General Reconnaissance) Squadron in January, No 79 Squadron in April, and No 37 (Transport) Squadron in July. No 150 Radar Direction Finding (RDF) Station formed at Laverton on 17 April 1943 before relocating to Darwin in June.

The origins of air traffic control training in the Air Force can also be traced back to Laverton in the early 1940s. Although the exact date of its establishment is obscure, a Flying Control School was operating at Laverton at least from 1943.

In January 1945, there were more than 800 personnel on posted strength at Laverton including members of the Womens’ Auxiliary Australian Air Force and the RAAF Nursing Service. The end of the war in August was celebrated by the station band playing in Melbourne, festivities in the various messes and an air display at Laverton. By the end of 1945 the number of personnel at Laverton had dropped to 635 and to 179 by the middle of 1946 as the RAAF demobilised.

As the post-war Permanent Air Force organisations took shape, Laverton also evolved. The Central Photographic Unit moved to Laverton from Brisbane in May 1946, where it was disbanded in July 1947 before re-activating as Central Photographic Establishment on 14 June 1949. In September 1947, No 1 Aircraft Performance Unit temporarily relocated to RAAF Base Point Cook and was renamed Aircraft Research and Development Unit (ARDU). The unit moved back to RAAF Base Laverton in October 1948, before moving to RAAF Base Edinburgh, South Australia in February 1977. No 6 RAAF Hospital moved to Laverton and commenced operations as a separate unit on 23 May 1949 after relocating from Heidelberg, Victoria.

Laverton entered the jet age on 5 June 1946 with the first demonstration flight of a Gloster Meteor Mk III aircraft, that had been assembled at the base. Less than a year later, on 15 May 1947, the first Vampire jet aircraft assembled by No 1 AD at Laverton, made its debut flight. The first Australian-built Canberra Mk20 landed at Laverton on delivery to No 1 AD. In November 1959, a Dakota equipped fir jet-assisted take-off was tested by ARDU at Laverton. Also fitted with retractable skis, the Dakota had been modified by the de Havilland Aircraft Company at Bankstown, NSW to accompany RAAF’s Antarctic flight to Mawson, Antarctica in December.

No 1 National Service Training Course commenced at Laverton on 30 July 1951 as part of the National Service Training Scheme. No 5 National Service Training Unit was formed at Laverton on 11 November 1953 and was disbanded on 27 June 1957, after compulsory training for RAAF was discontinued from the previous month.

The Laverton Base Squadron formed on 2 June 1952. This Squadron was based under Headquarters RAAF Laverton until 27 October 1953 when it was moved to Headquarters, RAAF Home Command.

In 1952, Laverton hosted the ceremonial parade at which the RAAF received the Queen’s Colour, the first honour of its type presented to the Air Force. Almost every Air Force unit was represented at the Colour Parade held on 17 September which was attended by the Chief of the Air Staff, Chief of the General Staff, Chief of the Naval Staff, members of the Air Board, and other Air Officers together with about 3,000 guests.

In the following year, the RAAF School of Radio commenced moving to Laverton on 11 April 1961, departing Ballarat, Victoria ending its association of 21 years with that city. In October 1964 the RAAF Printing and Publications Unit moved to Laverton from Albert Parks Barracks in Melbourne.

In December 1962, work was completed on the northern run-up of the North-South runway and was ready for use by the United States Air Force USAF U-2 detachment engaged in upper atmosphere sampling as part of Operation Crowflight. The USAF detachment operated from Laverton for several weeks sampling the atmosphere south of the Australian continent using equipment designed by the Radiophysics Division of CSIRO.

On 4 March 1963, the Freedom of the Shire of Werribee was conferred on RAAF Bases Laverton and Point Cook at a ceremony held at Chirnside Park during which a scroll outlining the rights conferred was presented by the Shire President.

Laverton welcomed the Women’s Royal Australian Air Force (WRAAF) Training Flight at Laverton on 10 January 1977 before being renamed Women’s Training Unit on 23 May 1977 when the WRAAF and Royal Australian Air Force Nursing Service were integrated into the Air Force.

RAAF Base Williams formed on 31 March 1989, from the amalgamation of RAAF Bases Point Cook and Laverton under a single command and management structure. The new formation was named in honour of Air Marshal Sir Richard Williams, KBE, CB, DSO, the most significant figure in the establishment of the Royal Australian Air Force. Under the restructure RAAF Base Laverton became RAAF Base Williams – Laverton, and the headquarters and base squadrons of the two bases were disbanded and replaced by Headquarters Williams and Base Squadron Williams.

Further changes were to come, the 1991 Defence Force Structure Review examining the disposition and functions of all Defence units, led to the civilianisation and commercialisation of some Defence functions. This led to the disbandment of the RAAF School of Radio on 31 December 1993. No 1 Aircraft Depot also phased-down its operations and disbanded on 2 December 1994.

In January 1992, a government-sponsored report was released that recommended the disposal of the Laverton airfield, while Laverton base would be retained. Units to be based at Laverton were No 6 RAAF Hospital, Central Photographic Unit, the Defence International Training Centre, No 21 Squadron, the RAAF Central Band and Headquarters Training Command. In 1997 Headquarters Logistics Command functions were absorbed by the tri-service Joint Logistics Command organisation. On 14 December 2002 No 6 RAAF Hospital disbanded at Laverton, having celebrated its 60th anniversary on 29 November.

In 2017 RAAF Base Point Cook once more regained its separate identity, leaving Laverton to carry the RAAF Base Williams designation. Today Laverton is the home of Headquarters Air Force Training Group (formerly Training Command) and RAAF Central Band as well as several Defence and joint organisations, including the Defence Force School of Languages, Defence International Training Centre, Defence Publishing Services, Headquarters Joint Logistics Command, and Joint Logistics Unit - Victoria, and elements of the Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group.

Related base

  • RAAF Base Point Cook
  • RAAF Base Williams