VMA (AW)-533 Nighthawks Squadron Patch
Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 533 (VMFA(AW)-533) is a United States Marine Corps F/A-18 Hornet squadron. Also known as the “Hawks”, the squadron is based at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina and falls under the command of Marine Aircraft Group 31 (MAG-31) and the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (2nd MAW).
To conduct joint / combined aviation operations in order to support a Marine Air Ground Task Force commander’s Command and Control, intelligence, fires, maneuver, and force protection warfighting functions.
World War II
On October 1, 1943, Marine Night Fighter Squadron 533 (VMF(N)-533) was commissioned at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina. Originally known as “Black Mac’s Killers”, after their first commanding officer Major Marion M. Magruder, they were one of three night fighter squadrons to be activated in the Marine Corps and were outfitted with the Grumman F6F-5N Hellcat, equipped with the APS-6 radar. The squadron left for the West Coast in early April and on April 16, they embarked on board the USS Long Island (CVE-1) headed for the South Pacific. In May 1944, the squadron conducted their final training on the F6F aboard Marine Corps Air Station Ewa, Hawaii and then headed for Eniwetok. On June 12 they relieved VMF(N)-532 and assumed night defense responsibilities for the area. On November 30 they moved to Engebi and continued operations.
On May 7, 1945, with only two days notice, the squadron of 15 F6F Hellcat planes took off from Engebi with R5C escorts and flew to Saipan, a total of 1,004 nautical miles (1,859 km). This was the longest flight ever over water by a squadron in single engine military aircraft. Each plane had a 150-gallon belly tank, and the squadron had to travel at the speed of the slowest plane
The squadron moved to Yontan Airfield, Okinawa in May 1945 and finally settled on Ie Shima on June 15, 1945. Between May 14 and June 29, 533 would claim shooting down 30 Japanese planes – by radar, at night – without one operational loss. This was a night fighter record for enemy planes shot down by a single squadron. They also had the first night fighter ace, Capt Robert Baird. The first F7F-2N Tigercat for the squadron arrived on Okinawa the day before the end of the war so it did not see combat. In October 1945, the squadron moved to Peiping, China for occupation duty and completed their transition to the new Tigercat. The Hawks soon moved to Hawaii before finally settling back in the U.S. at MCAS Cherry Point in January 1947. 533 would spend the Korean War there as well, training Tigercat aircrew for night combat overseas.
1950s – 1960s
533 entered the jet age in May 1953 with its acquisition of the F2H-4 Banshee. They saw several carrier deployments in the ensuing years, followed by another transition to the F9F Cougar in 1957. Yet another change was soon to follow as the squadron received the A4D Skyhawk in 1959, and with it a redesignation to Marine Attack Squadron 533 (VMA-533). The next change was to come in 1965 when the Hawks received the A-6A Intruder, giving them an all-weather capability and the appropriate change in title, VMA(AW)-533.
The Vietnam War
Soon after transitioning to the A-6, VMA(AW)533 deployed to Chu Lai Air Base, Republic of Vietnam to support combat operations. They remained there from 1967 to 1969, then redeploying to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan. All told, VMA(AW)-533 accumulated over 10,000 combat sorties in these busy years, garnering them the Commandant’s Aviation Efficiency Trophy. In one noted incident, on October 25, 1967, three A-6A Intruders from VMA(AW)-533 attacked the Phúc Yên Air Base outside of Hanoi and the action was so intense all three pilots were awarded the Navy Cross. These pilots were among the few aviators to receive Navy Crosses awarded to fixed wing pilots during the Vietnam War.
This would not be the last time that the Hawks would see combat over Southeast Asia. They returned to service over Vietnam in 1972, deploying for a year to Royal Thai Air Base Nam Phong, Thailand. They were soon flying mission over Cambodia and Laos, as well. They returned to MCAS Iwakuni in September 1973, and then to MCAS Cherry Point in November 1975, where they received their first A-6E the following year.
The Gulf War & the 1990s
The squadron deployed to Bahrain in December 1990 for Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm. Following participation in those hostilities, VMA(AW)-533 returned home after an “around the world” deployment that lasted eleven and a half months.
September 1, 1992 brought many changes to 533, most notably a change to the new F/A-18D Hornet, and with this its newest and current designation, and a move to Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina. This made them the first all-weather fighter attack squadron in 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing. These techniques would soon be put to the test when VMFA(AW)-533 was deployed to Aviano Air Base in July 1993. They returned three times over the next five years, flying a wide variety of missions to support NATO operations. In 1999, the squadron supported Operation Allied Force in Yugoslavia from Taszar Air Base Hungary and flew 111 combat sorties during the conflict. After the cease-fire of June 11, 1999, the Hawks flew an additional 82 combat sorties to ensure Serb compliance with the withdrawal from Kosovo.
Global War on Terror
The squadron deployed to the Kuwait supporting Operation Southern Watch and Operation Iraqi Freedom, arriving at Al-Jaber Air Base on February 11, 2003. On March 20, coalition forces began the ground offensive with support from the squadron’s Hornets. While operating around the clock, the squadron expended over 800,000 pounds of ordnance, flying 558 sorties and 1440 flight hours. For their support of the successful campaign against the Iraqi regime, the Hawks were awarded another Presidential Unit Citation. In the Spring of 2006 they redeployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In February 2008 the squadron deployed to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan as part of the Unit Deployment Program in which they were the first east coast squadron to deploy straight from MCAS Beaufort directly to Yecheon Air Base, South Korea. In September 2008 the squadron returned to MCAS Beaufort. From July 2009 until January 2010 the squadron deployed to MCAS Iwakuni to take part in the Unit Deployment Program. During their time overseas they provided real-time imagery and reconnaissance during relief efforts in the Philippines following Typhoon Ketsana.