The Trip Trey, now 30 Years Gone

Formed at Cherry Point on 1 August 1943 as Marine Scout Bombing Squadron 333 (VMSB-333), the logically named “Trip Trey” began their career flying SBD Dauntless dive-bombers from Midway on anti-shipping patrols.

Douglas SBD-5 Dauntless Dive Bomber of VMSB-333 over Wake Island.

The original “Trip Trey” crest, circa 1943. From the Claude A. Larkin Collection (COLL/791) at the Archives Branch, Marine Corps History Division

Adding an “F” designation to their name after transitioning to F4U Corsairs in late 1944, VMBF-333 was deactivated just two months after VJ-Day.

Reformed during the Korean War as Marine Attack Squadron 333 (VMA-333), they transited quickly through the F6F Hellcat to the A-1 Skyraider and entered the jet age in 1957 with FJ-3 Fury jet fighters, again adding the “F” to their title to become VMF-333, after which adding the triple shamrock to their planes and going by the “Fighting Shamrocks” as well as the more commonly applied “Trip Trey.”

Next came the F-8 Crusader– with which they ran hot pad alerts at GTMO during the Cuban Missile Crisis– and then the F-4 Phantom in 1966.

The Shamrocks would deploy aboard USS America (CVA-66) in 1972, picking up the only Marine MiG kill of the Vietnam War.

Remaining part of CVW-8 through most of the 1970s and carrying “AJ” tail flashes, they would ship out with the brand-new supercarrier USS Nimitz in 1976 on a Med Cruise.

Four U.S. Marine Corps McDonnell F-4J Phantom II (BuNo 153848, 155523, 155525, 155511) from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron VMFA-333 “Shamrocks” in flight. VMFA-333 was assigned to Carrier Air Wing 8 (CVW-8) aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN-68) for a deployment to the Mediterranean Sea from 7 July 1976 to 7 February 1977. U.S. Navy National Museum of Naval Aviation photo No. 1996.253.7315.009 by PH2c Klaus Homedale, U.S. Navy

An air-to-air silhouetted view of a Marine Strike Fighter Squadron 333 (VMFA-333) F-4 Phantom II aircraft, 9/1/1985. At this time the Shamrocks were one of the few active duty Phantom operators in the U.S. military. U.S. Navy photo DNSC9011796 by LCDR David Baranak, via NARA (330-CFD-DN-SC-90-11796).

The last regular Marine squadron to operate the big smoky Phantom, they transitioned to F-18A Hornets in October 1987, which they would fly during Desert Storm just three years later, delivering over 2 million pounds of ordnance (typically 2,000-pounds at a time) against Iraqi forces across a staggering 700 combat sorties.

VMFA-333, Operation Desert Storm, 1991 USMC photo

“Over the Oil Fields,” by Col H. Avery Chenoweth, USMCR. “Towards the war’s end, the Bahrain-based Shamrocks of VMFA-333 were able to survey damage caused by their bombing runs. Previously, the ground fire had caused the F/A-18’s to pull out rapidly from their dive-bombing runs, no chance for visual confirmation.” Photo via the National Museum of The Marine Corps.

Returning from the sandbox, the “Fighting Shamrocks” were deactivated on 31 March 1992 during the post-Cold War drawdown.

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