VMFA(AW)-533 began its history on 1 October, 1943. On this date, Marine Night Fighter Squadron 533 (VMF(N)-533) was commissioned at MCAS Cherry Point, North Carolina. One of three night fighter squadrons to be activated in the Marine Corps, the squadron was initially outfitted with the Grumman F6F-3N Hellcat, equipped with AI radar sets. VMF(N)-533 later upgraded to the Grumman F6F-5N Hellcat with the APS-3 radar set in the fall of 1944. After a full one year deployment to Engebi in the Marshall Islands, the squadron moved to Yontan Airfield, Okinawa in May 1945. By doing so they completed the longest over water flight by a single engine aircraft of the war. Before hostilities ended in the Pacific, 533 would distinguish itself by claiming the most aerial victories of any night fighter squadron as well as the first night fighter ace, Capt Robert Baird. In October 1945, the squadron moved to Peiping, China and soon transitioned to its next airframe, the Grumman F7F-3N Tigercat. The Hawks soon moved to Hawaii before finally settling back in the U.S. at Cherry Point in January 1947. 533 would spend the Korean conflict there as well, training Tigercat aircrew for night combat overseas.
533 entered the jet age in May 1953 with its acquisition of the F2H-A4 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 A-4D 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.
Soon after transitioning to the A-6, 533 deployed to Chu Lai, Republic of Vietnam to support combat operations. They remained there from 1967 to 1969, then redeploying to MCAS 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. 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 Nam Phong, Thailand. They were soon flying mission over Cambodia and Laos, as well. They returned to Iwakuni in August 1973, and then to Cherry Point in November 1975, where they received their first A-6E the following year.
In April of 1980, VMA(AW)-533 returned to Iwakuni, becoming the first all weather attack squadron to participate in the new Unit Deployment Program (UDP). Throughout the 1980s the squadron deployed, both to Japan and later for several carrier cruises aboard the USS Saratoga and USS John F. Kennedy. The last deployment for the Hawks proved to be longer, as the UDP that began in April 1990 ended and the squadron continued to Bahrain in December 1990 for Operations Desert Shield and 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.
1 September 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 MCAS Beaufort SC. This made them the first all weather fighter attack squadron in 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing. Soon to follow were countless new training opportunities as the squadron developed and refined new techniques and procedures to match the more capable platform. 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. Following their first UDP in Hornets in 1999, 533 returned one last time to Eastern Europe, this time operating from Taszar AB, Hungary.
Next for the squadron was yet another UDP, from January 2001 to July 2001. Of great tactical significance was the work that the squadron did with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, Special Operations Capable (MEU (SOC)). The Hawks became the first land based fixed wing squadron to successfully a MEU (SOC) afloat, executing an island-hopping campaign throughout the Pacific that would take them to airfields not seen by US forces since World War II. Soon, preparations were underway for the next UDP in January 2003. But as that date drew near, VMFA(AW)-533 received word that the squadron would instead deploy to the CENTCOM AOR supporting Operations Southern Watch and Iraqi Freedom, arriving at Al-Jaber Air Base 11 February 2003. On 20 March 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 outstanding support of the successful campaign against the Iraqi regime, the Hawks were awarded another Presidential Unit Citation.
After their safe return, the Hawks continued to train, focusing on air-to-ground skills at Combined Arms Exercises in California in January and February 2004. Soon enough the squadron was once again on the move, spending the latter half of 2004 in various locations around the Pacific for its most recent UDP.
In February 2006 the Hawks deployed to Al Asad Air Base in the Al Anbar Province of Iraq. The squadron was assigned to the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing in support of 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. The Hawks employed the F/A-18D with the Litening II FLIR/TV pod in a myriad of roles which included reconnaissance, surveillance, convoy escort, close-air support, strike missions, forward air controller airborne (FAC(A)) and tactical air controller airborne (TAC(A)). While once again operating around the clock, the squadron expended over 110,000 pounds of ordnance, flying 2480 sorties and 7456 flight hours. Having returned safely in August 2006, the Hawks continued to hone their warfighting skills, once again eager to prove their combat capabilities whenever called upon.