HISTORY

800 Squadron 801 Squadron 809 Squadron 899 Squadron

 

Association

The Sea Harrier Association was formed in October 2008, after a memorial dinner for a colleague Lt Cdr John Phesse who unfortunately passed away from cancer in 2007. 

We are currently one of the youngest Fleet Air Arm Association.

The Association aims are to:

1.    Maintain and encourage the growth of the comradeship of the Sea Harrier Community which originated in the service.

 

2.    Maintain a close relationship with the Fleet Air Arm, and the Royal Navy as a whole.

 

3.    Promote and publicise the Association and the Harrier Force in a supportive and positive manner.

 

800

1930s

The squadron was first equipped with nine single-seat Hawker Nimrod fighter aircraft and three two-seat Hawker Ospreys to act as navigation leaders for the Nimrods. It served aboard HMS Courageous in the Home Fleet. In 1935-1936, the carrier and squadron operated in the Mediterranean. The squadron re-equipped with the Blackburn Skua in November 1938 and took these aboard HMS Ark Royal. The Skua was a dive bomber with a secondary fighter role to allow the destruction or driving-off of enemy reconnaissance aircraft.

In 1939, 800 Squadron was flying primarily Blackburn B-24 Skuas and a few Blackburn Rocs from HMS Ark Royal. The Squadron was transferred to Admiralty control on 24 May 1939.

Second World War

During the German invasion of Norway in 1940, whilst based at Royal Navy Air Station Hatston, Kirkwall, Orkney 800 and 803 Squadrons dive-bombed the German cruiser Königsberg at Bergen on 10 April 1940, 800 Squadron providing five Skuas to the force that sank the Königsberg.  The squadron embarked on Ark Royal later that month, with the carrier providing air cover to the fleet and to Allied troops. 800 Squadron's Skua's claimed six Heinkel He 111 bombers shot down and a further as probably destroyed.  On 13 June 1940, Ark Royal launched a dive bomber attack against the German Battleship Scharnhorst, under repair at Trondheim, with 800 Squadron losing four Skuas out of six, with the Squadron's Commanding Officer, Captain R.T. Partridge, RM was taken POW, while 803 Squadron lost four Skuas from nine.  In July 1940, the squadron was involved in the attack on the French Fleet at Oran. Two SM-79 bombers were shot down off Sardinia.

The squadron was regrouped with Fairey Fulmars in Gibraltar during April 1941, proceeding with two Flights to HMS Victorious to search for the Bismarck, and to HMS Argus. On regrouping later that year, the squadron joined HMS Furious for an attack on Petsamo, and after the West Indies onboard HMS Indomitable was involved in the Madagascar operations.

Hawker Sea Hurricanes were received in 1942 and took part in the North African landings off HMS Biter in November 1942. In July 1943, the Squadron was the first FAA squadron to be equipped with the Grumman Hellcat. The squadron, operating from HMS Emperor provided escort for Fairey Barracudas in the April 1944 attacks from against the Tirpitz in Alta Fjord, Norway.

1950s

During the Korean War, the Squadron and its Seafire F.47s were on board HMS Triumph however, and their first operation was a strike by 12 Seafires and 9 Fairey Fireflies on Haeju airfield on 3 July 1950. Because of their short range, the Seafires were frequently given the Combat Air Patrol task over the fleet. During the Inchon landings in September 1950 Seafires flew armed reconnaissance missions and spotted for the bombarding cruisers. But, by the end of the month, No 800 had only three serviceable aircraft and no replacements were available in the Far East. The inevitable crop of landing accidents and cumulative airframe stress damage meant the end of the Seafire's operational life. During the Korean War the squadron flew 245 offensive patrols and 115 ground attack sorties before HMS Triumph was replaced by HMS Theseus with its Sea Furies and Fairey Fireflies.

In August 1951 the Supermarine Attacker enters service with the Squadron at Ford, West Sussex, later embarking on HMS Eagle. It was the first jet fighter to be standardised in the Fleet Air Arms first-line squadrons, and by 1953 the sqn had upgraded to the FB.2 version of the Attacker, but the following year the Attacker was withdrawn from frontline service and passed to training and reserve units. 800 NAS then recommissioned with Armstrong Whitworth Sea Hawk FB.3s in July 1954, and joined the newly commissioned HMS Ark Royal (R09) the following year. As with other FAA Sea Hawk units at the time, the sqn operated later marks of Sea Hawk as they became available culminating in the FGA.6. During the 1950s, 800's aircraft usually had the tails painted red, and this evolved into a forward pointing red arrowhead design with crossed swords over a trident in yellow in the centre.

1960s

800 NAS reformed as a Supermarine Scimitar F.1 unit in July 1959 with eight aircraft, under the command of Lt. Cmdr. D. P. Norman AFC at RNAS Lossiemouth, later re joining HMS Ark Royal (R09)'s air group in March 1960. After operating worldwide from the Ark, 800 returned to 'Lossie' in December 1963 and disbanded in February 1964, its aircraft being passed to 803NAS to bring that unit up to 16 aircraft. A month later 800 NAS recommissioned as a Blackburn Buccaneer S.1 squadron, equipped with 10 Buccaneers and four Scimitar F1s for service on the newly refitted HMS Eagle. The latter aircraft were for the next two years operated by 800B Flight, their aircraft adorned with a 'foaming tankard' badge on their tails as they were to be used as in-flight refuelling tankers as the underpowered Buccaneer S.1 could not be launched from a carrier with a full weapons load and full fuel tanks. The Buccaneers were launched fully armed but with a light fuel load, and would then 'top up' from waiting Scimitars which had been launched previously. 800 NAS was the only FAA squadron organised this way, and it was an interim measure pending the arrival of the Mk 2 Buccaneer. In June 1966 the Mk 2s began to replace the Mk 1s and the Scimitars, completing the process by November of that year.

In March 1967 the oil tanker Torrey Canyon ran aground on Seven Stones Reef near Lands End and started to leak thousands of tons of crude oil into the sea, putting nearby beaches at risk of pollution. In an attempt to minimise the damage to the environment, the Buccaneers of 800 NAS along with those of the training squadron 736 NAS were ordered to destroy the tanker and its cargo. Flying from RNAS Brawdy in Wales on 28 March 1967, eight Buccaneers dropped 42000 lbs of High Explosive bombs and achieved a 75% success rate. The aim was to rip open the hull of the tanker to release its cargo then set fire to it on the open sea, destroying the oil before it reached the beaches. After this the squadron rejoined HMS Eagle for the remainder of her career.

During this period the squadron operated 14 Buccaneer S.2s, and as with its sister squadron 809 Naval Air Squadron aboard Ark Royal in the 1970s, the squadron normally kept ten strike aircraft ready, two more fitted with a specially designed reconnaissance pallet in the rotating bomb bay, and the final two aircraft were fitted with buddy refuelling pods as tanker aircraft. After covering the British withdrawal from 'East of Suez' HMS Eagle returned home to pay off in January 1972, her squadrons flown back to their shore bases to disband. 800 Squadron returned to Lossiemouth and disbanded on 23 February 1972, and its aircraft were passed to the RAF.

1980s, Falklands War, 1990s

On 31 March 1980, 800 NAS was recommissioned with five BAe Sea Harrier FRS.1s at RNAS Yeovilton under Lt. Cmdr. Tim Gedge, a former Phantom (F4) pilot, and embarked in the new HMS Invincible until June 1981 when it transferred to HMS Hermes, recently refitted with a 12 degree 'Ski Jump' ramp to assist Sea Harrier operations.

On the outbreak of the Falklands War 800 NAS, now under the command on Lt/Cdr. Andy Auld RN, was brought up to its wartime strength of twelve Sea Harrier FRS1s by transferring seven aircraft and their crews from the training squadron 899 NAS. The other Sea Harrier squadron 801 NAS, aboard Invincible similarly received three aircraft. The squadron embarked on their carrier HMS Hermes, whilst she was still alongside in Portsmouth Dockyard. Two of the squadron's planes were lost, one when it exploded on take off from HMS Hermes and one shot down during an attack on Goose Green. No Harriers were lost in air-to-air fighting and the squadron destroyed 13 enemy aircraft. Lieutenant-Commander Gordon Batt DSC was killed in action flying a Sea Harrier FRS 1 from HMS Hermes on 23 May 1982. During the conflict another Sea Harrier squadron, 809 NAS was formed with eight spare aircraft and sent south aboard the MV Atlantic Conveyor, and on arrival in the South Atlantic these aircraft were divided between the two carriers, four each to 800 NAS and 801 NAS. The aircraft were absorbed into these squadrons, as the 899 aircraft had been, but remained recognisable as they had been painted in light grey low visibility camouflage as opposed to the dark sea grey scheme used by all the other Sea Harriers.

Post war, 809 NAS reacquired its aircraft and crews and returned to the UK alongside 800 NAS aboard Hermes, only to embark aboard the newly completed HMS Illustrious (R06) and return to the Falklands so that Invincible could be relieved to return home. 809 NAS disbanded in December 1982 on return to the UK. Illustrious had been sent into the South Atlantic before being commissioned properly and spent the next few months catching up on preparations for full commissioning, after which 800 NAS was transferred to HMS Illustrious (R06) in September 1983. Squadron strength was increased first to six Sea Harriers then gradually up to eight aircraft as a result of lessons relearned during the conflict. In the mid-1990s. the squadron re-equipped with the more capable Sea Harrier FA.2.

In January 1998, in addition to 800 NAS’s Sea Harriers FA.2s, RAF Harriers GR.7s operated from HMS Invincible in the Persian Gulf, typically in a mix of seven FA.2s and seven GR.7s.

2000s

In April 2004, while based in Yeovilton the squadron was disbanded following the decision to withdraw the FA.2s early as a cost-saving measure. It was re-commissioned on 31 March 2006 under Commander Adrian Orchard RN, when 800 NAS became the first RN squadron within Joint Force Harrier as part of Number 1 Group within RAF Strike Command. In March 2007, the squadron combined with 801 NAS to form the Naval Strike Wing. On 1 April 2010, NSW reverted to the identity of 800 Naval Air Squadron. The squadron disbanded later that year, as a result of the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review and the subsequent withdrawal of Harrier fleet.

Post World War II engagements

Action over Korea, flying more than 350 combat sorties without losing a single man or aircraft, and in the Suez crisis 1956, Malaysian Emergency 1949 The Falklands, 1982 and offensive operations in the Balkans in 1990s. 800 NAS are also the only fixed wing Squadron to complete a tour of Afghanistan operating out of Kandahar airport. Although the Naval Strike Wing have also completed tours, it is made up of elements of both 800 and 801.

Falklands War

The squadron operated Twelve Sea Harrier FRS.1s aboard HMS Hermes during the Falklands War under the command of Commander Lt Cdr Andy Auld. The Squadron was supplemented by eight pilots and seven aircraft from 899 NAS. Later in the conflict four aircraft and pilots were transferred from 809 NAS. From an Air Combat perspective' 800 Squadron were effective to the extent of shooting down Thirteen Argentine Aircraft and Destroying Three more on the Ground.

1 May 1982 A Pucara of FAA Grupo 3 destroyed and two more damaged and not repaired at Goose Green by CBU's by Lt Cmdr Frederiksen, Lt Hale and Lt McHarg RN. Lt Jukic killed in the destroyed aircraft. Dagger A of FAA Grupo 6 shot down over East Falkland by Flt Lt Penfold RAF using Sidewinder. Lt Ardiles (Cousin of the Footballer Osvaldo Ardiles) killed.

21 May 1982 Two A-4C Skyhawks of FAA Grupo 4 shot down near Chartres, West Falkland by Lt Cmdr Blissett and Lt Cmdr Thomas RN using Sidewinders. Lt Lopez and Lt Manzotti killed. Dagger A of FAA Grupo 6 shot down near Teal River Inlet, West Falkland by Lt Cmdr Frederiksen RN using Sidewinder. Lt Luna ejected. A-4Q Skyhawks of CANA 3 Esc shot down near Swan Island in Falkland Sound by Lt Morrell RN using Sidewinder. Lt Cmdr Philippi ejected. In same attack A-4Q Skyhawk shot down near Swan Island in Falkland Sound by Flt Lt Leeming RAF using 30mm cannon. Lt Marquez was killed.

23 May 1982 Puma SA.330L of CAB 601 flew into ground near Shag Cove House, West Falkland attempting to evade Flt Lt Morgan RAF. Agusta A-109A of CAB 601 destroyed on ground in the same incident, by Flt Lt Morgan and Flt Lt Leeming RAF using 30mm cannon. Dagger A of FAA Grupo 6 shot down over Pebble Island by Lt Hale RN using Sidewinder. Lt Volponi killed

24 May 1982 Two Dagger A of FAA Grupo 6 shot down north of Pebble Island by Lt Cmdr Auld and a third by Lt D Smith using Sidewinder. Maj Puga and Capt Diaz ejected, but Lt Castillo killed.

8 June 1982 Two A-4B Skyhawks of FAA Grupo 5 shot down over Choiseul Sound by Flt Lt Morgan RAF and a third by Lt D Smith, using Sidewinders. Lt Arraras, Lt Bolzan and Ensign Vazquez killed.

Surface Ship

9 May 1982 Flt Lt Morgan and Lt Cdr Batt dropped 1000 lb bombs at the Spy trawler Narwal, when their original target of Port Stanley airfield was obscured by cloud, one bomb lodged in the trawler's hull before they raked it with 30mm cannon fire. Narwhal sank under tow the following day.

Losses

800 NAS lost two Aircraft and Pilots during the conflict.

4 May 1982

Lt Nick Taylor RN, shot down over Goose Green by radar-controlled, 35mm Oerlikon fire from GADA 601 as he ran in to attack. The aircraft exploded and hit the ground very close to the airstrip. Argentine forces buried Nick with military honours close to where he fell.

23 May 1982 Lt Cmdr 'Gordy' Batt crashed into sea north east of Falklands shortly after take-off, the cause is still unknown.

Gallantry Awards

Lt Cmdr G W J Batt RN was Awarded the Distinguished Service Cross - Posthumous

Lt Cmdr A D Auld RN, Lt Cmdr N W Thomas RN & Flt Lt D H S Morgan RAF were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for their conduct and leadership throughout the campaign.

801

The squadron was formed on 3 April 1933 as part of the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Air Force, with the promotion of No. 401 Flight to squadron status. The squadron was equipped with the Fairey Flycatcher and Hawker Nimrod aboard HMS Hermes. The Flycatchers were replaced in 1934 by the Hawker Osprey and the Nimrods were retired in 1936. The squadron was re-equipped with the Blackburn Skua and Gloster Gladiator in 1939 just before the squadron was transferred to the Admiralty.

Second World War

In January 1940, 801 NAS was based at RNAS Donibristle with the Blackburn Skua, playing a key role in the early part of the war with operations in Norway from HMS Ark Royal. In September, 801 Squadron embarked on HMS Furious for raids on the northerly parts of the Norwegian coast. Following an attack on Trondheim on 22 September, Skua L2942 piloted by Sub Lt Bernard Wigginton with Leading Aircraftman Kenneth King as his gunner, was unable to find their carrier and crash landed in neutral Sweden.

In 1943 880 Naval Air Squadron formed the 30 Naval Fighter Wing on HMS Implacable. In June 1945, Naval Fighter Wings were reformed as Carrier Groups with 801 NAS, 828 NAS, 880 NAS and 1771 NAS becoming the 8th Carrier Air Group. In August 1941 they re-equipped with Sea Hurricanes at RNAS Yeovilton. The squadron deployed to the Mediterranean aboard HMS Argus. then to HMS Eagle. During this deployment 801 NAS claimed thirteen enemy aircraft of various types, for the loss of three Hurricanes and four Fulmars. Two of the Fulmars were brought down by friendly fire.

Korean War

In March 1951, 801 NAS received Hawker Sea Furys and the squadron saw active service during the Korean War flying from HMS Glory. HMS Glory was deployed in theatre from 3 April 1951 to 30 September 1951 and from 8 November 1952 to the s:Korean Armistice Agreement of 27 July 1953. 801 NAS was embarked on the second tour of duty.

Sea Furys could be armed with either two bombs or four rockets and drop tanks in both cases. The aircraft were mainly used in the ground attack role armed with bombs and rockets, but they were also engaged in air-to-air combat with the much faster MiG-15.

A Sea Fury FB.11 launches from HMS Glory in 1951

The squadron suffered seven casualties.

1960s to 1980s

On 18 March 1962, 801 squadron was reformed at Lossiemouth in the strike role with Buccaneers. In July 1962 they embarked on HMS Victorious (10 aircraft) for the Far East. The squadron subsequently received the 1967 Boyd Trophy, an annual award for the best squadron in the Fleet Air Arm, for its efforts in bringing the Buccaneer into service.

801 transferred to HMS Hermes (7 aircraft) in 1968 for a further spell in Eastern waters. In March 1969 the ship returned home to spend the next year in Home and Mediterranean waters. The squadron eventually disbanded at Lossiemouth on the 21st of July 1970.

In January 1981, the squadron re-equipped with the Sea Harrier FRS.1 at RNAS Yeovilton.

Falklands War

The squadron operated the Sea Harrier FRS.1 aboard HMS Invincible during the Falklands War under the command of Commander Nigel "Sharkey" Ward. The Squadron was supplemented by five pilots from 899 NAS.

801 NAS Pilots

Lt Cdrs Nigel 'Sharkey' Ward (CO), Doug Hamilton

Lts Charlie Cantan, Alan Curtis (KIA), Brian Haigh, Steve Thomas and Flt Lt Ian Mortimer

899 NAS Pilots

Lt Cdrs Robin Kent, John Eyton-Jones (KIA) and Mike Broadwater.

Flt Lt Paul Barton and Lt Mike Watson.

From an air combat perspective, 801 Squadron were effective to the extent of shooting down eight Argentine aircraft

1 May 1982 - A Mirage III of FAA Grupo 8 shot down north of West Falkland using a Sidewinder, Argentine pilot ejected.

1 May 1982 - A Mirage III of FAA Grupo 8 damaged in same incident north of West Falkland using a Sidewinder. The Mirage was then shot down over Stanley by Argentine AA defences killing the pilot.

1 May 1982 - A Canberra B62 of FAA Grupo 2 was shot down north of Falklands using a Sidewinder. The Argentine pilots ejected but were not rescued.

21 May 1982 - A Pucará of FAA Grupo 3 was shot down near Darwin by Cmdr Sharky Ward RN in one of three Sea Harriers using 30 mm cannon fire, the pilot ejected from the aircraft at about 40 ft above the ground, he survived and walked back to Goose Green.

21 May 1982 - Three Dagger A's of FAA Grupo 6 were shot down north of Port Howard, West Falkland using Sidewinders, all three Argentine pilots successfully eject.

1 June 1982 - A C-130E Hercules of FAA Transport Grupo 1 was shot down 50 miles North of Pebble Island by Cmdr Sharky Ward RN using two AIM-9 Sidewinders and cannon. The crew of seven were killed.

Losses

801 NAS lost four aircraft and two pilots during the conflict.

6 May 1982 - Two aircraft collided in bad weather while flying a night sortie south east of East Falkland, investigating a radar contact close to the burnt-out wreck of HMS Sheffield. Both pilots were killed and no trace of either aircraft found.

29 May 1982 - A Sea Harrier was being made ready for take-off, and slid off the deck when HMS Invincible turned sharply into the wind. The pilot ejected, and was picked up.

1 June 1982 - One aircraft was shot down while on an armed recce by a Roland Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) to the south of Port Stanley, by GADA 601. The pilot ejected and was rescued by a Sea King from 820 NAS after nine hours in the water.

Gallantry Awards

Cmdr N D Ward and Lt S R Thomas RN were each awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for their conduct and leadership throughout the campaign.

Decommissioning

On Tuesday 28 March 2006 a ceremony was held at RNAS Yeovilton, with Cdr A J W Rae RN as the last Sea Harrier Sqn CO, to mark the withdrawal from service of the Royal Navy’s Sea Harrier FA2s. The final Sea Harrier was withdrawn from service on 31 March 2006 at RNAS Yeovilton and the Squadron disbanded. Prior to decommissioning, all aircraft adopted the omega symbol on their tail-fin in recognition of 801 NAS being the last operators of an all-British fixed-wing fighter aircraft. This harks back to the use of this symbol by 892 Naval Air Squadron, whose McDonnell Douglas Phantom FG.1s were the last conventional fixed-wing aircraft used by the Fleet Air Arm.

801 NAS was due to recommission in March 2007, under the command of Cdr K Seymour RN, to operate the Harrier GR7 and GR9 from RAF Cottesmore. However due to lack of manpower all former 801 and 800 NAS (their sister Squadron) personnel formed a "Naval Strike Wing" (NSW) within RAF Cottesmore, thus severing all remaining ties to their former home at RNAS Yeovilton. On 1 April 2010, NSW reverted to the identity of 800 Naval Air Squadron 

809

Formed in January 1941 at St Merryn with 12 Fairey Fulmars, the squadron embarked in HMS Victorious in July 1941. At first involved in operations against Petsamo and Bodř, and then the convoys to North Russia, Victorious and her air group fought in the Mediterranean from July 1942, including participating in Operation Pedestal.

After being trained in army co-operation duties at Sawbridge, 809 re-embarked in Victorious in October 1943 and conducted tactical reconnaissance for the North African landings of Operation Torch. After being re-equipped with the Seafire IIc, the squadron provided cover for Operation Avalanche, the allied landings at Salerno.

The squadron flew Supermarine Seafires off HMS Stalker during 1944, including landing detachments in North Africa and Italy between May and July. Stalker and 809 formed part of Task Force 88 covering the Operation Dragoon landings in Southern France in August 1944.  In November 1944 the squadron transferred to HMS Attacker, rejoining Stalker in March 1945, bound for the Eastern Fleet at Ceylon.

The final days of World War II saw 809 providing fighter cover for Operation Dracula, the re-occupation of Rangoon, then in June operations in Malaya and Sumatra. The ship subsequently gave cover for Operation Zipper, the re-occupation of Malaya after VJ-day.

Post-WWII

Between May 1954 and August 1959 the squadron operated De Havilland Sea Venoms, including active service during the Suez Crisis in 1956.

Cold War

809 NAS re-formed on 15 January 1963 as the second frontline Blackburn Buccaneer S Mk1 sqn (after 801 NAS) and was formed using aircraft and crews from the recently disbanded 700Z NAS (the Buccaneer S1 trials and training unit) under the command of 700Z's commanding officer, commander 'Spiv' Leahy. The squadron was tasked with continuing 700Z's duties and became the Buccaneer Headquarters squadron. The aircraft at the time were painted in 'anti flash' white with toned-down markings because of the Buccaneer's nuclear role, with the squadron badge of a Phoenix on the sides of the jet intakes. By 1965 the Buccaneer force had switched to the standard Fleet Air Arm finish of Dark Sea Gray upper surfaces and white undersides, and the squadron badge was moved to the tail. In April 1965 809 NAS disbanded again and its role was taken over by 736 NAS at RNAS Lossiemouth.

809 re-formed in 1966 under the command of Lt Cdr Lyn Middleton and was now equipped with the Rolls-Royce Spey-powered Buccaneer S Mk2. Royal Navy Buccaneers were now being painted Dark Sea Grey overall with all markings other than roundels in either light grey or light blue to reduce visibility. 809 embarked in HMS Hermes with six aircraft for the next two years, then from 1968 were shore-based again at Lossiemouth, during which time they formed a display team and attended many air shows.

In 1970, having increased its complement to 14 Buccaneer S2s, 809 embarked in HMS Ark Royal and, from 1972 onward, became the last Royal Navy Buccaneer squadron following the disbandment of 800 Naval Air Squadron. In 1972, Ark Royal and 809 RNAS were despatched "with haste" from the North Atlantic to 'show presence' over British Honduras, now Belize, in the face of neighbouring Guatemalan threats to invade and 'take back Belice' which they viewed as their own. Steaming hard at 27 knots, and when eventually off Bermuda, two Buccaneers were launched along with two more 'buddy tanker' versions to make one of the longest journeys of its type. In a six hour round trip the two Buccaneers 'showed presence' over Belize and made the Guatemalan government, with its P51D Mustangs and limited ground forces, hesitate long enough for other events to intervene. Later the squadron transferred its home base from RNAS Lossiemouth (which was being transferred to RAF control, later becoming the home base of the last RAF Buccaneer sqns) to RAF Honington. 809 NAS continued to alternate between RAF Honington and HMS Ark Royal until November 1978, when after flying off the carrier for the last time in the Mediterranean, the squadron flew direct to RAF St Athan, where the aircraft were formally handed over to the RAF. 809 squadron was officially disbanded at HMS Daedalus on the 13 December 1978, and the aircraft were used to form 216 squadron in 1979.

Falklands War

During the Falklands War of 1982, the Fleet Air Arm only had three Sea Harrier squadrons, 800 and 801 (with five aircraft each for frontline operations from HMS Hermes and HMS Invincible) and 899 NAS (with around twelve Sea Harriers operating as the headquarters and training squadron). At the outbreak of war, 899 sent three aircraft to join 801 aboard HMS Invincible and seven aircraft to join 800 aboard HMS Hermes. These aircraft sailed with the Task Force whilst the remains of 899 set about bringing the remaining Sea Harriers in store or on other duties into operational use.

It was planned to form a third frontline sqn with ten Sea Harriers, but only eight could be brought together initially. These aircraft were painted a lighter low visibility grey than the rest of the Sea Harrier fleet, and were then issued to the reformed 809 NAS, under Lt Cdr Tim Gedge, which were transported south on the ill-fated Atlantic Conveyor. After arriving with the Task force, the aircraft and pilots were split between the two carriers and were absorbed by their sqns, as 899's aircraft had been earlier. After the ceasefire, 809 re-formed as a single unit and returned to the UK aboard Hermes, where after a very short break they embarked aboard the newly completed HMS Illustrious and returned to the South Atlantic, remaining on station until relieved by RAF F-4M Phantom FGR2s of 29 Squadron now based at Port Stanley Airport. Illustrious returned home in December, and 809 NAS finally disbanded on 17 December 1982.

 

899

899 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) was formed on 15 December 1942 at Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS) Hatston, with Seafire IIc aircraft and six pilots detached from 880 Squadron. The five clouds on the squadron's crest represent the five original pilots surrounding the Commanding Officer's mailed fist. The squadron embarked on HMS Indomitable in March 1943, and provided fighter cover for the Sicily landings in July of that year, with a brief pause at RAF North Front (Gibraltar) when the ship was torpedoed. By September it was embarked on HMS Hunter and supported the Allied landings at Salerno. In October the squadron had returned to the UK - initially Ballyhalbert in Northern Ireland but later Belfast, where its strength was increased over the next few months to twenty-six aircraft, many of which were ex-RAF Spitfire VBs until Seafire LIII deliveries replaced the RAF airframes.

The squadron's next major action was in August 1944, supporting the Allied landings in the South of France (Operation Dragoon), embarked on HMS Khedive. The following months were spent on reconnaissance and bombing missions against shipping and shore targets in the Aegean before HMS Khedive returned to the UK in October and 899 disembarked to Long Kesh, Northern Ireland (now an infamous prison of course). In February 1945 the squadron joined the Assault carrier HMS Chaser for service in the Pacific theatre. However, a shortage of Seafire pilots resulted in 899 transferring some of its pilots to 887 and 894 Squadrons on HMS Indefatigable.

In February 1945 899 embarked on HMS Chaser with twenty-four Seafire LIII, and subsequently disembarked at Schofield, Australia in April, where it operated from RAAF Schofield as an Operational Training Unit, teaching ex-RAAF Spitfire pilots to deck-land Seafires, and forming the basis for the modern-day flying element of the Australian Navy. The squadron disbanded at Schofield on 27 September 1945.

899 reformed on 7 November 1955 with twelve Seahawk FGA6 jets at RNAS Brawdy. After an intensive work up the squadron embarked on HMS Eagle on 16 April 1956. HMS Eagle sailed for the Mediterranean and in October her air group were heavily involved in Operation Musketeer - the Suez Campaign. The squadron flew 165 ground attack sorties without loss, and returned to the UK with Eagle in January 1957. On 3 January 897 and 899 Squadrons flew back to RNAS Brawdy, where both were disbanded two days later.

899 next recommissioned at RNAS Yeovilton on 1 February 1961 with five Sea Vixen FAW1s, the first British naval aircraft to be fully armed with guided weapons (Firestreak missiles) instead of guns. The squadron became the Sea Vixen HQ Squadron, responsible for evaluating tactics and equipment. It was involved with in-flight refuelling trials using the 'buddy' pack, demonstrating this at the 1961 and 1962 SBAC displays at Farnborough. In February of 1964 the squadron began to take delivery of the Sea Vixen FAW2, a more capable aircraft with increased fuel stowage and the more effective Red Top missiles. In June 1964 the squadron regained front-line status, becoming the Sea Vixen FAW2 Intensive Flying Trials Unit (IFTU), and in December the squadron, now up to fourteen aircraft, embarked on HMS Eagle and sailed for the Far East.

After returning to the UK in May 1965, HMS Eagle again sailed for the Far East on 25 August. 899 Squadron aircraft were involved in the Rhodesian (now Zimbabwe) UDI crisis of November 1965, with Eagle's air group providing air cover during the Biera Patrol blockade, remaining at sea for a record seventy-two days.

In 1967, Eagle covered the British withdrawal from Aden and a Sea Vixen of 899 was the last aircraft to leave, carrying the British flag. The squadron remained part of HMS Eagle's air group until it was disbanded once more in February 1972, after the then-government decided that Britain no longer needed aircraft carriers. The Sea Vixens had many years of life left to them but were mostly scrapped in short order.

The Sea Harrier has been in service with 899 NAS since 1980, when they reformed, taking over from 700(A) Flight who worked up the type for FAA service. In 1982 the squadron took part in Operation Corporate, the campaign to recapture the Falkland Islands, and normal squadron operations virtually ceased. As the Headquarters Unit 899 provided five pilots each to 800 and 801 Squadrons, with some aircraft. 899 also provided the core of the short-lived 809 Squadron when it commissioned in April 1982.

The squadron returned to normal in August 1982. As the Sea Harrier training squadron 899 also operated the two-seat Harrier T4N trainer, which had no radar and lacked much FRS1 instrumentation, and through FRADU, used three Blue Fox equipped Hunter T8Ms as radar trainers. The upgraded Sea Harrier FA2 was first flown by the OEU (Operational Evaluation Unit) in June 1993, which although initially based at Boscombe Down, was an offshoot of the squadron. The OEU rejoined the squadron at Yeovilton in January 1994 and the squadron continued to convert to the new aircraft. In October and November of the same year a detachment of four 899 OEU aircraft joined 800 NAS on HMS Invincible in the Adriatic, for operations in support of British and United Nations ground forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The introduction of the Sea Harrier FA2 also required an updated trainer, and the T4Ns were upgraded to T8s, the first of which was delivered in May 1995. These aircraft are not fitted with radar, but have a cockpit layout more representative of the FA2. Since 1993 899 NAS has trained pilots and engineers to fly and maintain the Sea Harrier FA2.

With the FA2 upgrade the SHAR became an even more formidable opponent, regularly wiping the floor with more advanced designs not subjected to the compromises forced upon the Harrier - including MiG-29s and F-15s. Lack of investment meant the upgrade wasn't anywhere near as impressive as the GR5/7 the RAF received, and that continued lack meant that the SHAR has become a little tired - less than ideal in 'hot and high' conditions (RAF Harriers have significantly more capable engines to deal with this) and ever more difficult to maintain. Still, some FA2 airframes are only ten years old - or younger (the last was delivered in January 1999) - and retiring an aircraft with so much life left to it harks back to the 1950s, when new variants were introduced every year.

At Yeovilton on 23 March 2005 899 NAS held its disbandment ceremony (officially the disbandment is on 31 March, but Easter leave fell before that). With squadron personnel forming up into divisions on the parade ground in front of the hangars, the Royal Marines band provided the music and four Sea Harriers provided the jet noise. Two FA2s and two T8s took to the air for a final four-ship flypast, followed up by a selection of classic jets representing past types operated by the Squadron. These were the Royal Navy Historic Flight's Sea Hawk FGA6, de Havilland Aviation's 'Red Bull' Sea Vixen D3 (this particular one being an ex-899 airframe) and Jonathon Whaley's Hunter F58 'Miss Demeanour' (representing a T8M, and retaining the 899 NAS winged fist marking on her tail).

After the flypast the four Sea Harriers hovered in front of the parade ground, and bowed to the assembled dignitaries before they landed, leaving the air clear for a further flypast made up of the classic jets and a Royal Navy Hawk T1 - a unique formation