820 NAS birthday
820 Naval Air Squadron celebrated its birthday in style with a party at Pendennis Castle near Falmouth in Cornwall, where past and present comrades swapped memories from over 80 years of Fleet Air Arm History.
The Squadron has the proud distinction of being the oldest in the Fleet Air Arm. Formed in April 1933 it was equipped with Fairey III reconnaissance bi-planes used for spotter duties with the Fleet. Over the 80 years it has operated over 21 different naval aircraft including 11 fixed wing and 10 helicopter types and they will soon add another when they become the first Frontline Squadron to fly the Merlin HM Mk2.
The Second World War proved to be its most productive when it won 11 of its 12 battle honours serving across the globe with some of the Royal Navy’s legendary war- time Carriers, from Norway to the Far East and Japan.
One battle honour that sticks out amongst so many is 'Bismarck’. When in 1941 820 NAS’s Swordfish launched off the deck of HMS Ark Royal, to press home an attack on the pride of the German Navy. Two torpedoes hit their target and Bismarck’s steering gear was damaged; allowing a chasing destroyer squadron to finish her off.
Post war, the Squadron disbanded briefly but reformed again in the early 1950’s, re-rolling onto helicopters in December 1957 with Westlands’ Whirlwind’s. The focus was now shifted and long periods embarked followed on exercises and Cold War stand offs with the Soviet Navy, flying Wessex and Sea King on Anti-Submarine missions. Until in 1982 when the Squadron saw action in the Falklands embarked on HMS Invincible and a young Prince Andrew as a Squadron pilot.
The Commanding Officer at the time, Lieutenant Commander Ralph Wykes-Sneyd AFC remembers its important role. “We were there to look after the fleet from surface and Submarine threats. The pace was pretty hectic and the ship was busy, setting a record for the longest period a carrier has spent at sea, 120 days non-stop.”
Now Re-equipped with Merlin HM Mk1, 820 NAS is still operational across the world, recently returning from a tour in the Middle East. But amongst the cake cutting and war stories of today’s celebrations the focus is clearly on the future. Later this year they take delivery of the Merlin HM Mk2 and in 5 years’ time 820 Naval Air Squadron will be the first to embark on the New HMS Queen Elizabeth.