847 NAS personnel complete final Afghanistan tour
The final tour of duty in Afghanistan by the Commando Helicopter Force fliers of 847 Naval Air Squadron ended. The Lynx men and women have completed their fourth and final stint in Helmand, providing cover for air and ground forces since January. Just like their Royal Marines comrades on the ground, the mission of the Royal Navy’s commando fliers is also complete as the men and women of 847 Naval Air Squadron return home from Afghanistan.
The fourth and final deployment by the Lynx fliers – based at RNAS Yeovilton in Somerset – ended on Wednesday 22 May after a four-month tour of duty acting as the ‘eyes in the skies’ both of ground forces and RAF Chinook and Merlin helicopters. 847 deployed to Afghanistan in January after a two-year break from the troubled land, this time flying Lynx Mk9As.
As well as lacking the distinctive skids of Lynx previously flown by the squadron, the Mk9A has more powerful engines – the same as fitted to the successor Wildcats which are replacing them – and is armed with a .5 calibre machine-gun. The missions they have been flying have ranged from escorting RAF helicopters around Helmand and acting as the airborne eyes of international and Afghan troops and security forces when conducting patrols outside operating bases. To meet those demands, the squadron’s engineers and technicians ‘turned-to’ for 103 shifts and put in 10,500 man hours of work on the helicopters. The result? A serviceability rate over 80 per cent – and over 90 per cent in the final month of the deployment – and 650 hours flown by the squadron.
All that effort has been sustained by 80 litres of milk for tea/coffee and 450 meals each – some personnel managed more – with 900 hours’ sleep to recover. Collectively, the squadron has lost 110kgs – 240lbs – thanks to various fitness regimes, with one engineer cycling 1,300 miles to keep in shape. This detachment has seen weather comparable to the cold temperatures of Norway and, more recently, mid-30s Celsius. Personnel also struggled with a tropical storm which led to a 5in flood sweeping through the aircraft hangar, regular sandstorms and some of the highest gusts of winds ever recorded in Helmand during the final days of their deployment.
847’s Commanding Officer Lt Col Nick Venn RM said his men and women left Afghanistan having forged “an enviable reputation” with all the units they had worked with since January – and having achieved “some real operational successes”. He said;
"This tour has been an exceptionally busy one in which the squadron has made a very positive contribution to operations in Helmand – a contribution that is universally recognised out here. The fantastic work rate and innovation of the engineering team has ensured that, despite only a small pool of aircraft, we have been able to ‘punch above our weight’, consistently ensuring that we always have aircraft ready to meet operational demands. In no small part, the work of the squadron has also contributed directly to helping create the secure environment that the Afghans need as they move towards effective self-governance and security; the same secure environment that will allow the UK to leave Afghanistan in due course.”
Having handed over duties to the Army Air Corps’ 661 Sqn, 847 got back to RAF Brize Norton on 23 May, before personnel were bussed down to Yeovilton for reunions with loved ones. It was an extremely emotional occasion for the families and friends of the service men and women of 847 NAS as they watched them march proudly into their aircraft hangar at Yeovilton. Whilst the aircraft hangar was festooned with bunting and welcome home banners, the centre of attention of the return was 6 month old Grace Bisgrove the daughter of Petty Officer Christian Bisgrove and wife Victoria Cox who after an emotional greeting said, “It is so nice to have him home we have so much to catch up on and it’s such a relief that he’s home and safe”.
After leave, 847 will begin the conversion process as they get to grips with the Wildcat which is replacing all the Fleet Air Arm and Army’s Lynx in the coming years; the squadron is the first front-line unit to get its hands on the new helicopter.