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Swordfish W5856 July 2015 (L Howard)
Swordfish W5856 July 2015


Published: 12 Aug 2015

The historic Royal Navy Swordfish will lead the flypast over Londonon 15 August 2015 to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of Victory over Japan Day (VJ Day) and the end of the Second World War. 

Swordfish W5856 is the oldest surviving Swordfish Mk 1 in the world, and is a living memorial to all who those have flown aircraft from ships at sea with the Royal Navy and Fleet Air Arm over the past 100 years.

The Swordfish played a crucial role protecting convoys from U-boat attack in theBattleof the Atlantic, sunk the Italian fleet atTarantoand crippled the mightyBismarckin theNorthern Atlanticin 1941.

Flying in her original 820 Naval Air Squadron paint scheme at the time of the attack on the Bismarck, Swordfish W5856 will fly over Horse Guards Parade at 2.00 pm in tribute to the sacrifice made by thousands of Allied soldiers, sailors and airmen in World War Two and particularly those who served in the ‘forgotten’ British Pacific Fleet that played a major role in the defeat of Japan at the end of the war.

Lieutenant Simon Wilson is the Pilot who will be flying the aircraft. Lt Wilson is a Qualified Helicopter Instructor (QHI) with 825 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) at Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS) Yeovilton so uniquely he has the privilege of concurrently flying the newest as well as the oldest aircraft in Royal Naval Service. Lt Wilson said:

“The Swordfish epitomises the ethos and spirit of the Fleet Air Arm and the important part played by naval aircraft in the history of our country and it is an honour flying her on such a significant anniversary. With each passing year, fewer veterans of the Second World War remain amongst us. Keeping her flying ensures that all that they gave in the service of their country is not only recognised, but kept alive and passed on to future generations. The history of naval aviation lives on too. Swordfish W5856 is a direct link from the Bismarck, to 820 Naval Air Squadron flying Avengers in the Pacific campaign, right up to the present day 820 Squadron, which flies Merlin helicopters worldwide. It’s very emotional and poignant representing such a rich heritage.”     

Fleet Air Arm Squadrons flying from aircraft carriers made a huge contribution to the defeat ofJapanin the final months of the war. Describing how it felt to be in the thick of the fighting, months after Victory inEuropehad been declared, veteran Firefly pilot, Donald Randle from Northleach, Gloucestershire said:

“I was in 1771 Squadron in HMS Implacable at the time. We were flying intensive strikes on the Japanese mainland, with as many as eight Fireflies and twelve Seafires in a single strike. Anti-aircraft fire was fierce. Our sister carrier HMS Indefatigable was also coming under Kamikaze attacks. We were preparing to attack some of the most heavily defended targets in Tokyo when the Japanese surrendered. I wasn’t looking forward to dodging balloon cables as well - and am very glad we didn’t have to!”

“The only British aircraft to attack Japan were operated by the Royal Navy from the decks of aircraft carriers,” continued Donald. “I will feel extremely proud watching the Swordfish lead the flypast. She symbolises our great carrier aviation heritage. I will also think of my brother, who had a terrible war in Burma.” 

Other still surviving veterans of 820 Naval Air Squadron (flying Avengers), 887 and 894 Squadrons (flying Seafires) and 1772 (flying Fireflies) from HMS Indefatigable were in action against the Japanese right up to the end of the war, and beyond that, they were involved in ‘mercy missions’ dropping desperately needed supplies on prisoner of war camps on mainland Japan. Many did not return to theUKuntil months later.

Former Petty Officer, Norman (Dicky) Richardson (92) from Weybridge, Surrey, a Fleet Air Arm Air Gunner in 849 Naval Air Squadron in HMS Victorious, fought continuously for the last two years of the war without a single stand-down.Normansaid:   

“The Fleet Air Arm earned its place in history with the British Pacific Fleet. I operated the turret gun in Avengers and flew on both thePalembangraids on Japanese oil fields in 1945. They were the biggest raids the Fleet Air Arm has ever done. The Japanese fighters were waiting for us the second time. It was our second major strike operation in five days. I was shot down offSumatra.”

“Our losses were heavy that day” continued Norman. “Enemy action cost six Avengers, two Corsairs and a Firefly. I was rescued by the destroyer HMS Whelp. ‘Prince Philip of Greece’ was the second in command and he had a joke with me at the Westminster Field of Remembrance last November saying he remembered fishing me out of the drink!” 


The Swordfish will fly in formation with a Dakota and Hurricane from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and a current RAF Typhoon.

The Swordfish is based with the Royal Navy Historic Flight (RNHF) at RNAS Yeovilton,Somersetand the other crew members in the aircraft will be Lieutenant Commander Mark Jameson Royal Navy and Chief Petty Officer Andy Vanes.

Fleet Air Arm veterans of The British Pacific Fleet, Donald Randle who flew the Firefly, Norman Richardson, an air gunner in the Avenger and John Maybank RNZNVR, who flew Corsairs, can be available for interview on request email [email protected] or call 01935 849200 or 07989836048.


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