Motto: - Non nobis solum - Not unto us alone

Role: - Search and Rescue

Base: - RNAS Culdrose


771 Naval Air Squadron was formed in 1939 at Lee on Solent as a Fleet Requirements Unit flying a variety of fixed wing aircraft. In 1945 it received the Hoverfly helicopter, making 771 the first Naval Air Squadron to operate helicopters. The Squadron reformed in 1961 as a helicopter trials squadron. Early tasks included pioneering Search and Rescue techniques.

771 Squadron assumed the dedicated Search and Rescue role with the introduction of the Whirlwind HAR 3 and, moved to its present home at RNAS Culdrose in 1974. The Whirlwind was soon replaced by the Wessex and later by the Westland Sea King Mk 5. With the Sea King's greater lifting capacity, longer range and improved avionics, the Squadron assumed a long range, day/night, and all weather SAR capability.

Second World War

The Squadron initially had a northern element (X Flight), and a southern element (Y Flight). 'X' Flight broke away on 28 September 1939 to become 772 Naval Air Squadron. The reshaped 771 NAS was based at RNAS Hatston flying a variety of fixed-wing aircraft, ranging from Supermarine Walruses to Hawker Hurricanes, from airfields across the UK and abroad.

A notable point in 771's wartime history was that they started the chain that led to the sinking of the German battleship Bismarck. The Commanding Officer of HMS Sparrowhawk, Capt Henry Lockhart St John Fancourt, RN, had been ordered to identify and sink the Bismarck at the earliest opportunity. The two squadrons of Albacoress he had did not have sufficient range to attack the battleship whilst in harbour. He was relying on the Royal Air Force to carry out flights over Bergen, and inform the Royal Navy when the Battleship had left port. On 22 May 1941 RAF Coastal Command deemed the weather unsuitable for flight; however, Fancourt volunteered to put together a crew to fly 771's Martin Maryland twin-engined plane to carry out the sortie. Temporary Lieutenant (A) Noel Ernest Goddard, RNVR, at the time the Senior Pilot of 771 NAS, volunteered to pilot the sortie, with his crew of Acting Leading Airman John Walker Armstrong as TAG-WO and Leading Airman J. D. Milne as TAG-AG. The extremely experienced observer Commander Geoffry Alexander Rotherham, at the time the Air Station's XO, stepped up to act as Mission Commander. Goddard flew on instruments at low level over the sea, making landfall on target. Having identified that the ships had sailed already they attempted to radio their discovery back to RAF Coastal Command. However, they did not receive any reply. Rotherham decided to contact the Air Station directly on the Towed Target frequency and also fly directly to HMS Sparrowhawk's forward airfield, Sumburgh, where the Albacores were ready to intercept. Acting on Rotherhams's radio message, the Home Fleet were set to sea and engage the Bismarck and her escorts intercepting her at the Battle of the Denmark Straits. On 16 September 1941 The London Gazette reported the awarding of the following honours: Rotherham received the DSO, Goddard the DSC, and Armstrong the DSM. Goddard went on to Command 771 NAS as a Temporary Lieutenant Commander (A) on 15 October 1941. On 1 July 1942 771 NAS moved to RNAS Twatt to fly more modern aircraft in a similar role.

Post Second World War

In February 1945, 771 received the Sikorsky Hoverfly, making it the first naval air squadron to operate helicopters, which it used until May 1947. After victory in Europe the Fleet moved from Scapa Flow to Portsmouth and the anchorage at Portland. 771 NAS followed south to RNAS Zeals and then to RNAS Lee-on-Solent and RNAS Ford. Here the Squadron flew Miles Martinets, Douglas Bostons, Vought Corsairs, Grumman Wildcats, Airspeed Oxfords, Grumman Hellcats, Supermarine Seafires, North American Harvards, de Havilland Mosquitoes, Hawker Sea Furys, Short Sturgeons, as well as the Hoverfly. The Hoverflies were transferred to 705 Naval Air Squadron as it was formed. During the Defence reductions following the Second World War it was decided that 771 would be disbanded in August 1955 (whilst operating the Avro Anson, de Havilland Sea Hornet, Gloster Meteor, de Havilland Sea Vampire and Fairey Firefly) when it combined with 703 Naval Air Squadron to form 700 Naval Air Squadron.

Helicopter-only squadron

771 NAS reformed in 1961 and assumed the helicopter trials and training roles from 700 NAS with the Westland Whirlwind, Westland Dragonfly, and the Westland Wasp prototype at RNAS Portland. During this time 771 was able to pioneer and develop many Search And Rescue techniques; including helicopter in-flight refueling (HIFR), hi-line transfer, free diver drop and cliff winching techniques. Soon after standing up again, the Squadron gained two Westland Whirlwind HAR.3s and assumed the RNAS Portland SAR commitment. The Squadron was disbanded on 1 December 1964, on being absorbed into 829 Naval Air Squadron.

On 23 June 1967, the squadron reformed with the new primary task of anti-submarine warfare (ASW) Fleet Requirements Unit, in addition to the Portland SAR duty. Nine Whirlwind HAS.7 were used by the Squadron at this time. The Westland Wessex was introduced in 1969 with the Mk 1. This marked the beginning of a long association of the aircraft with the squadron. By 1970, the ASW role had been passed on to 737 Naval Air Squadron, making SAR 771's primary role, a role that has remained to the present day.

The Squadron moved to RNAS Culdrose in September 1974. Six of its Wessex aircraft were left at RNAS Portland, to form the basis of 772 Naval Air Squadron. The Wessex HAS.1 was replaced by the twin turbine-powered Wessex HU.5 in 1979, when it was involved with the 1979 Fastnet race rescues. During the Falklands Conflict all of 771 aircraft were taken for troop transport roles, some went to 722 Naval Air Squadron, but the majority reformed 847 Naval Air Squadron and 848 Naval Air Squadron along with some of 771 NASs aircrew. The remaining crew went either to their old aircraft type, or to new roles in the Lynx or Wasp fleets. Two Wessex Mk.5 from Wroughton were used in August 1982 to form the backbone of 771 NAS as it took the SAR commitment back from the RAF. In January 1983 the Squadron once again operated mixed fleets of rotary and fixed wing aircraft as it absorbed the Station Flight, taking ownership of two Chipmunks and 2 Sea Devons. It operated these until the end of 1989 when the Sea Devon was withdrawn from service. In 1985 the Squadron absorbed 707 Naval Air Squadron's Wessex helicopters when 771 NAS took over Commando Helicopter Training. The Wessex were replaced by Westland Sea King HAS.5s, converted to HAR.5s, in October 1987 as the Squadron assumed a long range, day/night and all weather SAR capability. In July 2001, 771 Squadron assumed the responsibility for Advanced and Operational Flying Training for anti-submarine warfare (ASW) pilots and Observers, as well as the residual Sea King HAS.5 & HAS.6 Pilot Conversion and Refresher Courses.

In its final years the Squadron operated the Sea King HAR.5 in the grey and red colours, with nine permanently stationed at RNAS Culdrose. 771's sister unit, Gannet Flight operates 3 HAR.5s performing a similar role from HMS Gannet on Prestwick Airport. 771's primary role was one of military Search and Rescue, with secondary roles in civilian Search and Rescue, Pilot and Observer refresher training, utility and liaison and ab-initio Pilot Conversion and operational training. To perform these roles, one of the helicopters was on 15 minutes notice to fly during the day, and 45 minutes during the night, with a duty crew on call for 24 hours. This duty was maintained for 365 days of the year, with a second standby aircraft ready to assist should the emergency have demanded it.

It stopped rescue duties on 1 January 2016 and was decommissioned on 22 March 2016. The squadron was responsible for saving over 15,000 lives on more than 9,000 missions.

Ace of Clubs

771s Helicopters feature the unofficial Ace of Clubs Squadron Logo. The origin of this logo is unclear, but it is widely believed to follow a similar pedigree as the Royal Navy Historic Flight Hawker Sea Hawk, wearing 806 NAS's Ace of Diamonds logo. Shortly after the Second World War Squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm often had an in-house display team. Each of the display aircraft were painted with identification marks. Playing card suits were chosen by some Squadrons as they were a neat identification that allows clear hierarchy; the Squadron Commanding Officer would take the Ace card, the XO the King and so on until each aircraft had a value relating to the seniority in the Squadron/display team of that pilot. Today 771 does not assign an aircraft to each pilot, instead operating a pool of aircraft allowing each pilot to fly any helicopter. It was chosen that only the Ace of Clubs would be painted on each of the helicopters in the Squadrons fleet.

Aircraft Equipment Entered Service Left Service
Fairey Swordfish - Swordfish May 1939 Apr 1945
Hawker Henley - Henley III Oct 1939 Aug 1943
Supermarine Walrus - Walrus I Nov 1939 Feb 1940
Blackburn Skua - Skua II Apr 1940 Apr 1943
Blackburn Roc - Roc I Apr 1940 May 1944
Fairey Albacore - Albacore I Nov 1941 ?
Bristol Blenheim - Blenheim I Apr 1941 Jun 1943
Bristol Blenheim - Blenheim IV Apr 1944 May 1945
Gloster Gladiator - Sea Gladiator Dec 1941 Jun 1944
Martin Maryland - Maryland Oct 1940 Sep 1944
Supermarine Walrus - Walrus Mar 1944 Jun 1944
Boulton Paul Defiant - Defiant TT.1 Jun 1942 Aug 1943
Vought SB2U Vindicator - Chesapeake I May 1942 Apr 1944
Percival Proctor - Proctor Ia Aug 1942 Oct 1943
Westland Lysander - Lysander TT.III Jul 1943 Dec 1943
Miles Martinet - Martinet TT.I Aug 1943 Oct 1951
Douglas Havoc - Havoc I Dec 1942 Sep 1944
Douglas Havoc - Boston II Nov 1943 Aug 1944
Douglas Havoc - Boston III Feb 1944 Aug 1944
Hawker Hurricane - Hurricane FB.IIc May 1944 Apr 1945
Supermarine Sea Otter - Sea Otter Apr 1944 Aug 1949
Vought F4U Corsair - Corsair II Sep 1944 Apr 1945
Vought F4U Corsair - Corsair III Dec 1944 Sep 1945
Grumman Wildcat - Wildcat IV Jul 1945 Nov 1945
Grumman Wildcat - Wildcat V Nov 1945 Mar 1946
Grumman Wildcat - Wildcat VI Oct 1945 Mar 1946
Airspeed Oxford - Oxford I Mar 1946 ?
Grumman Hellcat - Hellcat I Sep 1945 ?
Sikorsky R-4 - Hoverfly I Feb 1945 May 1947
Sikorsky R-6 - Hoverfly II Dec 1945 May 1947
Supermarine Seafire - Seafire III Mar 1946 Jan 1947
Supermarine Seafire - Seafire F.15 Nov 1946 Jan 1951
Supermarine Seafire - Seafire F.45 Dec 1947 Sep 1950
Supermarine Seafire - Seafire F.46 May 1947 Dec 1947
Avro Anson - Anson I Apr 1947 Aug 1955
T6 Texan - Harvard T.2B Jan 1948 ?
De Havilland Mosquito - Mosquito FB.6 Jul 1950 Apr 1952
De Havilland Mosquito - Mosquito PR.16 Dec 1948 Aug 1952
De Havilland Mosquito - Mosquito B.25 Aug 1945 May 1947
De Havilland Mosquito - Sea Mosquito TR.33 May 1947 Mar 1950
De Havilland Mosquito - Mosquito PR.34 Nov 1948 Jan 1950
De Havilland Mosquito - Sea Mosquito TR.37 Dec 1948 Jul 1949
De Havilland Mosquito - Mosquito TT.39 Jan 1950 Jan 1952
De Havilland Hornet - Sea Hornet FR.20 May 1950 Jun 1950
De Havilland Hornet - Sea Hornet NF.21 Jan 1950 Oct 1952
Hawker Sea Fury - Sea Fury T.20 Jul 1950 Dec 1950
Gloster Meteor - Meteor T.7 May 1950 Mar 1955
De Havilland Vampire - Sea Vampire F.20 Mar 1952 Aug 1955
De Havilland Vampire - Sea Vampire F.21 Jan 1951 Sep 1951
Short Sturgeon - Sturgeon TT.2 Sep 1950 Nov 1952
Fairey Firefly - Firefly FR.1 Jan 1950 Jul 1955
Fairey Firefly - Firefly T.1 Jul 1950 ?
Fairey Firefly - Firefly T.2 Jul 1950 Aug 1952
Fairey Firefly - Firefly TT.4 Nov 1951 Aug 1955
Fairey Firefly - Firefly TT.5 Jun 1952 ?
Fairey Firefly - Firefly AS.6 Oct 1950 Dec 1953
Westland Dragonfly - Dragonfly HR.5 Jul 1961 Oct 1963
Westland Wasp - Wasp P-531 O/N Jul 1961 Dec 1964
Westland Wasp - Wasp HAS.1 Nov 1963 Dec 1964
Westland Whirlwind (helicopter) - Whirlwind HAR.1 Jul 1961 Jul 1961
Westland Whirlwind (helicopter) - Whirlwind HAR.3 Oct 1961 Mar 1964
Westland Whirlwind (helicopter) - Whirlwind HAS.7 Aug 1962 Jan 1965
Westland Whirlwind (helicopter) - Whirlwind HAS.7 (2nd service period) Jun 1967 Jan 1970
Westland Whirlwind (helicopter) - Whirlwind HAS.22 Jul 1961 Nov 1961
Westland Wessex - Wessex HAS.1 Dec 1963 Dec 1963
Westland Wessex - Wessex HAS.1(2nd service period) Dec 1969 Jul 1979
Westland Wessex - Wessex HU.5 Mar 1979 Mar 1988
De Havilland Chipmunk - Chipmunk T.10 Jan 1983 Mar 1993
De Havilland Dove - Sea Devon C.20 Jan 1983 Dec 1989
Westland Sea King - Sea King HAR.5 Oct 1987 Mar 2016


Swordfish, Henley, Walrus, Skua, Roc, Albacore, Blenheim, Sea Gladiator, Maryland, Defiant, Chesapeake, Proctor, Lysander, Martinet, Havoc, Boston, Hurricane, Sea Otter, Corsair, Wildcat, Oxford, Hellcat, Hoverfly, Hoverfly, Seafire, Anson, Harvard, Mosquito, Sea Mosquito, Sea Hornet, Sea Fury, Meteor, Sea Vampire, Sturgeon, Firefly, Dragonfly, Wasp, Wessex, Chipmunk, Sea Devon, Sea King



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This webpage was updated 11th June 2021