History of 801 Squadron

No 801 Squadron

Formed on 3 April 1933 by raising No 401(Fleet Fighter) Flight to squadron status, equipped with three Flycatchers and six Nimrods aboard HMS Furious. The carrier and squadron operated in both home and Mediterranean waters. Ospreys replaced the Flycatchers in 1934 and Nimrods left in 1936. Skuas and Sea Gladiators arrived in 1939 and at this time the squadron was earmarked as a deck landing training unit aboard HMS Courageous, but the hand over of the FAA to the Admiralty prevented this as the squadron was immediately reclassified as a second line unit and re-numbered No 769.

801 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) was a Fleet Air Arm squadron of the Royal Navy formed in 1933 which fought in World War II, the Korean War and the Falklands War.

On the 9th March 2007, 801 and 800 Naval Air Squadron combined to form the Naval Strike Wing (NSW), effectively organised as a single unit. Part of Joint Force Harrier and based at RAF Cottesmore in Rutland, NSW operates Harrier GR7 and GR9 aircraft in the Close Air Support(CAS) role and is the Royal Navy's only front line fast jet squadron.

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 ceasefire on 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. The squadron suffered seven casualties.

1960s to 1980s

On the 18th of 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 eight Sea Harrier FRS.1s 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 held at RNAS Yeovilton 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 have now formed a "Naval Strike Wing" within RAF Cottesmore, thus severing all remaining ties to their former home at RNAS Yeovilton.

Aircraft flown during its lifespan, 801 Squadron has flown ten different aircraft types:
BAE Sea Harrier
Blackburn Buccaneer
Sea Hurricanes
Blackburn Skua
Blackburn Roc
Fairey Fulmar
Sea Gladiator
Hawker Nimrod
Hawker Sea Fury
Hawker Sea Hawk

 

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This webpage was updated 25th January 2019