12 NAVY NEWS, OCTOBER 2010 No.9 Always in the vanguard
JUST back from the Mediterranean sun where its Harriers have been carrying out some ‘top bombing’ is one of the legendary names in naval aviation: 800 Naval Air Squadron.
Harding Flame is a fairly regular
Norway ................. 1940-44 Mediterranean ..... 1940-41 Spartivento ................1940 Malta Convoys ..... 1941-42 Bismarck ....................1941 Diego Suárez .............1942 North Africa................1942 Southern France ........1944 Aegean .......................1944 Burma .........................1945 Malaya ........................1945 East Indies .................1945 Korea ..........................1950 Falkland Islands.........1982
Motto: Nunquam non paratus – never unprepared Aircraft: Harrier GR9 Engines: Rolls-Royce Pegasus 105 or 107 turbo fan generating 21,750lbs thrust
exercise run out of RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus which involves jets, close-air support, rockets, bombs – what’s not to like? – as fixed-wing formations practise vital battlefield skills with tactical controllers on the ground (see pages 24-25). The latter is something Fleet Air
Arm Harrier pilots have become quite used to in recent years: with its sister squadron 801, 800 spent most of the second half of the Noughties deployed as the Naval Strike Wing in Afghanistan, a mission which ended in the summer of 2009. The formation of the Strike Wing meant that 800 disappeared off the radar for a few years, but since April this year the squadron has been back, upholding proud traditions which stretch back eight decades. Like most FAA squadrons, 800 has led a varied existence – different roles (fighter and bomber), a myriad of aircraft (the magnificent Buccaneer, Seafire, the
Wing Span: 30ft 4in (9.25m) Length: 46ft 4in (14.1m) Speed: 662mph (1,065 kmh) Ceiling: 50,000ft (15,000m) Rate of climb: 14,715ft per minute (74.8 m/s) Crew: one pilot Combat radius: c.350 miles Weapons: AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missile, AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground missile, CRV-7 rocket pod, Paveway II, Paveway III, enhanced Paveway, general- purpose bombs
legendary Hellcat, Blackburn
and a good smattering of homes (Hatson in the Orkneys, Ford in West Sussex, ‘Lossie’ in Moray and, most recently, RNAS Yeovilton and RAF Cottesmore,
squadron’s due to decamp from the latter to nearby Wittering with the closure of the Rutland airbase). The 800 story begins in the early 1930s aboard HMS Courageous with Hawker Nimrods and Ospreys as a fighter/bomber/observation squadron. By the outbreak of war, 800 had changed aircraft (Skua dive- bombers) and ship (Ark Royal). In company with comrades from
803, those Skuas became the first aircraft to sink a major warship: the German cruiser Königsberg in the Norwegian campaign. 800 would return to Norway later
in the war, supporting the attacks on the battleship Tirpitz. In between the squadron attacked the French fleet at Oran, hunted the Bismarck with HMS Victorious and supported the invasions of Madagascar (Operation Ironclad) and North Africa (Torch). 800’s war ended in the Far East
attacking Japanese targets on land and at sea in Burma. The squadron’s next combat
would also come in the Far East as its Seafires – 800’s last propeller- driven aircraft – supported the Inchon landings in Korea. The jet age began with the
Supermarine Attacker, quickly followed by Sea Hawks and Scimitars and, from the mid-1960s, the Buccaneer (committed famously against the stricken oil tanker Torrey Canyon in 1967).
When HMS Eagle passed into
history in 1972, so too did her associated squadrons. It was 1980 before 800 NAS reappeared with the Sea Harrier which demonstrated its potency two years later in the Falklands (800’s most recent battle honour), destroying more than a dozen Argentinean aircraft. A 24-year association with the
Sea Harrier (FRS1 and later FA2) and Yeovilton ended in April 2004 when 800 stood down. It rematerialised in Cottesmore in 2006 as a bomber squadron operating Harrier GR7s and GR9s.
● Here are the HUD lines... A cockpit view of one 800 NAS Harrier from another over Cyprus Picture: LA(Phot) Luis Holden, 800 NAS
DOWN by the head, but at least with the fi res which killed so many of her crew under control, HMS Saumarez is taken under tow by HMS Volage in one of the earliest fl ashpoints of the Cold War. Our rummage around the photographic archive of the Imperial War Museum this month takes us back to October 22 1946 and an incident which caused a rift between two nations for half a century as the Royal Navy was sucked into the global game of Superpower politics.
HEROES OF THE ROYAL NAVY No.78 – Lt Cdr Hugh Knollys DSC Eleven months later, Knollys was
The focal point of this rift: the narrow waters between the Greek island of Corfu and Albania – the Corfu Channel. Although the war in Europe had been over for 18 months, its legacy remained. The waters of the Adriatic – including the Corfu Channel – had been liberally peppered with mines. Even now, only part of the Corfu Channel was free of mines, a swept channel which in places passed just a few hundred yards from the coast of Albania. International law determined that ships of all nations had the right to use the channel. Communist Albania disagreed. Its coastal batteries had already fired on British cruisers in the
spring of 1946 as they sailed past. The shells missed, but Whitehall was livid. It protested. The Albanians rejected the protests. No ship – merchantman or warship – could sail within three miles of its coast. And so the lines were drawn. On October 22 1946, a force of ships was dispatched to assert the right of freedom of navigation. Unbeknownst, it sailed into a minefield sown by a Yugoslavian warship at the request of its Albanian communist allies. In the lead was HMS Saumarez, a veteran of the sinking of the Scharnhorst, of the battle for Normandy and finally the Far East where she had led an attack on the Japanese cruiser Haguro – and helped sink her in a classic destroyer action. Twelve months later and Saumarez was serving with the Mediterranean Fleet, heading a line of ships including Volage, Mauritius and Leander, north through the Corfu Channel, then northwest through the wider waters of the Bay of Saranda. The passage was almost complete when Saumarez was gripped by a tremendous explosion. The mine tore a 30ft
deep gash in the destroyer, just forward of her bridge. Those crew not vaporised by the blast drowned in its aftermath as the Adriatic rushed in, or were incinerated as fires raged. More than 30 men died instantly; seven more would succumb to their injuries.
On Saumarez’s shattered bridge, navigator Lt Hugh Knollys was slowly coming round after being thrown more than a dozen feet by the blast of the mine.
again flotilla navigation officer, this time in the Far East, helping to orchestrate the destruction of the heavy cruiser Haguro from the operations room of HMS Saumarez. He did so again with remarkable cool, despite the destroyer being hit by the Japanese... the ship’s cat apparently helped him mark positions on the chart. Knollys
Knollys’ brushed off his injuries – “bruised kidneys”, as he told his wife, and cuts to his head – and set about resuming his navigating duties, which meant marking the position of the mine.
Such sangfroid was typical of Knollys who described some of the most gripping incidents in Royal Navy history with wonderful understatement. He had earned his DSC for his deeds in Normandy, safely guiding the 1st Minesweeping Flotilla towards Sword Beach on D-Day so it could clear the way for the subsequent invasion. The mission, he recalled, was “quite taxing”. It was also “100 per cent successful”.
mentioned in dispatches for the Haguro action; it was a distinction which would be repeated in the wake of the Corfu Channel Incident.
(but not the
While those below decks struggled to contain the fires and flooding, the dazed bridge team looked to salvage Saumarez, now drifting towards the Albanian coast – with the constant threat of more mines.
Salvation came in the form of another destroyer, HMS Volage,
attach a tow line to Saumarez. The rescue mission was barely under way when another terrible explosion reverberated around the Corfu Channel. Volage’s bow simply vanished, torn away by another mine. The tow line vanished too.
Not only did Volage not founder, she persisted with the rescue mission. Long after dark that October night, she hauled Saumarez into Corfu Harbour. Saumarez would never sail again. The damage was deemed too great and she was eventually sold for scrapping. An international court ruled Albania was to blame and ordered Tirana to pay compensation. It did not. London seized Albanian assets and broke off diplomatic relations. It took the fall of communism for relations to be restored and for some, though not all, the compensation to be paid. Hugh Knollys recovered from his injuries and remained in the Service for another 11 years with a string of seagoing and shoreside appointments. He became an accomplished artist and illustrator, specialising in marine art and portraits of children. He died in 2006 at the age of 88. ■ THE main image (A 31207) – plus others from the incident... and 9,999,999 others from a century of war and peace – can be viewed or purchased at www. iwmcollections.org.uk
, by emailing photos@IWM.org.uk
, or by phoning 0207 416 5333.
With thanks to Ian Proctor
Facts and figures
Battle Honours s
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