28 NAVY NEWS, FEBRUARY 2001
vy new s .co.uk
845 Squadron returns from eight years of deadly terrain, killer weather, being shot at - and saving lives
• An 845 Sea King lands in the snow during the early, most difficult days when the squadron was supporting the UN Protection Force.
ONE OF the longest deploy- ments of any Fleet Air Arm unit ended on January 1 when Sea King helicopters of 845 Naval Air Squadron withdrew from former Yugoslavia. The two remaining aircraft of the original four-strong detachment returned to RN air station Yeovilton to end a continuous, eight-year casualty evacuation and humanitarian task in the dangerous skies of Bosnia and Croatia. Here 845's CO, Lt Cdr Jock Gordon, tells the story of the squadron's years of living dangerously.
• Lt Cdr Gordon, welcomed home by his daughters Millie (two) and llona (Six).
Picture: Western Gazette
former Republic of Yugo- slavia started in April 1992
HE WAR that was to bring about the breakdown of the
dramatic change in the appearance of our Sea King helicopters. Missile-launch and radar detectors, as well as chaff and flare release systems and armour-plated seats were fitted.
rapidly. On October 23 the British Government decided that 845 Naval Air Squadron should prepare to deploy four aircraft and over 100 personnel to the country to support the British Army in its UN peace-keeping role - codenamed Operation Grapple. The following three weeks saw a
and escalated Enhanced external lighting,
compatible with night-vision gog- gles worn by the aircrew, were fit- ted to upgrade the aircraft's night- flying capability. However, the most noticeable change was an air- craft rcspray from jungle green to UN white. On November II, 845 embarked
four aircraft, 37 vehicles and all the associated equipment and person- nel in RFA Argus and set out for Split on the coast of Croatia. On arrival it was agreed that the squadron would operate alongside Croatian and French helicopters at an old seaplane station - Divuljc Barracks - ten miles along the coast from Split. Basic DIY was carried out on
task was defined as casualty evacu- ation of UN personnel in Croatia or Bosnia. It was not without its hazards.
the ransacked accommodation block which became known as the Split Sheraton. From the outset our operational
dictable and highly ehangeahle, particularly in winter. Crews had to battle through snow storms, low cloud, poor visibility and turbulent conditions to get casualties to hos- pital.
The weather in Bosnia is unpre-
The terrain is also unforgiving - mountain ranges with their tops shrouded in cloud meant aircrews were forced to stick to flying in val- leys, and had to keep a sharp eye for lethal electricity wires strung across the valley and not marked on the maps.
flown at night, without the option of being able to climb to a safe alti- tude - fatal icing could occur in cloud - or being able to land in a field due to the probability of it being heavily mined. If the hazards of marginal
Often these missions had to be
Sarajevo. CPO Dodds was hit in the chest by shrapnel, but escaped serious injury thanks to his flak jacket.
fire while lifting from
machine-gun fire, PO Byrne nar- rowly being missed when a bullet passed through the cabin. There were many other times when air- craft were damaged by gunfire. Luckily no one was injured, and the squadron engineers always worked around the clock to get the aircraft flying again as soon as possible. In addition to its primary role,
month later Lt Cdr Fox and his crew were again the targets for
845 became increasingly involved in humanitarian missions. One such, Operation Angel, entailed flying into besieged enclaves in eastern Bosnia to evacuate injured refugees and UN personnel from the ever-tightening grip of the Bosnian Serb army.
THE RIGHT STEP for the FUTURE
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• All four of 845's Sea Kings fly over Bosnia in their IFOR livery on the fourth anniver- sary of the squadron's deploy- ment in 1996. Two years later the squadron's strength in the region was reduced to two air- craft and about 40 personnel serving on a rotational basis.
After one such mission in December 1993, members of 845 were honoured for their courage when they flew into Srebrenica to recover UN personnel. At the time the surrounded town was under heavy attack by mortar fire.
Lt (now Lt Cdr) Kevin Smith awarded
Service in the Air and Lt Jim Cobbett was awarded the Joint Commander's Commendation.
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• An 845 aircraft lifts an artillery piece into position - just one of the hundreds of tasks the squadron was called on to perform in its support role for NATO land forces in the Balkans.
the Queen's for
Valuable For their actions in similar situa-
weather and a harsh environment were not enough, crews also had to contend with being fired upon by hostile troops. On August H), 1994, Lt Cdr Ric Fox, Lt Darren Manscr and CPOACMN Dodds came under
tions. Lt Cdrs Neil Thompson and Ric Fox gained the Queen's Commendation for Bravery in the Air
Commander's and the Commendation Joint Force
Peace Agreement was signed and UNPROFOR - UN Protection Force - was replaced by the NATO-led Implementation Force (IFOR) to ensure that the peace was observed by all sides. At this time our aircraft acquired
to Lt Cdrs George Wallace and John Snowball, and to Army Air Corps officers Capt Andy Iceton and Maj David Mayer who were attached to the squadron at the time. Lt Cdrs David Lord, Philip Doyne-Ditmus and Michael Abbey were made MBEs, and Lt Tim Kelly received a Mention in Despatches. In December 1995 the Dayton
respectively. Air Force Crosses were awarded
a stripy camouflage scheme - and since then the only alteration in their livery until they came home was the change in lettering on their fuselage from IFOR to SFOR - Stabilisation Force. Throughout our
deployment, the longest of any British unit in the Balkans, 845 has had its share of VIP visitors includ- ing the Prince of Wales, the Princess Royal, the Duke of Kent, Prime Minister John Major, Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd
their new home was made more habitable through the squadron raising over £2,000 for them and helping to paint walls and create a fine garden with swings and seats. We have also helped with the restoration of a World War II graveyard and the airlifting of a steeple-jack on to a rebuilt church. In our eight years in former Yugoslavia, 845 personnel under- took three-month rotational tours of duty, later reducing to eight weeks with each squadron member completing up to five tours. We flew a total of 13,500 hours and conducted 620 medical and casual- ty evacuations. The aircrew and aircraft have been engaged 22 times by hostile fire and taken 28 hits with only one minor casualty. • As Navy News went to
time to give off-duty help to the victims of war, notably 120 severely handicapped children who were forced to flee their orphanage when it was bombed. Re-located in a Split gymnasium,
and three Defence Ministers. The squadron has also found
press, 845 aircraft were once again flying in extreme condi- tions - this time supporting 3 Cdo Brigade Royal Marines on exercise in northern Norway. The squadron's role in Bosnia has been handed over to a Cougar flight of the Royal Netherlands Air Force.
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