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SAR performers
SOMETIMES the passage of time
aircraft (roughly two-fifths of the 771 team have
negates the meaning of a naval air
spent time with the Commando Helicopter Force
squadron’s motto.
and its Sea King Mk4s, for example).
In addition, since the beginning of this year,
Changing aircraft, changing roles and all that.
771 has been asked to aid 849, 854 and 857
845 NAS no longer hears the enemy, for example,
Naval Air Squadrons in preparing their fliers for
it goes hunting him.
duties in Afghanistan (which has meant training
And sometimes those mottos are spot on.
deployments to Norway and Spain inter alia).
Non nobis solum translates rather clunkily as
And if that’s not enough, 771 also provides
Aircraft: Westland Sea King s
‘not unto us alone’ – or in 21st-Century speak: for
support to maritime counter-terrorism patrols
HU Mk5
the greater good.
over UK waters, as well as conducting any other
Engines: 2 x Rolls-Royce
And that neatly encapsulates the general
general duties Fleet HQ sees fit.
Gnome 1400-1 Turboshafts
mission of 771 Naval Air Squadron, saving lives
It requires 180 personnel – 32 officers, 132 senior
(generation 1,400 shp
for nearly half a century.
and junior rates and 16 staff from defence support
In its current incarnation at RNAS Culdrose
firm Serco – to maintain this punishing sortie
Rotor Span: 62ft (18.8m)
– home since 1974 – the squadron and its Sea
schedule. (The
Length: 57ft 2in (17.4m)
King Mk5s provides search and rescue cover
Mk5 requires
Speed: 125 knots
for the Western Approaches: that’s the Cornish
roughly a
Crew: 4 (2 x pilot, 1 x
peninsula, the Isles of Scilly and the Atlantic/
dozen ‘man
observer, 1 x aircrewman)
Channel to a distance of 200 nautical miles.
hours’ on the
Endurance: in excess of five
While its sister Fleet Air Arm SAR unit HMS
ground for every
Gannet spends most of its time over land, not sea,
hour it spends in the skies.)
Sensors: Search radar
771’s domain is the ocean.
They’ve all moved home this year; as
transponder IFF and radar
That can mean mariners in distress (such as,
part of the redevelopment of some of the aged
famously, the Fastnet race of 1979 or the MSC
hangars at Culdrose, the old hangars housing
Facts and figur
Napoli, almost wrecked by Hurricane Kyrill in
771 are being pulled down and replaced by
January 2007) or holidaymakers, walkers, climbers,
21st-Century structures.
divers and surfers in difficulty around the Cornish
As for 771, well it pre-dates Culdrose by a good
coast (as seen on the TV series Seaside Rescue).
eight years – beginning life at HMS Daedalus on
The helicopters are also called upon to ferry
patients/injured people to hospital in the West
the cusp of WW2 as a ‘fleet requirement unit’.
That was a function it performed on and off
One 771 cab sits at 15 minutes’ notice by day,
until the mid-50s, both at Lee-on-the-Solent and
45 by night, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, with
later at Ford.
a second on the Culdrose tarmac ready to join it in
It became the first RN squadron to receive
the skies should the emergency demand.
helicopters, the Hoverfly in 1945.
That demand is rising. With the exception of
After disbanding in 1955 it re-formed in Portland
2003, never in the past 15 years has the number
in 1961 as a trials unit for Whirlwinds and Wasps,
of search and rescue missions dipped below 200
practising many of the signature manoeuvres of
search and rescue in doing so: the free diver drop,
The trend is upwards – and 2009 is already the
hi-line transfers and in-flight refuelling.
busiest year for rescues since modern records
When the Whirlwind HAR3 entered service, the
squadron became a dedicated search and rescue
So far, the Sea Kings have been scrambled on
unit. It relocated to Culdrose in 1974, swapped
267 occasions this year. In doing so, the Ace of
the Whirlwind first for the Wessex, then the Sea
Clubs have saved 244 lives.
King in 1988.
SAR is the most visible and high-profile of 771’s
771’s unofficial logo – the Ace of Clubs – is
probably more famous than its official badge
And we mean ‘tasks’ not ‘task’, for beyond (three hornets above the waves) and is the last
this the squadron is also required to provide Sea reminder of the days when RN aircraft were
King training for aircrew – either ab initio fliers adorned with such insignia (806 NAS, for example,
from Shawbury or conversion training from other were the Ace of Diamonds).
picture: po(phot) carl osmond
S/Lt Peter Danckwerts, GC
UNWILLING – and, moreover, unable – to conquer recalled. It was also packed with 1,500lbs of
the heart of the British Empire, Adolf Hitler set explosive.
about trying to pummel it into submission. In water, the magnetic field generated by a
Between September 1940 and June 1941, the passing ship would detonate the mine; on land,
Luftwaffe was dispatched almost nightly to raze a fuse with a 15-second delay was intended to
cities and erase morale. trigger the device, but often it didn’t.
Liverpool, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Manchester, After accompanying an expert in mines from
Coventry (infamously) – the German propaganda the Admiralty on one defusing mission (among
machine even coined the verb ‘coventrieren’ his words of wisdom: “If you hear it buzzing, run
(‘to coventrate’) in ‘honour’ of the pounding the like hell...”) and having taken a German fuse to
Midlands city received – and London, of course, pieces in the safety of the Port Authority HQ, the
all suffered under the Heinkels, Dorniers and junior officer was ready to deal with the Blitz.
Junkers. He was soon in action. The first mine he
In the first two months of the bombing neutralised had landed in bushes “in the wilds
campaign alone, the Blitz of popular memory, of South London”. The fuse was removed
more than 13,000 tons of high explosive and in without too much trouble. Satisfied with his
excess of a million incendiaries fell on Britain. work, Danckwerts and his CPO sat on the now-
And perhaps as many as one in five of these safe mine and had a cigarette... Two more were
never detonated. Some fell in the water, some rendered harmless before dawn (the two men
fell on open ground, some smashed through the took the mines’ parachutes as souvenirs).
roofs of homes or dangled by their parachutes It wasn’t long before Danckwerts and his team
off factories. were branded ‘mine experts’. Given the proper
It fell to a motley collection of men – normally tools, they were on the go all through the hours
Royal Engineers or Royal Navy – to render these daylight (nighttime defusing was forbidden).
devices, dubbed UXBs (UneXploded Bombs) The young officer rather played down his
safe, a task as fraught with danger then as it is role – certainly compared with fellow bomb
today. disposal officers. He had, he lamented, “nothing
Dealing with danger brought its rewards. The particularly spectacular to deal with”, although
pages of the London Gazette over the winter of he did find one mine adorned with “a rude
1940-41 are peppered with awards to sailors – message” to Chamberlain.
many of them reservists – “for great gallantry Bomb disposal, he maintained
and undaunted devotion to duty”. “wasn’t particularly frightening”. ning .
But rarely, if ever, did the official record of He continued: “You find you’rou’re
government expand on the deeds of these men getting a lot of credit for doing oing
so honoured. very little work and taking king
Among them was Peter Victor Danckwerts, rather a small amount ofof
a brilliant scientist (he built a laboratory in his risk.”
attic as a schoolboy) who joined the Royal Naval Peter Danckwerts did a a
Volunteer Reserve when war broke out and lot of work, not a little. e.
trained as a bomb disposal officer. Over one two-day/two--
In the autumn of 1940 he found himself posted night period he and his s
to the Port of London Authority, charged with team safely dealt with 16 6
dealing with aerial mines. unexploded mines.
At first, the job was rather frustrating – His expertise was called ed
frustrating, Danckwerts said two decades later, upon overseas; he deployed yed
because “most of the bombs fell in the water so to Sicily in 1943 when the Allies Allies
I didn’t have a great deal to do”. invaded and was woundedunded
THE uniforms have changed a tad, but not the occasion. Sailors still stir the pudding at Christmas, But such was bombing by night that the mines clearing a minefield.
although here the men of HMS Tyne do so as much to bolster morale at home as aboard the destroyer fell as often on land as they did in the Thames Post-war he resumed
depot ship. Conscious of the need to reassure the British public that men at sea were enjoying Christmas – and soon Danckwerts and his colleagues were his scientific career,
1942 as if they were at home, the Admiralty photographed festivities. This month’s rummage in the called upon to render the explosives safe. taught at Imperial
archives of the Imperial War Museum shows Tyne’s CO doing the stirring while his fi rst lieutenant pours Dealing with the Germans’ aerial mine was a College and lectured
in the rum. (A13317) daunting prospect: “it was eight feet long and around the world on
about two feet in diameter, thicker than a pillar the subject of chemical ■ THIS photograph – and 9,999,999 others from a century of war and peace – can be viewed or
purchased at, by emailing, or by phoning 0207 416 box and longer than a tall man,” Danckwerts engineering. He died in 1984.984.
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