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12 NAVY NEWS, AUGUST 2010 No.8 Gone fi shing

FISHING for submarines, that is... If there’s a boat to be found, then there’s a good chance that a Merlin of 829 Naval Air Squadron – The Kingfishers – are doing the searching. The Culdrose-based squadron is one of three front-line units operating the £40m helicopter. Whereas their Cornish bedfellows – 814 and 820 – often deploy en masse (see pages 21-25 for news of the Flying Tigers on Auriga), it’s a solitary life for the 829 team who operate as ship’s flights, typically from the stern of a Type 23 frigate, occasionally from an RFA. Indeed, one 829 Merlin has just returned from RFA Argus in southern France where

its presence was specially requested by the French Navy. The Marine Nationale was staging its main anti-submarine exercise of the year – Squale – off Toulon and wanted a Merlin to take part. To smooth over linguistic differences, the Kingfi shers’ French exchange

offi cer, Capitaine de Corvette Fabrice Dehandschoewercker served as detachment commander.

He bedded down with some of his team aboard Argus; the engineer detachment used the French airfield at Hyères, just outside Toulon, as their base. Squale saw six French anti-submarine frigates, two maritime patrol aircraft and two French Lynx fi tted with dipping sonar joining forces with France’s fl agship FS Charles de Gaulle, the USS Harry S Truman, and the 829 Merlin to hunt down the attack submarine FS Rubis. The quarry was found. And when it was all over there was one day’s rest to allow aircrew and engineers to sample the delights of the Mediterranean coast (St Tropez was a stone’s throw away) and take a dip; with a sea temperature of 20˚C, it was not exactly Falmouth Bay... More commonly, 829 can be found in the Gulf (‘Lola’ – pictured, right, by LA(Phot) Steve Johncock – is presently operating with HMS St Albans) or with a task group escort (‘Taliska’ flying from HMS Sutherland on the Auriga deployment). It was for such duties that the Kingfishers were re-formed in 2004, ushering in the

squadron’s fourth incarnation. It began life in 1940 at RNAS Ford flying Fairey Albacore torpedo bombers before joining carrier Formidable in the Mediterranean and Middle East, taking part in the hunt for the German cruiser Admiral Hipper and striking at targets in Italian-held Somaliland.

Re-equipped with Swordfish and attached to HMS Illustrious the squadron subsequently took part in the invasion of Madagascar in 1942. Stood down in October 1942 it re-emerged 12 months later at HMS Daedalus as a torpedo-bomber reconnaissance unit operating Fairey Barracudas which subsequently struck at the German battleship Tirpitz in Norway under Operation Tungsten.

After a 20-year absence, 829 appeared once more in its longest incarnation, assuming its present-day role providing helicopter detachments for the Fleet in 1964. Before it disbanded in 1994, it operated an asortment of Wasps, Whirlwinds and Wessex, and finally Lynx; the latter helped to eliminate Saddam Hussein’s Navy in the 1991 Gulf War. This third incarnation of the squadron came to an end in 1993 when 815 NAS took over parentage of all front-line Lynx ship’s flights.

 HMS Sutherland’s Merlin fl ight in action, page 3

Motto: non effugient – they shall not escape Nickname: The Kingfishers Aircraft: Merlin HM1 Engines: 3 x Rolls Royce Turbomeca 2,200shp gas turbines Rotor Span: 18.6m Length: 22.8m Speed: 167kt Crew: one pilot; one observer; one aircrewman Endurance: operational radius of over 200 nautical miles Sensors: GEC Marconi Blue Kestrel 5000 radar; Thales Flash AQS 950 dipping sonar; GEC-Marconi sonobuoy acoustic processor Weapons: 4 Stingray torpedoes or Mk 11 Mod 3 depth bombs

200 HEROES OF THE ROYAL NAVY No.76 – Lt Cdr Oliver Gidden GC OBE GM

THE smiles and casual nature of this image – taken at HMS King Alfred in October 1940 – belies the dangerous nature of the work performed by these eight men: bomb disposal at the height of the Battle of Britain and Blitz. The photograph – from the papers of Lt Cdr Harold Newgass GC held by the Imperial War Museum – features men of the Admiralty RMS – Rendering Mines Safe – Section. Standing, (l-r) Harold McKee and

Greville McClinton (both George Medal winners) and a S/Lt McKewen; seated are Horace Taylor GC, John Rouson GM, Oliver Gidden GC MBE GM, Lt Cdr Newgass, and R Horton DSC. Of these, let us focus on the most highly-decorated of this octet, Oliver Gidden.

His George Medal came courtesy of mine disposal work in Harlesden in September 1940.

The state of the mine by this stage meant inserting such a ‘gag’ would not work, so the offi cer spent six hours toiling with a hammer and chisel before he could fi nally declare the German device safe. By the war’s end, Gidden had risen to the rank of lieutenant commander, added the OBE to his decorations, and was still rendering mines safe, latterly in North- West Europe – including the Scheldt estuary – in the wake of the Allied armies of liberation. ■ THIS image (HU 58422) – 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 5333.

With thanks to Ian Proctor

Seven months later came the act which earned him the George Cross. On April 17 1941 he was dispatched to Hungerford Bridge in London where an unexploded bomb added to problems already caused by blazing trains and railway sleepers, plus the Charing Cross Hotel was burning in the background. Lt Gidden found a mine lying on a live electrical cable, with the bomb fuse primer release mechanism facing down. First he had to turn over the unexploded ordnance – less than easy as the fuse was extremely sensitive. When he’d succeeded, he prised a chunk of molten metal from the fuse, intending to insert something to block the mechanism.


Facts and figures

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