771 Naval Air Squadron

771 Naval Air Squadron of the Fleet Air Arm was formed on 24 May 1939 at Lee-on-Solent as a Fleet Requirements Unit with 14 Fairey Swordfish TSR biplanes. The Squadron carried out various exercises with ships and provided towed targets for naval air gunners and was decommissioned on 22 March 2016.

771 Naval Air Squadron
Country United Kingdom
BranchFleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy
RoleSearch and Rescue
Garrison/HQRNAS Culdrose
Motto(s)"Non Nobis Solum"
(Latin: "Not unto us alone")
EquipmentSea King HAR.5

Second World War

The Squadron initially had a northern element (X Flight), and a southern element (Y Flight). 'X' Flight broke away on 28 September 1939 to become 772 Naval Air Squadron. The reshaped 771 NAS was based at RNAS Hatston flying a variety of fixed-wing aircraft, ranging from Supermarine Walruses to Hawker Hurricanes, from airfields across the UK and abroad.

A notable point in 771s wartime history was that they started the chain that led to the sinking of the German battleship Bismarck. The Commanding Officer of HMS Sparrowhawk, Capt Henry Lockhart St John Fancourt, RN, had been ordered to identify and sink the Bismarck at the earliest opportunity. The two squadrons of Albacore TSRs he had did not have sufficient range to attack the battleship whilst in harbour. He was relying on the Royal Air Force to carry out flights over Bergen, and inform the Royal Navy when the Battleship had left port. On 22 May 1941 RAF Coastal Command deemed the weather unsuitable for flight; however, Capt Fancourt, RN volunteered to put together a crew to fly 771s Martin Maryland twin engined plane to carry out the sortie. Temporary Lieutenant (A) Noel Ernest Goddard, RNVR, at the time the Senior Pilot of 771 NAS, volunteered to pilot the sortie, with his crew of Acting Leading Airman John Walker Armstrong as TAG-WO, and Leading Airman J. D. Milne as TAG-AG. The extremely experienced observer Commander Geoffry Alexander Rotherham, at the time the Air Stations XO, stepped up to act as Mission Commander. Goddard flew on instruments at low level over the sea, making landfall on target. Having identified that the ships had sailed already they attempted to radio their discovery back to RAF Coastal Command. However, they did not receive any reply. Rotherham decided to contact the Air Station directly on the Towed Target frequency and also fly directly to HMS Sparrowhawk's forward airfield, Sumburgh, where the Albacores were ready to intercept. Acting on Rotherhams's radio message, the Home Fleet were set to sea and engage the Bismarck and her escorts intercepting her at the Battle of the Denmark Straits. On 16 September 1941 The London Gazette reported the awarding of the following honours: Rotherham received the DSO,[1] Goddard the DSC,[2] and Armstrong the DSM.[2] Goddard went on to Command 771 NAS as a Temporary Lieutenant Commander (A) on 15 October 1941. On 1 July 1942 771 NAS moved to RNAS Twatt to fly more modern aircraft in a similar role.

Post Second World War

In February 1945, 771 received the Sikorsky Hoverfly, making it the first naval air squadron to operate helicopters, which it used until May 1947. After victory in Europe the Fleet moved from Scapa Flow to Portsmouth and the anchorage at Portland. 771 NAS followed south to RNAS Zeals and then to RNAS Lee-on-Solent and RNAS Ford. Here the Squadron flew Miles Martinets, Douglas Bostons, Vought Corsairs, Grumman Wildcats, Airspeed Oxfords, Grumman Hellcats, Supermarine Seafires, North American Harvards, de Havilland Mosquitoes, Hawker Sea Furys, Short Sturgeons, as well as the Hoverfly. The Hoverflies were transferred to 705 Naval Air Squadron as it was formed. During the Defence reductions following the Second World War it was decided that 771 would be disbanded in August 1955 (whilst operating the Avro Anson, de Havilland Sea Hornet, Gloster Meteor, de Havilland Sea Vampire and Fairey Firefly) when it combined with 703 Naval Air Squadron to form 700 Naval Air Squadron.

Helicopter-only squadron

771 NAS reformed in 1961 and assumed the helicopter trials and training roles from 700 NAS with the Westland Whirlwind, Westland Dragonfly, and the Westland Wasp prototype at RNAS Portland. During this time 771 was able to pioneer and develop many Search And Rescue techniques; including helicopter in-flight refueling (HIFR), hi-line transfer, free diver drop and cliff winching techniques. Soon after standing up again, the Squadron gained two Westland Whirlwind HAR.3s and assumed the RNAS Portland SAR commitment. The Squadron was disbanded on 1 December 1964, on being absorbed into 829 Naval Air Squadron.

On 23 June 1967, the squadron reformed with the new primary task of anti-submarine warfare (ASW) Fleet Requirements Unit, in addition to the Portland SAR duty. Nine Whirlwind HAS.7 were used by the Squadron at this time. The Westland Wessex was introduced in 1969 with the Mk 1. This marked the beginning of a long association of the aircraft with the squadron. By 1970, the ASW role had been passed on to 737 Naval Air Squadron, making SAR 771's primary role, a role that has remained to the present day.

The Squadron moved to RNAS Culdrose in September 1974. Six of its Wessex aircraft were left at RNAS Portland, to form the basis of 772 Naval Air Squadron. The Wessex HAS.1 was replaced by the twin turbine-powered Wessex HU.5 in 1979, when it was involved with the 1979 Fastnet race rescues. During the Falklands Conflict all of 771 aircraft were taken for troop transport roles, some went to 722 Naval Air Squadron, but the majority reformed 847 Naval Air Squadron and 848 Naval Air Squadron along with some of 771 NASs aircrew. The remaining crew went either to their old aircraft type, or to new roles in the Lynx or Wasp fleets. Two Wessex Mk.5 from Wroughton were used in August 1982 to form the backbone of 771 NAS as it took the SAR commitment back from the RAF. In January 1983 the Squadron once again operated mixed fleets of rotary and fixed wing aircraft as it absorbed the Station Flight, taking ownership of two Chipmunks and 2 Sea Devons. It operated these until the end of 1989 when the Sea Devon was withdrawn from service. In 1985 the Squadron absorbed 707 Naval Air Squadron's Wessex helicopters when 771 NAS took over Commando Helicopter Training. The Wessex were replaced by Westland Sea King HAS.5s, converted to HAR.5s, in October 1987 as the Squadron assumed a long range, day/night and all weather SAR capability. In July 2001, 771 Squadron assumed the responsibility for Advanced and Operational Flying Training for anti-submarine warfare (ASW) pilots and Observers, as well as the residual Sea King HAS.5 & HAS.6 Pilot Conversion and Refresher Courses.

In its final years the Squadron operated the Sea King HAR.5 in the grey and red colours, with nine permanently stationed at RNAS Culdrose. 771's sister unit, Gannet Flight operates 3 HAR.5s performing a similar role from HMS Gannet on Prestwick Airport. 771's primary role was one of military Search and Rescue, with secondary roles in civilian Search and Rescue, Pilot and Observer refresher training, utility and liaison and ab-initio Pilot Conversion and operational training. To perform these roles, one of the helicopters was on 15 minutes notice to fly during the day, and 45 minutes during the night, with a duty crew on call for 24 hours. This duty was maintained for 365 days of the year, with a second standby aircraft ready to assist should the emergency have demanded it.

It stopped rescue duties on 1 January 2016 and was decommissioned on 22 March 2016. The squadron was responsible for saving over 15,000 lives on more than 9,000 missions.[3][4]

Ace of Clubs

771s Helicopters feature the unofficial Ace of Clubs Squadron Logo. The origin of this logo is unclear, but it is widely believed to follow a similar pedigree as the Royal Navy Historic Flight Hawker Sea Hawk, wearing 806 NAS's Ace of Diamonds logo. Shortly after the Second World War Squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm often had an in-house display team. Each of the display aircraft were painted with identification marks. Playing card suits were chosen by some Squadrons as they were a neat identification that allows clear hierarchy; the Squadron Commanding Officer would take the Ace card, the XO the King and so on until each aircraft had a value relating to the seniority in the Squadron/display team of that pilot. Today 771 does not assign an aircraft to each pilot, instead operating a pool of aircraft allowing each pilot to fly any helicopter. It was chosen that only the Ace of Clubs would be painted on each of the helicopters in the Squadrons fleet.


771 NAS was one of the busiest SAR units in the UK being called out an average of 220 times per year. With the limitations in civilian flight rules for the Cornwall Air Ambulance pilots 771 was also often called upon to perform patient and hospital transfers throughout the West Country. These were typically when the Air Ambulance was engaged in other duties, in poor weather, at night or where no suitable landing place was close by, allowing the Sea King to utilise its winch. Individual honours have included 4 George Medals, 4 Air Force Crosses, 6 Queens Gallantry Medals, and 14 Queen's Commendation for Bravery awards. Some of the more memorable rescues have been:

  • 1978 – Ben Asdale, Air Force Cross awarded to Lt AJM Hogg RN, and Lt Cdr MJ Norman RN[5]
  • 1979 – Fastnet Race[6], Air Force Cross awarded to Lt Jerry Grayson for his role in the Fastnet '79 Race. It was awarded a year later in 1980.[7]
  • 1985 – Fastnet Race, George Medal awarded to the Rescue Diver; POACMN L Slater[8] for his rescue of Simon Le Bon and 19 other survivors from the Yacht Drum
  • 1985 – Yacht Master Cube
  • 1989 – MV Secil Japan,[9] Air Force Medal awarded to the Rescue Diver CPOACMN JPR Grinney[10]
  • 1989 – MV Murree,[11] George Medal awarded to each of the 2 Rescue Divers; POACMN DS Wallace, POACMN SW Wright [12]
  • 1992 – Boyd Trophy won for night rescue of five crew from yacht Sine Seorra off Guernsey, Air Force Medal awarded to LA I Chambers[13]
  • 2004 – Boyd Trophy won for Boscastle Flood rescues,[14] Air Force Cross awarded to Lt Cdr MJ Ford RN[15]
  • 2005 – Boyd Trophy won for the recovery of critically ill crewman from fishing vessel 240 miles off coast in gale-force winds and very poor visibility
  • 2007 – MSC Napoli, PO J O'Donnel awarded Queen's Gallantry Medal
  • 2008 – Pesca del Verdes, CPOACMN D Rigg awarded Queen's Gallantry Medal[16]
  • 2009 – Fishing Vessel Trevessa, PO D Lacy awarded Queen's Gallantry Medal[17]
  • 2011 – Yacht Andriette, Sgt A Russell RM awarded George Medal for his role in the rescue[18]


As one of only two commissioned units of the ten that have operated in the dedicated Royal Navy Search and Rescue role, 771 NAS were a core part of the year-long celebration to recognise 60 years of RN Helicopter Search and Rescue in 2013. Events took place throughout the country and media all year, with the RN SAR Force raising £60,000 for charity.

Aircraft Operated by 771 NAS

There are 68 different marks of aircraft known to have been operated by 771 NAS.

Aircraft EquipmentEntered ServiceLeft Service
SwordfishMay 1939Apr 1945
Henley IIIOct 1939Aug 1943
Walrus INov 1939Feb 1940
Skua IIApr 1940Apr 1943
Roc IApr 1940May 1944
Albacore INov 1941?
Blenheim IApr 1941Jun 1943
Blenheim IVApr 1944May 1945
Sea GladiatorDec 1941Jun 1944
MarylandOct 1940Sep 1944
WalrusMar 1944Jun 1944
Defiant TT.1Jun 1942Aug 1943
Chesapeake IMay 1942Apr 1944
Proctor IaAug 1942Oct 1943
Lysander TT.IIIJul 1943Dec 1943
Martinet TT.IAug 1943Oct 1951
Havoc IDec 1942Sep 1944
Boston IINov 1943Aug 1944
Boston IIIFeb 1944Aug 1944
Hurricane FB.IIcMay 1944Apr 1945
Sea OtterApr 1944Aug 1949
Corsair IISep 1944Apr 1945
Corsair IIIDec 1944Sep 1945
Wildcat IVJul 1945Nov 1945
Wildcat VNov 1945Mar 1946
Wildcat VIOct 1945Mar 1946
Oxford IMar 1946?
Hellcat ISep 1945?
Hoverfly IFeb 1945May 1947
Hoverfly IIDec 1945May 1947
Seafire IIIMar 1946Jan 1947
Seafire F.15Nov 1946Jan 1951
Seafire F.45Dec 1947Sep 1950
Seafire F.46May 1947Dec 1947
Anson IApr 1947Aug 1955
Harvard T.2BJan 1948?
Mosquito FB.6Jul 1950Apr 1952
Mosquito PR.16Dec 1948Aug 1952
Mosquito B.25Aug 1945May 1947
Sea Mosquito TR.33May 1947Mar 1950
Mosquito PR.34Nov 1948Jan 1950
Sea Mosquito TR.37Dec 1948Jul 1949
Mosquito TT.39Jan 1950Jan 1952
Sea Hornet FR.20May 1950Jun 1950
Sea Hornet NF.21Jan 1950Oct 1952
Sea Fury T.20Jul 1950Dec 1950
Meteor T.7May 1950Mar 1955
Sea Vampire F.20Mar 1952Aug 1955
Sea Vampire F.21Jan 1951Sep 1951
Sturgeon TT.2Sep 1950Nov 1952
Firefly FR.1Jan 1950Jul 1955
Firefly T.1Jul 1950?
Firefly T.2Jul 1950Aug 1952
Firefly TT.4Nov 1951Aug 1955
Firefly TT.5Jun 1952?
Firefly AS.6Oct 1950Dec 1953
Dragonfly HR.5Jul 1961Oct 1963
Wasp P-531 O/NJul 1961Dec 1964
Wasp HAS.1Nov 1963Dec 1964
Whirlwind HAR.1Jul 1961Jul 1961
Whirlwind HAR.3Oct 1961Mar 1964
Whirlwind HAS.7Aug 1962Jan 1965
Whirlwind HAS.7 (2nd service period)Jun 1967Jan 1970
Whirlwind HAS.22Jul 1961Nov 1961
Wessex HAS.1Dec 1963Dec 1963
Wessex HAS.1(2nd service period)Dec 1969Jul 1979
Wessex HU.5Mar 1979Mar 1988
Chipmunk T.10Jan 1983Mar 1993
Sea Devon C.20Jan 1983Dec 1989
Sea King HAR.5Oct 1987Mar 2016

Commanding officers

Lt CdrKW Beard RN24 May 1939
Lt CdrFEC Judd RN13 Sep 1940
MajAR Burch RM15 Jan 1941
Lt Cdr (A)NE Goddard DSC RNVR15 Oct 1941
Lt Cdr (A)HT Molyneaux RNVR4 May 1942
Lt Cdr (A)W Dobson RN13 Feb 1944
Lt Cdr( A)CC Burke RNZNVR11 Apr 1945
Lt CdrGMT Osborn DSO DSC RN24 Oct 1945
Lt CdrCR Bateman RN23 Feb 1948
Lt Cdr (A)RWM Walsh RN7 Jan 1949
Lt CdrJG Baldwin DSC RN18 Nov 1949
Lt CdrJA Welpy RN19 Dec 1950
Lt CdrMW Rudorf DSC RN5 May 1952
Lt CdrPridham-Wippell RN15 Sep 1952
Lt CdrBE Bullivant RN3 Jun 1953
Lt CdrRW Turral RN28 Mar 1955
squadron disbanded17 Aug 1955
Lt CdrAIR Shaw MBE RN11 Jul 1961
Lt CdrRV Woodward RN23 Mar 1962
Lt CdrJRJ Rutherford RN28 Mar 1964
squadron disbanded1 Dec 1964
Lt CdrJT Rawlins MBE RN23 Jun 1967
Lt CdrR McLean MVO RN14 Aug 1968
Lt CdrI Lachlan RN20 May 1970
Lt CdrCL MacGregor RN4 Oct 1971
Lt CdrRN Woodward RN5 Sep 1974
Lt CdrCP West RN16 Sep 1974
Lt CdrKJMcK Ayres RN16 Jun 1976
Lt CdrR Mortimer RN10 May 1978
Lt CdrPA Fish RN28 Sep 1979
Lt Cdr NB Shaw RN 23 Feb 1981
Lt CdrGRK Gadsden RN20 Sep 1982
Lt CdrEK Bramall RN10 Jan 1983
Lt CdrRHS Everall RN8 Apr 1983
Lt CdrDR George RN15 Oct 1985
Lt CdrMJ Lawrence RN18 Dec 1988
Lt CdrIS Dominey RN28 Jul 1989
Lt CdrSD Pendrich AFC RN15 Mar 1991
Lt CdrL Matthews RN23 Jul 1993
Lt CdrGBM Milton RN5 Mar 1996
Lt CdrPC Richings RN19 May 1998
Lt CdrD Whitehead RN7 Jul 2000
Lt CdrDA Cunningham RN6 Aug 2002
Lt CdrJC Barnbrook RN21 Jul 2004
Lt CdrCA Godwin RN24 Jul 2006
Lt CdrGJ Finn RN27 Jul 2008
Lt CdrCP Canning RN30 Mar 2010
Lt CdrMP Shepherd RN29 Mar 2012
CdrMP Shepherd RN30 Jun 2013
Lt CdrST Armstrong RN4 Apr 2014
Lt CdrRT Calhaem RN12 Jan 2015


  1. http://www.london-gazette.co.uk/issues/35275/supplements/5357/page.pdf
  2. http://www.london-gazette.co.uk/issues/35275/supplements/5358/page.pdf
  3. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2 January 2016. Retrieved 1 January 2016.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  4. Graeme, W B. "Final ceremony disbands navy 771 search and rescue squadron at RNAS Culdrose Helston". The Cornishman. Retrieved 22 March 2016.
  5. "Viewing Page 11475 of Issue 47950". London-gazette.co.uk. 10 September 1979. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
  6. http://www.blur.se/images/fastnet-race-inquiry.pdf
  7. Grayson, Jerry (2015). Rescue Pilot. London: Adlard Coles Nautical. p. 173. ISBN 978-1-4729-1794-2.
  8. "Viewing Page 3447 of Issue 50453". London-gazette.co.uk. 10 March 1986. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
  9. http://www.london-gazette.co.uk/issues/52024/pages/969/page.pdf
  10. "Viewing Page 969 of Issue 52024". London-gazette.co.uk. 22 January 1990. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
  11. "MURREE – IMO 8000161 – ShipSpotting.com – Ship Photos and Ship Tracker". ShipSpotting.com. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
  12. http://www.london-gazette.co.uk/issues/52218/supplements/12275/page.pdf
  13. http://www.london-gazette.co.uk/issues/53255/supplements/5191/page.pdf
  14. "UK | England | Cornwall | Bravery awards for flood heroes". BBC News. 27 September 2005. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
  15. "Page 3379, Supplement 57588, 18 March 2005, London Gazette". London-gazette.co.uk. 18 March 2005. Retrieved 12 April 2015.
  16. "Rescue winchman gets royal award". BBC News. 14 December 2009.
  17. http://www.thisiscornwall.co.uk/Fishermen-rescued-trawler-blaze/story-11393293-detail/story.html#axzz2RCNfPJ8U%5B%5D
  18. Williams, Olivia (25 March 2013). "Royal Marine helicopter winchman who rescued two men from a stranded yacht in 'worst weather he's ever seen' is awarded the George Medal". Daily Mail. London.

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