771 Naval Air Squadron
771 Naval Air Sqdn crest
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
Commanding officerCommander M Shepherd Royal Navy

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.

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 771's 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 Albacoress 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, Fancourt volunteered to put together a crew to fly 771's 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 Station's 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.

771 Squadron Westland Whirlwind HAS.7 SAR rescue helicopter at Portland in 1967.

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:


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.

Martinet TT.1
Royal Navy Hurricane
Seafire F.15
Mosquito Mk.16
Sea Hornet FR.20
Sea Fury T.20
Sturgeon TT.2
Firefly T.1
Firefly AS.6
Westland Wasp HAS.1
Wessex HU.5 similar given to 847 NAS and 848 NAS for the Falklands Conflict
Aircraft Equipment Entered Service Left Service
Swordfish May 1939 Apr 1945
Henley III Oct 1939 Aug 1943
Walrus I Nov 1939 Feb 1940
Skua II Apr 1940 Apr 1943
Roc I Apr 1940 May 1944
Albacore I Nov 1941 ?
Blenheim I Apr 1941 Jun 1943
Blenheim IV Apr 1944 May 1945
Sea Gladiator Dec 1941 Jun 1944
Maryland Oct 1940 Sep 1944
Walrus Mar 1944 Jun 1944
Defiant TT.1 Jun 1942 Aug 1943
Chesapeake I May 1942 Apr 1944
Proctor Ia Aug 1942 Oct 1943
Lysander TT.III Jul 1943 Dec 1943
Martinet TT.I Aug 1943 Oct 1951
Havoc I Dec 1942 Sep 1944
Boston II Nov 1943 Aug 1944
Boston III Feb 1944 Aug 1944
Hurricane FB.IIc May 1944 Apr 1945
Sea Otter Apr 1944 Aug 1949
Corsair II Sep 1944 Apr 1945
Corsair III Dec 1944 Sep 1945
Wildcat IV Jul 1945 Nov 1945
Wildcat V Nov 1945 Mar 1946
Wildcat VI Oct 1945 Mar 1946
Oxford I Mar 1946 ?
Hellcat I Sep 1945 ?
Hoverfly I Feb 1945 May 1947
Hoverfly II Dec 1945 May 1947
Seafire III Mar 1946 Jan 1947
Seafire F.15 Nov 1946 Jan 1951
Seafire F.45 Dec 1947 Sep 1950
Seafire F.46 May 1947 Dec 1947
Anson I Apr 1947 Aug 1955
Harvard T.2B Jan 1948 ?
Mosquito FB.6 Jul 1950 Apr 1952
Mosquito PR.16 Dec 1948 Aug 1952
Mosquito B.25 Aug 1945 May 1947
Sea Mosquito TR.33 May 1947 Mar 1950
Mosquito PR.34 Nov 1948 Jan 1950
Sea Mosquito TR.37 Dec 1948 Jul 1949
Mosquito TT.39 Jan 1950 Jan 1952
Sea Hornet FR.20 May 1950 Jun 1950
Sea Hornet NF.21 Jan 1950 Oct 1952
Sea Fury T.20 Jul 1950 Dec 1950
Meteor T.7 May 1950 Mar 1955
Sea Vampire F.20 Mar 1952 Aug 1955
Sea Vampire F.21 Jan 1951 Sep 1951
Sturgeon TT.2 Sep 1950 Nov 1952
Firefly FR.1 Jan 1950 Jul 1955
Firefly T.1 Jul 1950 ?
Firefly T.2 Jul 1950 Aug 1952
Firefly TT.4 Nov 1951 Aug 1955
Firefly TT.5 Jun 1952 ?
Firefly AS.6 Oct 1950 Dec 1953
Dragonfly HR.5 Jul 1961 Oct 1963
Wasp P-531 O/N Jul 1961 Dec 1964
Wasp HAS.1 Nov 1963 Dec 1964
Whirlwind HAR.1 Jul 1961 Jul 1961
Whirlwind HAR.3 Oct 1961 Mar 1964
Whirlwind HAS.7 Aug 1962 Jan 1965
Whirlwind HAS.7 (2nd service period) Jun 1967 Jan 1970
Whirlwind HAS.22 Jul 1961 Nov 1961
Wessex HAS.1 Dec 1963 Dec 1963
Wessex HAS.1(2nd service period) Dec 1969 Jul 1979
Wessex HU.5 Mar 1979 Mar 1988
Chipmunk T.10 Jan 1983 Mar 1993
Sea Devon C.20 Jan 1983 Dec 1989
Sea King HAR.5 Oct 1987 Mar 2016

Commanding officers

Rank Name Date
Lt Cdr KW Beard RN 24 May 1939
Lt Cdr FEC Judd RN 13 September 1940
Maj AR Burch RM 15 January 1941
Lt Cdr (A) NE Goddard DSC RNVR 15 October 1941
Lt Cdr (A) HT Molyneaux RNVR 4 May 1942
Lt Cdr (A) W Dobson RN 13 February 1944
Lt Cdr( A) CC Burke RNZNVR 11 April 1945
Lt Cdr GMT Osborn DSO DSC RN 24 October 1945
Lt Cdr CR Bateman RN 23 February 1948
Lt Cdr (A) RWM Walsh RN 7 January 1949
Lt Cdr JG Baldwin DSC RN 18 November 1949
Lt Cdr JA Welpy RN 19 December 1950
Lt Cdr MW Rudorf DSC RN 5 May 1952
Lt Cdr Pridham-Wippell RN 15 September 1952
Lt Cdr BE Bullivant RN 3 June 1953
Lt Cdr RW Turral RN 28 March 1955
squadron disbanded 17 August 1955
Lt Cdr AIR Shaw MBE RN 11 July 1961
Lt Cdr RV Woodward RN 23 March 1962
Lt Cdr JRJ Rutherford RN 28 March 1964
squadron disbanded 1 December 1964
Lt Cdr JT Rawlins MBE RN 23 June 1967
Lt Cdr R McLean MVO RN 14 August 1968
Lt Cdr I Lachlan RN 20 May 1970
Lt Cdr CL MacGregor RN 4 October 1971
Lt Cdr RN Woodard RN 5 September 1974
Lt Cdr CP West RN 16 September 1974
Lt Cdr KJMcK Ayres RN 16 June 1976
Lt Cdr R Mortimer RN 10 May 1978
Lt Cdr PA Fish RN 28 September 1979
Lt Cdr NB Shaw RN 23 February 1981
Lt Cdr GRK Gadsden RN 20 September 1982
Lt Cdr EK Bramall RN 10 January 1983
Lt Cdr RHS Everall RN 8 April 1983
Lt Cdr DR George RN 15 October 1985
Lt Cdr MJ Lawrence RN 18 December 1988
Lt Cdr IS Dominey RN 28 July 1989
Lt Cdr SD Pendrich AFC RN 15 March 1991
Lt Cdr L Matthews RN 23 July 1993
Lt Cdr GBM Milton RN 5 March 1996
Lt Cdr PC Richings RN 19 May 1998
Lt Cdr D Whitehead RN 7 July 2000
Lt Cdr DA Cunningham RN 6 August 2002
Lt Cdr JC Barnbrook RN 21 July 2004
Lt Cdr CA Godwin RN 24 July 2006
Lt Cdr GJ Finn RN 27 July 2008
Lt Cdr CP Canning RN 30 March 2010
Lt Cdr MP Shepherd RN 29 March 2012
Cdr MP Shepherd RN 30 June 2013
Lt Cdr ST Armstrong RN 4 April 2014
Lt Cdr RT Calhaem RN 12 January 2015


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