united kingdom 820 Squadron

Fleet Air Arm


820 NAS : 820 Naval Air Squadron

1933 to present    






820 Squadron 1964/1965 HMS Eagle


HMS Eagle R05

In December 1964, Royal Navy 820 Squadron deployed from RNAS Culdrose to aircraft carrier HMS Eagle (R05) for a 6 month Far East deployment, returning 24 May 1965. The following Westland Wessex were emkarked:

  • XS122 / 290-E
  • XS123 / 291-E : lost and sank 24 March 1965
  • XS119 / 292-E : made an emergency landing on Eagle in March 1965 and was left at Hong Kong for repairs.
  • XS125 / 293-E
  • XS126 / 294-E
  • XS121 / 295-E : ditched on March 1965, recovered by Eagle and sent back to UK for repair.
  • XS120 / 296-E
  • XP159 / 297-E : replaced in Far East by XS124 / 297-E Jan 1965


    After returning they departed again on August 1965 to the Far East, this time for a 13 month Far deployment, returning September 1966.

    When we formed in 1964 our original numbers were 290 etc., but when we did the first leg on HMS Eagle it was found that our side numbers were the same as a Buccaneer Squadron so we had to change them to 060 etc. to avoid confusion. Notice old 93 and new 67 in company with HM Submarine Otter, below



    Side codes 90 to 95













  • By Paul "Andy" Knapp: 1964-1966. From checking my flying log book, it looks like we obtained 3 replacement aircraft in place of the three we lost on the "first leg". Having returned to RNAS Culdrose in June 1965, we obtained XS865, XS866 and XS867.

    I was the sonar aircrewman in XS119, during a night departure screen from Subic Bay in the Philippines, during Exercise FOTAC 2.The aircraft experienced a "runaway" governor. Instead of the rotor head doing 220 revs per minute it ended up doing about 3 times as much! To land on normally would have "pulled too much power"; so we made our approach to the deck of HMS Eagle from directly astern at about 5ft above the sea surface,and then used the "surge of power" to lift us 50ft to flight deck level, where we did a "running land o"! The excessive use of the brakes, to enable us to stop, caused a "wheel fire", but it was extinguished immediately. we "came to rest! The flight deck at the time was "topped up" with fixed wing aircraft, "running up" prior to launch!. The crew of XS119, consisted of Lt Smith(1st Pilot), Lt Ward(2nd Pilot),Lt Suggit(Observer) and myself Able Seaman UC2(Aircrew) Andy Knapp.

    On 24 March 1965 XS123 was in the SAR mode and was the duty planeguard.There had had been a lot of fixed wing activity and XS123 had landed on and shut down between each launch and recovery. It was assumed that the FMU(Fuel Metering Unit) which was "unexpandable" had expanded and reduced the fuel flow. Continuous start ups and the high air temperature was thought to be the cause of problem. It resulted in the aircraft ditching, sadly S/LT "Cassius" Clay(Pilot) and LAM(Aircrew Diver)"Geordie" Little, lost their lives on impact. LAM "Jock" Renshaw managed to get clear; although he ingested a lot of aviation fuel in the process. The port oleo air bag punctured and the one in the tail unit sustained damage as well. The aircraft remained suspended just below the surface for long enough to recover the bodies of Sub/Lt Clay and LAM Little, and then the air bag on the starboard oleo burst and the aircraft sank.

    25th March 1965 XS121 gone to SAR role, replacing XS123 which had ditched the day before. The aircraft had operated in almost the same set of circumstances as XS123, which led to the belief that the problem was with the FMU's fitted to Wessex Mk1's. After signals had been exchanged with Fleetlands back in the UK it was decided "to ground" all Wessex Mk1's until the problem could be explored further. 820 Sqdn. was "cleared" for one flight only, to enable us to disembark to RNAS Sembewang in Singapore. Once ashore, the FMU's were removed and returned to Fleetlands, and replacements were sent to us. This took some time. We remained "grounded" until 20th April 1965. XS121 was recovered by HMS Eagle(see photo). The starboard oleo air bag burst when it was forced onto the jet pipes on impact. The port one remained intact. The rear flotation bag was punctured when the tail unit "sagged" during recovery. The crew consisted of Lt Dines(Pilot), L/Sea(Aircrew)"Soapy" Watson and L/Sea "Charlie" Grace, all of whom made a safe escape, although they did sustain some "bumps and bruises"!

  • Guest on Oct/2012 - I was on 820 squadron and deployed on HMS Eagle from December 1964 for about six months as a Naval Air Mechanic. During this time, the ship lost 2 Wessex and 1 Scimitar at sea due to fuel contamination. Aircrew were killed in the first crash and the chopper sunk and was not recoverable. The second crash was better because on impact the inflatable balloons on the main wheels and in the fuselage inflated and allowed to to float. The Scimitar pilot ejected safely on base leg when he had a flameout prior to landing. The SAR Wessex picked him up in a few minutes. Carrier deck flying is both exciting and dangerous for the unwary. The noise can be deafening too. I enjoyed my time on board, working hard and having some fun too.

  • Guest on Jan/2013 - I was an aircrewman on the Squadron from 1964 to 1966, aboard HMS Eagle. The first helicopter ditching took the lives of S/Lt Clay(pilot) and "Geordie" Little the SAR diver. "Jock" Renshaw the winchman managed to get out Ok. The second cab to go in the next day, was manned by Lt Dines(pilot),L/sea Grace(Charlie) and L/sea Watson(Soapy), they all managed to get out Ok, and the aircraft was recovered. The Scimitar that ditched was flown by Lt Micklejohn, 800B Squadron, I was the planeguard winchman that picked him up.

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