805 Squadron History

805 Squadron Badge

805 Squadron was originally commissioned as a Royal Navy (RN) fighter squadron in May 1940. The unit disbanded and reformed several times during WWII serving in Crete, Africa and the Pacific before disbanding for the final time (as a RN squadron) in 1948.

805 Squadron reformed as the Royal Australian Navy's (RAN) first fighter squadron on 28 August 1948 at Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS) Eglinton in Northern Ireland. Flying Hawker Sea Fury FB IIs and commanded by Lieutenant Commander PEI Bailey, RN, the Squadron formed part of the 20th Carrier Air Group (CAG) along with 816 Squadron.

Aircrew worked up on a variety of aircraft loaned form the RN, the final phase of which was deck landing qualification aboard HMS Illustrious. HMAS Sydney, the RAN's first aircraft carrier, was commissioned on 16 December 1948 at Devonport in the south of England. 20th CAG performed a flypast to celebrate the event. The CAG embarked in Sydney on 15 February 1949 and spent the next few weeks working up at Moray Firth, north east of Inverness in Scotland. All of the pilots and observers in the CAG had extensive wartime operational experience but many had little or no deck landing experience. There were accidents, including one where a pilot from 816 Squadron managed to destroy five aircraft in one attempted landing, but no-one was seriously injured.

Sydney departed for Australia on 12 April 1949 and arrived at Jervis Bay on 25 May 1949. Fifty four aircraft were ferried ashore and then towed some 30km by road to HMAS Albatross where aircrews found conditions somewhat primitive. Albatross was the RAN's first naval air station. While it was constructed on the site of a never-completed wartime airfield, it was still very much under construction when the first occupants arrived. Most of the aircrews and their families lived in caravans, extended with large packing cases used to ship Spitfires, at the Nowra showgrounds.

Sea Furies in formation over HMAS Sydney.
Sea Furies in formation over HMAS Sydney.
This former RAN Sea Fury has most recently been used as a racing aircraft in the United States.
This former RAN Sea Fury has most recently been used as a racing aircraft in the United States.

20th CAG re-embarked in Sydney in mid-January 1951, after the ship had been back to the UK to pick up the 21st CAG, and met the ship's new Executive Officer, Commander (later Admiral Sir) Victor Smith. Later that day, Smith introduced the entire CAG officer complement (about 35 people) to his captain virtually name and rank perfect even though it was the first time he had met most of them.

In February/March 1951 with the 20th CAG embarked, Sydney joined dozens of warships from a number of countries including the UK, Canada and New Zealand in a series of exercises in the Storm Bay area of south eastern Tasmania. During the trip, a Sea Fury of 805 Squadron, piloted by Lieutenant (later Lieutenant Commander) Peter Seed, accidentally fired four rockets, one of which struck the Royal New Zealand Navy's flagship, HMNZS Bellona, crashing through her timber quarterdeck. Fortunately, the rockets carried dummy warheads and no one was seriously injured though the incident raised some discussion about how the rockets fired. Seed was adamant that they just fired themselves though no fault was found in the rocket firing circuit. Later, during Sydney's first tour in Korea, it was discovered that the Sea Furies' armament circuits were susceptible to radiation at certain frequencies from the ship's radio aerials offering a possible explanation for the accident.

The CAG disembarked in April 1951. Barely a month had passed, however, before 805 Squadron received word that it was to comprise part of a new Sydney Carrier Air Group along with 808 and 817 Squadrons and would be departing for Korea later that year. The new CAG was to be commanded by Commander (later Vice Admiral Sir) Mike Fell, RN. Fell was himself, as a Lieutenant Commander, a former Commanding Officer of 805 Squadron's earlier RN incarnation. The Squadron was now commanded by Lieutenant Commander Walter Bowles, the only RAN officer in the CAG command structure, the others being on loan from the RN.

Deck crew tending to two Sea Furies
Deck crew tending to two Sea Furies onboard HMAS Sydney.

805 Squadron departed for Korea aboard HMAS Sydney on 31 August 1951, with HMAS Tobruk in company as her escort, and arrived in Japan on 19 September 1951. While en route, on 11 September 1951, 805 Squadron lost one of its Sea Furies in the Pacific Ocean. Experiencing mechanical difficulties, Sub Lieutenant Ian Webster, RN, ditched into the water just 1000 metres from Sydney. With Sydney heading upwind to rescue him, Webster still had time to deploy his dinghy, break out his survival equipment, eat some chocolate and even drop a fishing line. He discovered that, even in the hot and humid conditions of the tropics, the chocolate was so hard the aircrew resolved to use it a throwing weapon, rather than a form of sustenance, should anyone be shot down.

Participating in Operation STRANGLE, which was intended to cut enemy supply and communications to the front lines, Sydney would share patrol duties on Korea's west coast with Royal Navy (RN) and US Navy (USN) carriers as part of Task Force 95, United Nations Blockade and Escort Force. Seven patrols of roughly 13 days each, including four days in transit to and from bases in Japan, were originally planned. Operations would normally entail ground attack including close air support for ground forces, armed reconnaissance, spotting for ships guns and anti-shipping strikes. In addition, the CAG, now bearing the black and white markings of the United Nations, would maintain a Combat Area Patrol (CAP) during daylight hours to protect Sydney in the event of an air attack.

The CAG conducted its first raids on 5 October 1951 with 32 sorties mounted in the 'Wales' area in the south west of North Korea. Six days later, Sydney's CAG flew a light fleet carrier record to date of 89 sorties in one day conducting attacking raids and targeting sorties for USS New Jersey. This exceptional performance drew high praise from the British Commander-in-Chief Far East Station:

Your air effort in the last two days, unprecedented in quantity and high in quality, has been a magnificent achievement on which I warmly congratulate you. Though it is invidious to particularise - the spotters especially did a first class job and New Jersey with [the Commander of the] 7th Fleet embarked said they were the best she has had yet. Eighty-nine sorties in one day is grand batting by any standards, particularly in the opening match...

Aircraft engineers and maintenance crews also won much well deserved praise achieving remarkable serviceability and turn-around rates to keep the aircraft flying. Ordnance crews were also required to load armaments of up to 227kg in all weather, day and night.

Sydney lost three aircraft on her second patrol, one of them from 805 Squadron in one of the more unusual occurrences of the war. On 26 October 1951, Sub Lieutenant Noel Knappstein was hit by flak while attacking ground targets at the mouth of the Han River. Knappstein force landed his Sea Fury on the nearby island of Kyodong Do in the Han Estuary, just south of the 38th Parallel. Realising that the plane was a write off, he salvaged what he could and sold the remainder of the wreck to some local villagers for about 1000 Wong. He was rescued shortly afterwards by HMS Amethyst which was then ordered to retrieve some more much needed and scarce equipment from the downed aircraft. The landing party was confronted by a farmer armed with a blunderbuss gun (an 18th century forerunner to a shotgun) determined to protect his new acquisition. Following some diplomatic discussions, the equipment was retrieved peacefully. Once he had converted the huge wad of cash into Australian currency, the entrepreneurial Knappstein's haul from the exercise amounted to one shilling and nine pence.

A member of Sydney's deck crew heads for cover as a Sea Fury loses a wheel on landing.
A member of Sydney's deck crew heads for cover as a Sea Fury loses a wheel on landing.
Lieutenant Keith Clarkson
Keith Clarkson
Sub Lieutenant Richard Sinclair
Sub Lieutenant
Richard Sinclair
Sub Lieutenant Ronald Coleman
Sub Lieutenant
Ronald Coleman

The realities of war, however, certainly took their toll on 805 Squadron. Sydney's CAG lost three aircrew during the Korean War, all from 805 Squadron. Lieutenant Keith Clarkson, DFM (a former RAAF pilot) was killed when his aircraft was struck by enemy fire while attacking a road convoy on 5 November 1951. He never recovered from the dive. Clarkson's death shocked the rest of the CAG not just because he was their first fatality, but also because he was 805 Squadron's Senior Pilot and one of the most experienced pilots in the CAG, having served in WWII with the Royal Australian Air Force.

805 Squadron suffered their second loss on 7 December 1951 when Sub Lieutenant Richard Sinclair was hit by flak north west of Chinnampo. His aircraft lost oil pressure and the engine caught fire forcing him to bail out. However, Sinclair was killed when he was struck by the tail-plane of his Sea Fury. He was the father of a one month old baby back home in Australia.

The Squadron's final loss was that of Sub Lieutenant Ronald Coleman who went missing on 2 January 1952 during an otherwise uneventful CAP over the Yellow Sea. Coleman disappeared into cloud and was never seen again. With weather conditions and visibility extremely poor, Sydney launched an arduous, but ultimately fruitless, search.

Sydney's last raids were scheduled for 25 January 1952, striking directly on the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. Extremely poor weather, however, meant that the mission was cancelled and Sydney returned to Australia a few days later via Sasebo and Hong Kong.

A Sea Fury lashed to HMAS Sydney's deck in the middle of the Korean winter.

Collectively, Sydney's CAG had flown 2366 sorties for the loss of three lives (all from 805 Squadron) and 14 aircraft (five of which were lost overboard or damaged beyond repair by Typhoon Ruth). Sydney had achieved an enviable operational record in Korea and it was noted that enemy activity decreased significantly in Sydney's area of operations.


Commander Douglas Hare.
Commander Douglas Hare.

Sydney arrived in Fremantle on 22 February 1952 in the middle of industrial unrest on the waterfront. Union action meant that no tugs arrived to pull Sydney out of the harbour on its departure date 3 days later. In response, the ship initiated an action known as Operation PINWHEEL. The Sea furies of 805 and 808 Squadrons simply started the engines of the aircraft sitting on Sydney's flightdeck to pull herself clear.

Following a much needed period of R&R, 805 Squadron re-embarked in Sydney in June 1952. However, the Squadron would lose another of its number the following month. The Squadron's new Commanding Officer, Commander Douglas Hare, was rehearsing for an air display at Naval Air Station (NAS) Nowra on 16 July 1952 when his aircraft failed to recover from a low level roll and hit the ground.

That October Sydney participated in Operation HURRICANE, the name given to the British nuclear tests in the Monte Bello Islands off the north-west coast of Western Australia. 805 Squadron, along with 816 Squadron, maintained a security radius of 72 kilometres around the test site.

The tests successfully concluded, Sydney returned to NAS Nowra that November and disembarked her aircraft before heading for the Coronation Fleet Review in England in March 1953. 805 Squadron, however, remained in Australia and, along with 816 Squadron, became the first Squadrons to embark in the RAN's newly commissioned aircraft carrier, HMAS Vengeance, in June 1953. The original intention was for Vengeance to head to Korea to relieve HMS Ocean. It was decided, however, that Sydney, and not Vengeance, would return to Korea with 805, 816 and 850 Squadrons embarked. Sydney departed Fremantle for Korea on 27 October 1953.

Sub Lieutenant John McClinton.
Sub Lieutenant John McClinton.

The July 1953 ceasefire meant that Sydney's second tour in Korea should have been a comparatively uneventful affair. However, the deaths of two pilots (one from 805 Squadron, the other from 850 Squadron) and the serious injury of an aircraft handler would mar the deployment. 805 Squadron pilot Sub Lieutenant John McClinton, RN died on 15 January 1954 from injuries sustained from walking into a rotating propeller on Sydney's flight deck.

Naval Airman 1st Class Keith John Hazel, a 'Hookman' who would race out from the catwalk to secure a landed aircraft after it had caught a wire, appeared to either misjudge a landing or the aircraft slipped a wire and caught a later one. In either case, Hazel ran onto the flight deck too early and an arrestor wire nearly severed both his legs. A US Army surgeon managed to save Hazel's life, and his legs, but he was discharged Permanently Unfit for Naval Service in August 1955. The incident highlighted how dangerous naval aviation could be for all involved.

Sydney departed for Australia on 4 May 1954 and arrived in Fremantle, via Hong Kong and Singapore, on 2 June 1954. After landing her aircraft at NAS Nowra later in the month, Sydney became a general service training ship. 805 Squadron undertook routine duties at NAS Nowra.

On the morning of 30 August 1955, 805 Squadron would be called upon to fire on an unusual 'enemy' in the skies over Sydney. That morning, Mr Anthony Thrower hired an Auster light aircraft from Kingsford Smith Aviation Flying School. He had completed one circuit of a training flight when the aircraft's engine failed as he was coming in to land at Bankstown airfield. Having successfully landed the aircraft, Thrower jumped out and swung the propeller (there was no self starter). Unfortunately for the pilot, the Auster's brakes failed as the engine roared to life. Thrower made a valiant attempt to board the aircraft as it gathered speed down the runway but was forced to jump clear and could only look on as the plane became airborne.

Lieutenants John Bluett, RN, and Peter McNay, RN, reliving their successful action against a pilotless Auster in 1955.
Lieutenants John Bluett, RN, and Peter McNay, RN, reliving their successful action against a pilotless Auster in 1955.

After circling Bankstown for about 15 minutes, the aircraft began to climb and drift towards the City, eventually crossing the coast at Vaucluse. An RAAF Wirraway was called in with orders to dispatch the runaway when it was five miles from the coast but by the time it reached that distance it also more than 10,000 feet high. With temperatures approaching minus five degrees, the Wirraway's poor gunner found his hands sticking to his Bren gun and he was unable to reload. An RAAF Meteor was called into the fray but its canons jammed after firing just a few rounds. The Auster, it seemed, was living a charmed life. At around 11:35am, two Sea Furies from 805 Squadron arrived on the scene and Lieutenants John Bluett, RN, and Peter McNay, RN, duly opened fire sending the 'little plane that could' hurtling into the sea.

Sea Venoms in formation
Sea Venoms in formation.

805 Squadron was decommissioned at NAS Nowra on 26 March 1958 and recommissioned just one week later on 31 March 1958, now equipped with de Havilland Sea Venom all weather jet fighters. The Squadron embarked in Melbourne and would participate in exercises over the next few years throughout Australia and the Pacific and would even establish its own aerobatic team; 'Checkmates'. However, with Government support waning and fixed wing naval aviation becoming increasingly expensive, 805 Squadron disbanded again on 30 June 1963. The Squadron, pilots and deck crew alike, and their families displayed remarkable dedication in the early 1960s. In the knowledge that fixed wing naval aviation was likely to be discontinued in the near future, 805 Squadron continued to meet their responsibilities and perform to an extraordinarily high standard.

A reappraisal of the Naval Three-Year Plan in 1965, due partly to a deterioration in the political climate in Australia's area of interest and partly to a lot of hard work at Navy Office, put fixed wing naval aviation back on the agenda. The Department of Defence recognised that without fighter protection, the RAN would be unable to meet its commitments to Australian forces overseas. It was decided that the RAN would purchase ten new McDonnell Douglas A-4G Skyhawks, including two TA-4G model trainers, to embark in HMAS Melbourne following her refit in 1968. Pilots and ground crew started training as early as mid-1966 and the Skyhawks, along with 14 Grumman S-2EG Trackers, were transported to Australia by Melbourne in November 1967.

Skyhawks front and centre on the deck of HMAS Melbourne with Trackers and Wessex helicopters in the background. HMAS Brisbane acts as escort on Melbourne's port side.
Skyhawks front and centre on the deck of HMAS Melbourne with Trackers and Wessex helicopters in the background. HMAS Brisbane acts as escort on Melbourne's port side.

Lieutenant Commanders John Da Costa (805 Squadron Commanding Officer) and Graeme King (805 Squadron Senior Pilot) travelled to the US to learn how to fly and instruct on the Skyhawk and, along with Lieutenant Mike Gump, USN, conducted the first conversions and Operational Flying School (OFS) for 805 Squadron. The Squadron officially recommissioned on 10 January 1968 and six pilots began training at NAS Nowra that month but stores problems quickly brought training to a standstill. Maintenance crews were having problems getting spare parts for engines, airframes and weapons systems and even had to resort to using cumbersome folding step ladders in place of boarding ladders to get people into and out of the aircraft. The Government had planned to send graduating OFS Skyhawk pilots to Vietnam to serve in US Marine Corps (USMC) squadrons. However, the stores problems meant that the first OFS course finished six months late and by this time, the US policy in Vietnam had become one of 'de-escalation.'

Skyhawks conduct low flypast over Melbourne.
Skyhawks conduct low flypast over Melbourne.

805 Squadron assumed its front line role in December 1968 with four Skyhawks and embarked in HMAS Melbourne the following April. In May 1969, Melbourne, with her new CAG made up of 805, 816 and 817 Squadrons (flying Trackers and Westland Wessex Mk31B helicopters respectively), departed Australia for the SEA SPRITE SEATO exercises in South East Asia. On 2 June 1969, 805 Squadron's Skyhawks successfully executed an attack on an 'enemy' Surface Action Group which had been spotted by 816 Squadron's Trackers. This marked the first time that RAN Skyhawks and Trackers would successfully combine in exercises displaying the effectiveness of the RAN's aviation capabilities.

The exercises, however, would be marred by a tragedy involving Melbourne. At 3:15am on 3 June 1969, Melbourne collided with USS Frank E Evans recalling the HMAS Voyager disaster five years earlier. No-one in Melbourne was hurt but the American destroyer lost 74 lives. Melbourne made for Singapore for temporary repairs before departing for Australia and a new bow section. The CAG remained operational in spite of the extensive damage.

An 805 Squadron Skyhawk on HMAS Melbourne's catapult prepares to launch. The deck crew in the foreground are just part of the team that work in often extreme conditions to keep aircraft flying.
An 805 Squadron Skyhawk on HMAS Melbourne's catapult prepares to launch. The deck crew in the foreground are just part of the team that work in often extreme conditions to keep aircraft flying.

805 Squadron continued to operate as part of the Melbourne CAG in exercises throughout the early 1970s. In November 1970, 805 Squadron Commanding Officer Lieutenant Commander Colin Patterson, MBE and Lieutenant Ken Palmer set a Skyhawk endurance record by flying 3379 kilometres from NAS Nowra to Fremantle, where Melbourne was participating in Exercise SWAN LAKE, in four and a half hours. The 'Nullarbor Express', as it was dubbed, included 'buddy' refuelling from other Skyhawks over South Australia, a capability unique in Australia.

The same Skyhawk after being launched from the catapult. This aircraft would be lost due to a catapult failure near Colombo Sri Lanka in 1980.
The same Skyhawk after being launched from the catapult. This aircraft would be lost due to a catapult failure near Colombo Sri Lanka in 1980.

By now the RAN had adopted USN prefixes for its Fleet Air Arm squadrons and 805 Squadron became VF805 Squadron, 'V' standing for fixed wing and 'F' for fighter. In May 1972, the Squadron expanded from four to eight aircraft but lost two the following year. On 5 June 1973, Sub Lieutenant Tony Der Kinderen was forced to eject about 37 kilometres east of RAAF Base Williamtown after a mechanical failure. On 8 November 1973, Sub Lieutenant Barry Evans was lucky to escape unhurt when a catapult failure saw his aircraft virtually fall into the sea while on exercises near Singapore. Evans remained in the aircraft as Melbourne passed overhead and freed himself underwater.

Not all pilots were so lucky. Sub Lieutenant Malcolm McCoy was killed on 17 July 1975 while on exercises at Beecroft Head Firing Range in NSW. McCoy was part of a four man flight conducting bombing practice at the range when he pulled up into the aircraft above him. He was only 19 years of age.

SBLT Malcolm McCoy in a Macchi trainer aircraft.
Sub Lieutenant Malcolm McCoy in a Macchi trainer aircraft.

VF 805 Squadron continued to win high praise in exercises throughout Australia, the South Pacific and South-East Asia during the 1970s. However, the expense of maintaining a light fleet carrier remained a great concern for the Government and other options that didn't require a carrier, such as Anti-Submarine Warfare helicopters and Vertical/Short Take-Off and Landing aircraft, were being explored. The Government once again decided to cease fixed wing naval aviation operations and VF805 Squadron decommissioned at NAS Nowra on 2 July 1982.

805 Squadron recommissioned for the fourth time in Australian service on 28 February 2001 as an attack helicopter squadron, equipped with eleven, specially configured, Kaman SH-2G(A) Super Sea Sprites originally procured to operate from the decks of the RAN's Anzac Class frigates. However, following the cancellation of the Super Sea Sprite program on 5 March 2008, the Squadron was again decommissioned four months later on 26 June 2008.

A Supa Seasprite off the coastline.
A Super Sea Sprite off the coastline.

Chronology of 805 Squadron history

04 May 1940
Formed as a RN fighter squadron
01 Jul 1948
28 Aug 1948
Reformed as the RANs first fighter squadron at RNAS Eglinton with Hawker Sea Furies for service in HMAS Sydney as part of 20th Carrier Air Group
31 Aug 1951
Departs Australia for Korean War
11 Oct 1951
Sets light fleet carrier record by flying 89 sorties in one day
27 Jan 1952
Tour in Korea ends
Oct 1952
Participates in Operation HURRICANE, British nuclear tests in the Monte Bello Islands
27 Oct 1953
Departs Australia for second tour in Korea
04 May 1954
Second tour in Korea ends
26 Mar 1958
Decommissioned at NAS Nowra
31 Mar 1958
Recommissioned at NAS Nowra with de Havilland Sea Venoms for service in HMAS Melbourne
30 Jun 1963
Decommissioned at NAS Nowra
10 Jan 1968
Recommissioned at NAS Nowra with McDonnell Douglas Skyhawks for service in HMAS Melbourne
Nov 1971
Sets a Skyhawk endurance record by flying 3379km from NAS Nowra to Fremantle in four and a half hours
02 Jul 1982
Decommissioned at NAS Nowra
28 Feb 2001
Recommissioned at NAS Nowra with Kaman Super Seasprite helicopters
05 Mar 2008
Super Sea Sprite program cancelled
26 Jun 2008
Decommissioned at NAS Nowra

Commanding Officers of 805 Squadron

Assumed Command
Commanding Officer
28 Aug 1948
Lieutenant Commander PEI Bailey, RN
11 Nov 1949
Lieutenant Commander CJ Cunningham, DSC, RN
05 Apr 1950
Lieutenant Commander WG Bowles, RN
09 Apr 1951
Lieutenant Commander JRN Salthouse, RAN
28 Jan 1952
Lieutenant G Jude, RAN
08 Apr 1952
Lieutenant Commander DR Hare, RAN
11 Aug 1952
Lieutenant Commander GFS Brown, RAN
18 Apr 1953
Lieutenant NR Williams, RAN
20 May 1953
Lieutenant Commander AJ Gould, RAN
26 Jul 1954
Lieutenant Commander JT Sherborne, RAN
03 May 1955
Lieutenant Commander RE Bourke, RAN
26 Nov 1956
Lieutenant Commander JGB Campbell, DSC, RAN
28 Feb 1958
Lieutenant Commander B Stock, RN
31 Mar 1958
Lieutenant Commander GA Beange, DSC, RAN
20 Jul 1959
Lieutenant Commander MWMcD Barron, RN
01 Nov 1960
Lieutenant Commander IK Josselyn, RAN
30 Oct 1961
Lieutenant Commander FT Lane, RAN
03 Sep 1962
Lieutenant WIT Mulholland, RAN
10 Jan 1968
Lieutenant Commander JR Da Costa, RAN
02 Dec 1968
Lieutenant Commander WE Callan, RAN
20 Jan 1969
Lieutenant Commander FT Lane, RAN
28 Jul 1969
Lieutenant Commander JR Da Costa, RAN
20 Jul 1970
Lieutenant Commander CJ Patterson, MBE, RAN
05 Jun 1972
Lieutenant Commander WE Callan, RAN
23 Jan 1974
Lieutenant Commander GS King, RAN
22 Jan 1976
Lieutenant Commander BJ Diamond, RAN
16 Jan 1978
Lieutenant Commander D Collingridge, RAN
11 Dec 1978
Lieutenant Commander EM Kavanagh, RAN
14 Jan 1980
Lieutenant Commander CC Blennerhassett, RAN
19 Jan 1981
Lieutenant Commander G Northern, RAN
28 Feb 2001
Commander A Dalton, RAN
23 May 2003
Commander PC Ashworth, RAN
21 Mar 2005
Commander SJ Bateman, RAN
31 Jun 2006
Lieutenant Commander LA Volz, RAN
20 Dec 2007
Lieutenant Commander M Royals, RAN

Battle honours

Ships company of 805 Squadron, c. 1950's.

Further reading

  • 'Flying Stations: A Story of Australian Naval Aviation', Australian Naval Aviation Museum, Allen & Unwin, St Leonards, 1998.
  • 'Flying Squadrons of the Australian Defence Force', Steve Eather, Aerospace Publications, Canberra, 1995.
  • 'Wings Across the Sea', Ross Gillett, Aerospace Publications, Canberra, 1988.
  • 'Wings and the Navy 1947-1953', Colin Jones, Kangaroo Press, Kenthurst, 1997.