443 Sqn Information

 443 Sqn Commanding Officers

Squadron History

 World War II
1942-1946
 Vancouver
 1957-1964
 Shearwater 1974-1989
 Victoria
1989 - Present

 443 Squadron World War II History from Manitoba Military Aviation Museum
B
Y WING COMMANDER F. H. HITCHINS
Air Historian

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   
   
443 Squadron History
Shearwater 1974 - 1989
A decade later, in Shearwater, Nova Scotia, the Royal Canadian Navy's only shipborne helicopter squadron HS-50 was successfully meeting the needs of the Navy. However, the enormous size of HS-50 squadron made it difficult to administer. On July 31, 1974, the decision was made by NDHQ to reactivate 443 Squadron. This was to be done by splitting HS-50, into HS 423 and HS 443 - former RCAF units. The HS prefix reflected the new role and type of aircraft within the squadron (i.e. Anti-Submarine Shipborne Helicopters).

HS-50 had been created on June 4, 1955, as an experimental Naval Air Squadron; its purpose was to prove the viability of the role of Helicopters in Anti- Submarine Warfare (ASW) and develop the techniques and equipment required to fulfill this role. Originally equipped with the H04S-3 Horse helicopter, HS-50 operated primarily from the deck of the aircraft carrier HMCS Bonaventure. In 1963, the Horse was replaced by the CHSS-2 Sea King helicopter and the successful "marriage" of an ASW helicopter with a helicopter carrying destroyer (DDH) was eventually effected. Small detachments were now required on the DDHs as well as the complement on the carrier. Although the retirement of HMCS BONAVENTURE in 1969 eliminated some of HS-50's responsibilities, the introduction of the new DDH 280 Tribal Class ships in the early 1970s, requiring two helicopters each, greatly increased the squadron manning requirements and necessitated the requirement to reduce the size of HS-50.

The official date of reactivation of HS 443 and HS 423, and the deactivation of HS-50, was September 3, 1974. However, the official ceremony occurred on October 25, centering on a three day celebration of festivities and social functions. Guests at the activities included former Commanding Officers of HS-50, and the last serving Commanding Officers of both 423 and 443 Squadrons.

443 Squadron's first Commanding Officer in its new ASW helicopter role was LCol G. B. (Barry) Montgomery, the Commanding Officer of HS 50 at the time it was disbanded.

The tasking for HS 443, as result of becoming an ASW helicopter squadron, was far different from any it had before, either during the war years as a fighter squadron, or later in British Columbia as a training squadron. However, it did bring the squadron back to its birth place in Shearwater, where for a short time during the war, it had been employed doing some coastal patrol work. The new maritime involvement was to be far more encompassing.

The squadron's new primary role was to supply operationally qualified aircrew to the fleet of helicopter carrying destroyers. Other roles included training HS crews in all aspects of Maritime Operations, assisting in the development of operations, tactics and new equipment.

Secondary tasks included fishery patrols in Canadian waters to protect and police the 200-mile offshore limit, plus goodwill and recruiting trips up the Great Lakes and to Eastern Canadian ports. In addition to normal day-to-day activities, HS-443 is also responsible for conducting search and rescue operations. One particularly interesting incident involved the Assiniboine detachment. Their dramatic rescue of eight crewmen from the motor vessel BARMA resulted in four medals being awarded to the rescue crew. The incident began on January 20, 1975, when the 165-foot freighter, which was about 100 miles southeast of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, reported she was taking on water. Search and Rescue fixed-wing aircraft dropped portable pumps to the vessel but they were to no avail, and the ship's list increased to 45 degrees. Due to the high winds and sea state, one American and two Canadian Coast Guard vessels and a Russian Fishing trawler standing by the stricken vessel were unable to effect a rescue.

At 2300 hours that night, the decision was made to send HMCS Assiniboine with her Sea King detachment to carry out the rescue. Sailing from Halifax at 25 knots, she had to wrestle heavy seas. By 0810 on January 21, USCGS Active reported that the starboard side of the Barma was awash. The decision to launch the Sea King was made and within 15 minutes it was airborne with a crew consisting of Capt Paul Bow, Capt Bob Henderson, Lt(RN) Alan Welton, and Sgt Doug Bullerwell. At 0845, after some difficulty due to low visibility and poor weather, the stricken vessel was located and the crew planned their rescue.

Due to the height of the ship's masts and the limited length of the Sea King rescue hoist cable, it was considered too dangerous to hover above the BARMA so it was decided to use a Royal Navy method of rescue called the "High Line Transfer". A long length of rope was attached to the hoist and lowered from a safe altitude to the ship where one end was held by the ship's crew. The helicopter was then hovered alongside the vessel and Lt Welton was lowered on the hoist while the crew of the BARMA, using the "High Line", pulled him over the deck. However, it was not without incident, as he received several bruises when hit by the pitching vessel while being lowered aboard.

From this point on, it was simply a matter of team work between Lt Welton and Sgt Bullerwell who was operating the hoist. Timing the movement of the rolling ship in the heavy swells and using the High Line as a safety guide rope, they quickly lifted the eight crew men to the safety of the helicopter. This seemingly simple and efficient operation was actually very difficult considering the weather, sea conditions and the problems of hovering a helicopter accurately beside a wallowing ship. The entire flight took only one hour and 20 minutes.

But their story does not end here. On the way back to Halifax with the rescued crew members, a call was received from the Liberian tanker PHOSPHORE CONVEYOR, that a critically-ill crewman was onboard. The helicopter was launched once again and the injured man hoisted from the ship and flown to Halifax. This occurred at 0200 hrs., January 22, just 25 hours after HMCS ASSINIBOINE originally left Halifax.

As a result of their heroic actions, Lt Welton (RN) received the Star of Courage and the other three crew members, Capt Bob Henderson, Capt Paul Bow and Sgt Douglas Bullerwell, received the Medal of Bravery. These were the first medals of bravery to be won by the squadron since World War Two.

During the summer of 1976, LCol Barry Montgomery turned over command to LCol Barry Fegarty, who was the first Navigator to command 443 Squadron.  October 1976 will be remembered for the search and rescue efforts of the squadron in connection with the GABRIELLA. The crew of this merchant ship abandoned her when she started taking on water. In the subsequent search for survivors, Argus aircraft, and HMCS ASSINIBOINE, ANNAPOLIS, IROQUOIS, SKEENA and PROTECTEUR, who were returning from an EASTLANT deployment, became involved. Almost all of the crew perished. The few bodies recovered during the search were flown into St John's by a 443 Sqn crew. The GABRIELLA, which did not sink, was later towed into St John's, Newfoundland, less than a hundred miles from where the crew abandoned her.

One of the two major rescue missions in which squadron personnel were involved during 1977 occurred on June 3. In the early hours of the morning, word was received that the Canadian National ferry WILLIAM CARSON, which was operating between Newfoundland and Labrador, was sinking. Over one hundred people from the stricken ship were preparing to spend the night on ice floes awaiting rescue. The squadron recall resulted in seven crews being launched; however, as word came in that local rescuers had picked up the survivors, the SAR operation wound down, and all but two aircraft returned to base. These two crews continued to assume a standby role in Newfoundland; before they returned to base five days later, one crew was involved in the rescue of a fisherman from his disabled boat off Stephenville, and the other crew delivered an engine to a SAR helicopter in St Anthony.

Later in the year, poor weather conditions were about to cancel a crew trainer for Maj Jim McBain, Lt Pierre Saucier, Lt Don McLeod and WO Paul Peacey, when word of a severely injured fisherman reached the squadron. Within minutes, the crew was airborne in the fog. After a quick refueling in Yarmouth, the rescue was made in "0" visibility and the young fisherman safely medevaced to hospital.

Undoubtedly for some, the most interesting event of the year was the second rescue mission in which squadron personnel were involved. Detachments from HMCS PRESERVER, HURON, SAGUENAY, and ANNAPOLIS were participating in EASTLANT operations during the month of October and November. On the morning of November 12, the fleet was southbound in the North sea, having just completed a port visit to Gothenburg, Sweden, when a message was received from a ship in distress. The British merchant ship HERO, about sixty miles south of the fleet's position, was taking on water. Near-hurricane force winds with forty foot seas made sailing not only uncomfortable, but dangerous. Nevertheless, all ships increased to the maximum safe speed which aggravated the pounding being experienced by both ships and crews. HMCS HURON, with her superior hull design, sped ahead of the fleet and became the first rescue unit on the scene. A lull in the high winds permitted the ship to launch a Sea King crewed by Maj Jim McBain, Maj Jay Doyle, Capt Dave Nimmo and WO Paul Peacey. The high seas made hoisting very difficult due to the up and down motion of the life rafts, but they successfully lifted seven people to the safety of the helicopter. The remainder of the thirty-man crew was picked up by shore based German Helicopters. The survivors were airlifted the next day to the RAF base in Manston, England, where thirty-three years before, 443 Squadron pilots gathered prior to the invasion of Europe. For their efforts, the HS 443 crew members each received the Chief of Defence Staff Commendation.

During the summer of 1978, LCol Barry Fegarty turned over command to LCol Lorne Reynolds who had just completed his tour as the Deputy Commander of the CF Maritime Warfare School.  The operation of the two Sea King squadrons is probably unique in the Canadian military aviation world. Basically, 443 consisted of a headquarters group, and five flights - each making up a ship's air detachment (Helairdet). Initially, the squadron did not have its own aircraft or maintenance personnel. As a result, when a detachment was assigned to a ship, Canadian Forces Base Shearwater supplied the aircraft and the technicians which then came under the command of the HS 443 Detachment Commander. However, in November 1979 the base assigned maintenance personnel and aircraft for each active detachment to the squadron on a permanent basis.

The Squadron was in the news once again in March 1980. The ship Maurice de Gagnes began taking on water after her load had shifted in heavy seas. HMCS HURON with her Helairdet was dispatched to escort the stricken vessel into Halifax 70 miles to the north. Shortly after the rendezvous the decision was made to abandon the vessel because of the severe starboard list and the heavy seas. The 443 Helicopter from HMCS HURON lowered a diver to the stricken vessel, which was now listing 50 to starboard and commenced hoisting the crew using a method known as the high line transfer; meanwhile another helicopter with a HS 443 crew was tasked from CFB Shearwater to assist in the rescue. The decision to abandon the vessel proved to be very timely as sixteen minutes after the last crew member had been hoisted from the deck, the Maurice de Gagnes slipped below the waves to her watery grave. All 21 crew members were delivered to HMCS HURON by the two 443 Squadron crews and arrived in Halifax later in the evening.

On the 12th of May 1980, Majs Doyle and Moffat made a difficult approach to the helo landing pad on Sable Island in visibility of less than 50 yards to bring off 9-year old Todd Allison who had his chest crushed by a tractor and required immediate medical attention. Todd subsequently recovered and was made an honorary member of HS 443.  During the summer of 1980, LCol George Laforme assumed command of 443 Squadron from LCol Lorne Reynolds.

In late November 1980, the HS 443 detachment aboard HMCS FRASER, serving with NATO's Standing Naval Force Atlantic, answered a distress call from the FN St. Irene which was floundering in a severe gale in the North Sea and listing 30 in the heavy seas. Capt Dave McCoubrey and his crew battled the high winds in the middle of the night to hoist 12 of the ship's crew to safety.

Each detachment operates like a miniature squadron, having members under the Detachment Commander responsible for various operations while embarked i.e. training, administration, flight safety, aircraft maintenance and the coordination of ship-air activities. Detachments vary in size from ship to ship, however usually two crews will accompany one helicopter on the 205/265 class DDHs while three crews will embark with two helicopters on the 280 class destroyers.

The crew of four consists of a Pilot, Co-pilot, Tactical navigator (TACCO) and Air Observer. The two pilots are responsible for flying the helicopter, as well as flight safety. The TACCO performs the tactical navigation and the Observer operates the "dipping" sonar. In addition, the Observer shares a radar set with the TACCO and does most of the air photography and rescue hoist work. All of the crew members are commissioned officers except for the Observer.

During the summer months, there were usually regularly scheduled exercises off the Canadian coast designed to provide the opportunity to exercise in our own environment and to conduct training. During the late 1970s, the summer months often saw squadron members heading for the Arctic, normally in the replenishment ships (AORs) to re-supply remote northern outposts and to test their ability to work in the north.

During the period that 443 Squadron was based in Shearwater supporting the Atlantic Fleet, exercises in the Eastern Atlantic (EASTLANT) usually occurred annually during the fall and early winter months. Normally about two months long, these exercises not only provided excellent training towards NATO deployments, but also gave the crews the opportunity to work with various NATO nations and allies as a unit.

To fulfill Canada's NATO commitment, one helicopter-equipped destroyer was always attached to the Standing Naval Force Atlantic (STANAVFORLANT). During the 1970s and 1980s, this fleet usually consisted of six or more ships, each from a different NATO nation. These deployments of two to four months, operated in North American and European waters, as well as the Caribbean and above the Arctic circle.