HS 816 Squadron has had a long and illustrious history with both the Royal Navy (1939-1948) and the Royal Australian Navy (since 1948).
Equipped with nine Swordfish I aircraft, the squadron first formed as a Royal Navy unit aboard the aircraft carrier HMS Furious on 3 October 1939. Over the next few years while conducting operations protecting allied shipping, squadron aircraft were responsible for the sinking of several German ‘U’ Boats.
During the remainder of World War Two, 816 Squadron disbanded and reformed several times and were served by many different aircraft types. During the Normandy invasion, squadron aircraft conducted operations in the English Channel, and saw war service at other times as far afield as the North Atlantic, Norway, Malta and Jamaica.
On 28 August 1948, newly-outfitted with Firefly FR.4 aircraft, 816 Squadron reformed at Eglinton UK – for the first time as a Royal Australian Navy squadron.
Soon after, as part of the 20th Carrier Air Group, 816 embarked aboard HMAS Sydney for passage to Australia. Upon arrival, 816 Squadron became an integral unit of the recently-created Fleet Air Arm based at the HMAS Albatross, Nowra.
In 1952 squadron aircraft participated in the Monte Bello Islands atomic tests and in 1953 spent time embarked aboard HMAS Sydney in Korean waters.
Over the next 40 years, 816 Squadron again disbanded and reformed several times while being updated with more modern aircraft types. These included the Gannet, Sea Venom and the American-built S-2 Tracker aircraft.
The decommissioning of the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne marked the end of the 816 Squadron ‘fixed wing’ era, with the squadron disbanded on 2 July 1982.
On 7 February 1984, the Squadron was reformed and equipped with its first rotary wing aircraft type, the Westland Wessex Mk 31B, in the army support role. It was decommissioned again in 1987 and the aircraft returned to HC 723 Squadron.
On 8 February 1988, the embryonic Seahawk Introduction and Transition Unit (SITU) was raised to bring the S-70B-2 into service and to provide the initial fully-trained crews for trials as well as the first ships’ flights. This program was interrupted when, in response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, two Seahawks were deployed to the Gulf region in HMA Ships Darwin and Adelaide in support of trade sanctions against Iraq.
Taking over from SITU, HS 816 was commissioned in its current form on 23 July 1992 with sixteen aircraft. Seahawks were then subsequently deployed to the Persian Gulf aboard HMA Ships Sydney, Darwin, Adelaide, Canberra and eventually Melbourne in 1996, as part of the relief task groups. HMAS Sydney replaced them in November and was there in January for the actual war. HMAS Sydney had a Seahawk from SITU and a Squirrel from 723 SQN embarked.
While operating in the Gulf region, these aircraft provided valuable support to the parent ship’s capabilities in the roles of surveillance, boarding operations, mine detection and combat search and rescue.
HS 816 Squadron currently has flights embarked aboard a number of RAN frigates, providing a state-of-the-art weapon system that significantly enhances the Fleet’s warfare capabilities.