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656 Sqn


Noble Field, Kuala Lumpur. © Imperial War Museum

Formation & World War II


Fitting bomb-marker flares. © Imperial War Museum

After their formation as 656 (AOP) Squadron, on 31 December 1942 at RAF Westley, it deployed to the Far East in support of the 14th Army in the Burma campaign.



Checking the perimeter around Surabaya, Indonesia.
© Imperial War Museum

656 Squadron operated from 1943 - 1946 in India, Burma and the Dutch East Indies. During the War, the squadron flew more operational hours than their counterparts in Europe. The squadron was due to take part in  the allied invasion of Malaya, but the Japanese surrendered before this took place and it was disbanded on 15 January 1947.


The squadron was then reduced in size and reformed, on 29 June 1948 into 1914 Flight, at Sembawang in Malaya during the internal conflict there. During this time, 656 provided support in both the AOP and air liaison roles throughout the emergency, working  with the Army and the Police against  communist guerillas.

In the Army

The Squadron then reformed as an AAC Squadron on 1 September 1957. 656 Light Aircraft Squadron's time in the Far East continued with tours in Singapore, Borneo and Hong Kong.

With the exception of 2 flights, the Squadron was disbanded in 1977 and returned to the UK to be reformed in Farnborough, from where they participated in Operation Agila (Rhodesia 1979-80) and Operation Corporate (The Falklands War) in 1982.

Falklands War

At the start of “Operation Corporate” six Scouts from 3 Commando Brigade Air Squadron were operating alongside three machines from No. 656 Squadron AAC, and when 5 Infantry Brigade landed they were joined by another three Scouts from 656 Squadron. During the Falklands conflict the Scout was engaged in CASEVAC, re-supply and Special Forces insertion roles. One aircraft, XT629, was one of two Scouts of B Flight 3 Commando Brigade Air Squadron, that was attacked by two FMA IA 58 Pucarás (the only Argentine air-to-air victory in the war) of Grupo 3 near Camilla Creek House, North of Goose Green. XT629 was hit by cannon fire and crashed, killing the pilot and severing the leg of the crewman, who was thrown clear of the wreckage on impact. The second Scout evaded the Pucarás and later returned to the site to CASEVAC the survivor. 

Another Scout, XR628, of 656 Sqn AAC, suffered a main rotor gearbox failure whilst in a low hover over MacPhee Pond, 8 June 1982. XR628 had taken cover as two pairs of A-4 Skyhawks from Grupo 5 approached, these aircraft later attacked the RFA LSLs Sir Galahad and Sir Tristram at Bluff Cove. Once the threat had passed the pilot SGT R Kalinski PARA began to climb away, the main gearbox failed at the main input drive and the aircraft made a forced landing at the lakeside in around four feet of freezing cold water. The two crew and three passengers STAFF/SGT Ward NCO AAC Sigs, R D Braithwaite & AIrtrooper Colin Badgery (LMG Gun group)also Army Air Corps personnel were picked up by another 656 Sqn Scout piloted by Capt J G Greenhalgh and his crewman air gunner later that day. The aircraft was eventually recovered and airlifted to Fitzroy by Seaking on 11 June, but was subsequently written off on its return to the UK. Following research at the National Archive, Kew, it has been determined that XR628 was the same aircraft that was shot down, 26 May 1964, carrying 3 Para CO Lt Col Farrar-Hockley.

Scouts armed with SS.11 anti-tank missiles were used to great effect during the Falklands campaign. On 14 Jun 1982, an Argentine 105 mm Pack Howitzer battery dug in to the West of Stanley Racecourse was firing at the Scots Guards as they approached Mount Tumbledown. As the guns were out of range of the Milan ATGWs of nearby 2 Para, their 2IC, Major Chris Keeble, contacted Capt J G Greenhalgh of 656 Sqn AAC on the radio and requested a HELARM using SS.11 missiles to attack on them. As he was engaged in ammunition re-supply, his Scout was not fitted with missile booms. This was in order to reduce weight and increase the aircraft lift capability. Capt Greenhalgh then returned to Estancia House, where his aircraft was refuelled, fitted out, and armed with four missiles in 20 minutes with the rotors still turning. An ‘O’ group was then held with the crews of two Scouts of 3 CBAS and Capt Greenhalgh took off on a reconnaissance mission, while the other aircraft were fitted out and readied. Within 20 minutes he had located the target and carried out a detailed recce of the area. He fired two missiles at the enemy positions and then returned to a pre-arranged RV to meet up and guide in the other two Scouts. The three aircraft, positioned 100 metres apart, then fired a total of ten missiles (nine missiles hit, one failed) from the ridge overlooking the Argentine positions 3000m away and succeeded in hitting the howitzers, nearby bunkers, an ammunition dump and the command post. The Argentine troops returned mortar fire, a round landing directly in front of Capt Greenhalgh’s Scout.

In the early hours of 6 June 1982, a Gazelle helicopter (serial no. XX377) was shot down over Pleasant Peak by HMS Cardiff in a friendly fire incident. All four occupants were killed, the pilot Staff Sergeant Christopher Griffin, his crewman Lance Corporal Simon Cockton and two passengers from 205 Signal Squadron of the Royal Corps of Signals, Major Michael Forge and Staff Sergeant John Baker. The contributing factors were a lack of an "Identification Friend or Foe" transmitter on the helicopter and poor communication between the army and navy. The number "205" was later painted at the crash site (51.783600°S 58.467786°W) as a memorial.

Subsequent History

After a short stay at Netheravon as part of 7 Regt AAC the Squadron relocated to Dishforth as one of the Anti Tank Squadrons of 9 Regt AAC in 1993. The Squadron was chosen as one of the AAC new Apache Squadrons and in April 2004 started its conversion to role. The first phase of this completed in October 2004. The Squadron was the first operational Apache Squadron in the Army Air Corps and reached fully operational status along with the remainder of 9 Regt AAC in June 2005

Since this, the Squadron has carried out various exercises in support of Maritime the most notable being exercise "Pixus" in support of HMS Ocean in September - October 2005. The Squadron was then moved back to a land role in preparation for deployment. 2006 saw the Squadron act as lead aviation for the deployment to Afghanistan in May.

The Squadron's deployments to Afghanistan in May 2006 and again in May 2007 have been documented and brought into the public eye by the books of former squadron weapons officer, WO1 Ed Macy, Apache and Hellfire. In 2007, it became part of 4 Regiment, Army Air Corps.

In May 2011, several of its Apache helicopters were deployed on the Response Force Task Group COUGAR 11 deployment. They are now re-deployed to Operation Unified Protector. In October 2013, Apache Helicopters from 656 AAC launched from HMS Illustrious as part of the Response Force Task Group's COUGAR 13 deployment.

Sources

*Wikipedia article ratings, in order of quality: Stub, Start, C, B, GA
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