849 Naval Air Squadron is a squadron of the Fleet Air Arm, the Air Arm of the British Royal Navy. It was formed during the Second World War as a carrier based torpedo-bomber, unit, flying missions against Japanese targets in the Far East. Its service since the Second World War has been as an airborne early warning squadron, flying fixed winged Skyraiders and Gannets from the Royal Navy's fixed wing carriers from 1952 until 1978, and airborne early warning Sea King helicopters since 1982.
849 Naval Air Squadron was formed on 1 August 1943 at the Naval Air Station Quonset Point, Rhode Island with Grumman Avenger Is. It returned to the UK and provided anti-surface vessel and anti-submarine patrols over the English Channel prior to and during the D-Day operations.
In August 1944, it was sent to Ceylon to join the British Eastern Fleet, embarking on HMS Victorious (and becoming part of the British Pacific Fleet in November 1944). It took part in Operation Lentil against oil installations at Pangkalan Brandan in Sumatra on 4 January 1945, and in the larger carrier strikes against the oil refineries at Palembang Sumatra (Operation Meridian on 24 and 29 January.
Victorious, including 849 in its Carrier Air Group, took part in operations in support of the American invasion of Okinawa from March to May 1945, flying strikes against airfields used by Japanese Kamikaze aircraft on the Sakishima Islands and on Formosa. Still aboard Victorious, No. 849 took place in raids against the Japanese Home islands in July and August, including the bombing raids on 24 July that resulted in severe damage to the Japanese escort carrier Kaiyo. It disbanded on 31 October 1945.
The squadron reformed at Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS) Brawdy on 7 July 1953, being equipped with ex United States Navy Douglas Skyraider AEW.1 as an Airborne Early Warning unit, from 778 Naval Air Squadron. These were operated by squadron detachments assigned to the Royal Navy's aircraft carriers HMS Ark Royal, Bulwark, Eagle, Hermes and Victorious.
Following the retirement of the Skyraiders in December 1960, the unit flew the Fairey Gannet AEW.3 in the same role, operating from HMS Eagle, Ark Royal, Centaur, Hermes and Victorious. Gannet AS.4, COD.4 and T.5s were also operated in supporting roles. The squadron detachments continued as 849B (Ark Royal) and 849HQ (RAF Lossiemouth), until the squadron disbanded again on 15 December 1978.
In November 1970 Bristol Belle, one of the first hot air balloons to fly in UK, was piloted by Lt Terry Adams, accompanied by Lt Howard Draper both of 849 Squadron B Flight (Gannets). This early morning launch carried mail into Malta whilst the Ark Royal was steaming off the southern coast of that island.
It reformed after the lessons of the 1982 South Atlantic campaign had been learned, on 8 November 1984 and the unit now operates the Westland Sea King Mk7 Airborne Surveillance and Control (ASaC) helicopter. The squadron has its headquarters at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall and operates 9 aircraft. It is divided into three elements - two flights (A and B), or Aardvarks and Bees and the Operational Conversion Unit (OCU)(Previously known as HQ). Historically a Flight is assigned to each of the two active aircraft carriers in the Royal Navy but this system is currently changing. The squadron suffered heavy losses during the 2003 invasion of Iraq when two of its aircraft operating from HMS Ark Royal collided during low visibility conditions. Six squadron members and an American exchange officer were killed in the collision.
On 13 December 2006, after a short ceremony at RNAS Culdrose, A Flight became 854 Squadron and B Flight became 857 Squadron, taking the former's Sea King ASaC.7 with them.
In May 2014, the MOD announced that seven ASaC.7 helicopters, to be operated by 849 Naval Air Squadron, will remain in service with the RN through to the second half of 2018; the remainder of the Royal Navy's Sea Kings, of all types, will be withdrawn by 2016.
854 and 857 Naval Air Squadrons will be reabsorbed by 849 Naval Air Squadron in 2015, to form 'Normandy' and 'Palembang' flights respectively. The Squadron will continue to operate a small number of Sea King ASaC.7s to maintain Airborne Surveillance and Control capability until the arrival of the 'Crowsnest'-equipped Merlin HM.2 in 2018, at which point the squadron will transition to the new aircraft. The third flight in 849 NAS is 'Okinawa Flight'.
The squadron operated a variety of different aircraft and versions:Grumman Avenger I & II
Douglas Skyraider AEW.1
Fairey Gannet AEW.3, AS.4, COD.4 & T.5
Westland Sea King AEW.2/2A
Westward Sea King ASaC Mk7