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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.