Wattisham: Squadron heroes reunite to mark 70 years of flying
- Credit: Cpl Obi Igbo
An Army aviation squadron has celebrated 70 years of flying, half of which has been spent on operations.
656 Squadron, part of 4 Regiment Army Air Corps, was formed during World War Two to fly artillery observation missions in Auster aircraft and is now at the forefront of operating the Apache attack helicopter.
The milestone was celebrated with a get together and an Apache flypast for serving soldiers, veterans and families at the unit’s base at Wattisham Flying Station on Friday.
Major Piers Lewis, officer commanding 656 Sqn, said: “It’s important to bring everyone together to mark the anniversary because it is our soldiers, past and present, who make the squadron what it is.
“Mixing across the generations helps create the sense of identity and purpose that is behind our successful history.” Major Lewis added: “656 Squadron started in the Second World War in flimsy Auster aircraft and is now at the forefront of operating the Apache.
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“We were the first frontline squadron to receive the helicopter in 2003, the first to put it onboard a Royal Navy ship in 2005, the first to deploy to Afghanistan in 2006 and then flew the first operational sorties from a ship in 2011.”
Vince Weaver, 90, who flew missions as an observer and radio operator in support of operations against the Japanese in Burma, was among the veterans at the celebration.
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He was among the first soldiers to join the squadron when it was formed in December 1942 from a mix of RAF and Royal Artillery personnel.
He said: “It’s been great to come back and meet the current soldiers, who have got the same approach to life and work as we had in Burma.
“The Apache is far a more solid aircraft than the Austers we were flying in, and it’s amazing to see the advances in technology.”
After World War Two, the unit was based in Malaya before taking part in peacekeeping operations in Rhodesia, the Falklands War and two deployments to the Balkans.
The unit has flown aircraft including the Tiger Moth biplane, seven different marks of the Auster and Scout, Lynx and Gazelle helicopters.
Since equipping with the Apache, the unit has deployed on three tours of Afghanistan and during the NATO-led Libya operation in 2011 flew the helicopter’s first operational missions from onboard a Royal Navy ship.
Last week 656 Sqn returned from training onboard HMS Illustrious.