724 Squadron History

724 Squadron Badge

724 Squadron has its origins in the Royal Navy (RN) where it was formed in Australia as a Naval Air Communications unit on 10 April 1945. The Squadron flew daily courier flights between Sydney and Melbourne before being disbanded on 31 May 1946 with the departure of the British Pacific Fleet.

724 Squadron re-commissioned into the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) at Naval Air Station (NAS) Nowra on 1 June 1955 carrying out fixed-wing conversion training for the Fleet Air Arm's (FAA) front line squadrons. Commanded by Lieutenant Commander Lionel Robinson, the squadron flew a variety of aircraft including Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation CA-16 Wirraways, Hawker Sea Fury Mark IIs, Fairey Firefly A.S.6s, and de Havilland Sea Vampire Mk T.22s, and took delivery of three Fairey Gannet T.2s in May the following year.

On the ground at NAS Nowra from front to back: Gannets, Sea Venoms, Sea Vampires, a Dakota and Wessex helicopters.
On the ground at NAS Nowra from front to back: Gannets, Sea Venoms, Sea Vampires, a Dakota and Wessex helicopters.

1956 proved to be a year of upheaval and tragedy for the squadron as three naval aviators perished in three separate accidents in 724 Squadron aircraft. Firstly, Sub-Lieutenant Brian Howe was killed on 10 April when his Sea Fury crashed into the ground near NAS Nowra as he was returning from a night sortie. Lieutenant William Dunlop was the first RAN member to be killed in a Vampire when his aircraft suffered a mechanical failure and crashed, also at NAS Nowra, on 6 August. Finally, Commander Daniel Buchanan, Commander (Air) at HMAS Albatross, was also killed in a Vampire when his aircraft crashed into the sea off Greenwell Point near Nowra on 8 October.

A RAN Sea Vampire on the ground at NAS Nowra. In the background is a Gannet.
A RAN Sea Vampire on the ground at NAS Nowra. In the background is a Gannet.

In addition to these tragic events, the Squadron also experienced a major shift in the make up of its aircraft complement when, on 25 October 1956, it took on most of the de-commissioning 723 Squadron aircraft, including its Bristol Sycamore HR 50/51 helicopters. The Sycamores were transferred back to the re-constituted 723 Squadron just four months later and most of 724 Squadron's fixed-wing aircraft (except for the Gannets and Vampires) were transferred to 805 Squadron and 851 Squadron. In 1958, the Gannets were transferred to 725 Squadron and 724 Squadron became the FAA's first entirely jet aircraft squadron flying de Havilland Sea Vampire Mk T.22s and De Havilland Sea Venom F.A.W. Mk 53s.

A RAN Sea Venom with its wings folded on the ground at NAS Nowra.
A RAN Sea Venom with its wings folded on the ground at NAS Nowra.

Part of 724 Squadron's responsibility was to provide interception practice for Direction Officers training at HMAS Watson in the Radar Plot branch. The Squadron also provided aircraft for ships working up at sea near Jervis Bay performing varied tasks such as radar and communications calibration exercises through to mock attacks with multiple aircraft.

Early in 1958, the Squadron's Sea Venoms also started to provide targets for air-to-air live firing practice along with the Sea Furies and Fireflies. The Sea Venoms could tow target at speeds of up to 250 knots (over 460 kph) whereas the Sea Furies and Fireflies could only manage 140 knots (about 260 kph). The Sea Furies were de-commissioned altogether in October 1962 and target towing was left to the Sea Venoms and Fireflies.

The Squadron also took advantage of the Sea Venom's display capabilities by putting together a formation aerobatic team in 1959 called the Ramjets. Led, in its most successful early period, by LCDR Ian Josselyn, the Ramjets made the first jet formation aerobatic film in Australia and were a popular attraction at air shows around the country.

RAN Sea Venoms putting on an aerial display.
RAN Sea Venoms putting on an aerial display.

Another crash ensured that the last year of the 1950s was a sad one for the Squadron when a Sea Venom crashed into the sea off the NSW South Coast with the loss of two lives. The aircraft had taken off from NAS Nowra to carry out a low-level photographic reconnaissance exercise on 20 May 1959. It was seen to circle the merchant vessel Komona before crashing into the sea around 30 kilometres east of Ulladulla. Both the pilot, Lieutenant Stanley Carmichael, and observer, Acting Sub-Lieutenant Michael Williams were killed. Komona alerted naval authorities and made its way to the crash site but only the wing-tip fuel tanks were recovered. The remains of the aircraft were discovered by the CSIRO fisheries research vessel Soela nearly 30 years later on 18 May 1988.

Lieutenant Stanley Carmichael with 808 Squadron in 1955. Carmichael and Acting Sub-lieutenant Michael Williams were killed when their 724 Squadron Sea Venom crashed into the sea off the NSW South Coast in 1959. Carmichael is second from the left in the front row, with the beard.
Lieutenant Stanley Carmichael with 808 Squadron in 1955. Carmichael and Acting Sub-lieutenant Michael Williams were killed when their 724 Squadron Sea Venom crashed into the sea off the NSW South Coast in 1959. Carmichael is second from the left in the front row, with the beard.

The upheaval experienced by the FAA in the early 1960's was reflected in 724 Squadron as the unit became something of repository for the FAA's fixed-wing aircraft as fixed-wing operations began to wind down. 725 Squadron de-commissioned on 31 May 1961 followed by 805 Squadron on 30 June 1963. Those Squadrons' aircraft were transferred to 724 Squadron along with the fixed-wing element of 723 Squadron in November 1963. The Squadron's aircraft complement had grown to include Sea Venoms, Gannets, Vampires, Fireflies, Douglas C47A Dakotas and Auster J5-G Autocars

By the end of 1963, 724 and 816 Squadrons were the only FAA Squadrons operating fixed-wing aircraft until fixed-wing operations recommenced in earnest in 1968. 724 Squadron's tasks had also expanded to include all-weather fighter, Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) and operational flying training along with general fleet support, trials and communications tasks.

An Auster J5-G Autocar.
An Auster J5-G Autocar.

The Squadron became an all jet squadron once again in December 1968 flying Sea Vampires, Sea Venoms and the trainer variant of the newly acquired McDonnell Douglas A4G Skyhawk. In October 1970, the Squadron began taking delivery of the CAC Aermacchi MB-326H (Macchi) jet trainer. The Macchis were identical to those in use with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and procurement, spares and overhaul programs were all handled by the RAAF, an arrangement which worked very well. The Macchis completely replaced the Vampires and Sea Venoms in 1972.

RAN Macchi trainers in flight over Nowra.
RAN Macchi trainers in flight over Nowra.

By that time the Squadron's roles had expanded to include operational flying training, fleet requirements, trials, missile firing, target towing and photo reconnaissance training. The RAN had also adopted United States Navy (USN) pre-fixes for its FAA Squadrons and 724 Squadron became VC724 Squadron indicating that it was officially designated a fixed-wing composite unit.

Although it was nominally rated as a second line squadron, VC724 Squadron did participate in fleet exercises providing close air support to ground troops during large scale ground manoeuvres and also formed another aerobatic team in the early 1970's, this time with Skyhawks.

A Skyhawk TA-4G trainer departs NAS Nowra on a training mission.
A Skyhawk TA-4G trainer departs NAS Nowra on a training mission.

In spite of its commendable service, the future of fixed-wing naval aviation remained in doubt throughout the late 1970s. The chances of acquiring a new carrier to replace HMAS Melbourne (II) when she paid off in the mid 1980's became increasingly thin and Naval Aviation's focus became firmly fixed on rotary-wing and Vertical/ Short Take-Off and Landing (VSTOL) aircraft. With Melbourne's decommissioning in June 1982 it was not long before the RAN's two front-line fixed-wing squadrons, VF805 and VS816, were disbanded at NAS Nowra on 2 July 1982. VC724 Squadron consequently absorbed VF805 into its complement and the Macchis were transferred to the RAAF 12 months later. VC724 squadron de-commissioned at NAS Nowra on 30 June 1984 and the RAN's Skyhawks were sold to the Royal New Zealand Air Force.

Chronology

Date Event
10/04/1945 Formed as a RN squadron
31/05/1946 Disbanded
01/06/1955 Re-commissioned into the RAN at NAS Nowra as a fixed-wing conversion training unit with a variety of aircraft
13/01/1958 Becomes an all-jet squadron flying Sea Vampires and Sea Venoms
31/05/1961 725 Squadron de-commissions and its aircraft is transferred to 724 Squadron
30/06/1963 805 Squadron de-commissions and its aircraft is transferred to 724 Squadron
11/1963 723 Squadron's fixed-wing aircraft transferred to 724 Squadron
12/1968 Becomes an all-jet squadron flying Sea Vampires, Sea Venoms and Skyhawks
10/1970 Begins taking delivery of Macchi jet trainers
1972 Sea Vampires and Sea Venoms paid off
30/06/1984 De-commissioned at NAS Nowra

Commanding Officers

Assumed Command Commanding Officer
01/06/1955 Lieutenant Commander L.A. Robinson
25/02/1957 Lieutenant Commander P.R. Dallosso
01/07/1957 Lieutenant Commander K.M. Barnett
06/08/1957 Lieutenant Commander A.G. Cordell
01/09/1958 Lieutenant C.E. Champ
24/11/1958 Lieutenant Commander G.J.B. Hanchard-Goodwin, RN
15/02/1959 Lieutenant Commander M.W.McD. Barron, RN
20/07/1959 Lieutenant Commander G.J.B. Hanchard-Goodwin, RN
09/12/1959 Lieutenant Commander I.K. Josselyn
31/10/1960 Lieutenant Commander M.W.McD. Barron
03/02/1961 Lieutenant Commander N.E. Lee
04/04/1961 Lieutenant Commander R.A. Waddell-Wood
01/06/1961 Lieutenant Commander A.E. Payne
22/06/1962 Lieutenant Commander J.P. Van Gelder
15/07/1963 Lieutenant Commander A. Ignatieff
01/08/1965 Lieutenant Commander M.J. Astbury
23/08/1965 Lieutenant Commander K.A. Douglas, MBE
04/12/1967 Lieutenant Commander C.M.A. Wheatley
02/12/1968 Lieutenant Commander J.R. Da Costa
28/08/1969 Lieutenant Commander W.E. Callan
21/07/1970 Lieutenant Commander G.S. King
21/07/1972 Lieutenant Commander B.A. Dutch
22/10/1973 Lieutenant Commander A.M. Hickling
17/01/1974 Lieutenant Commander G. Heron
07/07/1975 Lieutenant Commander P.C. Marshall, AFC
04/03/1977 Lieutenant Commander D. Collingridge
16/01/1978 Lieutenant Commander E.M. Kavanagh
11/12/1978 Lieutenant Commander C.C. Blennerhassett
11/01/1980 Lieutenant Commander B.J. Daly
19/12/1980 Lieutenant Commander K. Johnson
23/08/1982 Lieutenant Commander P.L. Clark
03/12/1983 Lieutenant Commander J.M. Hamilton, AFC

Further Reading

  1. Australian Naval Aviation Museum, Flying Stations: A Story of Australian Naval Aviation, Allen & Unwin, St Leonards, 1998
  2. Eather, Steve, Flying Squadrons of the Australian Defence Force, Aerospace Publications, Canberra, 1995
  3. Gillett, Ross, Wings Across the Sea, Aerospace Publications, Canberra, 1988