Andover Era Thorney Island

On 1 September 1966, the Squadron re-formed again, this time at Abingdon as a transport squadron.  The Squadron was the “mother squadron” for the other Andover CMk1 squadrons; No 52 Squadron based at RAF Seletar and later at RAF Changi in Singapore and No 84 Squadron based at RAF Sharjah later RAF Muharraq in the Persian/Arabian Gulf. Many aircrew served on two and some on all three squadrons. 46’s first aircraft arrived in December and the Squadron was tasked with general freight and passenger flying. The following clip shows some nice formation flying.

The Squadron’s roles were mainly related to transport support and tactical transport, for which the Andover’s ability to “kneel” – to allow vehicle entry at a shallow angle via the rear ramp – was an asset.

Over the years, the Squadron acquired expertise in aero-medical evacuation, STOL, route flying and parachute and 1-ton container drops. The Squadron had the honour of dispatching the Prince of Wales on his first (and I suspect only) parachute jump.  The intro in the film clip below is a little longer and noisier than it should be!

It also carried out various trials with voice broadcast and long-range ferry tank.  The latter became a regular item of equipment and enabled the short-range Andover to fly surprisingly long distances, such as Gander to Abingdon direct in under 8 hours 50 minutes in July 1969; by September, the “blue ribald” had been reduced to 8 hours 35 minutes, and, eventually, to well under 8 hours.
The Squadron also took part in various exercises in Libya, Cyprus, the Middle East and Norway, as well as in the UK and Germany.  A number of unusual tasks followed.  In July 1968, the Squadron supported Exercise Icy Mountains in Greenland, air-landing 8 Members of the British Army Expedition to Greenland, re-supplying them, and finally recovering them.  In March 1969, 3 aircraft deployed to Coolidge, Antigua, to help deal with the Anguillan Crisis.  The requirement lasted, albeit later at a reduced scale, for about a year and led to the popular Caribbean Trainers.
The Squadron was the first in the RAF to have a German exchange officer, and friendly and useful exchange visits were made between Abingdon and Alhorn, his and his successor’s home base  In August 1969, the Squadron first became involved in Northern Island – in particular to provide troop and VIP transport from UK.
On 13 October 1969, the Squadron was presented with its Standard by HM King Olav of Norway in commemoration of the Squadron’s operation with Hurricanes in Norway in 1940. See separate post.
In September 1970, the Squadron moved to RAF Thorney Island and began a period of extended world-wide activity .  It took part in the large Far East reinforcement exercise, Bersatu Pradu. In September 1971 it began a 2-aircraft  detachment at RAF Masirah (and added SAR to its many roles); the initial aircraft came from No 84 Squadron in Muharraq. The detachments were a significant part of the life as a 46 Squadron aircrew member. Almost all aircrew made at least one 3 month detachment and some even did three. The Masirah  Radio Station featured a very popular Brown Banana Show hosted by 46 personnel. Its title theme was, appropriately, “little Arrows”.
In November 1971 and February 1972, the Squadron took part in Exercise Cold Stream with the Italian Air Force at Pisa, and in Exercise sun Pirate in Puerto Rico, respectively.  Twice a year the Squadron took part in Exercise Macdrop at RAF Machrihanish, in which Andovers were employed on para dropping with Commandos, the Paratroopers Regiment, and SAS.  In January 1974, and again in December the Squadron sent aircraft to support the Royal Engineers in Exercise Mirza, 4 month civil aid programmes whose main task was the construction of bridges in the Sudan.
The Squadron had many visitors but the visit of Air Vice Marshal Arthur Gould Lee, a 46 Squadron RFC veteran of the First World War, was particularly special. In his book, Fly Past, this is how he describes his flight  in XS602, crewed by Trevor Booth, Nigel Watson and Don Cook:

The final day on which I flew with No. 46 Squadron in the First World War was 29 December, 1917, when I led my flight of four Camels on a line patrol at 13,000 feet. It was very cold. We saw no enemy aircraft, and apart from encountering a spell of heavy archie, we experienced an uneventful patrol.
Not for nearly fifty-six years did I again fly with 4.6 Squadron. Then on 14, August, I973, I drove from London to Thorney Island, Hampshire, where the squadron is stationed, and had an hour’s flight in a Hawker Siddeley Andover C Mk I, a tactical support aircraft used also for every kind of transportation throughout Europe and the Mediterranean, and across the Atlantic to the Caribbean. There are three Andovers, C.C. Mark II, in the Queen’s Flight.
During the hour, I was taken around the coastal areas, from Portsmouth to Arundel, and inland to Salisbury Plain. Here we paid a passing visit to Netheravon aerodrome, where in 1916 I learned to fly on Maurice Farman Rumpetys. It gave me a queer feeling to look down on that stretch of hangars and to realise that fifty-seven years had gone since I squatted on a petrol can outside the flight sheds, as they were then, waiting for my turn to be taken into the air for instruction.
For a while I took the controls, but it was unfortunate that a thick haze veiled the skies, and I had to fly much of the time on the instruments. I found the controls, compared with the run of aeroplanes piloted before retirement, Gauntlet, Hurricane, Klemm, Expediter, to be somewhat sluggish in response, but that was doubtless because there was no horizon to help me get the feel on a steep turn. But it is scarcely possible for me to describe the thrill and satisfaction I found in handling the controls of an aeroplane again, however inadequately, after so many years, and in being Grounded’ well, almost!
For an hour in the cockpit and listening through the headphones to the landing drill and the chat with successive ground controls all so unfamiliar to me, all so new from when I last flew across country in England that I almost felt that I belonged to Bleriot and all that.
When we landed, there waiting on the tarmac was the CO of .46 Squadron, Wing Commander John Scambler, aided by Flight Lieutenant Roger Cocksedge, with a bottle of champagne to celebrate the occasion. I stood there with them alongside the Andover, with the flight commander, Squadron Leader Harry Griffiths, and the members of my crew, all flight lieutenants, Trevor Booth, Nigel Watson and Don Cook, and we drank to 46, their squadron and mine. No one who has feeling for precious links with the past will fail to understand how moved I was by this gesture, nor how the Andover trip was to me the outstanding flight of many, many, years.

Finally, the Defence Review in March 1975 announced the impending closure of RAF Thorney Island and the disbandment of the Squadron, and there followed an immediate reduction in the number of aircraft and a drastic reduction in flying hours.  On 31 August 1975 the Standard was laid up in Chichester Cathedral and the Squadron disbanded.

The Picture Gallery below is taken from the Squadron Scrapbook for the time we were at RAF Thorney Island. I am afraid the order is somewhat random! If you would like to see (and download) a PDF version then please click here.

Click here to see  to view Squadron Scrapbooks from the Abingdon era

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