The 6th February 2011 marks the 70th Anniversary of the formation of what is now the Royal Air Force Search and Rescue Force.
During the early stages of the Battle of Britain 220 aircrew were killed or went missing over the English Channel and it was soon realised that the RAF could not afford to lose pilots who ditched to the sea. As a result, acting on the instructions from Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Portal, the Directorate of Air Sea Rescue (ASR) was formed and took up its duties on 6th February 1941. Prior to this rescues were ad hoc affairs involving a search by operational aircraft from the crews own unit who then attempted to divert any surface craft in the vicinity to the aircrew in distress.
Various marine craft were used to recover crews from the sea; RNLI lifeboats, Royal Navy motor launches, torpedo recovery and barrage balloon boats. The RAF Marine Craft Branch which formed in 1918 had high speed RAF Sea Plane tenders which were further developed between the wars at RAF Mount Batten; involving the enigmatic Aircraftsman Shaw, better known as Colonel T E Lawrence of Arabia. The work culminated in the 100 series High Speed Launch (HSL) used extensively through the war years. The number of airmen rescued, once the directorate had formed, steadily increased and during the war years alone over 10,000 lives were saved by the crews of the ASR aircraft and HSLs who faced enemy action and all weathers to uphold their pledge that "The Sea Shall Not Have Them".
The Directorate of Air Sea Rescue was the predecessor to what is now the Search and Rescue Force of the Royal Air Force, famous for its bright yellow helicopters. Today, the RAF has its own Search and Rescue Force (SARF), which is ready to respond 24 hours a day. It covers the whole of the UK and beyond. Their primary role is to recover RAF personnel, but in peacetime, the majority of callouts are to civilian incidents. In an average year, the Search and Rescue Force can expect to respond to more than a thousand callouts. Like all emergency services, the type of incident varies tremendously. It could be anything from rescuing a group of lost hill walkers to large-scale operations such as floods or train derailments; each day brings new challenges. With every callout, teams have to be quick-thinking and resourceful because lives depend on it. There are six Search and Rescue Flights in the UK, working alongside four civilian coastguard and two Royal Navy flights to form a unified national Search and Rescue service that ensures no area in the UK is more than one hour's flight away (one-and-a-half hours at night).
The flights also operate internationally in Cyprus (84 Squadron) and the Falkland Islands (1564 Flight). These teams, like their colleagues in the UK, can respond to man-made crises and natural disasters all over the world at any time of day or night. The RAF SAR's involvement with the Falklands began in 1982 when a RAF Sea King Helicopter from 202 squadron was deployed to Ascension Island. Although the crew did take the opportunity to medevac a casualty from the submarine HMS Spartan, their role was mainly one of support for the Task Force that was assembling at Ascension.
After the conflict the decision to hold a deterrent force in the South Atlantic led to 3 Sea King Mk 3's from C Flight 202 Squadron being deployed to the Falklands to provide SAR support. Painted grey these craft were nicknamed the "Grey Whales". Initially based on SS Rangatira and then at Stanley Airfield, Flight 1564 as they were now known then moved to Navy Point in 1983.
Although many notable rescues were successfully completed in those early years, including the rescue of an ejected Harrier Pilot, the Flights secondary role of troop and load carrying occupied most of its resources for some considerable time. In 1999 it was decided that the Sea Kings no longer needed to be painted grey and on rotations the Grey Whales were gradually replaced with the more familiar yellow aircraft.
Today the RAF Search and Rescue Force is as active as ever. Currently 1564 Flight comprises two Sea King Mk 3s based at Mount Pleasant Airfield (MPA). Their primary role is to provide cover for the Eurofighters, also based at MPA. However with such an excellent safety record this takes up very little of their time and so much of their time is taken up with the traditional tasking role of supplying the more remote communications stations around the western isles. Their secondary role is similar to that in the UK, supplying search and rescue for any other military units and civilians on the islands. Their range of 250 miles from coast is limited by fuel. In the summer months there are pleasure craft and cruise liners that may need assistance. In the more severe winters seas can become extremely hazardous with 40-50ft swells, wind speeds in excess of 60 knots and sea temperatures of perhaps 3 degrees making it one of the most hazardous areas that SAR operate in. During these months SAR assist with all manner of trauma injuries to fishermen and also compassionate evacuations from ships and the oil rig.
Fortunately emergencies are not commonplace and for much of the time the SAR Force in the Falklands is able to support the Stanley community and more outlying areas with any accidents that may require assistance as well as involving themselves with the local community.
Values are 27p, 70p, 95p and £1.15p
We acknowledge with thanks the assistance of Flight Sergeant Andy Carnall, SAR Force HQ
Photography: Senior Aircraftsman Faye Storer and Dek Traylor
Image Exploitation Section, RAF SAR Force HQ at RAF Valley
Layout: Bee Design & Art
Printer: Cartor Security Printing
Perforation: 13.25 per 2cms
Stamp size: 31.5 x 48mm
Layout: 50 (2 x 25)
Release date: 4 February 2011
Production Co-ordination: Creative Direction (Worldwide) Ltd
For additional information, please contact John Smith,
Pobjoy Mint Ltd, Tel: (44) 1737 818181 Fax: (44) 1737 818199