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Flying Royal Marines

The Royal Marines played an active part in the fight against the Axis forces, not more so than the flying Marines who served with the fleet air Arm.This page is dedicated to their dedication and bravery. 

  The Royal Marines originated as the Admiral's Regiment which was formed in 1664 and the name 'Marines' first appears in the records in 1672. Since then Marines have taken part in more battles on land and sea, all over the world, than has any other branch of the British Armed Forces.The first three years of the Second World War saw most of the action for the Royal Marines at sea, although some notable Marines saw active combat in the Norwegain campaign, Dunkirk, and subsequently in the Far East. By the end of the war, the Royal Marines numbers had grown to 80,000 - their largest size ever.  Royal Marine played a number of roles in connection with Naval Aviation. Pre-war a handful of Royal Marines trained as pilots in the No. 1 Flying Training School at RAF Leuchars alongside their Royal Navy colleagues, and subsequently between 1939-1945 up to 18 Royal Marines commanded Fleet Air Arm squadrons. Captain NRM Skene was one of the earlier COs, who as Captain RM also held an RAF rank of Squadron Leader when taking up command of 810 sqdn in December 1938, a post which he held till June 1940.  Land bound Royal Marines also played a role in Naval aviation, as the Defence Force RN Air Stations. From 1940 and in some specific stations before that date, RM units formed to provide ground defences of Naval air stations, and were organised in companies and platoons. 

 Just some of those who were mentioned or lost during Fleet Air Arm duties: 


Names of 
Royal Marine pilots (wartime ranks)

Squadron commands 

Major JO Armour, RM 

784, 809, 892, 7th CAG, 15th CAG

Captain WGS Aston, RM


Major FDG Bird, RM

759, 888

Captain FW Brown, RM

786, 824

Major AR Burch, RM

771, 822

Major VBG Cheesman, RM

766, 788, 1770

Major LA Harris, RM

746, 784

Major RC Hay, RM

761, 805, 809, 897, No. 6 Wing, No. 47 Wing

Captain WHC Manson, RM

710, 883

Captain AE Marsh, RM


Major WHN Martin, RM

814, 821

Major PP Nelson-Gracie, RM

877, 1843, No. 3 Wing, No. 10 Wing, 2nd CAG, 8th CAG

Captain AC Newson, RM

753, 810, 821

Captain RT Partridge, RM

800, 804

Captain O Patch, RM

785, 816

Captain NRM Skene, RM


Captain DBL Smith, RM


Major AJ Wright, RM

809, 898, 16th CAG



Royal Marines Museum and website

Royal Marines Museum. Eastney Barracks Southsea Hampshire
PO4 9PX England +44 (0) 1705-819385.

The Royal Marines Museum is dedicated to the preservation and presentation of all aspects of Royal Marines history for the education and enjoyment of the general public. The RM museum is an imaginative presentation of the story of the Corps   from 1644 to the present day. It comprises an Early History Room 1664-1793, Main History Room 1793-1970, information about the Flying Royal Marines, and a modern display of the Royal Marines through the 70s into the 80s. Also included are a medal room in which are displayed all 10 Royal Marine VCs and over 6000 other gallantry and campaign awards, a uniform room, Band History Room, Picture and Silver Gallery and a dramatic audiovisual show on the Falklands Campaign.

Royal Marines Association and Reunion website

Capt. B. Gibbs
 General Secretary
 Royal Marines Association
 Royal Marines Eastney
 Eastney Esplanade
 Portsmouth, Hants
 PO4 9PX



Flying Marine who relished paying back the Japanese after seeing them machine-gun survivors in the water


Cheesman led 1770 Squadron's attack on Japanese ships at Sakishima Gunto, April 1945

Major VBG "Cheese" Cheesman was one of the most highly decorated members of that rare breed - the flying Royal Marine. His five-year operational career during the Second World War spanned the world, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from the Arctic to the Indian Ocean.

Vernon Beauclerk George Cheesman, known throughout the Navy as "Cheese", was born on January 8 1917 and went to Cheltenham College. He was commissioned in the Royal Marines in January 1936 and served in the battleship Royal Sovereign before beginning flying training and getting his wings in 1939.

Cheesman's first award came early in 1941, when he was serving in 710 Naval Air Squadron, flying Walrus amphibian aircraft from the seaplane carrier Albatross, based at Freetown, Sierra Leone. On January 14, the cargo-liner Eumaeus was sunk by the Italian submarine Commandante Cappelini. Most of the passengers and crew got away in lifeboats, or clinging to wreckage.  Cheesman took off to search for and attack the submarine. He missed his quarry but found Eumaeus's survivors and landed nearby, to give first aid to the wounded and to tow drifting lifeboats back to the main group. In doing so, his Walrus was damaged and could not take off again.  Eventually, two anti-submarine trawlers arrived to pick up the survivors and tow the Walrus, by then in a sinking condition, back to Freetown. When he finally got alongside Albatross, Cheesman had been on board the Walrus for 22 hours. He was appointed MBE.

 In July 1941, Cheesman became Walrus pilot on the cruiser Cornwall, which was serving the Eastern Fleet and covering convoys in the Indian Ocean. On Easter Sunday, April 5 1942, when Cornwall and her sister ship Dorsetshire were on passage from Colombo to Addu Atoll in the Maldives, they were both attacked and sunk by Japanese carrier-based bombers.  Some 1,100 men survived, but they were machine-gunned in the water by Japanese aircraft, which gave Cheesman a lasting antipathy towards the Japanese. Many badly burned men died of shock during the night.

 "We could do nothing for the dead," Cheesman recalled, "but cast them off to the circling sharks which we kept at bay by constantly splashing the water around us as they passed by. And so passed a miserable and inglorious night."

 The survivors were picked up at dusk the next day, after more than 24 hours in the water, by the light cruiser Enterprise and destroyers.

After undergoing a conversion course at the Fighter School, HMS Heron, Yeovilton, Cheesman joined 824, a composite squadron of Swordfish and Sea Hurricanes, as Fighter Flight Commander. In October 1943 he embarked in the escort carrier Striker for Atlantic and Gibraltar convoy escort.

In February 1944, Cheesman took command of 1770 Squadron, the first to be equipped with the new Fairey Firefly fighter-reconnaissance aircraft. The squadron embarked in the carrier Indefatigable in May, and in July and August took part in the Fleet Air Arm strikes against the battleship Tirpitz in Altenfjord in northern Norway. The Squadron's role was to escort the Barracuda bombers to the target, then fly ahead and suppress flak batteries. He worked closely with the operations' Strike Leader Lt Cdr RS Baker-Falkner RN to ensure that the first operational involement of the fitrefly was a success. They flew at sea level before climbing to 8,000 ft to cross the mountains. 

"What cruel-looking terrain that was," remembered Cheesman, "all white, cold, barren and desolate. An engine failure here meant 'out harp and halo, and hello St Peter!' " 

Cheesman led four strikes in all and successfully strafed flak batteries around Tirpitz, but the bombers were hampered by cloud and smoke screens covering the target. No serious damage was done to Tirpitz and one Firefly was lost. Cheesman was awarded the DSO for the determined way he led his squadron.

 Indefatigable sailed for the Far East in November 1944 to join the 1st Aircraft Carrier Squadron, of Illustrious, Victorious and Indomitable, off Ceylon in December.

 On January 4 1945, 1770 Squadron took part in Operation Lentil, a strike involving more than 90 aircraft on the oil refinery at Pangkalan Brandan in northern Sumatra. Equipped for the first time with 60 lb rockets, which Cheesman had been requesting for months, 1770 successfully rocketed and strafed the coastal town and harbour of Pangkalan Soe Soe. Returning from the strike, Cheesman ran out of fuel and ditched astern of Indefatigable. He was again decorated for his leadership, and awarded the DSC.

 Remembering Cornwall, Cheesman relished attacking Japanese targets. He had more opportunities later in January when the four carriers, on passage to Australia with the British Pacific Fleet, launched huge strikes against the oil refineries at Palembang in Sumatra. The refineries, vital to the Japanese war effort, were not totally destroyed but could only operate at much reduced output for the rest of the war.

 The squadron's last operation under Cheesman was Iceberg, the invasion of Okinawa, which began on April 1 1945. The carriers' task was to neutralise the airfields on the islands of the Sakishima Gunto, a chain which ran between Formosa and Okinawa, to prevent the Japanese staging replacement aircraft through them. The Squadron strafed targets in the islands and in Formosa with rockets and cannon fire. In all, they fired 950 rockets, flew more than 400 sorties, and shot down six enemy aircraft. They lost seven of their own aircraft, and one observer.

 After the war, Cheesman commanded 766 Squadron, the operational training unit at HMS Nightjar, Inskip, and was Naval Liaison Officer on the staff of the Fighter Leader School, RAF West Raynham. He left the Marines in 1950, preferring retirement to life in the Corps as it then was.

Cheesman was one of the best known and most popular pilots in the Fleet Air Arm. He was an excellent squadron CO, the mere sound of his voice over the radio telephone giving his aircrew confidence that all would be well with "Cheese" in charge.

 The alarms and accidents of a carrier pilot's life left him unruffled. The only time anyone ever saw him seriously annoyed was when a young pilot in Striker crashed Cheese's Hurricane, named "Libby" after his girlfriend, into a barrier.

 He was a staunch supporter of the Fleet Air Arm Officers' Association, and for many years organised the monthly meetings of members in the south Midlands. He regularly attended 1770 reunions.



Flying Royal Marines Today

Royal Marines today

Royal Marine Reserve today

The Flying Royal Marines today consist of  847 Naval Air Squadron formerly 3 CBAS (Commando Brigade Air Squadron). Motto: Alto Ex Concutimus "We Strike Them From On High". Commando Brigade Air Squadron: A light aircraft unit formed by various commandoes used to support the Commandoes in the field were amalgamated on 12 August 1968

The Royal Marine flights have served with their respective commandoes in Northern Ireland and other locations, operating helicopters such as the Aerospatiale Gazelle and Westland Scout. Royal Marine Commando Rotary wing force using Army standard helicopters under Navy control.Main Headquarters: Bickleigh. Their Aircraft inventory current service types include Westland Lynx AH.7, and Westland Gazelle AH.1 

847 Squadron is unique in the Royal Navy in that the 45 pilots are from the Royal Marines. They are selected from trained Commandos of the Royal Marines who, because their primary concern is with amphibious operations and support of the land battle, complete their flying training with the Army Air Corps.  All have completed several infantry tours in a Commando unit and wider expertise is added with pilots attached from the US Marine Corps and the Army Air Corps. 

847 Naval Air Squadron provides support to 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines, one of Britain's rapid response shock formations, with reconnaissance and anti-armour support. It is the Brigade's primary anti-tank strike resource, capable of engaging armour with TOW missiles at very short notice. The Squadron is based at RNAS Yeovilton in Somerset but spends most of the year on deployment around the world. 

The maintenance of the 847 squadron aircraft is carried out by engineers from the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, most of whom are Commando trained. Additional Royal Marine Commandos act as ground-handlers, protection of forward bases and as door-gunnersThe Squadron operates Army aircraft which are maintained by army engineers of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, most of whom attend the Commando Course where they can earn the coveted Green Beret. Ground Handlers are also selected from junior ranks of the Royal Marines and are additionally trained as door-gunners on the 7.62mm General Purpose Machine Gun. 


The United States Marine Corps, the RMs' famous cousins are nicknamed the "flying leathernecks".

For 75 years, flying leathernecks have been first to fight their country's most desperate air battles, perhaps most well known is the US Marine Joe Foss, one of the greatest US Marine Fighter Aces in the Pacific War.

Flying Leatherneck Historical Foundation  and Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum at MCAS Miramar

US Marine Corps Aviation Association website.

Marine Corps Aviation Reconnaissance Association 

Also see the US Marine Corps Association website and the US Marine Corps online magazine "Leatherneck"

Official website of United States Marine Corps Aviation Webpage

Created: 3-04-2001, Last Modified 3-04-2005


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