This is a vivid and powerful story of life on board the last of our great Second World War-era aircraft carriers, modernized to serve beyond its time. It is a story of the Cold War which conveys the trials and tribulations of flying one of the best-loved military aircraft in history.
Steve Kershaw joined the Royal Navy in 1963. He began flying training in 1968 and progressed to the Blackburn Buccaneer – a world-class naval strike jet that was designed to fly very fast at ultra-low altitudes. In 1970, Steve joined 800 Naval Air Squadron, which embarked on HMS Eagle on its epic final cruise.
The voyage to the Far East was far from trouble-free – an aircraft crashed into the sea, there was a devastating explosion on board the carrier, and then two sailors were arrested for murder in Auckland. New year 1972 saw HMS Eagle decommissioned and 800 NAS disbanded.
Steve was transferred to 845 Naval Air Squadron, on which he flew Wessex helicopters. Embarked on HMS Hermes, the squadron supported Royal Marines Commandos during their deployment to the mountains of Norway under NATO plans for a European war. During this time, helicopters were strangely sabotaged on board and one of them crashed into a fjord at night.
By 1974, HMS Ark Royal was the last remaining Royal Navy fixed-wing aircraft carrier to which Steve returned to fly Buccaneers on 809 Squadron. It was in this period that he participated in a NATO exercise in Norway and a Mediterranean cruise.
On return, the squadron prepared for a bombing competition between the RAF and Royal Navy Buccaneers. As part of this, Steve flew a low-level sortie off the Lincolnshire coast. The light was fading, and he was struggling to see the target ahead. He failed to see they were losing height. The aircraft hit the sea. Steve and his observer, David, were ejected into the water. Steve, however, did not survive.
In this book, Steve’s story is revealed by his son, Simon, through the words of his father, drawn from a mass of letters sent by him, and the recollections of those who served alongside him.