Lynx XZ720 shot up or sank five Iraqi warships in three days in January 1991 – and also came through machine-gun fire in the Falklands.
The five tallies painted on the cabin door show that this Lynx has seen some action.
It is, for this is one of the most battle-hardened helicopters in recent Royal Navy history – and now enjoys pride of place in the Fleet Air Arm Museum at Yeovilton, having been lovingly restored as a memorial to all those who’ve flown and maintained the agile Lynx.
XZ720 saw action in the Falklands and first Gulf Wars – and came under fire in both.
Flying from HMS Alacrity in the Falklands was on the receiving end of machine-gun fire from an Argentinian gunboat. Her pilot, Lt Rob Sleeman, only avoided a bullet which came through his windscreen by turning his head.
After serving with flights aboard HMS Coventry, Brazen (call sign ‘The Harlot’) and Battleaxe (call sign ‘Asterix’), XZ720 joined HMS Gloucester in July 1990 as 216 Flight.
The Fighting G has gone down in history for her role in the first Gulf War, downing an Iraqi missile bound for a US battleship.
But over three days at the end of January 1991, the destroyer’s helicopter also carved a place for herself in history, sinking or damaging five Iraqi warships with Sea Skua missiles – hence the tally on the fuselage.
The successes off Iraq led to 216 Flight becoming ‘216th Airborne: Death or Glory’
“On January 30 we were on a patrol and got a contact which was a patrol boat which the Iraqis had taken from the Kuwaiti Navy,” said Lt Cdr ‘Florry’ Ford – XZ720’s observer back in 1991, today serving with 771 NAS at Culdrose.
“We fired one Sea Skua missile and then saw another contact appeared from nowhere, so as soon as we saw the first target sink, we fired on the second – a Russian-built mine-layer.” Later that day they struck a third target close by.
Ten days later they were tasked to search for a mine at night – using light from parachute flares – when they spotted a Russian-built landing ship on its way to resupply Iraqi forces.The crew fired two missiles but also came under attack from two surface-to-air missiles. To avoid disaster Lt Cdr Livingstone flew the superbly-agile helicopter within 20 feet of the sea. The enemy missiles passed just 180 feet away.
Although those few days off Iraq were the most dramatic of the helicopter’s career, XZ720 was only retired from front-line duties at the beginning of 2009. She spent the second two decades of her 30-year active life flying mostly from the back of Type 42 destroyers Edinburgh, York and Manchester under various call signs including ‘The Tardis II’ and ‘Jorvik’ (the latter during her time with York).
When the Lynx was gifted to the FAA Museum, the decision was taken to restore the helicopter to her 1991 Gulf War appearance, a task carried out by the Lynx Operational Support Team at Yeovilton. Serviceable parts were also removed for the use of the serving Lynx fleet, and replaced by others.
“XZ720 was involved in both the Falklands and the Gulf campaigns and so its history made it a prime candidate for this honour,” said CPO Steve Walling, from the Lynx Helicopter Force.
RNAS Yeovilton’s Commanding Officer, Commodore Paul Chivers – himself a Lynx Observer – accepted the helicopter on behalf of the museum, of which he is a trustee.
Museum director Graham Mottram said: “We are delighted to have her; she is proof that history is a continuing process.”
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