Fleet Air Arm Personnel Receive Australian Service Medals
The Royal Australian Navy’s Fleet Air Arm has been recognised for its contribution to Operation Bursa.
Australian Service Medals have been awarded to personnel from the Navy’s Fleet Air Arm, who have been recognised for their contribution to Operation Bursa (1980-1990) —a mission involving elements of 723, 816 and 817 Squadrons, which provided air support to Special Forces protecting offshore oil rigs against potential terrorist attack.
Recipients of the medals, awarded with the Counter Terrorism/Special Recovery clasp, included Captain (Ret’d) Vic Battese, Commodore Vince Di Pietro, Commodore Peter Ashworth, Captain Mal Wright and Captain (Ret’d) Marcus Peake.
Leading Seaman Gary Macey and Royal Australian Air Force Corporal James Campbell — killed in the crash of Wessex 825 in Bass Strait on 4 December 1983— were also recognised among the first group of recipients.
An additional 176 applications for the Australian Service Medal with the Counter Terrorism/Special Recovery clasp have been verified by the Navy.
Captain Andrew Whittaker, who served as a Wessex pilot with No. 816 Squadron, has led efforts to identify other serving and former personnel who may be eligible.
CAPT Whittaker reflected on the risks faced by Fleet Air Arm during the operation.
“The operations were real seat-of-the-pants flying,” he said.
“Particularly in the Wessex – looking through today’s flight safety and risk management prism, those operations in the 1980s would never be conducted now.
“This was before such technology as night vision goggles or GPS. It involved six Wessex aircraft flying in formation at low level, over water, at night, with nothing more than strategically placed cyalume glow sticks attached to the aircraft for formation keeping.”
CAPT Whittaker added: “Just being on recall at short notice-to-move was in itself a challenge. This was pre-mobile phones and the squadron duty officer had the latest technology, a pager, meaning he had to call lots of landline numbers in the event of a call out.”
He stressed the importance of acknowledging the contribution of Navy personnel.
“It recognises some exceptionally demanding flying, long nights on the flightline for the maintainers and everyone being restricted in their movements for the years that they were assigned to the task,” CAPT Whittaker said.
“Unfortunately, some of our squadron colleagues who qualified for the award have passed away without knowing their contribution has been acknowledged. We will seek to ensure their next of kin are presented with the medal.”