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01-17-04, 08:08 AM
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.

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

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.