Brave and bold: The story of No. 423 Squadron

Posted Jun 9, 2015

They travel to remote, dangerous locations. They work out of loyalty and love for their country, and to be able to support Canada’s international objectives.

They are willing to put themselves in danger — again and again — in the name of doing the right thing.

No. 423 Squadron was formed in Oban in 1942. With a motto of Quaerimus et petimus (“We search and strike”), they swiftly became one of the Royal Canadian Air Force’s most successful anti-submarine squadrons in the war. Their battle honours include the Atlantic (1942-1945), English Channel and North Sea (1944-1945), Normandy (1944), and Biscay (1944), as well as the Gulf and Kuwait.

No. 423 Squadron has been stationed at Shearwater since 1974. In 1994, it was designated a Maritime Helicopter (MH) squadron to reflect its expanded role of supporting other government operations and peacekeeping efforts.

Thousands of brave Canadians have been a part of No. 423 Squadron over the last seven decades. Currently, they have about 80 air crew and 120 technicians serving.

When Haiti was struck by a devastating earthquake in 2010, MH Squadron’s HMCS Athabascan Helicopter Air Detachment (HELAIRDET) was immediately told to pack their bags and set sail. They were gone within 12 hours, before the rest of the world even started to understand the magnitude of what had happened.

They might find themselves flying off the coast of Libya — threatened by surface-to-air missiles — or flying over the Arabian Sea, scouring the ocean for drug smugglers supporting terrorist organizations.

Because the curvature of the earth prevents a ship from gathering information more than 30 Nautical Miles out to sea, the military needs to have eyes in the air. So 423 (MH) Squadron’s embarked HELAIRDETs will take off from their ship and fly well beyond the ship’s horizon to extend her sensor range — for up to 12 hours a day — in order to complete their operational objectives. Often, they have limited communication and are hundreds of miles from any coast — flying above deadly, shark-infested waters.

When they traveled to the Arabian Sea with HMCS Toronto in 2013, the HELAIRDET’s search efforts uncovered a record-breaking haul of narcotics from the Hash Highway — making HMCS Toronto the most effective unit in the history of the task force. HMCS Toronto received the U.S. Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation, an extremely rare commendation from the U.S. Navy to a foreign unit. For their participation and contribution to the operation, 423 Squadron’s HELAIRDET was awarded the RCAF Golden Hawk award for commendable achievement in any field of military aviation.

The members of 423 (MH) Squadron run headfirst into situations where they don’t know what they will see or confront. They work hard, support each other, and try to be as effective as possible on each and every mission.

They are never afraid to take a chance, to chase a dream, to embrace the unknown …