NATO Helicopters of the 1980s

Lynx AH Mk 1

Everyone who wargames with model helicopters knows that the bloody things are too fragile to play wargames with, so I do wonder why I persist with collecting the bloody things… However, they do look damn good on the table, so I thought I’d better photograph them before they inevitably fall to bits!

So here are some helicopters from the NATO half of my 1980s Cold War collection, together with some of the historical and organisational guff:

British Army Air Corps

Two Lynx AH Mk 1 and a Gazelle AH Mk 1

Above: Kicking off with our own Army Air Corps (AAC), here’s an anti-tank helicopter (‘HELARM’) flight, consisting of two TOW-armed Lynx AH Mk 1 and a Gazelle AH Mk 1 light observation helicopter.  The ratio was also often reversed, with two Gazelles being teamed with one Scout or Lynx.  Note that in the British Army, the abbreviation ‘AH’ means ‘Army Helicopter’ and not ‘Attack Helicopter’.

The order of battle for the Army Air Corps of the 1980s is a confusing and constantly-moving document, but here’s a brief outline (bear in mind that squadrons often rotated through Northern Ireland and some had long detours to the Falkland Islands):

1 Regt AAC (1 Armoured Division) – 651 & 661 Sqns (plus 652 Sqn from 2 Regt 1983)

2 Regt AAC (2 Armoured Division) – 652 & 662 Sqns (2 Regt was disbanded in 1983 along with 2 Armoured Division and its squadrons split between 1 Regt & 3 Regt)

3 Regt AAC (3 Armoured Division) – 653 & 663 Sqns (plus 662 Sqn from 2 Regt 1983)

4 Regt AAC (4 Armoured Division) – 654 & 664 Sqns (664 Sqn transferred to 1 (Br) Corps HQ in 1983.  4 Regt was then reinforced by 659 & 669 Sqns from 9 Regt)

7 Regt AAC (UK) – 656 Sqn (assigned to 1 Brigade – UK Mobile Force), 658 Sqn (assigned to 5 Airborne Brigade), 666 (V) Sqns (assigned to UK Home Defence) & 2 Flt (assigned to ACE Mobile Force (Land) – Gazelle)

9 Regt AAC (UK) – 659 & 669 Sqns (9 Regt disbanded 1983 with Sqns transferred to 4 Regt.  9 Regt then reformed in 1989 to support 24 Airmobile Brigade with the newly-raised 672 Sqn and 3 Flt from Northern Ireland)

Northern Ireland Regt AAC (became 5 Regt in 1990) – 655 & 656 Sqns (655 Sqn to accompany 2 Infantry Division to reinforce BAOR from 1983), plus 1 Flt (Beaver AOP) and 3 Flt (Gazelle).

Independent AAC Units:
657 Sqn (assigned to 5 Field Force (which became 19 Infantry Brigade in 1983) as reinforcement to BAOR)
660 Sqn (Hong Kong & Brunei Garrison – Scout)
664 Sqn (transferred from 4 Regt to HQ 1 (Br) Corps in 1983 to support the Corps Covering Force – Gazelle)
670 & 671 Sqns (Training)
667 Sqn (reformed in 1989 from the Development & Training (D&T) Sqn)
7 Flt (Berlin Garrison – Gazelle)
8 Flt (Special Forces – Scout then Agusta A109 from 1982 (thanks Argentina!))
12 Flt (HQ BAOR – Gazelle)
16 Flt (Cyprus Garrison – Gazelle)
25 Flt (Belize Garrison – Gazelle)
29 (BATUS) Flt (Canada – Gazelle)
UNFICYP Flt (UN Mission Cyprus – Gazelle)

Anti-Tank Squadrons (numbered 651 to 659) were usually organised with 12x Lynx or Scout and 4x Gazelle, though some squadrons seem to have varied the numbers and ratios at various times.

Recce Squadrons (numbered 660 to 669, omitting 667 & 668) mostly had 12x Gazelle, though some squadrons occasionally added 4x Lynx.  However, there were some oddities: 660 Sqn in Hong Kong had 12x Scout and 666 (V) Sqn in the UK also had 12x Scout.

Lynx AH Mk 1

Above: A close-up of one of the Lynx.  The Lynx AH Mk 1 began replacing the  Scout AH Mk 1 in the anti-tank role from 1978, with most machines being delivered by 1983.  Lynx was officially fitted with 8x TOW missiles, though slow delivery meant that they weren’t actually fitted with TOW until around 1982!  651, 652 and 666 (V) Squadrons held on to their Scouts until the 1990s.  It was apparently a very quick and easy job to fit or remove the missiles and convert the Scout and/or Lynx from the Anti-Tank role to the Light Battlefield Helicopter (LBH) role (i.e. tactical transport) and vice versa.

Upgraded Lynx AH Mk 7 models were delivered from 1988.  These had a reinforced airframe, thermal imaging as standard, improved tail-rotor, improved avionics and enhanced defensive aids, though looked essentially the same as the Mk 1.  The missiles were also upgraded at around this time to Improved TOW (ITOW).  Many existing Lynx AH Mk 1s also received thermal imaging and ITOW at this time.  A third Army version, the Lynx AH Mk 9 (recognisable by its wheeled undercarriage) was just coming into service at the end of the 1980s to fill the LBH role with 672 Sqn in the newly-reformed 9 Regt AAC, supporting 24 Airmobile Brigade (armed with nothing heavier than a door gun).

The Lynx models here are 1/100th scale plastic kits by Team Yankee, while the Gazelle is a 1970s-vintage kit by Heller. The Lynx is a very nicely-detailed and robust kit, though like all Team Yankee helicopters, the windows are opaque and need to be painted in. Most people seem to use shades of sky-blue for this, but I prefer to use black, graduating up through gun metal to bright silver, topped off with a gloss varnish. As usual for Team Yankee models, the decals are terrible.

Gazelle AH Mk 1

Above: A close up of the Gazelle AH Mk 1.  The Gazelle was adopted by the AAC in 1974, replacing the Sioux AH Mk 1.  The Sioux had been completely retired from service by the 1980s.  As mentioned above, Gazelles were the mainstay of the AAC’s Reconnaissance Squadrons and Independent Flights throughout the 1980s, as well as providing an integral reconnaissance capability to Anti-Tank Squadrons, as well as performing liaison duties and functioning as artillery FOOs and Forward Air Controllers.  The Gazelle was also used by all three services for helicopter pilot training.

Despite a number of trials and despite other nations such as France arming their Gazelles, British Gazelles remained officially unarmed, though during the Falklands War, some were fitted as gunships with GPMGs and even 68mm SNEB rocket pods.  Some British Army Gazelles were eventually upgraded during the 1980s with thermal imaging sights, which greatly aided their recce role, though I don’t know how common this modification was.

This is a pretty good kit by Heller’s standards, though is quite fragile.  Team Yankee have since brought out a Gazelle in their Cold War French range (with options for HOT missiles or 20mm cannon), which looks to be far more robust for wargaming purposes.  The Heller kit only comes with French decals, so I’ve painted on the British Army markings.

Scout AH Mk 1

Above:  I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want and that’s a Westland Scout AH Mk 1 in 1/100th scale!  I live in eternal hope that Team Yankee or someone else might eventually produce one.  Pleeeeeease?!  🙁

As mentioned above, the Scout was primarily used in the anti-tank role, armed with four SS-11 missiles.  The SS-11 rig was apparently very easy to fit or remove and the Scout could therefore be rapidly changed from Anti-Tank to the LBH role and in the Falklands they were rapidly flipped back and forth between SS-11, troop transport and casevac missions.  651 and 652 Sqns kept their Scouts throughout the 1980s and as mentioned above the Scout was also used by 660 and 666 (V) Reconnaissance Squadrons, as well as by the independent 8 Flight AAC, which provided helicopter support to the SAS (8 Flt’s Scouts were replaced in 1982 by two captured Argentine Agusta 109s and two more purchased Agusta 109s).  The venerable Scout was finally retired in the mid-1990s when 666(V) Sqn was disbanded.

The RAF provided heavier battlefield helicopter support in the form of Wessex, Puma and Chinook helicopters and the Royal Navy would also provide Wessex and Sea King ‘Jungly’ troop transports for expeditionary operations.  There was also 3 Commando Brigade Air Squadron, Royal Marines (mostly crewed by Royal Navy pilots), which had 12x Gazelle and 6x Scout (Lynx AH Mk 1 replacing Scout after the Falklands War of 1982).  I do actually have an RAF Westland Wessex HC Mk 2 tactical transport helicopter, which is a repainted Italeri die-cast model (it was originally an RAF Royal Flight machine in bright red livery).  However, the very fragile plastic undercarriage is catastrophically broken and needs extensive repair, 🙁

Canadian Forces

CH-136 Kiowa

Above: The CH-136 Kiowa was a Canadian licence-built version of the Bell 206 (known in US military service as the OH-58A Kiowa) and was used by the Canadian Forces from 1971 onward.  These were primarily used as unarmed scout and liaison helicopters, though some were fitted during the 1980s with 7.62mm Miniguns, giving them a limited attack or anti-helicopter capability.

The only permanently-assigned Canadian helicopter squadron in Europe was 444 Tactical Helicopter Squadron, which was assigned to 1 Air Division at CFB Lahr in West Germany and was tasked with supporting 4 Canadian Mechanised Brigade Group.  444 Sqn had 6x CH-136 Kiowa for reconnaissance & liaison and 6x CH-135 Twin Huey (Bell 212 or UH-1N Iroquois) for tactical transport.  Canada had no attack helicopter capability and would therefore have to rely on higher-level helicopter support from NATO allies such as the USA or West Germany.

408 Sqn helicopters over Rockies. CH-136 Kiowa and CH-135 Twin Huey.

In Canada itself, all helicopters were assigned to 10 Tactical Air Group.  Three squadrons were organised identically to 444 Sqn with a mix of CH-135 and CH-136 and were similarly tasked with supporting ground formations: 408 Sqn was assigned to 1 Canadian Brigade Group, 430 Sqn was assigned to 5 Groupe-Brigade du Canada and 427 Sqn was assigned to the Special Service Force.  400, 401, 411 & 438 Sqns were made up of Reservists and only had 6x Kiowas apiece.  403 Sqn was the primary helicopter training squadron and had 6x CH-135, 6x CH-136 and 6x CH-118 Iroquois (Bell 205 or UH-1H Iroquois).  Lastly, 447 and 450 Sqns were transport squadrons with 4x CH-147 Chinook apiece, though 450 Sqn also had 6x CH-135 Twin Huey.

Bell 206 variants were widely exported and were also built under licence in Italy as the Agusta-Bell 206.  They were used by several NATO nations and many other countries, so it’s a shame that there is basically only one rather poor model available in anything near 1/100th scale; namely the ‘Pocket Pak’ OH-58A Kiowa kit by Entex.  In fact it’s a bit on the small side, being more like 1/110th scale, but looks the part.  I’ve upgraded it with a spare Minigun taken from the Team Yankee M113 APC pack.

The Entex kit’s cockpit canopy is moulded in a horrible bright green clear plastic that just looks awful, so I painted over it in the same manner as the opaque canopies.  The side-door windows and the windows in the underside of the nose are opaque in any case, so need to be painted in.

West German Heeresflieger

West German MBB-105P PAH-1s Support Danish Recce

 

Above: A pair of West German Army MBB-105P PAH-1 anti-tank helicopters support a Danish reconnaissance unit against a Warsaw Pact advance through Schleswig.  The Danes had extremely limited helicopter support during the 1980s; only a single squadron of unarmed OH-6 Cayuse light observation helicopters (currently awaiting painting!), so would rely upon German and other NATO helicopters to provide helicopter anti-tank capability.

West German MBB-105P PAH-1

Above: The MBB-105 was by far the most common helicopter in West German service during the 1980s, having started replacing the venerable Alouette II during the 1970s.  There were two main versions used by the Bundeswehr; the unarmed MBB-105CB VBH (VBH meaning Verbindungshubschrauber or ‘Liaison Helicopter’) and the HOT ATGM-armed MBB-105P PAH-1 (PAH meaning Panzerabwehrhubschrauber or ‘Anti-Tank Helicopter’).

The PAH-1 variant, armed with 6x HOT missiles, was actually only meant to be an interim version until a ‘proper’ attack helicopter could be produced.  While the basic MBB-105 was an excellent light battlefield helicopter, the PAH-1 lacked defensive aids and thermal sights for night-fighting.  However, the European Tiger attack helicopter didn’t appear until the late 1990s, so the PAH-1 soldiered on well into the 21st Century.  It was however, upgraded during the 1980s to PAH-1A1 standard with the adoption of HOT 2 missiles.

The models here are very nice, robust plastic models by Team Yankee. However, like all Team Yankee helicopter kits, the windows are opaque and need to be painted.  Like all West German vehicles and helicopters, the MBB-105s were initially painted in a plain, standard NATO ‘Yellow Olive’ scheme, with yellow bands around the tail-boom, large German crosses and ‘HEER’ in large, white letters on the side.  However, they switched during the 1980s to this camouflage scheme consisting of black and quite a bright shade of green, with far less visible markings.  However, some items such as the HOT missile sighting-unit above the cockpit and the HOT tubes remained painted in yellow-olive.  The decals are as supplied by Team Yankee and are bloody awful; I basically had to glue them on using varnish!

If you want to do the VBH version, leave off the missile tubes (obviously) and the missile-sight box and then blank off the hole where the missile sight should go with filler or plasticard.  However, the Germans weren’t as keen as the British and Americans on unarmed scouts, so the VBH machines were mainly just used for liaison purposes and therefore fall largely outside the scope of a wargame.  However, I do have one here somewhere, being a re-painted die-cast Italian Police MBB-105 by Italeri.  Another die-cast MBB-105 was converted into a PAH-1.

West German UH-1D

Each of the three West German Army Corps had an Army Aviation Command (Heeresfliegerkommando), consisting of three Regiments.  One regiment in the command had 56x MBB-105P PAH-1 anti-tank helicopters (during the early 1980s some units still had Alouette II, equipped with SS-11 missiles), a second regiment had 48x UH-1D utility helicopters and the third had 32x CH-53G heavy transport helicopters.  Each of these regiments also had 5x Liaison Helicopters (either MBB-105CB VBH or Alouette II VBH) and there were another 15x VBH in each Aviation Command HQ squadron.

Each Division and Corps HQ also had a liaison squadron equipped with 10x MBB-105CB VBH or Alouette II VBH.  These HQ liaison squadrons were the last gasp of the Alouette II in front-line German service, with some surviving into the 1990s.

The majority of German Territorial Commands did not have helicopters permanently assigned.  However, the Schleswig-Holstein Territorial Command was the exception, as it was a very different organisation containing regular units and operating independently of the rest of the Bundeswehr north of the Elbe, under command of the Danish-led LANDJUT Command.  It therefore had a single mixed Aviation Regiment with 21x PAH-1, 24x UH-1D and 15x VBH.

This model above is a Revell 1/100th UH-1H model, which is visually identical to the UH-1D (the differences were internal, namely a different engine).

I was going to waffle on about the Americans and Belgians, but this post is long enough, so I’ll leave that for next time!  Here’s a taster…

 

This entry was posted in 15mm Figures, Battlefront: First Echelon, Cold War, Cold War - NATO Armies, Painted Units. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to NATO Helicopters of the 1980s

  1. Nick says:

    660 Sqn, Hong Kong had Scout as it was more capable of flying in the heat and humidity than the Gazelle, the final straw being when a Gazelle on trial toppled of Crest Hill OP! The Scouts were great fun for flying along the border with doors off and we even abseiled out of them, late 80s. I think it was Christmas 88 when I was jiffed to do Father Christmas for Sek Kong Infant School, flew in by Scout after Commander British Forces Hong Kong had a photo taken sat on my lap in the Ops room as we waited for our respective helicopters! The RAF flight consisted of 4 Wessex.

    • jemima_fawr says:

      Cheers Nick! Ah, I was wondering if there might be a good operational reason such as tropical heat involved in that decision. I used to meet 666 (V) Sqn all over the place (on one memorable occasion they helped me find a lost group of cadets on the Black Mountains) and they told me that they kept Scout simply because it was simpler for the TA to maintain and operate and there was also a good supply of ex-regular Scout pilots and mechanics who might be persuaded to do it part-time. I loved the Scout… 🙂

  2. Reliantman says:

    Hi.
    You recently posted that you were at Brawdy at the end of the 70’s. I was a FLM on the Hawk line from 78, going on to Chivenor in 81.

    I lived in H-West till 1999, and have been in Cardiff for the last twenty years.
    By coincidence I have been collecting 20mm vehicles and figures for Winter of 79, and will be looking at gaming in 28mm in the future.

    If my email addy is visible, please contact me as I might know you.

    Regards. Reliantman.

    • jemima_fawr says:

      Hi Reliantman,

      Ah, only as an eight year-old sprog at the 1979 airshow (or it might have been 1978 – the last year where the Reds had Gnat, anyway)! 🙂 I didn’t join the RAF until 1989. 😀

      Did you ever wander down to WASP in Pembroke dock at all? We had a succession of Brawdy guys come through the club. I was also in the RAF Waddington club from 1989 to 1990.

    • jemima_fawr says:

      Reliantman,

      Might you know Mick Foley, by any chance? He’s my best mate’s dad and was on the Hawk line at that time. Still lives down here.

      • Doug Smith says:

        Hi.
        I am terrible with names, but might remember his face. I spent most of my time on the line, but sometimes went over to Recs to do odd jobs.
        Since then I have worked as a civvy at Abingdon on Chipmunks and Bulldogs, and at Valley on Hawks again.
        My first wife and kids still live in H-west, but I have not been back for a while now.

        I will be joining the club at Penarth soon, and once I am settled in, might come over to Carmarthen for a visit, if that is ok.

        Regards. Doug

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.