Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 265 (HMM-265) was the first CH-46A squadron in the Armed Forces. During it’s proud and heroic history, HMM-265 has taken Marines into battle, resupplied them, evacuated the wounded, rescued beleaguered units at almost impossible odds, provided humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and has stood watch at the tip of the spear ready to respond at a moment’s notice. HMM-265’s colorful history reflects a tradition of excellence and service under the most extreme conditions.
HMM-265 was commissioned on October 1, 1962 at Marine Corps Air Station, New River, NC. Flying the UH-34D, the squadron deployed to Memphis, TN shortly after commissioning in support of the Mississippi Crisis, a critical moment in the Civil Rights movement. Following that, HMM-265 began a series of deployments testing new helicopter tactics. The culmination of these exercises was a demonstration of vertical envelopment at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Perhaps the most meaningful event in these early days was being chosen as the first operational squadron to receive the new CH-46A Sea Knight helicopter.
The first flight of the HRB-1 occurred in August of 1962. Following that, the designation was changed to CH-46A. Further development, flight testing and trials followed throughout 1963 and into 1964. By the middle of 1964, the Sea Knight was ready for the fleet. The day of destiny for HMM-265 occurred on June 29, 1964 as BUNO 150942 was flown for 3.4 hours to the squadron’s home at MCAS New River and in July the squadron accepted its first Sea Knight. On February 4, 1966, HMM-265 became the first Marine Squadron to log 10,000 accident free hours in the CH-46A. This was a great achievement in an era when the CH-46 was going through the growing pains that typically occur when a new aircraft is fielded.
In April of 1966, HMM-265 departed Norfolk Naval Base aboard the USS Boxer with twenty-two CH-46A aircraft. On May 22, 1966, the Squadron arrived at Da Nang Harbor, Republic of Vietnam. The squadron off-loaded and took up residence at Marble Mountain Air Facility located southeast of Da Nang, and was assigned to MAG-16, 1 MAW. The squadron would serve in Vietnam through October 1969.
On a daily basis HMM-265 supported Marine operations in I Corps with strikes, medevacs, resupply, emergency retractions, recon, SAR, and other missions. One of the first and largest operations in which HMM-265 played a major role was Operation Hastings during July 1966. On July 15, 1966, while participating in an early strike on the first day of Hastings, HMM-265 lost three aircraft in LZ Crow. By the end of the day, five aircraft and thirteen Marines would be lost and LZ Crow would become known as Helicopter Valley. Landing in “hot” zones under heavy enemy fire marked Operation Hastings, and was a harbinger of future battles in Vietnam. Throughout 1966, ’67 and ’68, heroic actions of aircrews and individual acts of heroism were commonplace. Ultimately, HMM-265 would lose twenty-seven pilots, crew chiefs and gunners to enemy fire.
In July of 1967, HMM-265 became the Special Landing Force (SLF) helicopter squadron embarked aboard the Seventh Fleet’s Amphibious Ready Group. As the SLF squadron, HMM-265 crews were tasked to conduct heliborne search and destroy missions against Viet Cong targets along the coast. During this time, five major operations were conducted with names such as Bear Chain/Fremont, Beacon Guide, Kangaroo Kick, Beacon Gate, and Operation Cochise.
After over three years in Vietnam, the war-weary squadron was relocated to Okinawa on October 10, 1969. The squadron was deactivated on November 13, 1970 and on 1 September 1977, HMM-265 was reactivated at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, reestablishing a presence in the Pacific that continues to this day.
In its tradition of firsts, HMM-265 continued to make history as the first to attach AV-8 Harriers to the Composite Squadron of CH-46s, CH-53s, UH-1s, and AH-1s. Throughout the 1980’s and ‘90’s, the squadron remained on the cutting edge of the development of the Marine Amphibious Units (MAU), later Marine Expeditionary Units (MEU), and also the metamorphosis of night flying with the development and employment of Night Vision Goggles (NVGs). In April of 1981, the squadron received its first CH-46E, the variant that is still current twenty-three years later.
The Unit Deployment Program to Okinawa began in February of 1985. The squadron sent detachments to the “Rock” on a rotating basis with other CH-46 Squadrons. This continued until the men and women of HMM-265, now known as “Dragons”, were relocated entirely to Okinawa in early 1995. CH-46E’s and HMM-265 continue to be a mainstay of Marine Aviation on Okinawa.
Since reactivation, the Dragons of HMM-265 flew their faithful Seaknights in countless exercises in the Western Pacific Region. Their names read as a litany of strategically vital exercises in exotic locales straight out of National Geographic magazine: Balikatan (Republic of the Philippines), Team Spirit, later renamed Foal Eagle (Korea), Cobra Gold (Thailand), Valiant Usher (Australia, and Korea), Croc (Australia), and Kernal Blitz (Hawaii). To participate in these exercises, the Squadron embarked aboard amphibious naval vessels as a reinforced squadron, self-deployed by island hopping from Okinawa to exotic locations such as Iwakuni, Japan; Pohang, South Korea; or Clark Air Base, Republic of the Philippines. The CH-46Es of the Dragons have been transported by C-5 to locations such as Thailand as well as Cambodia.
In 1990 and 1991 the Dragons were attached to the 5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade, Marine Air Group 50. During Desert Shield, they took part in Operation Sea Soldier IV, the largest NVG troop lift ever in Marine Corps history in the country of Oman. The squadron then waited on amphibious Naval vessels in the Persian Gulf, awaiting the start of combat operations. The Dragons were part of the 5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade’s amphibious feint to Kuwait, which succeeded in drawing the attention of Saddam Hussein’s forces away from the actual attack that occurred inland.
Upon conclusion of hostilities in the Persian Gulf region, HMM-265 returned to Hawaii. While en route, they were called upon to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to the country of Bangladesh during Operation Sea Angel. During the operation the Dragons flew 770 hours in ten days.
The squadron had little time to rest before deploying to Okinawa in October of 1991. During this deployment the Dragons provided support to HMX-1 for the Presidential visit to Tokyo. During 1992, the Dragons were called to Cambodia in support of Operation Full Accounting, where they assisted in the recovery of remains of US Servicemen lost during the Vietnam War.
Heightened tensions in the Persian Gulf during the fall of 1998 brought the Dragons back on a no-notice deployment as the Aviation Combat Element (ACE) for the 31st MEU. Their participation in Operation Desert Fox in the Persian Gulf and Kuwait from November 1998 through February 1999 told Saddam Hussein that the United States was serious about backing up foreign policy. When the squadron returned, they had a short break before deploying again with the 31st MEU. This time, the Marines helped end a bloody civil war on the small island country of East Timor during Operation Stabilize. During October of 1999 and again during January and February of 2000, Dragons helped East Timor become independent, and allowed the United Nations contingent there to operate safely. HMM-265 continues to train and stands ready to support Marines anywhere, anytime during the Global War On Terror.
The material readiness, impeccable safety records, and high operational tempo of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 265 led to many honors, such as the Marine Corps Aviation Association’s Squadron of the Year for 1992, 1999, and 2000. The Dragons have also received the Chief of Naval Operations Safety Award for the years 1978, ‘79, ‘84, ‘94, ‘95, ‘96, and ‘97.
Keeping their skills sharp through vigorous training and flying the aged CH-46E safely has been a vital strength of HMM-265. The squadron surpassed 60,000 mishap free flight hours in the fall of 2003. This reflected the tremendous effort and teamwork among pilots, crew chiefs, aerial observers, and vigilant maintenance team necessary to keep an aircraft flying safely that is older than most of its aircrews.
HMM-265 and the CH-46 had an incredible partnership. The squadron that was privileged to be first to field the CH-46 has received honors and accolades ever since. A reliable aircraft and a motivated squadron is a magical combination. Some Marines stayed there for years, often for as long as the Marine Corps would let them. They stayed with the Dragons because they loved the camaraderie. They loved the CH-46. They loved the history and pride of their squadron. HMM-265 was their second family. The shoes of their predecessors were difficult to fill, but the Dragons stood firmly on the foundation and traditions of the past as they looked eagerly towards the future. The Marines of HMM-265 were ready and willing to serve anywhere, anytime, with the aircraft they knew and loved for forty-plus years: the CH-46 Sea Knight.
HMM-265 was re-designated as Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 265 (VMM-265) in 2012 as it transitioned to the Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey. The Marines of VMM-265 are adding lustrous new pages to the HMM/VMM-265 history book.