The Air War
The first RAF mission after the Argentine invasion was a reconnaissance sortie flown by a Nimrod MR1 of No.42 squadron from Ascension Island which surveyed the Argentine forces on and around the Islands in support of the submarines deploying ahead of the main task force. These mission continued until 15th April when No.42 was relived by Nimrod MR2s, some armed with self defense Sidewinder missiles from the Kinloss wing.
On the 21st April, Sea Harriers of No.800 Squadron intercepted an Argentine Air Force Boeing 707 carrying out a reconnaissance over the task force, it was escorted out of the area. Four days later British Forces recaptured South Georgia and a Royal Navy Wasp damaged the Argentine Submarine Sante Fe with AS12 missiles.
On 30th April, A Vulcan bombed Stanley airfield in the first of the Black Buck raids. Three Vulcans, drawn from Nos. 44 and 50 Squadron then on the verge of retirement, were deployed to Ascension and from there one flew 3,500 miles - with airborne refuelling - to drop twenty one 1,000lb bombs on the runway from 8,000ft at 0438 hours local time before returning to Ascension. It had been refuelled 17 times en route by Victor tankers and was airborne for 15 hours 45 minutes to complete the longest bombing mission on record at that time. The following dawn, Sea Harriers attacked the airfield at low level. One of the Harriers was damaged by ground fire.Pictured right is a Vulcan courtesy of Edd Draper from his Royal Air Force site
The first full account of the most ambitious British bombing raid since the Dambusters: the dramatic Vulcan attack on Port Stanley airfield at the start of the Falklands War When the Argentinian forces invaded the Falklands on 2 April, 1982, it took the British government under Margaret Thatcher completely by surprise. They needed a response, and fast. The military chiefs were ordered to come up with a plan of retaliation. Operation Black Buck, the plan to bomb Port Stanley airfield, was their only realistic option. And even that was fraught with difficulties and danger.
The following day, the Argentine Cruiser was spotted by Canberra PR9s of No.39 Squadron operating clandestinely out of Chile, and subsequently sank by H.M.S. Conqueror. meanwhile the Task Force entered the 300 mile Total Exclusion Zone around the Islands and attacked the airfield with naval gunfire. On the night of 3rd May, the Vulcans made a second 'Black Buck' raid on Port Stanley.
The second black buck mission was flown on the might of 3rd/4th May, the western end of the runway being cratered.
The 4th May saw H.M.S. Sheffield hit by an Argentine Exocet missile, she subsequently sank. The same day, the first Sea Harrier was lost to enemy ground fire. Meanwhile, nine Harrier GR3s from No.1 Squadron from the Uk to Ascension in 9 hours and 15 minutes, having been adapted to carry Sidewinders and naval 2 inch rockets. Two days later, the Task Force lost two Sea Harriers when they failed to return from a Cap and are presumed to have collided in bad weather.
The 7th May saw Britain extend the TEZ to within 12 miles of the Argentine coast and two days later an Argentine surveillance trawler was found within the TEZ and strafed by Sea Harriers, and sunk after the crew surrendered. A period of bad weather followed restricting flying for both sides, although the SAS destroyed a number of Argentine aircraft on the ground at the Pebble Island airstrip during the night of 14/15th May.
On the night of 13th/14th May Black Buck 3 was called off due to high headwinds which resulted in increased demands upon the crew and the increased demands upon the Victor tankers due to increased fuel usage.
The following day two Sea Harriers strafed Argentine supply vessels in Falkland Sound, damaging one so badly that it had to be beached. The 18th May, saw the RAF Harriers from Ascension arrive onboard the freighter Atlantic Conveyor, from where they transferred to the H.M.S. Hermes, the following day three of them dropped cluster bombs on a fuel dump near Fox bay. The main amphibious landing took place on 21st May, with the Harriers providing air defense and ground support. The Frigate H.M.S. Ardent was destroyed by rocket fire from Argentine aircraft, but the Harriers accounted for three Skyhawk and three Daggers with Sidewinder Air-to-air missiles and another two Pucaras with gunfire. Two pumas and a Chinook were destroyed on the ground in the mount Kent area. one Harrier was shot down by ground fire and its pilot captured.
More ground support sorties were flown on the 23rd, including bombings of airstrips at Dunnose Head and Pebble Beach, destroying a number of Pucaras. H.M.S. Antelope was crippled by A-4 Skyhawks in San Carlos water the same day. The next day saw Sea Harriers and RAF Harriers dropped 1,000lb bombs, managed to damage a number of aircraft despite exceptionally heavy fire. A Sea Harrier was lost when it crashed into the sea, killing its pilot. While Sea Harriers accounted for a Mirage and three Daggers. The following day, the Skyhawks were back in force, sinking H.M.S. Coventry. Argentine Super Etendards launched Exocet missiles which set fire to the Atlantic Conveyor and caused her to be abandoned later along with her precious cargo of Chinooks. Harriers destroyed an Argentine Puma near Douglas settlement using cluster bombs. Harrier raids on the airfields were repeated the next day and again on the 27th. Another Harrier was downed during the 27th, again by ground fire. the pilot was rescued.
The 28th saw three Harriers support 2 Para and encouraged 1200 Argentine troops to surrender on the following morning. The 30th May was marked byHarriers mounting 10 close support sorties, one used Laser Guided Bombs, although they were ineffective due to the failure of the Forward Air Controller to be in the correct position. A third Harrier was lost to ground fire, but the pilot was plucked form the sea within minutes by a helicopters.
Meanwhile, Argentine Canberras bombed troop positions at San Carlos with little success. The 1st June was opened with a series of raids on Stanley airfield, but a pair of Harriers failed to intercept some MB339s reported in the area. However, two Harriers of No.801 squadron attacked an Argentine Hercules and shot it down, a similar aircraft (if not the very same aircraft) was reported to have bombed a British Tanker two days previously.
On 28th May, Black Buck 4 was called off due to a refuelling equipment failure on one of the Victor aircaft, this would have been the first Shrike mission.
Black Buck 5 was the first attack on Port Stanley with a Shrike anti-radar missile, on 31st May, the mission was a success, hitting the primary target, the TPS 43 radar. The Shrike equipped Vulcans had an extended range due to additional fuel carried in their bomb bay tanks which allowed them an extended loiter time over the target to attempt to tempt the radars to lock on, in full view of the defenders for about 40 minutes.
Black Buck 6 was flown on 3rd June, destroying the Skyguard radar killing four of the crew. On the return leg the aircrafts' inflight refuelling probe shattered on impact with the drogue and the aircraft was forced to divert to Brazil. The aircraft and crew were held until the 11th June. Having attempted to release the remaining 'E' band missiles over the Atlantic prior to diverting to Rio, one had misfired and hung up. It was later confiscated by the Brazilian authorities.
The next sorties were on 5th June, when Harriers flew eight close support and armed recce sorties in search of ground-based Exocets. On the same day, the San Carlos prefabricated airstrip went into operation. A Harrier was damaged by a near-miss with a Surface to Air Missile and landed roughly at the prefabricated airstrip. Heavy Argentine air activity provided the Sea Harriers with plenty of chance for Target practice on the 8th June, when they downed three Skyhawks. However, four others got through and bombed the troopships Sir Galahad and Sir Tristram, leaving 53 dead. Two more Harriers had arrived during the day, following a 3,500 mile flight. Another tanker was bombed by an Argentinean Hercules on the 12th June, but the bombs failed to explode.
More close support sorties followed for the next few days, including the last Black Buck mission, Black Buck 7, on the night of 12/13 June, with 1,000lb bombs cratering the eastern end of the runway and damaging airfield stores and buildings.
The 13th June saw the first successful Laser Guided Bomb sorties against an enemy 155 mm gun, which was destroyed at Mount Tumbleweed. A similar sorties the following day was called off when negotiations began.
On the 14th July 1982, the Argentine troops surrendered. During the eight week conflict 28 Sea Harriers flew 1,435 operational sorties shooting down 20 enemy aircraft plus three probables, while 14 Harriers flew a total of 126 sorties and the Vulcans five. They were supported by 375 Victor Tanker, 111 Nimrod and more than 600 Hercules and VC10 sorties with countless helicopter missions.
When Argentina invaded the Falklands Islands and South Georgia on Friday, 2nd April 1982 a British task Force sailed within 72 hours comprised of H.M.S. Hermes and H.M.S. Invincible both carriers were equipped with the Harrier V/STOL fighter and Westland Sea King helicopters. Some of their escort vessels were carrying the Westland Lynx HAS Mk I or Westland Scouts and Wasps. The task force carried a sizeable detachment of Royal Marines and British Army units. The flexibility of the helicopter and harrier was what made the recapture of the Falkland Islands possible. The Task force also included the two assault ships H.M.S. Fearless and Intrepid, and several requisitioned merchant ships acting as troops transports and the Atlantic Conveyor which was employed as a make-shift aircraft carrier, and helicopter landing platforms were added to ships such as the Queen Elizabeth II, Canberra and Uganda. RAF Boeing-Vertol Chinook and Westland-Aerospatiale Puma helicopters were also carried.
Westland Wessex helicopters inserted and took off an SAS patrol on South Georgia, despite loosing two of their number in the appalling conditions. The pilot was awarded the DSO for taking off from South Georgia in such appalling conditions with a massive overload of seventeen soldiers and naval airmen (Crew of the two previously crashed Wessexes). Later, SAS and SBS units were transported by helicopter to take control of the principal settlement on South Georgia, Gritvyken without a shot being fired, almost 200 Argentine soldiers were taken prisoner.
Throughout the Falklands campaign the helicopter provided vital transport. Although several helicopters were lost in accidents, very few were lost to enemy fire due to the skill and courage of the pilots when faced with the Argentine Kfir, Mirage and Skyhawk fighters. Whereas the Argentine forces lost two Pumas and a bell UH-1 Iroquois to attack by Royal Navy Sea Harriers. The Helicopter enabled just 600 men of 2 Para to take positions held by almost 2,000 Argentine troops, in a complete reversal of normal military doctrine which calls for an attacking force of three or four times the number of the defending one. Helicopters also evacuated casualties from the stricken RFA Sir Tristram and Sir Galahad while both ships were burning, and their ammunition 'cooking off'.
The lack of Airborne Early Warning aircraft available to the British fleet following the scrapping of the Royal navy's conventional aircraft carriers and the subsequent sinkings of a number of Task Force ships convinced the Admiralty that such an aircraft was needed and Royal Navy ASW Sea Kings were converted after the war to serve this role.