Today’s news stories about the Falklands have prompted me to create a quick ‘photo essay’ showing some of today’s versions of the materiel that was in action in the South Atlantic 30 years ago.
A Lynx HAS.3 performing with the RN Helicopter display pair The Black Cats at the Shoreham Airshow in 2009
Westland Lynx helicopters flew on both sides during the Falklands conflict. Royal Navy Lynx HAS.2s from 815 Naval Air Squadron operated in a number of roles including Anti-Submarine, Anti-Surface Vessel and replenishment. Several RN Lynx were lost when their ships were damaged or sunk, but the naval helicopters also made a significant contribution to the war effort. Two Lynx helicopters from the frigate HMS Brilliant attacked the Argentine submarine Santa Fe with homing torpedoes and machine-gun fire, preventing it from submerging and forcing its surrender. Argentine patrol and supply ships were also attacked and damaged by RN Lynx helicopters and their Sea Skua missiles.
There was little commonality of specification, especially among weapons. Some were hastily fitted with Sea Skua anti-ship missile, though the test programme had not been completed. A few had electronic countermeasures, and not all aircraft had the full range of sensors. Some were jury-rigged with a machine gun firing through the side-door. Despite the slightly ramshackle nature of the Lynx fleet, the helicopters acquitted themselves magnificently despite challenging combat and weather conditions.
Hawker Siddeley Harrier
A Harrier GR.9 of No1 Squadron at the Royal International Air Tattoo in July 2010. No1 Squadron flew Harrier GR.3s in the 1982 conflict
The Harrier is the iconic British aircraft of the Falklands conflict, in both the RN Sea Harrier and RAF Harrier form. Both the navy’s and the air force’s Harriers operated from the two aircraft carriers in the task force, proving the flexibility and effectiveness of the design. The Sea Harrier’s were primarily used for air defence, as with their effective Blue Fox radar and AIM 9L Sidewinder missiles they had far greater air-to-air capability to the RAF craft. Initially, however, RAF aircraft were included in the task force as attrition replacements for air defence. No1 Squadron RAF had trained for air defence using the Harrier’s Aden cannon. The Squadron’s Harriers were mainly used for close air support, tactical reconnaissance and ground attack, the latter sometimes in concert with Sea Harriers which had a toss-bombing computer. The Harriers shot down 20 Argentine aircraft in air-to-air combat for no loss, although a number of Harriers were lost through accidents and ground fire.
Broadsword Class Frigate
Decommissioned Batch-3 Type 22 Frigates at Portsmouth in 2011. Early members of the class proved potent air-defence assets in 1982
The Type 22 ‘Broadsword’ Class Frigate was originally intended to be an anti-submarine escort vessel, but evolved into much more multi-role ships. In particular, they were armed with potent (but at the time still problematic) Sea Wolf anti-aircraft missile system. HMS Broadsword and HMS Brilliant both claimed kills against Argentine fast jets using this system, though a fault in Broadsword’s led to the sinking of HMS Coventry.
Type 82 Destroyer
HMS Bristol is now a training ship in Portsmouth Dockyard, seen here after a refit in 2011
HMS Bristol led the ‘Bristol group’ of reinforcement ships to the Falklands during the conflict, and then joined the carrier battle group, Task Group 317.8. After the conflict she remained in the South Atlantic as flagship of the RN forces stationed in the region. Bristol was a unique ship, intended as the lead ship of a series of carrier group escorts (and as such the ancestor of today’s Type 45 Destroyers). She was more modern and capable than the County Class missile destroyers, of which there were several in theatre, with Sea Dart anti-aircraft missile system and computer co-ordinated weapons and sensors.
A French Mirage 2000M at the Royal International Air Tattoo in 2010. The 2000 was the last incarnation of the Mirage III, which fought over the Falklands
Argentina operated two Mirage variants in the 1982 conflict. The Mirage IIIEA was a French-built tactical strike and fighter-bomber version of the ubiquitous delta-wing jet, though in 1982 it was used as an escort fighter and decoy for strike missions. One was shot down by Sea Harriers. The IAI ‘Dagger’ was an Israeli-built version of the Mirage V. This was derived from the Mirage III, though with some avionics deleted to clear room for more fuel. The greater range of the Dagger gave it just enough endurance to launch strikes at RN ships, though the distances were so tight that the aircraft could not manoeuvre over the islands and had only a ten minute window in which to locate a target and strike. No fewer than nine were shot down by RN Sea Harriers during attempted bombing missions.
Dassault Super Etendard
A French Navy Super Etendard at the Yeovilton Air Show in 2011
The Super Etendard is a French-designed strike fighter. Argentina acquired 14 in 1980 as a replacement for US Skyhawk aircraft, as America had imposed an arms embargo on Argentina at the time. The Super Etendards were probably the most powerful weapon in the Argentine inventory due to their carriage of Exocet anti-ship missiles – although Argentina had only five of these projectiles at the time. The Super Etendards would race in at ‘zero feet’ before ‘popping up’ briefly to allow the missile’s radar to locate and lock onto a target. In this way, Super Etendards sank HMS Sheffield, which was on radar picket duty. They also sank the cargo ship Atlantic Conveyor.
Boeing Vertol Chinook
A Chinook carries a Land Rover during the RAF’s ‘role demonstration’ at the Biggin Hill Air Fair in June 2010
A single Chinook became famous overnight during the Falklands campaign – ZA718 ‘Bravo November’ was shipped to the South Atlantic on the converted merchant ship MV Atlantic Conveyor, and was the only helicopter to survive the ship’s sinking by an Exocet missile. Bravo November was on an air test at the time and landed on HMS Hermes when Atlantic Conveyer was lost. Bravo November became the only serviceable heavy lift helicopter available to British forces involved in the hostilities. Without any spares, tools or manuals, the Chinook ferried 550 tons of cargo and 1,500 soldiers during the campaign. Bravo November had a lucky escape when, in an attempt to fly below a squall, the pilot inadvertently hit the sea and flooded the engine intakes. Somehow, Squadron Leader Dick Langworthy and his co-pilot Flight Lieutenant Andy Lawless were able to get airborne again. ZA718 is still on active service.
Hawker Siddeley Nimrod
The Hawker Siddeley Nimrod was the mainstay of UK maritime reconnaissance for 30 years. This is one of the now-cancelled MRA4 variants at the Royal International Air Tattoo in 2009
The Nimrod’s extreme long range, extended further with the rapid addition of air-to-air refuelling, allowed reconnaissance flights to be carried out in the Falklands theatre of operations. The RAF’s Nimrods, operating from Ascension Island, acted as part of the communications relay during the Black Buck Vulcan bombing missions, while the jets also scouted for Argentine shipping and performed search and rescue duties.
The Avro Vulcan XH558 has been back on the display circuit in all its glory since 2007. Seen here at the Shoreham Air Show in 2009, it is flown by the pilot of Black Buck 1, Martin Withers
No article on the Falklands war would be complete without a mention of the Vulcan. A number of raids took place to bomb targets on the Falklands and destroy or render useless air-defence radar. The Black Buck raids put Stanley Airport out of action for fast jets and forced Argentine forces to keep air assets back in case of attacks against Argentina itself. The missions carrying Shrike anti-radar missiles also forced the Argentine forces to switch off their radars, allowing Harrier raids to take place undetected