I was delighted to take part in two recent episodes of the aeronautical podcast Aviation Xtended to mark the 35th anniversary of the end of the 1982 Falklands conflict. This included fascinating interviews with Lynx pilot Cdr Larry Jeram-Croft, and Sea Harrier pilots Cdr Tim Gedge AFC RN and Cdr Nigel ‘Sharkey’ Ward DFC AFC RN Rtd.
Marking the 35th anniversary of the end of the Falklands Conflict, we look back at the air war through the eyes of the Fleet Air Arm. We are joined in the studio by Naval Air Historian Matt Willis to review our guest interviews and discuss the tactics and lessons from the conflict.
We continue our look back at the Falklands Air War on the 35th Anniversary of the end of the Falklands Conflict. We are joined in the studio by Naval Air Historian Matt Willis and are delighted to welcome Commander Nigel ‘Sharkey’ Ward DFC AFC RN Retired to the show, all the way from his home in Grenada.
The Xtended website is well worth a visit, and why not subscribe to the podcast for many more hours of fascinating aviation-themed content?
Thanks to Pieter Johnson, Gareth Stringer and Tim Robinson for letting me join the show.
My introduction to the programmes was as follows:
Air Power during the Falklands conflict in 1982 was pivotal, both to the Argentine defence of the islands, and the UK forces’ efforts to take them back. UK air assets from the Royal Air Force, Army Air Corps, Royal Marines and in particular the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm took part, as did aircraft from Argentina’s Air Force, Navy, Army and Coastguard.
Air superiority was critical for British forces to carry out the planned amphibious landings, and for the Argentines to attempt to turn them back. British forces had to prevent attacks on the naval, amphibious and ground forces. Both sides had to transport thousands of men, and thousands of tons of materiel by air.
The British task force had hoped to reach its objective in secret, but to the Royal Navy’s surprise, the Argentinians were able to use British communication satellite signals and Boeing 707 airliners to locate the fleet in transit. The first time opposing aircraft made contact was on 21 April when a 707 was intercepted and shepherded away by Sea Harriers.
The first combat involving aircraft came four days later when Royal Navy helicopters crippled the submarine Santa Fé with depth-charges and missiles during the operation to recover South Georgia.
Taking the Falkland Islands themselves relied on every single air asset the British could bring to bear. Hastily modified RAF Victor tankers, and Nimrods from 42 Squadron deployed to Ascension Island for reconnaissance and support of RN nuclear submarines. Long-range ‘Black Buck’ Vulcan bombing raids, supported by Victor tankers, were a huge undertaking but successfully damaged the runway at Port Stanley, and compromised the Argentinian air defences.
The Argentine naval and air force fast jets were in less-than-ideal condition due to arms embargoes but were still able to mount a formidable opposition. The Navy made good use of a small number of Exocet anti-ship missiles, with effective co-operation between strike and reconnaissance aircraft, sinking the destroyer HMS Sheffield and the transport ship Atlantic Conveyer, the latter leading to the loss of many British helicopters.
On the 21 May, D-Day for the amphibious landings, Naval and Air Force fighter-bombers were able to penetrate British defences repeatedly, leading to the landing zone at San Carlos Water being nicknamed ‘Bomb Alley’. Fortunately – for the success of the operation, at any rate – the brunt of the attacks was borne by the escorting warships and not the troopships and amphibious warfare vessels, but the Argentine fighter bombers, generally operating without escort, did considerable damage.
The Fleet Air Arm’s Sea Harriers proved more effective than the Navy’s wildest hopes despite limited numbers of the aircraft, carrying out over 1,400 air defence and ground attack sorties, supplemented by RAF Harriers as campaign continued. The Sea Harriers destroyed over 20 Argentine aircraft and proved more than a match for their opposition, though at times, air defences were stretched to breaking point, and anti-aircraft missile systems, particularly the newer Sea Dart and Sea Wolf, helped, but proved less effective than expected.
Blockade running Argentine transport aircraft were able to deliver arms and equipment to ground forces through May and June. On both sides, helicopters were crucial during the land fighting, variously transporting troops and supporting them in combat with guns and missiles, and also being used for rescue.
Ultimately, Argentinian air forces were, despite fierce resistance, unable to prevent the British amphibious assault from succeeding. While bombing and missile attacks caused significant setbacks for the British, air defence and air support ultimately made the recapture of the islands possible.