• Westminster, 31st March 1982

    Pausing only to make a quick phone call to get an update on the disposition and readiness of his fleet and having found the defence secretary not in his office in the Ministry of Defence but at an emergency meeting to discuss the emergent situation the fully uniformed and glitteringly bemedaled figure had set off to the House of Commons in pursuit of his prey.

    Annoyed at being stopped in the Common’s lobby by a policeman he was forced to send a messenger to the meeting to announce his arrival. He noted that the messenger moved with slightly more of a hurry than normal almost as if he wanted to be away from this imposing figure sooner rather than later.

    A slight smile crept across his face and inside the First Sea Lord Admiral Henry Leach enjoyed this moment and in certain a way looked forward to what was about to come.
    He’d always thought that deep down the Defence Secretary John Nott was slightly intimidated by if not outright scared of him. Certainly, following the previous year’s defence review which had savaged the navy there wasn’t much love lost between the two.
    He wished that he could see the look that must be appearing on Mr Nott’s face in the next room as the news reached him that the one person who could make this night more even more unpleasant for him than it already had been was waiting outside. His thoughts were interrupted by the messengers return and invitation to enter.

    Upon entering the room, the admiral saw the Defence Secretary talking with the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The Defence Secretary seemed to be trying to impress on the Prime Minister his opinion that there was no likelihood of a successful military response to the crisis. After taking a brief moment to observe the apparent haplessness of Mr Nott and the other assembled ministers and officials (some of whom had clearly been subjected to some very uncomfortable questions from the PM) and completely ignoring his superior the Deputy Chief of Defence Staff the decisive First Sea Lord veteran of numerous conflicts made his presence known to the Prime Minister directly.
    When he had entered the room his first thought had been “What the hell’s the point of having a navy if you’re not going to use it?” he would now find out if that question would be answered.

    The Prime Minister asked him “Admiral with all the risks that we have discussed are we able to carry out such an operation to recover the Falkland Islands?”.

    To which Leach replied “Yes, we can and we must”.

    The PM responded by asking “What makes you say that we must?”

    The First Sea Lord decisively replied “Because if we do not or if we pussyfoot in our actions and do not achieve complete success in another few months, we shall be living in a very different county whose words count for little”.

    Silently conceding that the admiral had a strong point the PM asked of him “If we commit to this course how soon can we begin preparations?”

    Leach replied “The light carrier INVINCIBLE can be ready to sail within a few days, I can build an amphibious group around her and 3 Commando Brigade to be carried on the HERMES, FEARLESS and INTREPID. Some ships already at sea can be ready to move even sooner. But we must start now”.

    Upon hearing this the Prime Minister asked “What about our big carriers, surely, we must still have some of them left to send?”

    To which the admiral replied “Prime minister we still have one!
    Argentina's Decision to Invade
  • The timing of the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands has since become a topic of debate among historians and military men. Many will point out that had Argentina held off for even a year the Royal Navy would no longer have had the capability to able to mount an operation to recapture the islands. Even Admiral Leach years later remarked in an interview that had the events of April 1982 happened a little later there would have been no question of who would have won that war because there simply wouldn’t have been one. Rumours persist that off camera he also remarked that John Nott and possibly Margaret Thatcher would possibly have gone down in history as great military heroes of Argentina.

    The sequence of events leading up to the invasion are myriad and complex but can be simplified for ease of understanding. Argentina had been in the midst of economic stagnation and large scale civil unrest against the military dictatorship (known as the National Reorganisation Process) that had ruled the country since 1976. Having become the President of Argentina in December 1981 (through the means of a coup that had deposed his predecessor General Roberto Viola) Lt General Leopoldo Galtieri had found himself beset by issues breeding unrest that was getting to the point of seriously threatening his government. On the economic side of things inflation had climbed to a staggering 600%. Trade, manufacturing and GDP had all dropped significantly leading to increased unemployment and crucially for those lucky enough to still have a job wages had fallen by almost 20%. The economic factors alone would have been enough to cause the Argentine people to resent the military government but the human rights situation within the country was pushing that resentment towards outright hatred. Since taking power in 1976 the Argentine military government had been conducting a campaign of repression and actions that fell into the category of state sponsored terrorism known as the Dirty War. Political dissidents and indeed anyone who was thought to be even a remote potential threat to the military government were hunted down by what amounted to military death squads. By 1982 tens of thousands of people had disappeared as the internal security forces cast their nets wider and wider in their never ending hunt for potential threats. The so called Dirty War was being carried out with the simple objective in mind of maintaining the military government’s grip on power by eliminating any potential threat to it. However, things had reached the point where it was having quite the opposite effect and giving the population real reason to hate the government that they were increasingly thinking of as their oppressors.

    Like their immediate predecessors the new junta led by Galtieri had an increasingly urgent need for a solution to stave off what some in the military feared was a brewing revolution. Fortunately for them a potential solution to their problems lay just a few hundred miles off the coast of Argentina.

    Argentina had a longstanding claim regarding the Falkland Islands which are referred to in Argentina as the Malvinas. While most in Britain at the time would probably have been unable to find the islands on a map (most who were asked too tended to look for the islands off the coast of Scotland) in Argentina the issue of sovereignty of the Falklands was a significant issue that was capable of stirring up a storm of emotion and patriotic fervour.

    Even before he had seized power Galtieri had hoped to be able to use the strength of Argentine patriotic feeling towards the issue as a way of rallying the nation and diverting attention away from the chronic economic problems and numerous human rights violations of the dirty war that were threatening to topple the military government.
    Indeed, the highly politicised and factional nature of the Argentine armed forces at the time meant that he had only been able to obtain the support of the navy by agreeing to resolve the issue by forcibly occupying the islands.
    Examinations of Argentine government archives indicate that the planning for the invasion of the Falkland Islands had been underway for some time with various plans put forward that had never able to get the go ahead and the potential date for the operation being repeatedly pushed back. There are indications that before Galtieri took power the latest provisional date had been set for sometime in late 1983 or early 1984.
    With the regime increasingly threatened and mindful of the need to maintain the support of the military establishment Galtieri had finally reached the point where he felt he had no option but to green light the plan and bring the date forward to April 1982. This caused some unease within the government as many felt it would be better to wait another year until the defence cuts laid out in the UK’s 1981 defence white paper could be implemented reducing the UK’s ability to respond. Others countered that they couldn’t afford to wait that long.

    In the end it was the head of the Argentine Navy Admiral Jorge Anaya who won the argument. He stated that with the ongoing rapidly political unrest in the country if they waited a year as others were recommending there was no guarantee that the regime would survive that long.
    He reasoned that the British likely already no longer possessed the capability to effectivity oppose Argentina and even if they did probably wouldn’t have the will to so anyway.

    It was well known to all three members of the ruling junta (The third and final member being the head of the air force Brigadier General Basilio Lami Dozo) that having recently announced a significant cut in its defence expenditure the UK was now divesting itself of many of its assets including those necessary to oppose an occupation of the Falkland Islands. The British Defence Secretary had even publicly announced the British armed forces would no longer take part in operations outside of the NATO area and would instead be fully committed to the defence of Europe. To the Argentinians this was felt to mean that Britain would no longer conduct operations outside of Europe or the North Atlantic and certainly not in an area of the South Atlantic that was almost 8000 miles away from Britain.
    Indeed, as a result of the recent British defence cuts the British Navy was rapidly divesting itself of any meaningful fixed wing aviation capability and there were rumours that it’s amphibious warfare vessels and possibly the entire Corps of Royal Marines were in potentially going to be abolished. On the Falkland Islands themselves the British military presence was rapidly dwindling including the withdrawal of the ice patrol ship HMS ENDURANCE. This alone helped create the perception in the minds of the Argentine government that the UK cared little for the islands and thus would likely not consider them worth fighting over.

    This perception had been building in the minds of Argentina’s leaders for a while now. There was a belief that not only did the British not care about their various islands in the South Atlantic but that they would actually prefer to be rid of them.
    This belief had been put to the test in 1976 when under the codename Operation SOL the Argentine Air Force had landed 50 men on the uninhabited British Island of Southern Thule in the British owned South Sandwich Islands where they had raised an Argentine flag and established a military outpost. The British hadn’t even noticed the Argentine presence until a month later when the Argentinian’s had announced that they had established a “research station” on the island. The real reason for Operation SOL was really to gauge Britain’s interest in the region by seeing what response was provoked and also as a way of making a statement on the world diplomatic stage. As expected, this had resulted in a diplomatic protest from the British government. Where things had become really interesting was when more than a year after the initial Argentine occupation the British had dispatched a small naval force (under the codename Operation JOURNEYMAN). The force had consisted of two frigates and two auxiliaries (and unknown to the Argentines the SSN HMS DREADNOUGHT) which the Argentines regarded to an extent as a rather pitiful showing from one of the largest fleets in the world. Though they had made their presence known to the Argentine personnel on Southern Thule the British force had done nothing more than that. Clearly, they hadn’t thought the island worth getting into a fight over despite the fact that they could have almost effortlessly evicted the Argentinians and had soon withdrawn from the area and returned to the UK.

    The official British reason for carrying out Operation JOURNEYMAN had been to deter any further potential aggression directed towards the Falklands however in the long term the operation would prove to have been rather counter productive due to the perception it created in Buenos Aries.
    Following the operation, the British Government had quietly attempted to resolve the issue and save face by “normalising” the Argentine presence on Southern Thule. They had quietly hinted at perhaps giving the Argentine military permission to be present on the island backdated to when they first arrived or perhaps even signing over ownership completely. Though this had all come to nothing after details had leaked out to the British press it further reinforced the Argentine belief that Britain simply did not care about her possessions in the South Atlantic. Indeed in 1981 the British Government had passed the British Nationality Act which had effectively stripped the population of their British citizenship in exchange for something called “British Overseas Territories Citizenship” which as far as anyone in Argentina could understand seemed to make the islanders somewhat less than full British citizens.
    This was perceived by the junta as a step by Britain towards divesting themselves of the Falklands possibly with the aim of transferring them to Argentine ownership.
    Indeed this would fit in with the Britain’s 35 year trend of giving up ownership of her former empire as she continued her decline on the world stage from imperial superpower to something rather less.

    If the operation to invade and occupy the Falkland Islands codenamed ROSARIO could be carried out with the absolute minimum of casualties to the small UK force known to be on the islands would there really be the political will in London to sacrifice blood and treasure it would take to recover the islands that Britain was planning to eventually handover anyway?

    Having convinced themselves that it was a risk worth taking and driven by perceived necessity the Junta finally gave the long delayed go order for the liberation of the Malvinas and after a short but spirited resistance by British Royal Marines the Flag of Argentina flew over both the Falkland Islands and South Georgia.

    Unfortunately for the Argentine military the decision to seize the British territories would prove to be a catastrophic miscalculation.
    The Eagle Survives
  • In 1966 the new Labour government led by Harold Wilson sought to tackle Britain’s economic problems by reducing public expenditure. This included a significant reduction in defence spending. The now infamous 1966 Defence White Paper announced the cancellation of many military projects including the then planned 54,000-ton QUEEN ELIZABETH class aircraft carriers of the CVA-01 program due to their increasing unaffordability. In order to compensate for this in the short-term the Royal Navy’s current pair of large aircraft carriers HMS EAGLE and her sister HMS ARK ROYAL were to receive refits to modernize them and provide them with the minimum level of updating necessary to enable them to operate the American built F4 Phantom interceptor aircraft that had been intended to fly from the decks of the now cancelled ships of the CVA-01 program.
    As well as abandoning new aircraft carrier construction the existing carrier fleet was to be gradually wound down.
    HMS VICTORIOUS was decommissioned somewhat prematurely after suffering a small fire during a refit. A quick decision had been made to decommission the ship then and there as a quick economy measure with her planned recommissioning ceremony being changed at the very last minute to her decommissioning.
    HMS HERMES was taken in hand for conversion to a commando carrier. A conversion that included the removal of her catapults and arrestor wires and thus her ability to operate fixed wing aircraft.

    In 1967 the decision was taken to completely phase out aircraft carriers and fixed wing flying in the RN by 1972 as an economy measure. HMS ARK ROYAL had recently begun a £32 million refit to enable her to operate the Phantom. This placed the Ministry of Defence in an awkward position as it would be politically unacceptable to either cancel the badly needed work (the resulting dockyard redundancies alone would have been a political nightmare) or to spend such a large sum on a ship that would only have a planned 3 years of life on completion. This partly influenced the decision by the Edward Heath government in 1970 to retain fixed wing capability for a limited period beyond 1972. As a consequence, the ARK ROYAL was given an extension of her planned service and then once it was made clear to ministers that at only £5 million her “Phantomisation” refit would be vastly cheaper HMS EAGLE was taken in hand to begin her refit which was completed in 1973.
    The ship had been very nearly grounded in 1972 during her final entry into Plymouth before she was due to begin her almost year long modernisation refit. Due to her sheer size when entering or exiting her homeport EAGLE was obliged to make use of a dredged deep water channel using marker buoys to navigate. On this particular entry to harbour the marker buoys had recently been replaced having been brought ashore for maintenance. Unfortunately, one of the markers had been replaced in the wrong position and now found itself more than 150 feet from where it was supposed to be.

    Sometimes the actions of just one man can have far reaching consequences. While the officers on the bridge during the transit had no reason to suspect that the ship was approaching quite a serious navigational hazard there was one more experienced officer who claimed had done this particular transit enough times that he could have done it in his sleep and who just happened to look out of the bridge windows in the right direction at the right moment. He noticed that the buoy didn’t line up with the same part of the shore line that he had seen it do so many times previously. He also noticed that the buoy itself now had a fresh coat of paint. A quick question to the harbour pilot confirmed that the buoy had been very recently brought ashore to be repainted and put back out into the water. That was when the officer realised that the buoy was in the wrong position and voiced his concerns and reasonings to the captain. The harbour pilot had suddenly realised that the officer was correct and that the marker buoy was indeed in the wrong place. Silently chastising himself for not noticing the mistake himself the pilot took charge and ignoring the buoy was able to manoeuvre the ship around her next turn based upon his own instinct and extensive knowledge of the harbour. Even so the ships outer propeller shaft is estimated to have come within mere feet of striking the edge of the deep water channel which would have had disastrous consequences.
    It’s estimated that had this potential collusion not been avoided the repair bill could have been as high as £40 million which in the financial climate of the time would almost certainly have resulted in the decision being made to retire HMS EAGE then and there.

    While fixed wing aviation had been given a stay of execution its days were still numbered. It was made clear that there would be no new aircraft carrier construction as the money and political will simply wasn’t there. There were many doubts over the need for aircraft carriers going into the future. The government instead decided in its 1974 Defence White Paper that the RN should shift its focus to ASW operations to counter the growing Soviet naval threat and move away from out of area operations in far flung corners of the globe. To this end a new class of large ASW vessel was developed. Starting out as a large helicopter carrying frigate the changing requirements for the ability to carry an increasing number of helicopters led to the design evolving into something that the casual observer might mistake for an aircraft carrier. To distinguish between this new type of ship and the big deck carriers the term “Through Deck Cruiser” was coined.

    Throughout the 1970’s the RN struggled with the financial and manpower requirements of operating two large carriers. In the case of ARK ROYAL especially the ships poorer material state was a major headache as without a ready supply of older out of production parts new parts frequently had to be specially manufactured as one off’s at great expense. This very frequently resulted in ARK ROYAL being seen alongside undergoing repairs or maintenance with EAGLE absent and clocking up a lot of mileage to cover for her sister’s serviceability issues. The manpower requirements of the two ships saw the early decommissioning of HMS BULWARK which was laid up in the Tamar and being of a comparable era to the carriers over time slowly ripped apart to provide spares. HMS ALBION and HMS TRIUMPH were also decommissioned and after being thoroughly gutted for parts were quickly sent on one-way trips to the breakers yard.

    In 1979 HMS ARK ROYAL owing to her poor condition was decommissioned and laid up in the Tamar (BULWARK being sold for scrap). This relived an immense pressure on the RN’s manpower and finances. Officially she was retained in reserve. In reality she was really a floating source of spare parts to sustain HMS EAGLE meaning any return to service would be prohibitively expensive and time consuming. The Shah of Iran had expressed an interest in perhaps purchasing the ship for his navy. While he certainly had the money to finance the necessary work there were big questions regarding his ability to crew the vessel and even his need for an aircraft carrier. His violent overthrow in the 1979 revolution made all these questions moot.

    HMS EAGLE being in a better state than her sister was still rapidly becoming worn out and was planned to decommission in 1983 by which time the ship would be more than 30 years old and at the end of her lifespan. The Fleet Air Arms Buccaneers and Phantoms were planned be transferred to the RAF. In anticipation of this the RN had stopped training aircrews for these aircraft in 1977 as with the decommissioning of ARK ROYAL there were more than enough crews to sustain the air group for the few years until the ships planned retirement.

    But the RN was now no longer completely abandoning fixed wing flying. The success of the RAF’s Harrier jump jet and its small size had led the RN to develop a sea going version called the Sea Harrier to be carried aboard the new through deck cruisers now known as the INVINCIBLE class in order to provide a minimum level of air defence. While nowhere near the level of capability provided by the Phantom it was better than nothing. Some thought had been given to providing the commando carrier HMS HERMES with a ski jump to enable harrier operations but it was felt that this would be a useless and unjustifiable expense owing to the ships limited remaining life and the reduction in troop carrying capability that would come about as a result of having Sea Harriers onboard.

    In April 1982 the RN was still reeling from the previous year’s defence review. The review was a response to a dramatic downsizing in the defence budget that resulted in harsh cuts having to be made to the navy and a resulting severe reduction in capabilities. The British Army’s commitments to Germany made it politically difficult to make any meaningful reductions and the RAF was in the midst of several major equipment programs in collaboration with allied nations also making large scale cuts difficult therefore the axe fell on the navy.
    Of the 3 new INVINCIBLE class vessels the first HMS INVINCIBLE was to be sold to Australia along with some of the new Sea Harriers. The decommissioning date of the final carrier HMS EAGLE was brought forward a few months to late 1982 with both her and her sister to be sent to the breakers yard. The FAA Phantom and Buccaneer squadrons would be disbanded with the aircraft being passed to the RAF. The Gannet AEW aircraft would be withdrawn from service and along with it the RN’s airborne early warning capability.
    HMS HERMES was to be withdrawn from service. The general move away from out of area operations and towards NATO commitments in Europe placed the future of the LPD’s HMS FEARLESS and INTREPID and indeed the entire Royal Marines corps in much doubt.

    In April 1982 HMS EAGLE was alongside in Devonport dockyard in Plymouth. The ship only had one more voyage planned as a farewell tour of the UK. Indeed, many of the ships company had already received their new drafting orders and in some cases redundancy notices and the offloading of some stores and equipment had already begun.

    Then a pipe was made requesting the captain to come to the main communications office.
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    Preparing the EAGLE to Fly
  • After reading the message from Northwood HMS EAGLE’s commanding officer Captain Jock Slater had half expected the next message to read “April fools”. With no such message arriving Slater made a pipe for the various work parties involved in offloading stores and equipment to immediately cease what they were doing and for the heads of departments to muster causing some confusion amongst the ships company and kick starting the rumour mill.
    With the senior officers assembled the CO explained to them that they had been ordered to prepare their elderly previously soon to be decommissioned ship to deploy to the South Atlantic as soon as possible. Once the initial moment of shock and disbelief had passed, they set to work working out how this could be achieved.

    Some of the obstacles were daunting. The ship’s stores would have to be replenished fully which with more than two and a half thousand mouths to feed would be a very time consuming evolution. With the ship previously planned for only one more voyage a lot of maintenance work had been deemed uneconomical and not carried out meaning that a lot of equipment was currently unserviceable. The marine engineering officer winced at the thought of how much work his department was going to have to carry out to give this worn out ship a reasonable chance of being able to operate in the unforgiving environment of the South Atlantic away from any support facilities. There would be little to no sleep for the stokers (marine engineers) over the next few days and an enormous bill for the dockyard workers overtime.
    Aviation operations in particular were a concern. The air group had been in the process of winding down and much of the flight deck equipment and personnel had already been transferred ashore. The men and equipment would now need to be located and recovered as soon as possible. It had been a while since the ship had carried a full air group meaning that an intensive work up period during the transit south would be necessary. The commander of the air department was set to work planning this and coordinating with the squadrons at RNAS Yeovilton and RAF Honington.
    Before the CO dismissed his officers to their various tasks there was one last rather pressing matter. Who was going to tell the crew that leave had just been cancelled?

    A few days later on the morning of April the 4th Captain Slater was pleased with the various progress reports he was reading. The previous days ammunitioning serial had been completed without incident meaning that apart from a few aircraft and machinery spares the ship was pretty much fully fuelled and provisioned. The marine engineering department and various dockyard workers and civilian contractors continued to work around the clock and clock up an impressive overtime bill as once the ship sailed there would be no more opportunities for serious maintenance meaning that every job no matter how big or small had to be completed within the next 48 hours. Indeed, the hulk of the former HMS ARK ROYAL anchored in the Tamar had seen more activity over the past 3 days than it had seen in the past 3 years as workmen scoured the ship for any parts.
    The air department had been performing miracles but had somehow managed to locate and reembark the equipment and personnel that had previously been transferred ashore.

    Commander Nigel Ward nicknamed Sharkey CO of 892 Naval Air Squadron who would be providing EAGLE’s compliment of Phantoms had been good enough to phone Slater and appraise him of his squadrons progress.
    He was confident that he would be in a position to provide the demanded 14 Phantoms (it had been decided to swap EAGLE’s usual compliment of 6 Sea King HAS.5 ASW helicopters for an extra pair of Buccaneer’s and an extra pair of Phantoms). All major maintenance work to the aircraft that he would be bringing had been completed and he was now in a position to start sending some of his engineers and ground staff to Devonport to join the ship. His aircrews had been practising intercepts and air combat manoeuvring against RAF Hawks as these aircraft were felt to be the most comparable aircraft to the Argentine Skyhawks available. While Ward had every confidence in his crew’s abilities in the air his main concern was the lack of recent experience of carrier operations amongst some of them. Many would need to be requalified for carrier landings.

    Having read the various readiness reports Captain Slater proceeded ashore to a meeting of all the various CO’s involved in the upcoming operation which had been codenamed CORPORATE. On the way he reflected on the fact that this may well be the last time he set foot on dryland for a very long time. He regretted the fact that he hadn’t been able to give at least some of his men to do the same and have even a day off to be with their families (or in the case of the younger members of his crew to have one last night ashore in Union street) but with the workload there simply wasn’t the time.

    Vice Admiral Derek Reffell was Flag Officer Third Flotilla and thus in charge of the RN’s aircraft carriers and amphibious ships and had been the natural choice to command Operation CORPORATE. Reffell had chosen EAGLE as his flagship and both he and his staff had embarked earlier that day.
    Reffell had called the meeting with the commanders of the ships that would soon make up the task force in order to provide them with the latest situation and intelligence updates and to discuss the various threats they may face.
    It had been decided to host this meeting in an auditorium ashore in the dockyard to provide a bit more space and to avoid getting in the way of EAGLE’s crew who were already rushed off their feet trying to get everything done and could do without this distraction.
    Like Captain Slater most of the other ship captains were aware that this would probably be their last time ashore until this thing in the South Atlantic was resolved one way or the other. A few were aware that if things went seriously wrong this may be the last time in their lives that they ever set foot on dry land. The briefing from a member of Vice Admiral Reffell’s staff now began.

    The Argentinians so far had showed no signs of withdrawing (not that anyone had expected them to at this early stage) but there was still a possibility that once the task force got going that they may blink first. This was followed by the listing off of the names and positions of the various ships and submarines assigned to the operation that had already sailed or were at sea when the crisis began.
    Rear Admiral Sandy Woodward who was Flag Officer First Flotilla had been designated as Vice Admiral Reffell’s second in command and was currently embarked aboard the destroyer HMS GLAMORGAN where he had been observing an exercise in the Atlantic when the crisis began and would continue to make the GLAMORGAN his flagship for the foreseeable future.

    The meeting then turned to the intelligence assessment of the threat posed by Argentine forces. The most significant threat to the carriers was felt to be the French built Exocet anti ship missile carried by Argentine navy frigates and destroyers and Super Etendard strike aircraft. The assembled commanders well were aware that their ships were woefully ill prepared to deal with this threat as only the two brand new Type 22 frigates HMS BROADSWORD and HMS BRILLIANT were equipped with the Sea wolf point defence SAM which was the only effective defence against an Exocet. The only other defence was chaff or helicopters trailing radar decoys. However, these required sufficient warning to be launched in time. The only realistic defence strategy would be to destroy the missile carrying ship or aircraft in question before they could launch.
    Captain Slater thought to himself that while an Exocet strike probably wouldn’t be enough by itself to sink a large armoured carrier like EAGLE it could certainly cause enough damage to put an end flying operations and thus her participation in the operation. The prospect of one of those things detonating inside a packed hanger didn’t bare thinking about.
    Something that could sink his ship however was the pair of modern Argentine Type 209 SSK’s the ARA SAN LUIS and ARA SALTA. While the RN was probably the most competent ASW force in the world these new German built submarines if handled with skill could easily give them the run around and extract a few lumps of flesh. Many in the room were old enough to remember what happened the last time the RN faced German built submarines and some wondered out loud whether removing EAGLE’s ASW helicopters was a wise move.
    Vice Admiral Reffell countered that this had been carefully thought through with Captain Slater and other task force commanders and having weighed up the pros and cons it had been decided that it was worth the risk. ASW helicopters could be carried by other ships but only EAGLE could carry the fast jets that would be the task force’s single most valuable assets and worth their weight in gold to the operation and therefore Reffell wanted to bring as many with him as possible. One of the more time consuming and unusual evolutions that EAGLE’s ships company had undertaken in the last few days had been emptying the magazines that usually accommodated depth charges and torpedoes for the Sea King’s and reconfiguring them to host munitions for the Phantom’s and Buccaneer’s.

    In terms of the air threat when faced against the Argentine A4 Skyhawks and Mirage III’s the ship commanders felt that the combination of Phantom’s, Sea Harriers and Sea Dart equipped destroyers should provide adequate protection. However, the numbers were definitely more in the favour of Argentina.
    With the meeting eventually concluded the various officers taken a brief moment to toast their success and wish each other luck before returning to their respective commands.

    On the morning of April, the 7th HMS EAGLE slipped her moorings and sailed past the breakwater out into the channel to embark her air group and rendezvous with HMS HERMES and HMS INVINCIBLE that were sailing from Portsmouth.
    Unlike the fanfare and crowds surrounding the departure of the Portsmouth based carriers the departure of EAGLE was a bit of a more subdued affair mostly due to the early hour. That said a respectable crowd was present to see the ship off and many union jacks was visible along the shoreline and a Royal Marines band provided an appropriate send off.
    With their flight decks full of aircraft and equipment most media attention was on INVINCIBLE and HERMES, something that Captain Slater was aware of as he looked down at his ships company lining the sides of a conspicuously large and empty flight deck with his aircraft unable to embark until his ship was far out to sea. Vice Admiral Reffell was also present on the bridge and asked Captain Slater how he was feeling about the future. Aware that his officers and various members of the bridge crew had also heard the Admiral Slater knew that the admiral really wanted him to show confidence and boost the morale of his men. He was later reported to have said “When this is over, I will have ensured that for better or worse every man woman and child in the country knows the name EAGLE”.
    Hand's to Flying Stations
  • With HMS EAGLE now clear of Plymouth breakwater the pipe was made for the part of ship hands to secure for sea and for the members of the ships company lining the sides as part of procedure alpha to fall out and get below deck. This was shortly followed by another pipe to bring the ship to flying stations.
    The reasoning behind the decision to sail so early was twofold. The necessity of using the morning tide and to maximise available daylight flying hours to account for the lack of recent carrier landing experience amongst some of the aircrews. If a pilot was unable to catch the arrestor wire there should still be plenty of daylight for him to be diverted to an airfield ashore and refuelled and fly back out to try again.

    The head of the air group or “Air boss” as he was known was understandably concerned though he knew better than to show it. Ordinarily when qualifying aircrew for carrier operations the ship would remain in range of an airfield ashore to provide an alternative place to land in the event that for whatever reason an pilot couldn’t land on the deck. Also, when qualifying as many crews as he had to, he would probably allow up to several weeks to complete this.
    Unfortunately for him and his pilots the task force wasn’t going to waste any time as it moved south at best possible speed. That meant that there would be in effect no safety net once the ship passed Gibraltar and moved away from land. At least not until the ship reached a planned rendezvous at obscure island called Ascension which had a runway at least.
    His crews would certainly be spending a lot of time in the cockpit during the voyage south. As well as a very intense and rushed flying training program to deck qualify those pilots who needed it there were going to be a lot of air defence and maritime strike exercises. The Buccaneer’s would be simulating strikes against the task force while the combination of Phantom’s and Sea Harrier’s would be practising intercepts guided by Gannet’s and fighter controllers aboard various ships. It had been a long time since the RN had practised air defence at sea with this many ships and aircraft making practise vital for both the airmen and ships company’s.
    There was one very recent piece of good news that had come from the French of all people. They had kindly agreed to conduct provide some Super Etendard and Mirage jets for these exercises to give the task force’s pilots experience of going up against the aircraft they would potentially be facing down South.

    As they watched from Flyco located in the bridge wing the Wessex HAS1 SAR helicopter acting as “plane guard” left the deck and took up its position flying alongside the ship in anticipation of the imminent arrival of the squadrons the assembled air officers looked at the fully suited rescue diver sitting in its doorway and desperately hoped that he would have yet another dull and uneventful flight where he stayed dry.
    It wasn’t all doom and gloom however. There wasn’t a single pilot inbound to the ship who hadn’t landed on a carrier before. It was just some hadn’t landed on a carrier in rather a long time and would therefore be out of practise. If nothing else these men, some of whom had been expecting redundancy notices or at least the end of their flying careers were highly motivated by the prospect of a last hurrah and being able to finally do the job they had spent their careers training for.

    As the first aircraft became visible all of these thoughts were put aside and like machines the men went about their various tasks. The first to arrive were the 14 Phantom’s of 892 NAS led by Commander “Sharkey” Ward. Ward had given a lot of thought to the order in which his pilots would land. He had identified those who hadn’t landed on a flight deck for quite a while and whom he felt would be the most likely to miss the wire (also known as bolter’s) and require numerous attempts. These pilots would be performing touch and go’s (roller’s) where they would land their aircraft on the deck without their arrestor hooks down and roll across the deck to take off at the other end all within the space of about 3 seconds. This would refamiliarize them with “flying the deck” and build their confidence. They would be interspersed with the more confident pilots attempting landings. Once those who were likely to require only one attempt had landed then the less current ones would begin their attempts. Commander Ward would be the first to land to enable him to observe how his pilots performed. Plenty of extra time had been worked into the landing schedule to account for expected bolters. Adjacent to the bridge in the “Flyco” a group of some more experienced pilots who had previously served as instructors would be talking the pilots down. These men had embarked on the ship before she’d sailed in order to provide some redundancy to account for expected aircrew fatigue to enable the highest possible sortie rate. At Yeovilton there was a Phantom crew and a Buccaneer crew on standby fully suited up but without aircraft. If an aircraft was forced to divert and it was felt that the crew simply wasn’t up to the task of a carrier landing these men would replace them and take the aircraft to attempt the landing themselves. They silently prayed that at least one of their colleagues would suddenly be revealed to be incompetent. If this didn’t work then they would likely be flown out to Ascension Island to join their comrades aboard EAGLE when she arrived there in a few weeks.

    The airboss now called “recovery stations” and the silver suited firefighters, aircraft handlers, tractor drivers and other flight deck personnel (whose roles were identifiable by their colour coded surcoats) took up their positions just outside of the wingtip safety lines. With so many men and so much equipment just feet away from where the aircraft would land margins for error and the risk of catastrophic accidents were measured literally in inches. This was where navy airmen really earned their pay and was what set them apart from their RAF brethren who would probably consider landing in such an environment virtual suicide. Cdr Ward lined his aircraft up to the ships stern and began his approach. At 2 miles out the landing safety officer (LSO) began to talk him down and call out corrections to keep him within the four degree glidepath that would ensure he landed on the centre line in the safe area. As expected for the squadron and seemingly effortlessly Ward landed on his first attempt catching the third of the four arrestor wires. Now safely on the deck Ward applied his wheel brakes and reduced power to engines releasing the tension in the arrestor wire and allowing it to drop away from the Phantom’s arrestor hook. The green jacketed hook men ran out behind the aircraft to positively confirm that this had happened (and physically unhook the wire themselves if needed). The frontman signalled forward to the wire director that it was safe for the aircraft to taxi while the rear man signalled to reset the wire for the next aircraft. Within seconds the wire was reeled back in and raised 3 inches off the deck to give the aircraft arrestor hooks an easier job of catching it. The flight deck engineering officer quickly checked the wire for any physical damage. While the flight deck crew were preparing for the next landing Ward flipped the switches to raise his aircrafts arrestor hook and folding wings and followed the hand signals of the aircraft handlers as he taxied his aircraft forward to the parking area known as fly one (located on the forward part of the flight deck occupied by the bow catapult) as quickly as possible to clear the landing area for the next aircraft that was already in the glidepath.
    Though his natural instinct was to look forwards or down at the flight deck the pilot of the next Phantom held his nerve as he had done on so many other landings and kept his eye on the instrument carrier landing system (ICLS) on the port side of the flight deck. Being unable to actually see the wires themselves during a landing the pilots relied on the lights and mirrors of the ICLS that would guide them down onto the exact spot to catch the wire. With aircraft needing to approach from exactly the right angle and touchdown within an area of only a few square feet precision was everything and thus the ICLS was height adjusted for each aircraft type depending on how high the pilot sat. By the time Ward had been able to open his canopy and stand up on his seat get a good view of the landing area the second Phantom was safely on the deck and taxiing to park next to his aircraft. The third aircraft would be the first “touch and go” as a practise before an actual landing attempt. Even from where he was standing Ward could tell that this pilot had come in slightly too fast and thus slightly too high meaning that he landed just forward of the fourth wire and wouldn’t have hooked (phantoms were expected to hook the second or third wire with the first and fourth being there in case they over or under shot by a few feet). The men on the flight deck heard the roar of the Phantoms Rolls Royce Spey engines and felt the rush of wind as the pilot increased power and accelerated off the end of the flight deck and back into the air for another try later in the landing cycle. Within seconds of this aircraft leaving the deck the next one was touching down.

    With the Phantoms eventually landed without incident or the need for diversions next it was the turn of the 16 Buccaneer S2D’s of 809 NAS led by Commander Tim Gedge. Like Ward Gedge had also been working his squadron hard and also had his share of old hands and those who would benefit from some extra practise attempts. Despite one aircraft only landing on his 4th attempt on his last attempt before the pilot would have been diverted ashore possibly for a crew change again all aircraft were able to embark. Finally, it was the turn of the four Gannet AEW3’s and single COD4 of 849 NAS. The task force commanders dearly wished that they had some of the more advanced American E2C Hawkeye AEW aircraft or at the very least that the Gannet AEW7 upgrade hadn’t been cancelled. But they were stuck with what they had and would have to somehow make do with these vintage aircraft that were commonly said to be kept aloft and functioning more by the hope of their mechanics and prayers of their pilots than anything to do with actual aerodynamics.
    The Gannet COD4 would stay with the ship as far as Ascension Island where it would be put ashore and replaced by another Gannet AEW3 that was currently still in the UK undergoing deep maintenance (the Fleet Air Arm had a difficult time keeping these elderly aircraft in the air).

    With the aircraft embarkation now complete Captain Slater was able to turn EAGLE off of her flying course and towards a rendezvous with the rest of the task force accompanied by her guardship the Leander class HMS ANDROMEDA. Upon coming within visual range Vice Admiral Reffell ordered EAGLE to conduct a flashlight signal exchange with Commodore Mike Clapp embarked aboard the helicopter carrier HMS HERMES. Commodore Clapp was Commodore amphibious ships and would be commanding the amphibious aspect of the operation.
    Upon completion of this exchange Captain Slater turned his eyes from HERMES to the new light carrier HMS INVINCIBLE. Slater had been due to take the second of her class HMS ILLUSTRIOUS out of build and through sea trials however as always fate had intervened. At least on INVINCIBLE landing helicopters and Sea Harriers wouldn’t have been the drama that it was on EAGLE. From INVINCIBLE his gaze fell upon his second guardship the TYPE 82 destroyer HMS BRISTOL. BRISTOL was the solitary member of her class as her sisterships had been cancelled when it was decided that the RN would not need large ocean-going escorts in the future. “Hindsight is both wonderful and irritating” Slater thought.

    Meanwhile in Buenos Aries a meeting similar in some ways to the one’s that had been held in Devonport and Whitehall was taking place. As things stood from their point of view the UK and Argentina were engaged in a game of brinksmanship. Britain had assembled a large and powerful fleet and was making a big show of military strength. This was clearly an attempt to scare the military government into abandoning the Malvinas. As far as they were concerned all Argentina had to do was dig in and ride it out. When it became clear to the British that they weren’t going to give up what was rightfully theirs there were two possibilities. The first was that the Brits would blink first and decline to press ahead with a military solution leading to more rounds of negotiations that could be dragged out for years. As for the second possibility, well that was what they had assembled to discuss.

    The plan up until now had been based on the assumption that the British wouldn’t regard the islands as worth fighting for and therefore wouldn’t need to be defended. But the situation was changing and they would be fools not to prepare for every eventuality. Argentina had never been involved in an international conflict within any of these men’s lifetimes and had certainly never considered the possibility that they might end up fighting a major NATO power. But like military men the world over deep down they secretly yearned for war. A war in which all of their years of training and preparation could be put into practise. Also, in their opinion the Malvinas were a part of Argentina meaning they would be defending their homeland from a foreign aggressor. They weren’t about to back down from this sacred duty.

    The British hadn’t exactly been subtle in their preparations. The men in the room knew that they would be facing a naval force built around the elderly fleet carrier HMS EAGLE and light carrier HMS INVINCIBLE. The main threat to the islands however would come from the amphibious task group known to include the assault ships HMS HERMES, HMS FEARLESS, HMS INTREPID and an as yet unknown number of other ships. The conversation turned to how to defeat this threat. Right off the bat they had one great advantage.
    The British would be operating a long way from home in an unforgiving environment with supply lines stretching over 8000 miles. This was unlikely to be sustainable for long and if Argentina could fend them off for long enough this alone may be their undoing.

    Starting with the navy it was felt that the most potent weapons were the Exocet anti-ship missile and the new Type 209 SSK’s. Annoyingly France had suspended delivery of the missiles and recalled the technicians that had been working on integrating them with the navy’s Super Etendards leaving the Argentinian technicians to try to finish the job. While this was irritating it wasn’t catastrophic and they had high hopes in the 5 missiles that they had taken delivery of (They had cost enough after all!).
    They also held high hopes for the SSK’s. It was felt that if coordinated with a surface action or air attack one of the boats might be able to find an opening in the escort screen to get a shot at one of the big ships. If not, they could always just blast a hole in the screen anyway.

    Turning to the air force and naval air arm there was good news and bad news. The good news was both numbers and geography were very firmly in their favour. The single squadron of Phantom fighters used by the British were felt to be the most serious threat to their aircraft. But this could to a degree be countered by weight of numbers. The Sea Harrier was largely regarded as inferior to the air forces Mirage’s and shouldn’t be too difficult to overcome. As for the British escort ships it just so happened that by a happy twist of fate the navy was the proud owner of two Type 42 destroyers identical to those used by the British. In a sign of previously unimaginable interservice cooperation the air force and navy would coordinate to train the air force pilots in the art of maritime attack against these ships.

    The bad news was the serviceability of their jet fleet and the inferiority on paper of their aircraft against the Phantom. The A4 Skyhawks especially were having serviceability issues due to an embargo placed on Argentina by the United States. Some of the ejector seats couldn’t even be guaranteed to actually work when the time came.

    The other bad news concerned Chile. There was no love lost between the two countries and it was felt that if Chile did not outright ally with Britain, they may be opportunistic enough to try to take advantage if they felt things were not going Argentina’s way. This presented them with the dilemma of how to allocate their forces to face which threats.

    One thing was agreed on though. The Highest priority should be given to the destruction of the single Large aircraft carrier HMS EAGLE. If that could be put out of action then there would be no conceivable way for the British to continue to mount an assault. After all, would anyone really put their faith in the small and subsonic Sea Harrier for aerial protection? The planners set about working out how this objective might be accomplished.
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    The Islands
  • Wideawake Airfield, Ascension Island, 15th April

    As the phantom came to a halt on the runway of Wideawake airfield the pilot and Observer breathed a sigh of relief. The pilot silently thanked god for delivering them from their perilous situation, the observer silently cursed god for imperilling them in the first place. Due to the lack of nearby friendly airbases that could serve as alternate landing locations throughout most of HMS EAGLE’s transit south so far, the senior air officers onboard had decided that it would be wise to wait until the ship was close to Ascension Island before starting the night flying phase of the work up.
    As these experienced airmen were well aware landing a fast jet on a pitching and rolling flight deck at night was by far one of the most difficult and harrowing aspects of a naval aviator’s job. It was well known that during the Vietnam war the US navy had fitted various body sensors to frontline pilots to test stress levels during missions. It had been discovered that the most stressful part of any combat mission wasn’t the bombing run, being engaged by enemy fighters, taking flak damage or even being locked up by enemy SAM’s. By far and away pilots stress levels were at their highest when they attempted to return to their carriers and land at night.
    The naval aviator community at the time questioned the need for a such a test when they already knew perfectly well what the results were going to be.
    However, night landings were a vital skill that could very well save an aircrew’s life (or possibly kill them) and so were now being practised rigorously now that there was a diversion airfield.

    As he taxied his aircraft of the runway and onto a surprisingly busy airfield and powered down his engines the pilot replayed in his mind the sequence of events that had led to his being here of all places and with barely enough fuel left in the tanks for a few minutes more runtime. The catapult launch in the fading light of dusk had gone as well as any of the countless others he had done. His four-ship formation had then proceeded to practise close formation flying at night. Though none of the aircraft flying with him were equipped with “buddy packs” they had practised the manoeuvres necessary for inflight refuelling. Then came the dreaded night time recovery. As one of the pilots in the squadron who Commander Ward had marked down as needing particular attention owing to his lack of recent experience of operating his aircraft from a carrier at night, he lined up to make the first approach in order to carry out a “Touch and go” to help build his confidence. On his first go flyco informed him that he had overshot the arrestor wire by a few feet. Following this the first of his wingmen successfully landed. He then lined up for another practise approach and landing. This time his nerves got the better of him and aborted with only seconds to go. In the time it took him to go around his second wingman landed. As they say third time lucky and he was informed that on this approach he had hit the mark and with fuel one everyone’s mind the next approach would be with his tail hook down.
    Then disaster had struck, the light indicating that his tail hook was deployed hadn’t come on. He calmly worked through the procedures for this eventuality and flipped the switch to retract the hook (the hook may actually be lowered with the issue being some sort of electrical fault in the cockpit display) before trying to lower it again and again nothing. Third time lucky? Not this time. With obvious concern beginning to creep into his voice he reported his situation to flyco and requested his remaining wingman to conduct a visual inspection. In the darkness of the night the wingman reported that he was unable to see anything clearly.
    This presented the Airboss onboard EAGLE with a difficult decision. They could attempt to recover the aircraft using the crash barrier (A steel net strung out across the deck to stop an aircraft) but this would have the unfortunate consequence of considerably damaging the aircraft and if things went really badly the risk of crashing into another aircraft on the deck and probable deck fire. They could have the pilot make for the airfield on Ascension Island though there were questions over whether he would be able to make it with his remaining fuel. They discussed the possibility of launching another aircraft to refuel him in mid air but concluded that they just didn’t have the time to do so before the Phantom ran out of fuel. Finally, they could order the crew to ditch as close as possible to the task group and hope that they could be rescued by the SAR helicopter before they succumbed to hypothermia.
    In the end Captain Slater made the decision. The unfortunate pilot and Observer would be going to Ascension. While the risk to the crew was regrettable there it really was the only viable option. Slater was fully aware of how vital his ship and her air group were to the entire endeavour. He could not risk damaging his ship or any of the numerous aircraft parked on the flight deck for the sake of one. At the same time, he couldn’t justify ordering one of his precious Phantoms to ditch when there was still a chance that it might be saved. Vice Admiral Reffell had agreed with Slater’s decision. A signal was sent to Wideawake airfield to appraise them of the situation.

    As the pilot headed towards Ascension, he kept a close eye on the slowly but steadily moving needle on his fuel gauge. He was both relived and amazed to be intercepted by another Phantom, this one sporting RAF markings. Maintaining visual and voice contact the RAF aircraft escorted the FAA Phantom to Wideawake ready to report their position and give live updates in the event that the FAA fuel state forced it to ditch. The RN pilots already strained nerves were calmed somewhat by the message that a SAR helicopter had been scrambled from Ascension and was standing by to recover them if they did end up ditching. Thankfully none of that had proved necessary and as the pilot and navigator climbed out of their cockpit and felt the comforting feeling of solid ground beneath their feet (noticing the distinct lack of pitching and rolling experienced aboard a ship), they took a moment to observe their rather surreal surroundings.

    To most airmen this airfield had always been thought of as some far flung bygone relic. There was even a joke that the only reason this place hadn’t been closed down yet was because it was so small and obscure that it had literally slipped between the lines of the various MOD asset lists and had thus never been noticed by the writers of successive defence reviews. Yet now it was one of the busiest airfields any of them could remember having seen. Their aircraft had been parked with a flight of 6 RAF Phantoms of 29 squadron seemingly here to provide local air defence. The fact that at over 3700 miles away from the Falklands it was extremely unlikely that there could be any air threat from Argentina seemingly didn’t register with the RAF personnel who gave the impression of not wanting to feel left out.
    The rest of the airfield was packed with Nimrod Maritime Patrol Aircraft, Hercules Transports, for some reason a pair Vulcan Bombers, a seemingly endless line of Victor tankers and most curiously of all dwarfing every other aircraft present stood an enormous USAF Lockheed C5 Galaxy strategic transport. Even more curiously to the pilot the American ground crew seemed to be unloading pallets full of what he recognised as AIM-9 Sidewinder air to air missiles. He knew full well that the magazines on both HMS EAGLE and HMS INVINCIBLE were already fully stocked with these missiles and surely such a large quantity couldn’t all be for the 6 RAF Phantoms on the airfield. The Observer however who had more of an eye for these things recognised these missiles as the latest AIM-9L version. A considerable improvement over the ones they currently had. A slight grin crept across his face; he knew why the Americans had come here.

    The next morning with RAF engineers still trying to determine the cause of the fault with their aircraft the pilot and observer with little else to do decided to go for a wander. The observer would later go on to write a book about his experiences in the campaign. In it he described his impression of not only Wideawake airfield but Ascension Island in general as the kind of absolute but well organised chaos that one only sees in a largescale military evolution. The island was essentially an almost completely barren rock in the middle of the ocean. This meant that fresh water was extremely limited. The crew observed that the population of the military establishment was being capped with one man seemingly being flown off the island for every one that arrived.
    They wondered why exactly the Vulcan’s were there as their presence clearly added immense pressure to the island’s infrastructure. From what they picked up through talking to various RAF types the large number of Victor’s present were there mainly to support the Vulcan’s for something being called Black Buck.
    Clearly this was some kind of long ranged mission but the what could be the purpose of such a mission that could justify all this effort? The Vulcan’s were currently used for maritime patrol but what was the point in bringing them here when they had numerous and frankly superior Nimrod’s available? If it was for some sort of strike then what could they realistically hope to achieve that EAGLE’s Buccaneer’s couldn’t manage? The fact that it had been years since Vulcan squadrons had practised conventional bombing made this last option the most unlikely in their minds. They had both been in the military long enough to know that the most tantalising questions were often the ones that you probably shouldn’t ask.

    By the morning of the 17th the aircraft was once again serviceable but would not be going anywhere just yet. The carrier battle group and the majority of the amphibious group had arrived at Ascension and were anchored just offshore. Therefore, the Phantom and its crew wouldn’t be reembarking on EAGLE until she sailed again. While the fleet made for an awe-inspiring sight and a number of iconic photographs in his book the observer described that as the point where all hell broke loose.
    In the rush to assemble the task force equipment had been loaded onto whichever ship had space with little thought to given to its ultimate destination. Now the horizon was crammed full of helicopters and landing craft as the massive and unenviable task of locating and redistributing all this equipment into the correct order began. At the same time the Royal Marines began to practise amphibious landings on the beach where they proceeded to set up an improvised range to zero their rifles.
    In the middle of all this the pilot and observer found themselves with little to do except top up their suntan. One issue on their mind however was the need to obtain a fresh set of flying clothing. They had been wearing the same flying suits since they climbed into their aircraft nearly 2 days previously! Efforts to convince the Army radio tent to send radio EAGLE to send a bag over on the next helo flight proved fruitless as the radio operators were already extremely overworked. Attempts to convince the RAF radio operators in the air traffic control centre merely resulted in both men being forcefully advised to leave. In the end they were able to convince one of the American airmen to secure a handwritten note to one of the pallets of updated Sidewinders that were being ferried to the carriers by the Sea King HC.4’s off of HMS HERMES. Just over an hour later they were happy to see a returning Sea King carrying an underslung load that consisting of the expected pallet of older Sidewinders but also a duffel bag attached to the pallet. After literally snatching it from a slightly confused RAF cargo movement specialist the pilot and navigator were overjoyed to find two fresh and clean flight suits. This joy however was short lived when they read the accompanying note. It was the expected stuff about how happy everyone was that they were ok but also an alarming ward room bill with their names on it. It seemed that their brother officers had been somewhat taking advantage of their unexpected absence.

    Port Stanley, Falkland Islands

    Brigadier General Mario Menendez was the Argentine military governor of the Malvinas and theoretically the most senior commander of all Argentine forces on the islands. However due to the highly politicised nature of the Argentine armed forces at the time he kept finding himself having to compete with the Navy and Air Force for dominance. It irritated him that he was having to spend more and more time playing politics with both Buenos Aries and the senior representatives of the other services at the expense of his mission to safeguard the Falklands. Even more annoying was the command structure on the islands in which his role as governor was more of an administrative role separate from the operational chain of command. The two brigadiers who commanded the Argentine army units on the islands though theoretically subordinate to him in his role as governor both had seniority in rank to him and an annoying habit of treating his orders as suggestions.
    Despite all this they had managed to come up with what they felt would be an effective defensive plan. The only settlement of any significance was the islands capital Port Stanley, a port protected by various mountains to the west and south. Given that this town was effectively the islands centre of gravity in many ways and also home to vast majority of the population with the islands only significant airfield adjacent it made sense that the British would base their entire campaign on capturing it. Menendez had studied amphibious operations mostly based upon the US Marine Corps doctrine and experience. He knew that USMC doctrine called for a landing as close as possible to the main objective in order to ensure that the defenders had the least time possible to react and that the attackers had the shortest possible supply lines. It made sense to him that the British would likely adopt a similar strategy. Therefore, the Argentine army units had been deployed along the coasts and heights with the aim of protecting Stanley. A large garrison had been positioned at the natural choke point at Goose Green and smaller company and battalion sized units spread out across the islands. One area of concern was the quality of the soldiers that he had to work with.
    High Command were concerned about the possibility of a Chilean attack due to the ongoing Beagle Channel dispute. The better units made up of professional soldiers including the mountain warfare regiments, the paratrooper brigade and the majority of the marine infantry units had been kept behind on the mainland and deployed along the Chilean border. With the exception of the Marine units that had been allocated to the Malvinas the Argentine infantry were made up of conscripts mostly from the sub-tropical regions of Argentina. These men had been trained how to avoid heatstroke and snakebites not how to avoid frostbite or the importance of staying dry. Worse some of his conscripts had only been in the army for three months and discipline and motivation were lacking in many of these young men. Efforts had been made to negate this by recalling and deploying conscripts from the cohort of conscripts that had been at the end of their service and in the process of being discharged, though this wouldn’t be much of an improvement. The simple fact was they were being tasked with the kind of operation that they were not properly trained or equipped for in an environment that they had never encountered before. As is the problem with conscript army’s most of them were focussed on doing their time and returning home and had never expected and mentally prepared themselves for real life operations in the same way that professional soldiers have too. Therefore, Menendez had issued instructions to his officers and NCO’s instructing them to whip their men into shape for what may come. Some however took the wording of this order quite literally.

    Of course, as high command kept telling him if the planned joint air force and navy operation worked his troops wouldn’t need to fire a shot. To support this the runway at Port Stanley airport was being lengthened and the facilities upgraded to make it into a fully functioning air base. Menendez was keen to get some fighters based there in order to provide his forces with some air cover. The air force had already been flying in aircraft that had a rough landing capability, mostly Pucara ground attack aircraft. They had also established two other small landing strips at Goose Green and Pebble Island. If the British did land these aircraft would be tasked with providing close air support to the army. The napalm they had started stockpiling would make the Pucara’s much more effective in this role. Argentine Army Aviation had also flown a number of helicopters out to the Malvina’s. Depending on how quickly the British arrived it was possible that Port Stanley airport may not yet be ready to host the desired squadrons of Mirages but would still be useful as a staging post for aircraft deployed from mainland air bases.

    Faced with one of the most powerful opponents in the world the Argentines were aware that their best chance lay in being able to strike first and strike hard.
    Another round of meetings
  • Northwood Headquarters, 20th April

    Like most wartime senior military leader’s (especially those at war) part of Admiral Sir John Fieldhouse viewed these kinds of meetings as an annoying distraction while another part of him viewed them as useful opportunities. The Prime Minister and Defence Secretary decided to pay him an evening visit at his command centre for an update on the progress of Operation Corporate. While annoyed that once again he would probably wouldn’t be going home to his wife in time to actually see her awake (She’d been complaining that since he’d been appointed to his current position, she probably saw less of him than when he’d been away at sea as a submarine commander) at least when it came to making “requests” it would be much easier to convince two people as opposed to the entire war cabinet.

    As Commander in Chief Fleet Fieldhouse was in overall charge of the entire operation to recover the Falkland Islands. He’d had a briefing room set up separate from the main control centre partly so as not to be a distraction to those working there and partly to spare Defence Secretary John Nott’s blushes. The poor man had been having quite a rough time of things since this crisis began. Though Fieldhouse knew better than to say anything about it he had actually been quite enjoying his bosses suffering. Indeed, he had had to stop himself from laughing out loud when Admiral Leach had described the look on Nott’s face when Leach had stormed into the crisis meeting on the 31st of March.
    Once gathered around a large table covered by a map adorned with various union jacks and argentine flags the director of operations who held the rank of captain began the briefing.
    The majority of the naval aspect of the operation was designated as Task Group 317. The only exception was submarine operations which were covered by a separate organisation designated Task Group 324 commanded by Vice Admiral Herbert who was also present.

    The carrier battlegroup built around HMS EAGLE and HMS INVINCIBLE was designated TG 317.8 commanded by Vice Admiral Reffell who flew his flag from HMS EAGLE.
    The Amphibious group designated TG 317.0 was at present built around the helicopter carrier HMS HERMES and the LPD HMS FEARLESS commanded by Commodore Clapp onboard the HERMES.
    A force consisting of elements from both groups including the all 3 of the carriers had left Ascension Island the previous day and were now proceeding south towards the 200 mile Maritime Exclusion Zone or MEZ.

    A smaller group including the destroyer HMS GLAMORGAN, frigate HMS PLYMOUTH and the Tanker RFA TIDESPRING had been detached from the carrier group and had left Ascension a few days earlier heading towards the frozen island of South Georgia well over 1,500 miles to the east of the Falklands. Rear Admiral Woodward was in command of this expedition and embarked aboard the GLAMORGAN. The ice patrol ship HMS ENDURANCE was already in the area and would rendezvous with this force and conduct a desperately needed refuelling and replenishment at sea from RFA TIDESPRING. The brand new Type 22 frigate HMS BRILLIANT was currently anchored off Ascension Island carrying out defect rectification and would leave within the next 24 hours at best speed to catch up with the force heading to South Georgia. The SSN HMS CONQUEROR was also moving to support the upcoming operation there.
    HMS HERMES aside the remainder of TG 317.0 was to rendezvous at Ascension Island. The SS Canberra a large ocean liner commandeered by the MOD and stuffed full of marines from 40 and 42 Commando had arrived yesterday joining HMS FEARLESS who had remained behind when the carrier group had sailed. Over the next few days more ships including merchant ships that had been taken up from trade and stuffed full of military equipment and various frigates and destroyers would be arriving.
    Other frigates and destroyers were still enroute to Ascension Island and would form the escort for the amphibious group.

    Finally, the submarines of TG 324.3 were in various stages of making their way south or already in theatre. The SSN’s HMS CONQUEROR, HMS COURAGEOUS, HMS VALIANT, HMS SPARTAN, HMS SPLENDED and the SSK HMS ONYX had all been assigned to this task force. Task force commander Vice Admiral Herbert remarked somewhat smugly that his submarines alone would certainly give Buenos Aries something to think about. If they were allowed to that was.

    With the force disposition part of the brief over Admiral Fieldhouse dismissed the director of operations and took over bringing the briefing to a subject that had been causing him more than a few headaches. The current rules of engagement.
    The British government had declared a 200 mile exclusion zone around the islands called the MEZ (Maritime Exclusion Zone) and publicly stated that Any Argentine Warship or Naval Auxiliary vessel that entered that zone would be at risk of attack by Royal Navy SSN’s. The only other Argentine forces that Reffell’s forces could act against were those that presented an imminent threat to his units.
    In Admiral Fieldhouse’s opinion this told the Argentinians that as long as they kept their naval forces just outside the MEZ and didn’t do anything to provocative they were effectively safe from attack and free to do as they please.
    The carrier groups current orders were to simply enforce the MEZ. Many interpreted this somewhat vague instruction as “try to intimidate Argentina into withdrawing or see if you can provoke them”. To Fieldhouse it seemed that the government couldn’t decide whether it wanted peace or war and so was trying to somehow find an in between. In response to this the PM stated that the government was committed to finding a negotiated settlement but if that proved elusive, they would not hesitate to use military force. The admiral saw this as the kind of answering yet not answering a question that a politician survives using.
    He decided to discuss one of the most recent things that the Americans had provided that in his opinion had made them an absolute godsend. As well as the latest version of the Sidewinder AAM, the use of the jointly UK/US owned airfield on Ascension Island and vast quantities of fuel there the Americans had also been sharing intelligence with the UK. The satellite photos that the Americans had provided them with indicated that Argentine forces were in no hurry to leave and seemed to be carrying out major work at Port Stanley airfield, something that would only make sense if they were planning on sticking around for a while.
    The Admiral had been around long enough to know that when an operation of this scale gets started it quickly builds a momentum all of its own. Even if the Argentines suddenly decided to up and leave immediately (something that was looking more fantastical with every passing day) the marines of 3 Commando Brigade would highly likely still be landing just to make sure. With his forces operating so far from home on an extremely fragile supply line and with a weather imposed time limit he tried to impress on the PM that he needed the freedom to take pre-emptive action against any and all Argentine forces that could pose any kind of threat. John Nott chipped in that there was still a chance to settle this peacefully and that such an act would not only guarantee war but could even result in Britain being seen as the aggressor by some nations. The conversation continued fruitlessly long into the night.

    Libertador Building, Buenos Aries

    Meanwhile in the headquarters of the Argentine armed forces and de facto centre of the government Lt Gen Galtieri was receiving also receiving a briefing. This meeting was also attended by the head of the navy Admiral Anaya and the head of the air force Brigadier General Basilio Lami Dozo and detailed the latest version of the plan being prepared should it become necessary to actually fight the British. Unlike the British the men in the room were very clear in their own minds what their countries position was. They were preparing to defend Argentine territory from a foreign aggressor and if attacked they would defend themselves by any and all means they deemed necessary. This included pre-emptive action which was at the heart of the plan.

    If it came to it the British would be engaged by a coordinated surface, air and subsurface attack. Galtieri noted that the threat posed by a carrier and amphibious battle group and the task of defending their homeland from a foreign aggressor was really focusing minds and enabling people to set aside the usual inter services squabbling. Granted the Army weren’t going to have a part to play in this plan but that could all change if things went badly.
    The first objective was to identify the location and composition of the British fleet when it arrived at the exclusion zone that they had declared. Intelligence analysts had worked out the rough area the British carrier would have to be in to be able to effectively enforce the maritime exclusion zone they had declared and believed it to be unlikely that the British would carry out any offensive operations until they had entered this area. Therefore, Argentine forces would remain outside of the MEZ and the intention would be to use this to their advantage to conduct a pre-emptive attack.
    Galitieri was pleased to hear that efforts towards this objective were already beginning to bear fruit. Earlier in the day an air force Boeing 707 equipped with electronic intelligence equipment had detected radar emissions believed to be consistent with the radar carried by the British Gannet AEW aircraft and faint emissions associated with radars known to be carried aboard the British Type 42 destroyers. Confirming this was the fact that the aircraft had been contacted and driven off by British fighters. This made it extremely likely that despite not positively locating it they had indeed come close enough to the British EAGLE carrier to rattle her. A similar flight would be made tomorrow with the aim of more precisely pinpointing the British fleet and if possible, to establish visual contact with the British fighters to confirm whether they had located the EAGLE or INVINCIBLE.
    Aircraft from both the air force and navy were going to start patrolling to the north and west of the Malvinas to search for British ships. In addition, the SSK ARA SAN LUIS would soon put to sea and take position to the north of the islands to prepare to intercept the British. To his surprise a few days ago the Soviet ambassador had called upon Galitieri and proceeded to spend an hour making small talk before being called back to the embassy. In his haste “carelessly” he’d forgotten his briefcase. During the cases safe return to the embassy it was found to contain a satellite photo of the British base on Ascension Island. That had been rather useful in assessing the strength and likely makeup of the British fleet. Once the location of the British fleet had been identified the next phase of the plan would commence.

    The surface aspect consisted of two forces. The light aircraft carrier ARA VEINTICINCO DE MAYO in company with the modern Type 42 destroyers ARA HERCULES and ARA SANTISIMA TRINIDAD and ASW vessel ARA COMODORO PY would take position to the north of the islands moving east ready to launch an air attack with her A4Q Skyhawks. Her aircraft would also be taking part in the search for the British fleet. The 6-inch gun cruiser ARA GENERAL BELGRANO in company with the elderly destroyers ARA HIPOLITO BOUCHARD and ARA PIEDRABUENA would take up position to the south of the islands and move east and the north around the islands to catch the British in a pincer in conjunction with the De Mayo group. The destroyers would launch their Exocet SSM’s at the British ships before the Belgrano moved in to finish off any damaged vessels with her guns. If he felt this expose his ship to unacceptable risk Captain Hector Bonzo was to either withdraw once his destroyers had launched their missiles put into Port Stanley. This last option would have the advantage of enabling his ship to provide gunfire support to the forces defending Port Stanley in the unlikely event it became necessary.

    While this was going on the air and submarine attacks would be taking place. Once she had made contact with the British fleet ARA SAN LUIS would attempt to infiltrate the group and take a shot at the carriers. She would be assisted in this by the air attacks which would have the advantage of distracting the escorts and maybe even putting some of them out of action and thus opening up a hole in the escort screen for her to slip through. Alternatively, she could launch her own attack on the British escorts and give the aircraft a chance to get to the carriers.

    The Air attack would be the largest part of the operation. The first wave would consist of Mirage III fighters reinforced by some IAI Dagger’s operating in the fighter role. Their objective would be to overwhelm or at least draw off the British combat air patrols giving the attack aircraft a better chance. To a large extent they would be relying on weight of numbers against the Phantoms and superior performance against the Sea Harriers. All the same the pilots and planners knew they weren’t going to get through this one unscathed. The second wave of aircraft would be made up of navy Super Etendard strike aircraft carrying the five air launched Exocets in the Argentine inventory. These were considered to be the most effective weapons in the arsenal as it was known that the Royal Navy would struggle to defend themselves from these weapons. It was likely that these missiles would be drawn towards the British escort screen and if they were as effective as the manufacturers claimed would blow a hole to allow the following wave of bomb equipped A4’s and Dagger’s to have a chance of getting a run at the carriers.

    While fine in theory Admiral Anaya was obliged to point out the imitations and potential issues with the plan. The planners hoped that by the time the British arrived the airfield at Port Stanley would be ready to host Mirage fighters. During the late 40’s and early 50’s the Argentine air force had recruited many ex Luftwaffe officers and learned a few lessons from them. One of which was that during the Battle of Britain when attacking London Luftwaffe Messerschmitt’s had been severely handicapped by fuel usage owing to the distance, they had to travel to even get to the fight. To prevent this happening to them the plan was for the Mirages to refuel at Port Stanley airfield before heading out towards the British. The airfield would also provide a good alternative landing site for the A4’s and Daggers to recover to or even refuel at on the way out massively increasing their combat radius. The problem was without knowing exactly when the plan would be put into operation there was no guarantee that it would be ready in time. It all depended on how quickly the British decided they wanted to arrive.
    In preparation for their role of conducting maritime strike operations Argentine air force pilots had been practising air attacks against the ARA SANTISIMA TRINIDAD which was nearly identical to the British destroyers they would be facing. At first the destroyer had repeatedly shot down every attack launched against it. Only when they started launching low level attacks from underneath the radar horizon did they start to slowly become more successful. This however would make navigation and target spotting extremely difficult and have a major detrimental impact on their aircrafts fuel consumption. This exercise while somewhat dampening the spirits of the air force pilots had done wonders for the morale of the navy who were now much more confident that they could defend their one carrier from a potential British air attack.
    This operation would also require a level of coordination that few in the Argentine high command were certain they could pull off. Finally, the whole thing was based on the assumption that the British fleet could be located and relied upon to cooperate with the Argentine plan.
    Operation PARAQUET
  • Grytviken, South Georgia, 26th April

    Aboard HMS GLAMORGAN having left the officer of the watch in charge Captain Barrow finally left the bridge. Unfortunately for him it was not so he could retire to his cabin to rest but instead so he could go to the admiral’s cabin and begin compiling the after-action report with Rear Admiral Woodward and his staff. Woodward had been aboard GLAMORGAN even before the present crisis began taking part in an exercise off Gibraltar. From Captain Barrow’s point of view it had actually been quite convenient having the admiral already embarked and his ships company now well worked up when the order had come in to steam for actual operations in the South Atlantic.

    It had been a very eventful past couple of days. The order for this whole endeavour had come all the way from the UK. Woodward had reckoned that the order was a result of a desire by the government for a demonstration of Britain’s resolve as part of a wider political and diplomatic effort to find a negotiated settlement. While they had certainly demonstrated Britain’s resolve privately Rear Admiral Woodward couldn’t help but feel that this little adventure had probably done considerable damage to any hopes of a peaceful solution.

    The operation while a success in that it had achieved all of its objectives hadn’t quite gone exactly according to plan. But it was a testament to the sheer quality and professionalism of the men under Woodward’s command that they had been able to adapt to the changing situation and overcome all obstacles they encountered.
    As the second most senior officer in theatre and Vice Admiral Reffell’s second in command part of Rear Admiral Woodward’s role was to command operations exactly like this one. He had flown out to HMS EAGLE at Ascension Island to meet with Vice Admiral Reffell (the first time that the Task Force commander and his second in command had actually met in person since the campaign began) where he had been given command of this operation (codenamed PARAQUET) and allocated a force designated TG 317.9. This force consisted of his own flagship HMS GLAMORGAN, the frigate HMS PLYMOUTH and the tanker RFA TIDESPRING. They would be joined later on by the frigate HMS BRILLIANT which was currently anchored at Ascension Island trying to repair some sort of defect. Though not under his direct command the SSN HMS CONQUEROR had also played a part. RFA TIDESPRING had carried the Royal Marines of 42 Commando’s M company, HMS CONQUEROR had been carrying a small detachment of the SBS and an entire squadron of the SAS had been carried between HMS GLAMORGAN and HMS PLYMOUTH. Though largely shielded through having the luxury of their own spacious cabin’s bot Captain Barrow and Rear Admiral Woodward had been aware of tempers beginning to fray on the lower decks through overcrowding.
    For the first few days the voyage from Ascension Island had been reasonably uneventful but tense non the less. The main threat at this point had been judged to be the subsurface threat coming from the pair of relatively modern and capable SSK’s in the Argentine inventory. Though the force was operating without any kind of air cover and despite the fact that a concentrated air attack could very easily end the whole operation the air threat was considered to be negligible. Argentina’s one carrier was known to still be within Argentine territorial waters and at this distance from the Falkland Islands a land based air attack was a very low probability. The location of the SSK’s however had at that stage been a complete unknown so therefore the submarine threat was marked high. Safety to a large extend clearly lay in simple geography. The transit from Ascension to South Georgia had gone completely undetected by the Argentinian’s. The CONQUEROR and multiple marathon 14 hour recon flights by RAF Victor’s and Nimrod’s flying thousands of mile long round trips from Wideawake airfield at Ascension hadn’t detected any Argentine naval units.

    Grytviken was a disused whaling station and was the only settlement on the island and the only real military target. The first phase of the operation was for the SAS/SBS to set up observation posts at various positions around the settlement. That had been where things had started to unravel. The first attempt to insert the SAS men onto Fortuna Glacier had been defeated by the weather. The tough SAS men had encountered blizzard conditions and had made very little progress towards their objective and been forced to abort their mission and call for the helicopters to extract them. Two of the three helicopters had crashed in the blizzard due to high winds and extremely poor visibility. By some miracle no one had been killed and by some further miracle three helicopter loads of men and crews had managed to squeeze into GLAMORGAN’s Wessex and successfully return to the ship in one go. Rear Admiral Woodward and Captain Barrow had already agreed to put the helicopters commander’s name forward for the Distinguished Flying Cross for being able to pull that one off.
    The next attempt on the night of the 22nd to land the SAS men this time by boat had been slightly more successful. Yet of the five Gemini craft sent out two had broken down and their crews again having to be rescued by GLAMORGAN’s Wessex. However, the crews of the other three craft had been able to reach their OP points. The SBS men launching from HMS CONQUEROR had less success. While they had been able to land on the island the terrain had proved to be too difficult to overcome and so they had been picked up by a Wasp helicopter and transported to HMS PLYMOUTH.

    On the 25th things had started to get really interesting. To his absolute horror Woodward had received a signal from Northwood advising him of a high likelihood of an Argentine Submarine operating in the area. The signal stated that the intelligence assessment was that the boat was conducting a resupply mission for the Argentine garrison on South Georgia. Not long afterwards the ice patrol ship HMS ENDURANCE reported being overflown by the Argentine Boeing 707 that had been harassing the carrier group. Rear Admiral Woodward, Captain Barrow and the landing forces commander Major Sheridan now feared that the Argentine garrison may now be aware that something was afoot and they would probably now be facing alert and prepared defenders. In response to this new information, it was decided that RFA TIDESPRING should withdraw to comparative safety 200 miles away from the island while HMS GLAMORGAN, HMS PLYMOUTH and the recently arrived Type 22 frigate HMS BRILLIANT would form a sub hunting group and move to deal with this new threat.
    With the SAS having been unable to establish the OP’s overlooking Grytviken until later than planned (the men originally tasked with establishing that OP had been on one of the Gemini craft that had broken down) the British ships were unaware that the Argentine submarine in question had in fact already off loaded the supplies and personnel for the garrison and was now in the process of leaving the harbour on the surface to return to Argentina. Nor did they know that rather than one of the much feared Type 209 boats this submarine was in fact the elderly WWII era BALAO class ARA SANTA FE.

    Once again it was HMS GLAMORGAN’s own Wessex HAS.1 helicopter that found itself in the thick of things. This time however it was flown by Lt Chris Parry who a few years previously had already achieved a small amount of fame when he had appeared on the BBC documentary “Sailor” documenting life aboard HMS EAGLE during a deployment to the Atlantic. While on ASW patrol ahead of the group the observer in Parry’s aircraft reported a contact on the surface search radar. Knowing that there were no surface ships in the area that the sub hunting group was aware of Parry was confident that this had to be a submarine running on the surface. With this in mind he primed his pair of depth charges. As he closed with it, he was able to report visual confirmation of a GUPPY II type BALAO class submarine running on the surface. The order came through ordering him to prosecute and destroy the vessel. HMS BRILLIANT’s Lynx HAS.2 and HMS PLYMOUTH’s Wasp HAS.1 helicopter’s were scrambled to assist. Flying over the submarine parry dropped his two depth charges and then brought his aircraft around to assess whether he had had any luck. The weapons had landed pretty close either side of the submarine and clearly rocked it about a bit. The boat proceeded to execute a gentle 180 degree turn and seemed to be trying to make its way back towards Grytviken. Maintaining visual contact on the boat while he waited for the other helicopters to arrive Parry noticed that the submarine appeared to be leaving an oil slick in its wake (difficult to spot against the backdrop of the dark blue water) and was gradually losing speed. While he hadn’t sunk her, he’d clearly hurt the sub. The Lynx from HMS BRILLIANT had been next to try, dropping a Mark 46 torpedo. However, try as it might the damned thing just wasn’t able to acquire the now almost stationary surface contact. Unwilling to throw away even more money by dropping another expensive torpedo the Lynx’s crew had had to content themselves with using the door mounted GPMG to strafe the boat. The Wasp from HMS PLYMOUTH was carrying AS-12 air to surface missiles however by this point it was becoming clear that any further attacks were not going to dramatically change the overall outcome. The SANTA FE was now dead in the water and surrounded by a now clearly visible and visibly expanding oil slick and men were now climbing through open hatches and starting to assemble on the casing evidently preparing to evacuate. As the surface ships had closed with it the crippled sub had suddenly gone down by the stern leaving only a rush of bubbles on the surface as air escaped through the still open hatches. The ships and helicopters had rushed to pluck the survivors out of the freezing water however more than one man succumbed to the cold after being rescued despite the best efforts of the British to save the lives of their fellow mariners. By the time Rear Admiral Woodward and Captain Barrow had sat down to write his report of an estimated 85 men believed to have been aboard the boat only 50 were still alive and under guard divided amongst the three ships. There was the issue of not being sure what they were supposed to do with the other dozen or so men who hadn’t been so lucky. A signal had been sent back to Northwood asking for instructions on the issue.

    Once the recovery operations had been completed attention had turned back to the garrison at Grytviken. It had been decided that with Argentine forces both here and further afield now more than likely aware that something was going on rather than wait for the TIDESPRING to arrive with M company it would be better to assault the garrison with the forces they had to hand supported by the liberal use of Naval Gunfire Support. An ad hoc force had been assembled out of the various SAS and SBS men and Royal Marines. Numbering 75 men this force was helicoptered to a landing zone nearby while HMS GLAMORGAN and HMS PLYMOUTH (HMS BRILLIANT being one of the new “All Missile” frigates) had laid down a barrage of 4.5-inch shells around the Argentine positions at Kings Point in an attempt to cow the defenders into submission. As the combined SF/RM force had advanced they had been on the receiving end of small arms fire from the Argentine positions. This had been answered with a few more 4.5 inch shells this time directly onto the defender’s positions followed by a rapid advance by the landing force under the cover of GPMG fire. Once the Royal Marines and Special Forces troops had gotten in amongst the positions and started to clear them with grenades and close range automatic fire the defenders had rapidly lost their will to resist.

    The union flag once again flew over South Georgia but Rear Admiral Woodward still had many issues to resolve. He had spoken with the Royal Marines intelligence detachment who had finished their initial assessment based upon questioning the various Argentine prisoners and searching the former Argentine HQ. It was still unknown whether the ARA SANTA FE had sunk as a result of the damage sustained during the depth charge attack or whether she had been intentionally scuttled. Being a submariner himself Woodward had inwardly shuddered at the thought of what it must have been like being caught on the surface and attacked with depth charges. All the same despite the loss of life he was proud that his flagship was the first ship probably since the second world war to have sunk a submarine in action and that the Buffer was right now painting a submarine silhouette on her superstructure. On South Georgia itself there were three interesting pieces of information. The fire that the landing force had taken had apparently been the result of a scared Argentine marine with an itchy trigger finger as opposed to any actual order to resist. There was still no sign of the missing documentary film makers Cindy Buxton and Annie Price who had been filming on a remote part of the island when the Argentinians had invaded. Indeed, the Argentine prisoners when questioned were seemingly unaware that the two women had even been on the island in the first place and had thought that the British interrogators were playing some sort of joke on them. A search using the remaining helicopters and mountain warfare trained SAS men would have to be mounted before anyone could leave. The last piece of interesting news concerned one of the Argentine officers found on the island. The man in question who had died of his wounds during the naval bombardment had been identified from the dog tags found on his body as well as by the surviving Argentinians as LT CDR Alfredo Astiz. Apparently, the man was or at least had been much sought after by various governments and foreign courts due to his alleged actions in the Dirty War. The thought crossed Woodward’s mind that whether or not this man was indeed a war criminal was a bit of a moot point given the state of him.


    Vice Admiral Reffell and his staff wondered about the proverbial that must be hitting the fan in London right now. Having been copied in on the signal traffic between Northwood and TG 317.9 in South Georgia he was fully up to date with the situation. The whole point of the operation had been to demonstrate British resolve by recapturing occupied territory. While they had certainly accomplished that with no British casualties, in the process they had managed to sink an Argentine submarine and kill quite a few Argentine servicemen. Despite everything that had been going on the UK and Argentina were not officially in a formal state of war (yet) and this raised the issue of the Argentine prisoners both living and dead. The “Prisoners” for legal reasons were actually only detainees and the UK could well find itself obliged to repatriate them. This included the dead meaning that they would have to be kept onboard the British ships which to Reffell just didn’t seem right. In his opinion the dead should be given a burial either at sea or on South Georgia with military honours but that decision was out of his hands.

    The topic of discussion now turned to what would the Argentine response be to these events and how would this affect the Task Force. The main threat at this point was still the subsurface threat. Unfortunately, the submarine that had been destroyed off South Georgia was an elderly WWII era boat rather than one of the modern German built boats. To help protect the carrier group from the submarine threat Commodore Clapp had transferred his flag from HMS HERMES to HMS FEARLESS which had remained behind at Ascension Island in order to form up with the Amphibious group. Reffell was conscious that he didn’t have as many high end ASW capable frigates as he would have liked but like so many other commanders throughout history he had to make do with what he had. One thing he wasn’t short of though was ASW helicopters. The reason for bringing HMS HERMES rather than leaving her at Ascension with the rest of the Amphibious group was that in addition to the Sea King HC4 troop transports she was carrying 12 Sea King HAS.5’s of 826 NAS. This combined with the 9 aircraft of 820 NAS aboard HMS INVINCIBLE and the various aircraft carried aboard the escorts gave the carrier group what was in Reffell’s opinion a powerful sub hunting capability. Removing the Sea King flight from HMS EAGLE in order to accommodate more fixed wing aircraft had been controversial but EAGLE was the only ship able to carry Phantom’s and Buccaneer’s and these aircraft would one of the operations most precious assets so it was felt to be a good trade off as long as either HERMES or INVINCIBLE remained in company with EAGLE.
    Four of these ASW helicopters were being kept aloft at all times to scout for any hints of a subsurface contact. The ROE did allow the task group to attack any potential Argentine submarine immediately upon detection. So far however all they had succeeded in doing was setting back Britain’s marine mammal conservation efforts somewhat (there was now a joke going around the lower decks that if nothing else they had probably by now eliminated the threat of any Moby Dick type event).
    The Argentine surface fleet was known to be mostly concentrated in and around Argentine territorial waters and not much of a threat as of yet. Evidently, they felt themselves to be safe from the British SSN’s in their own waters and annoyingly due to the current ROE they were right.
    The air threat at present was still low owing to the groups distance from any Argentine air base but that would change for the worse over the next few days as the task force closed the distance. Reffell was maintaining a combat air patrol of a pair of Phantoms providing outer CAP and a pair of Sea Harriers providing inner CAP supported by a Gannet AEW aircraft with another pair of Phantoms and another pair of Sea Harriers on the decks at Alert 5 status (five minutes notice). One bit of good news was that since a message had been passed to Argentina via the Swiss embassy that the Boeing 707 that had been stalking the task group was now considered a threat and could therefore if identified could now be engaged and shot down under the ROE they hadn’t been bothered by that particular aircraft.

    To Reffell and his staff, it was clear that Argentina was willing to put up a fight. Now he had to ensure that he would be able to fight back. To this end he started dictating yet another signal to Northwood.

    Meeting of the War Cabinet, Whitehall

    Admiral Lewin the Chief of Defence staff surveyed the men and single woman of the War Cabinet, most of whom were staring daggers at him.
    The cabinet had been set up by the PM to guide Britain through the current crisis. As well as Prime Minister Thatcher and himself the cabinet also included the Home Secretary Willie Whitelaw, the Foreign Secretary Francis Pym, the Defence Secretary John Nott (Whose resignation the PM had refused to accept), Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Cecil Parkinson and finally the Attorney General Michael Havers. There were no representatives from the Treasury in the cabinet, a decision Lewin wholeheartedly agreed with (They would probably have just tried to get the whole thing called off on the grounds of cost).

    The meeting had been called to discuss the political and diplomatic fallout of the events that had taken place in South Georgia. While publicly the government had been putting on a positive face (The PM when questioned by a reporter outside Downing street had stated that this showed that Britain would not be intimidated by what she described as a fascist gang in Buenos Aries who had illegally occupied British territory before going on to now famously state “just rejoice at that news and thank our armed forces and the marines”) the proverbial really had hit the fan on the diplomatic front. The Argentines were screaming murder about the deaths of their sailors and marines and some Latin American states were now offering diplomatic support to Argentina. There was a fear that if things got out of hand diplomatically this support could extend to more than just strong words. On the home front some left leaning Labour MP’s had denounced the events as a brutal way of ending hopes for peace. In that they were part right. Certainly, they had pretty much killed any hopes that there could be a negotiated settlement and with conflict almost certainly guaranteed Admiral Lewin had tried to push for a more flexible ROE.
    Eventually after a meeting running long into the night a way forward had been worked out. On the diplomatic front Alexander Haig, the US Secretary of State who had been flying between London and Buenos Aries in an attempt to try and mediate a solution to the crisis was to be informed of the British Governments new position. Britain was fully prepared to use military force to reclaim her occupied territory and would quite happily destroy anyone who attempted to prevent her forces from carrying out their mission. This really was last ditch stuff diplomatically but it had become increasingly clear that the military men who ran the Argentine government weren’t going to back away from a fight.
    On the military front the war cabinet agreed to Lewin’s request to upgrade the Maritime Exclusion Zone to a Total Exclusion Zone.
    From this point any forces of any country within a 200 mile radius of the Falklands were now considered to be fair game and liable to attack without warning. This would hopefully encourage any neutral merchant ships to vacate the area removing a potential complication.
    However, there was still no formal state of war between the UK and Argentina meaning that military action was to be limited to whatever was necessary to ensure the recovery of the islands. There would be no question of British forces taking action against the Argentine mainland or any forces outside of the TEZ unless they posed a direct threat to British forces.
    While partially satisfied with this loosening of the ROE it still wasn’t exactly what Admiral Lewin had been hoping for.
    Pieces On A Chess Board
  • HMS EAGLE, 1st May

    They say that the worst part of any battle is the waiting. That was certainly a sentiment that the men of HMS EAGLE and the other ships of the carrier group would have agreed with. It was late afternoon and the group was now located to the north east of the Falklands heading towards a position at approximately 50.00S 054.00W whereupon they would begin operations against Argentine forces within the TEZ. The ships company had transitioned into defence watches a few days previously to allow them to blow a few cobwebs out of the system. The men were now split into two watches which would be swap over every 6 hours and the ship itself had been cleared for action. Anything that wasn’t going to be immediately needed was a potential fire/shrapnel hazard and had either been locked away somewhere out of the way or in many cases simply thrown overboard. Even men who had spent years serving aboard had never seen the ship looking this austere.

    Captain Slater had originally intended for this meeting in his cabin to be a small affair to discuss the ships state of readiness. Also present were the ships Executive Officer (XO), Engineering Officer (MEO) and Air Group Commander (Commander Air). However, at the last minute completely unannounced the Task Force commander Vice Admiral Reffell had decided to attend. He’d received the latest Argentine intentions assessment from Northwood was especially keen to be kept up to date with any potential issues concerning his fleets most critical asset.
    The XO was up first. He talked about the state of the ships company and the various preparations for action that had gone on. The only real issue he brought up was the level of tension onboard. The last emergency drills had been conducted a few days previously and it had been made clear to everybody that the next time the general alarm sounded it would be for real. This was a completely new experience for most of the ships company and some weren’t dealing with it as well as others. The XO was concerned that if tension continued to rise then there could be a potential adverse effect on morale or worse the opposite may happen where men may become too used to the new situation and may start to relax into the heightened readiness state a bit too much and start to take their eye off the ball.
    The MEO was up next and went through the various defects and what his department was doing to correct them. No ship is completely without problems and for a such a large and elderly ship that had just undertaken such a long voyage EAGLE had no more mechanical issues than were to be expected. This was largely down to the Marine Engineering department keeping on top of things and dealing with any small problems before they could grow into something bigger. As things stood at this moment there weren’t any problems that would immediately affect EAGLE’s performance or ability to conduct flying operations. Yet.

    The air group commander spoke last and reported on the state of his aircraft and men. The Admiral took a particular interest in this report. Of the men right now, those aircrews and flight deck hands not committed to sustaining the Combat Air Patrol were in their cabins and messdecks trying to get as much sleep as possible while they still had the opportunity. Like the XO the squadron commanders were worried about the effect that the general tension on the ship was having on their crews who were now very aware that the next time they climbed into a cockpit would be for the real thing. CDR Ward (CO of the Phantom Squadron) had been practically screaming for the severed head of one particular as yet unidentified individual. The story was that during a conversation in the wardroom bar (where in his opinion in an act of great kindness the XO was now allowing aircrew to wear flight suits) a young Sub Lieutenant had rather unhelpfully made a series of ill considered jokes to a group of Ward’s pilots that they would now likely be having to land their aircraft in the dark and without the benefit of somewhere to divert to and that not only that but also the average life expectancy of someone finding themselves actually in the South Atlantic (extremely low). Whether malicious or merely just a poor attempt at humour a few of the pilots had been visibly unnerved by this (as the Sub Lieutenant hadn’t said anything factually incorrect) and the Air Group commander had found Ward trying to organise some sort of lynch mob to locate the offending individual. Naturally he had put a stop to such nonsense but he had made a note to find out who this officer was and have a quiet word with him.

    With regards to the aircraft themselves they were as ready as they were ever going to be and as of right now almost all were serviceable. As far as he was concerned there would be nothing to prevent tonight’s planned sorties from being able to launch as soon as the go ahead was given.
    At this point Vice Admiral Reffell spoke and stated that as well as that already planned mission it was highly probable that within the next 48 hours the air group would also be tasked to conduct maritime strike and air defence missions and asked of the assembled officers if the ship was up to the task. Naturally they all replied yes with no reservations. Reffell proceeded to bring them up to speed on the very latest intelligence situation and how the carrier group would react.


    Rear Admiral Allara commander of TG 79.1 read aloud the signal from Purto Belgrano to the assembled officers. The naval aspect of Operation Martillo (Hammer) was to proceed.
    His carrier in company with the two Type 42 destroyers and ASW frigate would proceed southwards towards the area where any contact with the British was expected to occur. Approximately 100 miles to his east TG 79.4 consisting of three modern Exocet equipped Drummond class corvettes were acting as a screening force.
    Though direct contact was yet to occur the Argentinians were slowly pinning down the British fleets location via the information provided by their aircraft and submarine. Though for its own safety it had been obliged to keep its distance the air force ELINT equipped Boeing 707 had confirmed (through the detection of radar emissions) the presence of Gannet AEW aircraft known to only be carried by the British HMS EAGLE. The submarine ARA SAN LUIS was located to the NE of the Malvinas and had reported hearing explosions consistent with depth charges. Admiral Allara mused on this particular piece of information. Evidently the British felt themselves unable to positively determine the location of the SAN LUIS and so were getting nervous and attacking everything that could potentially be her. This nervousness could very well be their undoing as it was allowing the real SAN LUIS and by extension the rest of the Argentine fleet to get a more positive bearing on at least some of their escort ships based on noise bearings.

    His group would steam south through the night to a point just outside the British exclusion zone and as soon as it was light enough start launching S-2 Tracker aircraft to conduct surface searches and get a firmer idea of where the British fleet was. In concert with TG 79.3 to the south headed by ARA GENERAL BELGRANO, TG 79.4 and ARA SAN LUIS they would conduct a pincer movement meeting each other somewhere to the NE of the Malvinas. This would have the effect of gradually reducing the area that the British could be in until they were eventually located. Once that happened the locating unit would initiate the attack with the other units moving to join in. The air force had large numbers of aircraft parked fuelled and armed on the tarmac at various air bases on the mainland waiting to launch against the British ships as soon as they were located. These aircraft would make use of Port Stanley airfield on the Malvinas to refuel on either the outbound or return (or possibly both) legs of the sortie to extend their combat radius out to the area where the British would likely be.
    For the Veinticinco De Mayo her contribution to the actual attack would be her eight A4Q Skyhawks of the 3rd Naval Fighter/Attack Squadron. It was regrettable that the Exocet equipped Super Etendard’s were not yet carrier qualified by they wouldn’t be left out and would be operating from ashore.

    As far as was possible all ships were to remain beyond 200 miles of the Malvinas. The British had declared what they called a “Total Exclusion Zone” within which any Argentine forces would be liable to attack. This combined with their previous behaviour indicated to Allara that the British were still acting with a degree of restraint and attempting to limit the spread of this conflict. While he had no doubt that once the shooting started that this exclusion zone and all other restraints that his enemy had placed upon themselves would quickly evaporate for now it would at least perhaps give him a degree of protection and freedom of movement and enable him to get closer to his objective.
    In terms of the threat posed by the British to the De Mayo group the carrier wouldn’t be getting close enough to the British fleet to have to worry about surface attack and following the recent exercises with the air force Argentine commander’s were confident that the pair of Type 42’s could fend off any British air attack. Their nuclear powered submarines were a different matter and the one thing that seriously worried Rear Admiral Allara. The Argentine Navy had a very little bit of experience of combatting nuclear powered submarines which had been gained from the previous years UNITAS naval exercises with the United States who had sent the USS THOMAS JEFFERSON. It was now too dark for fixed wing flying (the Argentine Navy had never developed the skills required for night time carrier operations) so the carriers squadron of S-2E Tracker’s were going to be unable to operate until daylight at which point they were already allocated to the surface search mission anyway (although they would be available for their main role of ASW if called upon). In the meantime Allara had ordered that of the air groups five Sea King ASW helicopters at least one was to be kept aloft at all times on ASW patrol (the helicopters and their pilots were capable of night time carrier operations unlike their fixed wing counterparts). The ASW frigate ARA COMODORO PY (a former US Navy Gearing Class destroyer) was on station at the head of the group conducting an ASW sweep.


    The war cabinet had assembled in order to discuss an urgent issue. Admiral Fieldhouse brought them up to speed on the developing situation. HMS CONQUEROR had located and begun tracking a group of Argentine warships to the South of the Falklands that included the cruiser ARA GENERAL BELGRANO. HMS SPLENDID had reported intermittent detections of the Argentine aircraft carrier 25th of May to the north. Though she no longer had sonar contact with the carrier the previous detections all had the ship heading south towards the TEZ. It was the assessment of both himself, Admiral Lewin and Vice Admiral Reffell aboard HMS EAGLE and the various intelligence officers that the Argentinians were conducting a pincer movement and that a full scale attack was developing. This was further supported by the American satellite images they had received that showed the runway at Port Stanley airfield having been lengthened and significant activity at the facility.

    In light of this situation Vice Admiral Reffell had sent a signal outlining what he wished to do to counter the developing threat but as the Argentinians were outside of the TEZ he required the authority of the war cabinet to carry out his plan. As per usual the various ministers started debating the issue without any clear direction towards a decision. Lewin thought to himself that it would probably have been a damned sight easier to go straight to the PM direct and inform the rest of the cabinet only after the event. A quick look in the Prime Minister’s direction indicated that she was thinking along roughly the same line.
    Some were worried about the diplomatic and political repercussions of the potential large loss of life and that Britain might be seen to have launched an unprovoked attack. A number of members though pointed out that after South Georgia Britain was in all but name effectively at war with Argentina anyway so why were they trying to impede her forces ability to fight that war.

    In the end knowing that she would be held responsible for whatever happened anyway the PM was the one who decided the issue. Banging her palm down on the map of the South Atlantic that covered the table she turned to Admiral Fieldhouse she simply said
    sink them!.

    Wideawake Airfield, Ascension Island

    Clutching a piece of paper, the RAF officer didn’t even need to say anything to gain the attention of the various flight suited figures in the crowded crew tent. The men had been waiting in nervous anticipation and trying to pass the time as best they could.
    To their relief and excitement, the officer told them “Tonight’s performance is to begin as advertised and the supporting cast have confirmed their attendance”.
    Battle of the Falklands Part 1
  • Port Stanley Airfield, 2nd May, 0400 Local

    It was a quieter night than usual. With the large influx of aircraft expected tomorrow would be a very long day the majority of the base personnel were trying to rest while they still had the chance. In his little trailer the Skyguard radar operator was struggling to keep his eyes open. The other operator had fallen asleep and the third had stepped outside of the trailer in the hopes that the cold air would help keep him awake. Like the rest of the base personnel the Skyguard operators had been working flat out over the last few days to get AFB Pureto Argentino (as Port Stanley airport was now known to the Argentinian’s) up and running. Unlike the other base personnel, the air defence troops hadn’t had the opportunity for an actual full night’s sleep (owing to the need to maintain 24 hour readiness) and were starting to feel the effects of tiredness. The trailer crew had been taking it in turns to sleep and keep watch on the radar screen. However, after many hours of staring at nothing on the screen boredom and human nature had begun to set in. The fact that despite the bitter cold outside two men in a space that small did make things quite toasty wasn’t helping with the operator’s concentration. The eyes beginning to ache due to straining from the difference in brightness between the screen and darkness of the rest of the trailer. He thought he’d indulge himself and shut his eyes just for a few seconds. As often happens with these things a few seconds can often become somewhat longer. Realising this upon opening his eyes a brief moment of panic set in. However, this subsided when he saw that only a few minutes had passes, his comrade next to him was still asleep and the other one still outside probably having a cigarette meaning no one had discovered that he’d been asleep at his post. He then noticed what he thought was a blip on the screen which lasted mere seconds. His tiredness clouded his judgment and he wasn’t sure if he’d actually seen something or if his mind was playing tricks on him. He wondered if it was worth waking his sleeping comrade or even should he contact the command post. If he was wrong about seeing something would it be worth the dressing down, he would surely receive. That moment of indecision marked the end of his life.
    The three men received places in the Argentine military cemetery but their graves are empty. There were no bodies found to bury.

    The four AS-37 Martel air to surface missiles that opened the attack largely wiped out the airfields air defence systems and paved the way for the next part. The pair of Buccaneer’s callsigns Black 1 and Black 2 had played their part well and began the return trip to HMS EAGLE. Next up was Black 3 and Black 4 who were to a degree guided to their target by the fires from the burning air defence systems. All of the aircraft taking part in the mission had despite the darkness approached the Falklands at as lower altitude as they dared to avoid detection. Once Blacks 1 and 2 had launched their antiradiation missiles the other aircraft had rapidly gained altitude for their approach.
    The four Phantoms callsign Reds 1-4 providing fighter cover had climbed almost vertically and then switched on their radars in the hopes of finding any target to engage. More than one of the Phantom crews felt a slight pang of disappointment when the radars showed no contacts other than the Buccaneer’s. The intelligence assessment that the Argentines not having much of a night flying capability had proved accurate.
    Blacks 3 and 4 between them carried sixteen 1000lb bombs in their internal rotating bomb bays and on their wings. They had followed the Phantom’s in their climb but some way behind them and switched on their Blue Parrot radar’s. The observers in the back seats began to see the coastline and geography displayed on their radar screens and compared this to a paper map in the transparent knee pockets on their flight suits to designate an aim point on the runway. The radar now fed this information to the aircrafts analogue computer which began feeding flight information to the pilots enabling them to fly an exact three dimensional course. Black’s 3 & 4 were performing a toss bombing attack which required a low level dash followed by a steep climb during which the onboard computer would release the bombs at just the right moment. This method of attack had been chosen for two reasons. Firstly it meant that the Buccaneer’s would remain out of range of any anti aircraft artillery located on the airfield and secondly the near vertical angle of impact when the bombs landed would hopefully mean that they would penetrate further into the ground before detonating thus creating a larger crater in the runway. In the course of a few seconds Black’s 3 & 4 successfully carried out their attack certainly made an impact in the most literal sense of the word. The onboard computers worked exactly as advertised meaning that the bombs had a reasonably tight grouping with two direct hits scored on the runway and the rest close enough to cause further damage. The solid bedrock of the Falklands meant that while no significant cratering was achieved the shock waves shattered the runway surface rendering it completely unusable.
    Finally Black 5 and Black 6 came in armed with Matra rocket pods for a total of 144 SNEB 68mm rockets. These were launched against the aircraft, equipment, buildings and other “soft” targets located away from the remains of the runway. The low light and likely dispersed positioning of these targets meant that this attack was carried out from a higher altitude with the rockets covering a wide area. A large fireball meant that at least one rocket had found its mark. A line of tracer rose up from the ground meaning that the Argentines were finally getting their act together and that now was probably a good time to head home.
    As the Buccaneer’s departed Red 1 flew past the airfield at what he felt to be a sufficiently long distance and was able to observe numerous fires on the ground and some tracer being fired blindly into the air.

    0500 Local

    Brigadier Menendez hadn’t needed to be told what was happening when he awoke. The numerous loud bangs and the rising fireballs visible from his quarters in Port Stanley’s Government House had both shocked him out of bed and told him everything that he needed to know. Unable to contact anyone in charge on the airfield via radio or landline he had elected to drive over there and see for himself. He had arrived to the sight of the airfield’s firefighters chasing after a man who was running around literally on fire. To Menendez that meant that and the fireball he had observed meant that at least one of the munitions dumps that contained napalm had probably been hit.
    After managing to get some semblance of order about things the airfields commanding officer had sent out subordinates to assess the damage at various parts of the facility. The news was not good. The air defence radar and missile systems had been almost wiped out, numerous aircraft had been damaged or destroyed outright and worst of all the runway and landing field had been shattered.

    This was a catastrophe Menendez thought to himself. Filling in the craters and repairing the runway alone could take days meaning that this airfield wouldn’t be able to perform its role of providing support to Operation Martillo which was due to begin in a few short hours. As he drove back to his headquarters to deliver the news to Buenos Aries, he wondered how such a thing could have happened. Had the damned radar operators been asleep or something?

    HMS EAGLE, 0600

    With the aircraft from the nights strike now recovered and crews debriefed Vice Admiral Reffell was pleased with the results. The airfield would likely be out of action for at least the rest of the day and possibly longer. His aircraft had removed a major threat to his task force and given him some breathing space to ponder his next moves.

    The task force was still faced by four principle threats. To the South although the signal detailing the new ROE had been transmitted to her HMS CONQUEROR had not yet acknowledged meaning that depending on whether she was listening or not Commander Wreford-Brown might not yet be aware of his new orders. They would just have to keep trying until they got some sort of response. If worse came to worst Woodward could redirect his force North and try to get away from the Belgrano group to the south of the islands.

    After a marathon 8 hour flight from Ascension Island involving multiple air to air refuelling’s an RAF Nimrod MR2 maritime patrol aircraft was now on station 300 miles to the north of the islands and using its Searchwater radar to conduct a surface search of the area. From the data gathered two distinct groups of ships had been identified north of the islands moving eastwards.
    Reffell knew that one of these groups was the certain to be the Argentine carrier group and based on intelligence assessments the other was likely some sort of escort group but no one was quite sure which was which. The British ships further west on picket duty were reporting detecting faint radar emissions from radars associated with S-2 Tracker aircraft.
    HMS SPLENDID was still in the vicinity but based on her last reported position relative to the surface contacts unless they suddenly reversed course, she would not be able to sufficiently close with them to be able to carry out an attack.
    Even the RAF Nimrod was only maintaining intermittent radar contact as its crew wanted to keep a good distance between themselves and the Argentine carrier for fear of interception by its fighters.
    That meant that it would fall to HMS EAGLE’s air group to deal with the threat. This again raised the issue of the identities of the two surface groups. If this could not be positively ascertained then it may become necessary to attack both groups. Captain Slater had already ordered that the recently returned aircraft be turned around as quickly as possible and prepared for another sortie realising that EAGLE would likely be required to launch two large strikes with escorts on top of maintain CAP.

    There had still been no contact of any kind with the Argentine Submarine believed to be at sea. The subsurface threat warning throughout the fleet was at its highest level and there was little more that the British could do to protect themselves than they already were doing. HMS INVINCIBLE and HMS HERMES had Sea King HAS.5’s sweeping the area and the escorts were listening intently for even the faintest hint of a submarine.

    To combat the increased air threat the combat air patrol had been increased to four Phantoms and two Sea Harriers airborne with another pair of each on the flight decks at Alert 5 status. This alone placed a great deal of pressure on the Phantom squadron even before they were asked to potentially provide fighter escort for two strikes.


    Frigate Captain Azcueta once again replayed the sequence of events that had led to him being in this what could be at best described as less than ideal situation. He got the sense that while clearly this whole Malvinas endeavour had been designed to look good at home someone somewhere really should have given some thought to how the British would have reacted.

    The state of Argentina’s submarine service at the start of the war had perfectly illustrated just how little preparation there had been and things had gotten much worse since then. Submarine Force Command had started with a total of four boats consisting of two Ex US Navy GUPPY type boats and two modern Type 209 boats. Of the Guppy’s thus far SANTA FE had been lost and the other one SANTIAGO DEL ESTERO was so decrepit that she was not certified to dive as it couldn’t be guaranteed that she would be able to come up again if she did. ARA SALTA sister to his own SAN LUIS was undergoing deep maintenance and not for lack of trying simply wouldn’t be ready to sail for a long time. That left Azcueta’s boat as the sole operational Argentine submarine. But it didn’t stop there, SAN LUIS herself and her crew weren’t exactly in tip top condition. The boat like her sister had been undergoing maintenance when the conflict had begun and completion had been rushed meaning many corners had been cut and some work simply not done at all. The snorkel was leaking, the bilge pumps were not functioning as they should be, one of the diesel engines was out of action, the list went on. A sign of how long it had been since any serious work had been done on the boat was the fact that it had taken divers more than a week to scrape away the various crustaceans that had built on the hull and propellors. Moreover, the pick of the Submarine forces officers were in Germany working on the TR-1700 class project (With Germany being an ally of the UK god only knows what was going to happen with that project) meaning that many departments on the boat were being run by junior petty officers and billets filled by whoever had happened to be available at the time of sailing. Azcueta himself was an experienced submarine commander at least although he lacked experience of Type 209 boats.

    Anyway, what had happened had happened and he was here now and still had a job to do. His boat was located just over 200 miles NE of the Malvinas and was searching for targets of opportunity. His primary objective had been to locate the British carrier group and he’d had some success with this. The sonar had detected numerous sounds that had been identified as emanating from warships. The information he transmitted back to Argentina would be of great value to the various commanders. As well as locating the British carriers his orders also gave him the freedom to attack targets of opportunity. While it undoubtably be a glorious thing to be able penetrate the ASW screen and be able to sink one of the large British ships Azcueta knew that it was more likely he’d get a shot at some of the escorts.
    That sounded simple enough but the problem would be getting away afterwards.

    The intelligence briefing, he had been given before sailing had stated that the British had sent down three large carrier type ships known to carry large numbers of ASW helicopters between them. That was a problem as it was very difficult often bordering on impossible for a submarine to detect a helicopter before it detected them. Often the first warning that a submarine crew would get would be the sound of a helicopter dropped weapon entering the water.

    His thoughts were interrupted when the sonar operator announced that he had a positive fix on two ships to the east operating gas turbines. Knowing that there were no Argentine ships equipped with such engines in the vicinity these had to be British warships. No other British ships had been detected meaning that these ships must be a good distance away from the other ships of the British fleet meaning they were likely some form of outer picket.
    Azcueta thought for a bit about letting these ships pass and seeing if anything came on behind them. However, he decided that it would be better to try to sink these two ships for a number of reasons. If there were only two of them with no others nearby, he not only had a better chance of a successful attack but also of living to tell the tale and fight another day. Also taking out a few escorts would certainly be a great help to the other naval and air assets being deployed against the British.

    After closing with the pair of British ships and working out a firing solution SAN LUIS launched a pair of SST-4 torpedoes at a range of 10,000 yards. Unfortunately for SAN LUIS not long after launch all data from the torpedo guidance wires suddenly cut out indicating that they had severed. Worse the sonar operator reported the British ships changing course and picking up speed. Captain Azcueta ordered a dive right down to the seabed. Taking a page out of the Kriegsmarine’s old playbook if he could rest his boat on the bottom with all the various wrecks mostly of old whaling ships around the British may not be able to find him. With the reports coming in that the British were rapidly gaining speed and that there was still no response from the torpedo guidance wires things were only made worse by the sonar operating shouting that there were now British torpedo’s in the water. For just a few seconds officers and plainsmen were distracted. A few seconds can often be a few seconds to long. The order to plainsmen to begin to levelling out the boat was given and responded to slightly to late meaning that she impacted the seafloor with an audible thud.

    The sonar operators onboard HMS BROADSWORD and HMS YARNMOUTH were certain that they had heard the sound of torpedoes in the water. The ships had taken evasive action as a result and called in three nearby Sea King’s as well as scrambling BROADSWORD’s own Lynx helicopter. With the Subsurface threat as high as it was a shoot first ask questions later policy regarding possible subsurface contacts had been adopted. Thus far this had resulted in a lot of dead whales but it was felt better to be safe rather than sorry. A Sea King HAS.5 (The Sun newspaper would later erroneously claim that this aircraft had been piloted by Prince Andrew) had dropped a pair of Mk 46 torpedoes in the vicinity of where the SST-4’s had been detected which failed to acquire a target. Sonar operators then reported hearing a dull thud in the same area. The operator’s assessment was that this was a manmade noise. Using the estimated location as reference point the ships and aircraft conducted a torpedo and depth charge attack. For their efforts they were later rewarded with the sight not of yet another dead whale but of a distinct oil slick.

    It wasn’t until after the conflict that an examination of records from both sides resulted in the status of ARA SAN LUIS being changed from missing to presumed to have been sunk on the 2nd May.
    After many years of investigation and debate by both historians and the manufacturers AEG it is still not known for certain why the SST-4 torpedoes apparently failed when they did. Theories range from the weapons being launched at too greater distance without an active sonar contact to poor maintenance of the weapons themselves or the fire control system. There is an often repeated theory that an Argentine weapons technician may have mistakenly inserted a magnetic gyro in the weapons the wrong way around which would have caused them to run astray. The Argentine naval technical school at the time was known more for its detentions and human rights abuses of dissidents than its high standard of technical training. It is however also somewhat suggestive that after the details of this incident came to light AEG made numerous changes to the design of the SST-4.
    Battle of the Falklands Part 2

    Though he couldn’t say it to their face’s the Leading Seaman sat at the Air Picture Supervisors console really wished the PWO’s (Principal Warfare Officers) would just let him and his team get on with their jobs without being constantly reminded to do so. It was hard enough keeping track of the air contacts at the best of times even with the ADAWS computer system and the new 1022 and 992 radars. The local air picture was probably the busiest he had ever seen it.
    Right now EAGLE was in the process of launching nearly her entire air group, the combat air patrol was about to cycle some more aircraft through and there was still a myriad of helicopters in the immediate area. Plus, there was still the obvious need to keep an eye out for any sign of an incoming air attack. Keeping watch on all these aircraft required the full concentration of both the APS and his assistants and the almost constant “reminders” from the PWO was only serving to distract and irritate them. “Typical” he thought. “Just because the skippers in the room they get themselves all worked up over the smallest thing”.

    Captain Jeremy Black, INVINCIBLE’s captain had decided to relocate down to the operations room in order to have greater access to tactical information. Like most of the commanders throughout the Task Force right now he was worrying about whether or not his position had been compromised. About a half hour ago an air contact believed to be an Argentine MPA had been detected by one of the Gannet’s on AEW patrol closing with the Task Force. Captain Black wasn’t privy to the decision process but he knew that someone aboard HMS EAGLE had decided that this aircraft represented a threat and so had ordered it destroyed. The outer pair of Phantoms on CAP had intercepted and downed the aircraft (Likely to have been an S-2 Tracker) using a Skyflash at a range of just over 20 miles scoring the types first kill in UK service and the first FAA kill in as long as anyone could remember. Despite their best attempts to prevent the aircraft from getting near the Task Force the question now was how much information had this aircraft been able to glean and transmit before its demise.

    The INVINCIBLE’s intelligence staff and electronic warfare team felt it likely that the aircraft had detected at least some of the ships of the Task Force. Even if it hadn’t been able to report its findings or send out a distress call when the aircraft failed to return from where it had originated the Argentines would quickly be able to put two and two together and workout that it had been shot down after stumbling across something worth protecting. Then it would just be a case for them of following the aircrafts planned course from its last known position until they found the Task Force.

    In light of this event the assembled officers did a quick revaluation of the threat situation.
    The most critical threat at this time was judged to be the air threat for a number of reasons.
    EAGLE was in the process of launching a strike that would take with it eight of the Phantoms leaving six to defend the Task Force. Four of these were already in the air on outer CAP with another pair due to launch after the strike group. This pair however would only be replacing a returning pair that once landed would have to be immediately refuelled and rearmed with a fresh Skyflash and immediately put onto alert 5 status. Captain Black’s ship would be providing inner CAP with four Sea Harriers airborne and another two on the deck at Alert 5. Black was worried that leaving so few aircraft to provide air defence would hamper the Task Forces ability to fend of successive air attacks owing to the time it would take to land and refuel and rearm aircraft.

    One of the Sea Kings of 820 NAS had dropped torpedoes on a suspected submarine when HMS BROADSWORD and HMS YARNMOUTH had reported coming under torpedo attack. Efforts were still underway to confirm whether or not this had been yet another false alarm or an actual contact and his so whether they had sunk the submarine. The helicopters crew had reported sighting an oil slick on the surface.
    In the mean time it was considered better to be safe rather than sorry so the ASW helicopters would be continuing with their patrol cycles.
    A major worry was the possibility that the Argentine submarine may still be out there trailing the task force and reporting their position.

    Dismissing the PWO’s back to their duties Captain Black let his mind wonder a little and reflected upon the future of his ship. She had been due to be transferred to the Royal Australian Navy soon. In fact, he couldn’t right now remember whether or not any money had actually changed hands yet. All the same when this was all over the Aussies would probably demand a discount on account of INVINCIBLE being a “used” warship. God only knows what they would say if he didn’t bring her back in one piece or god forbid at all. Still if that happened, he would most certainly have more pressing matters than that particular issue.

    ARA GENERAL BELGRANO, 552400S 556010W

    Ship of The Line Captain Hector Bonzo was on the bridge of the cruiser GENERAL BELGRANO (Formerly the USS PHOENIX, a Pearl Harbour survivor) talking with his navigator. He had just received a signal from Vice Admiral Lombardo in Puerto Belgrano that TG79.1 to the north of the islands had managed to get a fix on the location of a British surface force. His force TG 79.3 consisting of his ship and two Allen M. Sumner class destroyers were now steaming north east towards the British ships (Being careful to stay outside of the British exclusion zone) where their job would be to form the southern pincer of Operation Martillo.
    Once contact with the enemy had been made Bonzo’s plan was for the destroyers to launch their Exocet SSM’s to cover for the BELGRANO’s approach. The Exocets would hopefully hit enough of the British ships to provide him with a window of opportunity for a hit and run surface attack. Once in range his 6-inch guns would be put to work to try and claim a few more scalps. The hardest part would be getting away once the British started to get their act together. Bonzo had already decided that as soon as they had carried out their attack his force would make for Port Stanley on the Malvinas where the shallower water and close proximity to the airfield should afford him a little protection from the British.
    Having worked out with the navigator roughly when and where they should intercept the British fleet Bonzo left the chart table and walked over to his chair. Before he even had the chance to get comfortable the entire bow forward of A turret seemed to just evaporate in an enormous explosion.

    Before he even had time to process what he was seeing he was almost thrown out of his chair by another massive explosion behind him. Immediately Bonzo started demanding damage reports however before he had finished doing so, he noticed that all the lights were off indicating that the ship had lost electrical power meaning there would be no internal comms. The bridge crew waited for the emergency backup generators to kick in and restore power to the bridge. This never happened either due to damage caused by the explosions or just as likely poor maintenance. One of the officers tried to use the sound powered telephone to communicate with the engine room but no one was answering. Having been originally built in the 1930’s BELGRANO still had voice pipe but as soon as the cap removed Bonzo heard a roaring sound and felt a rush of air coming from the pipe indicating that the engine room was rapidly flooding. Having sent runners to assess the state of the ship he walked out onto the port bridge wing and saw men starting to assemble on the deck and some of them were by the looks of things even trying to deploy life rafts. Smoke was pouring out of the open hatches meaning that as well as flooding there was obviously a major fire onboard. Turning forward he noticed that the entire focsle forward of A turret simply wasn’t there anymore. He didn’t even need to look at the few still functioning bridge instruments to notice that his ship had come to a complete halt and was starting to list to port. Nor did he need to wait for any damage reports to realise that his ship had been hit by two torpedoes launched from a British submarine. He wondered how this could have happened. The pair of destroyers accompanying the BELGRANO had been positioned to his south specifically to screen against any submarine threat from that direction. He had felt that his northern flank was secure due to Burwood Bank which in his opinion protected him from submarine attack due to shallow water. If the submarine had penetrated the escort screen that would be understandable but the second torpedo impact had been on the ships port side indicating that it had been launched from a submarine to his north.
    One of the engineering officers came onto the bridge and painted a grim picture of the situation below. The ship was rapidly both taking on water and filling with smoke from a fire somewhere making any damage control efforts next to impossible, the chief engineer had on his own authority ordered the lower decks evacuated and worse no one knew the status of the estimated 250 men that had been either in the canteen or asleep in the mess immediately above where the second explosion had occurred.

    Seeing the writing on the wall Bonzo gave the order to prepare to abandon ship and for the crew to assemble on deck. Within 15 minutes they had done so in (considering that a large chunk of them were raw conscripts with an average age of 18) a calm and disciplined fashion and had begun to embark in the life rafts. Bonzo and his officers were still on the bridge trying to keep a grip on the situation. A headcount had been carried out and a worryingly large number of men were unaccounted for. Upon hearing some of the names of the men unaccounted for it became apparent to Bonzo that these were men who would have been either in the aft machinery spaces or messes when the torpedoes struck and with a heavy heart had to conclude that they were most likely already dead or beyond saving. The ship was now beginning to go down by the stern and list even more to port. Attempts had been made to transmit a distress call but with the electrical power down the communications equipment was no longer functioning. Attempts had been made to contact the pair of destroyers accompanying the BELGRANO using signal lamps and flares but without success. To starboard they had a visual on the ARA HIPOLITO BOUCHARD which was also stopped and despite the distance seemed to be riding low in the water. The men on the BELGRANO concluded that she had also struck by a torpedo. There was no sign of the ARA PIEDRABUENA anywhere nearby. Bonzo reckoned that she was probably either away hunting the submarine or desperately trying to get away from it. All the same he desperately hoped that she would either come back for them or at least send a signal back to Vice Admiral Lombardo telling him what had happened here.
    With the situation clearly beyond saving the order was given to abandon ship. The life rafts began to cut themselves loose and the remaining officers and men quickly cleared the bridge. In their haste none of them really noticed that their captain had remained behind.

    Ten minutes later the ship was now listing at a 40-degree angle and Bonzo had left the bridge and proceeded to the starboard edge of what remained of the now empty foredeck. Turning aft to face the ships superstructure he struggled to hold back the tears. His natural human instinct to survive conflicted with the part of him that saw no honour in continuing to live a life as a captain who had survived when so many of his men had not. The issue was decided for him when he noticed a terrified young seaman emerge from a hatchway and realise to his horror that the life rafts had already left. Bonzo made up his mind that if he was to live a life of eternal guilt and shame then he would ensure that this young seaman would have the chance to live a happier life. Grabbing hold of the young seaman Bonzo told him “when I jump you are coming with me and when I swim to a raft, I order you to follow me”.

    Ten minutes later both the captain and seaman were still alive and safely in one of the rafts.
    The BELGRANO lived up to her motto “to go down rather than to lower the national flag”. The Argentine flag was one of the last parts of the ship visible as she went under while the conscripts in the raft sang the Argentine national anthem. With their ship now gone there was nothing for Bonzo and the conscripts to do but sit and wait for the end of their ordeal in whatever form that came. Bonzo looked at the young teenaged conscript he had saved and hoped that he hadn’t saved him from a quick death by drowning just so he could endure a slower death by starvation or hypothermia.

    Over the next 48-72 hours a total of 998 living men from both the ARA GENERAL BELGRANO and ARA HIPOLITO BOUCHARD were picked up by Argentine and Chilean ships along with a number of men who had succumbed to the cold in the rafts.


    Commander Wreford-Brown was proud of both his submarine and his crew. They had acted like the highly trained professionals that they were and had executed a textbook attack on the Argentine cruiser. Having decided against using the notoriously unreliable (and expensive) Tigerfish CONQUEROR had launched a spread of three Mark 8 straight running torpedoes. He had watched through the periscope as two of these struck the Argentine cruiser BELGRANO. As an added bonus the sonar operators had reported an explosion consistent with a torpedo strike roughly where they had been tracking one of the accompanying Argentine destroyers. This had been confirmed later the sonar had detected the sound of not one but two ships impacting the seabed.
    His submarine now had a new claim to fame. She had sunk not just the first but also the second ships ever sunk in anger by a nuclear powered vessel anywhere in the world. The crew looked forward to flying the jolly roger upon their return. CONQUEROR was now proceeding west where she would take up station in the area between the Falklands and Argentine mainland.

    However, it wasn’t all good news. As he had looked through the periscope and taken photographs of the stricken cruiser, he had observed the men struggling into the life rafts. The second Argentine destroyer had vacated the area pretty sharpish and didn’t seem like it would be returning any time soon. He also knew that there were no other vessels in the area and that the outside sea temperature wasn’t exactly conductive to life.

    As he later retired to his cabin, he felt a pang of guilt at the fact that he was warm while right now so many men not so far away were anything but all because of his actions. While he could live with the thought of men going down with the ship men left adrift in the unforgiving ocean facing an uncertain fate didn’t sit well with him. He had spent decades of his life preparing for this day but only now after the event was he fully able to comprehend the gravity of human cost. His own crew bore no responsibility for that and in fact he could not have been prouder of them but they had been simply following his orders and acting upon his decisions. No, if it was anyone’s responsibility it was his and his alone.
    Battle of the Falklands Part 3
  • The RAF Nimrod MR2 that had detected and been shadowing the two surface groups to the north of the TEZ had reached the limit of its fuel and crew endurance and had now turned north for the long flight back to Ascension Island (that would still be hours long and involve multiple air to air refuelling’s). However, it had done its job and provided the kind of up to date information that the two strike formations from HMS EAGLE would need to carry out their missions.
    Between the Nimrod and intermittent passive sonar contact from the submarine HMS SPLENDID a total of seven ships had been identified. It was felt highly likely by the British that one of these was the Argentine carrier ARA VEINTICINO DE MAYO plus her escorts likely to include Argentina’s pair of TYPE 42 DESTROYERS. The other group was felt likely to be comprised of French built DRUMMOND class corvettes equipped with Exocet SSM’s.
    Both of these groups were tracked heading east towards the Task Force and were judged to present an imminent threat and could therefore be engaged under the newly amended ROE. The carrier would be the priority target but the problem was no one could tell for certain which group she was part of.
    It had been decided that the best course of action would be to attack both groups simultaneously. To this end nearly the entire air group had been launched from HMS EAGLE.

    The two strike groups each consisted of eight Buccaneers carrying Martel ASM’s escorted by four Phantoms. There had been a lot of concern about leaving behind just six Phantoms (plus the Sea Harriers) to protect the Task Force but the Buccaneers would need to be protected from any CAP around the Argentine carrier and the possibility that the Argentines may have shore based fighters providing extra protection could not be completely discounted. The Buccaneers were worth their weight in gold in terms of their value to the operation and could not be easily replaced and so needed to be preserved and thus provided with an escort.

    Each Buccaneer carried two AS-37 Martel missiles. The Martel itself had two versions an anti-radiation version and TV guided version. Half of the Buccaneers were carrying the ARM’s and the other half the TV guided missiles.
    Ironically the ships of the Argentine carrier group were all British built. The DE MAYO herself was the former HMS VENERABLE a colossus class light carrier built in the last days of the second world war and sold to the Royal Netherlands Navy where she had served as HNLMS KAREL DOORMAN before ultimately being passed on to Argentina. The TYPE 42 destroyers were both British designed and one was even British built and were practically identical to the ones within the British Task Force.
    During the transit South from the UK multiple simulated attacks had been carried out against the British TYPE 42’s. These exercises had gradually increased in scope and challenge culminating in a success full attack on HMS INVINCIBLE which was protected by TYPE 42’s and Sea Harriers. The INVINCIBLE was felt to be the closest equivalent to the DE MAYO and the Sea Harrier to the Argentine A4 Skyhawks. The aircrews were confident that they could mount a successful strike against the older and less capable argentine carrier and aircraft.

    From the results of these exercises, it had been determined that the best way to attack the Argentines would be with stand-off weapons and a distance. The anti-radiation version of the Martel had to be preprogramed before flight to search for a specific radio frequency. The ARM’s being used in this operation had been programmed to seek out the 992 target indication radar and 909 fire control radars carried aboard the TYPE 42. The carrier itself was known to only be equipped with AA guns for air defence and so would be dealt with by the TV guided Martel’s and the Phantoms would deal with any defending Argentine aircraft.

    TG 79.4, Vicinity of 4780S 5890W

    Being closer to the Task Force the three DRUMMOND class corvettes were the first to be attacked by the Buccaneers callsigns Black 1-8 Covered by Phantoms Callsign Silver 1-4.
    The plan was for the ARM equipped Buccaneers Blacks 1-4 to lead the way and launch first to suppress the ships air defences to allow for the TV guided Martel equipped Buccaneers Blacks 5-8 to have a clearer shot.

    The RAF Nimrod had been in radio contact with both strike groups and had guided them towards the vicinity of their targets before having to begin its return home. The Bucaneer’s now switched on their blue parrot radars and began scanning for the Argentine ships themselves. Upon detecting surface contacts to the west of them the Observer in the back seat of Black 1 transmitted the call “Banana’s Banana’s Three contacts” (Three targets sighted) and led his flight down to the attack height of just 200ft while turning onto the attack heading. The Phantoms remained further back at a higher altitude scanning for any possible air contacts. At just over 38 miles from target the Blue Parrot radar’s in each aircraft began the process of “slaving” the TV guided Martel’s onto the individual radar contacts that would be each aircrafts target.
    ASM equipped Black’s 1-4 were the first to “pop up” to an altitude of 2000 ft. This was considered the most dangerous part of an attack as they would be within the engagement envelope of an SAM’s. An unfortunate necessity given that Martel was not a sea skimming missile.
    Having popped up the Observers in the back seats reported that their instruments weren’t detecting any of radar emissions consistent with Type 992 or 909. That meant that the ASM’s would not be able to lock onto a target but also meant that they were most likely engaging the DRUMMOND class corvettes rather than the carrier group. Without targets they could launch at Black’s 1-4 aborted their attack run and turned away from the Argentine ships.
    Black’s 5-8 were next to pop up and launched the eight TV guided Martel’s in two waves of four a few seconds apart (the interval was necessary as the observer would only be able to control one missile at a time). The missiles rapidly closed their targets at an altitude of 2000ft while the Buccaneers were forced to climb even higher into a potential SAM engagement envelope to ensure that the datalink pods would be able to maintain contact with the missiles. After closing most of the distance in automatic mode the missiles switched themselves over to manual control for the terminal phase of their flight profile. During this phase the Observer of each aircraft looked at a small television display on the floor between his legs and used a small joystick to guide his missile onto its target. As the missiles switched to manual control and began transmiting a television picture back to the Buccaneer’s the Observers were able to positively confirm the identities of the ships they had engaged as they lined up the crosshairs onto the superstructure of the ships on screen.

    The DRUMMOND class corvettes ARA DRUMMOND, ARA GUERRICO and ARA GRANVILLE were intended as ASUW and ASW platforms and were not equipped with any kind of SAM system relying instead on guns for air defence. The radars on the ships had detected and been tracking the British aircraft before they even started their attack runs. The captain of ARA DRUMMOND and group commander Captain Juan Calmon had signalled HQ in Puerto Belgrano and the carrier group that he was under air attack. With the Buccaneers never coming anywhere near enough to engage before they launched Captain Calmon ordered his ships to turn west and present their sterns to the incoming missiles. This was in order to present as smaller target as possible and give his ships 20mm Oerlikon automatic guns and other AA guns the clearest possible field of fire.

    Unfortunately for Captain Calmon the odds stacked against him were simply too great. One Martel was destroyed by AA fire from ARA GUERRICO however the next 5 missiles all scored hits with the final two overshooting their targets due to a combination smoke obscuring the TV cameras narrow field of vision and a lack of recent operator experience on the part of the British. ARA GRANVLLIE sustained two hits and was practically obliterated due to secondary explosions when one of the Martel’s struck her SSM launcher detonating the Exocets. ARA GUERRICO also sustained two hits and burned fiercely before going down by the stern after taking on water as a result of hull buckling caused by the force of the impacts.
    ARA DRUMMOND was “fortunate” in sustaining only one Martel strike on her stern. While the ship did not immediately sink, she drifted now burning fiercely and without power. Her crew were eventually forced by fire to abandon her but were able to transmit a distress call and Captain Calmon would later be awarded one of Argentina’s highest military honours for his role in ensuring the survival of not only his own crew but many from the other two ships until they were rescued days later. A total of 146 men perished as a result of the sinking’s.

    TG 79.1, 4850S 6000W

    The eight Buccaneers callsign White 1-8 and four Phantoms Gold 1-4 now knew that they would be attacking the Argentine carrier group and thus would be having a much harder time of things. The attack profile would be largely the same with the White’s 1-4 launching ASM’s to suppress the Type 42’s, White’s 5-8 using TV guided Martel’s to hit the carrier and Gold’s 1-4 providing top cover.

    Post conflict analysis by multiple military investigations and historians showed that at this stage the carrier group commander Rear Admiral Jorge Allara was unaware of the fate of the Submarine ARA SAN LUIS or the ARA GENERAL BELGRANO and her accompanying destroyers. None of these units had been able to transmit distress calls or give any indication that they were under attack. Allara was however aware that the S-2 Tracker that had gone missing earlier in the day had likely been shot down by the British and that his screening force TG 79.4 had just come under air attack.
    It is interesting that Allara still continued to steam east in preparation for a planned air attack by his A4Q Skyhawks. Most historians believe this to be down to Allara not knowing of what had befallen the other naval units involved in Operation Martillo believed that the operation was proceeding as planned and that to withdraw for no reason would only expose the other units to greater danger. Part of the TG79.4 screening force’s job (Though for obvious reasons he had not explained this to them) had been to act as a sacrificial lamb and draw the British carrier aircraft away from his own group giving him a window of opportunity. While they certainly had in part accomplished this their being sacrificed was in vain as a second group of aircraft was being tracked approaching his carrier group.

    The eight A4Q Skyhawks were on deck being readied to launch when the warning came in. The original plan had been for the Skyhawk’s to attack the British first and in doing so cover the approach of TG 79.4 who would have followed up with an attack with their Exocet SSM’s.
    Having studied enough naval history (particularly the battle of midway) the DE MAYO’s commander Captain Sarcona knew that having fuelled and armed aircraft on deck during an air attack was a catastrophe waiting to happen and so ordered his air group commander to get them into the air as quickly as possible. His flight deck officer informed him that not all of the Skyhawks would be able to be launched on the single catapult in the time they had remaining. Therefore, the order was given to get as many of the Skyhawks into the air as possible (where they might have a small chance of intercepting the British raid) while getting the rest of them into the relative protection of the hanger via the aft aircraft lift. Unfortunately for the DE MAYO certain maintenance chickens came home to roost on the flight deck at the worst possible time.

    This second Buccaneer anti shipping strike began much the same as the first. Having been guided into the area by the RAF Nimrod the Buccaneer’s Blue Parrot radars detected four surface contacts and the Buccaneers dived down to 200ft while the Phantoms held back out of range of the Sea Dart. From their previous exercises against their own TYPE 42 destroyers the aircrews knew that to have the best chance of surviving they had to stay as low as possible below the ships radar envelope and when they popped up into the Sea Dart engagement envelope they had had to launch and get back down and preferably away as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, Sea Dart had a longer range than Martel but the two destroyers could only fire two missiles at a time meaning that they couldn’t hit all the attacking Buccaneers with one volley. It was unknown how quickly the Argentine crews would be able to reload the launchers but it was felt that they would probably be comparable to a well practised RN crew. The exercises had shown that even against RN ships this gap between salvos would be enough time for the surviving aircraft to bring the attack to its conclusion.

    White’s 1-4 were the first to pop up and their instruments read that the ASM’s had identified their target frequencies and were ready for launch. The Blue Parrot radars were now able to see the Argentine ships again and worryingly their threat receivers were lighting up to show that they were being painted by fire control radars. In the last few seconds before launch the Buccaneer’s which had been flying in a tight formation split into an extended line and activated their ECM systems. Once the missiles had been launched, they dove down to the surface again and executed tight turns away from the Argentine ships and towards safety and home but not before they heard the chilling tones from their ESM system that told them that there were Sea Dart’s now in flight. All Whites 1-4 could do now was stay low and get away from the area as quickly as possible and hope that their onboard British made jammers would be effective against British made missiles.
    The TYPE 42 destroyers had launched four Sea Darts at the attacking aircraft when they had first popped up and showed up on the Argentine radar screens. However, when in the space of a few seconds four air contacts had become twelve then back down to eight fast moving contacts (The Buccaneer’s having gone back down below radar height) the Argentine Ops room team attempted to redirect the now in flight Sea Darts onto the incoming missiles. While the earlier versions of the Sea Dart were not designed to engage relatively low flying and low radar cross section targets, they did nevertheless manage to bring down two of the subsonic Martel’s (which were rather slow and large by modern standards). Unfortunately, this left three missiles homing towards the radar emissions emanating from each ship. Both ships sustained all three missile hits before they had the chance to launch another salvo of Sea Dart’s. The Martel’s 150kg warhead’s detonated upon impact with the Type 909 Radars mounted atop the forward superstructure and hanger and the Type 992 radar atop the mainmast.
    The impacts and detonations of the missiles shattered the ships superstructures and hangers and brought down the mainmasts and left the ships ablaze end to end. The bridge and operations room teams and the senior officers were wiped out by the blast that destroyed the forward Type 909.
    ARA SANTISIMA TRINIDAD eventually capsized over to port after taking on water through a shattered HP saltwater ring main system and other damaged valves taking 57 men with her.
    ARA HERCULES burned and was abandoned. She remained afloat for several days afterwards and some efforts were made to recover her and take her under tow back to the mainland. Ultimately, she sank in rough weather after shipping water through her damaged and now open superstructure.

    White’s 5-8 now popped up and launched their TV guided Martel’s. To their immense relief their ECM systems and threat warnings remained silent indicating that the TYPE 42 destroyers were no longer a threat. The eight TV guided missiles were successfully launched and once again when they began the terminal phase of their flight were manually guided towards their target by the Observers. When the missiles began transmitting TV pictures back to the Buccaneer’s the observers could see the two plumes of smoke that marked the now burning and wreaked Type 42’s. The instantly identified and guided their missiles towards the distinctive shape of the aircraft carrier. White 8 on the right side of the attacking formation spotted the ARA PY on the TV screen but rather than attack her simply panned the camera slightly to the left to guide the missile onto the primary target.
    Interestingly the only pictures of the attack in progress came from White 5 which had a recording device jury rigged to the Martel guidance systems television screen that was able to capture a few frames.

    Like most aircraft carriers at the time ARA VEINTICINCO DE MAYO did not have her own SAM system. Being a child of the second world war though she was equipped with twelve 40mm AA guns. Sadly, these manually operated weapons were of little help in the modern age of fast jets and faster moving missiles. Despite the best efforts of the flight deck crew most of the A4Q’s were still on the deck when the missiles arrived. The single steam catapult was rather elderly and in need of an overhaul. Unfortunately, in a cruel twist of fate the catapult had been designed and built by a British company meaning that Argentina had been unable to procure the necessary expertise or replacement parts for needed for proper maintenance. When they had tried to launch the first Skyhawk the catapult had not been able to generate enough sufficient steam pressure indicating that there was a leak in the system somewhere. If the deck crew had had time to remove the bombs for the intended anti shipping strike then the reduced steam pressure wouldn’t have been a problem however there hadn’t been the time meaning that this particular problem had resulted in fully fuelled and armed Skyhawks and other aircraft still on deck with personnel desperately trying to get them below.
    A total of six missiles struck the elderly light carrier. Four of these struck the flight deck along the starboard beam. The resulting secondary explosions from the ignition of fuelled aircraft on deck that resulted in a very serious fires made worse by the fact that most of the deck crews who would have fought the fire having been killed by the blast and fireballs.
    A fifth missile struck the carriers island superstructure resulting in the deaths of Rear Admiral Allara, Captain Sarcona and other senior officers.
    The sixth and final Martel is judged by historians and naval architects to have been the “killer blow”. The missile impacted just above the waterline on the bulkhead between two compartments blowing open a large breach in the hull that allowed water to rush in. Damage control efforts were seriously hampered by the incapacitation of the ships command team when the island superstructure was hit and was primarily focused on the fires blazing on the upper decks. The fires only got worse when the ordinance on deck began to cook off (explode due to heat) penetrating the flight deck and causing a major hanger fire that began to spread throughout the upper decks of the ship.
    When the USS FORRESTAL suffered a fire in 1967, she had been nearly sunk due to the sheer amount of water that had been pumped onboard for the firefighting effort that had collected on the lower decks flooding compartments. Aboard the burning DE MAYO the same effect was taking place and adding to the water coming in through the hull breach created by the sixth missile hit. From interviews with survivors, it’s been estimated that the ships damage control teams were actually pumping more water onboard to fight the fires than they were pumping out from the compartments around the hull breach to combat the flooding.
    No formal order to abandon ship was ever given (the deaths of the majority of the ships senior officers had caused the command structure to break down) but most surviving crew saw they were rapidly losing the battle to save the ship and began to make their way to the surviving life rafts and off of the ship. With the flight deck now an inferno the only way off the ship was via the berthing bays one or two decks below. Even here many men were forced to jump overboard to escape the intense heat only to ultimately succumb to hypothermia in the freezing water below. Survivors would later tell harrowing stories of struggling to find their way through the ship as they blindly stumbled through smoke filled passageways, feeling the intense heat as they saw paint bubble and melt off glowing red bulkheads (The men in one of the berthing bays trying to launch the life rafts recounted how they were being showered by scolding hot paint that boiled off of the deckhead above them and formed a hellish burning hot rain while simultaneously feeling the rubber soles of their boots melting on the deck below them and suffering painful burns to their hands as they tried to work the release mechanisms) and hearing the desperate cries for help of the many men trapped below decks by fire and unable to escape while rising water slowly creeped towards them.

    In a black day for the Argentine Navy and in the first carrier on carrier action since the second world war three out of four ships of TG 79.1 were lost along with their commander and over 900 sailors.
    The Shock of War
  • People who live through traumatic or life changing experiences will often go through a period of delayed reaction before they are able to fully process what has happened during which they can surprisingly calm and largely emotionally unaffected. It can last minutes, hours or even days before the full implications of what has happened sinks and will often have an almost crippling emotional effect on the person.

    As he sat in his office just adjacent to his “war room” at Puerto Belgrano Naval Base (From which he had been running the South Atlantic theatre of Operations) Vice Admiral Juan Lombardo reckoned that he was experiencing one of these moments.
    For a man who had in his own opinion had just overseen the destruction of his beloved navy and presided over one of Argentina’s greatest national tragedies and was now facing at best a future of eternal shame and disgrace (he was deliberately avoiding thinking about the worst case scenario) he was thus far remarkably calm.
    He reflected that Operation Martillo (Hammer) had certainly lived up to its name in that there was a hammer involved. However, if it was a person, they would have missed the nail they were trying to hit and instead smashed every bone in their own hand.

    It hadn’t been a good start to the morning when he had been awoken early by an aide who had told him that Brigadier Menendez on the Malvinas had reported that Port Stanley airfield had been bombed and put out of action by British carrier-based aircraft. At the time of the report the fires were still burning and it was still dark so Menendez didn’t have an accurate figure for losses in terms of equipment and personnel but he was certain that the airfields runway was so damaged that it would be unusable for the next few days at least. This had meant that the aerial part of Operation Martillo had had to be downgraded from a mass air attack by air force Skyhawks, Daggers and Mirages refuelling on the Malvinas to a mere four Exocet armed Super Etendard’s being refuelled in mid air by the air forces only two KC-130H’s on a long-ranged strike mission. Later in the day when Lombardo had seen the writing on the wall for Operation Martillo he had ordered even this mission scrubbed to preserve what was now Argentina’s remaining offensive capability and now best hope for a desirable outcome.

    Things had picked up later that morning when one of TG 79.1’s S-2 Tracker’s had located a British surface group meaning that the various Argentine units now had a confirmed target to steam towards. The Tracker aircraft had abruptly ceased transmitting not long after this and was assessed to have been shot down by a British Combat Air Patrol. While regrettable this confirmed the presence of at least one of the British aircraft carriers.

    The afternoon was when disaster had unfolded. Just after midday a signal had come in from the destroyer ARA PIEDRABUENA that she had lost contact with the other two ships of her group, her sister ARA HIPOLITO BOUCHARD and the cruiser ARA GENERAL BELGRANO. Attempts by Lombardo’s headquarters to communicate with either ships had been fruitless. The next signal came a little while later and truly stunned Lombardo and the other officers in the room. It stated that Both the BOUCHARD and the BELGRANO had been sunk by a submarine attack.
    It hadn’t been an easy decision but he knew it had been the right one. If there was a British submarine in the area particularly if it was one of their much feared SSN’s then the PIEDRABUENA was sailing into extreme danger. Therefore, rather than attempt to pick up survivors from the other two ships which would most likely result in their number being added to by her own the PIEDRABUENA had been ordered to make best speed west and hopefully away from the lurking threat. Many men in the war room had been visibly distressed at the thought of so many men being effectively abandoned to the mercy of the unforgiving South Atlantic weather.

    Lombardo and his staff had been revaluating the progress of the operation in light of this development and debating whether or not it could proceed when something truly shocking happened. TG 79.4 reported that it was under attack by British ASM equipped Buccaneer aircraft. The ARA GUERRICO and ARA GRANVILLE were reported lost and the ARA DRUMMOND had been hit and burning. Captain Calmon had sent a distress signal trying to impress upon Puerto Belgrano just how dire his situation was and that he desperately needed assistance.

    Lombardo had also been communicating with Rear Admiral Allara aboard the carrier ARA VEINTICINCO DE MAYO both of whom knew what was likely to happen next. Upon their fears being realised Lombardo had decided that the game was up and ordered the relevant signals be sent aborting the whole operation. He had then withdrawn to his office and spent a few moments in quiet contemplation.

    In his mind there was no getting away from the fact that the whole thing was his fault. Both he and his superior Admiral Jorge Anaya had pushed heavily for this operation and convinced the Galtieri and the rest of High Command that despite all the obvious risks a navy led strike against the British fleet was the best course of action. Operation Martillo had been his brainchild and he would bear responsibility for its catastrophic failure with all that that entailed. It was almost he thought as if the wave of enthusiasm and patriotic fervour that had swept the country after the Malvinas had been reclaimed had affected him and his staff and caused them to overlook the fact that they were trying to take on a powerful and well-armed NATO country.
    His mood was not helped later on when a member of his staff reported that there was still no contact with the submarine ARA SAN LUIS which had now missed its several communications window’s and wasn’t responding to signals. Given where her last known position was relative to the detection of the British ships Lombardo got a certain sinking feeling and felt that he knew the likely reason why the submarine was not responding. To be honest after what had happened today would it really make any difference if it, he was right.

    He dreaded to think about all those many hundreds of men adrift and slowly freezing to death in the South Atlantic at that very moment. The problem was he could not do anything to help them. The British were no longer playing by their own rules and were acting completely out of character. They had obviously decided that any and all Argentine warships wherever they were located were now fair game and had certainly shown that they had the ability to “deal with them”. For that reason, Lombardo felt that he could not risk sending any warships (not that he had many of those left now) on a recovery mission and so had his staff trying to get any trawlers, merchantmen and other civilian vessels to search for survivors. Even then he wasn’t sure if the British would let them even do this. The exception to this was the ARA PY which having been part of TG 79.1 was now filled to bursting with survivors from the DE MAYO, HERCULES and TRINIDAD. He didn’t have a casualty estimate but based on the combined total number of men on the stricken vessels and how long it was going to take to reach any survivors Lombardo knew the final butchers bill was going to be easily over a thousand men.
    The politicised nature of the Argentine military meant that the loss of influence and prestige that would result from a defeat of this magnitude would probably hurt the navy almost as much as the actual loss of its ships. Lombardo knew that the junta and Admiral Anaya in particular would use him as a scapegoat to try and save face when the news broke of what had happened. Whatever happened with the rescue operation Lombardo also knew for certain that he would not be the one coordinating it or occupying this office when that got underway.

    Throughout the day he had managed to avoid having to directly speak with anyone in Buenos Aries having instead detailed a staffer to provide the Libertador building regular updates. He was pretty sure that junta as well as this had other sources of information in the war room. He knew what was coming next and the fact that his very life may well depend on what was said and for that reason he was glad that he was still feeling reasonably calm.
    All that changed however when a certain phone on his desk started to ring. There was only one place that would be calling him on that particular phone. As he sat looking at it almost mesmerised, he noticed in the corner of his eye that the sun had set outside. He wasn’t certain that he would see it rise again. He wasn’t sure that he wanted too anymore. If he decided that he didn’t want to see it he knew that he had something in his desk draw that could help with that.
    The choice that he now pondered was whether to answer the ringing phone on his desk or pick up the object in the draw.

    On Monday the 3rd of May the world awoke to the news that a real battle had taken place in the South Atlantic. What had previously been characterized around the world as a music hall melodrama or described as two bald men fighting over a comb had become an actual real life shooting war.
    The political and media worlds awoke to a new reality while the man in the street awoke to a new sense of horror. Nothing quite brings the violence of war alive in the imagination like the loss of a ship (let alone eight of them) and the attendant loss of life.
    In the UK the Prime Minister had called a press conference in the early hours of the morning once it was felt that the battle had been concluded and given a short statement stating that during the previous 24 hours the Task Force had taken action against three groups of Argentine ships that had been threatening British forces. She went on to state that aircraft from the aircraft carrier HMS EAGLE and “one of our submarines” had sunk an estimated total of eight Argentine warships including the aircraft carrier VIENTICINCO DE MAYO and what she described as the battlecruiser GENERAL BELGRANO and that there had been no British casualties.
    After finishing her statement, she took some questions from the assembled reporters. The questions mostly revolved around why this course of action had been and in doing so almost certainly destroyed any hopes for a peace resolution. Her answers were mostly variations of “They were a danger to our ships” and that Britain would not stand by while its territory was invaded and its subjects oppressed under the jackboots of what she called a fascist gang. She ended by saying that the Argentine military junta and any other potential adversary of Britain should take note that their actions would have consequences. One American reporter wrote “The British lion has just roared again”.

    Newspaper editors scrambled to rewrite the next day’s edition as they realised that they now had to include the only story anyone was going to be interested in for the next few days. The events of that night would go down in media history as phones rang in editors and journalist’s homes with messages to get back to the office as soon as was possible and printers were told to immediately stop what they were doing and prepare to receive new presses.

    While TV and radio stations were not affected by such issues and able to start broadcasting special reports almost immediately, they did share one common problem with their colleagues in the newspaper world. Apart from the Prime Ministers statement they didn’t really have much information to go on. A total of 29 members of the media had sailed with the Task Force but had found themselves severely hamstrung in how they could operate. There were two big problems. One was that they had to use the equipment on their respective ships to file reports meaning that they could send text or voice signals but not TV transmissions or even photographs. The other was that anything they did send had to pass through the hands of various military vetting officers who would censor details and had the power to completely cut off a reporter from contact with the outside world.
    There were also no photographs of battle available at the time meaning that most reports resorted to using stock images and footage of the ships involved, particularly HMS EAGLE. More than one editor was embarrassed that instead of HMS EAGLE they had mistakenly published photos of her sister HMS ARK ROYAL which was still in the Tamar awaiting scrapping. Many maps of varying accuracy and artists impressions were produced detailing the course of events based on the limited information available at the time.

    The BBC had been noted up until this point for maintaining what was felt to be a neutral and objective stance on the conflict and continued to do this. One of their reporters Brian Hanrahan was currently imbedded aboard HMS EAGLE and filed a report that would become one of the most enduring and almost iconic images of the conflict. He described his conversation with aircrews who had flown combat sorties that day and responding to the PM’s claim about there being no British losses stated “I’m not allowed to say how many planes joined the raid but I counted them all out and I counted them all back”.

    The Sun had taken a firmly pro war stance and infamously printed an edition with the headline “Gotcha” leading to widespread condemnation. The Sun’s owner Rupert Murdoch notoriously refused to pull the headline leading to accusations that he was revelling in the deaths of so many Argentinians and resulting in a boycott campaign against the Sun.
    By contrast the Daily Mirror had taken a decidedly anti-war stance and described the events as an act of aggression by the British and a brutal way of terminating any hopes for a negotiated settlement and largely dwelled on the likely large loss of life.

    In the House of Common’s, the Prime Minister defended the actions of the Task Force and found that despite some hostile questions and accusations from some of the more left leaning members of the opposition the house was largely supportive and swayed by the argument that if there was to be a war it could not be fought half-heartedly.

    To the man in the street attitudes ranged from support of our boys down south to shock over the loss of life and relief that this hadn’t happened to the Task Force. Many agreed with the argument of necessary evil as news reports all stated that the Argentine ships were believed by the British military commanders to have been moving to attack the Task Force leading to an attitude of “it was us or them”.
    There was something of an almost depressed mood in the towns of Birkenhead and Barrow in Furness where the ARA HERCULES and the ARA VEINTICINO DE MAYO had been built (The latter as HMS VENERABLE). Though they had been flying under an enemy flag many residents who had helped to build the ships felt a certain sense of grief over their destruction.

    In Argentina the news could have only been described as shattering. This was particularly felt in the coastal towns where the families of many of the Argentine sailors lived and especially in Puerto Belgrano Naval Base where the large and empty harbour was now little more than a reminder of those ships that would not be coming back. A mood of misery hung over these places after the news broke. This was made worse by the fact that at this stage there was no way of knowing the status of their loved ones. When days later survivors and recovered bodies had started to return to the mainland and the Malvinas and the process of body counting and identification had gotten underway the mood if anything became even more depressed. Far too many families were given the news they dreaded and even the survivors were initially kept isolated in military barracks as the junta attempted to control the flow of information.

    The Junta had been unsure of how to deal with the news. Their natural instinct had always been to suppress or downplay bad news but how could they keep a catastrophe of this magnitude under wraps particularly when the British were shouting about it constantly. In the end the angle they went for was of an unprovoked British attack on brave (no one could say heroic) Argentine citizen (sounded better than conscripts) sailors who had been protecting the Malvinas.
    Overnight the patriotic euphoria that had been felt since the liberation of the Malvinas had vanished and been replaced by a national mood of shock and horror and a grim assessment of the realities of war.
    The big fear was that despair may turn to anger and that the military government may again find itself endangered. There was a real fear within the government that this disaster may result in an uprising by angry citizens. They were working hard to ensure that when the anger broke it would be directed at the British.

    On top of this they still had to work out how to proceed with the conflict now that the navy had been all but wiped out and now that they were now definitely in a shooting war with the British.
    Even worse the economy had already been in tatters when this had all started and to put it mildly being involved in a war wasn’t exactly helping things on that front.

    Naturally the events of the 2nd of May created a major stir in the diplomatic world. The Argentinian ambassador to the UN who had practically screamed murder about the British recapture of South Georgia and spent the entire day somehow almost incandescent with rage while trying to play for the sympathy card and trying to gather diplomatic allies against the British.
    The sinking of the BELGRANO in particular caused some distress in the USA where she had been built in 1938 and had served in the Second World War as the USS PHOENIX. The US government was upset that two countries that it considered allies in its face off with the Soviet Union were now instead fighting each other. While US public opinion was divided between those who thought that Britain and Argentina should negotiate a settlement and those that thought that the US should back its British ally militarily President Regan felt he had no option but to back his NATO partner not least for the sake of that organisation.
    Many NATO member country leaders had been worried about the possibility of Britain trying to invoke Article 5 which would oblige them to become involved but given what had just happened this now felt this rather less likely.
    The USSR had been keeping a close eye on events in the South Atlantic as this was a rare opportunity to see a NATO power in action. Publicly they took a predictable anti British stance calling them imperialists and implying that Washington was somehow responsible for an “Unprovoked attack on an independent peace loving nation”. Behind closed doors in the military buildings of Moscow however there was considerable unease at just how easily the Royal Navy seemed to have brushed the Argentinians aside.
    Kicking The Hornet's Nest
  • Following the events of the 2nd of May the Task Force did something that victors don’t often do. It withdrew East away from the islands. This raised eyebrows in both Whitehall and Buenos Aries.
    In Northwood Admiral Fieldhouse once again found himself slightly annoyed at having to explain his fleets actions to the war cabinet. Looking at them he thought to himself “They almost think that they personally won the battle down there”. Fortunately, the PM was more than willing to listen to him and didn’t ask too many questions.
    The events of the 2nd had seen HMS EAGLE’s air group operating at almost its maximum tempo and the aircraft themselves were in dire need of maintenance and the aircrews and ships companies needed to be rested. The ships of the Task Force had now been at sea continuously for 4 weeks now in the notoriously harsh operating environment of the South Atlantic in need of some time to carry out some maintenance before any mechanical issues were able to grow into serious problems. In the case of EAGLE, the heavy maintenance workload was the inevitable consequence of an elderly ship that hadn’t exactly been cared for as well as she could have been over the last year or so now being worked flat out in harsh conditions without an end yet in sight. The various ships of the fleet would also need to have their fuel tanks topped up by the RFA auxiliaries, some were in need of replenishment of stocks of food and in the case of the EAGLE, INVINCIBLE and HERMES the aviation fuel tanks needed to be refilled having become depleted due to the intense flying tempo. This would require a replenishment at sea (RAS) which was difficult and dangerous enough at the best of times (and would leave the ships involved in an exposed and vulnerable position while it was underway) and best done somewhere without the risk of enemy interference.

    With the neutralising of the Argentine surface fleet the biggest threat to the Task Force was now from air power. The best protection against this was simple geography. The RAF had produced various intelligence assessments of Argentina’s airpower, in particular the perceived limits of its operating range. This was based on the fact that the Argentines now no longer had an aircraft carrier and an estimate for the amount of time that it would take them to make Port Stanley Airfield serviceable again.
    There was still a question mark over whether or not the Argentine submarine ARA SAN LUIS was still in play but even if she was there was little more that the Task Force could do that they weren’t already doing with regards to that.
    Therefore Vice Admiral Reffell had moved his force East away from the islands and hopefully beyond the reach of the Argentine air force to allow his ships and aircraft to conduct maintenance and allow his staff to prepare for the next phase of Operation CORPORATE. Unless Argentina suddenly decided to throw in the towel and go home British forces would have conduct an amphibious landing and drive them off the islands. However, there were a lot of things that needed to happen before such a landing could even be contemplated. Many of the forces that would be involved in the land campaign including 5th Infantry Brigade hadn’t even left the UK yet but the problems TG 317.8 would have to deal with were more immediate.
    By far and away the biggest of these was what to do about the threat from Argentine airpower.

    This lull in the action came to an explosive end in the very early hours of the 5th of May in what was a very busy night for the Task Force. During the course of the night a total of eight reconnaissance patrols made up of members of G Squadron 22 SAS and the SBS were landed at various points on East Falkland. The SBS patrol was landed from the SSK HMS ONYX while the SAS men were flown in by Sea King helicopters launched from HMS HERMES. This had necessitated the HERMES and her escorts being brought much closer to the islands than any ship had been thus far. Luckily for her the Argentine air force was known to have next to no capability for carrying out combat missions at night.
    Once ashore at specially selected remote landing sites the Special Forces men had begun the long and carefully planned journeys to their Observation Positions spread around the island.
    Their landings had been deliberately timed to coincide with the fact that the Argentine garrison were hopefully distracted that night by something rather more overt.

    A total of three airstrikes were launched from HMS EAGLE targeting the airstrips on the Islands. Port Stanley Airfield was struck by a total of four Buccaneers escorted by a pair of Phantoms. The first aircraft was carrying a pair of ARM Martel’s but had aborted its run after not detecting any radar emissions meaning that the Martel’s had no targets to home in on and so the Buccaneer had returned to the carrier. The next two aircraft were carrying Iron bombs and executed another toss bombing attack that had further scarred the runway and landing field much to the outrage of the airfield personnel who had nearly completed repairs from the previous raid. The fourth aircraft carried cluster munitions which were used to great effect against the parked aircraft and other soft targets on the airfield. This had been the riskiest role as it had necessitated flying straight and level directly over the target. For this reason, the attack run had been timed so that the Argentine defenders would hopefully still be disorientated by the impact of the bombs on the runway and field and hopefully have lost their night vision as a result of the brightness of the fireballs. While overall this mission was judged to have been a success in that it had ensured that the airfield would still be unable to support fast jets there were two interesting observations. While no SAM system had been detected there had been some very intense ground fire. Much more than had been observed on the 2nd (The cluster bomb carrying aircraft had been lucky to get away without even a scratch on the paintwork). Secondly despite the use of cluster munitions fewer secondary explosions than expected had been observed indicating a higher level of dispersion. Evidently someone down there was on the ball and had learned from their previous experience.

    The strikes on the airstrips at Goose Green and Pebble Island each consisted of one ARM equipped Buccaneer and a pair of cluster bomb equipped Buccaneers again escorted by a pair of Phantoms. Both of these were grass strips without concrete runways or other “hard” targets therefore it had been decided that cluster munitions would be more effective. Once again, no air defence radars were detected and so the ARM equipped Buccaneers had aborted their runs returned with their weapons. While some ground fire was encountered at Goose Green leading to one Buccaneer returning with a hole in its wing from a 20mm shell impact all the Buccaneers were able to carry out their bombing runs successfully.

    As the light began to appear over the horizon the various aircraft from the nights sorties began the process of recovering onto HMS EAGLE. Any carrier pilot will tell you that launching at night is not all that much different from launching during the day but recovering at night can be a nerve-racking experience for even the most seasoned pilot. With no alternate landing area within a few thousand miles available and pilots already somewhat fatigued from their missions the sorties had been timed to ensure that the aircraft would have at least some light when they began to land. Despite some missing the arrestor wires on their first attempt and having to go round again all aircraft were successfully recovered.
    While HMS EAGLE had been recovering her aircraft the other carrier in the Task Force HMS INVINCIBLE was in the process of launching hers. As well as the now standard two Sea Harriers for inner CAP another eight Sea Harriers were now launching and heading towards the islands.
    Captain Black was pleased that his ship and its aircraft were now able to play a more active part in this operation. The Sea Harrier and by extension his own ship had been much maligned and even occasionally mocked throughout its short life so far. Many regarded his ship as not a real aircraft carrier and had expressed doubts over its value to force and thought of the Sea Harrier as something of a white elephant. “Well” he thought “Time to put that right”.

    The eight Sea Harriers flew in pairs and had been tasked with conducting reconnaissance passes at different points on the islands.
    While the satellite imagery that the Americans had granted the UK access too had given the intelligence staff a good look at Port Stanley Airfield and had allowed them to identify the Goose Green and Pebble Island airstrips, they hadn’t been much help in ascertaining the positions of Argentine ground forces. Therefore, the Sea Harrier sorties would hopefully be able to identify Argentine troop deployments. This information would be vital to planners working on the “Softening up” missions being prepared.


    Brigadier Ernesto Crespo could most definitely be described as a man under pressure. He had spent most of the morning thus far reading the reports concerning the British air attacks on the Malvinas airfields during the night. The Junta in Buenos Aries had been in panic mode for the last few days. Not because of what the British might do but because of what their own people might do to them. The nation had reacted badly to the news that the navy had been utterly destroyed by the British. No matter what the government had tried to suppress or what spin they had tried to use there was no hiding the utter humiliating catastrophe that had befallen them and frankly the governments rather ham-fisted efforts were probably only going to make things worse.

    The heads of the three services that made up the ruling Junta had over the last few days spent more time fighting each other than the British. Admiral Anaya had managed to keep is position in name only (The navy now existed more as a concept than a reality) and Vice Admiral Lombardo simply wasn’t in the picture anymore.
    Crespo had seen his own status increase exponentially purely because his was now the only command with the ability to strike at the British fleet.
    He was commander of the Southern Airforce and responsible for air operations in and around the Malvinas. There had been something of a reorganisation meaning that many of the functions and assets previously assigned to the South Atlantic Military Theatre under Vice Admiral Lombardo now fell within his sphere of control.
    Right now, the national mood was still one of grief and mourning but that grief was already starting to turn to anger. The Junta knew that if the population felt that there was no way of getting revenge on the British then the government would be the ones on the receiving end of that anger. They had been constantly impressing on Crespo the urgent need for a success of some kind to placate the nation. “Action this day” as it were.
    The problem was that the British simply were not being cooperative. Much to everyone’s surprise having inflicted a crushing defeat against the navy the British had then simply disappeared.
    Another major problem was Crespo’s limited ability to locate them. When the VEINTICINCO DE MAYO had gone down she had taken quite a few aircraft with her. The eight A-4Q Skyhawks of 3rd Naval Air Fighter/Attack Squadron along with their pilots (who had been the only pilots properly trained and skilled in naval strike techniques) was bad enough but all six of the S-2 Trackers from the Naval Air Anti-Submarine Squadron had been lost as well. These aircraft had been the majority of Argentina’s dedicated maritime patrol aircraft leaving only the pair of SP-2H Neptune’s of the Naval Air Exploration Squadron. Even worse the serviceability reports he had regarding these last two aircraft meant that they were not going to be clocking up many flying hours any time soon.
    He still had the Boeing 707’s of First Air Brigade and he could possibly retask some of the C130’s to maritime search but that on its own presented another problem. The downing of the S-2 Tracker on the 2nd and their subsequent actions had shown that the British were now perfectly willing to shoot first and sending large and unarmed aircraft to search (Visually if the C130’s were used) for a British force guarded by supersonic interceptors would be suicidal for the crews.

    He had been liaising with Brigadier Menendez on the Malvinas and also his air attaché Brigadier Castellano. They had concluded that any hope of operating fast jets from Port Stanley had pretty much evaporated as the British had shown themselves perfectly capable of closing it down at will. It would be far too easy to get stuck in an endless cycle of expending great amounts of time and resources repairing the runway only for the British to come and close it down again.
    This limited Castellano to only being able to carry out rotary wing and rough field operations. AFB Condor (Goose Green) and NAS CALDERON (Pebble Island) had also been hit the previous night. These airstrips had been intended to provide support to ground forces in the event of a British landing by staging helicopters and Pucara ground attack aircraft. Unfortunately, thus far 11 of the 24 Pucara’s deployed to the Malvinas had been either destroyed or damaged.
    Resupply was another pressing issue. It was clear that with British submarines freely roaming in the waters around the islands resupply by sea was a non-starter which left only air supply. There were two big issues with this. Firstly, the attacks on the landing strips meant that they were currently unsuitable for a landing meaning that whatever cargo was being transported would have to be fitted with a parachute and pushed out the back of the aircraft which limited this route to a one-way thing. Secondly was the threat from British interceptors. If the British were going to attempt an amphibious landing it made sense that they would attempt to establish air superiority first which would be to the detriment of any Argentine aircraft in the area.

    Without the ability to locate the British at sea Crespo and his staff had concluded that the best option would be to wait until the British actually began their landings and then launch a maximum effort strike against the landing ships. Their reasoning was that they could potentially overwhelm the British CAP through sheer numbers, large lightly armed landing ships and transports would be an easier proposition for his pilots and if a few high casualty hits could be landed against the British then their government might be pressured by their population into giving up. There was also the probability that in order to provide air cover for their landing force the British carriers would be forced to move much closer to the Malvinas and potentially open themselves up for an air strike.
    Brigadier Menendez had agreed to position observation posts at likely landing points around the islands to report any sightings of British ships.
    Some consideration had been given to trying to provide air cover to the islands by flying long distance CAP sorties from the mainland using Mirage III interceptors but this had been ruled out mainly because of the distance involved limiting the time that the aircraft would be able to remain on station making the idea impractical. Brigadier Jorge Hughes was the head of Air Defence command responsible for the defence of the mainland and the Mirages fell under his remit. With the threat from Chile still on everyone’s mind he wasn’t particularly keen on the idea of allocating a significant part of his force for such an endeavour. He’d pointed out that thus far the few sorties against the islands that the British had flown had been either during the night when his pilots were unable to fly or during the early hours of the morning before his Mirages could hope to get to the islands from the mainland.
    The British had also been prolific in their use of anti-radiation missiles. In fact, the previous night as soon as the alarm had been raised the AN/TPS-43 air search radar located in Port Stanley had been immediately shut down to ensure that it couldn’t be targeted by these weapons. If this continued then there would to put it mildly naturally be something of an impact on early warning and air defence environment around the islands.

    While he could understand his reasoning for doing so Crespo personally felt that Lombardo’s decision on the 2nd to abort the Super Etendard sorties was a massive missed opportunity. It would now be down to him to see that those Exocets could be put to good use. On the subject of Exocets one enterprising naval officer had come to him with an interesting idea. One of the very few surviving ships of Operation Martillo ARA PIEDRABUENA was now rapidly steaming back to the safety of harbour and realistically once there would not be able to sortie again due to the risk of submarine attack. He proposed removing the Exocets and flying them out to the Malvinas where they could be deployed ashore as an area denial weapon. While the idea certainly had merit There was still the issue of how to get them there in the first place and whether it was even technically feasible without the French technicians. Still, it would be more worthwhile to pursue this than to have the missiles sat in a port somewhere doing nothing.

    Crespo had just gotten off the phone with the head of the Argentine Air Force and its representative within the Junta Brigadier Lami Dozo. Brigadier Crespo had explained his idea about waiting for the British to begin their landings and hitting them then with everything they had. While Dozo could see the military logic behind doing this and agreed with the reasoning of Crespo’s staff the political situation meant that the plan was currently not viable. There was no telling when the British might land. It could be days or weeks or they may never land and instead just lay siege to the islands. The situation in Buenos Aries meant that the Junta needed some sort of retribution for the navy’s defeat and they needed it now. Crespo would have to strike at the first target that presented itself. When the subject of the lack of maritime search capability was brought up all Dozo could tell Crespo to do was try to make do with what he had and who knows maybe the British would come to him.

    Northwood, 1500

    Once again Admiral Fieldhouse was updating the PM and Defence Secretary. He was explaining that while the strikes on the islands airstrips the previous night had been a success they hadn’t succeeded in their main strategic aim. With the main threat to the success of the operation now coming from Argentina’s air power efforts were now focused on reducing this threat. It had been decided that a good way to sap away at the enemy’s strength in the air would be to draw them into a fight on terms favourable to the Task Force and wear them down through attrition. Vice Admiral Reffell had proposed a plan that revolved around provoking the Argentinians into launching an airstrike against his forces and drawing them into what he had called a “missile trap”. Given that any aircraft launched from the mainland would be operating near the limit of their endurance and probably in limited numbers owing to the Argentine Air Forces extremely limited AAR capability He was pretty confident that his Phantoms and Sea Harriers operating without such handicaps and backed up by his newer Sea Dart equipped air defence destroyers would be able to quickly overwhelm any Argentine strike and claim a few scalps. Problem was the Argentinians hadn’t taken the bait yet.

    Reffell had been of the opinion that perhaps the Argentines needed something a bit more appetizing than a few aircraft heading east towards an assumed location of the Task Force. Therefore, he had proposed tonight sending a formation of ships closer to the islands than anyone had been so far to carry out a shore bombardment of Argentine positions identified along the coast by the Sea Harriers earlier in the day. The ships would naturally have their own dedicated CAP and would hopefully put on enough of a show to draw out the Argentine air force.
    Fieldhouse was at pains to stress to the PM that while he had given the go ahead for this plan there was a significant element of risk for the ships involved but for a landing to be feasible the air threat would have to be neutralised one way or another. He was keen to ensure that the members of the war cabinet didn’t become affected by a premature victory disease resulting from the Task Forces decisive (and loss free) victory on the 2nd.

    If the Argentines still didn’t decide to react then a planning group was currently looking at a number of different operations for neutralising the air threat and in particular the Exocet threat on the ground at an air base in Argentina. This task had already been assigned the name Operation Mikado.

    The First Sea Lord Admiral Henry Leach was later that evening heard to summarise the planned series of operations as “Kicking the hornets’ nest until the little bastards wake up”.
    The Realities of War
  • During the night of the 5th/6th of May the Argentinians on the Falklands once again found themselves playing host to some unwanted guests. Four Buccaneers were launched from HMS EAGLE during the night. This time they flew unescorted. No Argentine fighter opposition had been encountered thus far on previous sorties over the islands and the intelligence staff were adamant that the Argentines didn’t have the capability for night combat flying. Therefore, it had been judged an acceptable risk for the Buccaneers to fly unescorted on this mission. This relieved a significant pressure on the Phantom squadron and if the Argentines reacted as hoped then it had been judged better to conserve the Phantoms and keep the crews fresh for the day ahead. The Buccaneers flew in two pairs towards Argentine ground positions identified by the Sea Harrier sorties the previous day.
    Coming in from the east they launched a combined total of 288 SNEB 68mm rockets at Argentine positions on Mount Harriet and Two Sisters before proceeding to return to the carrier. Some small arms fire was encountered but nothing in the way of SAM’s or heavy AA fire.
    The 4th Infantry regiment occupying these two mountains suffered grievous losses but was in a way more affected by the phycological impact of waking to find themselves on the receiving end of such a barrage. The geology of the mountains had made actually digging in near impossible due to the Argentine troops inability to dig into the bedrock leaving them exposed. Therefore, they had built bunkers and fighting positions from the seemingly inexhaustible supply of loose rock in the area. While these had certainly saved a lot of lives, they had also contributed to the large number of flesh wounds and broken bones when the force of nearby impacts had blown the unsecured rocks that made up a lot of these positions in every direction creating a lethal wall of shrapnel.
    For a few hours after the Buccaneers had departed nothing happened. This caused some on the islands to breathe a sigh of relief thinking that that was it for tonight. They were soon proved premature in their assessment in the early hours of the morning. 6th Infantry regiment who were dug into various positions along the coast to the east and south of Port Stanley and on Stanley Common found themselves under attack. However, this time the more switched on officers and men quickly deduced that this wasn’t another air attack but artillery shelling. Unless the British had already landed without anyone noticing (Very unlikely seeing as the regiment was positioned to defend what were felt to be the most likely landing locations) the shells could only be coming from ships at sea.
    When this information reached the Argentine commanders in Port Stanley a warning order was sent out to all Argentine forces on the Malvinas in case this bombardment was a prelude to an actual landing.
    Though the 6th Infantry Regiment did sustain some casualties as with the unfortunate men of the 4th Regiment the effect was again mainly psychological.
    The young conscript soldiers who made up the bulk of these units mostly hailed from the warmer and more arid parts of Argentina. Many of them had never really been cold before and had rarely experienced rain. They had now spent many weeks living outdoors in fox holes and had been really suffering at the hands of what to them was a strange barren, cold, drenched and windswept land. The generally poor quality and quantity of the average Private’s cold weather gear meant that some had started to develop frostbite and trench foot among other things. Until now the conscripts had been more concerned with avoiding the wrath of their NCO’s and officers more than anything. In the Argentine armed forces of the time the officers often owed their positions more to their political connections than leadership ability and the NCO’s were often conscripts who had stayed in the army simply because they lacked the necessary skills or personal qualities to make a living in the civilian world. These factors had resulted in a leadership style across the army that to in a western military would most likely see the individual quickly removed from any position of leadership. Physical assault was viewed as an acceptable form of discipline and a common punishment was for the offender to be staked out on the ground exposed to the elements. In some of the more outlying positions simple geography and to a degree a lack of care within the logistics organisation meant that it wasn’t unknown for men to go hungry.

    All of these factors combined resulted in a severe drop in morale and now the men along the coast found themselves cowering in their partially flooded fighting positions waiting for this latest nightmare to end. At least an air attack is over quickly but even though it lasted for less than 20 minutes, to the men on the receiving end of the naval bombardment every minute felt like an hour and they all knew that they could not fight back against this. All they could do was press themselves as low to the waterlogged ground as they could and ride it out while praying that there wasn’t a shell with their name on it.

    One of the Argentine costal observation positions further to the North that wasn’t under fire had based on the frequency and number of artillery impacts and faint flashes on the horizon out to sea estimated that there were at least two British warships within 25km of the coast. As the sun began to peek over the horizon, they began to very faintly make out the silhouettes of the ships. This Information had been passed on to Brigadier Menendez in Port Stanley who had passed it on to Buenos Aries when he had reported in the night’s events.


    Brigadier Crespo was fast learning that the first casualty in war is usually sleep. Once again, his hopes for an uninterrupted night’s sleep had been dashed when an aide had awoken him with a report of an air attack on the Malvinas. Later the reports of the naval bombardment had come in and that was when things had started to kick off as it were.
    He had received a phone call from Brigadier Dozo in Buenos Aries ordering him to prepare a strike against the British Ships. No one in mainland Argentina really thought that an invasion was imminent as they expected that if and when one came it would be preceded by a much larger naval and aerial bombardment. However, the junta still desperately needed some success against the British to try and pacify an increasingly restless population and the British had been good enough to finally provide them with a confirmed target. That was what was worrying Crespo. He already had a plan in place and aircraft held at readiness for this kind of eventuality and probably could pull something off but there was something not right about this. The British must have worked out by now that they were safe from air attack during the dark and that their best defence was keeping a big enough distance between themselves and the mainland. Therefore it did not make any sense that having completed their bombardment the British ships had been hanging around for a while until it was light enough that they would have been aware that they were clearly visible from the shore and were apparently only now heading back out to sea.
    Being an airman, he wasn’t quite sure what the naval logic in doing this might be so he had spent a good while analysing the information he had with his naval liaison (a “survivor” from Vice Admiral Lombardo’s staff). The naval officer had concluded that there was no clear reason why the British would do this when they could have so easily slipped away in the darkness. There were in his opinion two possibilities. One, that the British were so confident in their ability to protect themselves and had such a low estimation of Crespo’s forces ability to threaten them that they simply didn’t feel the need to withdraw with any urgency. Given how effortlessly they had destroyed the navy it was perfectly possible that the British would be feeling overconfident but this would be overconfidence to the point of serious negligence.
    Two, that they wanted the Argentinians to see them. Either to intimidate them or possibly even as a come on.
    It was this last possibility that was worrying Crespo and his staff. No competent commander (The British commanders had thus far certainly shown themselves to be extremely competent) would expose his command to any kind of avoidable danger unless he was trying to achieve something. It all just seemed too convenient that the British ships were hanging around just long enough for his aircraft to be able to get at them. Crespo was pretty much certain that they had to be acting as bait to lure his aircraft into something. His aircraft would be operating at nearly the limit of their endurance to be able to pull this off and the British carriers could be anywhere (Though if they were as close as Crespo feared this could in itself present an opportunity) meaning that their Phantoms probably would not be constrained by such issues.

    With only minutes to go before the first aircraft were due to start taxiing to the runways Crespo had phoned Brigadier Dozo in Buenos Aries and recommended that the strike be called off. He explained that he thought the British were trying to lure his aircraft into an ambush but he ended up feeling that Dozo wasn’t really listening.
    Dozo explained that what was important right now was to inflict some kind of loss on the British. The Junta had been worried for days now about the possibility of some kind of uprising and desperately needed a victory in what had thus far been a very one-sided conflict. To a degree they were hoping that if they could inflict a large loss of life on the British fleet then they would shake the confidence of the British and maybe make them think twice about bringing ships so close to the shore. Yes, there would most likely be losses amongst Argentina’s airmen but that was war and the imperativeness of destroying the British ships before they disappeared overrode these concerns. Besides from a political point of view after the loss of nine vessels and over a thousand sailors not yet a week ago would a few aircraft losses really matter that much to the people?
    When Crespo tried to argue Dozo (whose military judgment in Crespo’s opinion was becoming clouded by the political considerations of his position) reminded him of what had happened to Lombardo.

    The first aircraft to take off was the ELINT equipped Boeing 707 of 1st Air Brigade which launched from Ezezia International Airport just outside Buenos Aries. With the danger of intercept by British fighters having been demonstrated on the 2nd it was considered too dangerous for such large aircraft to approach the potential location of British forces. Therefore, this aircraft would fly in a racetrack pattern in an area to the North West of the islands and provide intelligence based on radar emission intercepts. It wasn’t ideal by any stretch of the imagination but with the recent loss of most of Argentina’s maritime patrol aircraft it was all they could manage. Still, it was better than nothing.
    Puerto San Julian Airfields 6th Air Brigade would be launching eight Dagger interceptors. These aircraft were tasked with dealing with the expected British CAP or at the very least drawing them away from the British ships to give the following Skyhawks a clearer run. The Dagger’s would be operating at very nearly the limit of their range during their sorties and so would approach the Malvinas flying at a higher altitude partially for fuel economy but also in the hopes that they would be more visible which would aid their mission to draw away British interceptors.
    The Dagger’s would be followed by a total of twelve A4-C Skyhawks belonging to 4th Air Brigade also operating out of Puerto San Julian Airfield. These aircraft were partially the reason why the launch of the whole operation was being hurried. Like the Mirages these aircraft would be at the limit of their range when they were expected to intercept the British ships and any delay could easily allow the British to slip beyond the range of the Skyhawks. These aircraft would fly over the islands at low level and approach over the sea at as lower altitude as possible. It was hoped that the British radar operators and missile seeker heads would find it difficult to pick out the aircraft against a background of radar clutter from the mountains and sea.
    The final part of the operation was the pair of Super Etendard’s that would be launching from NAS Almirante Quijada and would each be carrying an Exocet missile. These aircraft unlike their air force counterparts had been allocated the services of the single currently available KC-130. Due to the geography of where these aircraft were located (The Super Etendard’s were launching from the Southern part of the country while the KC-130 was based at Comodoro Rivadavia AFB a few hundred miles to the North) the AAR would have to take place only after the Super Etendard’s had completed their mission. These aircraft were tasked to search for and prosecute any targets of opportunity to the east of the ships already targeted taking advantage of the longer range provided by their Exocets. If it became necessary, they would use their weapons to support the Skyhawks.

    HMS GLASGOW Operations Room, 1000

    Captain Hoddinott was a now very concerned man. Part of him had hoped that his mission would be a failure but the signal in his hand had dashed those hopes. He was leading a force consisting of his own Type 42 Destroyer HMS GLASGOW, the Type 22 frigate HMS BROADSWORD and the TYPE 21 Frigate HMS ALACRICITY. Their mission to carry out a bombardment of Argentine positions ashore had been completed and his force was now retiring east towards the Task Force at his forces maximum speed of 30 knots. Hoddinott wasn’t sure how successful the bombardment had actually been. Although he knew that Special Forces teams were now on the islands none had been available to provide any kind of artillery spotting support. Between them HMS GLASGOW and HMS ALACRICITY had fired nearly 50 4.5 inch shells and he was certain that with that many at least one of them must have hit something worth hitting. However, he hadn’t been ordered to bring his ship that close to shore just to put on a very expensive fireworks display. The whole reason why the task force commander Vice Admiral Reffell had ordered him to carry out this op was to draw out Argentine aircraft so they could be engaged on terms favourable to the Task Force as part of a longer term strategy of sapping the strength of the Argentine military before 3 Commando Brigade could land ashore. To this end the fire missions had been timed to take place just before dawn and afterwards his ships had remained in a box close enough to the Falklands to be just about visible from shore. Fortunately, his fears regarding Argentine artillery units ashore hadn’t come to fruition. Unfortunately, his fears that the Argentines would actually respond to his deliberate provocation had.

    The signal in his hand was from Northwood stating that the SSN HMS SPARTAN positioned off the coast of the Argentine mainland (Her exact position was naturally not something he was felt to have any business knowing) had reported multiple jet aircraft flying east towards the Falkland Islands.
    The ships of his force were in line abreast formation with his own GLASGOW in the centre, HMS BROADSWORD to port and HMS ALACRICITY to starboard both at a distance of just under 1nm. HMS GLASGOW with her long range air search radar and Sea Dart missiles would be providing area defence while HMS BROADSWORD’s shorter range Sea Wolf missiles would be providing point defence. The weak link was the TYPE 21 Frigate HMS ALACRICITY. She had been brought along to provide the services of her 4.5 inch gun for the shore bombardment. The problem was in terms of air defence her only defence was the short range and sub sonic Sea Cat missile system which was pretty much obsolete.
    Vice Admiral Reffell hadn’t wanted to remove any more of the Sea Dart or Sea Wolf equipped ships from the defence of the Carriers in case the worst should happen.

    His force wasn’t not alone however. A pair of Phantoms from HMS EAGLE had been allocated to his control for fighter support and had just come on station. Further to the East were a second pair of Phantoms providing outer CAP screening for the carriers which would if it became necessary be redirected to provide further cover to his group. There was also a third pair of Phantoms in the air on inner CAP station which would move to outer CAP if required and a fourth pair on the flight deck at Alert 5 status. HMS INVINCIBLE also had a pair of Sea Harrier’s in the air also on CAP station and another pair on deck at Alert 5.
    As well as the normal Gannet AEW aircraft providing early warning to the carriers a second Gannet was airborne and tasked to provide early warning to Hoddinott’s group.
    Though he was certain that this force would be able to give the Argentinians something to think about he could not get the thought out of his head that what was happening might turn into a replay of the battle that had taken place only a few days before but with the roles reversed. The worrying thing about that was that the Buccaneer’s had made it look so easy!

    With the air threat warning now red the radar operators in the operations room and on the Gannet were ordered to keep a good look out on a bearing to the west of the force. The ship had been at action stations all night but Captain Hoddinott had allowed this posture to be relaxed ever so slightly to try and stave off crew fatigue. But now the general alarm was again sounded and the crew warned to expect to receive an air attack imminently. Anti flash hoods which had been relaxed were now ordered to be pulled up again.

    As the Daggers flew over the Malvinas the pilots got their first glimpse of the land they were fighting to protect. They didn’t really have time for anything more than a fleeting glimpse however as another update came in from the ELINT Boeing 707. It had reported detecting radar emissions consistent with the TYPE 965 air search radar known to be carried on British (and until very recently Argentinian) destroyers and possible emissions from an AN/APS-20 air search radar known to be carried on British AEW aircraft. If the 707 was detecting radar emissions that far away the flight leader thought then the British most likely knew about his flight of Daggers.
    With his endurance limited by the lack of AAR capability his aircraft would not be able to engage in air combat manoeuvring otherwise they wouldn’t have the fuel to make it back home. In fact, as soon as the aircraft had cleared the coast the flight leader had begun a stopwatch. As soon as it reached 10 minutes, he would have to call bingo fuel and turn for home. His plan was to launch a barrage of infrared Shafrir-2 air to air missiles as soon as targets had been identified. He gave the order for his aircraft to switch on their radars to locate such a target.

    The Argentine Daggers had indeed been spotted by the Gannet AEW aircraft but were still just too far away to show up on the screens of the operators aboard HMS GLASGOW. All the same the Gannet had taken operational control of the pair of Phantoms and guided them to an intercept. The Observers in the rear seats of the Phantoms had identified eight contacts ahead of them and proceeded to launch Skyflash air to air missiles at a distance of 42km just under their maximum range. The Shfrir-2’s carried by the Daggers only had a range of 5km and so could not reply. The result was predictable with six of the Daggers being shot out of the sky and the others running for home while the Phantoms gave chase. They broke off rather than fly over the islands and potentially expose themselves to any Argentine SAM’s or be drawn to far away from their main objective of providing local air defence. Though the Daggers had taken heavy losses the three two had succeeded in temporarily drawing the Phantoms away from the British ships.

    Many commentators and scholars would later ask why the air force had employed Daggers when the Mirage’s with their more advanced weapons and countermeasures would have had more of a chance of survival and of bringing down the Phantoms. The answer was mostly based on the Daggers availability for this short notice operation and that the Mirages would also have been handicapped by their shorter range. It would later emerge that the Mirage’s were at this stage being held back to protect the mainland from the increasingly feared possibility of Chilean aggression or if the British suddenly became extremely bold.

    The A-4C Skyhawks that came next had divided themselves into three flights of four aircraft each and came in from different angles (all still generally from the west though) at low level visually scanning for their targets. While none of their occupants had ever seen action before the aircraft themselves certainly had. They were second hand American aircraft and many had flown combat sorties during the Vietnam war. The plan to use the radar clutter from the sea and shore worked and it wasn’t until they were flying over water that the Gannet was able to detect them. Even with the information from the Gannet the Type 965 radar operators on HMS GLASGOW struggled to identify them against the backdrop of radar clutter.

    The Phantoms that had been on outer CAP for the carriers had been instructed to move west to provide fighter cover to the GLASGOW group when the original pair had moved off to engage the Daggers. This new pair of Phantoms now engaged their afterburners in an attempt to intercept the incoming Skyhawks being directed towards the southernmost group. Like the those onboard the ships and Gannets the observers in the rear seats of the Phantoms struggled to pick out the radar signature of the Skyhawks against the sea clutter.
    Unable to achieve a lock on for their Skyflash missiles the Phantoms rapidly lowered their altitude in the hopes that the new angle of attack relative to their targets and the sea would place the Skyhawks above the horizon and give the radars an easier job. By this point the two groups of aircraft were now hurtling towards each other head on at nearly supersonic speeds. With the distance rapidly closing the Phantoms elected to use their AIM-9L Sidewinder missiles that one of the crews had witnessed being delivered by the Americans when they had been forced to make an emergency landing on Ascension Island a few weeks ago.
    The AIM-9L was the first “All Aspect” version of the missile meaning that it could engage a target from any angle unlike the older missiles that the RN aircrews were used to that had to be fired from behind the target. Though they had been able to do a bit of ad hoc training for conducting head on missile attacks during the transit south from the UK this was the first actual firing of this newer model of the Sidewinder for the RN and the results were impressive. Whereas previous models of the Sidewinder had only had a hit rate of 15% out of the total of four missiles fired three found their mark. The fourth aircraft now alone and without having found a target jettisoned its bombload and keeping as low as possible (The pilot would later claim that he was low enough that his vision was affected by sea spray) made for home. The Argentine Skyhawks when made aware by their ECM panels that they had been locked up had been completely unable to respond. The only Skyhawks in Argentina with air to air capability had been those that were configured to carry the AIM-9B Sidewinders. Unfortunately, these Skyhawks had been the navy’s A-4Q’s that had all been lost when their carrier had been destroyed on the 2nd. The air force Skyhawks were only able to carry air to ground weapons.

    The pair of Phantoms that had intercepted the Daggers now found themselves redirected to intercept the central flight of Skyhawks from astern. The Phantom crews were in a way excited. If they could bring down these Skyhawks then not only would they be the first British flying aces since the Second World War but would also have obtained that most revered of titles “Ace in a day”.
    Having expended their compliment of Skyflash’s against the Daggers they were forced to use afterburners to close with the subsonic Skyhawks. Having had to close to a distance of just under 10km the Phantoms launched four Sidewinders. The IR seeker heads on the missiles this time had a much easier time of identifying their targets from the heat signature of the jet exhausts. Despite again being warned that they were under attack and jettisoning their ordinance to give them an extra turn of speed the Lima version of the Sidewinder proved its worth. The Phantom crews had in the space of less than 30 minutes earned themselves a place in FAA history.

    The third and final group of Skyhawks was the northern most group. HMS GLASGOW was maintaining intermittent radar contact with them while still struggling with the clutter caused by the land backdrop. Gathered around the Type 992 target indication radar plot with his PWO’s and AWO (Air Warfare Officer) it was clear to Hoddinott that there wasn’t going to be time for an intercept of these incoming hostiles before they would be on top of his group. Therefore, it would be down to the ships own weapon systems to protect them. In rapid succession he gave orders for the Phantoms and the Gannet to be kept clear of the area in order to give his missiles an unrestricted field of fire, ordered the ships of his group to make a 90 degree turn to the north to allow HMS GLASGOW and HMS BROADSWORD to bring their missiles to bear and for the upper deck weapons crews to be ready to engage targets to port.

    As the Skyhawks closed to approximately 35 km GLASGOW launched a pair of Sea Dart missiles. The Sea Dart was a semi active missile that had to be guided to its target by its target by an operator on its launch platform and would only activate its own seeker head for the final phase of its flight. Unfortunately, this system had been designed to engage soviet bombers flying at medium to high altitude and not small sea skimming fast jets. The Type 909 fire control radars like the Type 992 had trouble distinguishing the aircraft from the background radar clutter meaning that the Sea Darts unable to achieve a lock on passed over the top of the Skyhawks. With the Skyhawks now closing to 10km HMS GLASGOW had not yet completed the process of reloading her Sea Dart launcher and so HMS BROADSWORD launched a salvo of four missiles from her forward Sea Wolf launcher achieving two hits. The upper deck weapons crews on all three of the ships now able to visually spot the incoming aircraft now opened fire along with the 4.5 inch guns on the GLASGOW and ALACRITY which started firing AA shells. HMS BROADSWORD and HMS ALACRITY each found themselves the target of a Skyhawk. As the aircraft approached, they opened fire with their 20mm cannons impacting the ships hulls and superstructure causing some minor damage.
    The Argentine air force had never seriously thought that they would have ever been called upon to conduct maritime strikes and so had never actually trained for it. When the crisis began the naval Skyhawk pilots who were trained in this role had begun a crash course for their air force brethren which had given them a basic idea of how to conduct such a strike but little else. Unfortunately, the Naval Pilots and their Skyhawks had all been lost only a few days ago meaning that Argentina’s maritime air strike capability had plummeted.
    This showed when the Skyhawk pilot targeting HMS BROADSWORD still inexperienced in engaging moving and shooting targets at sea released his ordinance a fraction of a second too late. This resulted in the bombs passing just astern of the ship with crewmen onboard the ship witnessing one weapon passing just feet over the flight deck before impacting the water to starboard.
    HMS ALACRICTY was less fortunate and was impacted by one bomb on the port side just above the waterline slightly astern of amidships. The bomb however did not explode and smashed it’s way through the ship and out of the other side creating another hull breach on the starboard side. The Argentine weapons had been set up with a delayed reaction fuse to allow them to penetrate into a ship before detonating. While this had worked well in the Second World War against the heavily armoured ships of the time when used against a modern thinner skinned ship the weapon had simply passed through it without impacting anything heavy enough to stop the bomb and cause a detonation.
    Commander Craig was now forced to order a reduction in speed to reduce the sea spray generated by his ship while damage control teams raced to conduct leak stopping and prevent the ship from being flooded by the two significant hull breaches. While HMS ALACRICTY had had a lucky escape, she was by no stretch of the imagination out of danger yet.

    While the Skyhawks and Daggers had been engaging the British the two Exocet equipped Super Etendard’s had been to the south searching for any other British ships. They flew low hoping to stay underneath any British radars. Having the benefit of being allocated the services of the KC-130 they had the fuel to conduct a bit of searching. Occasionally they would “pop up” to see if their ESM suites detected any British radar emissions and to do a quick surface scan with their AGAVE radars. So far, they had detected strong emissions to the North which they assessed was the British surface force that the Skyhawks had been sent to attack and fainter emission to the east north east which could potentially be the British carrier group or ships screening for it.
    Listening in on the radio communications from the surviving Skyhawks and Daggers it became apparent that they had been unable to complete their objective and seemed to have taken some losses. The Super Etendard’s pilots’ orders in this eventuality was to rather than seek out the British carriers move instead to finish the job that the air force hadn’t been able to do. Inwardly the pilots breathed a sigh of relief. They knew that the British carriers would likely have been very heavily protected meaning that even if their missiles both claimed a scalp, they would have been much less likely to survive the experience.
    Flying north at just 50 feet above the waves the two aircraft were able to avoid detection through a combination of being able to stay below the radar for the majority of their approach and through the operators on the ships struggling with information overload as they attempted to deal with the Skyhawk attacks and not having much spare capacity to keep an eye out for a threat coming at them from a completely different direction. In fact, this allowed the Super Etendard’s to come within a distance of 20 miles before they rose up to 120 feet to conduct another AGAVE sweep. Upon seeing three large white blips on their radar screens both aircraft launched their Exocet missiles. One missile dropped straight into the sea as a result of the only partially trained Argentine ground crews being unable to properly integrate it with the aircraft after the French technicians had departed. The other missile flew straight and true while the Super Etendard’s turned away for their rendezvous with the KC-130 and home.

    Onboard HMS GLASGOW the electronic warfare specialists suddenly blew his whistle to get everyone’s attention and shouted out that the ship was being scanned by an AGAVE radar associated with the Exocet missile. Captain Hoddinott realised to his horror that the missile would be approaching him from astern. His Sea Dart missile system was located forward of the superstructure and had a large blind arc astern. HMS BROADSWORD had a stern mounted Sea Wolf point defence missile launcher but she was located ahead in the formation meaning that her shot would be blocked by HMS GLASGOW. HMS ALACRITY still struggling to deal with the damage from the Skyhawks would be almost completely unable to defend herself.
    Captain Hoddinott’s next move has been the subject of much scrutiny over the years. He ordered his ship to turn to port in order to give his own Sea Dart a chance of being able to engage the incoming threat (The Type 909 radars were still unable to pick out the small and fast moving missiles) and to give the Sea Wolf on HMS BROADSWORD a clear field of fire. However, in doing this he presented his broadside to the threat and created a much larger radar signature. While chaff was launched it was later deduced that this had happened a few seconds too late to allow the chaff to spread and create a large radar return and that the Exocet had likely already locked on to HMS Glasgow by that point.

    The Exocet struck HMS GLASGOW on the port side amidships on 2 deck with the warhead detonating upon impact. The resulting fireball caused significant casualties to the men on the port upper decks. Within the ship though the spread of the fireball had been to a degree limited by the compartmentalised nature of the ship and the fact that all of the hatches were already locked down. A major fire still broke out and began to spread rapidly. Burning PVC cable coverings and foam cushions along with other things created a thick cloud of toxic black smoke that spread around the ship before the ventilation system could be shut down which began to incapacitate many men. The impact of the missile had knocked out both of the main generators in the engine room and in a cruel twist of fate the emergency generator further forward in the ship had been stripped down in the process of undergoing maintenance which had been put on hold when the orders to carry out a shore bombardment had come in the previous day. This left the burning GLASGOW completely without power. Without power there was no way to ventilate the ship meaning that the firefighting parties were having to navigate their way around the ship by torchlight and often found themselves unable to actually reach the fiercely burning fires due to the thick toxic clouds of smoke that they were generating which now had nowhere to go. The ships personal firefighting equipment proved itself to be lacking in both quality and more disastrously quantity.
    With HMS ALACRITY still crippled by her own damage control issues HMS BROADSWORD began to manoeuvre to a position alongside the burning GLASGOW in the hopes of providing some external firefighting support. Despite BROADSWORDS firefighting hoses attempting to douse the flames from the outside and her Lynx helicopter flying nearly her entire stock of breathing apparatus and other firefighting equipment over to GLASGOW while transferring off some of the wounded it just wasn’t enough. In places the decks were becoming so hot that the soles on the men’s boots were beginning to melt. Worse the manmade fibres in the men’s shirts and trousers often melted in the heat sticking to the skin and hideously disfiguring many of the survivors.
    Having moved to the now torchlit damage control centre in HQ1 Captain Hoddinott found himself in an increasingly impossible predicament. In places the bulk heads were beginning to glow white hot causing combustibles in the adjacent compartments to burst into flames and forcing his fire fighters back again and again. There simply wasn’t enough firefighting equipment and in particular breathing apparatus to equip sufficient men and even if there were between the casualties sustained and the men being used to evacuate the wounded to the upper decks where they could be taken off by helicopters he didn’t have enough men left to fight such a large fire. With the fire gradually making its way towards the Sea Dart and 4.5 inch magazines forward and his apparent inability to stop it Hoddinott felt that he had no choice. With a heavy heart he gave the order to abandon ship.
    By this point most of the wounded (and there were not a small number of them) had been evacuated by helicopter to the medical facilities aboard HMS HERMES so most of the crew packed themselves into inflatable life rafts and were picked up by HMS BROADSWORD and helicopters sent from the Task Force. To the surprise of many HMS GLASGOW did not explode nor did she immediately sink. She continued to burn for nearly another 24 hours before she was finally overcome by rough weather a few days later and sank after taking on water through her gigantic hull breach amidships.

    In Britain the battle of the 2nd of May had brought home the realities of war but now the news of the loss of HMS GLASGOW along with 40 of her crew hammered home the consequences of war.
    The news of the first loss of a British warship in battle since the Second World War came as a terrible shock to the country which like Argentina experienced first a sense of bereavement then as desire for answers.
    As the Task force had sailed from Britain the PM had been proclaimed “Defeat? The possibility does not exist” yet here was a chilling demonstration of what was possible the age of missile warfare.
    The news broke in a statement delivered by the MOD’s Chief of Public Relations Ian McDonald. His slow, deliberate and measured delivery of this statement and others meant that for many he became the voice of the Falklands conflict. He stated that British warships had come under air attack earlier during the day and despite having brought down 15 enemy aircraft (The government went to great lengths to emphasis this) the destroyer HMS GLASGOW had had to be abandoned after being struck by an Exocet missile and that next of kin were being informed. This last part caused some upset as families either had near heart attacks whenever the doorbell or phone rang or harassed the MOD demanding to know if their sons or husbands were amongst the casualties. After this it was decided that in any future mass casualty events no public announcement would be made until the next of kin had been informed.
    In later weeks photographs and footage found its way back to Britain of the burning HMS GLASGOW and of interviews with Royal Marines aboard HMS HERMES who had been helping to unload burned men from helicopters and rush them down to sickbay. Some of these marines who normally had a mocking and dismissive attitude towards their navy counterparts were visibly shocked by what they had seen and this was captured in photographs.

    In Whitehall Admiral Lewin found himself having to fend off a near interrogation from members of the war cabinet. These politicians he thought couldn’t quite grasp the military logic and implications behind what had happened and seemed to unable to see past the newspaper headlines. He had called a meeting here in Whitehall partly to keep them all away from Admiral Fieldhouse in Northwood so they could not interfere with the recovery efforts. They were asking why had Admiral Reffell deliberately provoked the Argentinians? Why had the ships seemingly been left exposed making it easy for them? Was this seemingly deliberate sacrifice of British lives worth it?
    Lewin brought them up to date on the situation of the ships involved. HMS GLASGOW was abandoned but still burning and clearly beyond recovery. HMS ALACRITY had stopped her flooding but the damage caused by the bomb smashing its way through the ship had left her unable to take any further part in the operation and so she would be heading for home.
    He reminded the assembled members that they had all been aware of the risks at the start of this operation and that the GLASGOW group had been successful in drawing out the Argentine air force. In his opinion overall, the operation was a success as it had resulted in the destruction of 15 Argentine aircraft and so had completed its objective of sapping Argentine strength. He then proceeded to outline the Task Forces next move.
    Tonight, the Task Force would be carrying out more Buccaneer raids and he wanted another surface group to carry out a shore bombardment (This time withdrawing immediately under the cover of darkness) in order to demonstrate to the Argentinians and to the world that British resolve had not been shaken. Or so he hoped.

    In Argentina the Juntas propaganda machine went into overdrive. The sinking of a British destroyer somehow became the driving off of an invasion force. In the streets of Buenos Aries, the anger for now had subsided and become jubilation. Argentina could fight back. Many artists impressions would be produced of often extremely dubious quality. In one notorious incident not only did a newspaper claim that the aircraft carrier HMS EAGLE was the ship that had been sunk but the photograph claiming to depict the burning EAGLE was actually a recycled image from the Second World War of the American aircraft carrier USS HORNET.
    No mention was made of the Argentine aircraft losses. As far as the public was concerned the only aircraft on the mission had been the Exocet carrying Super Etendard’s. The military however knew better.
    Brigadier Crespo was utterly appalled at what had happened. Out of three ships his pilots had only been able to sink one and in doing so they had suffered a near 75% loss rate. Upon being made aware of this he had immediately telephoned his superior Brigadier Dozo in Buenos Aries and reiterated his position that deploying their aircraft against the British in piecemeal fashion was the quickest way to lose them. Understandably Dozo now seemed to share his opinion that what they had left would be better preserved for a mass attack against the British landing if and when it came.
    Afterwards a chilling thought crossed Crespo’s mind. Given what they had just learned about the British air defence capability whether or not his pilots were successful in destroying the British landing fleet when it came given the loss rates he had just suffered even if it became a victory for Argentina there probably wouldn’t be an air force left to see the fruits of it.

    One unusual place where the impact of the Falklands conflict was being felt was Australia. The Royal Australian Navy’s single aircraft carrier HMAS MELBOURNE had been due for replacement by the purchase of the British built HMS INVINCIBLE which was now involved in the conflict. HMAS MELBOURNE had been due to begin a refit but this had been postponed the previous year when the British had offered the INVINCIBLE to Australia and she was now sat in dock at Garden Island facing an uncertain future. The very expensive question was would HMS INVINCIBLE survive the conflict and if so, would the British still be willing to sell her. Many had been arguing that the MELBOURNE should be reactivated until this question could be adequately answered.
    The MELBOURNE was a Second World War vintage British built ship formerly known as HMS MAJESTIC and being her half sister was in many ways identical to the ill fated ARA VEINTICINCO DE MAYO. Like the DE MAYO her air group was also made up of A-4 Skyhawks and S-2 Trackers.
    The destruction of the DE MAYO group had come as a horrifying shock to the RAN as it instantly showed up just how vulnerable their own flagship would be. RAN officers walking around the MELBOURNE shuddered to think what it must have been like for the Argentine crew aboard the nearly identical DE MAYO as the ship burned and sank.
    A debate was now raging over whether when compared to supersonic jet operating fleet carriers would INVINCIBLE and her Sea Harriers really be that much more survivable than the MELBOURNE and was she going to be worth the money?
    Some argued that they should look to acquire something more capable and some that the RAN should invest more in air defence ships.
    Many argued that small carriers were proving of little value in a modern war. Already an idea was beginning to take hold in naval circles around the world that light aircraft carriers were little more than an expensive way of getting a lot of men killed. The RAAF wanted the purchase of INVINCIBLE cancelled and the money instead spent on a larger fleet of the new F/A-18 Hornets being purchased from the US. Some argued that rather than a carrier INVINCIBLE should be instead operated as an LPH with some Harriers for Close Air Support.
    Some argued that a replacement for HMAS MELBOURNE was unaffordable anyway and should be cancelled. The debate raged on.
    What had been made abundantly clear was that whatever (if any) replacement was procured the RAN’s A-4G Skyhawks had had their day. Quietly an approach was made to the RNZAF to see if they would be interested in acquiring some second hand Skyhawks.
    Taking Care of Last Minute Details
  • True to Admiral Lewin’s word on the night of the 6th/7th of May Argentine forces on the Falklands found themselves subjected to what one newspaper reporter described “Britain’s revenge”. That particular report was accompanied by a photograph of an aircraft handler onboard HMS INVINCIBLE writing the words “Glasgow kiss” on the side of a BL755 Cluster Bomb while it was waiting to be loaded onto a Sea Harrier.
    During the course of the night eight Buccaneer sorties were launched targeting the three airfields on the Falklands. While the damage to these facilities in terms of the number of aircraft and quantity of equipment destroyed was limited when compared to the previous raids the damage to the runway at Port Stanley caused by the 1000lb bombs further drove home the message to the Argentine defenders that this airfield was not open for business.
    Concurrently a second naval bombardment similar to the one the night before was taking place. HMS SHEFFIELD accompanied by HMS GLAMORGAN and returning another appearance HMS BROADSWORD again shelled the unfortunate men of the 6th Infantry Regiment dug in along the coast near Stanley Common. As with the previous night the main objective of the British force was less about inflicting casualties among the Argentine defenders (although some naturally were inflicted) but this time to make a point that the British were undeterred by the destruction of HMS GLASGOW the Argentine were still vulnerable to attack from naval guns.
    Unlike the previous night the bombardment was carried out much earlier in order to make maximum use of the cover provided by the darkness and once complete the ships retired east at maximum speed towards relative safety of the carrier group.
    The now abandoned but still afloat HMS GLASGOW to the surprise of many hadn’t exploded and continued to burn fiercely enough that observers ashore could clearly make out an orange glow coming from just over the horizon. The news that it was a burning British ship provided a much needed morale boost to the wet and cold Argentine conscripts.
    Just after dawn the Sea Harriers made another appearance with a total of eight aircraft carrying out sorties over the islands. Four of these aircraft flew photo reconnaissance missions while the other four attacked Argentine positions identified on Mount Longdon and Wireless Ridge. Two of these aircraft each dropped a pair of BL755 cluster bombs while the other two equipped with AIM-9L Sidewinders provided top cover. This time it was the turn of the 7th Infantry Regiment to suffer. Like their comrades in the 4th Infantry Regiment on Mount Harriet and Two Sisters the extremely rocky nature of the terrain meant that they had been unable to properly dig themselves into their positions and as with the previous night they suffered the consequences. The small enclosed spaces between the maze of rocks that the men took cover in could either provide ideal all round protection from deadly shrapnel or be a brutally effective death trap.
    Though all of the aircraft that flew sorties that night returned to their respective carriers the two Sea Harriers that had been carrying the cluster munitions had encountered significant small arms fire during their attack run. One of the aircraft had sustained damage when it was hit by fire from a 50 cal heavy machine gun leading to a rather nerve racking return flight and landing.

    For the next two weeks the Task Force prepared itself for the upcoming landings. The ships of TG 317.0 the amphibious group commanded by Commodore Clapp aboard HMS FEARLESS began to arrive. By the time all of the additional ships had arrived the Task Force had more than doubled in size.
    Accompanying this force were the various tankers and supply ships of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary and the ships carrying the men and equipment of 3 Commando Brigade including all six of the Round Table class LSL’s and numerous civilian owned merchant ships taken up from trade (STUFT) including the liners SS CANBERRA and SS UGANDA. The latter having been refitted to operate as a hospital ship.

    The SSN’s HMS SPARTAN, HMS SPLENDID, HMS VALIANT, HMS CONQUEROR and HMS COURAGEOUS along with the SSK HMS ONYX remained in theatre and were deployed in and around the TEZ and along the coast in order to provide early warning of Argentine aircraft sorties. With the bulk of the Royal Navy deployed in the South Atlantic there was a fear that the Soviets may try to somehow take advantage. It was also clear that the Argentine navy had been eliminated as a threat to the Task Force. Therefore, Flag Officer Submarines and TG 324.3 commander Vice Admiral Herbert back in Northwood was looking at the possibility of withdrawing some of the SSN’s from the South Atlantic and moving them back up north to the area around the GIUK gap to guard against the possibility of the Soviet Navy feeling emboldened.

    Also, aboard HMS FEARLESS was the commander of 3 Commando Brigade Brigadier Julian Thompson who with his staff was now working on the small detail of exactly where on the islands the brigade should land. 3 Commando Brigade was the Royal Marines main fighting formation and was usually made up of 40 Commando, 42 Commando and 45 Commando as its infantry component along with the various integrated supporting units including 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery. These supporting units were staffed by a mixture of Royal Marines and Army personnel who had passed the arduous All Arms Commando Course. However, when Operation CORPORATE had begun the brigade had been reinforced with more army personnel. The 2nd and 3rd battalions of the Parachute Regiment had been reassigned from 5 Infantry Brigade and a reconnaissance troop from the Blues and Royals had been added. Though they would now be fighting alongside each other the rivalry between the Paras and Royal Marines was legendary and it probably wouldn’t have been inaccurate at this point to have described them as having more hatred for each other than their Argentinian foe.
    Though it had initially been stripped of the majority of its infantry component 5 Infantry Brigade wasn’t going to be left out of things. The brigade had been partially reconstituted to make up for the loss of two of its three infantry battalions and was now primarily made up of 2nd Battalion of the Scots Guards, 1st Battalion of the Welsh Guards and the 1st Battalion of the 7th Duke of Edinburgh’s Own Gurkha Rifles along with the supporting elements. The brigade had embarked on the requisitioned liner RMS QUEEN ELIZABETH 2 and sailed from Southampton with great fanfare on the 12th of May. Although 5 Infantry Brigade would not be taking part in the initial phase of the land campaign, they would still be a vital and much welcomed boost to the strength of the British land force.
    The QE2 herself had spent the week prior to her sailing being converted from a luxury liner into a troopship. In this role she would be following in the footsteps of her illustrious forebearer during the Second World War. Two helicopter pads had been constructed over the swimming pools, the public lounges had been converted into large dormitories, fuel pipes had been installed throughout the ship to enable her to conduct refuelling’s at sea, and more than 2000 sheets of hard board had been laid down to protect the carpets that were more used to designer shoes than military boots. More than 650 civilian crew members had volunteered on this particularly interesting voyage.

    Though he wouldn’t be taking over operational command on the ground until after 3 Commando Brigade had established a beachhead Major General Moore, RM would be the Commander of the land forces aspect of Operation CORPORATE. Though he had previously commanded 3 Commando Brigade until 5 Infantry Brigade arrived in theatre having a 2 star commander would probably just add an extra layer of complexity and unnecessary distraction to a single brigade operation. Therefore, Moore would be arriving in theatre just ahead of 5 Infantry Brigade with Brigadier Thompson running the show until then. With a force made up of Paras, Marines, Guardsmen and Gurkhas, pretty much the creme de la crème of the British fighting man Moore was confident that his men could do the job given to them. If they could make it ashore that is.

    Over the next two weeks British forces mostly dedicated themselves to intelligence gathering and operations to soften up the Argentine defences in preparation for the landing campaign. Aircraft from HMS EAGLE and HMS INVINCIBLE flew numerous sorties carrying out photo reconnaissance and strikes against the airfields and Argentine fighting positions on the islands while maintaining a constant combat air patrol and airborne early warning cycle ready to defend against any Argentine air attack. It was during this period however that the Task Force began to suffer its first aircraft losses. During a night attack against Argentine infantry positioned on the mountains around Port Stanley a Buccaneer collided with the terrain killing both the pilot and observer. It was deduced that the pilot error was the most probable cause of the loss with the pilot most likely becoming temporarily disoriented in the dark at the worst possible moment and losing track of exactly where he was in relation to the terrain or making an error of judgment while trying to avoid ground fire.
    Days later a Sea Harrier was brought down while it was making a low-level photo reconnaissance run over Port Stanley. The aircraft was struck by a Roland SAM fired by the 601st Air Defence Artillery Group who until this point between the casualties sustained in the Buccaneer attack on Port Stanley airfield on the 2nd and their seeming inability to protect their comrades from British air attacks had been having a pretty bad time. The aircrafts pilot Lt Nick Taylor RN was able eject from his doomed Sea Harrier but found himself the first British POW of the conflict (excluding the unfortunate members of Naval Party 8901 who had been captured during the initial Argentine invasion back in April, at least those men had been repatriated).
    While Lt Taylor was well treated by his captor’s footage of both himself and the remains of both his aircraft and the Buccaneer that had crashed previously were broadcast in Argentina and around the world in a major propaganda coup for a junta that was feeling increasingly threatened by its own people.
    Despite this loss during this time the Sea Harrier was able to demonstrate its unique value. More than once due to the ferocious weather typical of the South Atlantic the CATOBAR equipped HMS EAGLE was unable to conduct flying operations. The VSTOL aircraft of HMS INVINCIBLE were much less affected by such weather and took up the mantle of providing air defence for the Task Force and continuing to carryout sorties over the islands much to the delight of INVINCIBLE’s commander Captain Black.
    During this time the Argentine Air Force was conspicuous by its absence. British intelligence teams were not far off the mark when they concluded that the losses suffered on the 6th coupled with a lack of dedicated MPA aircraft were probably causing the Argentines to pause for thought.

    The destruction of HMS GLASGOW had clearly demonstrated the threat posed by Argentina’s Exocet anti-ship missiles. Operation Mikado had been launched to look at various options for neutralising this threat and if necessary, carry them out. The Super Etendard strike aircraft were known to be based at NAS ALMIRANTE QUIJADA at Rio Grande on the Argentine mainland. The Operation Mikado planning team had concluded that the most effective way of putting these aircraft out of action was either a long range strike by aircraft from HMS EAGLE or a special forces operation but there were a number of problems with both of these options. There was distinct unwillingness within the war cabinet to authorise a strike on mainland Argentina. Despite everything that had happened Britain and Argentina were not in a formal state of war and the British government had been keen to keep the conflict as contained as possible. In the past week or so Britain had seen the destruction of HMS GLASGOW and the captured Lt Taylor being paraded in front of Argentine cameras which was making the members of the war cabinet become more and more cautious. There were also more pressing problems in the military sense. There was almost no onsite intelligence regarding the air base meaning that it was unknown how the base was defended or even if the Super Etendard’s and Exocets would be present and if so where exactly would they be on the airbase.
    With regards to the option of an air strike from HMS EAGLE until that point a great part of the Task Force’s protection from air defence had been simply staying beyond the range of aircraft based on the mainland. Closing with the Argentine mainland would expose the Task Force’s most vital asset to an unacceptably high danger from air attack. There were still too many unknowns about Argentina’s ability to provide air defence for both the base and mainland in general. It didn’t help that the war cabinet in Whitehall were nervous about the possibility of any more British airmen being captured. Without knowing exactly where the aircraft and missiles would be on the airbase if they even were present at all there would be no guarantee that an air strike could do any more than temporarily deny them the use of the runway.
    Various special forces options were examined. However, these also suffered from the same problems of political unwillingness in Whitehall and a lack of onsite intelligence. The SF option at least had the advantage that the men on the ground would be able to search the airbase for their targets (The Super Etendard’s, Exocet missiles, crew messes and if this option was taken up potentially the pilots themselves). An SF operation would have the added difficulty of how to infiltrate a large enough force to carry out the operation. Going in via submarine insertion would mean that the submarines would have to be recalled from their current duties to have the SAS and SBS men embarked which would be time consuming and potentially hazardous on its own before carrying out what would be an extremely risky mission for the boats. A helicopter insertion would likely mean that HMS HERMES would have to expose herself to an increased risk of air attack by moving closer to the mainland. Vice Admiral Reffell and Brigadier Thompson simply weren’t going to release such an important asset for a mission as risky as this.
    The final option envisioned an Operation Entebbe style raid with a pair of C-130’s landing directly onto the runway and disgorging an entire squadron of SAS men to cause havoc. This last option was dismissed as it was regarded as akin to mass suicide and even earned itself the nickname Operation Certain Death.
    In the end permission for an operation against the Argentine mainland was never forthcoming and neither were realistic proposals for its execution meaning that Operation Mikado was never carried out.
    After the conflict it later emerged that the Argentine Marines defending the airfield were indeed expecting some sort of attack and were well prepared. It also emerged that the Exocets and Super Etendard’s had indeed been present. During the strike against the HMS GLASGOW group one of the missiles had not functioned correctly and had simply dropped straight into the sea. With only three missiles left in the inventory the 2nd Naval Air Fighter/Attack Squadron had unknown to the British been stood down for a couple of days while Argentine technicians had tried to figure out what had gone wrong and ensure that it wouldn’t happen again.
    The continued threat posed by the Exocets helped to influence the choice of landing beaches.

    By the end of the third week of May a considerable amount of intelligence on the Argentinian’s disposition on the Falkland’s had been gleaned from Aerial reconnaissance, signals intelligence, satellite imagery and special forces observation posts. It had been deduced that the enemy forces numbered approximately 13,000 men and the majority were positioned in a defensive perimeter around Port Stanley with other forces located at chokepoints and other geographical features. This led to initial British plans for a direct assault on Port Stanley being quickly ruled out.
    One of the most curious figures of the Falklands campaign was Major Southby-Tailyour of the Royal Marines. He had previously undertaken a tour of duty on the Falklands and being a keen yachtsman had spent his time exploring the coast giving him an intimate knowledge of nearly the entire coastline including almost every creek and inlet. He had even written a book on the subject of sailing in the Falklands but given that before the crisis most people had never even heard of the place let alone been able to find it on a map he had been unable to find anyone willing to publish his book. When the crisis had begun, he had made his commanding officer aware of his previous experience in the area. When he had presented his manuscript, he had immediately found himself made a member of Brigadier Thompsons staff where his knowledge proved invaluable.
    After much deliberation, war gaming and planning it had been decided that 3 Commando Brigade would be landing at San Carlos. An amphibious landing is probably the riskiest of all naval operations. The decision on when and where to land nearly always involves a degree of compromise between the land, air and sea commanders that never quite satisfies anyone and San Carlos was no exception. Brigadier Thompson himself wasn’t exactly wild about the choice of San Carlos given that it was more than 50 miles away from the main objective of Port Stanley and the beaches there were known to be less than ideal for unloading large quantities of men, equipment and stores. Less than 13 miles to the SE there was a strong enemy force at Goose Green and there was also a risk that the sea approaches and beaches themselves may have been mined.
    These drawbacks however had been outweighed by the advantages that San Carlos had offered. It was far enough away from the majority of the Argentine forces near Port Stanley that they would be unable to intervene in time to prevent the British establishing a beach head and was also well beyond the range of the Argentine artillery positions identified so far. The high ground surrounding the proposed anchorage in San Carlos water would provide protection from Exocet attack for the stationary ships and would provide considerable protection against air strikes using bombs as the Argentine pilots would only have seconds to identify and attack a target after they crossed the ridgeline. The high ground would also provide the ideal location to set up Rapier SAM systems to provide an extra layer of protection from air attack. Indeed, the computers at the radar research establishment at Malvern back in the UK had already identified the ideal positions to situate the Rapiers.
    Air cover over San Carlos would be provided by HMS INVINCIBLE’s Sea Harriers while HMS EAGLE’s Phantoms working with the Gannets would attempt to intercept inbound raids over the sea to the west before, they even reached the islands. The Type 64 tactic of pairing a Sea Dart equipped Type 42 Destroyer with a Sea Wolf equipped Type 22 Frigate positioned to the north of the islands would be used again to hopefully draw some Argentine aircraft away from the landing ships and into the engagement envelopes of the British SAM’s.
    Final preparations began on the 19th of May with a considerable amount of cross decking taking place. The large bright white painted luxury liner turned troopship SS CANBERRA was carrying a considerable amount of personnel and equipment. Her large size and distinctive paint scheme would make her an obvious target for Argentine pilots meaning that it would be reckless possibly bordering on suicidal to leave the majority of 3 Commando Brigade onboard her. Therefore, as many men and as much equipment as possible was dispersed to other ships leading to considerable overcrowding on the HERMES, FEARLESS and INTREPID. Tragically this operation did not go smoothly. A Sea King HC.4 conducting a cross decking flight suffered a catastrophic engine failure and crashed into the sea leading to the deaths of 9 Royal Marines and one of the pilots.
    Despite these tragic setbacks the cross decking operations were completed on the 20th of May and a signal was sent from Northwood to Vice Admiral Reffell instructing him to inform Brigadier Thompson that he was to land in the Falklands at his discretion.

    San Carlos

    The young Argentine corporal knew that he shouldn’t sleeping. He was supposed to be setting an example to the three conscript privates with him in the foxhole. Their job was to keep a watch out towards the sea for anything untoward but it was so dark that they simply had no hope of being able to see anything during the night. He had been trying to get hold of some night vision goggles but these were like gold dust and his superior had ended the conversation by asking him if he really wanted them to spot the British fleet in the incredibly unlikely event that it sailed right past them or to be able to spot the senior NCO coming to check on him. Those same four men had been in this same foxhole every night for more than a week now looking for something that in all likelihood probably was not going to come. The corporal who had not too long ago been a conscript had a disdain for certain aspects of military life including the in his opinion excessive discipline (The British would eventually form the opinion that the conscripts that formed the junior ranks of the Argentine military were inadequately trained and lacked motivation leading to a distinct lack of discipline and professionalism at the lower levels). It had started out as him allowing two men to have a quick snooze while the other two kept watch. Over time this had become three men asleep while one man kept watch. There had been one incident where all of them had dropped off to sleep but they were far enough away from the main force at Fanning Head that no one ever really came to check on them during the nights. Waking up to do his turn keeping watch out to sea (staring at nothingness as he thought of it) he saw the private who had been on watch right where he had left him. Noticing that the private wasn’t moving the corporal reckoned that he had probably fallen asleep. Who could blame him? Having to lay prone for hours at a time and bored it was only human instinct that people would start to feel sleepy. The corporal grabbed him by the ankle to shake him out of his slumber but nothing happened.
    Pushing himself up he rubbed his eyes as his head came up over the top of his foxhole. As he took his hand down from his face, he was stunned to see barely inches away from his own face another pair of eyes staring right back at him. That pair of eyes was the last thing the corporal or any of the privates saw in this world. He never even had the time to tell what colour they were.
    D Day
  • They say time spent on reconnaissance is never time wasted. When San Carlos had been chosen as the area that 3 Commando Brigade would land on the Falklands a lot of time had been spent carrying out the detailed reconnaissance that would be vital to ensuring the success of the operation. Some photo reconnaissance overflights had taken place but these had been deliberately limited so as not to give the game away. Most of the information had come from a six man SBS team that had been inserted into the area more than two weeks before.
    The enemy forces in the area were comprised of a company sized unit made up of elements from the 12th and 25th Infantry Regiment’s. The main body of this force was concentrated at Fanning Head with smaller 4 man squads detached and positioned a good distance away in small observation positions to watch the coast.
    Operation Sutton as the landing operation had been named began with a series of air and Special Forces operations. The SBS team that been keeping watch on the Argentinians in and around San Carlos were to their great relief finally able to move from the hide that they had occupied for some days now and to them must go the credit for beginning the nights proceedings.
    The Argentine observation positions in the opinion of the SBS men were far to spread out meaning that they weren’t in a good position to support each other. Splitting up and slowly crawling across the open ground on their bellies in almost complete darkness they went about their business with the alarming effectiveness expected of highly trained men who had spent days observing their targets and planning their every last footstep. Some of the Argentines were found sound asleep. They would never wake up again. The ones who were awake were so focused on watching the blackness out to sea that they never saw or heard what was coming from inshore behind them. They quickly and quietly joined their comrades in permanent sleep.

    While dealing with the outlying OP’s had been simple enough the force at Fanning Head required a rather more overt approach. A force of 24 SBS men and one Naval Gunfire Support specialist from 148 Commando Observation Battery were helicoptered in from the destroyer HMS ANTRIM. The SBS men carried a fearsome array of weaponry including no less than 12 GPMG’s and a portable sound unit with which they hoped they could persuade the Argentinians to surrender.
    Unfortunately, even for the extremely fit special forces soldiers all that equipment still felt just as heavy as it would to any normal person and had made for a rather fatiguing march several miles from the LZ to their preplanned starting points. Once the SBS men were in position HMS ANTRIM opened fire with her twin 4.5 inch guns to cover their approach to their planned firing positions around Fanning Head. After calling out corrections Captain McManners of 148 Commando Observation Battery requested an additional 20 salvos. In the time it took for this unusually long fire mission to be carried out the SBS force was able to advance to their firing positions.
    The loudspeaker was set up and one of the Spanish speaking SBS men began trying to persuade the Argentines to surrender. In an unfortunate oversight however, it was later discovered that most of the Argentines who had survived the initial bombardment had been rendered temporarily deaf by the explosions and were unable to hear the call to surrender. Things took a turn for the worse when one of the GPMG’s fired a burst of tracer as a warning shot. Unable to hear the broadcast but able to see the tracer flying over their heads the Argentinians began to return fire against what they assumed was an assaulting enemy force. Thinking that the Argentines wanted to do things the hard way the 12 GPMG gunners opened fire while more 4.5 inch shells were called down from HMS ANTRIM. The firefight lasted for approximately two hours with predictable results. Of approximately 60 Argentines that had been located at Fanning Head just over half were dead or wounded and the rest had been taken prisoner except for a handful who had managed to slip away. Unfortunately for the British this “handful” was made up of members of the 601st Commando Company who being more able than the average conscript to recognise an unwinnable battle when they saw one had grabbed some of the radio equipment and made themselves scarce in order to report what had happened.

    The firefight at Fanning Head wasn’t the only British SF action that night. To try to deceive the Argentines about the real invasion plan other diversionary operations were carried out. Yet again the three airfields on the islands found themselves on the receiving end of airstrikes curtesy of the Buccaneers of HMS EAGLE. These strikes were mainly intended to try and deny the Argentines the use of these airfields during the critical early hours of the landings. Following the Buccaneer strike on AFB Condor (Goose Green) D Squadron SAS carried out a diversionary raid against the nearby Argentine garrison at Darwin. The use of large numbers of mortar’s, GPMG’s, Anti-Tank missiles and the use of naval gunfire support from HMS ARDENT had the effect of convincing the Argentinians that they were facing a much larger force than they actually were. The Sea King’s that had dropped off the SAS men proceeded to land at various points to the north of Darwin and Goose Green. This further added to the Argentines initial perception that an amphibious assault was taking place in the Goose Green area.
    The scene was now set for the real invasion.

    During the night of the 20th/21st of May the amphibious force slipped into San Carlos Water. The carrier group and HMS HERMES remained just to the north of the Islands to provide air cover.
    As with any complicated plan nothing ever goes completely according to plan. The LPD’s HMS FEARLESS and HMS INTREPID between them carried a total of 16 landing craft. These craft would as well as carrying the embarked troops from the LPD’s also be doing the rounds of the other ships in the amphibious force to ferry men and equipment ashore. The first landing craft left FEARLESS’s dock at 0230 an hour behind schedule. One of the pumps in her well deck had failed meaning that Captain Larken had been forced to flood the dock by opening the ships dock gates and allowing the sea to rush in. Next had come another delaying incident when the crew of the requisitioned RORO ferry SS NORLAND carrying 2 PARA had failed to switch on any of the small marker lights meant to guide the landing craft towards her. This resulted in the landing craft being for a time unable to find her in the darkness. As the Royal Marines and Paratroopers packed together in the open top landing craft made their way towards the shore the men waited in nervous anticipation. The ongoing firefight on Fanning Head was creating quite a spectacular sound and lights show but made some of the men worried about something similar potentially awaiting them ashore.
    The first men waded ashore onto an eerily quiet beach at 0430. To the men of 40 COMMANDO this was just like another of the amphibious landing exercises that they had carried out so many times before. The men of 2 PARA unused to amphibious warfare had a somewhat different opinion of the experience. After spotting a torchlight signal from on the SBS men already ashore indicating all clear the landing craft containing the paratroopers had approached the beach and dropped the ramp. The Para’s were not happy that they had to wade ashore waist deep in freezing water and more than a few indicated their feelings to the landing crafts Royal Marines crew.
    Neither the Para’s nor marines encountered any kind of resistance on the beaches. They stumbled ashore to be greeted by a small number of grubby, bearded and slightly wild looking SBS men. As they moved off the beaches 2 PARA came across a foxhole containing the handiwork of the SBS men and the reason why there had been no resistance. A few men were very unnerved by what they saw but it helped reinforce the fact that they were now taking part in a real war with all that entailed. Furthermore, it served as a reminder of the importance of staying alert on guard duty.
    With 40 COMMANDO and 2 PARA ashore, the landing craft returned to the ships to embark the next wave. From RFA STROMNESS came 45 COMMANDO which who landed ashore just before first light. Next came 42 COMMANDO from HMS INTREPID which along with 4 Troop from the Blues and Royals was ashore by 0930. 3 PARA had remained onboard HMS HERMES ready to act as an airmobile reserve if needed. As things stood they hadn’t yet been needed yet and so these men wouldn’t be going ashore just yet as the Sea Kings began to ferry ashore the higher priority 105mm field guns of 29 COMMANDO Regiment RA and the vital Rapier SAM systems of 12 Air Defence Regiment. Much to their irritation for 3 PARA it was for now yet another case of hurry up and wait. They wouldn’t be waiting for too long.

    In Port Stanley Brigadier Menendez was conferring with his staff and with Brigadier Jofre of 10th Mechanised Infantry Brigade which comprised the majority of the forces on East Falkland. They knew that this was it but the question now was exactly where was it?
    Reports came in throughout the night of heavier than usual bombing from carrier aircraft and alarmingly that heavy firefights were taking place in the Goose Green and San Carlos areas. All of these factors when combined were enough to convince Menendez that the British were going to be landing imminently or were possibly already doing so. Therefore, he was trying to work out exactly where the landings would occur and how he should respond to it. At first it was thought that Goose Green was the main landing with Fanning Head being some sort of diversionary action. This assessment was based on the reports of comparatively heavier fighting, sightings of helicopter landings and the assessment by a naval amphibious warfare expert that the beaches at Goose Green would be an easier proposition for landing craft. This had changed after daybreak however when the British force attacking Goose Green had seemingly withdrawn and the garrison based there reported no more sightings of aircraft nor of being able to see any ships. Radio contact had been established with a forward air control party from 601st Commando Company attached to the force at Fanning Head. They reported not only having come under sustained infantry assault during the night but gave a detailed description of ships anchored in San Carlos water and of British troops ashore.
    Menendez considered it vital that confirmation be obtained of this reported landing. The problem was the Fanning Head force had been largely isolated by simple geographical distance from other forces and apart from the person claiming to be a survivor of the engagement at Fanning Head no one else could be reached via radio.

    It was decided that a reconnaissance sortie should be flown over the area. Unfortunately, the latest British air strikes had once again damaged the landing strips meaning that for now fixed wing operations from the airfields on the islands were impossible. Therefore, a UH-1 Iroquois from Army Aviation had been despatched from Port Stanley Airfield. Flying as low as possible to try to stay under the radar of the now much feared British carrier aircraft the helicopter was able to close with San Carlos water and confirm Brigadier Menendez’s worst fears when it came under sustained small arms fire from troops on the ground. Despite taking damage the aircraft was able to limp back to base.

    The fact that the British were invading at San Carlos initially took the Argentinians by surprise. It was a long way from any potential British objectives and had even been assessed by a now red faced navy liaison team as being unsuitable for an amphibious landing. However, based on what they knew of their own situation and what the British likely knew there was a certain logic to their actions. There were no Argentine ground forces that would be capable of intervening in that area. A company sized air mobile force had been on standby at Goose Green as a quick reaction force ready to react to any British landing. However, this force had been intended more to act as rapid reinforcement to the forces around Port Stanley where the British had been expected to land rather than taking them on alone. The expected size of any landing force based on the number of amphibious vessels known to be in the British fleet meant that the air mobile force would have nowhere near the strength necessary to drive them back into the sea. Even if this disadvantage was overlooked there was still the fact that having just been in contact with what was now assessed as a British special forces group the air mobile force were in no condition to go into action right now and needed time to get themselves sorted out.
    Sending a force overland from one the regiments based around Port Stanley was also a nonstarter as they could not realistically reach San Carlos before nightfall and would be hopelessly exposed to the threat of being mauled by British aircraft.
    This meant that unless the air force could pull something out of the bag the British would be able to establish and expand a beachhead completely unmolested and move to engage Argentine ground forces at their leisure.
    Regarding the probability of having to carryout airstrikes against the British landing force it was clear to even the army men present that the high ground and enclosed geography of San Carlos water would make this a harder proposition.

    Menendez took a moment to think about the overall strategic situation. His analysis was that any air attacks against San Carlos represented the last opportunity to defeat the British in a decisive engagement. Should that not come to pass however then it would be a case of trying to make them bleed as much as possible and hold them at bay until the weather became worse and affected their ability to operate and try to sap away their will to press on. The last few weeks for the Malvinas Garrison had been something of a waiting game with the British. Operating so far away from home with elderly ships and supply lines stretching thousands of miles there surely must have been a limit for how long the British could operate down here meaning that their land campaign would have to begin sooner rather than later.
    Of course, Menendez’s force wasn’t immune from the same issues. Since the destruction of the navy on the 2nd the forces on the Malvinas had been cut off from the outside world. The threat of British nuclear powered submarines meant that any attempt at seaborne resupply would be suicidal and the constant attacks on the airfields meant that an airbridge wasn’t something that was going to last. While the possibility of para dropping supplies had been looked at it was felt that transport aircraft would be too vulnerable to intercept by the British supersonic Phantoms. Besides even if it did work this would have been a one way only thing anyway. There were in fact a number of Exocet SSM’s sitting on the tarmac at Comodoro Rivadavia AFB waiting to be flown out to the Malvinas where it was hoped that they could be used as an area denial weapon to fend off British ships. Such a weapon would be in the opinion of the assembled officers extremely useful right about now but there was sadly no way of actually getting them out here in one piece.

    This lack of resupply capability combined with the persistent British bombing campaign over the last few weeks had severely sapped the strength of the garrison. As well as repeatedly clobbering the airfields the British had also made liberal use of rockets and cluster munitions against the infantry regiments positioned on the mountains around Port Stanley and had been going after artillery positions and supply depots. While only a handful of the actual guns had been destroyed the artillery group commander had been forced to disperse his assets meaning that before they had even set foot on the islands the British had already significantly degraded the garrison’s artillery capability. With regards to supplies water was one thing that they most definitely were not short of on this rain soaked rock and if it came down to it the large sheep population would mean that food would not become too much of an issue (reports had already been reaching Menendez of hungry troops being caught poaching the animals). Ammunition, spare parts, medical supplies, fuel and other essentials were a problem as without the possibility of resupply as these were now a finite resource. The same went for men. The British bombing had unsurprisingly taken a toll in human lives. The number of men killed or maimed as a result of these raids would likely break the 500 mark once the casualties from the previous night had been counted and that was before the losses at Goose Green and Fanning Head were taken into consideration. As well as these casualties over time more and more men were becoming debilitated and unable to fight as a result of things like trench foot and frost bite that were a by product of men from the arid regions of Argentina being made to live outside in conditions as harsh as found on the Malvinas. Without the possibility of being able to receive replacements from the mainland once a man was killed, wounded or became ill the garrison permanently a man weaker. There was also the fact that however it turned out until this conflict was resolved there was no possibility of anyone being able to leave this increasingly nightmarish place and return home.
    Understandably morale had suffered considerably. Knowing that there were highly likely British SF observation posts and artillery spotters (the British naval shelling had a little over a week ago become markedly more accurate) Brigadier Jofre had ordered his infantry forces to conduct periodic sweeps of likely areas to root them out. As expected, they hadn’t come across a single British soldier. Not that Jofre had actually been expecting them to (He’d felt it more likely that at most they’d scare off any SF men nearby) but in his opinion, it was better for the men’s morale to have them doing something rather than just sitting on the mountains waiting to be bombed again. It also gave the officers the opportunity (for those smart enough to recognise it) to scout likely angles of attack against their defensive positions and for the more senior officers to get an idea of their unit’s present capabilities as time went on. A marked and worrying decline had been noted.


    The phone call from Brigadier Dozo had been somewhat pointless. Brigadier Crespo knew that today was the day that the Fuerza Aerea Argentina would finally execute its long-planned operation to strike at the British fleet. With British ships now known to be static in a known position this was the opportunity that he had been waiting for to carry out the massed attack. He had been in direct communication with Brigadier Castellano commanding the air component (or remnants thereof) on the Malvinas and so had been kept fully appraised of the developing situation. Though it was within Crespo’s power to launch strike missions on his own authority Dozo likely due to internal politicking had still felt it necessary to call him and order him to do something that he was doing already doing anyway. As is the way of military life.
    Crespo had been shocked that Castellano had ordered a helicopter to conduct such a risky sortie and more so that the crew had survived the experience. The “Confirmation” that they had provided however just turned out to be little more than coming under ground fire and seeing large numbers of figures on the ground. They hadn’t been able to provide such useful information as the number, types, formation or even presence of ships (This information hadn’t managed to find its way from the army headquarters on the islands to the air force on the mainland). His pilots would be flying into the unknown. Examining the maps of the San Carlos area the planners present in his headquarters began to immediately spot problems and obstacles. If the British ships were in the bay labelled San Carlos water then the attacking aircraft would be forced by the terrain to perform higher level bombing runs potentially resulting in greater exposure to British air defences and reduced bombing accuracy. Due to the distances involved many of the aircraft would be operating at the very limit of their endurance even with reduced bomb loads. On the flip side however, the size of the bay relative to the speed of the aircraft meant that the bombing runs and exposure would only be a matter of seconds hopefully increasing survival chances.
    Despite the heavy aircraft losses suffered on the 6th extensive debriefs of the pilots sometimes bordering on interrogations had revealed a number of important pieces of information. British radars it seemed had struggled to identify aircraft flying low over land and based on Argentina’s experience with her own now sunk Type 42 destroyers it was known that the radars on British destroyers at least had issues with radar clutter caused by proximity to land. During the attack on the British ships a pair of Sea Dart SAM’s had been observed by pilots passing straight over them. This combined with the failure of Argentina’s Sea Dart equipped destroyers to defend their carrier on the 2nd indicated that Sea Dart struggled with fast moving and low flying targets.
    The aircraft launching against the British landing would therefore stay as low as possible and make their approach towards the British from overland initially coming from the west and then turning north for their actual attack run in order to make maximum use of the natural cover protection from British naval SAM’s provided by the terrain.
    British fighters however were unfortunately a threat that could not be so simply negated. The engagements on the 6th had showed just how dangerous they were. The problem was simply that the Skyflash missiles carried on the British Phantoms out ranged the short range air to air missiles in Argentina’s inventory by a considerable margin. The losses suffered by the Daggers at the hands of the Phantoms had given Crespo the leverage to convince Dozo to order Brigadier Hughes to release some of the Mirage’s from their mainland air defence duties to this operation. While the Mirage’s were more advanced and judged to be more survivable in combat against the British than the Daggers they still suffered from the same issue.
    Crespo did have one ace card up his sleeve which he was going to play for all it was worth. In the air environment it was actually him who held the initiative. The British not knowing when an attack would come would be forced to maintain a constant CAP meaning that with aircraft having to cycle through for refuelling, they would only be able to keep a portion of their force in the air at one time. Crespo on the other hand could surge everything he had into the air at once and was banking on sheer numbers meaning that though there would be losses some aircraft would make it past the British CAP.
    While his staff began to work on the final details of the various flight plans (As with the soties on the 6th due to distance fuel would again be a very limiting factor) Crespo reviewed the status of his aircraft.
    Thus far in this conflict Argentina had lost an alarmingly high number of aircraft and most of these had not even been airborne at the time. When the ARA VEINTICINCO DE MAYO had been sunk, she had taken with her 8 A-4Q Skyhawks and 6 S-2 Trackers and a number of helicopters. The air battle on the 6th had resulted in the loss of 6 Daggers and 9 A-4C Skyhawks. The constant British Strikes on the airfields on the Malvinas had resulted in the loss of 15 Pucara’s and 2 MB.339A light attack aircraft and the rest had been effectively trapped on the ground by the damage done to the landing strips.

    Despite these losses Crespo was still able to muster a strong enough force to in his opinion do the job and was now waiting for reports from the various squadron leaders on how many aircraft would be ready to fly today. At his disposal he had up to 17 Mirages from 8th Air Brigade, 24 Daggers of 6th Air Brigade and a total of 41 A-4 Skyhawks from 4th and 5th Brigades. The Daggers had proven themselves as inadequate in the air defence role and so the majority of them would be operating in the strike role.
    The navy still had 4 Super Etendard’s and 3 Exocet missiles available. While the technicians had been very careful in their choice of words and stopped just short of stating that they had worked all of the bugs out of the missiles they were confident that there would not be a repeat performance of the incident when one of the precious missiles had malfunctioned and dropped into the sea. Knowing that the British carrier group would highly likely now be much closer than previously in order to provide air cover the Super Etendard’s would be going after these ships. As with last time they would be supported by 1st Air Brigades ELINT equipped Boeing 707.

    Their briefings complete Crespo watched the pilots walk out to the Mirages and Skyhawks on the flight line from his office window. Some looked nervous and were walking towards their aircraft with a certain grim determination while some were almost running either out of enthusiasm for taking the fight to the British invaders or out of a desire to avenge the empty chairs in the officer’s messes. As the first aircraft began to taxi towards the runway Crespo felt a certain sense of despair. He knew that not all of these men would be coming back and hoped that he wasn’t sending his own men to the same senseless slaughter that had resulted in so many naval officers being unable to show their faces in their own dockyards let alone public. As the last aircraft flew out of sight Crespo had nothing to do but go into the operations centre and wait. He had done his part and now it was in the hands of the pilots. Speaking of pilots there were a very small number who would not be flying today or indeed possibly ever again and for that Crespo felt positively ashamed of himself almost bordering outright disgust at his own actions. The surviving pilots who had flown on the 6th had been debriefed for every last scrap of information before they had really had the chance to process what they had witnessed happen to their comrades. Crespo had ordered them to visit each and every combat squadron in order that they could brief the other pilots on their first hand experience of attacking British ships and the lessons to be learned. Unfortunately, it seemed being forced to replay and relive the same traumatic experiences and same feeling of helplessness over and over again had ultimately resulted in nervous breakdowns to the point where those particular officers were not of much use to anyone.
    The only person who had come out well from that day was Frigate Captain Bedacarratz who now proudly sported the silhouette of a destroyer on the side of his Super Etendard. He was flying again today and no doubt hoping to add another silhouette to his aircraft. Crespo hoped that whichever of his pilots were able to make it back would be able to do the same.
    Battle of San Carlos Part 1
  • Though publicly they were maintaining a policy of strict neutrality there was one certain nation that was taking a keen interest in the conflict between Britain and Argentina. General Augosto Pinochet’s Chile had been embroiled in an ongoing border dispute with Argentina over a group of islands in the Beagle Channel at the southernmost tip of the two countries and of the continent. Pinochet had for years been worried about the possibility of something kicking off down there and preparing himself for a military conflict with Argentina regarding the issue. Like many world leaders been surprised when the Argentinians had suddenly decided to occupy the Falkland Islands and stir up a fight with the British. Unlike many world leaders who dismissed the conflict as irrelevant to them however, he had a considerable interest in the outcome of the conflict. Working on the principle of what was bad for Argentina was good for Chile and “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” a sort of understanding had been reached with the British.
    At first knowing that British intelligence services would probably want to set up shop in his country Pinochet had subtly communicated to the British government that as long as their activities were directed only towards Argentina and as long as they didn’t do anything that might draw Chile into armed conflict with Argentina the Chilean military government was perfectly happy to look the other way. The British had indeed set up shop in Chile and their activities at the early stages of the conflict had mostly consisted of SIGINT along the border and OSINT mostly monitoring Argentine television and radio broadcasts.
    The big change had come in the aftermath of the naval battle on the 2nd of May that had resulted in the near extermination of the Argentine Navy. To this day there are all sorts of wild unsubstantiated rumours and speculation about Pinochet ordering bottles of champagne and even having a wild party with other military leaders when the news reached him of the Argentine navy’s defeat. A now famous political cartoon that appeared in the British newspaper the Daily Telegraph during the conflict depicted Margaret Thatcher and Leopold Galtieri as boxers facing off in a ring wearing shorts that sported the British and Argentine flags. The cartoon depicted both leaders/boxers standing in a ring with the words Falklands/Malvinas written on the floor with the audience made up of other anxious looking world leaders including Ronald Regan. Galtieri was shown having his face brutally smashed in by Thatcher (Whose arms sported various anchors and other naval tattoos). The cartoon is however most famous for its depiction of a clearly drunken General Pinochet laughing while sitting in Thatcher’s corner and shouting encouragement at the her and clearly very much enjoying the spectacle.
    With the virtual destruction of the Argentine navy the odds of success in any military action in the Beagle channel had dramatically changed in Pinochet’s favour. Seeking to further alter the balance of power to his advantage and to try and potentially gain a major world player as an ally the Chileans had approached the British with an offer of clandestine cooperation. The British were offered access to Chilean intelligence data relating to Argentina’s military capabilities and access to Chiles early warning system. Some had thought that the British had been taking liberties when they had asked the Chileans to carry out aircraft sorties and military manoeuvres near the border in an effort to tie down Argentine military resources but they had changed their tune when they found themselves the proud owners of some ex RAF Hawker Hunters and the promise of some English Electric Canberra’s free of charge along with access to a catalogue of British military hardware available for purchase at mates rates.

    Most of the details of this cooperation are still secret but it is known that it began to pay dividends on the afternoon of the 21st of May. For a South American nation at the time the Chileans had a remarkably well organised air defence and early warning coordination system. Radar plotters in the air defence control centre who were interviewed years later talked about an interesting figure who one day appeared in the operations centre. The officer wore a Chilean military uniform with the rank of an air force Flight Captain but did not seem to have any actual purpose within the centre and unlike the other personnel in the room wore no name tag, branch badge or unit flashes. He was noticeable in that he hardly ever spoke to any of the other people in the room and seemed to spend most of his time just observing. Whenever he did speak it was nearly always to another officer who always accompanied him and often spoke seemingly on his behalf. The air force colonel who was in charge of the operations room seemed to either ignore him completely or even sometimes give hints of a possible resentment of his presence. The only time this man had ever spoken to one of the enlisted men had been a very brief conversation on the 21st when information had started to come in from the various radar stations that indicated a large number of aircraft taking off from Argentine air bases. The enlisted man recalled that while this man had spoken in flawless Spanish (It wasn’t until many years later when questioned by an interviewer that it occurred to the enlisted man that Spanish may not have been this officers native tongue) his accent was somewhat unusual and the enlisted man had been unable to place which part of the country this man had originated from based upon his accent. The officer had also seemed to be unfamiliar with some of the Chilean military words.
    The officer and his apparent minder had swiftly departed the room once this information had come in with the various Chilean military personnel far too busy to pay him much attention.
    Whoever this man was it is known that at roughly the time that the Argentine aircraft were starting to clear the coast of the mainland and head east a high priority FLASH signal was transmitted from the British embassy in Santiago to Whitehall.

    HMS BRISTOL, 100 Miles West of the Falklands, 1300

    Captain Alan Grose read the FLASH signals from both Northwood and Vice Admiral Reffell aboard HMS EAGLE. The Argentinians were coming. The signal stated that intelligence sources (whatever they were was something he was deemed to have no business knowing) and SSN’s had detected multiple Argentine aircraft launching from mainland airfields and heading eastwards from multiple axis. He ordered that the Gannet AEW aircraft be alerted to keep a good look out to the west. Once the Gannet had made contact with the incoming aircraft BRISTOL’s air warfare officer would be able to make an estimate of when they would begin to show up on the ships radar screens.
    He noted that the FLASH signal had also been transmitted to Rear Admiral Woodward and Commodore Clapp aboard their respective flagships.
    The Type 82 Destroyer HMS BRISTOL was in company with the Type 42 Destroyer HMS EXETER and the Type 22 Frigate HMS BRILLIANT providing a picket west of the Falkland Islands. Their mission was to provide early warning and to disrupt incoming Argentine air attacks aimed at the Amphibious group unloading ground forces in San Carlos Water.
    HMS BRISTOL was something of an oddity within the Royal Navy. She was the sole member of her class and had originally been designed to escort the cancelled CVA-01 class aircraft carriers. When that program had been cancelled as a result of the 1966 Defence Review her sisters had also been cancelled and instead it had been decided that the RN would be equipped with Type 42 Destroyers that provided comparable capability only in a significantly smaller and cheaper hull.
    BRISTOL had survived the defence review and commissioned just under a decade ago. Since then due to her large size, she had been mostly used as a testbed for new technologies but had also found herself escorting HMS EAGLE and until her recent retirement HMS ARK ROYAL on various deployments. There were however a number of question marks hanging over her future. The ship was large, manpower intensive, expensive to operate and with HMS EAGLE having previously been planned to retire later in the year she was soon to find her designed role superfluous. For a ship of her size she also had rather limited capabilities. Though she had a flight deck she had no hanger which prevented her from carrying a permanently embarked helicopter and she was not equipped with SSM’s meaning she had virtually no ability for ASUW. However, one thing she did have going for her and the reason why she had been given this mission was her Sea Dart SAM system and her command and control facilities.
    In conjunction with the Sea Dart equipped HMS EXETER and the Sea Wolf equipped HMS BRILLIANT Captain Alan Grose would be in command of a “missile trap”. HMS EXETER commanded by Captain Balfour was the newest of the Type 42’s and was equipped with the latest Type 1022 long range air search radar. This radar was much better able to deal with back ground clutter and low level targets. With the loss of HMS GLASGOW at the hands of a sea skimming Exocet missile this new capability was an extremely welcome addition to Grose’s force. Therefore, HMS EXETER would concentrate on lower level targets while HMS BRISTOL would deal with the higher level ones. HMS BRILLIANT would be providing shorter range point defence.
    Argentine aircraft would theoretically be forced to either fly through the Sea Darts engagement envelope or detour around the group. The intelligence analysts were pretty confident that Argentine aircraft attacking San Carlos would be operating at the near limit of their range and if forced to make a detour some may be forced to abort their missions due to a lack of fuel. The third and final possibility was the most dangerous. The Argentines may be drawn into attacking the BRISTOL group. Though Grose obviously wasn’t going to say it to his ships company in the grand scheme of things this would actually be desirable as every Argentine aircraft that attacked these warships would be one less that could attack the vital troop carrying ships. What mattered more than anything in the world right now was protecting the amphibious group and troops ashore by any means necessary even if it meant offering themselves up as sacrificial lambs.
    With air attack imminent Captain Grose gave the order to bring the ship to action stations and left the bridge to make his way down to the operations room. As he passed various crewmen pulling on their anti flash hoods and going about the business of making the ship fully prepared for action Captain Grose had a few brief moments to reflect.

    He kept on having this strange recurring dream about his ship and crew being magically transported back in time to the Second World War and fighting the Nazi’s. These dreams included things like him having conversations with Churchill about the future, his crew explaining future technology to famous figures from the past and famous battles being fought only with different outcomes. More than once he had been almost disappointed to wake up and realise, he was still in his cabin aboard the BRISTOL fighting in the Falklands and still a Captain and not a Vice Admiral like he was in the alternate Second World War of his dream.
    It had been becoming almost a distraction for him and he had thought about seeing the ships medical officer about it but had thought that it would be better for his crew if they weren’t worrying about whether the captain had lost his marbles. All the same once all this was over it would probably make for a good book.

    As soon as he had arrived in the Ops room without him having to even ask the PWO’s began to update him. The BRISTOL group was merely the second line of a multi layered defence. To the west of him was a Gannet AEW.3 controlling two pairs of Phantoms. These comprised the first line of defence. The Phantoms had been in the process of conducting air to air refuelling with a pair of Buccaneers operating in their tanker configuration that had been sent out from HMS EAGLE. With the air threat now increased the AAR had been cut short and the Buccaneers were now withdrawing from the area as quickly as possible. A pair of Phantoms that had been on EAGLE’s deck on alert status were now being launched and would be reinforcing this first defensive line. Assuming that they could make it there in time. The Phantoms were currently under the control of the Observers on the Gannet however, that aircraft was gradually moving northeast to try to stay away from the threat posed by any escorting Argentine interceptors. If necessary, the fighter controllers on BRISTOL or even EXETER could assume control of the Phantoms.
    The BRISTOL group comprised the second layer of defence and the Phantoms crews had been ordered to keep their distance to try and minimise the risk of a friendly fire incident.
    To the east of the BRISTOL group covering the area between the ships easternmost Sea Dart engagement range and the eastern edge of East Falkland were two pairs of Sea Harriers.
    As with the Phantoms another pair of Sea Harriers that had been on alert status was now being launched and sent to reinforce their comrades. Unlike the Phantoms however these smaller and slower aircraft would definitely not be able to arrive in time to intercept the inbound raids. Even if they could with only a pair of short range AIM-9L Sidewinders each they would be hard pressed to make much of a contribution.
    The final defensive line and possibly the weakest were the ships and SAM systems set up around San Carlos Water itself.
    Commodore Clapp was aboard HMS FEARLESS in San Carlos water overseeing the ongoing landing operations while Rear Admiral Woodward was aboard HMS GLAMORGAN commanding the escorts that would defend the amphibious ships.
    The Rapier SAM systems of T Battery 12 Air Defence Regiment were still in the process of being helicoptered ashore and set up. Being outside of his control Captain Grose wasn’t sure about the current status of the Rapier shield or even if the helicopters were continuing to ferry men and equipment ashore or if they were being cleared out of the way of the expected air attack.
    Defence would also be provided by the warships in and around San Carlos Water but this was where the real weakness was. The Sea Wolf point defence SAM was ideal for the enclosed area but with HMS BRILLIANT out here with the BRISTOL group only one ship HMS BROADSWORD was able to provide this missile system to defend the amphibious group. The Sea Dart missile system and associated radars had been shown to have great difficulty dealing with low flying targets or dealing with radar clutter caused by close proximity to land. The Sea Cat was a subsonic missile bordering on the verge of obsolesce and as for the Sea Slug onboard the COUNTY class Destroyers, well the less said about that the better. In Grose’s opinion the RN had for years had a severe deficiency in SAM capability which they had been too slow to rectify and today was going to be the dreaded day where that slowness came to bite them.
    The ships within San Carlos water would most likely end up fighting the old fashioned way with guns. Even there the chickens were coming home to roost. The navy had been for years divesting itself of gun capability in favour of missiles. The masses of large calibre and rapid firing AA guns of old were a thing of the past. In fact, Grose would probably have gone as far to say that the alternate Second World War Royal Navy that kept featuring in his dreams would have in some ways been better equipped to protect San Carlos water.
    To the north of the Islands was the carrier group. This group was protected by a Gannet out to its west and a total of four Phantoms and four Sea Harriers on CAP.
    With nearly every one of the Task Forces fighter aircraft already airborne there would be no further reinforcement let alone replacements. If it came down to it the Phantoms would have to be yet again refuelled by Buccaneers in order to maintain CAP.

    The first contact between British and Argentine aircraft came when one of the pairs of British Phantoms was vectored by the Gannet to intercept the first incoming wave of Argentine aircraft. These aircraft turned out to be a group of 12 Mirage III’s. Knowing that the British would likely have a fighter screen between the mainland and the Malvinas the Mirages like the unfortunate Dagger pilots on the 6th had been sent out to either destroy or draw away the British interceptors from the following waves of Skyhawks and Daggers.
    With 12 contacts on screen the Observers in the back seats of the Phantoms launched a volley of 8 Skyflash missiles at a range of just under 45km downing six Mirages. Unlike the engagement on the 6th however rather than turn and run for home the Mirages engaged their afterburners to close with their attackers. Unwilling to get into a close quarters dogfight outnumbered 3 to 1 and no longer having the advantage of longer range missiles the Phantoms were forced to turn NE and engage their own afterburners in the hopes of either getting away from the pursuing Mirages or drawing them into a position where they could be engaged on favourable terms by the pair of Phantoms approaching from that direction.
    The Mirages had succeeded in drawing away one full half of the British Phantom CAP.
    The remaining six Mirages, their job done (at a high cost) broke off the pursuit due to fuel limitations and were able to return to the mainland.

    While this was going on more and more aircraft were beginning to appear on the British radar screens giving a feeling of being hopelessly outnumbered as they began to realise that this was a mass attack. The intelligence assessments regarding the effective operating ranges of the Argentine aircraft seemed to be accurate as the contacts detected were flying at what was assessed to be economical speeds and altitudes. This made the job of the second pair of Phantoms easier as they were able to overcome their lack of “look down shoot down” capability by being able to engage the Argentine aircraft from an angle that allowed their radars to easily identify the contacts without the spurious radar returns generated by sea clutter. More importantly the altitude was comfortably within the engagement envelope of the Sea Darts.

    The Sea Darts came as a terrible shock to the Argentine pilots. Without any maritime search capability (The two Lockheed Neptune MPA’s had finally gone unserviceable due to airframe attrition) the pilots in the cramped Skyhawk and Dagger cockpits had had no indication that there were British ships in the area. Without any onboard surface search radars themselves they hadn’t had any idea of the danger that they were flying into until it was far too late for what would amount to a total of seven Skyhawks and one Learjet of Fenix Squadron over the course of the day. The air force pilots and aircraft were ill equipped and hardly trained for navigating long distances over the sea and were often relying on stopwatches, compasses and paper maps. With their fuel limitations as tight as they were there was very little margin for error.
    Fenix or Phoenix squadron was made up of civilian Learjets flown by volunteer civilian pilots. It had been recognised that the navigation systems in these civilian business jets were far superior to those in the actual combat jets and so they were being used to guide the air force aircraft to the Malvinas. Unfortunately for these civilian aircraft their relatively slow speed, unmaneuverability and lack of any kind of defensive system whatsoever made them a very tempting target for British missiles.

    For the pilots that had made it through the gauntlet of Phantoms and Sea Darts the sight of East Falkland on the horizon came as something of a relief. However, their ordeal was by no means over and could be described as only just getting started. Despite the strict radio silence that was supposed to have been observed more than one pilot had called out that he was being engaged by a British interceptor or SAM. Even so many of the pilots felt especially lonely all the way out here and anxiously scanned the sky for even the tiniest speck that could quickly grow into the shape of a British fighter or missile. If the grumbling air force conscripts who often complained about how much time they spent cleaning these aircraft canopy’s were up here then they would have understood why. As they approached land the Argentine aircraft began to drop to lower altitudes remembering their lectures about how British radars were less effective at lower altitude and especially with land backdrops.
    The quartet of Sea Harriers despite having a loadout of only 8 Sidewinders between them and being at least on paper less capable than one of the Phantoms that they had been procured to replace proved their worth. In the types first air combat engagements each Sea Harrier pilot was able to claim at least one kill.
    Once they crossed the shoreline the issue for the Argentines became one of navigation and orientation. Trying to identify features and get their bearings relative to San Carlos water which was supposed to be to the north of them. There was one incident of a Dagger pilot being forced to jettison his ordinance as he desperately manoeuvred to get away from a pursuing Sea Harrier and had managed to become lost over the Islands. Rapidly approaching Bingo fuel he had been forced head west towards the mainland (Having briefly considered landing at Port Stanley Airfield) though exactly where on the mainland he would end up was something he was no longer sure of.

    As the first pilots made their turn north, they went through their last second checks in an almost automatic fashion. Cannon safety off, gun sight on, bomb panel live, straps tightened, ejector seat? Well pray yours was one of the working ones. Better still pray that you don’t have to find out.
    As the first pilot came up over the rise at the southern edge of San Carlos water, he got his first view of the enemy and was stunned by what he saw.

    The British would come to nickname San Carlos as Bomb Alley. The Argentinians would call it Death Valley.
    Battle of San Carlos Part 2
  • As the first Argentine pilot clears the high ground to the south of San Carlos Water, he gets his first glimpse of the enemy. For the first few seconds he is almost mesmerised by the sheer number of vessels and the activity he can see taking place in front of and below him. Luckily for him this lasts for just a few seconds before he snaps back to reality. Due to his high speed relative to the size of the target area which is less than 5km wide at its widest point he has less than 20 seconds to make his bombing run. Without the time, space or fuel to do anything more than line up his bomb sight with whichever ship that just happens to be ahead of him the pilot begins his attack. Angry white puffs of smoke start to appear along with very faint dashes of yellow in the sky, the British are shooting at him. White columns of smoke rapidly shoot up into the air, The British are launching missiles at him. Keeping as low to the water as possible the pilot fires a burst at the ship ahead with his cannon. The ship grows to fill more and more of his vision. Now that he is close enough to make out the shapes of men scurrying about on the upper decks (the number of men firing weapons at him is discomforting, all it would take is one lucky hit in the wrong place) the pilot releases his weapons and the aircraft jumps forward and upwards freed of the weight and drag of its bombload. Pulling his control column back and to the right slightly the pilot guides his aircraft past the ship and notes that he is actually looking up at the ships radar masts from below. He counts himself lucky not to have collided with any aerials or wires he was that close.
    Next comes a harsh turn to the west to get clear of the expected bomb blast and for a quick glance back at his target. All this has taken place within a matter of seconds. In the speed and confusion there is no way of really telling whether or not he managed to hit his target. All he can manage is an extremely fleeting glimpse of a ship in one of his cockpit mirrors. He’s not even sure if that was the ship he attacked. Heading westwards over East Falkland towards home he is only just now able to process and take stock of what he just witnessed. He recalled the large and spread out formations of ships and how he had “popped up” towards the western end of the group. The ships in front of him had all been grey and all appeared to be warships (or at the very least had all been shooting at him). On the extreme right of his field of vision he had been able to see a large white shape. That must have been the cruise liner that the British were known to be using as a troop ship. Therefore, it made sense that the British landing ships were in the eastern part of the formation closer to the landing beaches and the ships to the west were where the warships were trying to provide protection. Deciding that he personally had nothing to lose by breaking radio silence (to be honest that had pretty much gone to hell already now that the British quite obviously knew that they were here) he sent a message out to the other Argentine aircraft in the area advising them to try and make their bombing runs to the east over San Carlos Bay. Whether or not his comrades would be able to heed his advice was another matter. It had been hard enough for him to even find San Carlos Water let alone worry about which part he would cross over. He reflected that it might have been better if his aircraft had been carrying rocket pods as opposed to the iron bombs he had just dropped. But then again, he honestly can’t tell whether his bombs missed his target or if he simply didn’t see the explosions. His mission completed and now on the way home he begins to look around for his pair of wingmen who had made their attack runs in formation with him. He is now faced by three dangers. Phantoms, Sea Harriers and the ominous and incessant glares from the warning lights that would signify a perilous fuel state.

    The pilots that followed went through a similar experience. Again, and again, they would find themselves having to attack whichever ship just happened to be in front of them rather than seeking out high value targets or even being able to establish much of a situational awareness. The only difference was that as time went on the British seemed to be very rapidly becoming better and better at this game called air defence.
    A total of 12 Mirage’s, 24 Daggers and 40 Skyhawks had sortied this morning to attack the British landing in San Carlos. Bar a few Mirages that had remained behind in case the Chileans started having ideas these aircraft were nearly the entirety of Argentina’s remaining fast jet fleet.
    Argentine planners had been aware that due to the distances involved and in the case of some aircraft fuel endurances that had to be calculated to the exact minute the attacking aircraft wouldn’t be able to arrive as one single large formation but instead a line of individual squadrons making their way to the Malvinas and carrying out attack runs interspaced by mere minutes from each other. This was actually useful as the relatively small target area meant that only a small number of aircraft would be able to make attack runs at once without the risk of colliding with each other. Individual flights of three or four aircraft would make attack runs to hopefully divide British defending fire as opposed to attacking piecemeal. The British were to be subjected to an unrelenting series of air attacks that would hopefully wear them down and allow for the aircraft making their bombing runs towards the end of the attack to have a much easier time of things.
    Not joining the aerial armada this morning were the Canberra’s of 2nd Air Brigade. These older, larger and slower aircraft were felt to be far too vulnerable to British interceptors and air defences and in any case would probably be better kept on the mainland with some of the Mirages as an insurance policy against the Chileans trying anything.

    Before any of these aircraft had even reached San Carlos, the British had already extracted a heavy toll. First the Mirages had been intercepted by a pair of British Phantoms on combat air patrol. While the Mirages had been successful in driving the Phantoms away it had come at the cost of 6 of their number with the remaining 6 having to return home due to dwindling fuel reserves. Unfortunately, for the Argentines there had been a second pair of British Phantoms on CAP to the south of the first which had managed to intercept a formation of Daggers flying out of NAS ALMIRANTE QUIJADA at Rio Gallegos resulting in the destruction of 10 of their number with a further 2 only surviving by dropping their ordinance and running for home. Without any form of early warning system onboard the Dagger pilots hadn’t had anyway of even knowing that they had been locked up by missiles until it was too late. One of the British pilots would later describe the interception as “Lambs happily trotting off to slaughter”. The Phantom crews having not only conducted a successful air to air intercept of the Dagger squadron but having also achieved the status of flying aces now withdrew. As always, the fuel state was on their minds and having used nearly all of their missile compliment there was little reason for them to stay in the area and so they turned north east and began the return trip towards EAGLE while being careful to stay clear of the BRISTOL group’s missile engagement zone.
    The Sea Darts of the BRISTOL group were able to claim 7 Skyhawks as well as one of the Learjets being used to guide the combat jets towards their targets. Again the lack of any early warning systems aboard some of the Skyhawks (Argentina had been unable to acquire these due to an ongoing US arms embargo as part of the sanctions on the country) and the fact that they were flying high and straight (Plus the pilots being more focussed on the threat from British interceptors) had made it all to easy for the British ships.
    The final hurdle before reaching San Carlos were the four Sea Harriers that were able to bring down another 5 aircraft and force a Dagger to jettison his ordinance and turn for home after the pilot had become lost.
    In total 11 Daggers and 27 Skyhawks were able to make their way through the British defensive lines and carry out attacks against the ships of the amphibious group within San Carlos water.

    These aircraft were met by fierce hail of fire from both ship and shore. Aboard the ships every gun was brought to bear ranging from the 4.5 inch naval guns loaded with AA shells down to GPMG’s sometimes mounted on guard rails in a rather ad hoc fashion and often nearly every single 7.62 L1A1 SLR (the standard British service rifle at the time) in the ships inventory as the British tried to put as much lead into the air as possible. Sea Dart, Sea Wolf and Sea Cat missiles also joined the fray.
    In stark contrast to its impressive performance when used by the Bristol group engaging high flying Skyhawks over open water in San Carlos the Sea Dart again showed its weakness in its inability to take on very low flying targets in an environment that caused heavy radar land clutter. While a small number were launched by HMS COVENTRY not one was able to achieve a lock on any of the Argentine aircraft. Much more success was achieved by the Sea Wolf missiles launched by HMS BROADSWORD. The Sea Wolf system as well as the VM40 radar was also equipped with a TV tracking system that had a much easier time of identifying and engaging the low flying attacking aircraft than the various radars. The fully automated nature of the Sea Wolf system meant that its reactions times were much quicker than the other missile systems. The missile itself was also capable of proximity detonation greatly increasing its chances of success. Knowing that friendly aircraft were being kept clear of the area the missilemen and upper deck weapons crews had a completely free field of fire. Over the course of the attack Sea Wolf accounted for a total of 5 aircraft downed out of seven missiles launched. Sea Cat however was verging on obsolesce. The system did have some things going for it in that it very rarely failed to respond or misfired and was available in larger numbers. However, these were cancelled out by its slow speed and lack of accuracy. The Sea Cat was unable to bring down any of the Argentine aircraft. However, according to accounts from surviving pilots it seems that in many cases the slower speed of the Sea Cat was giving them time to spot the missile and take evasive action. This ability for self-preservation however came at the expense of bombing accuracy.
    Argentine aircraft that ventured closer to the shore found that the Paras and Marines were all too happy to stop digging foxholes for a few moments and put up a hail of small arms fire of varying calibres with a few shoulder launched Blowpipe SAM’s thrown into the mix.
    Wherever they were over San Carlos however, one constant threat that the Argentine pilots had to contend with was the Rapier SAM system. While Rapier was supposed to have a good performance against high altitude targets it was claimed to be exceptional when used against highly-manoeuvrable low flying targets of the sort presented by the Argentines. Indeed, the men of 12 Air Defence Regiment found themselves in the extremely unusual position for SAM crews of firing downwards onto their targets. The positions of the Rapier systems had been worked out by a computer back in Britain however this threw up a major performance affecting issue. The computer had calculated the positions based on the objective of defending the landing forces ashore rather than the ships out in San Carlos water.
    Of the first ten missiles fired only three achieved hits. However, as the attack went on the performance of the Rapier crews improved dramatically. Part of the problem was that the radars on the ships were using a similar frequency to that used by the Rapiers Blindfire radar causing interference. Once this problem had been identified the operators began to ignore the acquisition radar and instead used the systems optical sights and lined up missiles with targets using their own native wit and experience. By the end of the attack Rapier missiles had accounted for a total of 8 enemy aircraft.

    With a total of 15 aircraft lost at the hands of SAM’s, gunfire/small arms and one aircraft smashing into the high ground at the edge of San Carlos Bay as a result of pilot error San Carlos had earned the nickname “Death Valley” amongst the Argentines. Unfortunately for the British there was a reason why they came to call it “Bomb Alley”.

    Yet another consequence of the Argentines Air Force’s lack of training and experience in maritime strike missions was brought to the fore. As a result of an oversight made by the planners and armourers much of the WWII era ordinance being released by the Skyhawks and Daggers was not configured for ultra-low level strikes. Neither the air force nor the navy had ever really been called upon to carry out anything more than mid to high altitude bombing missions against unsophisticated opposition and therefore had never developed a body of highly detailed institutional knowledge relating to different types and configurations of ordinance for different missions. The result was that the bombs were being released from far too lower an altitude and were impacting before they had had sufficient time to arm. This resulted in many ships being struck by ordinance which either failed to detonate or as in the case of HMS ALACRITY on the 6th simply smashed their way clean through the ships and out the other side into the sea.
    HMS ACTIVE, HMS PLYMOUTH, HMS ANTELOPE, RFA SIR LANCELOT, RFA SIR BEDIVER and RFA SIR GALAHAD all sustained hits from weapons that failed to detonate causing varying degrees of damage.
    Many ships also sustained casualties and some minor damage to the upper works when they were hit by bursts of 20mm and 30mm cannon fire. Tragically for the British one of the Argentine Dagger pilots had the foresight to aim his cannon shells at the various small craft that he correctly deduced were ferrying men and equipment ashore. This resulted in the loss of Tango 5 on of the LCVP’s from HMS INTREPID. The landing craft rapidly sank after being struck by 30mm shells. Of the 30 men of 42 COMMANDO onboard 19 were rescued from the lethally cold water by Tango six, another LCVP. 11 men were lost to a combination of shell impacts and in some cases, men were believed to have been weighed down by their own equipment and unable to stay afloat.
    Many surviving Argentine pilots lamented the fact that they hadn’t thought to equip at least some aircraft with rocket pods as in hindsight they could have inflicted significantly more damage on the British ships.

    The first ship to be put out of action was HMS ANTRIM. At first with Captain Young ordering the ship to turn northwards in order to present a smaller target and bring here Sea Slug missile system on her stern to bare on the threat her luck seemed to be holding when the first few bombs missed her entirely, though they were close. Her luck ran out however when she was struck by two 1000IB bombs barely a second apart released by a Dagger. The first bomb struck the port side stern on the corner of the hanger. In a cruel twist of fate or depending on your point of view million to one odds the weapon impacted on one of the bulkheads that ran fore to aft (as opposed to one running across the ship which it would have most likely smashed clean through) which brought it to a halt with enough force to cause the detonator to function. The resulting blast obliterated the flight deck and hanger as well as the galley below. The second bomb impacted the Sea Slug missile launcher just aft of the first impact and detonated. These two detonations killed a total of 32 men and leaving many more wounded. With the stern part of his ship ablaze and his primary weapon system destroyed Captain Young knew that the battle now was an internal battle to save his ship and crew. Immediately he gave the order to flood the aft Sea Slug magazine and bar those operating the twin 4.5 inch guns forward and manning the upper deck weapons set his crew to work fighting the fire.
    The actions of HMS ANTRIM’s crew would to a significant degree help to rewrite the book on shipboard firefighting. Like the men of the GLASGOW ANTRIM’s men had to work with firefighting equipment that was lacking in both quantity and quality. Unlike the GLASGOW however, ANTRIM still had electrical power which made their job significantly easier and conditions onboard less hellish. With the fire located on the stern of the ship the firefighting parties only had to attack it from one direction. Like the GLASGOW unfortunately the amount of combustible material onboard was helping the fire to spread as wooden cabinets and foam cushions placed against bulkheads in compartments adjacent to fires burst into flames as the heat transited through the metal walls. To combat this the firefighting effort was focused on containment rather than extinguishment. Damage control parties used axes, crowbars and sledgehammers to remove or in the case of fixed fittings literally smash away anything that could catch fire and expose the bare metal of the bulkhead. Firefighting hoses were used to cool the bulkheads and bring the metal back from the brink its heat failure point. HMS YARMOUTH moved alongside to provide external firefighting support and transferred some of her firefighting equipment to ANTRIM.
    Just over an hour later when it was judged that full containment of the fire had not only been achieved but was holding and after the necessary equipment had been transferred from YARNMOUTH a re-entry was made into one of the compartments and the process of extinguishing the fire and reclaiming the affected areas of the ship compartment by compartment began.
    Though she had survived the bomb hits and remained afloat the damage to ANTRIM meant that her war was over. Indeed, as he toured his ship as surveyed the extensive fire and blast damage Captain Young thought that he wouldn’t be surprised if this was the end of ANTRIM’s career with the RN as well.

    Not so lucky was the Type 21 Frigate HMS ARDENT. Having during the night conducted a naval gunfire support mission in support of D Squadron SAS’s diversionary raid on the Argentine airfield at Goose Green the ship had been making her way northwards to reinforce the ships screening the landing force. When the air attack began, she was still a little way to the west of the rest of the ships and outside of the range at which they could provide mutual overlapping AA fire. This made her an attractive proposition for some of the Argentine Skyhawk pilots. As the first Skyhawks homed in on her the ship violently manoeuvred for all she was worth and put as much lead into the air as possible. The Skyhawks unfortunately approached from a direction that was outside of the arc of fire for the ships 4.5 inch gun and the Sea Cat missiles were unable to achieve a lock. Two 500IB bombs impacted the ship towards the stern destroying the Sea Cat launcher and flight deck with its attendant Lynx helicopter.
    Still able to move but now without its main air defence system there was little that ARDENT could do except make best speed towards the relative protection of the ships in San Carlos Bay. In a famous episode of the battle Lt Cdr Sephton formed a party of men and broke out the ships entire stock of GPMG’s. Securing them to any free space on the upper deck railings and with one of the weapons manned by the ships civilian NAFFI canteen manager they showed that if their ship was going down, she was going to go down fighting.
    The next wave of Skyhawks resulted in three bomb hits. While the weapons did not explode, they caused damage as they smashed their way into the ship and came to rest within. With his ship already heavily on fire, under attack and without any bomb disposal expertise anywhere nearby Commander (And future First Sea Lord) Alan West ordered the bombs to be extremely carefully manhandled and dumped over the side of the ship. Miraculously none of the weapons detonated. No sooner had this been carried out the next Skyhawk came to try its luck. The ship was struck by a further three bombs one of which impacted the superstructure amidships and detonated. The second and third bombs while not detonating impacted the ship just on or below the watering fore and aft on the starboard side causing heavy flooding.
    The crew valiantly fought to save the ship but it was to no avail. With two serious fires rapidly getting out of control, the entire ship aft of the funnel destroyed or aflame, unexploded ordinance onboard and the ship listing to starboard due to flooding Commander West could see the writing on the wall. Close to tears he gave the order to abandon ship. As the men assembled on deck helicopters began winching off the wounded while those who were still able bodied enough began to climb into life rafts. Like too many other Captains so far in this conflict Commander West made a point of being the last man to leave and was forced to endure the sight of his ship slipping beneath the waves.

    The Leander class frigate HMS ARGONAUT was next up for the chop as it were. The first attack came from a lone Skyhawk. Firing bursts from its 20mm cannon as it approached the ship its shells impacted the masts and upper works putting the ships Type 965 radar out of action. Without the radar ARGONAUT’s ability to defend herself from the next wave of aircraft had been severely impeded. The next aircraft that attacked managed to land one bomb on the ship. The bomb detonated on impact when it struck the ships Sea Cat missile magazine with the resulting blast also putting the boiler room out of action leaving the ship crippled and dead in the water. It was all too easy for the third and final Skyhawk. Two more bombs struck the ship with one coming to rest within the superstructure without detonating. The killer blow however was the bomb that entered the ship just above the waterline and detonated when it is believed that it struck machinery in the engine room. The resulting explosion deep within the ship blew apart nearby hull plates causing a massive inrush of water as well as nearly snapping the keel. With the ship going down by the stern and having seen what he described as a “pillar of flame shooting out of the funnel and holes in the deck and ships side” like Commander West Captain Weatherall could see that the situation was beyond saving and was forced to give the order to abandon ship.

    HMS ANTELOPE was struck by a total of 6 bombs. Two of these passed clean through the ship and into the sea while the other four came to rest within the ship. With his ship now in effect one massive powder keg waiting to explode Commander Tobin after conferring with Rear Admiral Woodward (commanding the amphibious group’s screening force from HMS GLAMORGAN) gave the order to very carefully and quietly evacuate the ship. The only men remaining aboard were a firefighting party extinguishing a small fire that had been started by friction from the impact of one of the weapons and a Royal Engineers bomb disposal team who were helicoptered aboard to undertake the unenviable task of locating and defusing the unexploded bombs. The first two bombs were relatively straight forward jobs (well as straight forward as can be when defusing a live 1000IB bomb) the second and third proved to be more problematic. One of them was nearly inaccessible due to wreckage while the other was judged to be in an extremely dangerous condition. With this communicated back to EAGLE the decision was made to tow HMS ANTELOPE away from the other ships and landing beaches while the bomb disposal experts continued with their efforts. With the sheer quantity of high explosive now onboard including both the Argentine bombs and the ships own ordinance no one wanted to be nearby if that lot went up (the guys onboard probably wouldn’t live long enough to notice).

    Aboard the SS CANBERRA which was finally in the process of offloading the men and equipment that she had been transporting the crew found themselves playing host to yet more guests. With three crews now without their ships things had gotten a bit crowded on the ships that had come to their aid and so these men were gradually transferred to the CANBERRA if nothing else to keep them out of the way. As the civilian crew found out over the following days and weeks this was something of a mixed blessing. While the Paras and Marines had been rather obnoxious at times there was nothing more annoying than being told how to do your job by someone else. It was one thing for a tourist to do it to a waiter or barman but it was a new and unwelcome experience for the engineers and deck hands to experience it from men who probably did know what they were talking about. With no ships and little left to do the survivors of the lost ships began to pass the time and to a degree take their minds off what they had experienced by making mischief around their new home.

    The bombing runs over San Carlos had been costly for both sides and both the surviving Argentine pilots and British sailors considered themselves lucky to still be alive. However, it was most certainly not over yet. The British were not about to let the Argentines go home unmolested after they had so rudely gate crashed the landings and there was still the matter of the Exocet carrying Super Etendards to consider.
    Battle of San Carlos Part 3

    Under his anti-flash hood, the Lt Cdr was sweating not because he was overheating but because he was right now a very busy and somewhat stressed man. As the Air Warfare Officer, he was the most senior of all the PWO’s onboard and was responsible for all things air related. Being an aircraft carrier equipped with the most up to date Type 1022 long range air search radar and a large operations room staffed by men who were well practised in tracking and controlling large numbers of aircraft meant that INVINCIBLE or more accurately the Lt Cdr had been designated as the force AWO responsible for all aspects of the air defence of the carrier group which was currently located well over a hundred miles north east of San Carlos water where right now the landing force was desperately struggling to fend off a heavy and sustained Argentine air attack.
    Sat next to Captain Jeremy Black and one of the other PWO’s in the centre of the Ops room the three men poured over an alarmingly busy force plot that the various radar plotters around them were working feverishly to keep up to date. With forces spread out over such a large area radar coverage was limited meaning that a lot of the information was being passed between ships by voice communications massively slowing down the rate at which information was passed. This was particularly frustrating in the case of the Gannet AEW aircraft that being closer to the action had a much clearer understanding of what was going on.
    As the situation stood right now the attacking Argentine aircraft were in the process of making their bombing runs over the landing force and were being reported by various ships within San Carlos Water as exiting the area westwards over West Falkland presumably on their return trip. It was these aircraft that currently held the interest of the three men. The more of these aircraft that could be prevented from returning to the mainland would mean the lesser the air threat in the long term. Though he wasn’t an intelligence officer the AWO knew enough about the A4 Skyhawk from his experiences of working alongside the Americans and Australians to recognise that the Argentine aircraft would be at the near limit of their fuel endurance to be able to fly sorties over these distances. In his opinion it may not even be necessary to shoot them down. Perhaps forcing them to manoeuvre would be enough to burn just enough fuel to prevent them from returning home.
    To that end the three officers were examining the position and statuses of their own aircraft to see who would be best placed to make the interception.
    At that moment there was a grand total of 10 Phantoms and 10 Sea Harriers in the air working in pairs as well as the AEW Gannets, a pair of Buccaneers returning from an air to air refuelling sortie and the various helicopters that were now being scrambled or retasked to assist the ships that had been hit in San Carlos Water.
    Of the Phantoms four had been positioned to the west of the Falklands in two pairs working with HMS BRISTOL and accompanying ships to intercept inbound Argentine aircraft with a third pair having been scrambled from HMS EAGLE when the first raids were detected. The pair of Phantoms that had engaged the first group of Argentine aircraft believed to have been Mirages had used their entire complement of Skyflash missiles. While they still had a full complement of Sidewinders their heavy use of afterburners to get away from the pursuing Mirages that had survived the initial missile volley had used up a lot of fuel meaning that they were now heading back towards EAGLE. While they still theoretically had fuel remaining for a few minutes loitering time with so many aircraft that would have to eventually be recovered to EAGLE that fuel would probably be best saved in case they had to wait for their turn to recover.
    The second pair of Phantoms had used up their missile compliment and being further away from EAGLE than the first and also having been unable to complete their refuelling from the Buccaneers had also by now reached the limit of their fuel endurance and so like the first pair were making the return trip to EAGLE.
    The third pair of Phantoms had yet to arrive on station but it was already clear that they had missed the incoming raids. They had been proceeding south west as planned anyway in order to guard against any follow up raids but the AWO was now recommending that they be turned eastwards to try and intercept the Argentine aircraft making their way back to the mainland.
    The remaining four Phantoms airborne were providing outer CAP for the carrier group with one pair covering the western approach and the other the south. Here the AWO was recommending that the pair to the south be released to move south west and try to bring down some of the Argentine aircraft using Skyflash. Captain Jeremy Black however had reservations about this. The Phantoms on CAP had been on station for a while now and would soon have to conduct an air to air refuelling with Buccaneers equipped with “buddy packs” as there wasn’t the time to get them back onto EAGLE’s deck and then launch them again. He was worried about the risk of leaving one pair of Phantoms behind to protect the carriers that would have to conduct AAR to stay in the air which for a time would limit their ability to respond to any sudden emergent threat. With every serviceable Phantom already in the air there would be not be any aircraft able to relieve the CAP aircraft meaning that they would be in the air for longer meaning that crew fatigue and its associated risks were in the back of everyone’s minds.
    However, Captain Black was also tempted by the opportunity to down some more Argentine aircraft and therefore reduce the long term air threat.
    Of the Sea Harriers four of them were providing inner CAP to the carrier group and realistically would not be able to move quickly enough to be able to move into a position to intercept any of the outbound Argentine aircraft.
    The four that had been positioned over West Falkland had exhausted the meagre eight Sidewinders that they had carried between them and not being of much more use were returning to INVINCIBLE.
    Like the Phantoms a pair of Sea Harriers had been scrambled to try and intercept inbound raids. Unfortunately like the Phantoms also they were too late in this case due to their slower speed. While in a good position to intercept the outbound raids there was some concern about the risk of friendly fire with potentially two pairs of Phantoms launching large numbers of beyond visual range missiles.

    After a few minutes of discussion, it was decided that the two pairs of Phantoms would be redirected east and south to intercept returning Argentine aircraft as they left San Carlos Water and transited over West Falkland. The Sea Harriers would be for now kept clear in order to give the Phantom crews a completely free field of fire. Support could to a degree be provided by INVINCIBLES Type 1022 long range air search radar which was much better than other RN radars at identifying targets against land backdrops and was also longer ranged than most other radars. However, to a large degree the Phantoms would be operating as lone hunters largely free from the control of others (something most fighter pilots dream of) which was another reason for keeping the Sea Harriers clear.

    Then just as the necessary orders were about to go out the Argentinians decided to throw a spanner into the works.

    Flying out of NAS ALMIRANTE QUIJADA in Rio Grande approximately 300 miles to the south west of the Falklands came the Argentine Navy’s last remaining potent weapon and much hoped for revenge. Four Super Etendard’s of 2nd Naval Air Fighter/Attack Squadron were making their way NNE carrying Argentina’s three remaining air launched Exocet missiles that had already proved their worth when they had destroyed HMS GLASGOW on the 6th of May. Making use of one of the precious KC-130’s for air to air refuelling the pilots orders were to search and prosecute targets of opportunity in the area immediately north of the Malvinas. The highest priority targets were the British aircraft carriers which while their exact position was unknown were known to be located somewhere to the north of the islands. However, in the fairly likely event that they were unable to locate the carriers it was hoped that they would be able to find and sink British transport ships making their way to San Carlos water. While this mission was effectively a last desperate throw of the dice for a decisive victory the Argentines recognised that if high casualties could be inflicted on the British it may be enough to make it politically unviable for the British government to continue with the campaign. The helicopter carrier HMS HERMES was thought likely to be in open water relatively near to the British landing at San Carlos to enable it to provide helicopter support. This ship would be an ideal target for both of the Argentinians aims.
    Flying at low level the Super Etendard Pilots (who had been well trained by the French and ironically the British) kept strict radio silence passing instructions through wing movements and when forced to use the radio simply transmitting two numbers. One to designate the intended recipient and one for the actual order.
    The flight leader Frigate Captain Jorge Colombo was in the aircraft that wasn’t carrying an Exocet. While the others attempted to stay at a low enough altitude to avoid detection by British radars it was his job to “pop up” and scan for targets with his Agave radar. If necessary, he would act as a decoy to protect the vital Exocet carrying aircraft.
    Like their army and air force counterparts, the naval airmen had been somewhat surprised at the British choice of San Carlos for a landing. Unlike the air force pilots however this largely didn’t affect their pre-prepared operational plan which had always assumed that the British would approach the Malvinas from the north.

    As they had made their way NNE the Super Etendard pilots had been intently listening to the radio transmissions from the other aircraft involved in the operation. First had come the warnings and calls for help from aircraft being engaged by British interceptors. While this had been expected it was hard to listen to the voices of their fellow aviators some of whom knew they were about to die be it in their cockpits or the cruel waters of the South Atlantic. The Super Etendards had flown a little closer to the water after hearing that. Next had come something very surprising. A flight of Skyhawks was reporting being engaged by SAM’s most likely to be Sea Darts. Clearly there was at least one British ship to the west of the islands. Frigate Captain Colombo decided that he had to investigate. Waggling his wings to communicate his intentions to his wingmen he pulled back on his stick and brought his aircraft up to an altitude of 3000 ft and started sweeping the area ahead of him with his radar. His radar screen showed three white blips, three ships. While it was extremely unlikely that any of these ships were the carriers of landing ships, they had shown themselves to be a significant danger the Argentine aircraft and indeed his own flight would have to alter their course slightly to remain outside of the probable Sea Dart range. While the probable destroyers and frigates were not his primary targets neutralising, them would remove a significant obstacle to the success of the operation and could he really pass up such a tempting target? He gave the order to fire by simply saying two numbers. 1 (Wingman number one, Frigate Lieutenant Armando Mayora) 3 (Launch weapon). Frigate Lieutenant Mayora increased his aircrafts altitude slightly in order to give the seeker head a better “view” and launched his Exocet. With the technical faults having finally been ironed out the weapon functioned perfectly and sped off towards its target while the two Etendards dropped their altitude and in company with their comrades attempted to use the distraction of the Exocet to manoeuvre around the British ships.

    Aboard HMS BRISTOL in the operations room everyone’s heart skipped a beat when they heard the dreaded sound of the electronic warfare operator blowing his whistle. The men in the Ops room were all familiar with that sound from countless exercises and wargames where it usually meant a few minutes of frantic work. Out here in the real world in a real war it took had a whole new terrifying implication. The operator proceeded to shout out that he had a positive detection of radar emissions from an Agave type radar on a bearing of approximately 190 degrees. Knowing what this likely meant Captain Grose without a hint of fear in his voice (As was expected of a Royal Navy captain, especially one as experienced as him) gave the order to both his Ops room team and the accompanying ships to carry out Zippo 3. A Zippo was a pre-planned response to an emergent threat with each Zippo given a different number depending on the threat, 3 usually meaning radar guided missile but having been slightly modified specifically for the Exocet based on the lessons of HMS GLASGOW.
    The three ships of the Bristol group turned northwards onto a heading of 010 so that the threat axis was now astern of them. In line abreast formation with HMS BRISTOL in the centre separated by just over 1000 yards from HMS BRILLIANT to port and HMS EXETER to starboard now presented the smallest possible radar cross-section to the incoming Exocet. This was further enhanced by all three ships launching chaff to both port and starboard. To the missile seeker head the thin strips of fluttering metal foil were almost identical to the actual ships. Three targets had just become nine greatly increasing the chance of a “soft kill” (the incoming missile being drawn away from its target). All of this happened within a matter of seconds. However, the three ships were also preparing to attempt a “hard kill” (physical destruction). The most potent defence against the Exocet was HMS BRILLIANT’s Seawolf point defence missile system positioned astern atop the hanger. They System now operating in automatic mode was now directed to search astern for the incoming missile (or missiles for all the British knew at that point) with the Sea Wolfs primed and ready to go. BRISTOL had her Sea Dart Launcher mounted astern but it was by now well known that the Sea Dart would find it extremely difficult to identify let alone engage a sea skimming missile. The most vulnerable ship was HMS EXETER. Like BRISTOL she was equipped with Sea Dart but unlike BRISTOL her launcher was positioned forward of the superstructure meaning that the missile was approaching from her blind arc.

    When Captain Hoddinott formerly of HMS GLASGOW had been fished out of the South Atlantic he had been debriefed extensively regarding the minutes leading up to his ship sustaining critical damage. The results of this debrief had been compiled into a “lessons learned” document which contained advice and some changes to procedures that had been passed around all of the other commanders within the Task Force.
    When the Exocet that ultimately killed his ship was inbound from astern HMS BROADSWORD had been leading HMS GLASGOW followed by HMS ALACRICTY in line astern formation. Hoddinott had ordered GLASGOW to make a turn to port in order to get out of the way of BROADSWORD’s Seawolf’s line of sight and in order to be able to bring his own Sea Darts to bare.
    It had been assessed that HMS GLASGOW’s rapid turn and thus massively increased radar cross section had highly likely drawn the Exocet towards her and away from it otherwise most probable target HMS ALACRICTY. Furthermore, though for obvious reasons there had been no opportunity to properly investigate this theory it was thought that a Type 42 Destroyer would be more likely to survive a missile impact on its stern than anywhere else.
    Ironically though she was not going to be in a position to shoot back EXETER was equipped with a Type 1022 Radar and therefore the most able of the three ships to detect both the missile and intermittently the Super Etendards that had launched it.

    In an example could easily have come out of any number of textbooks and training manuals (and subsequently made its way into a few) relating to modern warfare at sea the British plan worked perfectly and lead to the first ever successful defence against an Exocet missile in flight. As it drew close enough to begin to become visible to observers on the upper decks and the Sea Wolf systems TV tracking system cameras the Exocet was seen to be aiming towards the northern part of the formation. Whether it was homing in on HMS BRILLIANT or HMS BRISTOL or had been successfully seduced by the chaff is still up for discussion. However, this slight change of course was all that was needed for bring it to the attention the Sea Wolf system which proceeded to automatically launch two missiles a little over a second apart. The first though coming reasonably close sailed right by the Exocet having apparently failed to achieve a lock. The second Sea Wolf while not being able to manoeuvre quickly enough to impact it head on detonated mere meters away from the Exocet causing it to fly into a thick cloud of deadly shrapnel. Observers on the ships clearly saw splashes in the water from something crashing down into it. They prayed that it was the remains of the Exocet until maybe 20 seconds later they began to realise that the simple fact that they were all still alive now meant that whatever had happened that particular missile was no longer a threat. The men on the upper decks and in the Ops rooms now kept their eyes peeled for the expected next missiles which ultimately never came.

    Back aboard the INVINCIBLE the sudden occurrence of an air to surface missile attack against the Bristol group had necessitated a reappraisal of the situation and tactical battle plan. Less than two minutes had elapsed between the Flash message from BRISTOL that she was under attack by a probable Exocet to receiving a message stating to everyone’s relief that she had successfully fended off the attack. Soon after another message came through. There had been no further missiles detected leading Captain Grose to assess that the raid was likely complete. EXETER was reporting intermittent radar contact with a possible launch aircraft tracking NNE.
    Upon receiving this particular piece of information Captain Black had called over INVINCIBLE’s intelligence officer.
    The four men around the plot were now trying to work out was there still an immediate Exocet threat to the ships of the Task Force? Did this threat outweigh the long term threat posed by the Argentine aircraft that had survived the bombing runs over San Carlos? And how should they proceed?
    The intelligence officer and AWO were of differing opinions with regards to the threat. While they agreed that there were highly likely to be Exocet armed Super Etendards in the air at that very moment their opinions differed over the direction of the threat. The intelligence officer believed that EXETER was indeed detecting a flight of Super Etendards that had stumbled across the Bristol group and thought they might as well try their luck and were now continuing north looking for targets of opportunity in an area where they must know that British ships would be present. The AWO thought it more likely that there was more than one flight of Super Etendards out there approaching the presumed location of the Task Force from the south west and west (where the distance would have been shorter) and that the flight that had attacked the Bristol group had probably done so in support of their comrades that were being engaged by the Sea Darts.
    In the end Captain Black made the decision.

    The pair of Phantoms to the west of the Islands that had originally been sent to support the four aircraft attempting to intercept inbound raids was retasked yet again. Instead of intercepting aircraft returning to the mainland they were to move towards an estimated flight path of the possible Super Etendards and cover the carrier groups south western flank. To try and compensate for this the pair of Sea Harriers that had been being kept clear of this pair of Phantoms expected missile engagement envelopes would be retasked to replace them. They wouldn’t be anywhere near as effective in this role as the Phantoms would have been but it was better than letting the Argentines go home unmolested and besides every little helps. The pair of Phantoms on CAP for the carrier group were to be detached and despatched further westwards to guard against any aircraft approaching from the west.
    It was decided that the pair of Phantoms originally on CAP that had been despatched south to try and claim a few Argentines on their return run would remain on task. With the attention of the various controllers now focused on fending off a possible Exocet attack these Phantoms would be largely left to their own devices within their assigned area much to the joy of the crews.
    Providing inner CAP for the carriers the two pairs of Sea Harriers remained in the air forming the second line of defence.

    The Gannets were still in play as well but it was apparent that they would be of little use. The Super Etendards flew too low for the ancient AN/APS-20 air search radar to be able to pick them out from the radar returns generated by the water. Theoretically the observers in the back of the aircraft would be able to identify an aircraft flying just above the horizon but the Gannets normal operating altitude and thus angle relative to the horizon meant that the contact would be beyond the range of the radar anyway.

    As they continued towards their planned hunting grounds Frigate Captain Colombo twice more brought his Super Etendard up to a few thousand feet to scan for potential targets. While he was not expecting to find anything just yet he was keen to avoid blundering into the firing line of a British SAM system like then unfortunate Skyhawks to the SW had. When Frigate Captain Bedacarratz had been debriefed after his successful sortie which had resulted in the sinking of the British destroyer GLASGOW, he had recounted how despite his Exocet having a 100nm range he had only become aware of his target at a range of 20nm when he had decided to perform a radar sweep. Had he not done this he would probably have carried on until he ran right into the ship and great danger. Therefore, it had been decided that future sorties should include more frequent radar sweeps. The extra situational awareness however came at the price of more radio emissions advertising their presence to anyone who cared to listen. Ultimately it was a combination of these factors that led to the failure of the mission.
    The three Super Etendards (Frigate Lieutenant Mayora having turned for home after launching his missile) were now NW of the islands heading eastwards. They were keeping an extremely close eye on their fuel gauges. Rather than returning to the naval airfield at Tierra Del Fuego the plan was for them to make for the closer airfield at Puerto San Julian where most of the other aircraft flying today would be recovering too. The issue was their orders were to bring the Exocets back with them if for whatever reason they were not launched. The extra weight limited the time and range they had in which to search for targets. Mindful that the needle on his fuel gauge was slowly creeping towards the point where he would have to make a decision the flight leader decided to once again climb and scan for targets. At an altitude of 3000ft he allowed his radar to conduct 3 sweeps with no returns detected. Deciding that it was worth the risk rather than increase the possibility of returning home empty handed he increased his altitude to 4000ft and scanned again.

    A radars effective range is only really half the distance of its full range. Radio emissions need to travel the same distance twice to make it from their source to a contact and back. If they do not hit anything the radio waves will continue to travel on beyond the limits of what the operator will be able to see on screen. Even if they do then bounce back off an object, they will not have the strength to get back to the receiver before dissipating. Electronic warfare specialists play this effect to their advantage.
    Although again he still could not see anything on his screen that didn’t mean that Colombo’s Agave radar wasn’t making contact with something.
    Miles to the east aboard HMS SHEFFIELD the ESM equipment operators called over the Ops room manager. He was pretty certain that he had for a brief moment detected a faint radio wave with characteristics similar to an Agave type radar. The reason he hadn’t blown his whistle and begun a full investigate procedure was because even he was not sure whether or not he had imagined it. Even if he had not, he hadn’t had time to spot the exact bearing and was only able to say roughly west. The ORM passed this information over to the PWO. In normal times such a thing would have been most likely disregarded as a spurious radio wave but these were most certainly not normal times.

    The pair of Phantoms guarding the SW approach were vectored SSE and began scanning with their radars to see if they could find anything. Furthermore, one of the pairs of Sea Harriers on CAP was ordered to overfly SHEFFIELD and head down the rough bearing that the emissions were supposed to have originated from, like the Phantoms scanning with their radars.
    In the cockpits of the Super Etendards the pilots were horrified to see their ESM warning equipment suddenly come to life indicating that they were being painted by radar. The crews of the Phantoms whose radars were the source of the Argentine pilot’s worries were unaware of their presence at first as the returns from the ultra-low flying Super Etendards were at this point impossible to distinguish from the sea clutter. Deciding that his odds of success had just plummeted and that discretion was probably the better part of valour Captain Colombo gave the signal to abort and turn westwards. Afterall his fuel was running low and he had probably still already managed to destroy a British escort meaning that his mission most certainly wasn’t a complete failure. Unfortunately for the Argentines the manoeuvre of executing a 180-degree turn meant that they had to raise their altitude ever so slightly and rolled over to one side massively increasing their radar cross section. This created a radar return that was clearly identifiable as something other than sea returns. Having spotted this the Phantoms quickly increased speed and tried to close the distance with this probable aircraft while lowering their altitude to change their angle relative to the target in the hopes of putting it above the horizon relative to them to give the radars a better chance of reacquiring them.
    The Super Etendards resorted to the defence of trying to hug the water as closely as possible. While this certainly helped a bit the Phantoms were still able to close with them and get just enough of a radar paint to make them willing to try their luck. Being too far away and travelling to fast to have much of a chance with an IR guided Sidewinder both Phantoms each launched a single longer ranged Skyflash radar guided missile.
    While neither missile actually achieved a hit, they still had the desired effect. Alerted to the fact that there was now a missile coming towards him one of the Super Etendards through a combination of the pilot being distracted at the wrong moment and trying to get slightly lower to the water struck a wave with his starboard wingtip causing his aircraft to cartwheel spectacularly into the sea killing him instantly.

    While this had been going on the Phantoms and Sea Harriers sent to intercept the Argentine aircraft returning home after attacking San Carlos had been having what could be described as a hell of a time (The same could be said of the Argentinian pilots but with a rather different meaning). Pitched against now unarmed and fuel limited Skyhawks and Daggers they had accounted for another nine aircraft bringing the final score up to 54 destroyed out of 78 aircraft that had sortied out from Argentina that day. For the first time in history a naval fleet had not only defeated but also practically destroyed an air force.

    Puerto San Julian Airfield

    Not long after the final jets had left the runway at Rio Gallegos AFB Brigadier Crespo and the majority of his staff had boarded an aircraft and flown north to Puerto San Julian. Being the airfield closest to the Malvinas and with fuel a concern the airfield here had been designated as the landing field for a large number of the jets sortieing today as well as the primary alternate landing strip for emergencies. Therefore, Crespo and his officers had relocated here in order to meet the returning aircraft.

    As the sun finally slipped below the horizon Crespo looked at his watch and saw that the final cut off time had finally passed. Any aircraft that had still been in the air would by now have definitely run out of fuel. He turned to look at the officers manning the bank of phones. Without even having to say anything they knew what he wanted to know, it was a question he had already asked many times. They simply shook their heads. None of the other airfields had reported anymore aircraft returning.
    In the back of his mind Crespo still hoped that perhaps some had landed at civilian airfields or even perhaps made a forced landing in a field somewhere. Deep down however he knew that this hope would be in vain.

    He just couldn’t believe how this could have happened. He had been expecting losses but this was an utter catastrophe! Out of nearly 80 aircraft which meant 80 of his pilots that he had despatched a mere 24 of them had returned with their aircraft.
    Barely had most of these men’s feet touched solid ground again than Crespo’s officers had stopped them and demanded to know what had happened out there.
    Having been in a transport aircraft for most of the actual mission Crespo and his staff had been unable to keep track of the missions’ progress as well as they could of on the ground.
    The pilots were now in debriefing while various other officers examined gun camera footage, attempted to ascertain the status of downed pilots in the hopes of finding survivors and otherwise attempted to salvage something from this debacle.
    All the time Crespo was having to fend off questions both from his superiors in Buenos Aries and elsewhere including the Malvinas garrison as to the missions’ outcome. Until the debriefing was completed whereupon he would have a more complete picture of what had happened he was deliberately stalling rather than drip feeding pieces of information at a time which could very easily adversely affect the various decision making processes.
    In debriefings that often veered towards interrogations pilots were asked to recount their bombing runs second by second and were shown photographs of the British ships known to be in the British fleet and told to point out the ones they had attacked.
    many of the pilots were unsure as to exactly what type of ship they had attacked but when asked to point to the photographs of the ships that it could have been nearly all pointed to frigates or destroyers. When questioned as to the other ships that they had seen they nearly all pointed to the picture of the large white coloured liner SS CANBERRA though annoyingly none of them seemed to have attacked it.
    As the gun camera footage was developed and analysed the picture started to become clearer. Analysing one frame at a time it became possible to identify individual ships both in the crosshairs and background. A satisfying number of ships seemed to have been subjected to strafing and Crespo was particularly fond of a clip that showed a strafing run against a small landing craft that was visibly in distress when the clip ended. Furthermore, it was possible to confirm the reported sightings from the pilots of flames and smoke plumes.
    Through bringing these various sources together Crespo’s staff were confident that they had destroyed at least three warships with others likely sustaining damage.
    Rather than make the calls himself Crespo had delegated the task of disseminating this information to members of his staff while he went to check on a more pressing matter.

    Making contact with Port Stanley via radio he asked for a status update on the efforts to recover at least some of his men. A total of two pilots had thus far been identified as having successfully ejected from their aircraft and parachuted down onto the island of West Falkland where they had made radio contact with local forces on their handheld emergency radios. Efforts were being made to recover these men but with neither party knowing their exact position there was a lot of potential ground to search and the darkness of the night wasn’t helping. Crespo muttered a silent prayer for these men to be found before they succumbed to exposure. He also prayed for any of his men who had been unlucky enough to eject and land in the sea where they faced a cold, lonely and agonizing death at the hands of the South Atlantic rather than dying quickly in their cockpits. With the navy now unable and unwilling to even attempt to put anything to sea Crespo had been trying to convince the Malvinas garrison to mount a helicopter search at first light. Brigadier Castellano while desperate to do something to save these men (many of whom he knew personally as is the close knit nature of aircrew communities) was wary of risking more pilots and aircraft. The British now effectively controlled both the air and the channel of water between East and West Falklands. Sending helicopters to search for men adrift at sea may just end up adding to their number. Especially as there was no way of telling whether or not the British Sea Dart destroyers that had surprised them west of the Malvinas were still in the area waiting for anymore targets of opportunity.
    Neither man wanted to say it but they knew that the best hope for any of these men to survive was probably the British destroyer captains feeling merciful.

    Shutting himself in his commandeered office Brigadier Crespo took a few moments to think about the outcome of the day. While he was extremely proud of the bravery of his pilots they had somehow managed to expend all their efforts and sacrifice themselves by attacking the British escorts rather than the landing ships. It would take a while to figure out how that had happened. While they had certainly given the British a bloody nose and showed them that the Argentine armed forces were not about to roll over and die, they had paid for it in blood and the British were most likely still exactly where they had left them. It was a pyrrhic victory if any at all.
    While he was certain the media of both sides would try to claim victory and skip over their own losses, he thought that future historians would probably describe this battle as a sort of modern day Battle of Jutland.
    Of all the thoughts going around in his head one kept repeating itself and he even began to mutter it and ended up saying it out loud over and over. But at what cost? BUT AT WHAT COST?!


    With the light fading and the air threat warning now relaxed the final remaining airborne aircraft withdrew from their CAP duties and began to recover to the deck.
    Within the ships island Vice Admiral Reffell was holding a meeting of his staff in order to discuss the day’s events. While they had successfully beaten off the air attack and inflicted significant losses upon the Argentinian’s they hadn’t by any stretch of the imagination gotten away with it cleanly.
    Since Operation Corporate began the Task Force had lost a total of six ships. HMS GLASGOW, HMS ARDENT and HMS ARGONAUT had been sunk. HMS ALACRICTY had been damaged during the air attack on the 6th of May and was still limping back to the UK for repairs. HMS ANTRIM had sustained heavy damage and was now slowly making her way to rendezvous with the requisitioned oil rig support ship MV STENA INSPECTOR which was acting as a repair ship. She would help make ANTRIM sea worthy enough to make the trip back home for serious repairs (assuming they were judged to be economical). The Royal Navy’s dedicated heavy repair ship HMS TRIUMPH had been decommissioned and scrapped a few years before along with a number of other ships that would be of considerable help right now. TRIUMPH, ALBION, BULWARK, ARK ROYAL, BLAKE and TIGER. Some wondered whether the Argentine invasion and subsequent conflict was some sort of karma for ministers so willingly disposing of these ships.

    The conversation turned to HMS ANTELOPE. The ship now lay at anchor abandoned and far away from anyone else just outside of San Carlos water. There were a total of four unexploded 1000Ib bombs onboard. Two of these had been defused but would probably still go up if the others detonated. One of the bombs was in the most dangerous state that a bomb could be in. The bomb disposal team that had examined it had concluded that the detonator had already functioned and warned that the slightest knock could be enough to help the explosives the rest of the way to an explosion. The Warrant Officer leading the team was of the opinion that even the rocking of the ship if the sea state got up might well be enough to cause an explosion. The final bomb was inaccessible due to its being covered with debris. The bomb disposal team fearing that it would be in a similar state to the other one hadn’t even wanted to go near it let alone risk moving it by trying to remove wreckage. The risk of a detonation was too great.
    With the ship effectively terminally sick the Senior Warfare Officer had volunteered to go back aboard by himself where he had recovered the ships logs and secret documents making sure to destroy anything that he could not bring back with him. He would certainly be getting some sort of medal for that.
    He had been ordered not to attempt to remove the ships crest or ensign as the RN wasn’t quite ready to give up on the young ship just yet.
    Rear Woodward in San Carlos had been unsure how to proceed regarding her and so had sent a signal to both Reffell and Northwood to request guidance on this very unusual situation. Vice Admiral Reffell had ordered that the bomb disposal experts be given anything and anyone they might need if they had to go back aboard and attempt to defuse the unexploded ordinance. This included the use of satellite communications equipment to contact their counterparts in the UK for advice. The bombs had turned out to be British made so there must be someone somewhere who would have some idea of how to proceed beyond “get as far away as possible as fast as possible”.

    The topic of discussion now turned to EAGLE’s own ordinance. The large number of combat sorties flown throughout this campaign so far had depleted the air weapons magazines on both EAGLE and INVINCIBLE which had to be repeatedly replenished by the RFA’s. Now that the ground campaign had begun, they would be able to start getting an idea of how well the Argentinians on the Falklands would fight. The big fear was that they may turn out to be determined and dug in opponents who would have to be dug out (bombed and shelled out) of every single position. Reffell’s staff were doubtful as to whether there would be enough ordinance within the Task Force to finish the job if this turned out to be the case. The plan to begin rerolling the Phantoms to ground attack and air support now that there was potentially less need for CAP would only exacerbate this problem. Reffell asked one of his staff officers to reappraise them of the RAF’s proposed Operation Black Buck as it might be a way of potentially relieving pressure on the Task Forces air weapons stocks. Just as the officer was about to start however disaster struck.

    Within the ships island the sounds of aircraft launching and recovering and generally moving around the deck were quite audible. Those who spent most of their time in this part of the ship or anywhere near the flight or weather decks after a while barely paid any attention to it. Throughout the meeting Reffell and his staff had heard the sounds of aircraft landing on deck without it really registering in their brains. Anyone in the compartment who cared to actually listen would normally have heard a dull thud and screech as the aircraft’s undercarriage made contact with the flight deck followed by the sounds of the arrestor gear functioning finished off by the loud and now very close roar of the engines still on full power for approximately a second before the pilot was able to power them down and begin to taxi.
    This time however there was a loud bang as opposed to a thud followed by a much louder and longer screeching than usual and then a second loud bang that the men felt just as much as heard.
    Before anyone even had a chance to say anything the general alarm sounded and a voice that Captain Slater recognised as the officer of the watch shouted CRASH ON DECK! CRASH ON DECK!