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Battle Atlas of the Falklands War 1982


Part 15. ROYAL AIR FORCE - Role & Operations

RAF Vulcan

on to 16. Argentine defences


RAF Importance - With the Navy flying just about all the operations around South Georgia and then the Falklands, although with a number of RAF Sea Harrier pilots, the RAF's role can be overlooked. And yet it's ability to rapidly transport men, supplies and aircraft, first to Ascension and then later further south was so important to success.

Between the UK and Ascension

Hercules and VC.10 transports flew over 500 sorties to Ascension by the end of the war to bring in more than 5,000 people and 6,000 tons of freight. The Hercules, some the lengthened C.3's, but mostly C.1's, were from the pool of over fifty aircraft of 24, 30, 47 and 70 Sqdns of the Lyneham Transport Wing. The first two squadrons concentrated on the UK/Ascension airbridge and the other two on missions south, and by the end of the war, six aircraft had been fitted for in-flight refuelling to extend their range.

As well as flying to Ascension, the thirteen VC.10 passenger aircraft of 10 Sqdn from Brize Norton later returned with ship's survivors, and from Montevideo, brought back prisoners and deportees from the Falklands and South Georgia and wounded men from battle. They also continued to fly the Atlantic to the United States. Extra transport capacity was provided by chartered Boeing 707's and five ex-RAF Belfast freighters.

Ascension-based Aircraft and Units

On their way south in early May, three Harrier GR.3's of 1 (Fighter) Sqdn were retained at Wideawake for air defence, but later relieved by three supersonic Phantom FGR.2's of 29(F) Sqdn from RAF Coningsby. By then, and with the shortage of helicopters on the island, a Sea King HAR.3 of 202 Air-Sea Rescue Sqdn had joined a Chinook of 18 Sqdn on vertrep duties.

Apart from units responsible for air movements, communications and supply, the RAF also took on ground defence with the arrival of HQ Unit, 3 Wing and Field Flight, 15 Sqdn of the RAF Regt.

Missions Flown from Ascension

First to deploy were two Nimrod MR.1 maritime patrol aircraft of 42(TB) Sqdn from St Mawgan to patrol Ascension waters and act as links with the nuclear subs. Later in April, they were replaced by some of the thirteen plus and more modern MR.2's of 120, 201 and 206 Sqdns from Kinloss. In over a hundred sorties from Wideawake, they flew ahead of the Task Force, reached as far as Argentine waters, and provided SAR and radio links and coordinated air refuelling for Victor and Vulcan missions and Harrier staging flights. By the surrender, some MR.2's were fitted for air-refuelling and some with Sidewinder AAM's for self defence, but no aircraft equipped with the Harpoon anti-shipping missile were ready in time. In addition, R.1 reconnaissance aircraft of Wyton's 51 Sqdn may have taken part.

At least south from Ascension, few missions would have beeen possible without the Victor K.2 tankers of 55 and 57 Sqdns from Marham, some twenty of which reached Ascension. Apart from refuelling each other as needed, they first flew three maritime radar reconnaissance missions leading up to the recapture of South Georgia. Then in nearly 600 sorties the Victors supported other aircraft in often complicated logistics patterns. These included (with outline numbers of tanker sorties) fighters staging to Ascension and some Harrier GR.3's on from there, Hercules long range drops (6), extended Nimrod patrols (12), Vulcan raids on Stanley (15).

They also provided cover as "Atlantic Conveyor" went south with her Harriers and helicopters.

Although the Waddington-based Vulcan B.2 bombers of 44, 50 and 101 Sqdns were due to retire from service, a number were fitted with extra ECM and readied for action. Four aircraft in total reached Ascension, the first two at the end of April to start a planned series of seven, single aircraft "Black Buck" missions against Stanley through to mid June. Conventional bombs were used on three occasions and Shrike anti-radar missiles on two, with one mission of each type being called off.

The Hercules of 47 and 70 Sqdns were trained in tactical support and based at Ascension to air drop men and urgent supplies to the Task Force further south. As 47 Sqdn included a Special Forces Flight, it may have been used for undisclosed covert operations.  

RAF Gallantry Awards for Hercules missions from Ascension by 47 Sqdn RAF
Flt Lt H C Burgoyne (AFC) RAF
Sqdn Ldr A M Roberts (AFC) RAF

RAF VC-10 transport
(Courtesy - MOD, RAF)
  RAF Nimrod on patrol over North Sea oil installations
(Courtesy - MOD, RAF)

Based in the Falklands

To reinforce the Navy's Sea Harriers, Harrier GR.3's of 1(F) Sqdn, RAF Wittering were prepared for carrier service. Although fitted with Sidewinder and ECM and with the pilots receiving limited ski-jump training at Yeovilton, they were mainly used in their normal ground attack role. Nine out of ten aircraft setting out in early May reached Ascension, and apart from the three that temporarily stayed on, the other six sailed with "Atlantic Conveyor" and later flew off to "Hermes". Six more arrived at the end of May to add to the three already there.

Of this nine,

four flew direct to "Hermes",
four sailed with merchantman "Contender Bezant" too late to join the fighting
one returned to the UK with fuel leaks.

Thus a total of ten GR.3's flew with the Navy, with three shot down by ground fire and one damaged beyond repair in landing.

With the boggy terrain and almost total lack of roads, heavy lift helicopters were a must. Hence the importance of the first five Chinook HC.1's of 18 Sqdn, RAF Odiham carried by "Atlantic Conveyor". One stayed on Ascension, but three of the remaining four were lost in the Exocet attack. The one survivor worked wonders, and not until the surrender did three more plus the Ascension Chinook arrive on "Contender Bezant".

RAF Victor crew briefing at Ascension for maritime radar reconnaissance mission to
South Georgia (Courtesy - MOD, RAF)


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revised 31/5/13