Tag Archives: Argentine

Kirchner’s Argentina: externalising domestic tensions

Cristina Fernandez-Kirchner, the President of Argentina, started the year in typical fashion by publishing an ‘open letter’ in the Guardian and the Independent, calling for negotiations over the status of the Falkland Islands.

In the letter Fernandez Kirchner argues that the islands were stripped from Argentina in an act of 19th Century colonialism:

“The Argentines on the Islands were expelled by the Royal Navy and the United Kingdom subsequently began a population implantation process similar to that applied to other territories under colonial rule. Since then, Britain, the colonial power, has refused to return the territories to the Argentine Republic, thus preventing it from restoring its territorial integrity.”

The letter ends: 

“In the name of the Argentine people, I reiterate our invitation for us to abide by the resolutions of the United Nations.”

The historical account put forward by Argentina differs starkly not only from the one on the Foreign Office website, but also general consensus. Ironically, Argentina itself was settled as an act of Nineteenth Century colonialism. It’s like asking the spanish-descended Argentinians to bugger off home, and leave the indigenous peoples in peace.

It is tempting to ask why the Guardian and the Independent published the ‘letter’. However, they are two of Britain’s more forward-thinking newspapers, and advertising income is advertising income, even if it comes from the Argentine Government.

If I was an Argentine citizen, I would be wondering how come my President could find not only the time to worry about publishing an ‘open letter’ in British newspapers, but also how the Argentine Treasury could afford to fund such a grandiose publicity stunt.

The British Government, quite rightly, points out that the Falklands is not a colony, and its relationship with the Falkland Islands is by choice of the islanders, not coercion. Therefore, not only is there nothing for the UK Government to negotiate over, but the islanders have a universal human right, enshrined in the very basic UN principles, to determine their own government and sovereignty.

The answer as to why the issue keeps re-appearing, as so often with latin american politics, lies within. Listed below are just a few of the news stories regarding Argentina from the BBC website in the past few months:

Widespread unrest and looting in Argentina; troops deployed

Seized Argentine Navy ship leaves Ghana

IMF data deadline looms for Argentine fagile economy

Argentina wins court delay over debt

Argentina default over debt likely

So… rioting on the streets and supermarkets being looted; Navy ship seized in a foreign port over unpaid debts; the IMF questioning Argentine honesty regarding financial data; and the possibility of a default over foreign debt… still wondering why Fernandez-Kirchner is trying to divert the attention of her people outside the country’s borders? It’s an ever-present in Argentine politics – when there are problems, the Malvinas issue is dragged out. It’s route one politics and not all that indistinguishable from Galtieri’s methodology in 1982.

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Falklands 30 – The Argentine surrender

Español: Galtieri (presidente de Facto) y Mari...

Menendez (right) with Galtieri (left) on his only visit to the Falklands (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although the Argentine Governor in the Falklands, General Mario Menendez, had considered withdrawing from Stanley and occupying the Airfield peninsula with his remaining men, he quickly realised that this would be a futile gesture. According to Argentine sources Menendez had visited the local hospital, and the sight of military surgeons treating wounded men left an indelible impression upon him. According to one of his subordinates, Brigadier-General Jofre, the decision to surrender was also motivated by a desire to make sure that none of the Falkland Islanders would be harmed, which would have inevitably happened had the fighting entered Stanley itself.

Menendez contacted the President of the ruling Junta, Galtieri, to ask for permission to surrender. Out of touch with the situation, Galtieri ordered Menendez to fight on, reminding him that under the Argentine Army Code surrender was illegal unless 50% of his men were casualties, and he had expended 75% of his ammunition. Although he still had around 8,000 men left, including three Battalions worth of men who had not yet fought, as a professional soldier Menendez knew that the morale of his men had cracked. Mindful that the majority of them were inexperienced conscripts, that they had been outfought and that he had no support from Argentina, Menendez realised that he could not ask any more of his men after all that they had endured. He made up his mind to surrender. Galtieri had called him a coward, and ordered him out to fight. But these were easy accusations for a dictator to make, hundreds of miles away.

Some Argentine units had maintained their discipline, and prepared for urban warfare in Stanley. There is evidence that some Argentine conscripts were ordered by their officers to be prepared to shoot Falkland Islanders if they resisted, but thankfully no such situation arose. British artillery had already wisely ceased shelling Argentine troops as the flooded back into Stanley.

British units were ordered to advance to Stanley, and await developments on the outskirts. They were given instructions not to fire on the demoralised Argentines, while negotiations were taking place. 2 Para advanced down the track from Wireless Ridge into Stanley, followed by 3 Para. The Gurkhas scaled the now unoccupied Mount William without any opposition, and the Welsh Guards, reinforced by two companies from 40 Commando, occupied Sapper Hill.

A British delegation, led by Lieutenant-Colonel Rose of the SAS, and including a Spanish speaking Royal Marine Officer, flew into Stanley. After negotiations with Menendez, Major-General Jeremy Moore, the Commander of British Land Forces on the Falklands, flew in and received Menendez’s surrender. The ceremony was private and low key, and under the terms of the surrender the Argentines were allowed to keep their flags, and the officers retained their sidearms – fearful of being lynched by their own conscripts. That they were thinking of this suggests in part how bad officer-men relations had become. The surrender was effective from 2359 British time, on 14 June 1982.

Although the Union Jack was now flying again over the Falklands, the problems were far from over. Thousands of Argentine prisoners had to be processed, cared for, fed and sheltered while they were awaiting repatriation. Many of them were held at the Airport. There were also masses of captured equipment to be dealt with:

  • 100 Mercedes Trucks
  • 20 Unimog trucks
  • 20 Mercedes Jeeps
  • 12 Panhard Armoured Cars
  • 1 Roland and 3 TigerCar Anti-Air missile launchers
  • 1 improvised surface to surface Exocet launcher
  • 3 155mm field guns
  • 10 Oto Melara 105mm cannons
  • 15 Oerlikon twin 35mm and Rheinmetall twin 20mm anti-air cannons
  • 11 various fire control radars
  • 14 airworthy helicopters, including 2 Augusta 109, 10 Huey, 1 Chinook, 1 Puma)
  • 10 Pucara attack aircraft
  • 1 Patrol Boat
  • 11,000 small arms weapons
  • 4 million rounds of 7.62mm ammunition
  • 11,000 105mm artillery shells

Some of this equipment can now be seen in British military museums, or as trophies for units who were involved down south. In some cases was used by British forces – the SAS are rumoured to have utilised some of the folding stock FN FAL rifles captured from the Argentines – and other equipment also provided useful spare parts.

Clearly, the Argentines had not been lacking in heavy equipment or weaponry. They had artillery pieces that outranged the British artillery considerably, and formidable air defences. Some of the Panhard armoured cars were delivered to the islands and then seem to have been forgotten about – when they were captured, some still had their packaging on them. These could have caused problems for the British troops had they been utilised effectively. Logistics seems to have been a problem for the Argentines, in terms of getting the right equipment and making good use of it. Some sources suggesting that what was wanted and what was sent from Argentina were very different. One of the first cargo planes to the Islands after the invasion in April carried not reinforcements, but Televisions for the Islanders as a cyncial and futile attempt at bribery.

There was also much clearing up to be done, as the Argentines had shown scant regard for tidiness and cleanliness. Once the Prisoners had been returned home, the garrison itself had to be taken care of – both in accomodating the troops already on the islands, and then replacing them with fresh units from Britain.

The surrender was greated with relief among many in the task force, not least Sandy Woodward who had been struggling to keep all of his ships on station. After months operating in a South Atlantic autumn and early winter, many ships were virtually falling apart at the seams. Although air cover had to be maintained until an airbase could become operational on the Islands, and ships were still needed to defend the islands all the time there was still a threat, ships could at last begin returning home.

In London, the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was lauded in the House of Commons. It was one of the rare occasions in British politics when the Leader of the Opposition, Michael Foot, paid tribute to the Prime Minister of the day.

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Falklands 30: The Battle in the Mountains #2

English: The Falklands War, 13 to 14 June

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With 3 Commando Brigade Established on Mount Longdon, Two Sisters and Mount Harriet, the way was clear for 5 Brigade to follow through and capture the last range of peaks before Stanley. Despite evidence that the main British attack was coming overland from the west, the Argentine Command still maintained strong forces in Stanley itself, at the airport and on the surrounding coastline, rather than reinforcing the mountains.

2 Para, back in action after their fighting at Goose Green, were allocated Wireless Ridge. Fittingly, Wireless Ridge is just to the east of Mount Longdon, captured by their counterparts in 3 Para three days previously. The Battalion was now commanded by Lieutenant Colonel David Chaundler, who had been parachuted into the South Atlantic to replace H Jones. The capture of Wireless Ridge would be crucial, as it was the last obstacle before Moody Brook barracks, and the road into Stanley.The morning before the attack found the Paras waiting at Furze Bush Pass, to the north of Mount Longdon. Chaundlers plan was for a noisy attack, with companies taking each contour in turn before occupying Wireless Ridge. 2 Para had strong support, with 2 Scorpions and 2 Scimitars of the Blues and Royals, twelve 105mm guns, 3 Paras mortars from Longdon, and HMS Yarmouth and HMS Ambuscade out to sea providing naval gunfire support. Wireless Ridge was defended by the 7th Infantry Regiment, who had also fought on Mount Longdon.

The attack began at 2115, and the first objective ‘Rough Diamond’ was captured relatively easily, the Argentine defenders seemingly having withdrawn after coming under heavy preliminary bombardment. However, having established themselves on Rough Diamond D Company come under fire from Argentines on ‘Apple Pie’ to the east. A and B Companies assaulted Apple Pie, and the defenders withdrew under the weight of British fire. With the attack going so well, C Company captured Hill 100 without difficulty. With Apple Pie secure, D Company then ‘leapfrogged’ from Rough Diamon onto the western part of Wireless Ridge itself, codenamed ‘Blueberry Pie’. The Scorpions and Scimitars and also 2 Paras own heavy weapons moved up and joined A and B Companied on ‘Apple Pie’. Under such a heavy weight of fire, the Argentines wielded the first half of the ridge, but fought tenaciously over the eastern edge of the objective. After bunker to bunker fighting, by dawn all of Wirless Ridge was in British hands, with the Argentines streaming down the road back into Stanley. A small group attempted to regroup at Moody Brook and attack the Paras again, but were soon driven off. With dawn the Paras could see the road to Stanley, and were pressing for permission to advance into the town. The Paras had fought a fine battle, with the loss of only three men killed.

The 2nd Scots Guards were given the objective of capturing Mount Tumbledown, a long and narrow high feature just to the south west of Stanley. Capturing this would give the British Forces another commanding position over Stanley, and bottle the remaining Argentine forces into a narrow peninsula, limiting their room for maneouvre. The Guards were helicoptered to the north of Mount Harriet, and from there began a detailed reconaissance. The area approaching Tumbledown had already been patrolled by the Royal Marines Mountain and Arctic Warfare Cadre. With a long, open approach to the objective, Lieutenant-Colonel Scott decided on a stealthy attack, retaining the element of surprise. Equally, an attack across the open southern slopes was bound the be spotted. The Guards battleplan was therefore threefold. G Coy would cross the start line at Goat Ridge, and occupy the westernmost part of the mountain. Then, using this as a platform, Left Flank company would pass through them and occupy the middle, highest section of the mountain. Finally, Right Flank Company would come up and take the eastern portion of the ridge. The Guards had in support two Scorpions and Scimitars of the Blues and Royals, up to five batterys of 105mm guns, 42 Commando’s mortars from Mount Harriet, and also the mortars of 1/7 Gurkhas. The Frigates Active and Avenger were also on call for naval gunfire support. Tumbledown was defended by the Argentine 7th Marine Battalion, who were also defending Mount William and Sapper Hill. Thus the Guards, who were going into action for the first time in the war, were coming up against one of the Argentines few crack units.

Before the attack began, a diversionary attack was made along the southern road to Stanley, aiming to confuse the enemy into thinking the target was further south. G Company, meanwhile, secured the western part of the Mountain by 10.30pm. Even with G Company’s fire support, Left Flank Company came up against firm opposition in the craggy peaks in the middle of the objective. Anti-Armour weapons such as MILAN, which had worked elsewhere, were only partly succesful in hitting Argentine bunkers. It was not until 0230 that artillery fire could be brought down on the Argentine defenders, restoring momentum to the stalled attack. After savage, hand-to-hand fighting, a handful of Scots Guards reached the summit. Right Flank Company then came up, and by 0815 the whole of Mount Tunbledown was in the hands of the Scots, for the loss of eight Guardsmen and a Royal Engineer.

The 1/7 Gurkhas had been brought up from Goose Green by helicopter, leaving a company behind to Garrison the area. They were given the objective of capturing Mount William, to the east of Tumbledown, after the Scots Guards had taken that feature – attacking Mount William on its own while Tumbledown was still in Argentine hands would have been foolhardy. With the coming of dawn and with Tumbledown only just taken, it appeared that the Gurkhas would have to make a daylight attack on Mount William. However, the Gurkhas fierce reputation preceded them, and with the news of the fall of Wireless Ridge and Tumbledown filtering through, the Argentines on Mount William fled back into Stanley.

The British troops has fought brilliantly in the mountains, capturing every objective given to them, apart from Mount William – which could be seen as an opportunity for exploitation IF Tumbledown had been captured early. Although the Argentines still had considerable men available, and a variety of heavy weaponry, they were now bottled up into a narrow peninsula only a couple of square miles. With no air or naval support and with the thousands of conscripts completely demoralised, the Argentine Commander Menendez had run out of options. Although the Junta back in Argentine has ordered him to fight to the last man, white flags were already flying over Stanley.

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Falklands 30 – The Battle in the Mountains #1

Position of Mount Challenger relative to other...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Even before 2 Para had finished fighting the Battle of Goose Green, Brigadier Julian Thompson had begun to move the rest of 3 Commando Brigade out of the San Carlos Beachhead. He was under pressure from the chain of command and politicians back in Britain, who wanted the Islands retaken quickly before losses became untenable or before international opinion turned.

After landing at San Carlos, the British Land Forces were going to have to confront and defeat the Argentine forces on East Falkland, and capture the objective – Stanley. Between San Carlos and Stanley was a range of hills and mountains, from Mount Kent and Mount Challenger in the West; to Two Sisters Ridge, Mount Harriet, Mount Longdon, Mount Tumbledown, Wireless Ridge and Sapper Hill.

With the loss of Chinook Heavy lift helicopters on the Atlantic Conveyor, there were only two options for moving across East Falkland to the Mountains area – march, or move by sea. And as we have seen previously, movement by sea was relatively simple and kept troops fresh, but frought with danger. There were a limited amount of ‘Jungly’ Sea Kings of the Commando Helicopter Force, but these were occupied moving heavy equipment.

As with Goose Green, it might be thought that because most of the Argentine troops were conscripts that the task of the attacking troops was simple. However, the Argentines had had plenty of time to get dug in on the mountains and to prepare positions. As one Para at Goose Green wistfully said, any conscript can dig in in a sangar and fire a .5inch Machine Gun. Evidence suggests that the Argentine conscripts were poorly treated by their superiors and were perhaps not in the best condition (see Martin Middlebrook’s ‘The Argentine Fight for the Falklands’), but they had no shortage of heavy weapons and were in range of supporting guns at Stanley. Normal military philosophy suggested that troops attacking prepared positions needed a superiority of 3 to 1. The British were slightly outnumbered, but time and political pressures forced them to attack regardless. Although the Argentines had garrisoned the Mountains strongly, they also had several Regiments – roughly equivalent to a British Battalion – around Stanley itself, and at Stanley airport – still fearing a British landing directly on Stanley itself.

The first actions in the battle for the Mountains came on 31 May, when the Marines Mountain and Artic Warfare Cadre fought a battle with an Argentine patrol at Top Malo House, and K Coy 42 Commando reached the summit of Mount Kent. 3 Para had secured Estancia House by 2 June, and on 4 June 45 Commando had yomped from Teal Inlet to the foot of Mount Kent, ready to reinforce either 42 Commando or 3 Para as necessary. What followed was a difficult battle, with the only option to attack and take each mountain range in turn, before leapfrogging onto the next, using each captured peak as a platform for another unit to come through and assault the next.

While 5 Infantry Brigade was establishing itseldf on the southern axis, 3 Commando Brigade was preparing to attack the first mountains in the north. 3 Para were alloted the objective of Mount Longdon, 45 Commando Two Sisters, and 42 Commando Mount Harriet. Brigade Headquarters was established around Teal Inlet. Some time was spent in reconnaisance patrols, and the disaster at Bluff Cove delayed 5 Infantry Brigade in preparing for its part of the advance. The Battle began on the night of 11 June.

3 Para had tabbed to the foot of Mount Longdon from San Carlos. The Paras had a battery of 6 105mm guns in support, as well as naval gunfire from HMS Avenger. Longdon and the adjoining Wireless Ridge were garrisoned by the Argentine 7th Infantry Regiment, and a stiff battle saw the Paras come up against heavy opposition in the form of Argentine bunkers well dug into the mountain, and anti-armour weapons were frequently used to dislodge these prepared positions. 18 Paras and an attached Royal Engineer had been killed in the battle. Sergeant Ian McKay was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross after he was killed commanding his platoon taking on a machine gun post. 3 Para were also awarded a DSO, two MC’s, 2 DCM’s and 3 MM’s for Longdon. The Paras spent the next two nights on Longdon and on the slopes approaching Wireless Ridge, being heavily shelled.

45 Commando, meanwhile, attacked Two Sisters. They had in support a battery of 105mm guns, and the Destroyer HMS Glamorgan with her two 4.5inch guns. Two Sisters was occupied the Argentine 4th Infantry Regiment, who were also on Mount Harriet. X Company approached from the East from Mount Kent, while Y and Z Company’s attacked from the left flank. Distracted by X Company’s frontal attack. Two Sisters was in British hands by dawn, and altough 45′s CO prepared to attack Mount Tumbledown, he was held back by Brigadier Thompson. The Royal Marines had lost three men, and a Sapper from the Royal Engineers. 45 Commando were awarded a DSO, 3 MC’s, a DCM and 4 MM’s for Two Sisters.

Mount Harriet was assaulted on the same night by 42 Commando. The Commandos had a battery of guns in support, as well as gunfire support from HMS Yarmouth. Their battle plan was similar to that of 45 Commando, in that one company launched a frontal diversionary feint. J Company moved up from Mount Challenger and  waited on Wall Mountain as a reserve and a diversion, while L and K Company’s ‘dog legged’ to the south and then attacked the objective from the rear. Harriet was taken by dawn, for the loss of only one Marine killed. 42 Commando received one DSO, an MC and 4 MM’s.

With the first line of Mountaisn secure, planning began for the second phase of attacks. Only Wireless Ridge, Mount Tumbledown, Mount William and Sapper Hill were between the British forces and Stanley.

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Falklands 30 – Goose Green

The Battle of Goose Green, 28–29 May 1982

The Battle of Goose Green, 28–29 May 1982 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After the apparent success of the landings at San Carlos, the commander of 3 Commando Brigade – Brigadier Julian Thompson – was under pressure to break out and fight the bulk of the Argentine land forces on East Falkland. This is a quandry often seen in amphibious operations – a desire on the one hand by politicians and higher commanders to win the war quickly, and a more cautious approach by the commander in the field on the other. But with a finite limit to operations – after which the task forces ships would fall apart – the war had to be won. And sooner rather than later.

Knowing that the Argentines had a significant garrison around the settlements of Darwin and Goose Green to the south-east of San Carlos, Thompson planned a raid to attack and captured the settlements. He would probably have preferred not to – early plans had intended for the area to be bypassed – but leaving the Goose Green garrison alone would have left his right flank open in the advance to Stanley. And also, he was under pressure to break out of San Carlos. While there were not enough troops to begin the march to Stanley- and with the loss of helicopter lift this march would take much longer anyway – an attack on Goose Green was feasible.

Thompson detailed 2 Para for the attack, as they were located on Sussex Mountains, nearest Goose Green from San Carlos. 2 Para, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel ‘H’ Jones, number three Rifle Companies, a Patrol Company, and a support company with mortars and anti-tank weapons. In support were three 105mm guns of the Royal Artillery, Scout helicopters for resupply and casualty evacuation, Sea Harriers on call for air bombardment, and naval gunfire support from the Frigate HMS Arrow. The Argentine settlement numbered over a thousands Army and Air Force personnel. The bulk comprised 12 Infantry Regiment and a company from the commando-trained 25 Infantry Regiment. The garrison was supported by six 20mm Rheinmetall cannons, two radar-laid Oerlikon guns and four 105mm howitzers. Pucaras at Goose Green airstrip were armed with Napalm munitions. Hence 2 Para faced a very stiff task – attacking a numerically superior enemy, who had time to dig into prepared positions, and had a superiority of heavy weapons. The terrain and geography also suited the defender – the narrow isthmus restricting room for maneouvre.

2 Para marched down to Camilla Creek House, just north of their start line. During the final planning of their attack the men were startled to be informed by the BBC World Service that they were about to attack Goose Green. The World Service, of course, was being listened to by the Argentines, who therefore knew that the attack was imminent. An angry Jones threatened to sue the BBC, Whitehall and the War Cabinet. Thus 2 Para had almost certainly lost the advantage of surprise.

At 0230 on 28 May 2 Para launched its attack, with the objective of using darkness to capture Goose Green ‘by Breakfast’. There followed an intense, bitter battle. 2 Para quickly came upon strong opposition, from Argentine troops dug in on Darwin Hill. Momentum seemed to be lost. At this point Jones took the initiative, leading the Adjutant and A Company’s second-in-command in a charge up a gully in which both men were killed. Soon after Jones assaulted an Argentine trench. He was hit twice. The trench was captured, but he died within minutes. The Scout helicopter sent to evacuate him was shot down by a Pucara.

Jones’s second-in-command, Major Chris Keeble, took over a battle at a critical phase. 2 Para were well short of their objective, and caught in daylight against strong opposition. It was almost midday before the attack regained impetus, with A Company clearing the east side of Darwin Hill, and B Company taking Boca House in the west. At one point during the battle for the airfield the Argentines fires anti-aircraft guns at the attacking Paras. But with momentum regained, the evening found 2 Para on the outskirts of Goose Green settlement. Thompson flew in Juliet Company of 42 Commando to Darwin to reinforce 2 Para. The Argentines, meanwhile, prepared to fly in a company from 6 Regiment to reinforce their Garrison.

However, the next day the Garrison commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Piaggi, surrendered his forces, after an appeal from Keeble to avoid further loss of life. The Paras were astounded when a thousand men laid down their arms. 17 British personnel had been killed and 64 wounded, while 50 Argentines were killed and 120 were wounded.

Goose Green was a notable victory for the Paras. It was reminiscent of some of ther Regiment’s proudest moments, in particular the battle to reach Arnhem Bridge in September 1944. Goose Green showed that experienced, well trained men – many of whom had experience of Northern Ireland – could upset the odds against a numerically superior enemy. On the flip side, Goose Green showed that even badly led, badly equipped and badly trained conscripts can still put up a stern fight when operating heavy weapons and sited in prepared positions.

H Jones was awarded a posthumous VC for his bravery at Goose Green. There have been two very different schools of thought about Jones’s actions at Goose Green. Whilst on the one hand he was showing supreme leadership by leading by example, on the other hand, was he being reckless? Did he deprive his Battalion of its commanding officer when they most needed him? Personally, I try and keep an open mind. I know it’s a cliche in military history circles, but those of us who were not there will find it very hard to understand.

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Falklands 30 – HMS Coventry

A starboard bow view of the British destroyer ...

After experiencing heavy air raids at San Carlos, and some very brave flying by Argentine pilots, the Task Force commanders devised a new tactic to try and give early warning of air raids, and also to shoot down offending aircraft before they got close to the vulnerable landing ships or the carriers out to sea.

HMS Coventry – a Type 42 Destroyer – and HMS Broadsword -a Type 22 Frigate – were paired up and stationed north of Pebble Island, ‘up threat’ as a radar picket and trap for Argentine aircraft heading for San Carlos. Coventry was armed with Sea Dart, a medium-range anti-aircraft and anti-missile weapon. Broadsword had the new Sea Wolf system, more ideal for close range work. The idea was that Broadsword could defend Coventry, whilst Coventry’s long range radar and Sea Dart could pick off incoming threats. This was specifically suggested by the Commanding Officers of both ships. Of the three Type 42 Destroyers that had originally sailed with the Task Force, one had been sunk (Sheffield) and another had been badly damaged (Glasgow), both by air attack. The ‘Type 64′ combo took up position north of Pebble Island on 21 May.

Coventry had had an eventful – and rather succesful war – thus far. One of the ships on Exercise Spring Train before being sent south to the Falklands, she entered the Total Exclusion Zone on the 1st of May, taking up picket duties in advance of the Task Force. She alternated between acting as a radar picket and bombarding shore positions around Stanley. For these shore bombardments she was teamed up with HMS Broadsword, for extra defence. On 3 May Coventry’s Lynx was sent to attack the Argentine patrol ship Alfrez Sobral. The patrol boat was heavily damaged by the new Sea Skua missiles, and later boarded by the SBS. On 4 May – the day that HMS Sheffield was sunk – Coventry was to the north west of the task force, repairing her troublesome 909 Radar. Sheffield was in the south-western position that Coventry had occupied until that point when she was hit by an Exocet missile. On 9 May Coventry was sent closer to the Falklands in an attempt to lure out Argentine aircraft. Four Sea Dart missiles were fired – a Hercules transport escaped unharmed, one Puma Helicopter was destroyed and two A-4 Skyhawks may possibly have been shot down. Later on the same day Coventry directed two Sea Harriers to attack the spy ship Narwal.

Remaining off Pebble Island for several days, Coventry and Broadsword continued acting as a radar picket. Coventry directed numerous Sea Harrier patrols onto targets – this is a role performed by surface ships, escorts in particular, that is often overlooked. It is possible, in hindsight, that Coventry and Broadsword had been in the same position for too long, and it is clear that the Argentines were well aware that they were there and determined to do something about it.

25 May – Argentina’s national day – began in much the same hectic fashion. One Skyhawk was shot down after returning from a raid on San Carlos, and another Skyhawk was splashed, this time directly attacking Coventry and Broadsword. The second raid, however, had more luck. Of the six airfraft – in two waves of three – two returned to base before reaching the Falklands. Flying low and using the land mass of West Falkland as radar cover, Coventry was unable to pick up the Skyhawks on their radars. Broadsword DID pick them up, but called OFF a Sea Harrier patrol. Coventry’s radar – designed for operating in open sea – was struggling to pick up the aircraft against Peble Island’s land signature. Small arms fire diverted the first two Skyhawks towards Broadsword. Her Sea Wolf locked on, but unable to distinguish between the two targets, for all intents and purposes went to sleep. Defenceless, one of the Skyhawk’s bombs hit the sea, bounced up and passed through the flight deck, destroying the Lynx helicopter in the process.

The second wave pressed on soon after. Once again Coventry and Broadsword declined assistance from the Sea Harriers, confident that the threat could be dealt with. Coventry fired a single Sea Dart and missed. Broadsword locked on with her Sea Wolf, but at the last minute Coventry, carrying out evasive maneouvres, slewed right in front of Broadsword’s line of fire. The first Skyhawk pilot fired his cannon at the hangar, before releasing his bombs – three 550lb general bombs. All three struck, and exploded seconds later. The second Skyhawk failed to release its bombs.

A large hole was torn in the port side, and men were killed in the auxiliary machine space, the computer room and the dining room where a first aid party were mustered. The explosion in the computer room wrecked the operations room above. Fire spread through the ship, and water poured in through the gaping hole. Smoke and fire spread beyond the capabilities of damage control, particularly as the ops room – the nerve centre of the ship – had been taken out. No order to abandon ship was given, but it was obvious to all onboard that the Coventry was sinking. Quietly and efficiently, liferafts were deployed. Broadsword began picking up survivors, and helicopters began arriving from San Carlos water. Many men – including Captain Hart-Dyke – simply stepped off of the upturned hull into lifeboats. Twenty minutes after being hit, HMS Coventry sank – the fourth Royal Navy warship lost in the Falklands, and the third in four days since the landings at San Carlos. Coventry’s survivors were later returned home on the QE2. 22 men were killed, and one man died in 1983 of his injuries.

Although the loss of any warship is hard to take – and especially the loss of lives – Coventry had performed admirably, and had probably saved countless ships at San Carlos and in the Task Force from being attacked and sunk. Such is the lot of Royal Navy warships sometimes. I’ve always found it intriguing that Coventry was sunk in a manner almost identical to Lieutenant-Commander Bill Hussey’s HMS Lively in 1942. Different war, 40 years apart, but the same spirit.

The Board of Inquiry absolved Coventry’s crew of any blame. Coventry was noted to be well prepared for war, having spent much time training and 6 months serving with NATO standing forces in the North Sea in 1981, in addition to Exercise Spring Train. However, there were a few lingering mechanical difficulties, such as the 909 radar. The Board of Inquiry – and others – did find that the ships had a lack of close in weapons, beyond missile systems, and this was rectified with the fitting of Phalanx and Goalkeeper to many ships soon after the Falklands War. Coventry and Broadsword had been instructed not to call on Sea Harrier support unless absolutely necessary, as this might chase enemy aircraft away rather than destroy them. Both ships had worked well together. It was found, however, that Coventry was not sufficiently trained for inshore anti-air warfare work. This is not surprising, given that the ship was designed for open-water warfare against the Eastern Bloc in the North Atlantic.

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Falklands 30 – Bomb Alley

HMS Ardent

HMS Ardent (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dawn saw 3 Commando Brigade – three Royal Marine Commandos, reinforced by two Para Battalions, and with attached units, ashore and dug in on beaches around San Carlos Water. Apart from the small band of troops at Fanning Head, the landings had been unopposed by Argentine land forces. Given the scarcity of Argentine troops compared to the geography of the Falklands, Menendex had decided that he had to first and foremost guard the primary objective – Port Stanley. He assumed that the British commanders would land in Stanley, in an American style ‘front door’ attack. San Carlos hardly featured in Argentine planning,  indeed, they had assumed that the British would not land there.

Given the lack of land and sea opposition, the only opposition that would meet the amphibious group in San Carlos water would be Argentine air forcers. The first aircraft to attack the San Carlos landings were actually based in the Falklands. Pucaras from Goose Green took off while HMS Ardent was shelling their airstrip. One of them was shot down by an SAS patrol with a Stinger hand-held anti-aircraft missile near Sussex Mountains. A single Aermacci was sent from Stanley to reconnoitre the reported landings. After attacking HMS Argonaut with rockets, the Aermacci escaped a hail of fire from sea and land. Thereafter confirmation of the landings reached the Argentine command, and long-range attacks were ordered from the mainland.

First on the scene were eight Daggers (Israeli copies of the Mirage). They hit Broadsword and Antrim, but nobody was killed. Antrim in particular had an unexploded bomb very close to her Sea Slug magazine, and had to move in to San Carlos water whilst it was defused. Shortly after the Sea Harrier Combat Air Patrol shot down one of two Pucaras that had attacked a naval gunfire officer directing fire from HMS Ardent onto the airfield at Goose Green.

At 1pm eight Skyhawks were due to attack. Only two arrived, after the rest either suffered refuelling problems or wasted their bombs on an abandoned wreck in Falkland Sound. The remaining aircraft just missed Ardent, and evaded Sea Harriers directed onto them by Brilliant. Immediately the Sea Harriers noticed another wave of Skyhawks appearing over West Falkland. Two of the Skyhawks were shot down. At 2.30pm another six Skyhawks attacked, this time almost sinking Argonaut. The two bombs that hit her failed to explode, but killed two men in her Sea Cat Magazine.

The next wave consisted of twelve Daggers. of the first group of six, two pilots aborted. As the remaining four approached Brilliant vectored in the Sea Harrier CAP, who shot down one of the Daggers. The three surviving aircraft however pressed on and attacked Ardent in Grantham Sound. Her Lynx helicopter and Sea Cat system were destroyed, killing a number of men. Defenceless apart from small arms fire, she headed for the protection of San Carlos Water. However before she reached sanctuary six more Daggers arrived on the scene. The first three aircraft caused light damage and casualties to Brilliant, but the second wave of three aircraft were all shot down by Sea Harriers before reaching San Carlos.

The last attacks of the day occured some half an hour later. Two flights of Skyhawks attacked Ardent, causing extensive damage. On fire and flooding, and with 22 men killed, Commander Alan West gave the order to abandon ship. HMS Yarmouth took off her survivors, and Ardent finally sank the following evening. Two of the Skyhawks were shot down by Sea Harriers. The third was damaged, and unable to land at Stanley, ejected.

Thus ended the dramatic air attacks on D-Day. One suspects that the task force commanders would have probably accepted the loss of one light frigate, in return for the safety of the landings. The Argentine pilots were undoubtedly incredibly brave, in pressing home their attacks over such a long distance and over difficult target terrain, but history has suggested that if they had concentrated on the vital landing ships rather than the warship escorts, the Falklands War may have run very differently. From a morale point of view alone, the loss of a ship like Canberra might have been politically tricky. And, it has to be said, if their bombs had been fused correctly, the Royal Navy might have lost a lot more ships at San Carlos than it did.

Martin Middlebrook’s ‘Argentine Fight for the Falklands’ makes much of the Argentines having a helicopter-ready reaction force waiting around Stanley to take off an oppose any landings. For whatever reason, this did not happen at San Carlos. Certainly, even a small-scale raid might have given the Commando Brigade something to think about. But given that the Sea Harrier Combat Air Patrol was ever-present, and had shot up a number of helicopters around Mount Kent earlier in the day, the Argentines might have thought better of it. With the absence of any opposition on land, the land forces were able to secure a bridgehead for expansion.

Hence, after the Argentine Navy had scurried back to port after the sinking of the Belgrano, the only serious opposition to a British landing on the Falklands came from the Argentine air forces. Despite losing one ship sunk and several others damaged, the landing force had survived a crucial first 24 hours during which they had landed a 5 Battalion size Brigade, plus supporting elements – a significant achievement. The Battle for San Carlos was still far from over, however.

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Falklands 30 – The San Carlos Landings

 Three landing craft from HMS FEARLESS, contain...

In the case of the Falklands War, the British Task Force was attempting to dislodge an uninvited invader. In order to do so, the Argentine sea and air forces had to be worn down to a point at which British amphibious forces could land on the islands, and then defeat the Argentine land forces in battle.

Ordinarily, amphibious operations would only be attempted once a number of criteria were achieved. Firstly, air and sea superiority would have to be achieved, in order for friendly air and naval craft to protect the landing ships during their most vulnerable phase. Secondly, western military philosophy in 1982 suggested that offensive operations such as amphibious landings should not be undertaken unless the attacked had at least a numerical superiority of 3:1 over the defender.

In May 1982, the British task force had largely forced the Argentine fleet back into port after the sinking of the Belgrano, thus solving one potential headache. And although the task force had given a good account of itself in dealing with air attack – the Sea Harriers in particular proving to be more than a match for Argentine fighters – the British had not worn down enough of the Argentine air inventory to claim air superiority. The Falklands were within range of fast jets flying from the Argentine mainland. In addition, the task force only possessed a reinforced Brigade, of three Royal Marine Commandos and two Parachute Battalions. The Argentines on the Falklands, meanwhile, numbered Divisional strength – albeit comprised mostly of conscripts – and had had time to dig in.

The task force, however, was under considerable pressure to effect a landing on the Falklands. Any operation aimed at re-taking the Islands would, ultimately, require an amphibious landing. If international opinion turned against Britain and forced a ceasefire, then the proverb ‘possesion is nine tenths of the law’ might come into play. Hence, the politicians in London wanted a landing as soon as possible. Although the main Battlegroup of the task force had steamed into the waters around the Falklands earlier in May, the landing force had taken some time to assemble – in particular, the landing ship HMS Intrepid had been brought out of mothballs in Portsmouth Dockyard, and was the last piece of the jigsaw. As soon as she arrived, the landing could take place. Sandy Woodward was also conscious of the oncoming southern winter, which would add to the wear and tear on the task force – there was a limit to how long the ships could stay at sea fighting, and getting the war over with as soon as possible was a priority.

San Carlos, an inlet on the west coast of East Falkland, had been reconnoitred by Special Forces for weeks prior to the landings. It was accessed via the northern entrance of Falkland sound. It was around 60 miles from the capital Port Stanley, and considered ideal for a landing. It had direct access from the South Atlantic, and was in a sheltered water. There were plenty of landing beaches, and hills on the outskirts for the landing forces to dig in to in the event of a counter-attack. And crucially, it was believed that the Argentines were expecting a landing near Port Stanley. Heavily influenced by the American, direct strategy of attack, the Argentine’s expected the Marines and Paras to land on the beach outside of Stanley and leg it up Stanley High Street. But Stanley was heavily defended, and was garrisoned by thousands of Argentines. San Carlos, by contrast, had very few. In a classic example of Liddel-Hart‘s indirect approach, San Carlos was chosen as it would allow the land forces to gain a foothold and build up, before striking east.

Interestingly, it was not thought possible for any amphibious landing to succeed at San Carlos – according to to British pre-war plans, the US armed forces or the Argentines. Yet necessity virtually forced the British planners to choose San Carlos by default, after all other possibilities had been discounted.

Given that the landings were likely to come under air attack, air-defence was a key consideration. Woodward detached the two Sea Wolf Type 22 Frigates Broadsword and Brilliant, the Sea Dart armed Type 42 Destroyer HMS Coventry, and a force of Frigates and Destroyers to provide naval gunfire support. The landings would be led by the Landing Ships HMS Fearless and HMS Intrepid, with their Landing Craft.

Intelligence suggested that there were very few Argentine troops in the area, which would give the British landing forces time to dig in and build up in preparation for an assault on Stanley. Despite this, there was naturally a sense of trepidation among the Marines and Paras preparing to land on D-Day. Would the Argentines subscribe to Rommel’s thoughts on amphibious landings, and attempt to throw the landings back into the sea in the first 24 hours?

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Falklands 30 – Pebble Island and Mikado: Special Forces in the Falklands

One intriguing element of the Falklands War is the use of Special Forces during the conflict. In some cases the SAS – and SBS – punched well above their weight. In other cases, they were misused and suffered significant losses. Due to their very nature, much of the story of the special forces in the Falklands is yet to – indeed may never – be told.

The SAS in particular was experiencing a high profile in 1982, shortly after the Iranian Embassy. Many of the men in the Regiment in 1982 had served in places such as Aden, Borneo and Northern Ireland. The SAS were among the first units into action, on South Georgia. On 21 April a troop was landed on Fortuna Glacier on the island, but had to be exfiltrated due to the blizzard conditions. Two Wessex Helicopters crashed attempting to lift them out. The third, from HMS Antrim, managed to take off, heavily overladed with SAS men and the crews of the other two crashed helicopters.

Although the Argentines had sunk HMS Sheffield with an Super Etendard-launched Exrocet misseile, it was knocwn that tchey possessed at least several more. Whilst EC arms embargos prevented Argentine procuring any ore from France, and secret service agents were outbidding the Argentines on the black market, the attention of military planners turned to neutralising the threat posed by the Etendard/Exocet combination. To lose one Destroyer was bad enough; but to lose an Aircraft Carrier might have meant the end of the war.

Operation Mikado was a plan to use the SAS to attack the Argentine’s Super Etendard bases at Tierra Fuego. On 17 May 1982 a Sea King of 846 Naval Air Squadron took off from HMS Invincible, which had steamed to within 500 miles of the Argentine mainland. The Sea King was carrying a recce party of B Squadron SAS, who were heading to scout the Super Etendard airbase at Rio Grande. It would be a one way trip for the Sea King – lacking the range to make it back to the task force, she was stripped down to the bare essentials. Landing west of the Chilean border, the aircraft was ditched in a lake. Even though the aircrew punched holes in her fuselage, she refused to sink. The aircrew were picked up in Chile and flown home.The SAS men believed that they had been spotted by the Chileans, and messaged their HQ in Hereford informing that the mission was being aborted. They had indeed been spotted, and 1,300 Argentine Marines sweeped the area searching for them.

This failure meant that the main party would have to go in blind. The fact that the recce party might have been compromised also meant that the Argentines might be suspicious and on alert. The Rio Grande area was believed to be defended by four Battalions of Argentine Marines. Despite this, the Squadron OC ordered the raid to go ahead. The operation had been rehearsed thoroughly for the past week.

The Mikado plan seems to have been strongly pushed for by Brigadier Peter de la Billiere, then director of British Special Forces. The plan called for two RAF C130 Hercules to fly from Ascension Island with 55 men of B Squadron SAS onboard. The Hercules would land on the tarmac of the runway, keeping their engines running while the SAS men destroyed the Etendards. If somehow the C130′s survived they men would re-board the aircraft and fly to neutral Chile. If not, then the survivors would have to cross the border on foot. The proposed plan was extremely sensitive, as it extended the war to the South American mainland – something that would not find favour among international opinion.

Tying up to Hercules transport aircraft meant that they would at best be interned in Chile for the duration, at worst be destroyed entirely. But perhaps worse than that, 55  expensively trained SAS troops – a significant proportion of Britain’s special forces – were being put in serious danger. Would the loss of these men and two aircraft have represented a good exchange for five Super Etendards?

One cannot help but feel that de la Billiere was taking his inspiration from raids on Axis airfields in North Africa. The situation in 1982 was quite different – the Argentines surely expected some kind of attack on their air bases. Perhaps DLB was inspired by Operation Entebbe, an Israeli operation to recover hostages on a hijacked airliner in Uganda. The Ugandan Forces in 1976 posed far less of a threat to the Israelis than the Argentines did to the SAS, both in terms of early warning and anti-air defences. The Argentine radar might give them a six minute warning of the incoming aircraft – ample time to throw up stout defences.

The SAS men – a lot more sensible and less bloodthirsty than popularculture would have us believe – do not seem to have liked the plan one bit, seeing it as a suicide mission. One Sergeant went as far as handing in his resignation. One RAF Pilot assigned to the mission is believed to have suffered a nervous breakdown. The Squadron Commander agreed with the concept, but did not like the specifics of the plan that he was being pressured into implementing. The Squadron Commander was removed and replaced with the Regiment’s second in command. According to some accounts, De la Billiere made himself very unpopular in some quarters, as it was felt that he was trying to engineer a high-profile mission for the Regiment. After the war De la Billiere delivered a extremely ill-judged – some might say bad taste laden – speech to the SAS men, near enough accusing them of mutiny. He was laughed out of the room.

In hindsight, taking the war to the Argentine mainland in such a manner would have escalated the war, and not reflected well on the British effort to retake the islands. The Argentines were almost certainly on their guard against such an event, and it would be hard to believe that the slow, unarmed Hercules would be sitting ducks for the Argentine air defences. If they guarded Stanley airport with Roland and Tigercat missiles and radar-laid Rheinmetal cannon, what would they be guarding a mainland Super Etendard base with?

By contrast with Operation Mikado, the raid on Pebble Island was an outstanding success. Off West Falkland, Pebble Island hosted a small airfield with Pucara light attack aircraft and Mentor reconaissance craft. These aircraft were will within range of the chosen landing site at San Carlos, and could have compromised the amphibious task group on its way to the landings, and then launched attacks on the ships and troops at their most vulnerable point. According to Sandy Woodward’s memoirs, he was pondering the problem with his planning team when a ‘talking tree’ SAS officer chipped in, ‘I wonder if we might be able to help, Admiral?’. After convincing the SAS that they could not spend two weeks planning, the raid was set for the night of 14 and 15 May.

Boat Troop of D Squadron carried out prior reconaissance, via cockleshell-style Klepper canoes. On the night HMS Hermes sailed to off the north of West Falkland, accompanied by HMS Glamorgan. Sea King helicopters carried 45 members of D Squadron of the SAS, dropping them off just under four miles from the airfield. The raiding party were heavily armed, including mortars and anti-armour weapons. The party reached the airfield without being spotted, and managed to place explosive charges on all of the aircraft. Once the charges had been placed the SAS men opened fire with small arms, followed by gunfire support from HMS Glamorgan offshore.

The party were exfiltrated succesfully, with only one SAS man wounded. According to British sources the Argentine commander was killed – this is denied by the Argentines themselves – and 11 aircraft were destroyed. The raid was considered a complete success, with the objective neutralised and virtually no casualties suffered.

A further tragedy befell the SAS the night before the landings at San Carlos. Crossdecking between ships, a Sea King loaded with SAS men apparently struck a seabird in mid-flight. Of the 30 men on the aircraft, only eight got out alive. It was the largest loss of life for the Regiment since the Second World War. Many of the men lost were veterans of South Georgia and Pebble Island.

Other SAS patrols were out on the Falklands prior to the landings at San Carlos, carrying out the arguably less glamorous work of surveillance and survey work. Men ofthe SBS were on the landing beaches to guide the amphibious force in on D-Day. That the landings were succesful and unopposed was down very much to their work with the mark one human eyeball.

The profile and connections of the SAS do seem to have caused some problems for the force commanders on the ground. When more than one SAS Squadron deploys on an operation the CO accompanies them. In this instance he had direct satellite communication with Hereford and London, and hence was able to communicate with Britain quicker than any of his superiors. And in De la Billiere the SAS had a vociferous supporter who was not afraid to knock down doors in the interests of ‘his’ Regiment. Was Operation Mikado a political construction to aid the Regiment’s profile?

The experiences of special forces in the Falklands would suggest that there is much value in having highly trained, very capable special forces on call for unforseen eventualities. When tasked to do a job properly and given the resources to do it, the investment more than pays dividends. But, and this is a big but, they need to be properly used, and employed with care. As with most things military, it is about knowing your tools, and what jobs to use them for.

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Falklands 30 – The loss of HMS Sheffield

HMS Sheffield (D80)

HMS Sheffield (D80) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After the sinking of the Belgrano and the Vulcan raid on Stanley airfield, there certainly seems to have been a feeling that the gloves were now off in the South Atlantic.

HMS Sheffield, the lead ship of the Type 42 class of Destroyers, was built at Vickers at Barrow, being launched in 1970 and commissioned in 1975. She was a Portsmouth based ship, as were the rest of the Type 42′s. The Sheffield had been away from home for quite some time, having been taking part in Exercise Spring Train on her way home from an Arabian Gulf Patrol when she was diverted down south.

When the Task Force entered the Exclusion Zone on 1 May, the three Type 42 Destroyers – Sheffield, Coventry and Glasgow – were ‘up front’ performing radar picket duty. Their Type 965 radar in particular gave good long-range coverage, and in that sense the Type 42′s were they eyes and ears of the task force, and the outer layer of the air defence ‘onion skin’ based around protecting the vital aircraft carriers. A very important task – which the modern Type 45′s are very much suited for – but a very lonely and dangerous job too.

It was known that the Argentines had purchased a number of French Exocet anti-ship missiles, which could be launched from Super Etendard aircraft flying from the Argentine mainland. Although the French had withdrawn their technical support as part of the EEC arms embargo, it was expected that the Argentines would at least attempt to use them. After the loss of the Belgrano, this suspicion was even more keenly felt.

HMS Sheffield was first spotted by an Argentine Navy Lockheed Neptune maritime patrol aircraft at 7.50am on 4 May. The Neptune tracked the Sheffield for the next two hours, obviously undetected. At 9.45am two Exocet-armed Super Etendard’s took off from Tierra del Fuego, refuelling from a KC-130 Hercules tanker on their way to the target. At 10.50am both aircraft ‘popped up’ from their low-level flight. After failing to sight the target initially, 25 miles later the Sheffield appeared on the Etendard’s radar screens.

Both Etendards launched their Exocet’s at 10am, at a range of 20 to 3 miles. The sea-skimming missiles raced towards the Sheffield. The Etendard’s had not been detected by the task force as had been expected – it was intended that anti-Exocet procedures would begin once the Etendard’s radar signature was detected. The missiles, however, were spotted by the other Type 42 Glasgow. Sheffield, however, appeared to be silent and inactive. She had been using her satellite communications, which rendered her Typ3 965 radar inoperable for a short time. Sheffield was silent, until the anonymous message was heard ‘ Sheffield is hit’.

One of the Exocets was eventually picked up by the Sheffield, but far too late to do much about it. Five seconds later, the missile struck Sheffield amidships, tearing a gash in her hull feet above the water line. Evidence suggests that the missiles warhead did not explode, but the ships fire main was fractured. The combination of this and the burning of un-spent missile fuel caused a fire to spread through parts of the ship. Eventually the fire was so hot that the ships paint bubbled and blistered, and the heat on the deck could be felt through boots. The Sheffield was effectively dead in the water.

Sheffield was taken in tow by HMS Yarmouth, but sank days later after water flooded through the gash in her side. She was the first Royal Navy ship to be sunk in action since the Second World War. Twenty of her crew were killed, most of whom were in the Galley at the time of the missile strike. As a Portsmouth based ship all of them were either from Portsmouth or had Portsmouth connections. Looking back, it is difficult not to form an opinion that the loss of the Sheffield – the first havy loss of the conflict – delivered a serious reality check to officials and public, many of whom might have been under the illusion that the Falklands might be an easy war.

As a result of the strike on the Sheffield, the Task Force changed it’s missile defence procedures. As soon as the Etendard’s radar signature was picked up, the codeword ‘handbrake’ would start the wholesale launching of chaff decoys, thousands of tiny metal strips that were intended to divert any missiles away from ships. The Argentines launched other Exocet strikes, but the only other ship to be sunk by one was the merchant vessel Atlantic Conveyor, later in the war.

The official MOD report into the sinking – as is cutomary whenever a ship is damaged or lost – found that the ships fire-fighting equipment, training and procedures were poor, and criticised certain anonymous members of the crew, who are difficult to positively identify and the report is heavily redacted. When the Sheffield’s Captain, Sam Salt, landed on the flagship HMS Hermes, he was received in a cold manner, and all but left on his own according to eyewitnesses. This coldness would suggest that their was a feeling at the time that the Sheffield was caught with her pants down. It’s probably difficult for those of us who have not commanded a Destroyer in war to form any kind of opinion on this, except perhaps that in the ‘fog of war’ unfortunate events do sadly happen.

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Falklands 30 – the Black Buck Vulcan raids

 Falkland Islands, Stanley Airport, Black Buck ...

Thirty years ago one of the RAF’s most incredible ever bombing raids took place over the South Atlantic. The Black Buck Vulcan raids were long-range operations against Argentine targets on the occupied Falkland Islands.

One of the problems facing any attacking force is that of gaining air superiority. Without it, the enemy can bomb and landing operations at will. Even so, when the task force did land at San Carlos it only had a minimum of air superiority, and still lost two ships sunk. Early on it was identified that the Argentines could attempt to operate fast, high performance jets such as the Mirage from Stanley airfield.

Without Stanley airfield, the Argentine Air Force had to operate from bases on the mainland. As such, aircraft patrolling over the Falklands or on missions were at the very limit of their range, had to be refuelled on their journey, and had limited potential for payloads and dogfighting. If, however, Stanley airfield could be used, their time on station could be improved considerably.

The RAF’s Vulcan fleet was on the verge of retirement. Designed and built by Avro as nuclear bombers during the early Cold War, although the Royal Navy had taken over the core nuclear deterrent role, hardly anyone in the Vulcan fleet had even practised conventional bombing. Immediately that the Stanley airfield problem became apparent, the Vulcan fleet began practising air-to-air refuelling (their likely operating base would be Ascension Island, still thousands of miles from the Falklands), conventional bombing and avoiding the Argentines known anti-aircraft missiles, particularly Roland and Tiger Cat, and Rheinmetal anti-aircraft cannons.

Beginning on the night of 30 April and 1 May 1982, Vulcan Bombers of 44 Squadron RAF launched ultra long range bombing raids on Argentine targets on the occupied Falkland Islands. After the first aircraft intended for the raid – XM598 piloted by Squadron Leader John Reeve -developed a fault with the rubber seal on its canopy window, XM607 piloted by Flight Lieutenant Martin Withers took over. Vulcan 607 was refulled an incredible SEVEN times during the southbound journey, from Victor Tankers flying out of Ascension Island.

21 1,000lb bombs were dropped, on a track bisecting the runway at an angle of 35 degrees – calculated to ensure that at least one, and possibly two bombs would crater the runway. Reconaissance photographs appear to suggest that at least one bomb did hole the runway, and the others fell in the vicinity of the airfield. It has been suggested by some that the Argentines created fake craters on the airfield, in order to mislead British intelligence. Whether the craters were fake or not, no fast jets attempted to fly out of Stanley – only lower performance types such as the C-130 Hercules. Of course, it may be that the Argentines had never intended to fly Mirages out of Stanley anyway. If that is the case, then they were making a grave error. Even so, British planners had no way of knowing this.

I’m really in two minds about the legacy of the Black Buck raids. That it was a remarkable feat is beyond question. As a morale boosting raid, it still sounds great today. The statistics speak for themselves – the longest bombing raid in history at the  time. It would have taken 11 Sea Harriers to deliver the same payload of bombs. But notably, it was also the RAF’s only real headline involvement in the Falklands War. Ever keen to promote itself, did the junior service push for the raids to avoid missing out on the party and the potential feel-good factor afterwards? Not to mention that a succesful, high profile role in any way is usually a good bargaining chip when it comes to the usual post-war rethinking of defence policy.

But, was it worth it? Well, to assess whether it was worth it, we have to substantiate what effect it had. This is where things get slightly tricky. I’m yet to be convinced, either way, whether the runway at Stanley airfield was damaged or not. And, if so, to what extent. The problem is that so much rides on the legact of Black Buck, that records – including aerial photographs and eyewitness reports – have been variously interpreted to fit whatever argument various parties have seen fit. Of course, it suits the RAF to argue that Black Buck was succesful. Any organisation that, reportedly, moved Australia on the map to suit its argument, is not going to be too bothered about misleading people. We also have to recognise the vast resources expended in the mission – in that sense, did the raids represent good value militarily? Were the Argentines going to operare Mirages out of Stanley? Even if they had, would it have made a big difference? A lot of interconnecting ifs and buts.

As much as I find Rowland White’s Vulcan 607 a ripping yarn, and a triumph of British ingenuity and application, in terms of the purely military value of Black Buck, I think the compelling case is yet to be made. Historically, do they deserve to stand up against the Dams raid, the Tirpitz raid or Peenemunde, for example? Whilst undoubtedly a heroic effort of stamina and skill, the Black Buck raids had a lot less flak flying at them for the duration of the journey compared to the average Lancaster pilot over the Ruhr in 1943 and much more modern technology at hand. And, it has to be said, something of a higher chance of survival too.

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Falklands 30 – the sinking of the Belgrano

The Argentine cruiser ARA General Belgrano lis...

The first heavy loss of life in the Falklands War occured when the British Submarine HMS Conqueror torpedoed and sank the Argentine Crusier, the General Belgrano on 3 May 1982.

The ARA General Belgrano was a Brooklyn Class Cruiser, originally built for the US Navy as USS Phoenix. In that guise she served throughout the Second World War, before being sold to Argentina and renamed in 1955. In 1982 she had an armament of 15 6-inch guns, 5 5-inch anti-aircraft guns, as well as 40mm and 20mm anti-aircraft guns. In 1968 she was retro-fitted with Sea Cat missile systems, which we obsolescent in 1982. As a WW2 vintage ship she had relatively thick armour compared to other Falklands-ear ships, her main belt of armour being 5.5 inches thick, and her deck armour 2 inches. The Belgrano did not actually take part in the operations to invade the Islands – Operation Rosario – but eventually put to see from Ushaia in southern Argentina on 26 April, accompanied by her two destroyer escorts, ARA Piedra Buena and ARA ARA Bouchard (both also ex-US Navy ships).

The British battle group had entered the north east of the exclusion zone around the islands on 1 May. The Task Force Commander, Rear Admiral Sandy Woodward, feared that the Belgrano and her escorts would form the southern part of a pincer attack by the Argentine fleet, with the northern pincer formed of the aircraft carrier Vienticino de Mayo. The de Mayo had actually been preparing to launch a Skyhawk strike on the British fleet on 2 May, when light winds made it impossible to launch aircraft. She was also escorted by two Type 42 Destroyers, Santissima Trinidad and Hercules. HMS Spartan had been assigned to track down the de Mayo, and although she never located the carrier, Woodward’s memoirs suggest that if she had, she would have been sunk.

There seems to have been a lot of controversy in recent years about the sinking of the Belgrano. It has been painted as a monstrous, heavy-handed or even illegal act by left-wingers, anti-war activits and Argentines alike. Nobody in Argentina – in particular men on the Belgrano – seems to have been aggrieved that the Conqueror attacked the Belgrano whilst she was outside the exclusion zone. Hovering around the edge of a war zone, with clearly hostile intent, is asking to be sunk. On 23 April a message was passed to the Argentine government via the Swiss Embassy in Buenos Aires, to inform that although the British Government had announced a maritime exclusion zone, it would not limit its actions to within this zone if hostile threats occured outside of the zone. This is an important point to make. Essentially, any Argentine ship leaving port was liable to be attacked.

Sandy Woodward later said that “the speed and direction of an enemy ship can be irrelevant, because both can change quickly. What counts is his position, his capability and what I believe to be his intention”. The decision to torpedo the Belgrano was taken after much deliberation, though the military chain of command and at war cabinet level. It was not a decision that seems to have been taken lightly. Indeed, Conqueror seems to have been tracking the Belgrano for three days before she attacked – hardly ideal, militarily, as it placed the Conqueror at much risk, but it does show that due diligence was taken. We also need to recognise that the sinking of the Belgrano did represent a fine feat of arms by the Conqueror’s crew and her Captain Christopher Wreford-Brown. It certainly suggests that British submarine’s were very effective, not surprising given that they had spent years practising their craft in the North Atlantic shadow-boxing with the Soviet submarine fleet.

Interestingly, a book published in 2011 suggested that signals intelligence showed that the Belgrano was actually steaming towards a rendevouz inside the exclusion zone, which clearly would signal hostile intent. Accounts from survivors suggest that the ship was not in a high state of defence – neither the Belgrano nor her two destroyers were zig-zagging. Compare this lax state to some of the vigorous anti-submarine actions taken by the British task force during the war. It is absolutely tragic that over three hundred young men died when the Belgrano was sunk. But it is even more tragic that they were condemmed to their deaths by a Government and a Navy that sent young, poorly trained conscripts sea in an obsolete ship, with inadequate anti-submarine defences, lifejackets or liferafts.

What might have happened had the Belgrano not been sunk? Certainly, her 6-inch guns outranged and outgunned anything that the British fleet had. They were almost certainly outranged by surface missiles such as Exocet, but none the less the Belgrano and her task force, could, potentially, have caused some damage to the task force. In particular, if the de Mayo had managed to launch air strikes, and the Belgrano had appeared from the south, a double threat might have been a bit of a problem. Add into that mix the potential for Super Etendard Exocet strikes, then we can see that it was important for the British to remove whatever threats they could, however they could.

The sinking of the Belgrano not only removed the Argentine Navy‘s second most dangerous ship from the war, it also had a serious morale effect – not only did it provide a boost early in the war, but it also compelled the Argentine Navy – agitators in starting the war in the first place – to scurry back into port and not sail out again for the rest of the conflict. This superiority of the waves made the British Task Force’s job that little less difficult when it came to gaining a degree of air superiority, and then eventually landing on the Falklands.

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CFK – a latter day Nasser?

Logotype of the former Yacimientos Petrolífero...

It’s struck me that the Argentine President Cristina Fernandez Kirchner has been behaving in a very similar manner to Nasser, the Egyptian leader who nationalised the Suez Canal in 1956.

Earlier today the Argentine Senate backed the nationalisation of the oil company YPF, even though a controlling stake is owned by the spanish company Repsol. Obviously, this has drawn negative reaction from Spain, the European Union and the World Trade Organisation. Unilateral nationalisations don’t tend to go down too well in a free market world. And all this comes just weeks after CFK announced that Argentina would be seeking international support over their Falklands claims,  in particular targeting Spain who it was felt might sympathise due to the Gibraltar issue. Nobody in their right mind will want to invest in Argentina – why would you, if you would always be looking over your shoulder, wondering whether your investment is going to go into CFK’s slush fund? It’s not the kind of thing that the US smiles upon. And whether we like it or not, US influence over what goes on in the world is crucial, in particular when it comes to lending support over disputes such as the Falklands.

Now, you won’t often hear pro-capitalist commentaries on this blog. In fact, in theory I am not a fan of so-called free-trade, which seems more like a banner for freedom to exploit. But, thinking about it from an Argentine point of view, I really don’t get what she is trying to achieve. It’s not very pragmatic at all. You can’t ask a country to support you on the one hand, and then nationalise the interests of a major company on the other. Not only will such actions dent Argentina’s image abroad, but it also gives an impression of an inconsistent and unpragmatic administration, trying to have their cake and eat it. It also reinforces perceptions among some Latin American countries that CFK is taking Argentina too far down a socialist path, in a very Chavez-esque manner.

The funny thing is, the nationalisation of YPF seems to have gone down a storm in Argentina. Does it not occur to the Argentina populace that they are being played like fools? One has to look beyond the flag-waving, nationalist aspect, and look at the longer term impact, which can only be harmful to Argentina in the long run. The YPF issue shows just how fickle and populist Argentine politics can be. Substitute ‘YPF’ for ‘Falklands’, and you can see a pattern – President plays for the popular vote, everyone comes out waving flags, but in the long run it doesn’t work out.

I suspect that if Britain can ride out this current Falklands hysteria that CFK is whipping up – almost in a ‘Keep Calm and Carry On‘ style – then sooner or later she will be gone, and a slightly more sensible and mature leadership in Buenos Aires might realise that the same populist agitation that gets them elected also isloates Argentina, quite needlessly.

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Argentina take Falklands issues to the UN

ID: DN-SC-94-01949 Service Depicted: Navy A po...

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The Argentines have been steadily ratcheting up the pressure on the Falklands for the past few years, and yesterday the Argentine Foreign Minister met with the Secretary General of the United Nations to air the South American country’s grievances.

I spent a fair bit of time studying the history of the United Nations some years ago, and took part in a few model United Nations debates. Therefore you could say I have a bit of an insight into how the organisation works. It is certainly not an idyllic, righteous organisation like it was intended to be. In reality, it is dominated by the large block of non-aligned countries who vote en-masse, and in particular ex-colonial countries who still have a chip on their shoulders about imperialism. Hence Britain often comes in for a bit of a bashing at the UN.

Lets look at the history of Britain and decolonialisation. Britain effectively gave up much of her Empire post-1945, and it has to be said, handled it much better than other decolonising countries, such as France, Belgium, Holland, and even Portugal. Yet somehow that fact seems to go un-noticed. Seeing the Falklands through the prism of colonialism is misleading, as the islands themselves never had any kind of population before British settlers arrived over two hundred years ago. At that point, Argentina did not even exist. Argentina itself is a nation of settlers – in the last Argentine census, only 1.6% of the population declared themselves to be descended from Amerindians. In that case, when are the other 98.4% going to be catching a flight home to Madrid?

To any observer with more than one brain cell, the Argentinians are shooting themselves in the foot by marching to the United Nations under the banner of colonialism. The United Nations is based on one fundamental tenet above all overs – that all human beings are born free and equal, and have the right to choose the kind of governance under which they live. Therefore, effectively Argentina wants to over-ride the fundamental principles of the United Nations, by annexing a country that is populated by citizens who wish to chose a different path for their destiny. 70 years ago, such policies drove Europe to war. The United Nations was founded to prevent war, yet by constantly listening to the Argentines morally and intellectually bankrupt histrionics, the UN is emboldening Fernandez Kirchner’s regime.

The Argentine Foreign Ministers claims about British escalation were also clearly untrue. We need to be very clear of the difference between nuclear POWERED submarines and nuclear ARMED submarines. South America is indeed a non-nuclear zone, a treaty to which Britain has long been a signatory. But think about it – Britain has four Vanguard Class Ballistic Missile submarines, which are armed with Trident nuclear missiles. These are to provide a nuclear deterrent against countries which might threaten a nuclear strike on Britain. Despite the end of the Cold War, this pretty much constitutes Russia. And perhaps China and some rogue states. Out of the four Vanguard class boats, usually one is ever on patrol under the waves. Why would Britain denude her nuclear deterrent by sending a sub to sit off Argentina? In any case, using nuclear missiles on a country like Argentina would hardly help Britain’s cause.

Now nuclear POWERED submarines are different – we have more of them, of the Astute and Trafalgar classes. But there is no limit on them going anywhere, as they only carry conventional torpedoes, and Tomahawk missiles. There is a distinct possibility that there is one in the South Atlantic, but that could have been the case at any point over the past 30 years since the Falklands War. The faint possibility that there might be one there now does not constitute an escalation. Neither does sending the new Type 45 Destroyer HMS Dauntless, nor sending Prince William on a tour of duty as a Search and Rescue Pilot. Both are completely routine deployments. In the case of Dauntless, the Type 45′s are replacing the Type 42′s which used to perform the South Atantic patrol task. Vastly improved, yes, but hey thats called progess and technology. And it seems to have escaped Buenos Aires attention that a Search and Rescue deployment is a humanitarian function – a yellow Sea King isn’t likely to start dropping depth charges.

Claims of a four fold increase in military assets are also laughable. The garrison of the Falklands has remained at the same levels for years – at sea a patrol vessel, a destroyer, perhaps an RFA and the ice patrol ship; on land a roulement infantry company and a Rapier detachment; and in the air four Typhoons, a VC10 and a Hercules, and the two Sea King SAR’s. Increasing that fourfold would give us the following:

  • Four Destroyers and Frigates – including a couple of Type 45′s
  • Probably another OPV
  • Couple more RFA’s – with that level of RN deployment, need tankers and supply ships
  • An Infantry Battalion – lets say, 2 Para?
  • Every Rapier launcher we can get
  • 2 Squadrons worth of Typhoons
  • More refuelling and transport aircraft
  • A few more helicopters for sundry tasks

Wow – that’s quite some force we have in the South Atlantic. Actually, if we had all of those assets in the Falklands like the Argentines are insinuating, they probably wouldn’t be able to take the islands. Ironic, eh?

I thought that the British ambassador at the UN did a very good job of rebutting these sensational but ludicrous claims. I, on the other hand, have been thinking about a career change for some time. I’m good at writing fiction – perhaps I could apply to become an Argentinian diplomat?

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HMS Dauntless to deploy to the South Atlantic

Todays Portsmouth News revealed that HMS Dauntless is due to deploy to the South Atlantic. The second Type 45 Destroyer to deploy is rumoured to be leaving Portsmouth in late March, to relieve the Devonport-based Type 23 Frigate HMS Montrose. The South Atlantic patrol is a task that has been performed by the older Type 42 Destroyers for some years.

One would imagine that the deployment has been long planned – as was her older sister ship HMS Daring going to the Gulf several weeks ago. The move however does dramatically enhance British forces in the Falklands – a Type 45 sat off the islands, with its Sea Viper missile system and SAMPSON radar, would provide a significant deterrent to any Argentine threat. In addition, she does also carry a Lynx helicopter with anti-surface capability. She could also provide direction for the Eurofighters on the Islands. If you were an Argentine senior officer, you would think twice about sending in your obsolescent airfcraft against a Type 45 Destroyer, with four Eurofighter Tyhoons under direction. Of course, one ship is not enough to fight a war, but as was found in 1976, one ship in the right place might be enough to prevent one from occuring.

There have been some rather inaccurate comments in some media outlets about the deployment. According to the Telegraph, one navy ‘source’ claimed that Dauntless could take out all of South America’s air forces, let alone Argentinas. Well, I’m not sure whether this ‘source’ got his GCSE maths, but there are more military aircraft in Argentina than 48. Not every missile is guaranteed a hit, as the Falklands showed, and even then, missiles are often fired in salvos, ie, more than one per target. Another odd claim is that Dauntless could shoot down Argentinian aircraft as soon as they leave their bases. Well, I doubt Dauntless would be sat off the Argentine coast – too risky – and with my rudimentary knowledge of the geography

The delpoyment is bound to increase tensions with Argentina at an already difficult time – any move that comes across as inflamatory is bound to incense Buenos Aires,

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