During the first quarter of 1982 the likelihood of war between
Britain and Argentina seemed inevitable. The Argentinean forces had
invaded a small island group located in the South Atlantic,
northeast of the southern tip of South America. Although the
Falklands [or Islas Malvinas as the Argentineans called them] only
have a total area of about 12,173 sq km (4650 sq miles) the
Argentine authorities demanded sovereignty of them sighting the fact
that in 1816 the ruling Spanish had been overthrown by the Argentine
army, and thus the islands belonged to them. However it appears that
as early as 1592 an English navigator called John Davis first
encountered the rocky outcrop and proclaimed it as British.
A typical Falkland Islands
Seventeen years after
the 1816 Argentine uprising the British regained control of the
Falklands Isles. However Argentina protested that they were by
rights Argentinean property. Much political wrangling went on, and
in the mid-1960's the United Nations were called in to try and
settle the dispute. These talks were still continuing in April 1982,
when Argentine military forces invaded and occupied the islands.
This attempt to use force to decide the outcome of the sovereignty
dispute led to a state of war being declared by Prime Minister
Sketch map of the
A number of missions
were planned which involved dropping 21,000lbs of high explosive
bombs onto the only runway on the Falklands. This was situated at
Port Stanley, and was being used by the Argentine forces to deliver
munitions to their troops stationed on the Island. It was also
assumed that, given time, the Argentine air force would use the
runway as a base for Mirage and Skyhawk fighters. The Avro Vulcan
was chosen for these missions.
At this time only
three squadrons were still active. Indeed it had been decided by the
Ministry of Defence (MOD) that the Vulcan would formerly be retired
from active duty in June of that year. In order for the Vulcans to
make the journey to Ascension Island and then, ultimately, on to the
Falklands it was vital that they could be refuelled in mid-air.
Although many Vulcans had retained their refuelling probes (first
fitted in the 1960's) the system had not been used for many years,
and was inoperative. RAF personnel were required to repair the
probes and fuel systems which resulted in some probes being
"borrowed" from Nimrod and Hercules planes from British air bases
and, in some instances, as far a field
as Canada and the USA.
It was decided that
five Vulcans should be completely converted for the mission. As well
as the overhaul of the fuel system, the conversion process consisted
of fitting bomb-carriers, Delco inertial navigation systems,
Westering House ECM pods (to prevent detection from Argentine radar
installations) , the bottom surfaces were painted sea grey and the
throttle controls were modified to allow full power to be taken from
the Olympus 301 engines (this had previously been limited in order
to promote longevity).
Writing in here about Wide Awake
Add photos & captions
Thanks to Bob Shackleton, Cape Town.
The first brace of
Vulcan aircraft (XM607 & XM598) left for Wideawake airfield on Ascension
Island on the 29th of April. This journey was to last over 4,000
miles and took nine hours to complete. Just over twenty four hours
later, in radio silence, and with all navigational lights
extinguished, the two Vulcans departed, each carrying 21 one
thousand pound bombs. They were escorted by four Victor tankers.
Shortly after this another convoy of seven Victor tankers joined
them. The thirteen planes climbed to 27,000 feet
and headed south towards their target.
pressurisation problems and was forced to return to Ascension
Island. This left just one Vulcan enroute to deliver its deadly
cargo. It had been planned that the Vulcan would require five
mid-air refuellings. However due to turbulence and additional drag
from the ECM pod XM607 actually required an addition refuelling
to take place.
PICTURE OF HOW THE REFUELING TOOK PLACE HERE !!!
When XM607 was barely
300 miles from target she descended to her attack height of 250
feet. At this height she was able to fly under enemy radar, and
could approach her target without detection. With fifty miles to go
the pilot climbed back to 10,000 feet and after using the onboard
radar to secure a "picture" of Port Stanley travelled towards the
airfield in a diagonal attack run. This was to maximise the chance
of the payload actually hitting their designated target.
Although no Vulcans
were shot down by enemy fire, not all the missions went as planned.
On one mission XM597 was attempting a mid-air refuelling when the
refuelling probe snapped off. This left the aircraft without enough
fuel to return to Ascension, and so she had to divert to Rio de
Janeiro in Brazil. As it was, the Vulcan had to climb into thinner
air so as to conserve as much fuel as possible. The two missiles she
was carrying were launched to reduce weight and drag, but one of
these stuck. Mission orders and other important documents were
jettisoned into the sea via the crew hatch. After a "Mayday" signal
was sent to the Brazilian authorities clearance was given to XM597.
The captain, Neil McDougall, landed the aircraft with only 2000lb of
Not enough to complete a circuit of the airfield!
authorities impounded XM597 until the 10th of June but during their
stay in Brazil both crew and aircraft were treated well. However the
Brazilians did request the "jammed" missile as a souvenir of the
These are the actual Brazilian newspaper reports
from 1982 which have been kindly donated to me by Rodney Veiga Von Oncken
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The Argentine forces
were able to hold out for 10 weeks before surrendering to the
British task force
on the 14th June 1982.
Argentina continues to claim the island, but the British Government
refuses to participate in further negotiations.
The BBC have produced an excellent overview of
Only time will tell if another conflict over
the isles will re-occur.
One thing is for sure however, the Vulcan will not play a part in
deciding the outcome next time.