Falklands 35th Anniversary

Navy Wings, a focus of remembrance

The Fleet Air Arm in the Falklands War

When the Task Force set out on its 8000 mile journey south to retake the Falkland Islands in April 1982, it not only faced enormous logistical challenges but it was totally reliant on carrier and shipborne aviation, unlike the Argentinians who possessed both carrier airborne assets and an efficient land-based air force of over 200 aircraft. The Task Force also lacked Airborne Early Warning aircraft and its new Sea Harrier FRS1s were outnumbered by six to one.

Despite these awesome odds, the Fleet Air Arm played a pivotal role winning the crucial battle for air superiority and which was paramount to the successful outcome of the campaign.

 

In total, 171 Naval aircraft from 15 Naval Air Squadrons were deployed. The 26 Sea Harriers from HMS Hermes and HMS Invincible inflicted serious losses on the Argentine Air Force destroying 23 aircraft in air to air engagements, for the loss of not a single Sea Harrier in air combat. The embarked fixed wing force also included for the first time, RAF Harrier GR3s in the ground attack role.

Royal Navy Anti-Submarine Warfare Sea King helicopters flew round the clock throughout the conflict and 820 Naval Air Squadron embarked in HMS Invincible, flew 1560 hours in May alone. Over the whole of the operation the serviceability of all embarked aircraft was deployed. The 26 Sea Harriers from HMS Hermes and HMS Invincible inflicted serious losses on the Argentine Air Force destroying 23 aircraft in air to air engagements, for the loss of not a single Sea Harrier in air combat. The embarked fixed wing force also included for the first time, RAF Harrier GR3s in the ground attack role.

Royal Navy Anti-Submarine Warfare Sea King helicopters flew round the clock throughout the conflict and 820 Naval Air Squadron embarked in HMS Invincible, flew 1560 hours in May alone. Over the whole of the operation the serviceability of all embarked aircraft was 90% – a huge testament to the reliability of the aircraft and the skill and dedication of the engineering and maintenance teams.

Navy Commando Sea King and Wessex helicopters, supported by Army Air Corps light helicopters and one RAF Chinook, were also essential for providing support and tactical mobility ashore. They operated deep in the threat environment playing a vital role in the land forces’ success, deploying troops, ammunition, food, fuel and conducting casualty evacuation across the most inhospitable terrain, often in appalling weather conditions and under enemy fire.

In a combined attack, a Wessex 3 from HMS Antrim and Wasps from HMS Endurance severely damaged the submarine Santa Fe with

depth charges and AS 12 missiles. Operating from frigates and destroyers, the Lynx also demonstrated with marked success the capability of the Sea Skua missile in the anti-shipping role which was the first time these missiles had been used in action.

Improvisation, adaptability, endurance and immense courage characterised the Fleet Air Arm contribution to the conflict.

In this Centenary year of the aircraft carrier, it is timely to remember that without the full capability of carrier aviation and our Sea Harriers fending off a formidable enemy force of fighter and bomber aircraft, there could have been no ultimate victory.

Speaking at the Navy Wings Falklands 35 Lunch in London on 14 June 2017, Rear Admiral Tom Cunningham said, “The Sea Harrier and the pilots who flew her were critical in giving the Task Force battle-winning edge. They put their lives on the line. Most flew more than 50 war missions, more than 300 miles from the carriers against the Argentine air threat. They were not just ‘The Few’ or the ‘Few of the Few’ – they were ‘The Very Few’.”

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