HMS EAGLE in the Falklands


In fact if there were any spare capabilities the RN would probably seek downed FAA pilots, if only for intelligence reasons.
In fact if there were any spare capabilities the RN would probably seek downed FAA pilots, if only for intelligence reasons.
You had me confused for a moment as to who is rescuing whom. It's unfortunate that the Fleet Air Arm and the Fuerza Aerea Argentina share an acronym.


It is not impossible to that being not really accidental...
Edited to explain myself. I realized it the coincidence and let it be without explanation which was probably a mistake. Sorry...
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FOD. Foreign Object Damage

Without even saying a word to excuse themselves despite there being an admiral present Captain Slater and EAGLE’s three senior officers present had sprinted out of the compartment leaving the admirals staff behind. Captain Slater later admitted to himself that he had probably moved quicker than he had for quite some time as he made for the bridge while the XO headed towards HQ1 and CMDR AIR went out onto the flight deck. Before he had even reached the bridge the Captain again heard the general alarm sound again and the voice of the officer of the watch. This time to Slater the words conveyed by that particular voice were chilling. “Fire, fire, fire. Fire on the fight deck”. This caused Slater to loudly shout a slightly different four-letter word that also began with f.
Upon reaching the bridge Slater immediately ran into the Flyco situated on the port side of the island adjacent to the bridge and shoved the officers already present out of his way as he made his way into the small space to somewhere where he could see what was happening down on the flight deck. What he saw caused him to loudly repeat the certain four-letter word. To the aft of him on the flight deck just short of being level with Flyco in between 3 and 4 spot he could see what looked like a bonfire with the front end of a Phantom sticking out of it. As he watched the silver suited firefighters rush to spray foam onto this inferno, he saw that there was a trail of flame leading from the crashed Phantom almost all the way back to the stern of the ship.
Already the aircrew rescue vehicle which was essentially a forklift with a platform had been driven up level with the cockpit where both in spite of and because of the blazing inferno mere feet away a pair of aircraft handlers wearing silver firefighting suits were using the emergency release handles and throwing the detached canopies down onto the deck. The observer in the rear seat quickly scrambled out of his cockpit with hardly any assistance from the silver suits and rapidly climbed down onto the flight deck and sprinted away from the burning aircraft. The officers in Flyco could see the distinctive bone dome (nickname given to the white helmets worn by FAA aircrew at the time) of the pilot in the front seat and how it was slumped over the controls and not moving. Clearly, he was unconscious. They could also see how one of the silver suits having to reach down into the cockpit presumably to unbuckle the pilot’s restraints and then struggling to manhandle him out of his seat having to be call others for assistance. Evidently the pilot was not in a good way. Both men would be immediately taken down to sickbay via the forward aircraft lift.

No sooner had he arrived than the officer of the watch made another pipe announcing to the crew that the Captain was located on the bridge. Briefly Slater thought about bringing the ship to emergency stations. The ship had still been at action stations anyway following the days heavy air attacks which meant that a large part of the ships company was already mustered at the various damage control lockers anyway. Taking the ships company from action stations to emergency stations wasn’t something they had ever actually rehearsed and doing so now would probably just add an extra layer of confusion, especially at a time like this. Besides there was still an enemy out there and his ship was now especially vulnerable. Picking up one of the phones he dialled zero which took connected him straight to the bright red emergency phone in HQ1 (the ships damage control coordination centre) which was immediately answered by the XO in person. He quickly informed the XO of his decision that the ship would remain at action stations and ordered that a boundary search be carried out. A boundary search consists of members of the ships company being dispatched to check for damage and fire/floods. 2 deck immediately below the crashed and burning Phantom was given particular attention to see if there had been any penetration of the flight deck and determine whether this was a simple flight deck fire or something much worse. Within a few minutes the XO phoned Captain Slater on the bridge and informed him that the boundary search had been completed and there was no penetration of the flight deck or fire danger within the ship. The armoured flight deck, a by-product of EAGLE having been designed and built at a time when kamikazes were one of the biggest threats to aircraft carriers had proved its worth.
In the time it had taken to complete the search Captain Slater now joined by Admiral Woodward had demanded that someone explain what had happened while below the flight deck became almost a sea of foam as the flight deck crew tried to extinguish both the burning Phantom and the trail of burning jet fuel that it had somehow left behind it.

The assembled officers told how the Phantom on making its approach had in the final phase dropped to low and almost out of the glide path. The order had gone out to wave off but for as yet undetermined reasons the pilot had reacted too slowly. The Phantom had impacted the round down (rounded down area at the very stern of the flight deck) a far too low and with his port wing too low. This had resulted in the phantoms landing gear being smashed away and the port wingtip being clipped off which had caused the phantom to skid across the flight deck on its belly leaving a trail of burning fuel behind it (it was later discovered that debris from the nose landing gear had impacted with one of the fuel tanks as the aircraft went over it puncturing it and allowing fuel to leak out of the aircraft where it was ignited by the jet blast from the engines) before it had been snagged by the arrestor wires and brought to a halt whereupon the flames had caught up with the punctured fuel tank causing an explosion.

This brought up another problem which itself led on to an extremely serious problem. When the Phantom had skidded across the arresting wires it had managed to snag three of them. These three were now stuck in their fully extended position. One had been caught by the Phantoms tail hook. One was trapped somewhere underneath the phantoms fuselage and the last had somehow snagged itself on the radar dome on the Phantoms nose and had cut a fair way into it (a few feet more and the pilot would have had his legs amputated). The problem was these arrestor wires were now being held firmly in the fire by the weight of the phantom. Worried about the heat and tension causing the wires to fail and part and fly across the deck with enough force to cause every member of the firefighting party to suffer what a doctor would probably describe as “traumatic amputations” CMDR Air had ordered the arrestor crews to perform an emergency shut down of the system. This involved an emergency draining of the steam within the pistons to relive the pressure on the wires and allow them to go slack removing a serious threat to the men on the flight deck.

Approximately 20 minutes after the crash the flight deck officer was able to report that the fire had been extinguished. However, having been on inner CAP this aircraft had not seen action during its sortie meaning that it still had a full compliment of air to air missiles onboard. The direction that the aircraft had come to rest at on the flight deck was facing slightly right of amidships meaning that if god forbid one of those missiles cooked off in the fire and launched it would slam right into the other parked aircraft in the forward parking area where the other aircraft had taxied to after recovery. The chain reaction would most likely wipe out the majority of the air group and quite possibly EAGLE herself as had very nearly happened with the USS FORRESTAL in 1967.
To try and prevent this while fighting the fire the flight deck crew had covered the missiles with foam in the hope of at the very least keeping them cool and perhaps shorting the electronics/ruining the fuel to prevent them from being able to function. Now that the fire was extinguished a team of air weapons engineers had come onto the flight deck to examine the weapons and remove them from the wreckage as with anything involving even potential unsafe ordinance this would be a very careful process and certainly not something to be rushed.

The news further aft with the arrestor equipment wasn’t good. The flight deck engineering officer was adamant that all four wires having been subjected to extreme temperatures would need to be swapped out. While this would normally happen every 30 or so recoveries per wire anyway doing all four at the same time would be a time consuming process. Worse with the steam having been vented out of the system it would take a while for EAGLE’s elderly Admiralty 3 drum boilers to generate enough steam to build sufficient pressure within the system.
The officers on the bridge could already see that all this meant that the flight deck was for now unusable and that was before they even got into the subject of pushing the wreckage of the crashed Phantom out of the way (probably over the side), hosed away all of the foam that now covered the landing area, swept the deck for all those little pieces of foreign object debris that would certainly have been generated by a crash such as this and inspecting the deck itself for damage. All of these issues on their own let alone combined still led to an extremely serious situation. There were still two aircraft in the air that now had nowhere to land!

The crashed Phantoms wingman and the Gannet on AEW duty (which was usually last to land due to its greater endurance) were still circling the carrier group. Having been informed of what had happened on deck and being able to see the glow of the flames in the darkness they were anxiously awaiting instructions while slowly watching the needles on their fuel gauges drop lower and lower.
Both Admiral Woodward and Captain Slater knew that they now had a very difficult decision to make. A pipe was made asking for the air group commander who was still down on the flight deck to join them on the bridge and for the flight deck officer to contact them. The reports that the air officers delivered was not good. There was absolutely no possibility of the flight deck being cleared and made serviceable again before the aircraft ran out of fuel. Commander Ward CO 892 NAS (The Phantom squadron) and 849 NAS’s CO despite having not been asked for joined the discussion. Commander Ward still wearing his flying overalls had been in high spirits when he had landed proudly holding up three fingers indicating to the flight deck crew the three Mirages he had shot down. Now the poor man was almost distraught having seen one of his aircraft crashed with one of his pilots seriously injured and now facing the certainty of losing another aircraft and quite possibly its crew.
In desperation the officers even discussed the possibility of the Gannet maybe being able to land on either the INVINCIBLE or HERMES (having previously operated the type before her conversion to an LPH). However, this was dismissed as impossible and likely to cause another disaster if it was even attempted. Recognising that they were at risk of drifting into the realms of fantasy through desperation the officers had to accept that the aircraft were a lost cause and the only way for the crews to be saved would be to eject before they ran out of fuel. The question now was how to maximise their chances of survival and rescue. It was now completely dark outside and the sea was only expected to get rougher. If the crews ditched here it would be touch and go whether they could be located let alone rescued from the lethally cold water before hypothermia set in. Worse there was a possibility of the men simply not being spotted in the dark and drifting away never to be seen again.

It was decided that the best course of action would be for the aircraft to use what little fuel they had remaining to make their way to San Carlos water where the landing operation was on going. With a bit of luck, they could parachute onto land close to friendly forces and if they did end up in the drink the waters in that bay would be calmer and there were a lot of ships, small craft and many helicopters buzzing around that could pick them up. While Commander Ward spoke to the aircrews Admiral Woodward sent a FLASH signal to the amphibious group commander Commodore Clapp aboard the HERMES advising him what was about to happen. While disseminating this information to the other ships to prevent an unintended shoot down and the helicopters to let them know to be ready to perform a search and rescue would be simple enough it was vital that the Rapier batteries and troops on the ground be informed. The last thing anyone wanted was for a pilot to eject and land ashore successfully and head towards the landing beaches only to be mistaken in the darkness for an argentine and being shot dead by a jumpy Para or getting his throat slit by a Hereford hooligan.

In the cockpit of the Phantom as it headed southwest towards San Carlos the pilot was utterly terrified. Though he had been flying for many years he had never done any kind of parachuting let alone a full ejection. Training for one had been all well and good but it had all been theory and simulations. Now that he was going to have to do it for real it was a whole different ball game. There were so many things that were worrying him. One of these was his legs. He had nearly been rejected for aircrew on account of being slightly too tall. He had heard horror stories of how if someone whose legs were too long ejected from an aircraft their knees wouldn’t clear the control panel and they would end up leaving their lower legs behind in the cockpit and probably dying of blood loss as they drifted down to earth. Making radio contact with the local air controller on HMS COVENTRY down in the bay the Phantom pilot began to circle San Carlos looking down into what seemed to the pilot to be utter darkness. He struggled to distinguish between land and sea and wondered where he should aim for. On the one hand he didn’t know if there were any argentine forces in the area and worried about being trapped behind enemy lines or worse captured or killed. On the other he was terrified about landing in the icy cold water. His training had emphasised the risk of being incapacitated by shock and drowning before he’d have a chance to inflate and climb into his life raft.
The call came up from HMS COVENTRY that the ships and helicopters below were now ready for him and he was to eject at his own discretion. The sombre voice finished the transmission with “Good luck and Godspeed Out”.

It took a few minutes each of which seemed like an hour to those waiting anxiously below for the pilot to work up the courage to pull the ejection cord between his legs. Most of the time when a pilot ejects it’s a simple learned reaction to one of the various warning lights on the panel in front of him and is aided by his self-preservation instinct. Having to will himself to do it without the imminent threat of death to motivate him and with his natural instincts telling him that until he ran out of fuel at least he was a lot safer in his cockpit was much harder than he could have imagined. Looking downwards he was now just about able to identify the various features of the landscape and realise that due to the relatively small area and the high speed at which he was moving it would be almost completely down to chance where he landed. With his fuel warning lights now angrily glaring at him and knowing that he needed to be on the ground before the crew of the slower Gannet that would be arriving very soon could eject and also for some reason worrying about the observer in the back seat thinking that he had bottled it and ejecting both of them himself the pilot decided that he had stalled long enough. Taking hold of the ejection cord with both hands and pulling his knees as far back to the front of his seat as he could he gave the cord a hard yank up towards his chest like he had been taught.

Both the pilot and observer’s senses were violently assaulted by the sudden G force, drop in pressure, rush of cold air and noise as they were rocketed out of their now stricken jet. In mere seconds they had been shot clear of their jet, parachutes had opened and their seats had dropped away leaving them drifting downwards anxiously looking into the murky blackness trying to see where they might land, the flash of the rockets having ruined their night vision. The darkness was suddenly banished for a few seconds as an enormous fireball rose up from the sea, thankfully far away enough to not be a danger to them while allowing them to get their bearings. The noise of the explosion which the pilot estimated must have been at least two miles away was deafening. Distracted for a few seconds from the impending danger of the sea below him the pilot wondered what could have caused such a massive and violent explosion. Surely that was far to big and in the wrong place for it to have been his Phantom smashing into the earth.
Not long afterwards when he was safely in sickbay aboard HMS FEARLESS having been plucked out of the sea within less than three minutes of his impacting it (the light from the fireball had clearly silhouetted him and the observer against the night sky making it easy for one of the Sea Kings to spot them) did he learn that the explosion that probably lit up the entire island of East Falkland not to mention an good portion of West Falkland had been the demise of HMS ANTELOPE.

It is unclear exactly what caused the detonation of the unexploded ordinance aboard ANTELOPE but must experts believe it most likely to have been as a result of the ship rocking more in the increased sea state. This brought closure to a ship that even the bomb disposal team had started describing as terminally ill. However, this brought the total casualties sustained by the RN that day up to six ships destroyed ARDENT (22 men lost), ARGONAUT (41 men lost) and now ANTELOPE (no men lost). Plus, one heavily damaged and out of the fight ANTRIM (32 men lost). Generally, it wasn’t a good time to be on a ship with a name that began with the letter A. One landing craft lost (11 men lost), one Gannet, two Phantoms with the aircrews all surviving. Three ships sunk, one almost sunk, three aircraft and over one hundred men lost in one day! Granted in return the British had virtually exterminated the Argentine air force like they had done with the Argentine navy previously and granted that they had now established themselves ashore and were in a position to take the fight up close and personal to the enemy but not since the dark days of the second world war had such casualties been sustained so quickly. The question now was how would the British government and public react?

The Fleet Air Arm accident investigation report into the Phantom crash on HMS EAGLE on the 21st of May makes interesting reading. The conclusion of the report puts the cause of the accident down to a number of factors which on their own might not have been too much of a problem but when combined created the circumstances for disaster. Pilot fatigue was judged to be a major culprit. With the attacks in San Carlos presenting a major threat to the Task Force and with every serviceable Phantom already committed the pilot had been in his cockpit for much longer than usual at nearly 8 hours with his aircraft being sustained by air to air refuelling’s from Buccaneer’s acting in their tanker role. The pilot would later testify that he had been having trouble sleeping in the days before due to the stress that the aircrews were under and had been unable to remedy this (for obvious reasons aircrew were forbidden from taking any kind of sleep medication). This combined with the sheer amount of time that he had had to concentrate on flying his aircraft made worse by his place towards the back of the landing queue had caused him to be fatigued while trying to recover to the deck. Psychologists brought in to give expert advice for the investigation produced various charts showing how an individual’s senses, thinking speeds and capacity and reaction times while carrying out multiple tasks in situations such as landing an aircraft on a deck at sea are affected by different levels of fatigue. They stated that the pilot having been unable to eat, drink or relieve himself for many hours would likely have been a distraction. They also theorised that the darkness may have also had a negative effect on the pilot’s concentration by naturally triggering the part of the brain that associates night time with sleep.
It was judged that the pilots fatigued state and consequent slower reaction times caused him to drop low out of the glide path on his final approach. In fact, it was noted that the pilot did not appear to react to this until prompted by the LSO. When the order to wave off (emergency abort) was passed it was initially unknown whether the pilot had responded to this or had recognised that his trajectory was off and was trying to correct it. The investigation concluded that it was a combination of both with the pilot having already committed to trying to increase his altitude slightly to get back into the path and then responding to the wave off call while part way through this manoeuvre. Due to his fatigued state and consequent slower reaction time the pilot had dipped his port wing as he began a turn onto the abort heading which would have brought him down the port side of the ship. All of this happened within a matter of seconds meaning that there was next to no thinking time for anyone involved in the landing.
The Phantom being too low in its approach had struck the round down with its undercarriage and port wingtip severing them. The nose landing gear had flown backwards making contact with the underside of the aircraft puncturing a fuel tank causing fuel to leak out onto EAGLE’s fight deck. The fuel was then ignited by the jet blast from the engines. The Phantom had then skidded across the flight deck on its belly until it had been stopped by the arrestor wires catching on various parts of the fuselage. While it had been moving across the deck the aircraft had actually been outrunning the flames from the trail of jet fuel it was producing. Once it had caught up the flames had immediately caught up with it and entered the fuel tank causing a pressure build up within the tank which resulted in an explosion.

The report made a number of recommendations regarding hours in the cockpit and methods for identifying and dealing with pilot fatigue and the causes thereof.
The pilot was to be retired from flying duties due to the injuries he had sustained during the incident. Unofficially this was to save his blushes even if that pilot had walked away from the incident unscathed, he would have still never been allowed to sit in a Phantom again. No one who causes the loss of three aircraft and nearly derails an entire military campaign can expect much in the way of career prospects. The observer while having not been injured was to be for now removed from flying duties and undertake a tour of ground instruction until his future could be determined.
The report stopped just short of stating what was obvious to everyone but did go to great lengths to point out that the other Phantom and the Gannet would not have been lost had there been another deck for them to land on.

This report would later be used by various groups and interests who would later spend much time trying to demonstrate the need for more or at least bigger aircraft carriers.
More maybe but I doubt bigger carriers would help in this case. Even a supercarrier would have still been knocked out by the fire on the wires, but if the Ark or a replacement was in service the two planes could have landed there safely.
Nice chapter.

That loss of British life and capability is not going to play well at home, though I suspect the news will be buried under the jingoism of the Air Force destruction.
Yay, an update! Merry xmas! :)

Everything was going too well for the FAA. Exhaustion was bound to rear it's ugly head. That, or equipment wearing out from over use...
More maybe but I doubt bigger carriers would help in this case. Even a supercarrier would have still been knocked out by the fire on the wires, but if the Ark or a replacement was in service the two planes could have landed there safely.
Not necessarily because she might have been refitting.

However, if she had been available the FAA would have been annihilated on the day of he San Carlos landings due to their being twice as many Phantoms in the air. Or because twice as many aircraft were available they could have kept the aircraft in the air for shorter periods to reduce the fatigue on the aircrew that caused the crash.

OTOH who's to know that one of Ark Royal's pilots might make a crash landing due to fatigue as well. Or that that the pilot of the Phantom and Gannet from Eagle that were still in the air might crash while attempting to land on Ark Royal due to fatigue.
So the burning question - no pun intended - how long before the flight deck is operational? All the wires to replace, some (all?) of which could be worked on as the wreckage is being removed, clear the debris and do a FOD sweep of the deck, which can't really be done at night I guess. Just after dawn or mid-morning?
The UK government ordering a carrier in the USA instead of ordering from British yards would be a former UK government in a hurry.
My reasoning is that usa knows how to build a super carrier, has the equipment and infrastructure and has support of uncle sam and us gov who would support american companies getting such a large potential deal by giving them benefits and supports in getting a deal. Does britian even know how to build a super carrier?


My reasoning is that usa knows how to build a super carrier, has the equipment and infrastructure and has support of uncle sam and us gov who would support american companies getting such a large potential deal by giving them benefits and supports in getting a deal. Does britian even know how to build a super carrier?
The thing is, the UK government is expected to support UK companies, not US companies. And unless the US decides to gift a carrier to the UK, that argument beats all the others.

Nick P

Now is it safe to say the companies that make americas super carriers have approached the uk gov offering to make them so super carriers.
And the UK gov says "Thanks for the plans, we'd rather build our own. Politics and all that, y'know. In the meantime could we borrow one of your surplus carriers for a few years to get used to it and cover the gap while Eagle is repaired?"
There are other problems too - US and UK kit really isn’t compatible, down to things like screw threads not quite matching. Keeping a single US ship in service would be a painful and expensive experience - far better to make do with Harriers for a few years while sorting out any infrastructure problems then build your own ship.
Excellent update, but what is this "XO" person you mentioned several times? No such person in the RN, the term belongs to the world's second best navy. You may actually be referring to the "1st Lieutenant", usually referred to as "Number One".
Excellent update, but what is this "XO" person you mentioned several times? No such person in the RN, the term belongs to the world's second best navy. You may actually be referring to the "1st Lieutenant", usually referred to as "Number One".

Not on the bigger ships.