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.
    Recriminations and Retribution
  • Northwood, 22nd May, 0400

    Looking at the PM and the Defence Secretary Admiral Fieldhouse wondered just how they could do it. He was kept busy enough in his role as the overall commander of OPERATION CORPORATE not to mention his normal day job as Commander in Chief Fleet (the fact that the lions share of the fleet was committed to CORPORATE made things a little easier). Whereas all he really had to worry about was the ongoing operation in the South Atlantic the politicians were the ones who had to deal with the consequences whatever they were. Despite the stresses and workload that came from being a wartime leader the PM still had the small matter of running the country and having to always think of the bigger picture and justify her every action. Indeed, three weeks ago when the RN had destroyed the Argentine navy in what could be described as one of the most decisive battles since Trafalgar Fieldhouse had received pats on the back and the certainty of a place in the history books while the PM had received the political and diplomatic fallout both good and bad.
    Despite the fact that yesterday had been D day and had seen a titanic air battle fought with heavy losses on both sides the PM had not been able to be present at the command centre due to the demanding workload and responsibilities of her office. Though some might have called this dereliction of duty in some ways it was actually for the best. The staff in Northwood were professionals who could be trusted to carry out their roles and having someone like the PM present would just have been a distraction at a critical time.

    Someone who had been present throughout the day though had been the defence secretary. His role had mainly been to keep the PM up to date as news came in and given some of the news that had come in today it had been due to his urging that the PM was present for this meeting. Also, present were the Chief of Defence Staff, First Sea Lord and other very senior officers. Given the events of the previous 24 hours all of these very busy and important people had dropped everything to attend this meeting to decide on their next moves.
    Knowing just how busy her schedule had been today the Defence Secretary wondered if the PM had even slept at all before he had phoned her an hour ago and almost demanded that she come here. He knew that the next few days were going to quite possibly be extremely unpleasant for the both of them.
    In some ways he envied the uniformed officers. All they had to focus on was fighting this (undeclared) war while keeping Britain’s other enemies at bay without worrying about things such as public opinion, political fallout and the media.
    Since this crisis had begun, he had been having without a doubt the worst weeks of his life. He had tried to resign repeatedly but the PM wasn’t letting him take the easy way out. It was almost as if those around him had decided that he was to blame for all of this and that he should be made to reap what he had sown. There was no love lost between himself and the senior members of the armed forces, a consequence of the cuts he had forced upon them. Every now and then he would catch a glimpse of a little grin or a smirk at the edge of someone’s mouth or a certain look in someone’s eye. They were clearly enjoying his discomfort and silently mocking him. He was pretty certain that they laughed about him and talked about him when he wasn’t in the room. Though the PM wasn’t letting him run away just yet and though no one was saying it pretty much everyone knew that once all this was over and done with, he would be replaced and be remembered as one of the villains of the story or worse remembered for his incompetence. For this reason, he was certain that he was losing the respect of those who he was supposed to preside over. Worse he could see the PM’s scheme for him. Politically he was a dead man walking who was only being kept around in order to absorb the flak for any bad news and to provide a scape goat for the media who had already started to tear into the government over last years defence review. The Defence Secretary now cringed every time he thought back to that infamous interview on Newsnight when he had stormed out live on camera after being called a “here today gone tomorrow politician”. The annoying thing was that interviewer was now being proved right and that interview would haunt him for a very long time to come. Another thing that had come back to haunt him was the defence review itself which the media had already named after him. It was still his responsibility and now presented a very difficult question. Given the events that had taken place since the review was published if it still went ahead as planned it would probably be political suicide and for this reason this option would almost certainly be unacceptable for the government. On the other hand that review had been conducted as a necessary response to a reduction in his departments budget which had made it impossible to sustain the armed forces at its then present size and fund the various procurement programs. If he was politically unable to implement his review then he would need to find some serious money from somewhere just to maintain the armed forces at their present size (which the officers in the room never tired of telling him was insufficient). However, with government expenditure across the board being slashed as a result of the nations dire financial position it was unlikely that even god knew where the money could come from.
    He had tried to explain all of this to his wife when she had asked why he constantly seemed so worked up and stressed. He wasn’t sure if she had understood any of his rambling response but he’d noticed that she did seem to have removed all of the alcohol from the house. Probably for the best.

    With the PM now present Admiral Fieldhouse’s chief of staff began a briefing outlining the events of the previous 24 hours. There was a lot to get through. In brief the Task Force had successfully landed elements of 3 Commando Brigade ashore meeting very light opposition. Later in the day the amphibious group had come under heavy air attack which had been successfully defeated and had not prevented or disrupted the landing operation from continuing. The good news was that the estimated losses inflicted upon the argentine air force even allowing for a margin of error had effectively neutralised it as a fighting force meaning that the Task Force now had near total air superiority in the area.

    The bad news was that a total of three ships had been sunk and one heavily damaged with over a hundred men lost. While militarily these losses were irritating but not really a game changer politically if this was handled badly the potential was there for it to be catastrophic.
    Something that could be militarily catastrophic though was an accident aboard the Task Forces flagship HMS EAGLE which had temporarily put her out of action and resulted in the loss of three precious aircraft.

    Once the briefing had been concluded the assembled officers and ministers got down to the business of dealing with the various issues that had been raised. Knowing that the loss of the three ships in San Carlos water could easily drag on for a while the PM asked that they discuss the situation aboard HMS EAGLE first.
    As things stood the fire was extinguished and the ship was not in any immediate danger. However, the ship was currently unable to carry out flight operations due to the wreckage on the flight deck and the damage to her arrestor equipment. The big question was how long it would be until the ship was fully operational again as currently the Task Force was without its two most potent weapons, the Phantoms and the Buccaneers and had lost its ability to see over the horizon with the Gannets now firmly stuck on the deck. For operational reasons this incident had been immediately declared secret as despite their aircraft losses if the Argentines found out about this they just may be tempted to come out and try again. Indeed, the journalists embarked aboard the ship were shocked at first to find their equipment seized and that they were now forbidden from communicating with the outside world. This was something of a knee jerk reaction on the part of the officers aboard. It was later decided by Admiral Fieldhouse that as long as their reports were heavily vetted and that they were informed what would happen to them if they ever breathed a word of the accident the journalists should be allowed to continue reporting. This was due to fears that a sudden cut off of information from these journalists without explanation would be noticeable. Certainly, to these men’s editors and possibly to someone conducting OSINT which may cause them to take interest in the ship. Not until almost a year after the event would the MOD admit to there having been a crash aboard HMS EAGLE.
    With regards to the question of how long it would take to get the ship operational again the news was not good. Most of the night had been spent removing the unused ordinance from the wreckage. This and the darkness had prevented much else from being done. Once it was daylight the wreaked phantom would have to be pushed over the side, the arrestor wires removed and replaced, the flight deck examined for damage and Fod plodded probably several times over. This alone could easily take hours. Moreover the air group had been operating at its maximum possible tempo the day before meaning that the aircraft themselves were in need of a lot of work. Unfortunately the squadron personnel who would normally be doing this work would be busy helping get the flight deck back into service meaning further delay. All in all it was highly unlikely that EAGLE would be back in service before the sun set later and even then it would probably take most of the night and following morning to get the air group to an acceptable level of serviceability.

    The discussion now turned to the recovery of downed airmen. Yes they were enemies who had just been trying to kill them but human life is still human life irrelevant of their allegiance and no mariner could ever feel comfortable about leaving someone adrift and at the mercy of the cruel sea. Unfortunately a lot of pilots had gone into the water the previous day and the South Atlantic is a vast area and not especially conductive to life. The ships of the BRISTOL group to the west of the islands had sent helicopters to search the area where they had engaged a formation of Skyhawks. The helicopters had returned with a total of three pilots. Two of them had already succumbed to hypothermia by the time they had been found but one was miraculously still alive (in the medical sense of the word). Though it pained him to do so Captain Grose had decided against searching further as it was now apparent that there would be no more survivors and he had more pressing taskings. Three more pilots had been recovered alive to the north of the islands when aircraft transiting between HMS HERMES and San Carlos had sighted flares and emergency beacons. Though some had made it out of their cockpits and found themselves POW’s the number of pilots recovered in and around San Carlos was very low. This was due to the fact that the bombing runs and shootdowns had occurred within a matter of seconds. Even the best ejector seats take a second or so to function meaning that the pilots in the aircraft that were knocked out of the sky often didn’t have time to react.
    The frozen bodies of many pilots remained adrift at sea. In later years these men along with the unrecovered bodies of sailors who had lost their lives when the RN had sunk their ships became known in Argentina as the lost boys. As well as at least two known incidents of rafts containing the bodies of Argentine war dead washing up on the coast of West Falkland even up until 1984 there were reports of incidents of bodies washing up on the coast of Argentina. In one notorious incident the badly decomposed body of an Argentine pilot still wearing his flight suit, boots and helmet was discovered by a group of children on a family day out at the beach.

    Finally the topic came to how to deal with the fallout from the loss of HMS ARDENT, HMS ARGONAUT and HMS ANTELOPE and the loss of life among the crews. Though politicians in the room were dreading the upcoming days when the news of this broke. The military men in the room kept on trying to remind the politicians that the battle had been a victory in that the Argentines hadn’t managed to prevent them from establishing a beach head. The Defence Secretary countered by statin that during the Vietnam war the Americans claimed to be winning because for every American lost, they had killed about ten Viet Kong/NVA. Unfortunately, the American public hadn’t cared about those ten Vietnamese just that one American. He feared that the British public would care about three RN warships and maybe not even notice the 50 plus Argentine aircraft.
    The conversation turned to the subject of next of kin. Having taken some flak for the way that the loss of HMS GLASGOW had been handled it had been decided that in future no official announcement would be made until the families had been informed. It had taken until well into the night to do the headcounts and draw up the casualty lists. It had been decided to wait until the following day to send out people to do the knocks as it would look extremely bad if people were dragged out of bed in the middle of the night to be given the news they probably had nightmares about. It would be so easy for the media and opposition to portray that as the government trying to cover up the extent of losses which could very easily undermine support for the campaign.
    This threw up another issue as the PM was due to give a press conference that morning and would not be able to announce the names of the lost ships without using the phrase “next of kin have been informed” as this would most likely cause a panic and jam the MOD switchboard again. The PM stated that instead she would have the MOD’s chief of public relations Ian McDonald deliver a statement saying that British forces had landed on the Falkland Islands and had come under a sustained air attack which had successfully been driven off. He would state that there had been some losses but would focus on the number of Argentine aircraft shot down. Once she had received word that the families had been informed the PM would make a speech in the afternoon or early evening detailing the ships that had been lost.
    The PM had made it a habit to write letters to the families of all the men lost so far in this conflict. In her mind there was a certain unfairness in the fact that because of the office she held she had the power to send someone else’s son, brother or father to his death. Writing what would now be nearly 150 letters was in a way her way of chastising herself for this while trying to bring some comfort to those who would be enduring their darkest hours.

    The conversation now turned to how to proceed militarily. As well as the risk of the political fallout of these losses sapping support for the campaign the members of the government and military present were increasingly becoming concerned about the diplomatic front. They were worried about continued calls from members of the UN for some sort of ceasefire. Such a thing would only work in the Argentines favour as the RN would seriously struggle to sustain the forces ashore as the winter came and the weather became worse and worse. The senior officers of Operation CORPORATE had long been aware that they were up against the clock every bit as much as the Argentinians.
    The government was worried that if it appeared that momentum was being lost that political, public and diplomatic support for the operation could drain away and that there was a risk that the UN Security Council may vote for a ceasefire.

    The thing that seemed to be causing the politicians worries was the fact that the plan as it currently stood was to not carry out any offensive operations over the coming week and to as far as possible avoid contact with the Argentines.
    Brigadier Thompson RM was currently the commander of all land forces on the islands. His orders were to push forward from his beach head just enough to establish a defensive perimeter and conduct recon and intelligence gathering in the immediate area. 3 Commando Brigade would continue to land ashore and would establish a support base and land the supplies necessary for the land campaign. For now his focus would be predominantly defensive. One of his most vital tasks would be to establish an airstrip ashore in order to support helicopter operations as this would allow the helicopters including the new heavy lift Chinooks to be unloaded from the requisitioned container ships ATLANTIC CONVEYOR, ATLANTIC CAUSEWAY and CONTENDER BEZANT and put to work. Once this had been accomplished Major General Moore RM would land with 5 Brigade and assume command. It was expected that it would take until D+7 to get both brigades fully ashore along with the supplies for the campaign and establish the required supporting infrastructure.
    Only when he had enough forces to take on the Argentines while protecting his lines of communication would Moore be in a position to begin offensive operations.
    A big part of the reason why San Carlos had been chosen as the landing site was because it was felt to be far enough away from the main Argentine troop concentrations around Port Stanley and Goose Green to allow this to take place without the threat of Argentine ground forces intervening.
    Prior to the air attacks Brigadier Thompson had planned to begin airlifting elements of 3 Commando Brigade east to Mount Kent on the night of the 24th. The plan had been for 42 Commando with a battery of field guns to assault and occupy Mount Kent and establish a landing zone and forward operating base from which an air corridor could be established with the beach head at San Carlos to allow the rest of 3 Commando Brigade to be air lifted into the area to be joined by units of 5 Brigade as and when they came ashore.
    The only other option would involve an extremely long walk!

    Unfortunately, the air attacks had thrown something of a spanner into the works as most of the helicopters rather than continuing to ferry troops and supplies ashore had first had to vacate the area and then been retasked to help the ships in distress and search for downed airmen. This had caused considerable delay to the landing schedule and logistics plans meaning that everything was now running hours behind where it should have been. This meant that Brigadier Moore had had to report that he was unlikely to be in a position to carryout the planned assault on Mount Kent on the night of the 24th. Given that the plan relied heavily on the cover provided by the darkness the earliest he could get going would be the 25th.
    To the politicians this meant three days where to the public and opposition who would no doubt include a large number of armchair generals nothing would be happening and three days where credibility and support could be lost. Therefore, they were heavily pressuring Admiral Fieldhouse to carryout some sort of early operation or offensive of political and propaganda value.
    Fieldhouse had been initially resistant to this on the principle of trying to avoid falling into the trap of military operations being micromanaged by political considerations. He had been persuaded of the necessity of doing something by Admiral Lewin who in his role as Chief of Defence staff acted as the conduit between the political and military worlds and therefore was more in tune with the political and military threats to the campaign. Therefore, Fieldhouse began examining his options.

    Initially the possibility of an operation against the garrison at Goose Green was looked at. Intelligence assessments had concluded that the Argentine garrison located there possessed limited offensive capability and did not present a serious threat to the British landing area at San Carlos. Therefore, the current plan for the land campaign called for the area to be isolated and bypassed completely as it was judged to be of little strategic value and could be attacked and degraded from the air.
    Some were now arguing that an operation should be mounted to capture Goose Green and its settlements and airstrip as this would provide exactly the kind of victory that the government needed and would bit a big chunk out of the order of battle of the Argentine forces on the island. Looking more closely though Fieldhouse began to turn against the idea. To take Goose Green and defeat the Argentine garrison would take at least a battalion supported by batteries of field guns. In fact it may even require two battalions attacking from both north and south in a pincer movement with liberal amounts of fire support. Moving such a force would take most if not all of the available airlift capability and getting the guns set up alone could take hours. The diversion of the helicopters alone would have severe knock on effects for the timetable for the land campaign. Just as bad irrespective of the outcome of the battle if the units involved may end up too bloodied in the process and unable to take part in the drive towards Port Stanley. With HMS EAGLE still potentially out of action by the time the operation was mounted the lack of CAS may make this last possibility much more likely.
    In Fieldhouses opinion there was far too little to be potentially gained from an assault on Goose Green to justify the risks and negative effects on the rest of the campaign.
    At this point Air Chief Marshal Keith Williamson the Air Officer Commanding Strike Command stated that while he agreed with the assessment that a land attack of Goose Green was not feasible he just might be able to offer an alternative.

    With Goose Green a non starter on of the officers in Fieldhouse’s staff suggested an alternative, Pebble Island.
    Just off the north coast of the island of West Falkland pebble island was the site of a small Argentine airstrip light ground attack aircraft and a settlement home to a small number of islanders. The more this option was examined the more attractive it became. The airfield had been judged to be a threat early on in the campaign and so had been on the receiving end of more than one on air strike including one little more than 24 hours ago. There was also a lot of up to date intelligence on the area thanks to the frequent photoreconnaissance sorties and an SAS observation post.
    The SAS OP had originally been set up to provide on site intelligence for a planned special forces raid to destroy the aircraft present. This raid hadn’t been carried out in the end as it was judged that the airstrikes had done the job just as well and the plan had called for HMS HERMES to close with the islands in order to carry out a helicopter insertion and extraction. At the time that had been judged as too greater risk for the ship.
    While the operation hadn’t been carried out it did mean that a lot of the preparation work and planning for an attack on the island had already been carried out.
    Further making this option attractive was the disposition of forces. The airfield was much more lightly defended than at Goose Green and a lot of the British forces that would be needed to carryout the operation were already nearby. The SF force that had assaulted Fanning Head included many men who were originally slated to carryout the raid meaning that they were already familiar with the area. 3 Para were still mostly aboard HMS HERMES waiting to be airlifted ashore. A company or two of Para’s backing up a large SF contingent would be a pretty potent force. Better still the HERMES was already close by and while tasked on this operation if it suddenly became necessary could easily switch back to supporting the landings. While as with the Goose Green option this would have a knock on effect for the land campaign the smaller force involved would lessen this effect. The BRISTOL group would be steaming north to provide cover for the landing and carrier groups anyway which meant that BRISTOL and EXETER would be in a position to provide naval gun fire support with their 4.5 inch guns and thus far untouched stocks of shells (the number of shore bombardment operations that had been carried out recently meant that 4.5 inch shells were becoming something of a precious commodity amongst the ships of the Task Force).
    Overall this option was judged to have a greater chance of success and would certainly deliver the propaganda value that the government was after in the capture of an Argentine airfield and liberation of a number of British nationals.
    Therefore, it was decided to pursue this option and an order to this effect was transmitted to Brigadier Thompson.

    Turning back to the subject of Goose Green Air Chief Marshall Williamson outlined his proposal.
    Operation Black Buck was something that had been in the works for a while now. The plan had originally envisaged a record breaking long range strike against Port Stanley airfield an Avro Vulcan flying from Ascension island, a round trip of nearly 7000 miles. Initially approval for the preparatory work for this operation had been given. However, this operation was risky and final approval for a mission had not been forthcoming as it was judged that EAGLE’s Buccaneers could do the job (as they had). However, Eagle was now out of the picture for two reasons. Firstly and most obviously was the accident that had caused a shut down of flying operations. Secondly was the message from Admiral Woodward detailing his concerns regarding the Task Force’s stocks of air weapons and his proposals to begin conserving these for CAS operations for the land forces.
    Williamson argued that Black Buck would relive the pressure on the Task Forces munitions stocks and would prevent the Argentines from getting suspicions about the state of EAGLE if they suddenly found themselves not being bombed. Furthermore the image of a heavy bomber carpet bombing the Argentines would do wonders for morale and may provide a good propaganda boost for the government.
    He was beginning to feel that he was clutching at straws but truth be told Williamson and the RAF in general had an ulterior motive. Thinking ahead to when all this was over and done with they could see that there were going to be some changes in defence planning. The RAF had survived the last defence review relatively unscathed largely at the expense of the navy. The way things were going in the publics mind tis campaign was largely viewed as a naval affair with some army in support. The RAF was playing a crucial role in maintaining the air bridge to Ascension Island and providing maritime patrol support with its Nimrod’s (which had been crucial in locating the Argentine carrier group) and was supporting the land campaign with its Chinook helicopters. Furthermore, there were RAF personnel imbedded in the squadrons and aboard ships of the Task Force. While this was vital it was largely out of the public eye due to it being “unsexy”.
    This led to the senior leadership of the RAF feeling justifiably worried about the prospect of suffering big time in future defence planning. Especially as the navy was likely going to try and use its new found prestige and clout to try and maintain its fixed wing capability and replace its lost ships. The money would have to come from somewhere.
    Therefore, the RAF was desperate to be seen to be playing a more active role in this campaign.
    In the end Williamson’s arguments won the day. This was backed up by the fact that with a substantial British force now present and able to offer things like radar support, fighter cover and if worse came to worst combat search and rescue the risk had been reduced while the probability of success had increased.

    Black Buck was a go.
    Operation Black Buck
  • Vulcan XM598, 23rd May, 0300

    Guiding his delta winged bomber through its final course adjustment which marked its attack run Squadron Leader Reeve went through his final preparations with his navigator. It was far to dark outside for him to be able to make out any more than the largest of geographical features and he was trying to find a target that only covered a relatively small area of the landmass below him.
    Given the sheer distance his aircraft had flown from its base on Ascension Island to even reach the Falklands Reeve considered it something of a minor miracle that they had even found the islands seeing as an error of even a few degrees at the start could have meant that they ended up flying right past them.
    Whereas arriving in the right place was possibly a minor miracle Reeve was adamant that managing to find the Victor tankers and conduct without incident the five air to air refuelling’s that it had taken to get his Vulcan this far. That was before he even dared think about the fact that those Victor tankers had had to be themselves refuelled from other Victors (some multiple times) just to get them into position to refuel the Vulcan.
    There was an acronym he quite liked which had been taught to him many years ago in training at RAF Cranwell and had proved itself true time and time again. KISS, Keep It Simple Stupid. Because the more complicated a plan was the more things there were that could potentially go wrong with it and this was by far and away one of the most ambitious and complicated sorties that the RAF had ever attempted. Statistically his aircraft should not have even made it this far and definitely wasn’t supposed to make it home again.

    This mission codenamed BLACKBUCK 1 was the RAF’s first direct intervention in the Falkland Islands. Up until now the services contributions to the campaign had been extremely vital but of the non-combat support variety. They had been running the airfield on Ascension Island which was acting as the Task Forces supply base and maintaining an airbridge back to the UK. Nimrod’s had been operating from Ascension and had been providing vital MPA support to the Task Force and there were various RAF personnel imbedded with the various ships and units further south. The Vulcan crews had been able to see all of these things in action owing to the fact that they themselves had had little else to do but sit in deck chairs in the shade under the enormous wings of their aircraft and watch the world go by.

    Operation BLACK BUCK had been initiated at the start of the conflict back in April. Satellite imagery had shown that the Argentines were lengthening the runway at Port Stanley airfield and appeared to be carrying out work to enable the airfield to operate fast jets. Once operational the aircraft operating from this facility would have been a major threat to any ships operating in the vicinity of the islands and would have made a landing to risky to be attempted while it was operational. Therefore, a requirement had been identified which called for the runway to be put out of action. The RAF’s solution to this requirement had been called for a long ranged strike by a single Vulcan carrying conventional munitions to crater the runway.
    To this end a herculean effort had been undertaken to get all of the necessary preparatory work done. A sizeable majority of the UK’s tanker fleet in the form of Victor’s had been deployed to Ascension Island arriving from April the 5th. The Victor crews were already well prepared for their contribution to the campaign as their peacetime role mainly consisted of refuelling fighters that were scrambled nearly every other day to respond to Soviet incursions into UK airspace. The proportion of the Victor fleet that had been flown south to Ascension had at first left many worried that the RAF would no longer be able to adequately respond to threats to and violations of UK airspace due to a lack of air to air refuelling and sustainment capability. Thankfully the Americans had stepped in and provided a number of KC-135 Stratotankers to fill in for the Victors. The number of Victors operating from Ascension Island had reached a peak of 14 aircraft and unlike the crews of the Vulcans the Victor crews had certainly been kept busy. They had been supporting the Nimrod’s which had been carrying out long range maritime patrol missions and had even carried out some patrol and intelligence gathering missions themselves during the operation to recapture South Georgia. The good thing about this was that the Victor crews had become experienced at long duration flights, air to air refuelling’s and most importantly locating each other in the vast expanse that was the South Atlantic.

    Regarding the Vulcan itself as with HMS EAGLE this entire campaign was something of a last hurrah. The futuristic looking delta winged bomber that had once been part of the V Force which had stood ready to unleash nuclear Armageddon was now reduced to a handful of elderly and decrepit aircraft. The final three remaining squadrons all based at RAF Waddington had been due to disband by the end of June with the Vulcan consigned to the history books and the scrap heaps.
    Having been designed to carry out nuclear strike missions against the Soviet Union the Vulcan had seen its primary mission disappear with the advent of the Polaris SLBM and the navy taking over responsibility for the UK’s nuclear deterrent. Since then the aircraft had been struggling to find a useful role to justify its existence with aircraft being rerolled as conventional bombers, maritime patrol, ect. As time went on these roles either began to become regarded as superfluous or allocated to other more suited aircraft.
    In one corner of RAF Waddington at the time was a site that would break the heart of many an aircraft lover. Dozens of retired Vulcans having been stripped of useful parts were unceremoniously ripped apart and the pieces left to rot.
    Then the order had come to prepare to carry out some operation codenamed Black Buck.

    As with getting HMS EAGLE in a fit state to deploy Black Buck had required a herculean effort on the part of the Vulcan squadrons just to get it off the ground.
    The individual aircraft were selected for this operation for two reasons. The first was the fact that they were fitted with the more powerful Bristol Olympus 301 engines and the second was that at only 22 years old they were the youngest in the Vulcan fleet and thus were considered to be not quite as worn out as the rest.
    one of the biggest and most important challenges was regaining the ability to conduct air to air refuelling’s. This capability had been assessed as unnecessary a few years previously. The result of this was a cessation of training for this and the removal of the aerial refuelling system from the aircraft themselves in order to save the money it would cost to maintain them. The maintainers had scoured every RAF base that had ever hosted a Vulcan in the hopes of finding the necessary parts. Their efforts were partially rewarded when a set of 20 non-return valves that had been sitting on a shelf long forgotten at RAF Stafford. Things even got to the point where more than one museum curator was outraged to discover that their exhibited Vulcans had been “vandalised” with parts missing from the nose. In one well known case a vital component was discovered by chance in an officers mess being used as an ash tray.
    Other parts relating to ECM equipment were scavenged from the RAF’s Buccaneer squadrons.
    While the Vulcans were still theoretically capable of conventional bombing again this was something that had years before been deemed superfluous and skills and equipment allowed to fade away. This had resulted in crews suddenly having to be put through something of a crash course where even the most experienced instructors desperately struggled against the clock to relearn old skills. The time it was taking to make the Vulcans capable of AAR again meant that training in this area was limited to “dry runs” where the aircraft would connect with the tanker without actually receiving any fuel.
    There weren’t even any bombs to practise with which many felt had a detrimental effect on the effectiveness of the training that the crews were receiving.
    When the need for conventional Vulcan bombing missions had been deemed unnecessary the need for actual bombs had been much reduced. Between budget cuts reducing the number being procured, the ones allocated to NATO missions and the large number that had found their way into the magazines of HMS EAGLE and INVINCIBLE and the various auxiliaries finding sufficient bombs had been difficult.
    Eventually a total of 167 1000ib bombs had been located and commandeered for the operation. This gave the Vulcans enough to be able to conduct 8 combat sorties. As with the aerial refuelling systems the RAF engineers were forced to search far and wide for the necessary components for arming and deploying conventional munitions eventually locating the control panels in a scrapyard in Newcastle.
    Having somehow managed to overcome the almost insurmountable challenges in switching from winding down the RAF’s Vulcan fleet to making it ready for a mission it hadn’t been prepared for for years the entire ensemble over the course of a few days made its way south to RAF Ascension. For the Vulcans it was a 9 hour flight with two in air refuelling’s which served as a good warm up for what was expected to come next. With the ground crews and munitions flown in by Hercules transport aircraft and established at Ascension the crews had eagerly awaited the order to go. Then disaster had struck.

    The higher ups had decided that a Buccaneer strike from HMS EAGLE would be more effective with a greater chance of success justifying the greater risk of bringing the carrier closer to the islands and using more than one aircraft. This had almost completely removed the whole purpose of Black Buck and had hurt morale somewhat as the airmen found themselves with nothing to do while the navy covered itself in glory by destroying the Argentine navy supported by other RAF units based at Ascension. Despite the fact that they no longer had an immediate objective there was still a possibility that the Vulcans may still be required and so they had found themselves waiting on Ascension Island for an order which may never come. They had tried to use this unexpected extra time to further hone their skills and practise long duration sorties and AAR but this had been very difficult. Unlike the Vulcans the Victors were already busy enough flying actual operational missions and had very infrequently been available to support training sorties. Furthermore, the base commander had been less than willing to allocate some of the bases limited fuel supply to these sorties and considered them to be almost unnecessary burdens on his already overworked airfield staff and infrastructure. In fact he’d almost given the impression of regarding the Vulcans as a waste of (admittedly very limited) space on the airfield. With training sorties limited by these considerations the Vulcan aircrew and ground staff had found themselves with little to do but sunbathe. This had drawn more than a few digs from personnel in the other much busier squadrons. Still at least it wasn’t all aimed at them. There was a detachment of RAF Phantoms present to provide local air defence who knowing that being thousands of miles away from the nearest Argentine airbase reduced the air threat to practically nothing looked as if they almost couldn’t be bothered to even pretend to try anymore.
    The few sorties they had carried out however had at least allowed them to identify potential faults with their aircraft. In one case one of the seals on the side windows in the cockpit of XM598 had failed meaning that the crew was unable to pressurise the cabin. Had this happened during an actual mission it could very easily have scuppered the whole thing.

    Yesterday morning however that had all changed when the order had been given to carryout a strike against an argentine airfield and troop concentration at Goose Green.
    Having taken off 7 hours, 7 in flight refuelling’s and more than 3000 miles ago Black Buck one was fast approaching the climax of the sortie and the Vulcans first ever wartime mission.
    As XM598 had approached the Falklands Reeve had established contact with the fighter controller first on INVINCIBLE to the north of the islands and then with HMS COVENTRY near San Carlos. The ships had been tracking the Vulcan with their long ranged air search radars and had been updating the navigator with a much more accurate location than his elderly equipment could give him. This was especially important for the final run into Goose Green as the target was located on a long thin stretch of land. This meant that the aircraft would need to fly over it in a SSW direction when it released its bombload to ensure that the maximum possible number impacted the target area rather than dropping into the sea. A Gannet AEW aircraft from EAGLE would have been especially useful for providing information but for reasons which no one could seem to discover they were not currently available. Reeve had been briefed that should he need help a pair of Sea Harriers were on INVINCIBLE’s deck at alert 5 status but there would be no possibility of Phantoms from HMS EAGLE, again for unknown reasons. It was almost as if someone somewhere was trying to hide something.

    As he made the final part of his bombing run south west a number of thoughts went through Reeves’s mind. Many a V bomber crew had spent their entire careers training for what he was about to do while hoping with every bone in their being that they never would have to it as to do so would most likely have involved bombs in the megaton range and the unleashing of Armageddon. Yet here he was about to carry out what was effectively a Vietnam style Arclight strike against an enemy he’d never really thought about in a place that a few months ago he’d never even heard of as opposed to a thermonuclear strike against a city in eastern Europe.
    Furthermore, he realised why this moment felt so strange. There was no music! Even in his fantasies of carrying out an operational bombing mission he’d always had something like the dam busters march playing in the background without really thinking about it. To carryout a mission this daring without a good sound track just didn’t seem right at all.

    Nearly at the release pint the bomb bay doors were opened and those last minute course adjustments made. It did feel a little futile doing this as the Vulcans bombsight had been designed with thermonuclear weapons in mind where a miss of even a mile let alone a few hundred meters wouldn’t really affect the outcome. Whereas with conventional bombs the margins of error were considerably smaller. Feeling his aircraft lift up into the air as the bombs were released and the Vulcan suddenly became 21,000ib’s lighter Reeve powered the engines to get away from the fireball and mushroom cloud that would never come. When soviet SAM’s had shown themselves to be unexpectedly effective by shooting down a high flying U2 spy plane in the 60’s all Vulcan mission profiles had been switched to ultra-low level. The AA and SAM threat over the Falklands and fuel constraints of this mission had dictated a high altitude bombing run. The doctrine and thus training for doing this in a Vulcan had not been updated for quite some years and was still based on the assumption of dropping a nuclear weapon. Indeed, Reeve and his co pilot had without thinking about it even pulled on their eyepatches because that was what had been drilled into them for many years. The eye patches had been issued to V bomber crews to be protect one eye in during the deployment of a nuclear weapon. It was expected that the uncovered eye that they would need to still be able to fly the aircraft would have retina burned out and permanently blinded by the flash from the detonation of the weapon they had just deployed. The patch would ensure that they still had one good eye to guide the aircraft home.

    It said a lot about what the RAF expected the likely outcome of a full scale nuclear war to be that they were happy to overlook the fact that the crews of their entire strategic nuclear bomber fleet would be rendered half blind and thus medically unfit to ever fly again after the first day.

    Realising that he didn’t actually need the eye patch Reeve removed it as his aircraft began a turn northwards to exfiltrate from the area and get a look at the results of his efforts. Still he thought that carrying out the Vulcans first and possibly only combat sortie without wearing the eye patch was probably another thing that just wouldn’t be right and proper. With the view from the Vulcans cockpit notoriously limited he was unable to make out anything more than an orange glow from flames indicating that some of his bombs had at least hit the ground. Whether they had hit anything worth hitting as opposed to just moving mud around was something that would be answered in a few hours when an early morning photo reconnaissance sortie by one of the Sea Harriers was planned.
    Anyway, it was now time to go home. Despite everything the Vulcan was still only half way through its mission and now had a 3,400 mile return trip. Mercifully with only one more in flight refuelling. All the same it was going to take a lot of coffee to stay alert for the next few hours.

    The bombs had indeed found their mark. The Argentine garrison at Goose Green had become somewhat used to air attacks by now but being carpet bombed was a new and horrifying experience. The bombs used were older cast iron weapons as opposed to newer machined ones. These older bombs did have something of a habit of shattering and exploding immediately upon impact with the surface as opposed to penetrating into the ground. With the aim of this mission being to cause casualties to “soft” above ground targets as opposed to cratering a concrete runway these weapons had been specially chosen. The first one had impacted Darwin hill to the north of the airfield and settlement causing considerable casualties amongst the Argentine troops using it as the lynchpin of a north facing defensive line. The rest of the bombs had landed roughly in a line stretching from there to the airfield just over a kilometre SW. The men moving along the route between the airfield and settlement and the defensive positions had not stood a chance.

    It was noted in later years that the soldiers who had been based at Goose Green suffered a disproportionally higher rate of mental breakdowns and PTSD than those based at other locations and it was theorised that Black Buck may have played a considerable role in this as many of the flashbacks seemed to centre around seeing a line of explosions.

    One survivor who was at the time a conscript and a member of 12th Infantry Regiment and located on the westernmost edge of Darwin Hill where he had a clear view of the bombs impacting in a line would later become a priest and a world-renowned artist. His most famous piece depicts the earth opening up to allow the flames of hell to rise up out of the ground. When asked about his inspiration for the painting (which has been displayed in many famous galleries around the world) he nearly always replies that he wasn’t inspired by anything but simply painted what he had seen on that terrible night in the Malvinas where he had witnessed hell rising out of the ground to claim many of his comrades.

    Pebble Island, 0305

    Trudging through the cold darkness the miserable conscript once again thought about how he had ended up here. Again, it was his turn to do sentry duty overnight which meant again no sleep. It wasn’t as if he would be excused work tomorrow just because he had been up all night. Given the numerous air attacks that this airfield had been subjected to the aircraft and other equipment and tents had been dispersed as a form of damage limitation. The downside of this was with a larger perimeter to patrol more men were required for sentry duty meaning that sleepless nights were now a much more frequent occurrence. It wouldn’t be so bad if there were two of them doing this so he had someone to talk to but there simply were not enough men to make this sustainable. Indeed, two men whose areas of responsibility had overlapped had indeed been caught talking while on sentry duty a few nights previously. The unfortunate men had received a very savage beating from one of the NCO’s before being staked out flat on the ground for 24 hours completely exposed to the elements.
    They hadn’t spoken much to anyone after that ordeal and seemed almost like broken men. To prevent this from happening again the officer in charge of the sentry detail had redrawn the sentry routes to ensure that there were gaps between the various areas of responsibility.

    It was so unfair! He had already done his time. Three months ago, he had completed his one year term of national service or as he had described it the worst year of his life. He had been so happy during that final week when he had gone through the discharge process and handed back his uniform and equipment. Sure he still had a reserve liability but virtually no one had ever been called up for that.
    Then just as he had been leaving the house to go out with his girlfriend who had so patiently waited for his national service to end his mother had shouted after him that there was a phone call for him.
    The news had been devastating and it wasn’t as if he could say no (unless he suddenly decided he didn’t enjoy having life and liberty anymore). He had fought back the tears as the uniform he had taken so much pleasure in getting rid of was handed back to him along with a rifle. Without even having a chance to tell his family what was happening he had been squeezed into the back of a transport aircraft with numerous other recalled conscripts and others who had been looking forward to discharge and flown out to the Malvinas and ultimately found himself posted to protect this small airstrip god knows where.

    His thoughts were interrupted by what sounded like something in between a long and loud rumble or roar. To the SE he could see an orange glow on the horizon. He stopped to look and wondered what could be making that noise. It sounded like someone was being bombed but he hadn’t heard the noise of any aircraft engines or any of the other normal tell-tale signs that he was by now sadly familiar with.

    His thoughts were suddenly interrupted when it felt like he had just been punched in the chest. It happened with such force that he had dropped his rifle and been knocked back onto the ground. On his front the left side of his chest he could feel this sharp pain almost like he’d cracked a rib like he had done years previously. On his back roughly opposite it felt much worse. Almost as if he had been stung by a hundred bees all at once. Reaching back to put his hand on it he felt something sticky and wet. Bringing his hand back round to have a look in the darkness he could see it was covered with something thick and dark. The pain on both his front and back was becoming more pronounced and he noticed that every breath he took sounded laboured and wheezy.
    He began to feel dizzy and faint and quickly his muscles seemed to be relaxing causing him to end up flat on his back. As he looked up at the night sky the last conscious thought that his brain registered was that the stars in the sky seemed to be going out.

    A little over 600m away the spotter whispered to his sniper “target down”.
    Pebble Island
  • Pebble Island, 23rd May, 0306

    Looking through his scope at the now still body the sniper was confident that he already had or was in the process of passing on into the next world. Using a hand signal, he signalled to a member of the assault team that it was safe to proceed.
    A total of six sentries had been identified spread around the airfield. The sentries were working alone spread out a good distance away from each other. Easily to far to communicate with each other and unlikely to be in a position to support each other if they noticed something was wrong. Watching them the British generally got the impression that these likely conscript soldiers were simply going through the motions of their duties as opposed to actually watching for any sort of threat.
    Some might say that this lack of attention to their duties had sealed their fate but considering who they were up against it would have made little difference anyway.
    Knowing that there was to be what had been described to them as a “heavy airstrike” on Goose Green to the SE the sniper team had waited until the bombs had actually started to impact and used this to cover the sound of the shot from their L42A1 rifle.
    Of six sentries identified two had been dealt with in this way while two more had been dealt with at closer range. One to a silenced weapon and one to an SBS trooper with a Commando fighting knife. The final two were on the far side of the airstrip and were judged to be far enough away not to warrant the effort.

    With four sentries taken care of the entire 180-degree eastern arc of the airstrip was completely unprotected. Slowly and silently more than 40 SAS and SBS troopers rose up from the ground having approached crawling across the open grassland on their bellies and slowly began to make their way onto the airstrip. Passing the very spread out aircraft (Having been subjected to air attacks the Argentines had dispersed the remaining aircraft over a much larger area) the special forces men noted the Argentine Navy markings. While is conflict had created a previously unimaginable level of cooperation between the different services of the Argentine military (with the exception of a few air force Pucara’s) this hadn’t quite gone as far as the Airforce and Naval Air Arm sharing the same airfield.
    The air attacks had left a number of large craters on the airstrip which had been identified by the SF men as a potential hazard. This was because any of them would make an ideal fighting position and as they made their way towards their primary objective the British carefully checked every crater with the expectation that as well as his aircraft the Argentine commander may have also dispersed some of his men who would likely be sleeping in these craters using them for cover.
    It later transpired that while he had considered this the airstrip commander had prioritised the comfort of his men and allowed them to remain in the slightly warmer shelters on the western part of the facility.

    This objective of this operation was to capture and hold this tiny airfield. It was a rework of a previous plan for a raid on the airfield which had been shelved when it was deemed unnecessary. Most of the heavily SF men currently creeping across the airfield had been expecting to take part in the previously planned raid had been rather disappointed when it was put on hold indefinitely. Most of those men had been retasked to other things yet had ultimately found their way back here. The SF contingent was made up of men pulled from all over the place highlighting the short notice nature of the operation. 24 of them including a Naval Gunfire Support specialist from 148 Commando Observation Battery were the men who just two days previously had assaulted and overwhelmed the Argentine force at Fanning Head in a spectacular fire fight. Once the Marines and Paras had successfully landed ashore and secured a beachead they had relived the SBS men and taken charge of the surviving Argentines who now found themselves prisoners of the British. The SBS men had been helicoptered to HMS HERMES which due to the facilities onboard and the ready availability of helicopters had been judged as an ideal launching point for whatever tasking came along next. The helicopters carrying the men had left just in time to avoid being caught up in the heavy air raids that had come next but were delayed by being diverted eastwards away from the action. Once it was safe to do so the pilot had turned back towards HERMES but had also ordered the side door opened and for the SF men in the back to scan the sea for life rafts, flares or anything of that nature.
    Joining the Fanning head force on HERMES was a six man team that had been conducting reconnaissance on one of the landing beaches and were now being flown out to HERMES to be rested after their mission. Having spent more than two weeks living outdoors it would have been fair to say that these six men had a certain look and smell about them that was noticeable even within HERMES’s carnivorous hangar. Before being allowed below deck they had been washed using high pressure fire fighting hoses and shaved in the manner that one would shear a sheep as opposed to cutting a mans hair.
    Despite having only been out of the field for a little over a day all 30 of these men had been more than eager when the orders had come through to assault Pebble Island.
    They were joined by a contingent from D Squadron SAS who had been kept on standby as an SF reserve in case of any emergent tasks that required their particular skillset such as this. These men comprised the first wave to be landed under the cover of darkness on the eastern peart of Pebble Island. The pair of night vision equipped Sea King HC.4’s had been guided to the landing site by a small team of SAS men also from D Squadron. These men had been infiltrated onto the island more than two weeks ago for the purpose of reconnoitring the airfield for the then planned raid. When this had been postponed indefinitely the men had remained here as no viable opportunity to extract them had yet emerged and also the real time intelligence that they had been providing on Argentine activity was extremely valuable. Especially during the planning of this particular operation.
    Two members of the reconnaissance team briefed the commanders and proceeded to lead them towards the airfield six kilometres away using routes that they had had plenty of time to so carefully scout. Once there they would link up with another two members of the team who were keeping an eye on the Argentines in case the entire garrison collectively decided to wake up and go for a midnight stroll.

    The final two SAS men stayed behind at the landing/insertion point waiting for the men who would provide the next wave. While the men coming in aboard the next two Sea King’s didn’t have a reputation for subtlety required for the first part of this operation, they certainly an ideal choice for their role of providing a bit of extra muscle and firepower in case things went south and turned into a firefight. Aboard the helicopters came two platoon’s worth of 3 PARA.

    3 PARA had been acting as the landing forces strategic reserve and so rather than wading ashore onto the beaches alongside their comrades in 2 PARA and their rivals in the Royal Marines they had remained aboard HMS HERMES ready to be helicoptered anywhere they were needed. With the landings taking place unopposed this need had never materialised and 3 PARA had found their expected deployment time pushed back again and again as the helicopters of the landing force were used for higher priority tasks and their expected landing zone changed again and again. Finally, Lt Col Pike having been told that HERMES was diverting away from San Carlos had had enough and told his men to stand down for now. Only after he had done this had he been told that HERMES was to support some sort of special forces op and he was to provide a contingent of his men in support of this. While like many of his men he was disappointed that he wouldn’t be going himself, he was pleased that his men had been given this opportunity to show what they were capable of and had carefully handpicked the men that were to go.
    One helicopter carried an infantry platoon that would skirt around the southern edge of the airfield and provide a blocking force between the airfield and Pebble Island Settlement. It was judged that if the were any Argentine forces on the island not on the airfield then they would most likely be located at or near this tiny hamlet. The Para’s would prevent any potential reinforcements from reaching the airfield while also cutting off a potential line of retreat.
    The second helicopter carried a platoon sized force drawn from the Support (heavy weapons) company who would provide extra firepower to the assault force if needed.
    If the Argentines turned out to be dug in and determined opponents the British had an ace up their sleeve. HMS BRISTOL and HMS EXETER which had done sterling work in helping to defend the landing force in San Carlos from air attack and fended off one of the dreaded Exocet’s at the same time had been transiting NE in company with HMS BRILLIANT to rejoin the carrier group. Being in roughly the right area anyway they had been directed to be ready to provide naval gunfire support with their 4.5-inch guns if it became necessary.

    Having slipped in amongst the aircraft and various pieces of airfield equipment the SF men were now in positions that gave them a clear field of fire towards the dug in shelters on the western part of the airfield. This in itself had presented something of an unusual problem. The original plan for a raid had envisioned them inserting by helicopter in exactly the manner they had just done. Infiltrating the airfield again just like they had done and then harking back to the SAS raids in North Africa against German airfields during the second world war shooting anything that moved, blowing up anything that didn’t and then hopefully before the enemy was able to get organised withdrawing and heading home for tea and medals. That plan had only required that the Argentines be kept suppressed in their positions whereas now they would have to somehow be defeated in battle. To be honest the SF commander ad expected that contact would most likely be initiated as a result of their approach being spotted during their approach. Especially considering that some of them would most likely have been awoken by the sound of the Vulcan strike to the SE. This would have had the advantage of likely drawing some of the Argentines out into the open as they left their shelters for whatever pre-prepared fighting positions they had. Yet somehow surprise had been achieved so successfully that the Argentines were not even aware of it. Even though he hadn’t expected to get this far the commanders plan essentially called for a show of force followed by an attempt to persuade the defenders to surrender and if this didn’t work methodically exterminating them until they did.

    With everyone in place and the targets identified 12 GPMG’s opened fire on the Argentine shelters providing an extremely dramatic wakeup call for the defenders. It later emerged that some of the Argentines had indeed been woken up by the sound of the bombs hitting Goose Green but had either assumed it was thunder or hadn’t really cared enough to go and investigate as presumably the sentries would alert them if something was amiss.
    While the members of the naval members of the garrison unused to gunfire struggled to work out what was happening (with one paying with his life after he stuck his head over the parapet of his dug out to see what was happening) the marines who were there to provide defence and security for the airstrip slowly began to return fire.
    Seeing the Argentines beginning to return fire the British decided to up the ante and called down a volley of 81mm mortars from the Para’s heavy weapons contingent. It was at that point that that Murphy’s law came into effect. One of the mortars landed very near the shelter that was being used by the Argentine officers. The commander of the Argentine marine contingent Ricardo Marega was struck by a piece of shrapnel that passed right through his head killing him instantly. Furthermore, the naval commander of the airfield itself was struck by metal splinters leaving him a barely alive lump of flesh on the ground.
    At this point the British stopped firing and the same loud speaker that had been used unsuccessfully at Fanning Head was again used by a Spanish speaking SBS trooper who relayed a message demanding the garrisons surrender.
    Having been pinned in their shelters and largely unable to return fire the Argentines awaited instructions from their officers. Instructions which could never have come now. It was then that taking advantage of the pause in the firing and underestimating their enemy’s strength a section of marines made a fatal mistake.
    Four men suddenly stuck their rifles up over the parapet ad opened fire into the darkness to provide cover while the rest of their section attempted to exit the shelter and get to grips with the attacking British. They had reasoned that while they were pinned down in the shelter the British had the initiative and that they were at a serious disadvantage and effectively stuck waiting for the British mortars to find their mark. By exiting their shelter and moving to other positions they reasoned that they could more effectively bring the British under fire and even the odds somewhat. Unfortunately, the men who had exited the shelter had been spotted immediately and cut down by automatic fire.
    The British commander while slightly too far away to have seen exactly what had happened saw that the Argentines were the first to open fire, quickly joined by the other Argentine positions and that his men were clearly returning fire in self defence. Annoyed that his request for a surrender had been answered with gunfire he decided that it was time to call in the big guns and instructed Captain Chris Brown RA of 148 Commando Observation Battery to radio HMS BRISTOL.

    To the west of the airfield in Pebble Island Settlement one of the islanders had been awoken by the noise of gunfire. Looking out of his window he saw that the sky to the west was lit up with brightly coloured tracer rounds. It would have been so pretty if it wasn’t so dangerous and he had had to drag his wife away from the window when she had become mesmerised by the sight. All it would take would be a stray round from either side. Running into the next room to ensure his children were safe he saw his farms shearing shed out of the window. Groups of Argentine soldiers had been using the shed for shelter for quite a while now greatly irritating him as it meant that his livestock had to remain outside exposed to the elements. Even arguing with them had proved futile as he didn’t speak Spanish and apart from a translator who had be specially brought over from the airfield none of the Argentines spoke much more than broken English. It was like having squatters on his property only he couldn’t call the police and the squatters had guns.
    Now he could see the Argentines jabbering away at each other and pointing in the direction of the firefight in the distance. Grabbing their rifle’s, they had quickly made their way in that direction. A few minutes later the islander had heard the sound of more gunfire this time much closer. Upon hearing this he had instantly dropped to the floor using his body to cover one of his children meaning that he had not actually seen any tracer or anything that might give him anymore of an idea what was going on.
    A few minutes after this his wife had screamed when the front door was smashed open and two Argentine soldiers barged in dragging a third blood soaked soldier along the ground behind them by his webbing.
    His instinctive fears that the Argentines had come to do his family harm subsided when he was able to get a good look at the Argentines. They were traumatised by whatever had just happened outside. One of them almost broke down when he looked down at his wounded comrade who he had been dragging behind him and discovered that he had passed at some point during the journey from where he had sustained his wounds to the house.
    To the family the two surviving Argentine seemed to have lost almost all their will to fight and seemed to be more interested in trying to hide from whatever it was that was outside. Hours later when it was daylight another group came through the front door without being invited. However, these men while much more heavily armed spoke English with a flawless native accent and as well as removing the uninvited houseguests were kind enough to help fix the door.

    With the Argentines to the British appearing to have decided that they wanted to make a fight of it the assault force decided to settle the issue through the use of overwhelming force. GPMG’s, M16’s, L1A1 SLR’s and 81mm mortars kept them suppressed and fixed in place while the naval gunfire specialist arranged to have them dug out. First came a 4.5-inch ranging shot from HMS BRISTOL. Pausing for a moment to see if this had given the Argentines pause for thought Captain Brown did not see any noticeable slackening in the fire coming from the Argentine positions and so called out the corrections and requested a five round salvo. The shells were lethally accurate with one impacting directly onto an Argentine shelter obliterating it and the marines that it had contained. Many more landed close enough leave a large portion of the garrison dazed and to disoriented to fight. After this show of force the British again used the loudspeaker to appeal to the Argentines to surrender. This time the language was much more direct and the message essentially went along the lines of “surrender or you will die here and now”.
    The majority of the now leaderless Argentine garrison were not trained for combat. They were aircraft technicians, logistics specialists, cooks, radio operators, ect. All the people needed to run an airfield as opposed to fighting men (the marines were now mostly dead). Slowly men began to emerge from the shelters with their hands raised.

    For the British this had been a spectacular success. Whilst sustaining no fatalities of their own they had assaulted and captured an enemy airfield, defeated a dug in opponent, taken more than a hundred prisoners, liberated a small number of British subjects from a foreign occupier and effectively recaptured the entire island.

    Just as importantly in the strategic sense in conjunction with Operation Black Buck they had ensured that the overall initiative remained in the hands of the British and scored a major propaganda coup.
    Bombs, Bullets and Beans
  • Port San Carlos, 23rd May, 1100

    Napoleon once said that an army marches on its stomach. He was lucky in that all he really had to worry about during his campaigns was keeping his army fed. Brigadier Thompson and his staff had the slightly bigger problem of keeping an army fed, watered, clothed, supplied with bullets and that was before they even began to consider the even greater needs of the machines that they had brought with them.
    Thompson had initially run the landing operation from the amphibious command centre aboard HMS FEARLESS. The facilities there had enabled him to have a better situational awareness of the overall picture than he would have had had he been ashore at one of the initially isolated and wafer thin beach heads.
    After 48 hours with the beach heads now linked up and firmly established Thompson had decided to move his headquarters ashore taking advantage of a lull in activity during the early hours of the morning to hopefully mitigate the risk of something happening while the HQ was in transit and operating at reduced efficiency. HMS HERMES having been diverted away to support the operation at Pebble Island and taking all four of the night vision equipped Sea King’s with her had necessitated transfer ashore via landing craft massively slowing down the process. Thompson himself hadn’t left FEARLESS until he had received confirmation of the success of the Pebble Island operation and Vulcan bombing mission.
    Now established ashore in one of the few structures in the area Brigadier Thompson currently the commander of all British land forces on the islands and his staff were discussing the latest logistics situation, intelligence picture, force dispositions and way forward.

    Lt Col Helberg of the Commando Logistics Regiment briefed them all on the progress of landing the men and materials ashore and the various problems that were being encountered. The biggest obstacle and the one which not even god himself could have done anything about was the sheer distance from the UK and the time it had taken to get from there to here. This meant that a constant supply line was impractical meaning that everything had had to have been brought down in one go with the task force. This meant that the logistics planners in the UK had had the unenviable task of trying to workout what was going to be needed, what quantity would it be needed in, and how important was it to operations. This led into even more difficult questions like what priority should various things have, which ship could carry it, what space was available on ships and would the men who were supposed to use it on the same ship and if not, how could it be transported to them. All of this weeks in advance of advance of even the first shot being fired and not even being able to take into account things like losses, changes of plan and enemy action.

    As Lt Col Helberg continued with his briefing it really drove home just how much the senior British military leadership had underestimated the logistical challenges of fighting a conventional war against a near peer opponent let alone doing it so far from home. The cause of this problem was the nature of Britain’s military operations and deployments over the last few decades covering these men’s experience. The nature of the numerous small bushfire wars hadn’t really presented to much of a logistical challenge due to their small scale and lack of large scale battles. The British armed forces largest commitments had for years been Northern Ireland and Germany. Germany had played host to tens of thousands of British service personnel since the second world war meaning that there were vast quantities of stores already in place and a very in depth military and civilian infrastructure which they had spent years building. Plus, there was also a very helpful local government and friendly local military and vast quantities of available supplies and expertise from NATO allies. Comparatively speaking Germany wasn’t that far away from home meaning that if you needed something that wasn’t available in theatre it was only potentially a few hours flight away.
    Northern Ireland was even easier seeing as it was a part of the UK and only separated from the mainland by a few miles of water. The nature of the forces there being a mostly infantry based force conducting policing actions meant that there was much less demand for certain things like fuel compared to the legions of fuel guzzling tanks and fighter jets in Germany.

    The immediate problem facing the men on the beaches in San Carlos were getting supplies and men off the ships and ashore in the right place within an acceptable time. The men of the Commando Logistics regiment had a seemingly infinite number of lists detailing where seemingly every single tea bag was supposed to be. The problem was plans change and ships carrying certain items would rather than being in San Carlos water in fact actually be miles out to sea with the carrier group or perhaps even further away. Even on the ships when the stores ratings went to look for something, they would often be unable to find it due to it having been improperly/incorrectly labelled, moved to some other part of the ship without anyone bothering to say anything or outright stolen by light fingered soldiers or sailors who felt that they had more need for it. Then would come the challenge of trying to find a helicopter or landing craft which could bring it ashore and finally working out where it should be moved too to prevent a massive pile of equipment and supplies on the beaches and rounding up enough men to carry it there.
    There were only a limited number of helicopters and landing craft which could only transport so much so fast.
    Now that the requisitioned container ships ATLANTIC CONVEYOR and ATLANTIC CAUSEWAY were unloading things would get a little easier. Between them they were carrying vast numbers of Wessex and Chinook helicopters which would vastly increase the quantity of stores that could be moved in a given time.
    It wasn’t just a case of landing a light infantry brigade ashore. There was another one following behind them plus the stores that they would need to sustain a high intensity campaign against a peer opponent and building the infrastructure to support and sustain operations in an area which barely had brick buildings.
    The requisitioned merchant ships while able to carry vast numbers of helicopters were not equipped to operate them. The aircraft would be able to launch from them once but that was about it. There was no question of them being able to return to the same ships to be able to refuel or carry out maintenance. While the aircraft themselves were certified for operating from ships at sea the RAF crews mostly weren’t qualified or experienced in this and especially in light of what had happened aboard HMS EAGLE the navy didn’t want to risk something similar happening to another ship.
    The solution to this problem came from ATLANTIC CONVEYOR in the form of what was essentially a portable airfield. Tents, fuel, spare parts, technicians and interlocking steel matting would mean that the rest of the helicopters could be brought into play as they would have somewhere ashore to operate from. 11 Field squadron Royal Engineers and 59 Independent Commando Squadron Royal Engineers had been working frantically to get this facility up and running and it was now in a position to start receiving aircraft.

    Turning to the issue of the ships themselves the vessels that carried the initial landing force were now largely emptied out. during the night a reshuffle had taken place as empty ships sailed back out to sea while other stores laden vessels came and anchored in the limited room provided by San Carlos water. Though navigating the restricted channels and out to sea by night was more risky with numerous ships in the area sailing with even their navigation lights dimmed it was felt to be a necessity by the captains of the vessels as there was still felt to be a risk of air attack and they didn’t want to be caught out in daylight away from the protective cover provided by the Rapier batteries and warships in San Carlos and in waters where they would have little room for manoeuvre.
    Speaking of ships further out to sea helicopters were having to be redirected to support a cross decking operation. Most of 5 Infantry Brigade had sailed south aboard the requisitioned cruise liner Queen Elizabeth 2. It was considered an unacceptable risk to have such a large ship carrying so many men sat in San Carlos water. In fact the intelligence staff reckoned that if the Argentines found out about it despite the beating they had taken last time their air force may be tempted to come out and have a go at her. If she was lost or even damaged the loss of life and damage to a ship that held a significant position in British psyche could possibly spell the end for the campaign. Therefore, the men were being transferred to other ships which would bring them ashore.

    Commander Rick Jolly and his Number 2 Surgical Support team had come ashore immediately after the first landings and had taken over the only other structure in the area (a disused refrigeration plant). Supported by medical detachment from the marines and Parachute regiment they now had a field hospital up and running. Worried about their close proximity to an ordinance dump and the fact that Argentina was not a signatory to the Geneva Convention they had painted a large red cross on the roof of the building so there could hopefully be no mistaking its purpose. Outright ignoring its purpose though was something they couldn’t guard against. While he was confident that his facility (already nicknamed the red and green life machine) could deal with any and every casualty that came its way it was emphasised that this was a shoestring operation. For example, the only source of hot clean water came from a portable water heater that had been “acquired” from an American unit somewhere. SO the Americans didn’t think that they had been robbed a few crates of good British beer had been left in the exact spot from where the water heater had been taken emphasising that this was an involuntary trade as opposed to theft.
    Having read the after action report from the Pebble Island operation the logistics officers had been shocked by the vast quantity of ammunition that had been expended on what had been a relatively small scale and short operation. The rates of usage had far exceeded even the worst case scenario estimates for a high intensity conventional war with the Soviets in Germany. They were seriously worried that as it was highly likely that there would be plenty of much larger engagements with large dug in Argentine forces the ammunition stocks that had been brought with the task force may not be enough. When Operation Corporate had been put together pretty much every available bullet and shell had been allocated to the operation eating through nearly all of the strategic reserve and even depriving some units in Germany of their stocks of ammunition. If all that wasn’t enough to fight a relatively small scale war god only knew what would happen if WW3 kicked off without nukes. Especially now seeing as the ammunition cupboard was bare and would be for some time until the procurement chain could catch up and the money found to pay for it all. The situation with the force multipliers such as aircraft and artillery was if anything worse. The stocks of aircraft ordinance were known to be rapidly dwindling leading to planning for the event of a slowdown in bombing sorties. Even here the cupboard had been stripped to provide this amount with rumours persisting that the government had been forced to go to US airbases in Britain cap in hand and purchase these bases stocks of weapons to make up the dangerous shortfall in the UK. The shore bombardment missions while effective had taken quite a chunk out of the supply of naval shells on the ships of the Task Force and as for the land based guns while these hadn’t been used yet there was the issue of simply transporting them and their shells to the battlefield in the first place and then keeping them supplied. It was estimated that it would take an entire squadron of helicopters to move a battery of guns and enough shells to make them worthwhile in one lift.

    Once Lt Col Helberg was finished the officers were utterly aghast. Seeing how much work this man was having to do Brigadier Thompson made a mental note to ensure that once all this was over this man got some serious recognition for his efforts.

    The meeting now turned to the latest intelligence and force disposition picture in light of the operations carried out overnight.
    The men had been extremely relived when they had received word that HMS EAGLE was now serviceable again. Although they didn’t know they exact details of what had happened the code words that had been transmitted to FEARLESS translated to there having been some sort of aviation accident onboard and that the Buccaneers and Phantoms were unavailable until further notice. This signal had been marked as top secret meaning that no one in the landing force outside of Thompsons staff had been made aware.
    Though they the Sea Harriers of HMS INVINCIBLE were still in play Thompson had felt extremely exposed and vulnerable without Phantom cover and the possibility of not having Buccaneers for air support had caused a reappraisal of the plans for the ground offensive. While the Argentines had definitely suffered gruesomely during the air attacks on San Carlos on the 21st the threat of air attack had not completely gone away.

    The first thing that was looked at was Pebble Island and the fallout from that operation. Special Forces and a contingent of 3 PARA now controlled the entire island including its airstrip and settlement. A number of aircraft had been captured more or less intact. Various intelligence types were being flown in from HMS HERMES to examine these aircraft and to search the remnants of the airfield for any material or documents that might yield intelligence. A pair of RN photographers had also been flown out there to provide material that would be useful for British morale sustainment and black propaganda efforts. They had been ordered to take lots of photographs of Argentines with their hands in the air, Para’s sitting on captured Argentine aircraft and showing off what essentially amounted to war trophies. Things like captured Argentine flags, uniforms and equipment. Indeed, the Argentine prisoners who had been captured at Fanning Head and the Pilots who had been rescued from the water in San Carlos had been photographed and filmed extensively for this purpose. The press restrictions had been in a way partially loosened with instructions coming from the UK for photographs and footage of things such as Argentine aircraft being shot down and Argentines being taken prisoner to be transmitted back to the UK.

    In the UK an extremely secretive team had been assembled to coordinate efforts to undermine Argentine morale and willingness to fight through various means. They were the ones who had requested these photographs and films. Mostly made up from members of the various civilian intelligence services and military Int units it included a number of military reservists whose day jobs were in things such as advertising and media and knew a little bit about how to influence people. It had been a bit of a slow start but their efforts would slowly start to pay off as time went on.

    Pebble Island nicely led on to the subject of the prisoners that had been taken and what to do with them. The issue was that Britain and Argentina were not formally at war (despite everything that had been going on) and so these men could not be classed as POW’s only detainees. This made things difficult for the British as unlike POW’s who they could hold on for indefinitely and (within the bounds of the Geneva convention) do what they wanted with detainees had to be repatriated as soon as was practical. Currently there were three groups of Argentine prisoners held by the British. The 30 or so men captured at Fanning Head were still being held there bar a few of the more seriously wounded who had been evacuated out to the SS UGANDA which was serving as a hospital ship. More than a hundred men were currently in the “gentle” hands of the PARA’s and SF on Pebble Island and there were a handful of pilots spread around various ships. The men captured at South Georgia and a few pilots that had been picked up were still being held on various ships. There were also a lot of dead bodies which was an issue all of its own.
    No one was really sure what they were required to do with the bodies of an enemy that they were not officially at war with and whether they were required to repatriate them also. It had been decided that the worst thing to do would be to do nothing and leave them lying out in the open. Therefore, instructions had gone out to bury the bodies in the area where they fell in very clearly marked graves that could be easily located to allow for potential exhumation and repatriation at a later date. Furthermore, efforts were to be made to recover dog tags from these men to aid post conflict casualty accounting. Absolutely everything was to be done to ensure that there would be no Argentinian version of the US’s Vietnam War POW/MIA issue which could easily cause problems for Britain in future.

    As to the live prisoners there was some debate as to what to do with them. ATLANTIC CONVEYOR was carrying large numbers of tents and hopefully some reels of barbed wire. These could be used to make a holding camp somewhere. Some argued that seeing as most of the prisoners were already there anyway Pebble Island would be a suitable location for such a facility however it was decided that it would be better to set up somewhere near San Carlos where it would be easier to get these men onto a ship and away from here. One of the Round Table class LSL’s would be ideal. As to where these men would be sent would have to be decided by someone in the UK as a cooperative third partner country would have to be found. Uruguay would be the most likely candidate although whichever ship was sent with these men would have to be escorted by a warship but that was a problem for Admiral Woodward.
    Hopes that the detainees could at least be fed from their own ration stacks had been dashed. The British had been appalled at what they had found in terms of both quality and quantity of Argentine rations meaning that these men were now a further burden on British logistical efforts.
    There were enough loopholes and grey areas in the law to allow for the short term retention of certain prisoners as it could be argued that for whatever reason it was not possible to repatriate these men just yet. Indeed those deemed unimportant enough to leave on the first ship out would possibly find their trip taking rather a long time to ensure that whatever intelligence these men might be able to provide when they got home would hopefully be long out of date.
    The men that would be held on to for longer would most likely be officers with knowledge that would benefit the campaign and help British operations. Pilots could tell you about things like tactics and strengths and weaknesses of doctrine and aircraft, intelligence officers could tell you a lot about yourself and infantry officers could tell you about troop dispositions.
    The area where things became really legally unclear was the possibility of Argentinians wanted in connection with various atrocities committed during the dirty war. This issue had first come to light following the recapture of South Georgia when one of the bodies recovered had been identified as Lt Cdr Astiz who had been wanted by various foreign courts due to his alleged actions in the Dirty War and connections with the disappearances of foreign citizens within Argentina.
    If other such individuals fell into the hands of the British could they be extradited to foreign authorities or would the British still be required to repatriate them to Argentina. Despite the fact that such individuals may be actual war criminals handing over prisoners to a third party country that was not even allied to Britain in this conflict was very much not the done thing. Even a compromise of allowing foreign officials to interview the prisoners would be difficult as such a thing would almost certainly have to be done under the supervision of British officials as part of their duty of care towards the Argentine prisoners.
    The British armed forces had received a lot of criticism and accusations over their alleged treatment of suspected IRA members in their custody in Northern Ireland. The Argentines were uniformed soldiers much like themselves and so were to be treated with the upmost dignity and respect in accordance with the Geneva Convention which Britain unlike Argentina was a signatory too.

    The conversation now turned to 3 PARA who were still aboard HERMES and not here where Thompson needed them. In fact not having them here meant that preparations for the next stage of the campaign were behind as instead of getting ready for the airlift to and assault on Mount Challenger 42 COMMANDO were out patrolling their section of the perimeter and digging foxholes.
    The Para’s and Commandos that constituted 3 Commando Brigade were the most well prepared and worked up units in the British order of battle and so it was expected that they would be doing most of the heavy fighting. The Guards and Gurkhas of 5 Brigade had not had the same opportunity to prepare having come from things like public duties in London and so were mostly to be used as lines of communications troops to occupy ground and provide blocking forces and guard prisoners. Indeed, the Gurkhas had been chosen to provide the platoon and company sized contingents that would be needed for various roles as opposed to operating as a full strength battalion.
    Thompson decided that as soon as possible helicopters were to be sent out to QE2 to fly two companies of Gurkha’s ashore to San Carlos. One company would help set up the prisoner holding facility and assume responsibility for guarding prisoners which would free up the men currently guarding them to rejoin their units. The other half would embark on one of the Chinooks at the San Carlos helicopter operating base which were expected to be operating from the facility by mid-afternoon and then fly with two of the Chinooks out to Pebble Island. Once there they would relive the Para’s and SF and assume responsibility for holding the island and providing security for the intelligence specialists as they went about their work.
    The Para’s and special forces men would then herd the prisoners onto the Chinooks and escort them back to San Carlos where the Para’s would await the arrival of three Para and the SF men would rest and prepare for whatever tasking came next.
    The Gurkhas would certainly have a certain hopefully calming effect on the prisoners. If not then they would definitely be able to take care of any trouble with out firing a shot and hopefully only the minimum of casualties.

    Feeling somewhat physically and emotionally drained and not wanting to keep everyone from their duties for any longer than necessary Brigadier Thompson closed the meeting and dismissed the various officers back to their work.
    Thinking about things there was one thing that stuck in his mind. ATLANTIC CONVEYOR and how her name seemed to always come up when they were discussing some sort of important equipment or supplies that needed to come ashore. Seemingly no one had realised it until now but putting all that vital kit onto one ship had been a serious risk. What if that ship had been hit by an Exocet or something?
    Once this was all over Thompson was pretty sure he would find himself at Staff College recounting his experiences. He made a note that when this did eventually happen, he would have a group put together to wargame whether or not the campaign could have proceeded if ATLANTIC CONVEYOR and her cargo had been lost. Better still he would have them wargame the entire war without the aircraft carrier HMS EAGLE and see what would have happened.
    We're on our own. We're playing for time and it's running out
  • Port Stanley, 24th May

    Why wouldn’t the bastards just come and get on with it! Brigadier Menendez having locked himself in his office in government house (formally occupied by Governor Rex Hunt) allowed himself a brief moment to vent his frustrations and despair while no one was able to see him before working to pull himself back together. He was a big believer in the necessity of commanders maintaining appearances in front of the men. Keeping a stiff upper lip as his adversaries might say. He was worried that if the mood of gloom and despondency prevalent in his headquarters began to spread, he would have an even more serious morale problem than the one he was already struggling with and possibly mutinous or defeatist troops. There was nothing he hated more than his current feeling of impotence regarding his situation. In a way it almost made him feel like a child who just had to sit and be quiet while the adults were talking. Those adults being the British who very clearly held the initiative now and his superiors back on the mainland who in his opinion seemed to be becoming more distant and detached from the situation on the Malvinas.

    Its often said that the waiting is the worst part of any conflict. While he had always seen the reasoning behind this argument and had agreed with it, Menendez was fast learning that it was one of those things that could only be properly understood by those who have experienced it.
    He was starting to believe that the British were playing mind games with him as some form of psychological warfare. If they were it was definitely working. It had been 3 days now since the long-awaited British landing had occurred. A lot had happened since then but Menendez and his headquarters had had almost no influence on it. The first few hours had been spent on reconnaissance and trying to re-establish contact with the local forces based in and around Fanning head. The first instanced had met with a little success in that they had been able to confirm that there was indeed a British landing underway though that was all and even obtaining this information had been a real skin of their teeth affair for the helicopter crew involved. The attempts at re-establishing contact with local forces had been mostly unsuccessful. All they had been able to manage was intermittent radio contact with someone claiming to be survivor of a firefight at Fanning Head who passed on information about the disposition of British forces. It hadn’t been possible to completely verify this man’s story and eventually even he had stopped responding. This and the fact coupled with the inability to establish radio contact on any frequency led the grim conclusion that something nasty had indeed befallen the local forces in the area.

    Next up had come the Air Force operation upon which so much had depended on. This was the point at which even the mainland had stopped telling the hole truth. While they had transmitted a detailed post battle assessment including the fact that most of the ships hit had been warships as opposed to troop transports whenever Menendez had enquired about losses or the strength of their own forces or the possibility of follow up strikes, he had either received evasive answers or been met with silence. While he was aware that the air attacks had gone badly, he got the sense that the mainland was trying to keep the in the dark regarding just how badly. Then the waiting had begun.

    The British were expected to move eastwards towards Port Stanley which was the only real strategic objective on the Island but thus far there hadn’t been any sign of this happening yet. The vast majority of the Argentine forces were deployed in the mountains to the south and west of Port Stanley to form a defensive perimeter. The Only other significant concentration of forces was at Goose Green on the choke point between East Falkland and Lafonia to the south. The problem was there was a lot of ground between the outer edge of this perimeter and the British landings at San Carlos. With this and now total British air dominance there was no real time intelligence of British dispositions or movements.
    For all they new the British could be on their way right at this very moment or something one staff officer had suggested which if anything was probably worse, taking their time to get themselves fully organised and prepared and avoiding rushing into anything.
    The art of working out what intelligence an enemy has on you is a difficult one but always important. British aircraft had been sighted flying plenty of recon sorties and now doubt had plenty of gun camera footage from the numerous airstrikes that his forces had been subjected to. Based on plotting the areas where British aircraft had either attacked or flown low and straight over on probable photo runs the intelligence staff reckoned that the British probably had a fairly good idea of where the Argentine forces were. Therefore, it stood to reason that they must be aware that there were no Argentines anywhere near the beach head so probably felt secure enough to take their time with things.

    Despite the seeming lack of movement from the British at San Carlos they clearly were not sitting idle. Two nights ago, the garrison at Goose Green had suffered a heavy air attack. The strange thing about this was that the air force personnel who had witnessed the attack were adamant that rather than an attack by multiple low flying aircraft as had been seen so many times previously the pattern, concentration and number of bombs that had hit them this had to have been from a high flying heavy bomber. Even more interestingly this had been seemingly the only British sortie that night. None of the carrier aircraft had been sighted anywhere. It made no sense. Surely with presumably at that point only a limited number of forces ashore the British would have felt themselves more vulnerable and be hitting the Argentine forces with everything they had to try and prevent a counter attack.
    Regarding the aircraft that had likely delivered the strike against Goose Green the only heavy bomber that the British were known to still posses was the Avro Vulcan.
    when he had been asked about the possibility of a Vulcan strike the air force intelligence officer had been somewhat taken aback. He had concluded that while such a raid was perhaps feasible it would have to have been an extremely risky world record breaking mission. There was no obvious reason why the British would take such a risk when they had two aircraft carriers nearby that had already shown themselves capable doing the job. The only reason he could think of was perhaps the British ships were beginning to exhaust their supply of air munitions. The number of craters on this island certainly supported this hypothesis. If true Menendez wondered how he might exploit this. The only other theories offered up were fairly unlikely such as the carriers sinking and no one noticing.

    Regardless of why the British had done it the raid on Goose Green had inflicted a lot of damage. Still reeling from the SF raid on the night of the 20th/21st and numerous previous air attacks Lt Col Piaggi had reported that his force was now pretty much combat ineffective. While thought had been given to the possibility of his force mounting an attack on the British flank his force had never really been in a position to do this even before the Vulcan Strike. The pan had been for his force to appear to pose a threat to the British flank and force them to tie down forces by covering Goose Green. From a tactical point of view it was reckoned that either the British had declined to do this and had intended to destroy the Goose Green garrison from the air to remove this threat or were attempting to soften them up in preparation for some sort of advance southwards.

    Horrifyingly the raid on Goose Green hadn’t been the only occurrence that night.
    With the British now known to be between the transmitters in Port Stanley and the mainland extremely strict radio security protocols were being used. It stood to reason that the nation that had broken the enigma code, inspired James Bond and had for years been engaged in a battle of wits with the Soviets must have one hell of a SIGINT capability compared to anything that Argentina had encountered before. It was almost a certainty that if they so wished to the British would be perfectly able to intercept communications between the Malvinas and the mainland and it had to be assumed would ultimately be able to break Argentina’s military codes which would be much more primitive than the Soviet codes the British were used to.
    This added to the general sense of isolation felt by Menendez as the number of radio communications had been reduced to the bare minimum and their content carefully censored as a way of minimizing any potential intelligence the British could glean from SIGINT.
    This further isolated the outlying garrisons and positions as the routine check in’s and status reports had been halted and units had been ordered to transmit only when they had vital information that they needed to pass on. It wasn’t so much of a problem for the units in the mountains around Port Stanley as the signal troops had provided communications in the form of field telephones using landlines but further afield it was an issue including Pebble Island. Last night and urgent message had come through from the mainland demanding an urgent update on the status of the Pebble Island garrison and air field. Amazingly the message stated the Chilean TV and radio were claiming that the British had captured the island. Attempts by both Menendez’s HQ and the mainland to establish contact with anyone on the island was met with only static. This was seriously worrying. It may be that the British were now jamming radio frequencies or it could be that they had indeed taken the island. As time went by and more and more radio calls went unanswered while calls to other units received timely and clear replies this last possibility became more and more likely. Again, this was just completely unexpected as Pebble Island was in the complete opposite direction from where the British were expected to go and the constant bombing had petty much put the airfield out of action anyway. The only way such a move would make any tactical sense was if the British were attempting to remove anything they deemed to be a local threat in preparation for whatever they had planned next.

    It was the not knowing what had happened and inability to find out that had had a severely demoralising effect on Menendez’s staff. Whereas it was fairly obvious what had happened to the Fanning Head garrison the only big unknown there was the status of the individual men. If something had happened at Pebble Island how had could it have been that no one was able to send a message calling for help?

    Last night these questions had been answered in possibly the most brutal and stomach churning way possible. The Vulcan had made another appearance. This time over the area of Port Stanley. This time however rather than dropping bombs it had dropped bundles of leaflets.
    it was these leaflets and the messages they conveyed and the inability of the officers and military police to prevent the men reading them that was giving Menendez serious cause for concern. A selection of these leaflets covering all of three of the different designs that had thus far been identified had been a topic of conversation in the meeting that had been held earlier that morning.
    The most worrying and disturbing leaflet was the one that had provided proof that Pebble Island airfield had indeed been captured by the British.
    The leaflet was double sided. On one side was a picture of a man wearing the uniform of a Corporal Second class sat on the ground with his hands on his head and a look on his face indicating a man in shock. Either side of him were what appeared to be two British soldiers although only their legs, boots and muzzles of their rifles were visible. The intelligence analyst who had examined the photos was based upon the camouflage patterns and rifles certain that these were British soldiers. The caption written in Spanish had read: “This is Corporal Roberto Aztiz. His nightmare is over now. He will sleep somewhere dry, eat something warm and see his family again. Be smart, be like Bob” The leaflet had also included his service number and a crosscheck of personnel files and records and interviews with men who knew this man had confirmed that the man in the photo was indeed Corporal Second Class Aztiz who had been based on Pebble Island. This confirmation that the garrison had been overrun was bad enough but on the other side of the leaflet was something that had made Menendez almost vomit when he saw it and had shocked him with how macabre the British were being.
    The photograph showed two dead bodies in a dugout. Again, both of these men had been identified. The first body had a clearly visible face and had been identified as Lt Ricardo Marega who appeared to have been killed by shot through the head or struck by shrapnel. The second had been identified as the airfields naval commander who appeared to have been killed as a result of multiple shrapnel injuries. He certainly wasn’t a pleasant site to look at. Again, both men’s name and service numbers were listed but this time the caption simply read “Be smart, don’t be like these men”.
    The second leaflet design was single sided and showed a photo of a group of Gurkha soldiers around a stone wheel sharpening some fearsome looking machete like knives and smiling at the camera. The caption simply read “Guess who’s coming to dinner”.
    Luckily the average Argentine conscript probably wouldn’t know what a Gurkha was and would probably wonder why they were seemingly now fighting with the Chinese. Unfortunately, the one’s that did along with the officers probably probably would be disturbed by this leaflet and would put the rumour mill into overdrive. Fear could be extremely contagious in situations like this.
    The final design was obviously aimed at the civilian population with the message being written in English superimposed over a British Flag. The message read “Keep calm and carry on. Your country is coming for you”.

    Before leaving his office for a meeting to decide what their next moves should be Menendez decided to take a walk around Stanley to calm himself down and get a feel for the current state of morale amongst the men, but not before doing something first. The British Governor who had occupied this office before him had been kind enough to leave behind some rather nice bottles of scotch whisky. Menendez had been planning to use these to toast the victory that he had been working so hard for. Now he was reduced to using them every now and then to steady his nerves.

    Walking around the town Menendez got a general sense of morale as being somewhere between fear, despondence and grim determination. Certainly, the initial sense of adventure and patriotic enthusiasm was a distant memory even before the leaflet drop which had clearly made things worse. Not helping was the military hospital which as a result of the number of casualties caused by the almost constant bombing and naval shelling had been expanding again and again and wounded men were now housed in the church, school and pretty much every public building greatly irritating the locals. Something Menendez was sure he and many men would be having nightmares about in later life was the sight of the rows of wounded men often with limbs missing crying out for help or morphine while they waited outside the hospitals for their turn to be operated on by the overworked doctors that were simply to few in number. Far too many of them hadn’t lived long enough and were now buried in the local churchyard. The Argentine forces had been operating a policy of rotating personnel out of the mountains and into the town to be rested but as the bodies both living and dead had started to pile up in the hospital some men seemed to be keener to remain at the front.

    As for the civilian population the ungrateful bastards had yet to say thank you for their liberation from the foreign oppressors in London and return to the Argentine Fatherland. Their attitude until now had been mostly surely bordering on outright hostility. Since the leaflet drop, they were the only people on this half of the island walking around with smiles on their face. While there hadn’t been any acts of outright resistance there had been a lot of non-cooperation and acts of passive resistance. Things such as door slamming, refusing to converse with Argentines and ignoring the instructions to drive on the right-hand side of the road. Indeed, Menendez’s attempt to rename Port Stanley Puerto Argentino seemed to have caused offense and resulted in a spree of vandalism as signs were removed or graffitied. The military police and Menendez’s staff had been going to great lengths to ensure that there were no acts of retribution, looting or any other crimes however minor inflicted against the civilian population. Any such acts could easily gift the British a propaganda victory and destroy and sympathy for Argentina in this conflict. Furthermore, there was now an underlying concern amongst the officers of what the British may do to them if they ever fell into their hands following any such incidents.

    Returning to his HQ Menendez and the other officers again poured over the various maps and reviewed the situation. The main topic of discussion was the disposition of their own forces. The problem was being attackers who definitely held the initiative the British could attack anywhere they chose and concentrate their forces where as the Argentines had to spread out their forces to cover all possible angles of attack. The Argentine commanders had long been aware of the capabilities of his own forces relative to the British which was why they had opted for a dug in defensive strategy taking advantage of the favourable terrain over a more complex campaign of manoeuvre. Thus far there had only been two incidents where Argentine and British ground forces had come into direct contact. Fanning Head and Pebble Island. The problem was there was almost no information regarding these engagements to work with but there was one conclusion that could be drawn. While their strategy could always change, they seemed to prefer to isolate and overwhelm individual troop concentrations. It made sense that they might opt for something like this such as taking individual mountains one at a time when attempting to penetrate the perimeter around Stanley rather than a costlier head on fight. The best defence against this would be to ensure that fighting positions were sufficiently strong enough to avoid being overwhelmed and where possible positioned somewhere where they could be supported or reinforced by other units.
    there were some units at his disposal in which Menendez had much more confidence. The 601st and 602nd Commando companies were made up of well trained professionals, had a wide skillset and were certainly competent even by the standards of special forces.

    It was decided to use these men to form an outer picket line and to use small teams of them for reconnaissance purposes further beyond the defensive perimeter and further into what was now effectively now mans land. It was vital that every effort be made to identify the British direction of advance. The outer picket would be based on Mount Kent and Mount Challenger. These mountains were the furthest west and therefore directly in the most likely path of the British. They were currently being held by 4th Infantry Regiment. With the regiments other responsibilities and casualties sustained so far it was felt that it was spread to thinly and so would be pulled back from Mount’s Kent and Challenger in order to strengthen its positions further back which were judged as more easily defendable.
    The Commando companies would take over 4th Regiments positions. Their objective when the British eventually came would not be to stand and fight but to glean whatever intelligence they could about the attacking force, hopefully surprise and inflict losses on the British before withdrawing back to reinforce the line infantry regiments.

    The British special forces raid on Goose Green a few nights ago had inflicted significant losses on the Argentines and made them feel like fools as they wasted time chasing after shadows and preparing to fight an invading force that wasn’t even there. Two could play at that game.

    Libertador Building, Buenos Aries

    Brigadier wasn’t the only senior Argentine officer beginning to feel despair at his current predicament. In Buenos Aries the President of Argentina Lieutenant General Leoplodo Galtieri was an increasingly worried man. He’d always felt himself as first and foremost the most senior officer in and professional head of the Argentine Armed Forces. It just so happened that in this age of military rule within the country the job also included president of the nation within its remit. He hadn’t even particularly wanted to be a world leader. In the same way that he had been promoted through seniority (and granted the removal of a few rival generals) he had been promoted into the role of president rather than having been voted in or seizing power. In fact, since the military had seized power 6 years ago and begun what they called the National Reorganisation Process Galtieri was the third occupant in the role of president and supreme commander. Unfortunately, it was looking like he would be remembered as the one who had brought disaster and ruin upon the nation. Even before he had assumed power the situation in the nation had been looking grim. The economy was tanking, the military government was still embroiled in the so called Dirty War as it engaged in an endless struggle to root out and eliminate political dissidents, left wing agitators, communists, anyone associated to closely with the previous Peron led government and pretty much anyone the military authorities felt were even a slight threat. The number of people “disappeared” (incarcerated in a now nationwide network of concentration camps or in some cases thrown out of aeroplanes into the Atlantic where no one would ever find the bodies) had eventually reached into the tens of thousands. Even the interrogations that had originally started out as a way of gathering intelligence had eventually morphed into widespread torture for the sake of torture.
    All of this had made for an extremely unhappy population and things had reached the point where the military junta was seriously concerned that it might be overthrown or face a rebellion. The solution to this threat had been to attempt to unite the populace by liberating the Malvinas from the British. While this had worked at first, they had committed a cardinal sin in the rules of war in that they had grotesquely underestimated their opponent in both their willingness and ability to respond.
    Flash forward a few weeks and what had been intended to be little more than an easily winnable diplomatic dispute had mutated into a full scale war with the British. A war which Argentina was losing badly and was now causing a whole host of other problems.

    The Chileans were the main source of these problems. The navy and the air force had been almost completely wiped out with the remnants now combat ineffective. A good chunk of the army was now stuck on the Malvinas and becoming increasingly isolated from the outside world. There was no ability to physically reach them meaning there was zero possibility of even resupplying them let alone reinforcement or evacuation. Even communicating with them was becoming difficult due to the risk of the British intercepting the radio transmissions. Brigadier Menendez was a good man and competent commander but the odds against him were increasing.
    The Chileans quite clearly knew this and were aware that in any conflict with Argentina the odds had defiantly swung in their favour as a result. They were now making threatening moves in the border region. Things like stationing extra troops, conducting manoeuvres and carrying out live fire exercises in view of the Argentines. Chilean jets were now patrolling up and down the edge of their airspace and eventually there would come a point where they would feel bold enough to begin violating Argentine airspace.
    As a result of this the main threat to Argentina was now felt to be coming more from a potential Chilean invasion rather than from the British fleet to the east. This was causing the Junta to deploy more and more of the country’s military assets to the western border to deter any such move.
    The Junta was certain that while they were not formally allied the British were behind a lot of the Chilean provocations. The intelligence services were pretty certain that the Chileans were receiving British military hardware o very generous terms and Chilean TV and Radio had been broadcasting reports that could only have come from the British which was causing an even bigger problem. The TV images and films of captured Argentine servicemen on the Malvinas and British soldiers showing off captured hardware including aircraft had caused outrage and fury on the home front and was resulting in riots in the streets and everything short of a full uprising which was requiring a lot of man power and resources to try and keep a lid on things.

    Retreating into his comfort zone of thinking like a military leader as opposed to a politician Galtieri analysed the situation with the other members of the Junta which had itself undergone changes in light of recent events. Following the debacle of Operation Martillo which had resulted in a crushing defeat and the loss of almost the entire navy Admiral Anaya though he had tried to keep his position by accepting much reduced influence had eventually seen the writing on the wall and resigned. He felt that this was the safest course of action as to hold on any longer would see him ejected from the junta and possibly ending up in a jail cell or even in front of a firing squad. He was now under a sort of self-imposed house arrest and was trying to keep his head down.
    his replacement was Admiral Ruben Franco who had been going to great lengths to point out that he had had nothing to do with the planning or execution of Martillo.
    Following the failure of the air attacks on San Carlos a few days previously both Galtieri and Franco had been absolutely furious at the head of the air force Brigadier Dozo. Not because the attacks had failed but because he had deliberately tried to conceal the extent of the aircraft losses from them. Dozo had witnessed the loss of prestige and influence the navy had suffered and had wanted to shield his beloved air force from the same fate even going as far as to waste hours of time in a meeting talking about possible follow up strikes using aircraft which he knew no longer existed. Galtieri was now looking for a way to get rid of Dozo and replace him. Brigadier Jorge Hughes of Air Defence Command would be his preferred choice or maybe even someone from the army.

    From a military point of view the strategic situation was grim. There were multiple threats and not enough forces with which to respond. On the mainland to the east the Chileans were making increasingly threatening moves and it was going to take a lot of forces to keep the extremely long border covered. Especially now that those forces would have to operate with almost no air cover. On the home front the situation was getting badly out of hand with riots and local small uprisings and the police were unable to control the situation on their own and were having to be supported with military forces. Even then this wasn’t enough especially with a big chunk of the military no stuck on the Malvinas. It was a case of did where was the bigger threat. Was it from the Chileans on the border in which case the military should be deployed to fend them off or was it from the angry mobs on the streets in which case the military should be sent to put them down? All of the military’s assets were already deployed anyway so whichever way they decided to go they would have to take units away from on area to reinforce another thus increasing the threat there.
    To the east was the almost the entire fleet of one of the biggest and most powerful navies in the world. The fleet of a nuclear armed nation that had quite effortlessly destroyed the Argentine air force and navy. The British were at least entirely focused on the Malvinas. For now.
    If they did decide to attack or even invade the Argentine coastline there was nothing that could be done to stop them as there were now no units available. Furthermore, the air strikes on the Malvinas from long ranged Vulcan strategic bombers had added a further complication. These strikes were now known to have likely come from Ascension Island thousands of miles to the north. If the Vulcan could reach that distance from Ascension to the Malvinas then it could easily reach Buenos Aries or indeed pretty much anywhere else on the mainland. This threat added an immense amount of pressure on the air force’s few remaining Mirage interceptor’s and Daggers as they struggled to be ready to meet both the Chilean and British threats. This was before anyone even considered the possibility of a strike from the British carrier aircraft.
    As far as Galtieri could see the only way to keep the British at bay was to keep them focussed n the Malvinas for as long as possible. For this reason, Menendez had been instructed that even if his situation became hopeless for this reason he must hold out for as long as possible and inflict as much damage as he could upon the British.

    The overall situation was fast becoming hopeless. There were to many threats and to few assets to deal with them. In fact even if all assets were allocated to it the Argentine military would probably struggle to defend the nation and Junta from even one threat let alone all of them at the same time.
    In the back of his mind Galtieri began to wonder whether he should looking for some to extract himself personally from this god awful predicament that he found himself in.

    Ministry of Defence, Moscow, USSR

    The armed forces and intelligence agencies had naturally taken a great interest in the Falklands conflict. This was a once in a decade opportunity to see a NATO power and potential adversary in action and to see NATO military and to gauge the performance of NATO military hardware. Not only that but this was the first “modern” naval war fought using jet fighters, aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines, guided missiles, ect between two roughly peer level opponents.
    Given that both nations were capitalist and vocally anti-Communist the USSR didn’t really care much for either nation. However due to international geopolitics the politburo had decided that the ideal outcome would naturally be a British defeat as this would weaken NATO. To this end though they had never harboured any great affection for the country working off the principle of my enemy’s enemy is my friend the Soviets had decided to support the Argentines. Even in the now increasingly likely event of an Argentine defeat any material losses inflicted on the British would help to further the Soviet Unions aims.
    In terms of practical support for the Argentines all the Soviets had really been able to do so far was subtle things such as providing the Argentines with intelligence on the British. Even then the GRU and KGB hadn’t exactly been thrilled with this as they had always classed Argentina as at best neutral leaning towards hostile. In terms of material support there was little that could be done seeing as the Argentines used predominantly American and western hardware meaning anything sent over would have to come with trainers to show them how to use it and integrate it with their systems. The conflict so far had been pretty fast moving meaning that even if they had decided to go down this route there wouldn’t be enough time for any of the hardware to make any difference anyway. Besides the Argentine economy was known to be in freefall meaning that they probably couldn’t afford to purchase any hardware anyway and it would be politically and diplomatically too difficult to just give it away as such a thing would upset their socialist allies who had had to pay up and risk conflict with the British and possibly the Americans.

    The main interest the Soviets had in this conflict was intelligence gathering and the possibility of leaning lessons the easy way. Naturally a lot of effort and been expended by all of the services and agencies to gather information but these efforts had been somewhat thrown by the fact that the conflict was taking place in the South Atlantic, a region that the Soviets had never had all that much interest in and so had never given much thought too.
    Whereas the Soviets enjoyed extremely good satellite coverage of the North Atlantic where any naval conflict with NATO was expected to take place and where the main strategic focus of the Soviet Navy was the South Atlantic was a bit of a dead zone. The satellites were in orbits designed to cover the north Atlantic and while they could get photos of the British base on Ascension Island the curvature of the earth meant that the Falklands was initially outside of their collective field of vision.
    Changing a satellite orbit even slightly is a very complicated and difficult process as it requires careful calculation of its new trajectory to ensure that its not at risk of colliding with another object. Satellites only carry a very limited amount of fuel meaning that they can only perform a limited number of manoeuvres during their useful life. For these reasons it was not judged feasible to reposition a reconnaissance satellite to cover the Falkland Islands. The absolute most that could be done was to slightly alter the orbit of one satellite so that it could based on its orbit and the rotation of the earth provide a window of opportunity every 48-72 hours to take photos from an angle.

    The Navy had looked long and hard at attempting to locate and trailing the British task force with an SSN. The Naval staff had given this option serious consideration before concluding that it was too unfeasible and risky. There hadn’t been a submarine in position when the British had set sail to either intercept or catch up with them. The possibility of sending a VICTOR III class SSN from Murmansk had been considered but it was hard enough to slip through the GIUK gap undetected at the best of times let alone being able to catch up with and shadow a fleet in the South Atlantic. Plus the boat would be limited by its food endurance and would probably use the vast majority of this simply getting there and back home again meaning that it wouldn’t be on station long enough to gather any useful intelligence.
    Based on other intelligence sources it had become known that the British ships were very jumpy about the threat posed by Argentina’s German built SSK’s and were constantly scanning for them and attacking everything that possibly could be a submarine. If they detected a Soviet boat following them there was a risk that they may mistake it for an Argentine and attack it. The prospect of shooting match between NATO and Soviet naval units and the consequences thereof alone were enough for the Naval Staff to scrap this plan.
    The First Chief Directorate of the KGB had had some success in gleaning some intelligence regarding the state of repair and morale of the British ships before they had sailed from assets they had in Portsmouth and Plymouth. It seemed that the British had had to pull out all the stops to get the Task Force to sea and this was having a detrimental effect on everything else. The assets were female agents specially chosen for both their language skills and natural assets. The agents had gotten themselves jobs as barmaids in pubs known to be frequented by RN personnel. Alcohol loosens tongues and overtime the girls had been able to overhear enough idle chit chat to learn things. Furthermore, the back stories they had been given about how their fathers had been in the navy and they had always wanted to go aboard a warship combined with bright green eyes and beautiful smiles had often been useful. If they judged it necessary certain other natural assets and skills taught to them at State School Number 4 meant they could effectively pump someone for information or leverage.

    The intelligence that had been gathered had been fed into a committee of military officers who had analysed all the available data particularly open source data to see what lessons could be learnt. Today that committee was presenting its findings thus far to the General Staff of the Soviet Union so they could decide what if any changes they should make in light of this.
    The main lessons thus far related to the naval sphere of things. Once the briefing was finished the big takeaway that the Defence Minister Marshall Ustinov, the Head of the Navy Admiral Sergey Gorshkov, minister of Defence industry Pavel Finogenov and minister of foreign affairs Gromyko were left with was the vulnerability of surface ships, the effectiveness of guided missiles over bombs and the fact that aircraft carriers were both extremely useful and extremely dangerous.
    The Soviet naval hierarchy had been shocked at how easily the British had destroyed the Argentine navy. They had sunk 8 ships with a single carrier that was old enough to vote (not that such a thing mattered in the USSR). If the British could do that with an elderly small second world war era carrier what kind of damage could a single American Nuclear powered carrier battle group do to them? Bear in mind the Americans had dozens of enormous aircraft carriers.
    Clearly a serious look at ways of countering the threat posed by American aircraft carriers was needed. It was at this point that the meeting descended into the usual bickering, backstabbing, empire building that was to a degree customary in all armed forces when money for new equipment was potentially up for grabs.
    The army were present but would naturally oppose anything that was proposed as they feared it would divert resources away from their own projects. As they saw it the Soviet Union was a land based power and they were the ones facing its biggest threat which they felt was NATO in Germany. They tended to regard the Navy as little more than an expensive prestige project and waste of money and thought that the air forces only real role was to provide them with tactical aircraft for air cover and CAS and always got annoyed when the air force spent money on things like long range aviation and strategic bombers.
    The air force would probably use this to try and get a little bit more power. They had always resented the existence of Soviet Naval Aviation as they were of the opinion that anything that flies should belong to them and for a while now had been trying to have more and more naval aviation functions brought under its remit.
    Gorshkov leading the Soviet naval contingent knew that naval projects were very expensive and difficult to get funding for. He wanted to use this opportunity to get resources for some more assets while as far as possible trying to avoid having to sacrifice any other programs.

    Regarding countering aircraft carriers and other surface forces the one thing that the navy and air force could agree on was that guided missiles were the way forward. The disagreement was on how to deliver said missiles. Both the navy and the air force operated the TU-22M strategic bomber. Equipped with heavy ASM’s the envisaged wartime role for these aircraft was for them to flyout far into the North Atlantic and launch massed missile attacks against NATO convoys and naval forces. Whereas the navy advocated for more of these aircraft the air force went for something slightly different. Their proposal was for more tanker aircraft. They argued that the assumed losses suffered by Argentine aircraft in their attacks on the British ships demonstrated the vulnerability of even small bomb laden aircraft to carrier based interceptors let alone a massive thing like the TU-22M. They argued that more tanker aircraft should be produced so that the TU-22M’s could be given a fighter escort for the duration of their missions. The fighters most likely MIG 31’s would be supported by AAR and would further the air forces aim of taking over naval aviation functions as the tanker aircraft and necessary number of fighters would probably have to be supplied by the air force.

    The navy was due to shortly begin construction on the first 19,000 ton Project 949A Antey Class (OSCAR II) class SSGN. They wanted this program expanded and accelerated as they not unreasonably argued that a large, tough and quiet nuclear submarine carrying 28 of the latest SSM’s would be an extremely formidable opponent for a carrier battle group. All it would take was one large missile to sink a carrier and if all 28 were fired in a volley it was guaranteed that at least one would hit.

    The conversation then turned to aircraft carrier construction. If nothing else the Falklands conflict was showing the value and utility of aircraft carriers and their value in force projection. Something the Soviets had begun to recognise even before the conflict had begun. The minister of foreign affairs in particular was very keen on the idea of bring able to project force over seas while the defence minister liked the idea of being able to disrupt NATO convoys by operating in the Atlantic or even simply posing enough of a threat as a fleet in being to cause disruption. The Army, Air Force and Strategic Rocket Forces regarded carriers as yet another of Gorshkov’s expensive vanity projects.

    Marshal Ustinov had been responsible for the cancellation of the previous project to build large aircraft carriers. Project 1153 OREL had been intended to produce a class of 72,000 ton fleet carriers four years previously on the grounds of cost.
    Instead he had opted to go for the much cheaper 42,000 ton Project 1143 Kiev class aviation cruisers. These ships were essentially guided missile cruisers that had a flight deck that allowed them to operate a number of VSTOL aircraft for local air defence and were broadly the equivalent of the British INVINCIBLE class carriers.
    The stellar performance of the conventional fleet carrier HMS EAGLE compared to the bit part seemingly played by HMS INVINCIBLE and his observations from the previous year when he had observed the WEST-81 naval drills from the KIEV (where he had been rather underwhelmed by the performance of the ship and its aircraft) had helped convince him of the value of full sized carriers. The destruction of the 25 DE MAYO had showed that smaller carriers were really just a very expensive way of getting a lot of people killed.

    The KIEV class did fulfil a useful function in serving as design stepping stones onto something bigger. The first of a new 45,000 ton STOBAR carrier had been recently laid down on the Black Sea Coast. This ship would be conventionally powered and carry and air group of 40+ aircraft which would be existing fighter designs modified for naval service. Either a navalised MIG 29 or SU 27. The design was essentially an enlarged and modified KIEV class with most of the missiles removed, a full length flight deck with INVINCIBLE style ski jump and arrestor wires.
    A second of the class was pencilled in but Gorshkov now pushed for something bigger. He argued that with the amount of money that would have to be allocated to any aircraft carrier project any half measures would just be a waste. He wanted something comparable to the latest class of American supercarrier the 100,000 ton NIMITZ class. He proposed a class of nuclear powered CATOBAR carriers of at minimum 70,000 tons carrying abut 50 aircraft. He was willing to forgo the second of the conventional 45,000 ton conventional carriers to help pay for this. The defence and foreign ministers seemed swayed by this argument and agreed to authorise development work on the class.

    One senior government minister who had been unable to attend had been the finance minister. Instead he had sent a deputy in his place. The deputy had pulled a face when the subject had turned to yet more expensive defence procurement projects. He would have to report back to his boss who would have to explain to these various interested parties why their expensive dreams would probably end up remaining just dreams. While the defence ministry usually got its way when it came to money the idea of a class of enormous nuclear powered aircraft carriers on top of all the other recent and ongoing expensive ship and submarine procurement programs would probably end up being completely unaffordable.
    Gorshkov wouldn’t like it but perhaps there was a cheaper way of boosting carrier capability. The deputy knew that the 4th and last of the Kiev Class had recently been launched. The BAKU it was called if his memory served him well. Maybe it was still early enough in build to be redesigned and finished as a small STOBAR carrier with a full length flight deck?
    Firebase Kent
  • Mount Kent, 25th May, 2300

    As the British had become stronger and more dug into their position at San Carlos patrols had been pushing further and further out from the defensive perimeter in all directions. The most immediate objective of these patrols was to get the kind of intelligence and situational awareness within the vicinity of the beach head that only men on the ground could provide. Air reconnaissance can only tell you so much. While good for identifying large formations and movements a photograph taken from the air wouldn’t really be able to tell you how marshy was the ground, what was the climate like, what natural features would visible from the ground that could aid navigation, ect. Worse it was well known to the British based on the capabilities of some of their own men that a small section of men who knew what they were doing and had the right camouflage equipment with time to prepare could avoid detection from the air.
    The main effort in regards to these patrols was pushing men out eastwards to scout out the line of advance towards Port Stanley. The next phase of the British campaign was to be an assault on Mount Kent by troops that were to be airlifted into the area. Not wanting to risk losing momentum and taking advantage of the fact that it would take a number of days to get themselves into a position where they would be ready to launch such an assault pretty much as soon as they had landed four days previously a number of patrols had set out on foot eastwards.

    The men that made up these patrols were all Royal Marine Commando’s drawn from the Mountain and Arctic Warfare Cadre operating in their traditional role of brigade reconnaissance. Usually a training unit made up of staff and students this unit had been called upon like so many others at short notice to beef up the British order of battle and plug a hole in 3 COMMANDO Brigade’s capabilities. Being commandos used to operating behind enemy lines with their unique skillsets these men were perfect for the job of operating behind enemy lines in an environment that was almost identical to Dartmoor where these men had spent so much of their recent lives training. Their capabilities being held in such high regard meant that they were also judged to be pretty much the next closest thing to Special Forces.
    While the SF men of the SAS and SBS would be more than capable of such a mission and many of whom were already at that point in time manning various OP’s in the field there were a number of issues preventing their deployment. The first was that pretty much all of the SF men that had come along on Operation CORPORATE were already committed to various tasks. Between the men already on missions on various parts of the Falklands, men still on or returning from Pebble Island and men resting after returning from missions there wasn’t really anyone available to be sent.
    Secondly most of the SF men in the OP’s had been in the field for nearly three weeks now. Rations were beginning to be exhausted, fatigue brought on by living outdoors in a harsh environment was setting in and the longer they remained in proximity to the enemy the more the odds of discovery went against them. The men would also likely be starting to be affected by their relative isolation. For operational reasons radio communication between the OP’s and any other British forces was kept to an absolute minimum and the men were very aware of just how far away they were from friendly territory or any kind of relative safety. There was a reason why SF selection had such a fearsome reputation for testing a man’s physical and mental strength.
    Some of these SF teams had already begun the process of exfiltrating from their positions. Some would head away from any Argentine forces to somewhere judged to be suitably remote to allow them to be picked up by helicopter (whether they would be flown to San Carlos or a ship at sea would depend on what aircraft could be made available). Those unlucky to be “close” to friendly forces would still have an extremely long walk ahead of them.

    The use of Commando’s from the San Carlos beach head for forward reconnaissance and patrolling would in part compensate for the loss of up to date intelligence gathering capability as a result of the withdrawal of special forces teams.
    One such team of Marines was an 18 man team led by Captain Rod Boswell RM. Their objective was an isolated building called Top Marlow House.
    Sat about half way between San Carlos and the mountains that surrounded Port Stanley the house was the only structure for miles around and sat pretty much right in the middle of the planned air corridor that would have to be established between San Carlos and the forces that would be operating in the mountains to the east.
    Due to the frequent snowstorms and heavy rainfall it made sense that any Argentines in the area being almost certainly from a much hotter climate and unused to this cold weather would even if only temporarily seek to make use of this building for shelter.
    Having travelled from San Carlos on foot it had taken Captain Boswell’s team a few days to arrive. Wary of the possibility of Argentine observation positions trying to provide early warning for anyone garrisoning the house Boswell had sent four handpicked men ahead to scout for any such dangers. The men had returned having not found any evidence of Argentines in the immediate vicinity and had been able to lead the rest of the force along the safe route they had scouted.
    Boswell’s orders upon reaching the house had been to check if it was occupied and if not occupy it himself and keep out any unwanted guests. Basically, denying the use of the position to the enemy. In the last few hours of daylight on the 25th the marines crawling across the ground on their bellies and using the inclement weather for cover had been able to get close enough to the house to conclude that it was indeed occupied by an enemy force.

    The Argentine forces occupying the house were a 12 man section from 602 Commando Company. The Argentines were now treating the mountains that surrounded Port Stanley as effectively their “Front Line” a number of Commandos had been sent forward into the ground between the mountains and the British beach head at San Carlos into what was now in effect “no man’s land”. The force at Top Malo House was one of the most forward Argentine positions. And had been chosen for largely the same reason as the British with it being ideally placed in the expected British line of advance to provide early warning. Though they had initially tried to conduct local patrols many times as with this occasion the inclement weather had made them take shelter in the house. Navigation in the largely featureless terrain had proved difficult in reduced visibility if not impossible when mist had set in. The Argentine Commando’s had found themselves having to expend so much energy just battling the hostile environment that actually scouting for a British advance was often beyond their capabilities. Frequently they had decided that it would be better just to remain in the relative protection of the house and observe from there. They reasoned that a sentry who was inside and warm would be much better able to stay alert and keep watch and that in the event of an attack they would have much better odd if they fought from the cover of a building rather than in the open terrain.
    Fatally they reasoned that any British forces in the area must also be handicapped like them for the same reasons. For the Mountain and Arctic Warfare Cadre the fact that they could operate where others simply couldn’t go was a complete vindication of their training.

    Observing the house from a distance of a little over half a mile Captain Boswell weighed up his options. While he reckoned his men could successfully assault and capture the building, he would almost certainly take some casualties in the process and if his men didn’t move with enough speed an assault could easily turn into a prolonged firefight. While the option of ground assault was viable it wouldn’t be justifiable until all over options had been ruled out. Withdrawing away from the house and rejoing the men who had remained further away including the signaller Boswell decided to see if he could get some outside help to permanently deal with the threat posed by Top Malo House. He knew he was out of range of both naval and land based artillery support but there just might be enough daylight left for air support.

    Despite the heavy losses the Argentines were known to have suffered the fact that British forces were now ashore on the Falklands was putting extra pressure on the Phantoms and Sea Harriers who now as well as still providing CAP for the carrier group out to sea now had to provide air cover for the forces ashore. This had only been achieved by reducing the number of aircraft covering the carrier to allow some to be retasked to this new role. Aware that the task force only carried a finite and slowly depleting quantity of jet fuel British planners had decided to get the most out of the aircraft they had. This meant that the Phantoms providing air support for ground forces were carrying only half of their usual compliment of air to air missiles with the saved space being used for SNEB 68mm rocket pods. This meant that the Phantoms were now capable of providing a degree of close air support and saved fuel as it meant that there was now no requirement to keep Buccaneer’s in the air over the Falklands to fulfil this role. One such aircraft was retasked in response to Captain Boswell’s request.
    Proudly sporting the silhouettes of Argentine Mirage’s on the side of their cockpit the Phantom crew having made contact with marines and advised them to keep their heads down had proceeded to launch the first air to ground Phantom strike of the conflict utterly obliterating the house along with its occupants and in the process churning up quite a lot of mud around the building. Having confirmed a successful strike and thanking the Phantom crew the Royal Marine Sgt acting as a forward air controller sent the Phantom on its way. Looking at the burning remains of their objective he turned to Captain Boswell and asked the question “Well sir what do we do now?”

    This little skirmish while having been spectacular to watch had in the grand scheme of things been just a little distraction from the main event of that night.

    Mount Kent is approximately 1400 feet high. Overlooking Mount Challenger to the South and substantially higher than Two Sisters and Mount Longdon to the east whoever holds the various peaks that make up the mountain would be afforded an excellent view of and effectively dominate the surrounding area. From a military point of view the British viewed the mountain as the key to the eastern approaches to Port Stanley and an ideal location for a forward base that could serves as a starting point for further operations and advances eastwards.
    Originally the mountain had been held by men of the 12th Infantry Regiment. A four man SAS patrol had been tasked with carrying out reconnaissance and intelligence gathering on the mountain and had had a degree of success in this. The SAS men had been able to observe the conscripts as they had moved around their bunkers and trenches and also at night when they had frequently showed lights from hand torches and cooking stoves. The SAS observers had considered this to be an appalling lapse in field discipline highlighting the difference between the standards of conscript and professional troops. Many Argentine’s would never know just how many times they had literally been in someone’s crosshairs or how many times they had literally been just meters away from instant death. However, when air attacks against Argentine troop concentrations had started The SAS men had been forced to withdraw to more distant position to avoid the risk of becoming collateral damage as a result of the frequent use of area weapons such as rockets and cluster munitions. Though Mount Kent wasn’t subjected to the same frequency or intensity of air attacks as other locations on the island the SAS men did note that Argentine patrol activity did seem to be dropping off. Surviving Argentines would later recount that while not inflicting much in the way of casualties the air attacks had had the effect of making the young and poorly trained and disciplined Argentine conscripts increasingly reluctant to emerge from their bunkers and trenches and patrol the rocks and windswept grass on top of the mountain much to the utter fury of their officers and NCO’s.

    Earlier in the day the men of the 12th Infantry Regiment had withdrawn eastwards. The Argentine commanders in Port Stanley had decided that Mount Kent was too isolated and far away from other Argentine positions to be realistically defendable. In keeping with his new strategy of making sure that all his positions were strong enough to ensure that the British would not be able to isolate and destroy them piecemeal Brigadier Menendez had withdrawn the 12th Regiment to reinforce the garrisons on the mountains further to the east. Such had been the haste with which the men had been withdrawn earlier that day that some men accidentally had left behind many items of personal equipment including vital sleeping bags.
    In their place had come a detachment of 601 and 602 Commando Companies. These commandos were effectively now using Mount Kent as a position from which to provide screening from the main Argentine defensive line to the east. Their orders were to observes and conduct reconnaissance to locate the inevitable British advance. It was recognised that they ultimately would not be able to hold Mount Kent in which case their orders were to hold out for as long as possible delaying the British timetable, inflicting losses and gathering intelligence before ultimately withdrawing when the situation became untenable. Making the British bleed as much as they could.

    The task of assaulting Mount Kent had fallen to 42 Commando. This operation had been planned for a while but as always, a spanner had been thrown into the works at the last minute when the SAS OP had reported that the Argentines seemed to be replacing the garrison for some reason. The original plan had been for almost the entire battalion to assault the mountain in one go however with this new information and also the air movements officer almost point blank refusing to make the required number of helicopters available as they were already in extremely high demand for other taskings a new plan had been devised for a smaller and quitter company sized probing and assault followed by rapid reinforcement. Packing themselves into the three available passive night vision equipped Sea King HC.4’s the men of K company had the honour of being the spearhead company. The three aircraft slightly overloaded with the extra ammunition, 81mm mortars and over equipment that the Marines were bringing flew low and hugged the terrain as the made their approach. They disgorged their passengers at a specially selected LZ about two miles away from the summit behind a ridgeline which not only gave them some cover but also helped to screen some of the noise of the helicopter engines. As the aircraft departed to go and pick up the next wave the men of K company without making a sound split up into their individual platoons and set off in the darkness towards their objective at the summit.
    Unfortunately for the men of K Company while the Argentine coscripts may have been reluctant to patrol the surrounding area the professionals of 601 Commando Company certainly were not. One such patrol had heard what sounded a lot like a helicopter. Unable to see much in the darkness and unsure if it was simply a case of the wind playing tricks on them the men had radioed back to the CP on the summit that they were moving to investigate suspected movement to the west. This led to a chance encounter between the British and Argentine commandos when the four man Argentine team almost literally bumped into a platoon of Royal Marines. It is unclear exactly who saw who first but both sides opened fire at roughly the same time. In the ensuing fire fight, which lasted less than a minute the four man Argentine team was wiped out while the British lost one man the marine who had been on point at the head of the platoon. The noise of the firefight had been audible more than a mile away on the summit of the mountain and had alerted the commandos to be ready for something.

    The assault on the mountain proper and subsequent firefight was initiated when the same platoon that had encountered the Argentine four man patrol had approached the rocky outcrop that formed the summit from the SW and come under fire. Gradually the fire fight had become larger and larger as the British platoons approaching from the west and NW joined in. Having been conveniently left a number of well placed dug in defensive positions by the men of 12th Regiment the Argentine commander Captain Villarruel had initially been confident of his position. However, as the summit had come under attack from multiple directions, he had become concerned. Despite his use of multiple machine guns the British were easily matching the weight of fire he was throwing at them (it was easy to judge this by looking at the different coloured tracer flying through the air) indicating a significant force. Also, rather than attempting to pin down and destroy his positions the British were actively fighting their way towards them. Clearly this was not a special forces raid or some sort of reconnaissance mission gone wrong or probing of his positions. Based on the size and behaviour of the opposing force Captain Villarruel concluded that this must be the vanguard of the main British force. Still his orders were to hold this position for as long as he could and inflict as many casualties as possible. Right now, he felt confident in his ability to accomplish that objective.

    That all changed when the British mortar section finished setting up and joined the fun. The first round was an 81mm illuminating round which burned brightly in the air above the argentines clearly illuminating them to anyone who cared to look. The Royal Marines immediately took advantage. Firstly, now clearly able to see their targets the GPMG gunners brought the Argentines under now very accurate suppressing fire. Secondly taking advantage of the fact that the Argentine MG positions were now suppressed and of the fact the Argentines would have just had their night vison destroyed while the British had the way ahead clearly lit for them the Marines took the opportunity to charge forward and close with the Argentines.

    For Captain Villarruel this was a complete game changer. Now almost completely to see in the dark after the illumination round had burnt out, he was aware that the British were now nearly on top of his positions which were now coming under mortar fire and had been designed to be defended by a much larger regular infantry force than the small effectively light infantry force he had at his disposal Villarruel decided enough was enough. He was outnumbered and rapidly becoming out gunned. Being attacked on three sides left only one line of retreat open to him. If the British commander was smart, he may recognise this himself and move to cut of Villarruel’s force, therefore he needed to get moving now. Giving the order to withdraw to a designated rally point on the eastern slope of the mountain the Argentines began their pre-planned move. Four men remained behind as a rear-guard force to cover the retreat. At first these men did a pretty impressive job and it took a few minutes for the Marines to notice that while the machine guns were still firing the rifle fire had stopped. Once they had worked out what this likely meant the men of K company had decided to press the issue and the four man Argentine rear guard had quickly found themselves surrounded and seeing that there was no way out and that by this point their deaths would achieve nothing them men individually decided that it was better to live to fight another day and slightly worried that they may be shot in the process raised their hands and climbed out of their positions.

    Arriving at the top of Mount Kent the British commander had been a little disappointed to not to find an Argentine flag that he could lower but all the same had reported back to 3 Commando Brigade HQ in San Carlos that they had successfully taken Mount Kent. He reported having engaged an Argentine force and, in his words, had “malleted them”.
    The men of 42 Commando were rather intrigued to discover that their six prisoners (two more Argentines had been wounded by a mortar shell and gunshot wound respectively and been unable to evacuate) were Argentine special forces. The men were marines were quite proud of the fact that they had just taken on and bested the best troops that the enemy had to offer.
    However, in the process they had had seven of their own number killed with a further six wounded. Of the Argentines six had been captured alive and the bodies of another four had been recovered. The rest of the Argentine reckoned to be a reinforced platoon in strength had withdrawn down the eastern slope.

    Over the remainder of the night and the next day the rest of 42 Commando was airlifted to Mount Kent. Rather than concentrating on the summit the Battalion was spread far and wide as they moved to secure Mount Challenger and the other surrounding hills. While many of these positions were garrisoned again and again the Argentines saw that they would be outnumbered and an order was sent out from 601/602’s HQ element for a general withdrawal back to friendly lines.
    With Mount Kent largely secure the process of setting up a forward base began.

    Chinook helicopters lifted an entire battery of 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery to the area in one go with each helicopter carrying three guns and crew internally and 300 105mm shells in underslung containers. Brigadier Thompson wanted the battery set up and ready to urgently in case the Argentines tried any sort of counter attack. Admiral Woodward wanted the guns set up as once they were able to start putting shells down onto the enemy positions it meant that his issue with rapidly dwindling air weapons stocks would no longer be as critical. Throughout the course of the day of the 26th almost every helicopter that the British had at their disposal was used to transport almost the entirety of the fighting element of 3 Commando Brigade to the Mount Kent area. The Guardsmen and Gurkhas of 5 Brigade were now beginning to arrive ashore at San Carlos freeing up the Para’s and Marines for an air move to their brand new forward operating base and the next phase of the campaign.

    At Midday on the 26th of May the first British artillery shells landed on the outskirts of Port Stanley and the Argentine positions on the mountains in between began to come under regular sustained fire. The noose had now been placed around the necks of the Argentine force on the islands. In the next phase of the operation the British would tighten that noose if not open the trapdoor under the Argentines.
    The Road to Stanley
  • Firebase Kent, 25th – 29th May

    When capital punishment was still practised in Britain hangmen used to carefully measure out the length of rope to be used. The aim was to allow for a long enough drop to create enough momentum to cause what was known as a hangman’s fracture. This term meant a catastrophic fracture of the spinal column at the neck causing instantaneous and hopefully painless death. If the hangman made a mistake the most likely outcome was a slower and painful death from strangulation.

    In the years following the Falklands conflict the events in the South Atlantic were naturally studied by academics, scholars and staff colleges the world over. It is not known exactly where the Falklands – Hangman analogy originated from but it stuck as it is still a hot topic of debate as to whether the Argentine defence of the heights around Port Stanley resulted in instantaneous death due to a one or more points of catastrophic damage as in a hangman’s fracture or a slower death as a result of the British noose slowly strangling them.

    Following the taking of Mount Kent for the next few days Mount Kent and Mount Challenger were abuzz with activity as the British prepared for the next phase of the advance westwards towards Port Stanley. The plan was for a brigade sized assault eastward towards the main objective of Port Stanley by way of taking the various mountain strongpoints that were effectively the lynchpins of the Argentine defensive perimeter.
    The amount of preparatory work for such an operation was why it had taken until the night of the 29th before the first British troops left their starting positions.
    despite having nearly 60 helicopters now at their disposal it had taken days just to transport nearly the entirety of 3 COMMANDO Brigade and the lions share of 5 Brigade forwards from the Beach head at San Carlos forward to the new forward operating base on Mount Kent that had grown at an alarming rate. First had come the marines of 42 Commando whose K Company had taken the summit of Mount Kent after a vicious firefight that had dislodged the Argentine commandos who had been occupying the position. Following on behind had come the rest of 42 COMMANDO who had moved to secure the rest of Mount Kent and the adjacent Mount Challenger to the south and prepared to fend of any Argentine counter attack. Following on had come the first battery of field guns which had gone into action almost immediately upon their arrival. This first battery would eventually be joined by others from both 29 Commando Regiment RA and 5 Brigades 97 Battery for a total of 24 105mm L118 light guns.
    The men of 42 COMMANDO had found themselves eventually joined not only by their comrades in 40 and 45 COMMANDO’s and their mortal enemies in the form of 2 and 3 PARA’s but also the fighting elements of 5 Brigade in the form of 2nd SCOTS GUARDS, 1st WELSH GUARDS and elements from the 7th DUKE OF EDINBURGHS OWN GURKHA RIFLES. Sustaining more than 7 infantry battalions had required the airlift of numerous support units and enormous amounts of supplies. Moving the sheer number of men and quantity of supplies forward from San Carlos had been a truly herculean task. The four Chinooks of 18 squadron proved that they were worth their weight in gold due to their very large lift capability. Indeed the reason why the 5 batteries of artillery had been able to get themselves established so quickly had was the Chinooks ability to carry three guns (along with the gun crews) internally along with an underslung container filled with 300 shells.
    Many of the British commanders and planners found themselves dearly wishing that they had brought more of these impressive machines down south.
    Of course, having nearly 60 helicopters on paper doesn’t equate to having them all available all the time. The needs of the machines to be maintained and the men to be rested had to be factored into the air movements plans. Nevertheless an almost continuous stream of helicopters flew between San Carlos and the forward operating base at Mount Kent while the other aircraft were maintained and fuelled either at the helicopter operating base that had been established at San Carlos or in the case of the navy aircraft HMS HERMES which was operating just north of the islands in order to be able to provide the services of her hanger facilities and aircraft engineers.
    It wasn’t just a case of moving the men and equipment forward. To sustain the reinforced brigade sized force also required vast quantities of supplies. Due to the frequency of artillery actions it was a constant headache for logistics planners who had to allocate flight after flight to the task of bringing forward yet more shells. The NW slope of Mount Kent and flat ground between Mount Kent and the tiny settlement of Estancia was the destination of nearly all of the helicopter flights. The main exceptions were the artillery guns and shells which had to be airlifted directly into position.
    Having the British occupied mountains between the Argentine “front line” and the LZ would help to shield the British movements from Argentine observers and hopefully provide a degree of protection from possible Argentine artillery strikes. The various support facilities including a forward first aid post set themselves up in this area. The infantry battalions while sending detachments forward to occupy forward positions between Mount Kent and Mount Challenger would remain on the western slopes of the mountains awaiting the orders to move forward to their starting positions.

    The first contact had been an artillery exchange coming not long after 42 COMMANDO had taken Mount Kent. The Argentines had been forced to disperse their artillery as a measure against continuous British airstrikes and as luck would have it a battery of two guns had been in range of Mount Kent and thought that they might try their luck. The catalyst for this had come when the first British artillery shells had started to impact around Argentine positions. The Argentinian gunners had therefore been ordered to conduct a counterfire mission with their pair of 105mm guns.
    Normally when moving into a new position artillery gunners will dig themselves into a gunpits to provide protection to both the guns and crews and also the ammunition piles. In this particular engagement and on the Falklands in general both sides had found this nearly impossible. The British up on the high ground had found that rather than digging deep into earth once they had cleared away the top layer of grass the ground was impenetrable bedrock while the Argentines on lower ground had ages ago discovered that the water table was so high that any hole deeper than a foot instantly flooded. For both sides digging a pit big enough to protect a field gun was out of the question.
    The alternative was to build up earth revetments around the guns. This meant stripping away the turf around the area which left enormous brown scars on the green landscape and unfortunately for the Argentines signposted the location of the artillery guns to the prowling British aircraft.
    To compensate for their inability to fortify their position the British had been making almost excessive use of camouflage netting to conceal their guns. Contact had been initiated when the Argentines had opened fire not long after dawn on the morning of the 26th. A big disadvantage the Argentine gunners had was that they didn’t know exactly where the British artillery guns were located and so attempted to saturate the eastern slope of Mount Kent with shells in the hopes of covering the most likely locations. Only one shell came close to the British guns. One Commando Gunner was sustained shrapnel injuries to his right arm and one of the British guns was temporarily put out of action due to impacts from shrapnel. A specialist from the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineer support detachment was rapidly brought up to the battery and after examining the gun had concluded that there was no real damage to the barrel or mount and the weapon was same to continue firing. Two Royal Marines also sustained shrapnel injuries during the brief engagement and along with the injured gunner quickly found themselves being evacuated back to the field hospital at San Carlos.
    The British field guns and range finding equipment were much more modern and newer than the second hand Italian made guns the Argentines were using. Also, the British gunners being well practised professionals with many years’ service were much more skilled in the use of their equipment than the Argentine conscript gunners. Despite the initial shock at coming under artillery fire the British were quick to react. They quickly tracked the trajectory of the argentine shells back to the point where they were estimated to have originated from and quickly launched a counter battery fire mission. The British artilleries superior weight of fire and superior accuracy quickly won out and silenced both Argentine guns.

    Pretty much from the moment they had landed days previously the British artillery had been early constantly firing, hence the high demand for shells. There were numerous reasons for this. The most obvious was to soften up the Argentine defences in anticipation of the planned infantry assaults by causing material damage and casualties. There was also the need to take pressure off of the rapidly dwindling stocks of air dropped weapons. These were now to be saved for preplanned strikes only and a supply ready in case of an emergency situation.
    The fire missions occurred day and night at seemingly random intervals. The night fire missions were partially intended to deprive the Argentines of sleep to hopefully get them exhausted before the infantry attacks. There was also an effort to try and reduce the Argentinian defenders state of readiness and reaction speeds. It was hoped that if the Argentines found themselves repeatedly coming under short but vicious bombardments of the type that would usually precede and cover for an attack without such an attack materialising then when the real thing did come the Argentines just might be slow to recognise it as an actual attack as opposed to yet another artillery barrage and as a result slower in their reactions.

    Another reason the British took their time before advancing was the need to allow sufficient time for adequate reconnaissance. While the mountains had been extensively photographed by air reconnaissance this method had it limitations and the battalion commanders who would soon have to lead their men into these areas wanted as much on sight intelligence as was possible. Far to many times in their history the British armed forces had neglected the need for adequate reconnaissance and had suffered for it. Already the recon detachments that had pushed forward from the western slope of Mount Kent had made discoveries that had justified their efforts. The most important of these discoveries was proof that the Argentines were taking things seriously. Landmines were in play.
    Its estimated that during their occupation of the Falklands the Argentinians laid approximately 30,000 land mines in over 140 separate minefields. The majority of these had been placed on the beaches around Port Stanley and on Stanley Common where the Argentines had initially assessed as the most likely British landing site. The units garrisoning the heights that the British would now have to assault had had their own allocation of landmines and had put them to good use mostly attempting to secure their flanks.
    In what they would describe as possibly the most dangerous missions they undertook in the entire campaign SAS men had during the nights working in pairs moved silently through the darkness to examine the minefields. Slowly moving forward and probing the ground ahead of them with special nonmagnetic trowels their objectives were to try and get some idea of the extent of the minefields and of what sort of mines were present. A total of 9 different types of Mine were identified with the most common being Italian made SB-33 anti-personnel devices. In some cases, it was found that the frozen ground had had an adverse impact on the placing and condition of the mines meaning that there was a chance that they may not function correctly.
    Something that was of particular interest to the men carrying out recon tasking were the Argentine patrols. Rather than just sitting on top of their respective mountains staring at each other both the British and Argentinians had sent patrols down into the valley between the mountains which was now a sort of no mans land to guard against attacks by the other side.
    The SAS men who had managed to map out where the western edges of the minefields were had observed the Argentine patrols and crucially had noticed that these patrols were operating west of the minefields. That meant that somewhere there must be at least safe route through or around the minefields.
    Working out where this safe path was became the reconnaissance efforts top priority as if there was a potential way to negate the danger posed by the landmines it could save a lot of lives and greatly increase the chances of success.
    The most obvious way of doing this was to observe the Argentine patrols as they left and eventually returned to their positions up on the heights. Unfortunately, it seemed that someone on the Argentinian side had foreseen this possibility as patrols would only leave their positions in the darkness before dawn and not return until after dark when it was nearly impossible for them to be observed from a distance.
    There had been a few incidents of contact and resulting firefights between the British and Argentine patrols. These had mostly been encounter engagements where patrols had happened to run into each other and had opened fire with the result being neither side unwilling to press the issue and the firefight ending as both sides withdrew towards the protection of their respective lines partially in the hopes of luring the other into the sights of their comrades.
    It was decided that the best solution to the question of locating the safe paths through the minefields was to send out a strong force of about platoon strength to locate and attack one of the patrols. Hopefully the patrol would be obliged to withdraw from the fight against a superior opponent and in doing so reveal the safe paths from their pattern of retreat.
    The first such operation of this type saw a strong force from 42 COMMANDO engage an Argentine section in the valley between Mount Wall and Mount Harriet. Rather than taking the most route up the mountain where thus far few mines had been discovered the Argentines withdrew southwards and followed the base of the mountain around to the SE covered by indirect machine gun fire. This single piece of information would be crucial in 42 COMMANDO’s O/C Lt Col Nick Vaux’s planning for his upcoming operation.
    Feeling emboldened by the success of this operation the British began to mount probing attacks in which platoons of Marines or Paras would cross the stream which marked the rough halfway point between the British and Argentine fronts and attempt to close with and provoke the Argentines into opening fire. While this was a dangerous game to play it did have a pay off which made it worthwhile. A second force comprising just a section of four men would accompany the probing force but would remain a good distance to the north or south and do rather than engaging would do everything possible to disguise their presence. Their job was to act as observers and attempt to map the Argentine firing positions and estimate the enemy’s strength based upon the weight of fire received. These missions would always end with the commander of the probing force calling in artillery or mortar support to cover his withdrawal. Numerous such missions were mounted for two reasons. The first was for continuing reconnaissance and intelligence gathering purposes. The second was a continuation of the efforts to lower the Argentinians readiness and increase their response times. Probing attacks were often made in conjunction with the artillery barrages. Again, the hope was that the enemy would get so used to coming under artillery and small arms fire that when the actual push came, they would be slow to recognise it as such and slower to react effectively.

    Finally, as darkness began to fall on the 29th everything was ready to go and H hour was fast approaching. The commanding officers had earlier gathered in Brigadier Thompson’s command post and been briefed. The ambitious plan called for three battalion sized night assaults on the first line of Argentine strong points in its first phase followed by a similar operation on the strongpoints behind. The British ORBAT was as follows:

    The southernmost strongpoint of Mount Harriet was to be taken by 40 COMMANDO led by Lt Col Hunt. 40 COMMANDO were now moving to their starting position on the eastern shoulder of Mount Challenger. The battalion commanders had also briefed their individual plans of attack. Lt Col Hunt was planning a direct company sized assault on the western slope of Mount Harriet while another two companies would attempt to move to the south of the mountain and using the safe route that had been plotted through the minefield attempt to flank the defenders.

    Two Sisters to the north which formed a ridgeline with Mount Harriet was to be assaulted by 45 COMMANDO led by Lt Col Andrew Whitehead. 45 COMMANDO were already formed up just below the top of the reverse side of the ridgeline between Mount Kent and Challenger where the men were making their final preparations and taking this last opportunity to eat something. Not being able to outflank the enemy due to the geography of the heights he was moving to take Lt Col Whitehead’s plan was for a more direct approach by stealth. His men would get as close as they could and once the Argentines realised what was happening rely on murderous amounts of fire support and his marines training and skill in up close and personal fighting.
    For this reason, Whitehead had worked out his plan in conjunction with Lt Col Hunt to ensure coordination and maximise the chances of success (or at least minimize the chances of something going wrong). 45 COMMANDO who would be relying on a stealthy approach would make their assault slight ahead of 40 COMMANDO as it was felt that if the assault on Mount Harriet which was going to be rather more overt went ahead first this would almost certainly alert the defenders on Two Sisters.

    Lt Col Herbert Jones’s 2 PARA would have a very long walk to even reach their objective of Mount Longdon to the NE. The reason for this operation was to secure the northern flank of the Marines on Harriet and Two Sisters and potentially provide a good position from which to move on Mount Tumbledown from the north or even potentially bypass it and make a move on Port Stanley. Effectively tightening the noose and cutting off a potential avenue of retreat or reinforcement for the enemy. Due to its distance from the battles that would be taking place on Two Sisters by the time his men had been able to complete the estimated four hour march it would take for them to get to the western slope of Mount Longdon Jones was hoping to be able to use an element of surprise. The Argentine defences in this area were already known from air recon to be facing north to guard against an assault from that direction. Therefore, by attacking from the west he would be able to flank his opponent and hopefully role up the defensive line before the Argentines could reposition themselves to face him. Lt Col Jones was expecting some heavy fighting and so would have the support of not only an entire artillery battery but also a support (Heavy Weapons) company beefed up by men and equipment from 3 PARA who would be following on behind. The Mount Longdon operation had the potential to become a very difficult and messy job which was why 2 PARA famed for their aggression had been chosen. While some things could be said about his leadership and command style there was certainly no doubting Lt Col H. Jones bravery and ability to get the job done.

    Following behind 40 COMMANDO would be the Welsh Guards led by Lt Col John Rickett. If all went to plan once Mount Harriet had been captured the Welsh Guards would relive the marines and maintain the strategic momentum by using it as a starting point for their own assault on Mount Tumbledown to the east the following evening. If things went badly or the Argentines decided to counter attack they would support 40 COMMANDO.

    The Scots Guards under Lt Col Michael Scott would be following on behind 45 COMMANDO up onto Two Sisters where like their Welsh counterparts they would relive the expectedly exhausted marines and launch their own assault on the next Argentine strongpoint on Mount Tumbledown. There was still a lingering concern about the capabilities of the Guards units. Unlike the Paras and Marines who were kept at a very high state of readiness anyway as a matter of routine the guards had come straight from public duties in London and hadn’t had the chance to go through much in the way of refresher training or work up. They had only been chosen for this operation because they were the only infantry units that had been available at the time. Between the units allocated to its NATO commitments in Germany and the counterterrorist effort in Northern Ireland and now this little show in the South Atlantic the British Army was really feeling overstretched.

    3 PARA under Lt Col Hew Pike would be hot on the heels of 2 PARA in moving towards Mount Longdon and indeed had lent some of its men to support 2 PARA’s assault. If it turned into a slugging match it was felt that the combined might of 2 and 3 PARA would be enough to overwhelm the Argentine defenders. If all went to plan however and 2 PARA was able to get the job done alone 3 PARA would move onto Mount Longdon and then depending on how the situation developed either move eastwards to take Wireless Ridge or south to support the Guards attack on Mount Tumbledown.

    The Gurkhas that had been airlifted to Mount Kent were not at full battalion strength. Led by Lt Col Morgan their main role so far in this campaign had been platoon and company strength detachment duties such as defending the beaches at San Carlos, guarding prisoners, lines of communication troops ect. However enough men were still available to form a pretty capable force and had been brought here to either act as a reserve if needed or else take part in the planned second phase assault on Tumbledown. The Gurkhas who coming from a climate and terrain similar to that found on the Falklands had been in their absolute element as soon as they had arrived. They had initially been extremely upset when they had been told that the battalion was to be broken up and used for guarding and security duties as they felt that they were being unfairly denied the opportunity to gain some regimental glory and battle honours. Now that some of them had been brought out here and tod to prepare themselves for some action the Nepalese warriors could barely contain their excitement at the prospect of being able to mix it up with the enemy and cover themselves in glory.
    Gurkhas are none for nearly constantly having a smile on their face even when there was no obvious reason for it. Right now, everyone who saw their enormous grins understood why and felt a slight chill and pity for the men on the other side if the valley to the east.

    42 COMMANDO under Lt Col Nick Vaux much to their disdain would remain on Mount Kent and Challenger to provide local security to the artillery batteries, LZ, field hospital and supply dumps. The Falklands campaign is interesting from a strategic point of view as it was the first conventional campaign where the British thought in terms of strongpoints as opposed to territory held and front lines at a strategic level. Whereas the positioning of the Argentine forces facing them did allow for a rough “front line” to be marked the British planners were treating this almost like a counter insurgency campaign similar to that which had been experienced in Northern Ireland and other places. Strong positions were established and forces operated from and returned to these where the emphasis was focused on locating and destroying the enemy as opposed to taking and holding ground. The exception to this was the overall objective of advancing towards and taking Port Stanley.

    At this point British commanders felt that there were two big threats to Operation Corporate. The first was the nights attacks on the Argentine strongpoints failing and resulting in heavy losses. While bad this wouldn’t be catastrophic as from a military perspective it would just stall the campaign as opposed to ending it and they would just have to try again later perhaps using the guards and a lot more bombs next time.
    The second risk while actually less likely to be realised was actually more worrying. With the overwhelming majority of the British fighting units now on the eastern part of East Falkland the defence of the vital beachead at San Carlos was now left to a few companies of Gurkhas and simple geography. The only force of any significance on East Falkland that wasn’t now caught in the British noose was the garrison at Goose Green. While the airfield had been put out of action by heavy air attacks and the garrison assessed to have sustained significant casualties as a result British commanders were still worried about the prospect of this force attempting to move north to attack the beachead approximately 20 miles away. While the garrison was known to be intended and equipped for defensive operations to hold their ground and given the losses, they had taken unlikely to do such a thing if the beacheads were cut off or destroyed it would potentially end the entire operation then and there until supply lines could be re-established. To guard against this the remaining cluster bombs and quite a few other bits of ordinance aboard HMS EAGLE had been set aside to be ready to respond to such a move. AN SAS observation post was located just NE of Goose Green where they would likely spot any Argentine movements north. If they or one of the frequent photorecon fights spotted such movement the Argentines would be hit with nearly every remaining cluster bomb and rocket in the now alarmingly depleted British arsenal. If they did make it close enough to San Carlos then the warships still in the harbour would fire on them with their 4.5 inch guns. If it came to that point Major General Moore had already made it clear that he would call an immediate halt to offensive operations in the east and rush to have 42 COMMANDO or whoever else was available airlifted back to San Carlos to counter attack.

    Meeting completed and having synchronised their watches the officers had returned to their respective battalions. It is often said that the worst part of any battle is the waiting. The men who like the professionals they were had finished their preparations ages ago and now in full battle order had nothing to do but sit and wait at their unit’s respective start lines for the order to advanced. In some places the men felt like what they thought their forebearers in the trenches had thought during the night before the battle of the Somme.
    Finally, H Hour arrived and silently three battalions of paratroopers and marines stood up and silently descended from the mountains to the west into the darkness and silence below. It would not stay silent for long.
    A Night To Remember & A Night To Try To Forget
  • There can be no sight in the world more terrifying than that of a soldier screaming a blood curdling war cry as loud as his lungs can manage, overcome with the red mist but eyes fixed firmly on you and charging with bayonet fixed straight towards you personally. The soldier knows that his best way to survive the next few seconds is to kill you.
    Watching recruits practising bayonet drill for the first time might be found by the casual observer to be almost comical as young men probably not even out of their teens yet with slightly higher voices make an attempt at an intimidating scream will poking a sand bag with the end of their rifles. What the casual observer wouldn’t know and the recruits wouldn’t have yet grasped is that for the bayonet only becomes truly effective and terrifying weapon in the hands of a man overcome by fury, hatred for whoever is unfortunate enough to be on the sharp end and the resurfacing of his primal desire to spill blood.
    When the shooting starts and the real bullets start to fly and real men start to go down then it’s a whole different ball game. Seeing a bayonet charge for real unless your taking part in it can be a frightening sight even if its charging away from you.
    Coming towards you however there are three ways in which you are likely to react. You may attempt to shoot or fight the man coming towards you. You might try to run as fast as your legs will carry you. Or you may find yourself frozen with either fear or a moment of indecision. Whereas the first two options might give you some chance of survival doing nothing even for a few seconds will seal your fate. Something more than one Argentinian found out on the night of the 29th of May.

    The Battle of Two Sisters

    The battle plan for the assault on the twin peaks that formed Two Sisters could be accurately described as a Warminster style assault. This means an orthodox infantry attack plan of the kind that British infantrymen of all cap badges had practised again and again at the infantry training centre in Warminster in Wiltshire. Although the approach towards the enemy was to be silent the battle itself would be extremely noisy with the maximum weight of artillery hurled at the Argentines as the marines attempted to storm their positions.

    45 COMMANDO’s start line for this operation was at Murrell bridge, a rickety structure over the Murrell river at the foot of Mount Kent which had become a sort of dividing line between what was considered British and Argentine held ground.
    X-Ray Company which was the lead company for the assault led by the able and articulate Captain Ian Gardiner RM had taken rather longer than expected to even reach the start point. The commandos had been bogged down by the peat ground and slowed down by fearsome rock-runs over which they had had to hump the heavy weapons. Irritated at this delay and the knock-on effects to his plan things had even gotten to a point where 45 COMMANDO’s commanding officer Lt Col Whitehead had threatened over the radio to “come down and kick” the company into action.
    With his men having made it across Murrell bridge Captain Gardiner’s company had silently made their way across the dead ground towards the base of the hill when murphy’s law had reared its ugly head.

    The Argentine force occupying Two Sisters was comprised of the now consolidated 4th Infantry Regiment. Originally positioned on both Two Sisters and Mount Harriet the regiment had suffered grievously at the hands of repeated British airstrikes which had seen the use of large quantities of cluster bombs and rockets. Due to the casualties that the regiment had sustained it had been decided by the Argentine commanders in Port Stanley that occupying and holding such a large area was now too big of a task given the regiments weakened condition. Therefore the 4th Infantry Regiment had been ordered to abandon its positions on Mount Harriet including its forward position on Mount Wall and consolidate its strength on Two Sisters. 6th Infantry Regiment had been positioned to the SE of Port Stanley in conjunction with the 3rd Infantry Regiment to defend the area where the British had been expected to land. Now that the British had already made a landing it was decided that the threat of an amphibious assault in the Port Stanley area was much reduced and that 3rd Infantry Regiment could be left to guard the area. 6th Regiment had been moved westwards to take over 4th Regiments positions on Mount Harriet.

    As the British had previously noted the Argentines had been patrolling the area west of their positions on the heights with patrols leaving and returning to their positions under the cover of darkness. Unfortunately for both X-Ray company and the Argentines one such patrol had been in the process of descending down from the peaks at the start of their mission when they had encountered the marines of 45 COMMANDO who were trying to make their way up towards the southern peak.
    The firefight had been brief as a result of the Argentines being taken by surprise and the 8 man patrol being vastly outnumbered but the damage had been done. With the Argentines in the fighting positions further up the hill now aware that something was afoot they had unleashed a ferocious hail of machine gun and mortar fire. Having prepared for this eventuality Captain Gardiner immediately called for artillery fire onto the prearranged coordinates and under the cover of the explosion’s courtesy of 29 COMMANDO Regiment RA led his company up the hill as they attempted to close with the enemy.
    Something that is drummed into all infantrymen during training is that when attacking uphill the absolute worst thing you can do is to stop. Once you have stopped you have lost momentum and taken pressure off of the enemy. Once you’re no longer moving the enemy will have a better chance of spotting you and the temptation is to dig yourself into your position and before you know it the attack has bogged down and the enemy shooting down onto you from above has the advantage and the next stage is usually they will attack and drive you off of the hill. Therefore, the marines had been taught when attacking uphill keep going forwards no matter what even if it means ignoring your wounded. If men go to the aid of their wounded rather than pressing the attack then the effect is the same. Sometimes it was better to leave wounded men to the follow up units to deal with rather than increasing the likelihood of becoming one yourself.
    Unfortunately for X-Ray Company they realised that they had somewhat underestimated the enemy’s strength there was one well dug in Argentine platoon in the line of advance that was refusing to be dislodged which was stalling the company’s attack.
    As Gardiner’s men scratched what cover they could from the rocks and peat ridges and tried to pin point enemy bunkers and work out routes to their trenches they were also burning through their supply of ammunition as they answered the Argentine fire.
    At this point Lt Col Whitehead had decided to alter the entire battleplan. It was clear that X-Ray company had no hope of storming the twin peaks without taking massive casualties and so Yankee and Zulu Company’s were ordered to assault the northern peak.

    A night battle on this scale is and extraordinary experience. Most of the young marines who had never seen action before had expected some sort of visual impact, with men running, guns firing, targets falling and so on. In fact, it is nothing like that. Sound is the predominant impact: the whoosh and thunder of incoming artillery, the steady pok-pok of the Argentines 0.5in heavy machine guns sending a stream of red tracer from the bunkers above and the rapid chatter of the British GPMG’s replying. A lasting impression is that of the general confusion compared to the well-ordered training exercises which these men were so used to.

    With argentine attention focused on X-Ray Company attacking the southern peak Yankee and Zulu company had been able to get rather close to the northern peak before they were spotted. Rather than let themselves get bogged down like X-Ray Company Yankee and Zulu Company’s had rushed forwards and managed to throw the Argentines slightly of balance with their rapid advance and ferocious weight of fire. Sensing an opportunity and ignoring the risk posed by the Argentine machine gun, rifle and mortar fire Zulu Company’s commander had ordered his men to fix bayonets and charge forwards and get to grips with the enemy in the most literal way imaginable. As they charged forwards the men chanted their company battle cry “Zulu, Zulu, Zulu”. The fighting on the northern peak was brief, extremely vicious and extremely one sided as the Argentines feeling was one of sheer terror which couldn’t stand up to the all-consuming feelings of aggression felt by the British marines as they were overcome with the red mist.

    With the northern peak now in British hands and the surviving Argentines running for their lives down the eastern slope the men in positions between the peaks now saw that they were facing an enemy and taking fire on three sides and withdrew down the eastern side. The southern peak fell almost immediately after and the British now in command of the high ground began to fire down onto the Argentines on the eastern slope.
    The Argentines at this point were in a state of shock and utter confusion. Morale had already been low due to the casualties from the repeated air and artillery strikes and now the heavy fighting and casualties and bayonet attack was to much for the Argentine conscripts. Despite the officers attempts to bring some sort of order to the chaos and counter attack the heights before the British could get themselves established morale was shattered and all sense of order and cohesion vanished. What started as the men retreating from the northern peak quickly turned into a route as confused and disoriented troops unable to find officers or anyone to give them any idea of what to do decided in the heat of the moment that the best thing to do was to follow their comrades who all seemed to be running down the mountain triggering a cascade effect. In this melee of chaos and confusion many men were cut down by the British rifle and machinegun fire.

    The assault on Two Sisters had been a short but violent affair. Lt Col Whitehead when he inspected the enemies positions had been amazed that they had so quickly abandon what he judged to be very strong positions and remarked “with 50 Royals I could have died of old age holding this place”.

    The Battle of Mount Harriet

    At the briefing Lt Col Hunt had told his men “surprise and absolute silence are vital. If necessary, you must go through the old business of making every man jump up and down before he starts, to check that nothing rattles. Persistent coughers must be left behind. If you find yourself in a minefield remember that you must go on. Men must not stop for their oppos, however great the temptation. They must go through and finish the attack or it will cost more lives in the end. The enemy are well dug in in very strong positions but I believe that once we get in amongst them, they will crack pretty quickly”.

    The plan for 40 COMMANDO to secure Mount Harriet was fairly simple. J Company would make a direct assault on the western slope with plenty of fire support. Rather than to take the mountain this was actually to distract the Argentines while K and L company made a flanking attack from the south and enveloped the mountain.
    As planned the attack on Two Sisters commenced ahead of the assault on Mount Harriet. This unfortunately meant that the Argentine defenders were now alert and prepared to receive an attack. Knowing that a stealthy approach was unlikely to succeed the marines of J Company instead relied on murderous amounts of artillery from both the 105mm guns of the batteries at Firebase Kent and also from the 4.5 inch gun of HMS SHEFFIELD which had sailed around to the east of the islands and taken up station to the SSE of Mount Harriet in order to provide naval gunfire support.
    The bombardment took its toll on the Argentine defenders with 6 killed and 24 wounded. More importantly it kept them mostly lying as close the ground as they could and not looking for an advancing British force. This gave J Company the opportunity they needed to cross the flat open ground and close with Mount Harriet. The advance was an extremely nerve-racking affair as they Argentines while keeping their heads down for now surely knew that they were coming and there was still the small matter of navigating their way across a minefield in the dark. The men kept themselves well-spaced apart as they took extreme care with each step. While they had been told that the frozen ground meant that the mines would likely be visible or above ground and the detonators may be frozen all it would take would be one misstep. With the Argentines distracted by the bombardment J Company were able to close to approximately 100 yards from the enemy positions before they were spotted. Then all hell broke loose.

    The Argentines now aware of the immediate danger in front of them opened fire. The men of J Company knowing that stealth was no longer needed returned fire and began to get stuck into the Argentine defences. Using tactics similar to those employed in building clearing the marines used grenades, 66mm LAW and 84mm Carl Gustav anti armour rockets and 81mm mortars to methodically clear each enemy position as they advanced slowly up the rocky mountain slope. The artillery fire switched from a saturation bombardment to an on call infantry support weapon used to cover advances or crack open especially well prepared enemy positions with some shells landing only a mere 50 yards away from the men of J Company.

    During the reconnaissance missions that had taken place in the days before tonight’s assault a four-man SAS team had made two startling discoveries. The first was that there was a large minefield to the south of Mount Harriet, evidently an attempt by the Argentines to secure their flanks. When the men had moved to map the extent of the minefield and examine the mines themselves, they had made an even more important discovery almost purely by chance. An Argentine patrol had descended down the southern slope of the mountain and had met a returning patrol which had proceeded up the mountain. Despite the dark the SF men had been able to observe that while the outgoing and incoming patrol had taken slightly different route’s they had both used the southern slope of the mountain. This was proof that there were at least two safe paths through the minefield. It was these routes that the men of K and L company were no quietly making their way up as they advanced to make their flanking attack.

    Amazingly it later transpired that the commander of the 6th Infantry Regiment defending Mount Harriet Lt Col Halperin was not aware that there was a route through the minefield protecting his flank. As far as he was concerned the threat came from the west which dictated how he had deployed his men. His northern flank was protected by 4th Regiment occupying Two Sisters and this southern flank was secured by a dense minefield which would prevent any assault. His support components were positioned on the eastern side of the mountain close enough to do their job while being able to stay out of the firing line.
    It later emerged that 6th Regiment had only relived 4th Regiment less than 48 hours before the attacks and that the handover between the commanders had been a bit of a rushed affair as 4th Regiments commander Lt Col Soria had been more concerned with redeploying his now consolidated force into their new positions before it became dark and when the threat of British attack was at its greatest. The safe paths through the minefields existed mainly to give patrols a safe way in and out of the defensive perimeter. While the subject of patrols had been touched upon Lt Col Halperin had somewhat forcefully stated his intention of no longer mounting patrols considering the dangers to the men to great and that they served no purpose as the detonation of landmines would be more likely to give warning of a British attack. In His rush to get back to Two Sisters and see to his own men Lt Col Soria had simply neglected to mention the existence of the safe paths which his counterpart wouldn’t use anyway. This oversight would prove to be fatal.

    Though there were sentries watching the southern slope of the mountain with the Argentines belief that there was no way anyone could approach them from that direction that was all they were. Sentries as opposed to a defending force. The men who should have been looking out to the south were instead more focused in the artillery bombardment and heavy fighting taking place a mere few hundred meters from them. Worse the bright flashes and loud booms produced by the shells, rockets, mortars and whole array of small arms destroyed the sentry’s night vision and masked the approach of K and L Company’s. even if the sentries had seen what was coming by that point due to the sheer noise it is doubtful that anyone would have heard their warnings or cries of alarm. Three of them died at the hands of the Royal Marines point men who had gone on ahead of the rest of the force and used their famous Commando Fighting Knives to deadly effect without producing so much as a sound.
    With the two companies now safely through the minefield and established upon the southern side of the peak they went their separate ways with L Company moving around the western edge flank the Argentines currently engaging their comrades in J Company while K Company moved around to the east. To the Argentines on the western slope who were having a hard enough time fending off the heavily supported British attack from the west suddenly being hit in the flank from and in many cases from above by an equally strong British force that had appeared out of nowhere came as a terrible shock. Despite this they were still perfectly able to put up a fight forcing L Company to dig them out of each and every position often having to resort to the use of MILAN anti-tank missiles (Lt Col Hunt would later admit to having literally burned through quite a lot of the British taxpayer’s money at £10,000 a missile). Being attacked from two sides put the Argentine defenders in a difficult position as they could not properly defend against the attack from one direction without exposing themselves to the threat from the other. Gradually they found themselves being pushed out of their positions.
    K Company meanwhile had moved around the eastern or reverse side of the Argentine defenders’ positions. Action on that side of the mountain began when the company opened fire upon the first enemy, they came across which was 6th Regiments 120mm mortar platoon. While they had been taken by surprise the Argentines on this side of the mountain were not about to roll over and die and K Company were forced to more than once make use of the Naval Gunfire Support capability provided by HMS SHEFFIELD. The Argentine positions on this side of the mountain however were not the dug defensive positions found on the western side however and the defenders found themselves obliged to fall back again and again. This however opened up an opportunity which a platoon of K Company was ordered to exploit. With the Argentines having been pushed back the had lost possession of the ground that led up to the peak where it was believed the Argentine post was located. The platoon was ordered to attack upwards and take possession of the peak. Realising that the Argentines up on the peak would rapidly work out what was happening the marines had fixed bayonets and under the cover of suppression fire from GPMG’s charged up the hill. In scenes similar to those that had taken place on the northern peak of Two Sisters the argentines had either been slain or driven off of the peak by the marines bayonets and Stirling submachineguns.
    Lt Col Halperin had escaped by running down the western slope where he had re-joined his men and quickly restablished command. His situation was now dire. His men were taking fire from three sides, the British now controlled the heights and were shooting downwards into the rear of the Argentine positions. His men’s positions were rapidly becoming untenable and they were steadily taking casualties as a result. To attack in any direction would simply see his men cut to pieces by flanking fire and to stay where they were would see them gradually wiped out. They had to extract themselves from their current location but the only direction they could go was north to Two Sisters which was itself under attack. While Halperin had been too busy with defending his own positions to worry too much about what was happening on Two Sisters he had got the sense that things there were not going well. Worse the attack on his command post on the peak had come from the east meaning that there was a British force on the eastern slope of the mountain. There was a real danger that this force would attempt to move around the peak and flank him from the north while cutting off the only route out of here.

    While the Argentines did try to extract themselves from the western slope the heavy British fire and need to maintain a strong enough rear guard to hold off the British coupled with the defeat of 4th Regiment on Two Sisters saw them make next to no progress. The defenders dwindling supply of ammunition coupled with the steady casualties as they were pushed out of or died in one position after another saw the British grind them down into submission. While some elements of the regiment on the eastern slope were able to retreat the 6th Regiment was effectively disembowelled in its unsuccessful defence of Mount Harriet with almost 100 men killed and wounded and nearly 300 forced to surrender.

    The Battle of Mount Longdon

    Having a much longer distance to travel to reach their starting points for the assault on Mount Longdon the men of 2 PARA had had a prime view of the fighting taking place on Two Sisters and Mount Harriet beyond. The maroon bereted men had watched in awe at the unbelievable number of explosions of artillery shells and the weight of small arms fire flying around. Knowing that the marines battle plans had relied to a larger extent on stealth and surprise the PARA’s with their rather more overt plan which relied on aggressiveness and heavy firepower wondered what was awaiting them to the east. Some men where nervous while others having gotten themselves into the mindset were eager to put all of their years of training into practise.

    2 PARA under Lt Col H. Jones had been handed the task of taking the now looming mass of Mount Longdon which lay like a fortress between them and the west of Port Stanley. Between the minefield to the south and the enemy known to be on Wireless Ridge the Paras would have little room for manoeuvre.

    Defending the mountain was the complete 7th Infantry Regiment along with specialist elements of 601st Commando Company and snipers. Lt Col Omar Gimenez had had weeks to prepare and position his men for this moment. In order to defend this long, narrow, craggy mountain his men prepared numerous bunkers and sangars. These positions were supported by 120mm heavy mortars, Browning 30 cal and 50 cal heavy machineguns, 105mm recoilless rifles, anti-tank missiles and sniper rifles equipped with second generation image intensifying night sights.
    The reason why 10th Mechanised Infantry Brigade’s commander Brigadier General Joffre had given the task of defending this feature which formed the lynchpin of the Argentines defences of Port Stanley to 7th Regiment was because of their impressive and capable commander.

    When the conflict had begun Lt Col Gimenez had taken things rather more seriously than his counterparts in some of the other regiments. When he had been handed his orders to prepare to deploy to the Malvinas whereas other officers had assumed that there either wouldn’t be a war or if there was then the navy and air force would defeat the British long before they had the chance t get close enough for any ground combat Lt Gimenez like the consummate professional he considered himself to be had approached things with the attitude that his unit would be involved in some heavy fighting. To this end he had ordered that the raw conscripts which had at that time made up the bulk of his regiment be dismissed and replaced with reservists form the class that had most recently completed their one year’s mandatory service with his regiment. Argentine conscripts of the time would perform a year’s service with a regiments entire complement of junior ranks being made up of conscripts from the same class as in they had all joined at the same time and would all depart at the same time. This naturally resulted in a massive turnover of manpower which placed an enormous training burden on a regiment’s officers. The result of this was a repeating yearly cycle of training and exercises of gradually increasing complexity and difficulty as the recruits gradually matured into effective soldiers. The problem was by the time the regiment had finally gotten a degree of cohesiveness and fighting effectiveness the conscripts would be discharged and replaced and the process started all over again. The conscripts in 7th Regiments ranks at the start of the conflict were at the start of their service and still fresh out of training whereas the previous class had only a few months before proven themselves in a brigade sized exercise with the rest of 10th Brigade and would still have the physical fitness and fresh memories of what they had learned. Therefore, it had made more sense to send the new conscripts away somewhere and bring back the experienced reservists. Despite having taken some losses from British air attacks in common with the other infantry regiments morale in the 7th Regiment was notably higher.

    Had anyone thought to ask him Lt Col Jones of 2 PARA would have probably said something along the lines of any one of his men being more than a match for any grubby conscript from a line infantry regiment in some second rate army. Professional soldiers with many years experience under their belts and the products of a legendarily tough training course the PARA’s considered themselves the elite unit of probably the best army in the world and had a rather disparaging view of other outfits and cap badges which they considered to be beneath them. It was telling that more than half of the men selected to become members of the SAS came from the ranks of the PARA’s. A fact which they were extremely proud of.
    Like the Argentine 7th Regiment 2 PARA were here tonight to a large degree because the higher ups believed in the capabilities of their leader.
    The summit of Mount Longdon dominated the very open ground around it for several thousand yards making even night movements hazardous. To try and even the odds 2 PARA would be able to call upon heavy supporting artillery fire from both 29 COMMANDO Regiment RA and the 4.5-inch gun of HMS AVENGER. 2 PARA’s own support company reinforced by men and weapons from 3 PARA’s support company would provide heavy machine gun and mortar fire.

    Having completed the four hour march to their start lines the PARA’s stopped briefly to take on some water and make sure that everyone was ready A, B and C Company’s had set off I slightly different directions into the darkness to attempt a pincer like assault. They were led by men from D (Patrol) company who having conducted the battalion’s reconnaissance work knew the area and more importantly the locations of the minefields. The first men to make contact with the enemy were B Company. Trying to work their way around a minefield in the dark one of the men had lost track of where he was and ended up stepping on a mine. This had alerted a platoon of 20 Argentines up ahead who had been sleeping in their tents and now struggled to extract themselves from their sleeping bags. Most of them were not quick enough as the lead platoon of Para’s rapidly advanced forward and poured grenades and automatic fire into the helpless Argentinians. Attempting to make the most of the element of surprise Lt Col Jones had ordered his men to sprint forwards and take as much ground as they could before the argentines could respond. Men surged forward throwing grenades and pouring fire into Argentine defensive positions. While they were able to take some ground, the leading men had somewhat over extended themselves and found themselves and ended up being caught out on open ground when the argentines had managed to stop them in their tracks and forced them to withdraw to cover. The Argentines had prepared for the possibility of an attack from the west and the PARA’s found themselves having to pause their advance and call in artillery fire to attempt to break the Argentine defensive positions holding them up. This was all a part of Lt Col Gimenez’s plan as with the enemy for now halted he quickly ordered his own men to move to the western slope. Snipers and heavy machinegun teams repositioned themselves and began pouring fire down onto the Para’s to try and keep them in place as a company of riflemen which had been acting as the regiment’s quick reaction force attempted to counter attack and drive the British back down the slope. Things started to become rather difficult for the Para’s as they were forced to start digging themselves in to hold on to their newly acquired territory and start to recover the men lying wounded out on the open ground while fighting off an enemy counter attack. While the enemy attack was countered through the use of heavy and accurate machine gun and mortar fire from the support company a sort of stalemate was rapidly developing with that Para’s at a distinct disadvantage. Lt Col Jones would receive a DSO for his actions on Mount Longdon and ultimately retire from the army as a Lt General. Recognising that the longer his men stayed where they were the greater the odds of failure became Lt Col Jones ordered the attack to be pressed on with. Heavy artillery support was called in onto the Argentine positions taking advantage of the batteries that were now free to support 2 PARA with the actions on Two Sisters and Mount Harriet now complete. Gradually and methodically the PARA’s silenced or destroyed each individual enemy position ahead of them as they slowly pushed forwards even going as far as to call down a volley from an entire artillery battery to deal with a single sniper that was holding up a platoon’s advance. In an action which saw him recommended for (but ultimately not awarded) a Victoria Cross and earned him some criticism for effectively abandoning his command post during a battle Lt Col Jones personally led a platoon in a successful attack against an Argentine machinegun and riflemen position that had had the platoon pinned down. In doing so he was able to create a breach in the Argentine line which A Company quickly moved to exploit enabling them to engage the defenders in close quarter combat in amount the rock formations. Close Quarter Battle or CQB even when done right is often a bloody affair for both sides (The Germans losing an entire army fighting in Stalingrad is a testament to that). The aggressiveness, skill and training of the PARA’s coupled with the skill of their gunfire support observers who were able to call in repeated danger close fire missions saw the Para’s gain the upper hand and the Argentines losing the initiative as they were pushed back and sustained casualties. Keeping the pressure on the Argentines so they couldn’t get themselves organised into an effective defence the PARA’s pressed the attack using fire and manoeuvre tactics and heavy and accurate fire support as they advanced up the mountain. Despite making a determined defensive stand on the peak the Argentine defenders were unable to hold on as the Para’s moved to attack the peak from both the north, south and west enveloping them. The final straw came when the bunkers housing the heavy machineguns that had stood up to artillery bombardment began to be silenced one by one by MILAN anti-tank missiles. This allowed the Para’s to charge forwards and wrestle control of the peak from the defenders using grenades, automatic fire and bayonets. Seeing that he had now lost possession of the high ground and effectively the battle Lt Col Gimenez decided that there was little he could gain but much he could lose by continuing to try and hold onto the eastern parts of the mountain that remained in his possession. Therefore he decided to cut his losses and gave the order to retreat to Wireless Ridge to the east where he could make a defensive stand from a strong position. It is a testament to his leadership abilities that his regiment was the only regiment in battle that night that was able to maintain unit cohesion and fighting capability and withdraw to a new position relatively intact.

    It had been one of the longest and most violent nights of the men’s lives. As dawn came helicopters now flew low along the contours of the hills to extract the dead and the wounded of both sides. Company Sergeant Majors began conducting headcounts to write ascertain how many casualties there were. In a small and homogenous group like an infantry battalion the loss of each man is noticed and felt by each man and there had been more than a few losses that night.
    There was much work to do as Paratroopers and Marines who had taken the heights now occupied the former defenders’ positions. Some rested and began to try and process what they had seen and done during the night while others prepared for the possibility of an enemy counter attack.
    Prisoners both living and dead had to be disarmed and processed. While the British dead were loaded onto helicopters and flown away the Argentine prisoners were organised into burial parties to look after their own dead. Standing orders to as far as possible identify the dead threw up a problem. Whereas soldiers of both nations wore dog tags the Argentine ones unlike the British which displayed the wearers name, rank, service number, blood group and religion the Argentine ones held only the wearers blood group and no name making identification difficult.
    Many of the Argentine dead from the nights battles are still officially listed as missing in action as the Argentine authorities even today have no idea which of the many graves bearing the words “a soldier of Argentina” contain which bodies.

    In Port Stanley Brigadier General Menendez sat in his office and thought to himself while he waited for the radio connection to be made with Lt General Galtieri in Buenos Aries. The British had finally attacked as everyone had known they eventually would. He had held out hope that his men who were well dug into strong defensive positions on the heights would be able to hold off the British for a while and make them bleed but quite the opposite had happened. In a matter of hours the British had forced 3 regiments of infantry from strong defensive positions, inflicted crippling casualties to those regiments and destroyed the outer ring of his defensive perimeter. 6th Regiment had suffered the worst with only a company or so’s worth of men having avoided being killed or captured on Mount Harriet leaving it a regiment in name only. 4th Regiment had unbelievably actually broken and routed in battle and were scattered to hell god knows where all over the place. This fact did throw considerable doubt onto Lt Col Soria’s claim that he had conducted an orderly withdrawal and that he was still in control of his men. 7th Regiment while largely still intact had still been knocked about quite a bit by the British.

    He had had a rather frank discussion with the senior officers under his command regarding the future of the campaign. In truth deep down they all knew that defeat had become the most likely outcome when the British had destroyed the navy and effectively besieged the islands. The only real hope for turning things around had evaporated with the air forces fast jet fleet. To be honest things had only gotten this far to satisfy the nations and army’s pride but now after what had happened overnight the writing was on the wall and the aim was to save as many lives as they could. He had felt extremely uncomfortable when he had brought up the subject of what he believed the only remaining course of action to be. The officers had begrudgingly agreed with his assessment of the situation but had insisted that if they were to do the unthinkable, they wanted permission from high command on the mainland, pointing out that army regulations forbade surrender unless 50% of the men were casualties and 75% of the ammunition was expended. Plus, the need to pass on the decision and ultimate responsibility to someone higher up the chain of command than them. This was why Menendez was now waiting for the radio connection to be made and thinking very carefully about what was going to be said. It was not going to be a conversation either party would have wished to be a part of if it could have been avoided and certainly not one that they would enjoy having.
    An Intermission Between Act's
  • Port Stanley, 29th May

    No recordings or exact transcripts exist of the radio conversation between Brigadier Menendez and Lt General Galtieri. However, descriptions later given by those who were within earshot and Menendez (though not Galtieri) mean that while there are some inconsistencies regarding the exact wording it is nonetheless well documented what was said.
    Menendez though he had done a pretty good job of hiding it was seen to be nervous by those who knew him well. Just like the soldier who never thinks it’ll be him who gets shot no commander ever really thinks seriously about what will happen when he is defeated until it actually happens. No commander seriously considers the day that he will be forced to ask his superiors for permission to give up until he finds himself actually having to do so.
    Menendez had asked to speak to Galtieri directly on the pretence of updating him on the events of the previous night, the current strategic situation and the way forward. Menendez knew what he wanted to say but was worried about what would happen when he eventually did say it. He feared that he may be relieved of his command on the spot or that there may be repercussions for his loved ones on the mainland. Whatever happened though he knew that his career would be for all intents and purposes over and that he was assured a place in the history books for all the wrong reasons.
    The conversation began as advertised with Menendez giving a detailed account of the battles the previous night and how despite their preparations and best efforts three whole regiments had been steamrollered by the British. He made sure to emphasis the fact that two of those regiments effectively no longer existed while the third was a shadow of its former self. He went on to describe the current strength and disposition of his force and what current intelligence he had on the British and the general direness of his position.
    It was at this point that his nerves failed him. Whereas he had intended to forcefully make his case for seeking some sort of ceasefire with the British he instead rather meekly said “I don’t see anyway out of this. I think that we need to face facts and cut our losses”.
    Rather than exploding as Menendez had feared Galtieri simply asked him to give a total figure for the number of men that he had on the Malvinas and the stocks of munitions. After Menendez had furnished him with this information Galtieri then asked for the latest intelligence estimate on the number of British soldiers on the islands. Based on the number of British soldiers estimated to have assaulted the heights the previous night tied in with the estimated number of support personnel required to sustain such a force and the lift capacity of the ships known to have transported them from Britain it was estimated that the British had roughly a brigades worth of men on the islands.

    Galtieri didn’t expressly forbid Menendez from surrendering but instead asked in a way that carried an implicit threat why given Menendez still had superior numbers and strong defensive positions with a large stock of munitions did he feel that he was no longer capable of winning this thing? Menendez couldn’t believe what he had just heard. Had those idiots in the Libertador building not been listening to what he had just said or did they think he was being melodramatic? For a few seconds he just sat there in stunned silence. It was Galtieri who broke the silence by going off on a monologue about the honour and pride of the nation and other such nebulous concepts that can only matter to someone detached from the reality of the situation on the ground.
    He ended this by stating “The soldiers of Argentina will not go out quietly into the night”. At that point Menendez snapped and shouted down the microphone at his president and commander in chief “We will not go quietly into the night because the British keep coming quietly out of the night and slaughtering the soldiers of Argentina!”.

    At this point one of the staff officers in the room quickly drew his finger across his throat to signal to the radio operator to cut the transmission before anymore damage could be done. For a moment there was stunned silence. Whereas in any other situation Menendez would have probably had someone who had cut off such a high level communication without his permission shot thinking back about how the conversation was going he conceded that it was the right thing to do at the time.
    Sensing that everyone was waiting for him to say something he tried to break the tension by joking about how that could have gone better. No one laughed.

    The problem he now faced was that permission to seek a ceasefire had quite clearly been denied and the tone of Galtieri’s voice implying repercussions if he still persisted Menendez now doubted that his senior officers would go along with any order to give up. He actually began to fear a possible mutiny amongst them if he tried now.

    Why? He thought to himself. “Why must we fight. Why must we die for this cursed piece of mud?”.

    But unfortunately it is not a soldiers place to ask why but to simply do. The next line of defence against the British juggernaut was Mount Tumbledown which was a large and well defended position. Maybe if the British could be stalled there and be made to suffer casualties then he could perhaps negotiate a ceasefire from a position of strength while having satisfied honour. But then again, he reminded himself that had been the plan last night and that had worked out so well.

    It wasn’t that Galtieri and the Argentine high command in the mainland were uncaring or incompetent. When Menendez had mentioned cutting their losses, he had been thinking only of the Malvinas garrison while they were having to focus on cutting their losses throughout the entire country.
    The whole campaign had simply been one catastrophe after another and had only brought ruin and disaster and now revolution and mutiny to the nation.
    Discontent and uprising had been brewing for quite some time now. It had been seemingly countered by the wave of patriotic euphoria that had swept the country following the liberation of the Malvinas. However, when the news broke of the calamitous defeat of the navy that euphoria had quickly turned into anger. At first this anger had been naturally aimed at the British but it hadn’t taken long for this anger to become fury aimed at what the populace perceived to be an incompetent government made up of incompetent generals. The way the public relations efforts had been conducted had been extremely ham fisted and had made things so much worse. Following the reaction to the disaster at sea the government had attempted to enact a policy of strict though subtle censorship and information control. When the air attacks against the British landing forces had taken place, the Argentine media had truthfully reported the estimated number of ships sunk which was supported by the broadcasting of actual gun camera footage. While they admitted that there had been “some” losses they had made absolutely no mention of any actual number. To further conceal the virtual destruction of the air force the authorities had gone to great lengths to keep the families of the dead men quiet. These measures conducted under the auspices of maintaining national morale had ranged from virtual house arrest for those who lived on or near military facilities to outright threats and in some notorious cases that the authorities would later come to regret forged letters to give the impression that all was well.

    This had backfired in the most terrible way when the Chileans had started broadcasting footage and reports from the Malvinas that could only have been supplied by the British. The reports gave details that the Argentine media had carefully omitted and included footage of Argentine aircraft being shot out of the sky and crucially dead and captured Argentine personnel. In one notorious incident the mother of one pilot had received a letter apparently written by her son saying he was fine and alive and well on an airbase only for her to see a Chilean news broadcast of him being rescued from a life raft and hauled aboard a British helicopter. His face and the name tag on his flight suit were clearly visible.
    She had already been somewhat suspicious of the letter seeing as it was typed rather than hand written and used wording that her son would not normally have used. One tell-tale give away was the mistake in the spelling of the name of his sister.
    The Chilean news broadcast had even given the date of his apparent capture which was before the date on the postage mark on the letter.
    Attempts to contact her son had proved fruitless and attracted some unwanted attention from the authorities.

    Events such as this had destroyed what remaining credibility the Argentine government had in the eyes of the populace.
    Rioting and small scale uprisings had been taking place. The army and police had responded by attempting to stamp on these quickly before this had a chance to spread. So far, this strategy had seemed to be working as crowds were dispersed or disorder had been able to be contained. Furthermore, arrest squads had been sent out to pick up individuals deemed to be potential troublemakers. When the captured airman’s mother had found herself designated as such things had taken a dramatic turn and events had gone from very bad to much worse.

    A joint army and police team had moved out in the dead of night and quietly driven through the provincial town to make the arrest. The policemen were very well practised in this sort of thing whereas the soldiers were military policemen who had been brought along to provide a bit of extra muscle and take possession of the prisoner. Whereas normally their targets would be found sound asleep where they could be dragged from their beds and taken away quickly and quietly and any neighbours who were awake would simply cower in their homes where they couldn’t cause the arrest teams any problems things on this particular job were different.

    This wasn’t the first time that people had been taken from this particular neighbourhood and at least one of the locals knew the tell tale warning signs. They knew that the airman’s mother had been making a lot of noise about her son and criticising the government and knew that they would eventually come for her. When they had seen the convoy of military and police vehicles making their way up the street, they had decided that this time things would be different.
    When the police had pulled up outside the house and smashed the front door open the police had run upstairs only to find a deserted house, and empty bed and an open window. The military police outside had then started shouting for them to get back outside immediately.
    The locals rather than staying in their houses had come outside and worked themselves up into an angry brick throwing mob advancing upon the arrest team. Knowing that they had to escape immediately and fearing that they were about to be beaten to death by the mob the soldiers had panicked and cleared themselves an escape route by opening fire on the mob without giving any warning. They had then climbed back into their vehicles and sped away from the scene driving over the bodies of both the dead and those who might otherwise had had a chance of survival.
    This had set off a powder keg and before long the police had found that they had lost control of the situation within the town and were besieged by angry mobs and pleading for military intervention.
    When an army unit had arrived at the edge of town and begun to make their way towards their besieged police comrades and found themselves faced with a now enormous and increasingly violent mob something unthinkable had happened. With his men untrained in public order tactics and lacking riot shields, batons, tear gas or any other kind of riot gear the local military commander had felt he only had one option. When ordered to open fire however the conscripts that made up the junior ranks had refused. It was one thing for the specialist military, police and security units to abduct, torture and dispose of dissidents but asking what was essentially a citizen army to carryout what amounted to a wholesale slaughter of their own countrymen was to much.
    The commander had been forced to withdraw his force from the town thus surrendering it to the mob. All he could offer the besieged policemen were encouraging words. When they had returned to barracks, he had ordered the force to assemble on the parade square for a headcount. Nearly a quarter of his men were missing, nearly all conscript junior ranks.

    It is not clear how it had happened in such a restrictive and censored country but news of the uprising and army’s withdrawal and desertion had spread like wildfire.
    Desertion previously unthinkable due to the nations draconian punishments for those caught had become an extremely serious problem affecting many military units.
    Lt Gen Galtieri was now extremely concerned that the rank and file of the army (the organisation upon which his power and authority depended) was losing faith in its leaders and beginning to come apart at the seams.

    This was why he had refused to allow Menendez to throw in the towel. If the Malvinas garrison were to just surrender what was regarded as a part of Argentina to an imperialist power it would be the ultimate humiliation for the nation and would certainly bring down the government and open the door to chaos and possibly civil war. The very thing that the military had been trying to prevent when they had ceased power.
    If the army was seen to have fought valiantly to the last man and given their all then that would be different and possibly something that the nation could rally around.
    Looking at it from a purely military point of view Galtieri’s opinion of the situation was rather different from that of Menendez in that he thought he could see a way for the situation to be salvaged. Despite the losses that Argentina had suffered they had one crucial advantage in that they had initially believed that they didn’t have to factor in things like public opinion.
    His studying of the US experience of the Vietnam War had taught him that democratic nations were extremely averse to losses and that this could be used as a way to defeat them. His intelligence people had told him that the loss of warships and men so far hadn’t gone down well in Britain.
    Attacking strong positions on high ground is always a messy business. If the British advance could be stalled and losses inflicted then perhaps the British would seek to negotiate. That alone could be portrayed as a victory for Argentina and just might salvage the situation. Unlike Menendez it never crossed Galtieri’s mind that this had been the plan the previous night.

    Desperation can often lead to delusion.

    Back in Port Stanley Brigadier Menendez had called a meeting with Brigadier Parada of 3rd Brigade, Brigadier Jofre of 10th Brigade and the Malvinas air component (or remains thereof) commander Brigadier Castello. The four men were of equal military rank and were the four most senior men upon the islands. For this reason, Menendez felt that they could be open with each other in a way that would be impossible with men of differing ranks.
    Menendez had called the meeting to discuss what they should do next in light of the conversation that he had had with the mainland. Sombrely he addressed them by their first names and asked them whether or not they should ignore high command and end this madness now.
    After nearly an hour of frank discussions and looking at maps the men came to a decision. They would fight on.

    In spite of everything there were still a number of intact and combat capable infantry forces on the islands. They didn’t feel that they could give up now and face a life of shame and humiliation if they surrendered unconditionally and ceded a piece of the fatherland to the British. The conversation is often used by psychologists as an example of “Groupthink” where an individual is influenced by the opinions held by others into pursuing a course of action that they may not have done otherwise. Menendez later admitted that he had felt slightly elated at finally having some sort of strategy as opposed to simply waiting for the British to hit them again and that this influenced his decision to continue with operations.

    The next logical course of action for the British had to be an assault on Mount Tumbledown. The large feature had steep slopes and was garrisoned by probably the most effective of all the Argentine infantry units on the islands. The 5th Naval Infantry Battalion led by Marine Commander Robacio was one of the premier units in Argentina’s order of battle. Hand picked and well trained conscripts led by a core of professional and highly trained officers and NCO’s the unit despite its name was close to brigade strength with its own artillery and air defence units. Crucially this was a tough unit that had already been acclimatised to the cold when they had deployed to the Malvinas. These men weren’t going to break and run like 4th Infantry Regiment had. While they had suffered from British bombing, they had lost very few men to frostbite and other environmental factors.

    Defending a strong position should have been something that they were easily capable of. The plan was for 5th Naval Infantry Battalion to defend Tumbledown and inflict losses on the attacking British. When the British either paused or withdrew their attack the Battalion would be given the order to withdraw and Menendez would use this as a gesture of good faith when he asked the British for terms. Hopefully this would enable him to negotiate from a position of strength and allow him and his garrison to keep their honour intact and retire in the knowledge that they had given the invader a bloody nose.

    Desperation can often lead to delusion.

    To the west the British were unaware of what was going on in Port Stanley and were making preparations for the nights operations. There was much to do. Of the marines and paras that had taken the mountains the previous night some supervised the prisoners, some prepared positions in case of counter attack, some supervised the Argentine prisoners, some searched the prisoners and positions for anything of intelligence value and some tried to rest. On Mount Harriet where over 300 prisoners had been taken the marines of 40 COMMANDO picked their way through fighting positions and craters littered with thousands of expended 50 cal and 7.62 rounds and even discovered some unused hollow point 9mm rounds. In the simple shelters the marines found foam roll mats and rations that compared well with their own. Argentine soldiers received a pack which contained powdered fruit juice, beef pate and soap and razors. There were even small bottles of whisky with the doubtful name “Breeders Choice”. The mistake that the marines made was that they assumed that the Argentine soldiers like them got fed a ration pack every day!

    The marines who had taken the mountain the previous night had all been professionals before the battle but now as they sat in the captured foxholes and numbed by the experience tried to take stock of what they had experienced they were truly battle hardened veterans. One young marine when later asked to write a minimum of 10 words about the battle simply wrote “It was a cold and dark night at the time we took Harriet. I am still trying to forget that night, so I will write no more about it”

    Helicopters flew from the beachhead at San Carlos with loaded with shells to restock the batteries that had fired well over 5000 rounds in the previous 24 hours and weren’t stopping now. The wounded and the dead had been given top priority for being evacuated back to the rear and so now it was the turn of the argentine captives to be flown to the expanding prisoner cage at San Carlos. The problems presented by the language barrier meant that the captives first had to be pointed towards the helicopter using sign language and then encouraged to get aboard using bayonet tips. The helicopter crews who had been nervous enough at flying loaded down with a highly dangerous cargo in the form of ammunition and shells were now flying with one eye on the horizon and another looking at the overcrowded cabin behind them now full of Argentine’s squatting on the floor while their guards stood above them with clubs and bayonetted rifles at the ready. There pilots couldn’t imagine anything being more dangerous than having a mass brawl in the back of the aircraft. Luckily for them the Argentine prisoners were far to cowed and nervous to be a problem. Not speaking English many of them had been extremely apprehensive when they had been forced at bayonet point onto a clearly overloaded aircraft to be flown god knows where. In one case one of the Chinooks broke records when it carried more than 80 men in one go packed in like sardines.

    In one memorable incident a Royal Marine on Mount Harriet when searching the bodies of two “dead” Argentines had attempted to remove their boots (Argentine boots had actually been found to be superior to those issued to British personnel resulting in many living and dead Argentines ending up barefoot) only for the two men to suddenly jump up trying to surrender. This helped to create a perception in the British media of the Argentinian soldiers being hapless teenage conscripts who had folded as soon as the first shots were fired. The men who had actually fought against them had a rather different impression of them.

    In his command post on Firebase Kent Major General Moore RM was conferring with Brigadier Wilson of 5th Infantry Brigade and Brigadier Thompson RM of 3 COMMANDO Brigade. Last nights attacks had been conducted by units of 3 COMMANDO Brigade and so had been very much Brigadier Thompson’s show. Now it was Wilson’s turn and he was keen to capitalise on the lessons learned.
    The Argentines had been shown to be well dug in and capable opponents who in many cases had had to be blasted off the face of the earth to allow any progress to be made. For this reason a lot of effort was being put into attempting to soften up the Argentine defences. The artillery batteries were carrying out bombardments of Tumbledown and Wireless Ridge meaning that a lot of air lift capability was having to be used to keep up with their demand for shells. Furthermore, Moore had persuaded Admiral Woodward to lay on naval gunfire support missions and make the ships ready to again provide that capability for tonight’s operations. Crucially airstrikes consisting of four Buccaneers from HMS EAGLE and four Sea Harriers from HMS INVINCIBLE were carried out using some of the last remaining general purpose bombs to try and break the expected Argentine defensive positions.

    With regards to reconnaissance efforts the main enemy was time. The assaults on Harriet, Two Sisters and Longdon had had the benefit of days of reconnaissance efforts where as now they merely had 12 or so hours of mostly daylight which made things nearly impossible. Reconnaissance patrols made up of guardsman and Gurkhas whose units would be conducting tonight’s operations had been pushed forwards to try to ascertain the existence and extent of any minefields at the base of Tumbledown. These patrols had been unsuccessful in their objective as they had nearly all ended up getting into firefights with scattered Argentine forces who were believed to have retreated from Mount Harriet or in many cases been stopped by Argentines attempting to surrender to them. This was annoying as these men had to be disarmed searched and escorted back to British lines. It had been initially thought that these men were making their way eastwards towards Mount Tumbledown but instead they had been found seemingly wandering aimlessly. When searched it was notable that no maps or compasses were found upon the men. When interrogated about other Argentine units in the area particularly on Tumbledown the Argentine’s had amazingly seemed completely unaware of where they were on the islands let alone in relation to where anyone else was. When they had retreated they had simply run in the opposite direction from where the British were attacking from and had being unaware of where friendly forces were and worried about succumbing to exposure once night came had decided to approach the first people they had seen.

    Aerial photorecon efforts had been much more successful in that the Phantoms and Sea Harriers had been able to obtain plenty of images of the Argentine defensive positions. The problem had been getting the images from the carriers to the men on the ground who actually needed them.

    Notably absent from the meeting were Lt Col Scott of 2nd Scots Guards, Lt Col Rickett of 1st Welsh Guards, Lt Col Pike of 3 PARA and Lt Col Morgan of 7th Duke of Edinburgh’s Own Gurkha Rifles. These men knew their objectives and so were instead out with their units making sure that their men were ready.

    3 PARA was currently at the western base of Mount Longdon where they were preparing to move east to finish off the Argentines on Wireless Ridge and in doing so cut off the northern approach to Port Stanley. Knowing that the Argentine’s with nowhere to go would fight like rats in a sack they would be relying on hopefully superior numbers and overwhelming firepower. Lt Col Jones of 2 PARA currently occupying Mount Longdon had agreed to provide his support company to give 3 PARA some extra firepower returning the favour of the previous night and had made sure that if necessary, his unit would be ready to reinforce the assault on Wireless Ridge.
    During the course of the 18 hours leading up to their assault more than 6000 shells impacted wireless ridge. The Argentine commander Lt Col Gimenez found his efforts to reorientate his defences to meet the threat now on his flanks here greatly hindered as his men instead of being able to prepare new defensive positions and restock with ammunition were instead either pinned down where they were or blown to pieces in the open. Gimenez himself several times escaped death by mere inches when shells landed close although did suffer quite a degree of hearing loss.

    The Scots Guards had moved up to Two Sisters which would be their starting point for an assault on the western slope of Mount Tumbledown. The Welsh Guards would be starting from Mount Harriet to the South and would also be assaulting the western edge of Tumbledown in conjunction with the Scots. Originally it had been hoped that Tumbledown could have been assaulted the previous night taking advantage of the Argentine defences being thrown off balance by the breaching of the defensive line formed from Two Sisters and Harriet. These mountains had proven much tougher nuts to crack than expected meaning that there had not been enough hours of darkness left for such a thing to be contemplated. An assault in daylight had been considered but this idea had been abandoned at the behest of Lt Col Scott who had pointed out that the long uphill assault across the harsh terrain of west Tumbledown would be suicidal in daylight.

    Joining the guards in attacking Tumbledown was one unit that would finally be getting into action and providing a very welcome boost in firepower and mobility. The Scimitar and Scorpion light tanks of B Squadron of the Blues and Royals would be coming along to provide light armour and direct fire support from their 30mm and 76 mm guns which would be ideal for dealing with hardened Argentine positions. One of the most senior regiments in the British army and famous for their public duties on horseback in London as part of the household cavalry these men were used to working alongside the footguards. Granted that was usually on the parade ground rather than the battlefield but that working relationship would be invaluable in a situation like the one they would soon find themselves in. Normally the Scimitars and Scorpions were used for formation reconnaissance for the larger main battle tanks (which weighed in at an average of 60 tons compared to the 7 tons of the Scimitar) but they had always had a secondary infantry support role. When Operation CORPORATE had begun it had been unknown whether or not the Argentine’s had deployed any armour on the islands. Bringing even a small number of heavy main battle tanks like the Chieftain or brand new state of the art Challenger had been judged as completely unfeasible for a number of reasons. The soft boggy ground of the Falklands meant that such heavy vehicles would become bogged down into the ground. Whereas the Scimitars and Scorpions had been able to be airlifted by being underslung from the very overworked chinooks there was not a hope in hell of the same thing occurring with an MBT meaning that it would have to be driven everywhere. The amount of space a squadron of Chieftains would take up on a ship had on its own killed the idea let before the space needed by the support and supply vehicles had even been given consideration.

    The only tanks known to be in Argentina’s ORBAT were elderly British made Sherman Firefly’s armed with 76mm guns. It was felt that if it came to it then the Scorpion would be capable of going toe to toe with them. Failing that British infantry units which had been trained and equipped to take on Soviet tank armies in Germany were liberally equipped with modern anti-tank weapons such as the Milan anti tank guided missile and could count on air support from HMS EAGLE’s Buccaneers. Luckily so far no evidence had been yet discovered that indicated the presence of Argentine armour on the islands. All the same if they reached the flat open ground outside Port Stanley and discovered that some Firefly’s had somehow avoided detection and were waiting for them then things could go very wrong very quickly.

    Supporting the assault on Tumbledown would be two companies of Gurkhas who would mount an attack on Mount William to the South as a diversion. With most of their number already allocated to other duties only one regular company and one company strength composite force were available which probably wouldn’t be enough to actually take the mountain. That however wasn’t their objective. All they had to do was make their presence felt and draw as much Argentine attention towards them as possible and away from the Guards assaults. Already at their starting point to south of the base of Mount Harriet the Nepalese warriors could barely contain their excitement as they made sure their kukri’s were extra sharp. If you wanted someone to make their presence felt on a battlefield and inflict pain upon your enemy these were the men you’d want.

    As the sun set once again British soldiers formed up at their start lines and set off into the night eastwards towards their objectives. Having seen the ferocious fighting of the previous night they knew they were in for something similar. Some men were excited and some were nervous while most were a combination of both.
    This time however they didn’t move off silently into the night. The operation had formally started just before sundown when the Buccaneer and Sea Harrier strikes requested by Major General Moore had taken place dropping numerous 1000IB bombs which had then been followed up by a maximum effort artillery bombardment onto predesignated coordinates which wasn’t going to let up any time soon. This meant that the men rather than marching into pitch black were heading towards a view lit up by the light of endless explosions and noise that became more and more deafening as they got closer.
    The Argentinian defenders had almost certainly known that an attack would take place that night meaning that surprise would be unlikely to be achieved. Therefore, the British were announcing their arrival in loud and dramatic fashion.

    More than one officer told his men that if they became separated or lost they should simply march towards the thunder of the guns.
    The Futility of War
  • The actions that took place that night during the assaults on the heights generated many tales of bravery, heroism and courage in the face of adversity. Yet for all these there were tales of suffering and hopelessness and of man’s simple inability to move beyond his most basic instincts and his willingness to kill.
    One such tale is that of a private in the Argentine 5th Naval Infantry Battalion defending Mount Tumbledown from the British attack. The private had been on the islands for many weeks now. In that time, he had endured seemingly countless British air raids and artillery bombardments. He had over time started to believe that the British wanted to kill him personally. He would ask himself the question why? What had he done that had offended them so? During these strikes he had been forced to endure the sights of his close friends being killed or worse maimed beyond recovery. He had been forced to shelter in trenches while me he loved probably more than his own brother were caught out in the open and wounded. He had listened them screaming for help while he could do nothing. Eventually the screaming would stop and he would feel physically sick about what the rational part of his brain knew was human instinct but the other part would accuse of cowardice.
    When the British soldiers had finally come many of the men in the unit had revelled in the fact that now the enemy finally showed himself and that the feeling of helplessness was gone and replaced by a desire to avenge their fallen brothers and that finally it seemed like a straight and fair fight.
    The private however saw it differently. Around him his platoon were firing as many rounds as they could towards the British who were returning the favour. They dug themselves in deeper to their positions and were adamant and vocal about the fact that they would not leave them. All this time the private who had not fired a single round from his rifle kept asking the question “why?” He then did something unbelievable.

    Pulling himself up out of his foxhole he heard his comrades shout things like “Where are you going?” “Get back here” “Mother of God somebody stop him!”. He walked calmly forwards into the no man’s land between the British and Argentine positions taking off and dropping his uncomfortable steel helmet and holding his rifle by the sling down by his side. Bright tracer rounds from both sides whizzed past him but he didn’t care. Whether he believed that somehow, he wouldn’t be hit or no longer cared is something that will never be known. Shouting to seemingly everyone around him of both sides with the despair noticeable in his voice he shouted “We’ve never seen one another. How can we kill one another? How can we? How can we? How can we kill one another? Why we do it? Why? WHY?!!”.

    He never got an answer. Whereas the Argentines thought that he had had some sort of breakdown as a result of what he had experienced the Scots Guardsmen attacking them and not being able to speak Spanish and understand what he was saying just thought that it was an enemy soldier still with his rifle doing something very stupid and standing up in the open during a heavy firefight. They simply regarded him as an easy target and from their point of view thought that they had made him suffer the consequences of his stupidity.

    The Battle of Wireless Ridge

    When the Argentine 7th Infantry Regiment had originally taken up its position to defend the northern approaches to Port Stanley they had used Mount Longdon as the lynchpin for a northern facing defensive line stretching eastwards from the strongpoint on Longdon across Wireless Ridge. When 2 PARA had forced them from their positions on Mount Longdon the line had effectively been crippled along with the Regiment.
    The regimental headquarters had been located on Mount Longdon along with many of the supply and ammunition bunkers. When it had become clear that they were going to lose the position the headquarters staff had tried their best to destroy anything that may be of use to the British. However, they had never really had a chance of destroying everything. After its capture the abandoned HQ had been an intelligence bonanza for the British. Amongst the documents found were maps of the Argentine defensive positions and crucially minefields.

    The intelligence gleaned from the HQ had played a large part in the planning for 3 PARA’s operation to take Wireless Ridge and finish of the 7th Regiment.
    Since they had been forced off of Mount Longdon the previous night the Argentines had been under near continuous artillery bombardment in an effort to keep them pinned down and prevent them from being able to reposition their defences to face the expected line of advance to the west and to try to tire them out by preventing them from resting and thus lowering their fighting effectiveness.
    Lt Col Gimenez was very aware of the comparative disadvantage of his position. He was exhausted having not been able to sleep in well over 36 hours now. The battle the previous night and constant shelling had seen to that. His surviving men had effectively been pinned down all day meaning that they hadn’t been able to get themselves reorganised in light of the losses they had taken the previous night. Worse they had now lost most of the ammunitions reserves and heavy weapons particularly the .50 cal machine guns. What little ammunition had been available had been distributed out but the simple fact was there wasn’t enough to replenish all the rounds that had been fired the night before meaning nearly all of the men were somewhat short.
    Gimenez had spent the day inspecting his regiment moving from position to position trying to dodge the British artillery. By his own admittance according to the law of averages he should have been killed more than once by now, a fact which did unnerve him a little.
    Between those killed, wounded and missing (presumably dead or captured) both last night and as a consequence of the thousands of shells the British had dropped on them Gimenez estimated that his regiments fighting strength was probably now around the 50% mark. The British bombardment had let up just before dusk. Unfortunately, this it seemed had only been to allow British bombers to strike his position. While fortunately the majority of the bombs had been released a fraction to late and sailed over them impacting the empty ground well to the north some had hit and though he didn’t have a figure yet he knew that the casualty situation would have just become a lot worse. The British had then resumed the artillery bombardment with seemingly every gun on gods earth.
    Despite the apparent direness of his position Gimenez wasn’t just about to role over and die. Though the fighting positions were built to face a threat from the north rather than the west his men were well dug in and having previously occupied the British position Gimenez reckoned he had an advantage in that he probably knew their likely approach routes better than they did. Plus, he still had a platoon’s worth of mortars and machine guns that hadn’t been on Longdon. The airstrike followed by the massive increase in the ferocity of the artillery bombardment told him that he wouldn’t have long to wait for the British to open the battle. He thought about passing around the word to his men to be alert but then realised that with all the shells dropping on them they were unlikely to be caught napping.

    While on paper 3 PARA had pretty much every advantage being a fresh and full strength unit of professional and experienced paratroopers fighting against a now outnumbered unit of conscripts who had already taken a battering the night before and were now without most of their ammunition and had been denied an opportunity to get themselves reorganised Lt Col Pike was smarter than to allow himself to potentially underestimate his enemy.
    His plan had been carefully worked out with his staff and company commanders and included a great amount of input from Lt Col Jones of 2 PARA who had fought these very same Argentines the night before. The most obvious line of attack was moving eastwards down the slope of Mount Longdon under the cover of heavy artillery and fire support. This would have the advantage of being the most direct route and his men would be moving and shooting downwards onto the enemy. However, the ridgeline leading down to Wireless ridge wasn’t that wide meaning that there was only really space for a company sized attack. Therefore, it was decided that D Company would open the proceedings by attacking down the ridge as would probably be expected by the enemy. D Company would be covered by both 2 and 3 PARA’s support companies and the defenders would be kept under heavy artillery fire. This would be a feint to cover for a flanking attack from A, B and C Company’s. The plan for the flanking manoeuvre initially considered called for these company’s to advance round to the north and then attack up the slope along a broad front. However, when the captured Argentine maps were examined it was noted that the Argentine defences were set up to cover a northern attack and that the Argentine minefields to the north left very little room for manoeuvre. If this went wrong (which they usually did in battle) the 3 company’s could find themselves trapped on open ground between dug in Argentine defenders and minefields.
    Therefore, a different although arguably just as risky approach had been decided upon for the flanking move. D Company would make the diversionary attack while the artillery hopefully kept the defenders in place while A, B & C Company’s moved to the south of wireless ridge along the road next to Moody Brooke stream in the valley between Wireless Ridge and Mount Tumbledown. This would have the advantage of surprise and there were known to be no minefields or bunkers along the approach and the attack would be into the rear of the Argentine positions. However, it was risky in that the slope on southern side of Wireless Ridge was much steeper than that on the northern side and there was a real risk of being attacked from both Wireless Ridge and Tumbledown if the defenders got wind of what was happening. Once again, the British would be relying on the superior skills and equipment of their fighting men and their overwhelming advantage in terms of the amount of fire support they could call upon for success.

    As Dusk turned to darkness D Company began their assault. Throughout the day there had been sporadic exchanges of machine gun and sniper fire between the British on Mount Longdon and the westernmost Argentine defenders. This had to a degree allowed British observers to pinpoint the locations of some of the defenders. These positions were brought under fire by the mortars of 3 PARA’s support company. D Company’s commander hadn’t been given an exact objective or finish line. He knew the overall plan and his company’s role in it but as for his specific orders they were to push downwards from Longdon and as far along the ridgeline as he could pushing the Argentines back and inflicting casualties. He had decided at the very least that he should aim to advance far enough to link up with B Company who would be on the western most end of the flanking manoeuvre.
    The way he saw it his Company’s job was to make things as easy as possible for the other three Company’s. The harder he pushed forwards and the more damage he inflicted would achieve this by making the defenders focus on him and not the other Company’s.
    If something went wrong with the flanking move the plan was for reinforcements from 2 PARA to move up from Longdon to back up D Company and try and push the Argentines off the ridge.

    As D Company moved down from Longdon and started pushing onto the western end of Wireless ridge they started to become involved in heavy firefights with the defenders. As with previous actions the British started to try to advance by methodically clearing out individual Argentine positions using rockets, Milan anti-tank missiles and grenades. Annoyingly the sheer number of artillery shells that had landed in the area had created vast numbers of craters which the defenders gladly used for cover slowing the British advance.
    With an attack materialising from the west as expected and the British advancing slowly and methodically Lt Col Gimenez decided that now was the time to unleash a little surprise of his own. Having pre sighted the area where the British were now located Argentine 60 7 81mm Mortars and heavy machine guns using indirect fire opened up on the British who began to take casualties on the relatively open high ground.
    If actions could convey emotions then Gimenez was sure that he had just driven the British commander into an absolute burning rage as British artillery started to furiously hammer every position where they believed the mortar fire may be coming from with volleys of devastating and highly concentrated artillery fire.
    Under the cover of heavy fire support ranging from their own GPMG’s all the way up to 105mm artillery batteries D Company gradually began to push their way into the Argentine positions evicting the previous occupants but more importantly focusing the defender’s attention firmly upon them.

    To the south barely a few hundred meters away from the ridgeline 3 PARA’s A, B & C Company’s had somehow achieved what many of them thought would be impossible and spread themselves out along the base of the ridgeline without being detected by anyone.
    They largely attributed this success to a combination of luck and their own careful preparations paying off. The men had covered all exposed skin entirely in camouflage cream. When there hadn’t been quite enough of this to go around some had resorted to rubbing black boot polish onto their skin as there was always more than enough of that stuff. Just because you were in the middle of fighting a high intensity war didn’t mean that standards could be allowed to slip. Furthermore, anything that wasn’t going to be immediately needed in the next few hours had been left behind. For example, mess tins could rattle and so had been left. Like on the previous night each man had been made to jump up and down repeatedly to see if anything rattled.
    Now came the most dangerous part as the three company’s made their way up the often extremely steep southern slope having to almost crawl on their hands and knees in some places. The Argentines had actually considered the possibility of attack from the south but had thought that the terrain was to steep to be traversed. Indeed, to anyone else other than a unit such as the Para’s with their extremely high physical fitness standards the terrain alone probably would have protected the defenders southern flank. It was this that allowed the Para’s to achieve surprise.

    Suddenly being hit in the flank along the entire length of the ridgeline naturally came as a shock for the Argentines but one which they were quick to respond to. With the defenders spread out along the ridgeline only the westernmost men had been able to engage the British attacking from Longdon. For the rest of them it was a simple case of turning around 180 degrees and shooting at targets to their south. Though in some cases it meant leaving the protection of their bunkers the argentine machine gunners quickly manhandled their weapons around and joined in the firefight. The Argentine commanders were quick to realise that they had to hit the British hard and fast while there were comparatively few of them on top of the ridgeline and they had a chance of driving them back down the slope. A radio transmission was made to the 5th Marine Infantry Battalion on Mount Tumbledown immediately to the south requesting support. This was answered by a platoon positioned on the high ground on the northern side of Tumbledown who began to use heavy machine guns and mortars to bring the southern slope of Wireless Ridge upon which the Para’s were still trying to force their way up under indirect fire. With no cover to be found and no way of returning fire on the positions high up on Tumbledown themselves the only thing the Para’s could do was keep pushing forwards to get themselves off the exposed slope and call in naval gunfire support. Multiple fire missions were called in from ships off shore as the land based gun batteries already had their hands full keeping the Argentine positions on Wireless Ridge under fire. Annoyingly for the British what seemed to be happening every time was that the shells would start to land on Tumbledown roughly in the area where the fire was coming from causing the Argentines to temporarily stop firing before starting up again not long after the fire mission was complete. While this did bring some brief moments of respite it was frustrating for the British as they didn’t really have much of an idea of the enemy’s exact location or strength and therefore didn’t know if the 4.5 inch shells were actually landing on target and doing any damage or if the defenders were simply taking cover. It became apparent that the only way this threat would be dealt with would be when the Guards assault on Tumbledown which was happening concurrently pushed the Argentines off of the northern slope.

    The Argentine defenders on Wireless Ridge now found themselves in an increasingly untenable position. They were being attacked from two directions by an enemy superior in strength and were rapidly burning through their remaining ammunition while the casualties steadily continued to mount.
    Yet they weren’t just going to stay in position and do nothing about it. So many military plans seemingly rely on the enemy being willing to cooperate with the plan. Major Carrizo-Salvadores 7th Regiments second in command decided to take the initiative. The way he saw it the biggest problem the defenders were dealing with was the British artillery, mortars and indirect machine gun fire. He had always been taught that the closer you were to the enemy the safer you were from such things as the enemy couldn’t call in fire support if there was a strong possibility of it actually landing on them. Furthermore, he reckoned that with a strong and rapid push he could throw the British off of the ridge and back down the southern slope. Therefore, he decided to go on the offensive, close and mix it up with the British. If they couldn’t call in fire support it would be a much more even fight and one in which the Argentines would hold the initiative. Passing orders along the line he stood up and led a 50 man bayonet charge under covering automatic fire chanting the regiments famous “Malvinas March”.

    Unfortunately, due to the fact that many of the Argentines were in individual fighting positions without radios and unable to hear verbal commands over the noise of battle many of the Argentines were slow to receive the orders or were completely unaware of them and what they were supposed to do. The result of this was that what should have been a solid mass of men charging towards the British in coordination with covering fire was instead a rather disorganised advance forwards in a rather less than straight offensive line with many men too far out in front or too concentrated or spread out and with machine gunners not sure if they were supposed to give cover immediately or wait for something. Many Argentines remained in their positions or advanced slowly thinking that they were supposed to be following the leader forwards rather than mounting a strong and fast attack. The inevitable result of this disorganised attack was that while the Para’s were at first alarmed at the enemy attacking them, they had little trouble in beating it back with concentrated fire inflicting yet more casualties upon the defenders. One of the British company commanders later described the attack as “Quite a sporting effort without a sporting chance”.

    With the failure and resultant losses from the infantry attack and upon hearing of the death of his second in command Lt Col Gimenez finally decided that his position was now hopeless. He didn’t have enough remaining strength to drive off or even fend off the British. He no longer had a potential line of retreat through which to extract the remnants of his command. The British were to the west and south. There was a road running along the southern slope which the British must have used to get into position. That same road met another that ran north past the eastern edge of Wireless Ridge. If he tried to go eastwards then as soon as the British realised what he was doing they could easily move along this road and cut him off. In fact, Gimenez wouldn’t be surprised if they hadn’t already moved a force into position in order to cut them off. He couldn’t go north because that direction would simply lead him into his own minefields. He cursed the fact that he had put s much effort into ensuring that those mines were properly laid to create an impenetrable barrier. He couldn’t even try and fight his way through the British as it was clear just how quickly his men were running out of ammunition. He could see men desperately searching empty ammunition tins for even one unused round rattling around in the bottom and a succession of desperate privates and even NCO’s coming to his HQ position requesting more ammunition only to be told that there wasn’t any left to give out.

    The situation was now beyond salvage and all they could do was focus on limiting their losses. With a heavy heart Gimenez gave the order for all personnel to cease fire. Unfortunately, great difficulty was encountered in disseminating this order to the men. The heavy British small arms and artillery fire meant that it was extremely dangerous to leave HQ position meaning that orders had to be transmitted to platoon commanders by radio or communicated through officers shouting and waving their arms. More than one officer was shot dead by the British as a result of this slowing down the speed at which the order was passed and many Argentines were in isolated positions and unaware of the order and so kept firing. This caused other Argentines who had heeded the order to recommence firing thinking that they had somehow misheard or misunderstood the instruction.
    Of course, the British being unaware of the order continued to fire upon the Argentines and press their attack.

    All of this meant that the battle went on for longer than it needed have and men on both sides became casualties needlessly.
    Even after the order to cease fire was obeyed by the defenders it took a while for the British to realise what was happening and cease fire themselves. The radio operators in 7th Regiment’s HQ had been trying to make contact with the British in an effort to halt the fighting. But being unaware of the radio frequencies the British were using they simply found themselves transmitting pleas to stop the fighting that were heard by no one.

    Eventually once the fighting had stopped a tense lull fell across the ridge as both sides waited for the other to make a move. The British waited for the Argentines to leave their positions and come out into the open to surrender while the Argentines waited for the British to come and round them up. Neither side trusted the other and neither wanted to leave the relative safety of their current positions.
    As the sun started to peer over the horizon it was the Argentines who eventually blinked first with officers leaving the regimental HQ carrying white flags and moving amongst the fighting positions ordering the men to leave behind their weapons and come out into the open with their hands up in full view of the British and form up on open ground. Emotions on the Argentine side ranged from despair, shame and humiliation at being forced to surrender to relief that they had survived to fear that the British would simply machine gun the lot of them rather than take prisoners.

    Lt Col Gimenez came out of his HQ with his staff and was able to finally get a look at the remnants of the Regiment that he had been so proud to lead. He was appalled to see that since he had last done a full regimental parade inspection probably only a third of the men were still left standing. Looking at the now daylit battlefield around him he could see the bodies of those who were no longer standing. With his remaining 200 odd men now formed up in three ranks the order was given to open ranks by three paces and Gimenez accompanied by the senior surviving NCO proceeded to walk up and down the lines inspecting his men like he had done so many times on the parade ground. Whereas normally he would be seeing smartly turned out men stood to attention here he saw exhausted men in dirty mud and blood-stained uniforms smelling of cordite some of whom sported bandages. As he went up the line, he would occasionally stop to speak to one of his men.
    All the while the Para’s looked on but unsure as to exactly what appeared to be going on did not make a move to interrupt.

    His inspection complete Lt Col Gimenez noted that the fighting that he had heard reports of taking place on Mount Tumbledown seemed to have ceased. Calling forward his senior surviving officer Gimenez gave instructions that the regiment was to be smartly marched in the direction of the British with white flags on prominent display so that there could be no misunderstanding of their intentions on the part of the British. The Regiment wasn’t equipped with actual white flags and so white shirts and pillow cases were tied to poles and I many cases officers and NCO’s held sheets of white paper in the air. Anything to convey their intentions to the British.

    The senior surviving NCO called the regiment to attention in anticipation of an address from their commander. Although he thought that he should make some sort of speech Gimenez just couldn’t think of anything worth while to say. He simply said “You did all you could and what more could I have asked of you? I’m proud of you”. With that he gave the order to the senior surviving officer to carry on. The regiment turned to face north and marched off with white flags on display as per instructions. Gimenez however stayed behind. Now alone on the battlefield he looked at the bodies around him which constituted the better part of his regiment. He felt ashamed of himself. He had put so much effort into preparing his men many of whom were really just boys who were to young to be away from their mothers just so he could have the “honour” of leading his Regiment into battle and consequent slaughter to protect this ridgeline and mountain which was now little more than a blood and cordite impregnated mud bowl. Looking at the state of many of the bodies he grimly predicted that the grass would be growing strong here in the coming weeks.

    He turned to face the north and began to walk. Just as the 7th Regiments survivors were being surrounded and taken into captivity by the Para’s everyone heard the unmistakable sound of a landmine detonating.

    The Battle of Mount Tumbledown

    While 3 PARA had been assaulting Wireless Ridge at the same time a much larger operation was taking place on Mount Tumbledown. Whereas the operation currently taking place on Wireless Ridge was a battalion sized op with supporting elements commanded by 3 PARA’s commander Lt Col Pike and to a large degree independent the operation to take Tumbledown would be a much larger multi battalion affair. The British force was made up of men from the Scots Guards, Welsh Guards, Gurkhas, Blue and Royals with supporting artillery batteries and the accompanying support troops such as medics and combat engineers. Therefore, this operation would be commanded by 5 Brigade HQ commanded by Brigadier Wilson in the same way that 3 COMMANDO Brigade’s HQ and Brigadier Thompson RM had run last nights operations. In practise though a great deal of authority was delegated to the individual battalion commanders who would be running the various phases of the operation.

    The plan at a basic level consisted of three parts. Lt Col Scott’s 2nd Scots Guards would launch an assault on the western slope of Tumbledown supported by the Scorpion and Scimitar CVR(T)’s of B Squadron of the Blues and Royals led by Lt Coreth. Their objective would be to fight their way up the western side of the mountain securing a strong foothold.
    1st Welsh Guards led by Lt Col Rickett would be following behind the Scots Guards and would be the exploitation force who would use the foothold as a starting point from which to secure the high ground and peaks on Mount Tumbledown and force the defenders down the eastern slope. If the opportunity presented itself the Welsh Guards were to press on and take Sapper Hill which was a small hill but represented the last natural obstacle before Port Stanley.
    While this was going on two company’s of 7th Duke of Edinburgh’s Own Gurkha Rifles would launch a diversionary assault on neighbouring Mount William. The original plan had been for the Gurkhas to attack first in the hopes of distracting the enemy’s attention however Lt Col Morgan had managed to convince Brigadier Wilson that this would be difficult due to the greater distance his men would have to travel to reach their objective. Therefore, it was decided that the Gurkhas would go in after the Guards had begun their assault. The hope was that the Argentines may think that the more obvious and direct approach up the western side of Tumbledown was the distraction for an assault of Mount William and may then be tempted to divert reserves away from the Guards.

    As the Scots Guards lead Company (Major Dalzel-Job’s G Company) marched across the ground between the start point on Two Sisters and their objective the environment could only have been described as surreal. Ahead of them the ongoing heavy bombardment created an almost solid curtain of fire and noise and the scene was described by more than one guardsman as marching towards the gates of hell. While they took all of the normal measures required for a stealthy night time approach the men knew that they weren’t going to catch their enemy off guard. With the preceding airstrike and the ferocity of the bombardment that they were currently under the enemy would be wide ready and waiting for an attack that they knew was coming. The Company Sergeant Major told some of the more apprehensive men that if it was this frightening from far away imagine what it would be like to be in the midst of it. He was going to say “do you honestly think anyone could survive under that?” but stopped himself as he already knew the answer. Silently he hoped that at least some of those shells were hitting something and he wasn’t simply leading the men into a repeat of the first day of the Somme. He secretly wished that they could have some sort of delay as even an extra minute meant more shells landing and potentially less enemy, they would have to face.
    Accompanying G Company were the CVR(T)’s of the Blues and Royals who would be using their 76mm and 30mm guns in the direct fire support mode. While the fire power and cover that these vehicles would provide was an extremely welcome addition and would potentially save a lot of (British) lives by cracking open any hardened positions the CSM was still struggling with his instinctive worry about the noise that these vehicles 6 litre diesel engines and tracks would be making. He comforted himself by the fact that even he was struggling to hear the sound of the engines over the noise of the bombardment and he was stood only feet away from them.

    The noise of so many shells exploding was good thing. It would drown out any noise that they made. The flashes from the explosions and the light generated by the fireballs was however something that could prove fatal. As the guardsmen came closer and closer the darkness was banished by the flashes of bright light and heart rates increased as the men knew that they were now fully visible to any Argentine who cared to look in their direction.
    Having left it as long as he dared and closed as much as he could with where he assumed the enemy would be Major Dalzel-Job gave a hand signal to his accompanying forward artillery spotter. The spotter spoke into his radio for a brief moment before giving a thumbs up to the major. That was the signal that the major had been waiting for and he now gave the order to his men to open fire and advance. The forward artillery spotter had now assumed control of the supporting artillery batteries who now ceased with the general bombardment they had been hammering the Argentines with and waited for fire mission coordinates from the forward observer in order to provide close fire support for the Scots Guards. They weren’t waiting for long.

    All hell broke loose as both sides unleashed heavy fire upon each other. As G Company pushed forwards the follow-on Company’s broke to the left and right of G Company as part of the Lt Col Scott’s plan to attempt to flank any defenders they encountered. All three companies were now encountering heavy and determined resistance. The plan of attack at the tactical level could have come out of any history book about the First World War. The enemy would be brought under artillery fire and held in place while the CVR(T)’s would move forwards brining them under direct fire and providing cover for the infantry who would be advancing close behind them and would then spread out in amount the enemy positions and overpower them in close quarter combat. No plan survives first contact with the enemy.
    While the British had worked out the approximate locations of the local minefields from intelligence discovered in captured HQ positions on Mount Harriet and Two Sisters and through observing the pattern of retreat, they still sustained casualties. In the midst of a very heavy firefight it was very easy to become disoriented as to where you were in relation to the approximate location of a minefield that was not even marked. One Scimitar was destroyed after it strayed into a minefield while trying to manoeuvre. The presence of light tanks came as a surprise to the Argentine defenders and the Scorpions 76mm gun proved particularly effective at silencing Argentine machine gun nests which could be located by simply following the arcs of tracer back to their origins. The defenders however were not completely unprepared. They responded with rifle grenades and other light anti-tank weapons fired from well protected rock bunkers that had easily withstood the bombardment. While they didn’t succeed in actually in actually hitting any of the British vehicles as without night vision equipment they couldn’t pin point their exact location and so were firing into the dark based on best guesses they still did have an effect in that they made the CVR(T) crews unwilling to close the distance where they would be vulnerable to these weapons and no longer possessing the advantage of range. Therefore, it was the Scots Guardsmen who had to push forwards themselves while the CVR(T)’s effectively became mobile direct fire support. The guardsmen tried to methodically exterminate the well protected Argentine positions using mortars, grenades, 66mm rockets, Carl Gustav recoilless rifles and Milan Anti-Tank Guided Missiles. The Argentines however were in positions protected by solid rock meaning that often anything short of a direct hit simply wasn’t enough. Plus, these Argentines were determined defenders seemed unwilling to move an inch meaning that they wouldn’t be forced out of their positions and so had to be destroyed. Guardsmen were getting close enough to the enemy that in some cases they could actually hear the Argentines shouting (and often mispronouncing) abuse and insults in English and singing March of the Malvinas. The Scotsmen resisted the natural urge to shout back the kind of language that would make even a sailor blush for fear of drawing attention to their position. However, this did in a way motivate them to press the enemy harder as many of them now had a desire to teach the Argentines the lesson that there are few things in the world more terrifying than an angry Glaswegian.

    Higher up in his HQ position near the summit of Tumbledown 5th Naval Infantry Battalion’s commander Marine Commander Carlos Robacio was satisfied with the way things were progressing. Over the last few hours his battalion had suffered grievously at the hands of the British before they had even begun their attack. First had come the sporadic artillery strikes which had been a nuisance but hadn’t been that damaging. Then just before dusk a heavy British airstrike had hit them dropping bombs that left enormous craters and meant that many of his men would be officially listed as missing as there was and would never be an identifiable body to prove that they had died. This had been followed up by an extremely heavy artillery bombardment which had focused primarily on the western slope and various rocky outcrops as he had expected it would. He was naturally concerned about the men that were protecting that part of the mountain but his engineers had had many weeks to prepare their positions and so they were as well protected as could be reasonably expected. He had been concerned at the rate at which his battalion had been sustaining losses and how long his command could keep withstanding this bombardment and continue to be combat effective. He had begun to think that the British plan was probably to simply blast every living thing off of the mountain before simply advancing to finish off any isolated survivors.
    Thankfully the British had begun their assault while he still had more than enough men left to defend against them. Many attacking plans rely on the enemy unknowingly playing along with it. Robacio was aware of this fact and so had made sure that it was the British who would be playing along with his plan. He had a reinforced company defending the western slope up which the British were trying to fight. His was in constant contact with the company commander and soldiers who had retreated from Mount Harriet and Two Sisters and found themselves on Tumbledown were being used to keep the marines resupplied with ammunition and were occasionally being fed into the line to act as casualty replacements. The reports that Robacio’s HQ were getting from the company commander in contact were good. The British were pushing hard but were for now at least being held in place. Now it was Robacio’s turn to unleash a little surprise he had prepared for the British.

    The British were now held in a known location and thus an ideal target. The Malvinas garrison artillery hadn’t had much of a part to play in this conflict so far and had been taking very heavy losses as they seemed to be a priority target for British aircraft. However, there were still enough surviving guns and crews left to form a strong battery. A total of 8 105mm guns opened fire on an area at the base of Mount Tumbledown. The reasoning for the artillery was two fold. One was the obvious chance of inflicting casualties upon the attackers and the second was that the British would be forced to redirect their own artillery to counter battery fire missions and thus relieving pressure upon the infantry trying to hold off the British advance. As he listened to radio messages from the company in contact with the British as they called out artillery corrections and that the British artillery fire had abruptly stopped Robacio felt a sense of relief that things seemed to be going his way. Now it would be the deciding question of who would blink first. Would the British decide that their losses were becoming unacceptable and progress too little and break of their attack? Would the Robacio’s marines be able to hold on for long enough?
    An unexpected consequence of the Argentine shelling was that it was forcing the British who had no cover from artillery to push forwards and get closer to the enemy. Grabbing them by the belt buckles the Viet Cong used to say. Therefore, in a way the shelling was counterproductive.

    In 5 Brigade HQ Brigadier Wilson was becoming increasingly concerned. The Scots Guards assault was beginning to look like it was stalling. The reports he was getting back from Lt Col Scott stated that the enemy were in well protected positions and were fighting with an unexpected determination. To a degree this had been anticipated and planned for by the use of light armour and artillery support. However the Blues and Royals commander was reporting how he was having to keep his vehicles back and engage the enemy at a distance due to the threat of enemy anti tank weapons. Worse the heavy shelling that the British had conducted had turned the ground into a mess of craters meaning that the CVR(T)’s were having a difficult time manoeuvring. Worse the enemy had suddenly opened up with artillery onto what were thought to be predesignated coordinates. Control of the supporting artillery had been removed from the Scots Guards forward observers and control assumed personally by the Land Forces RA commander Colonel Pennicot who was now with his staff desperately trying to calculate the locations of the Argentine guns and were expending a great deal of the finite supply of shells hitting every possible location they could be. While the Argentine fire did noticeably slack off it still continued. Reports were coming in from Lt Col Rickett whose Welsh Guards were following behind the Scots Guards and had been caught on the move by the artillery. Although there wasn’t an exact figure yet the radio reports made it clear that the Welsh Guards had sustained casualties.
    The frustrating thing was there was no way to confirm whether or not any of the British artillery shells were hitting anything or if they were simply moving a lot of mud around. Yes, the Argentine fire had decreased but did that mean that the guns had been destroyed or were the gunners simply taking cover or were they in the process of moving their guns to a new firing position.
    Something needed to change soon otherwise with progress as slow as it was the attack would still be ongoing when the sun came up and without the cover of darkness the Guardsman would be far too much danger and he would be forced to order a withdrawal. Still it wasn’t all bad news. Things on Wireless Ridge seemed to be going well by comparison.

    On Mount William just to the SE of Mount Tumbledown the commander of the 5th Naval Infantry Battalion’s M Company had never imagined that this is what a battle would be like. Namely being an observer from close by but not actually taking any part in it. You would have to be blind, deaf and stupid not to be aware of the fighting taking place only 2km to the NW. His force comprised a company backed up by a reinforced platoons worth of stray soldiers who had retreated to the position during the course of the day had the job of not only defending Mount William but also acting as the Battalion’s reserve. Desperate to get into the fight M Company’s commander had sent more than one message to the Battalion HQ asking if the reserves were needed. Each time he had simply been told that they were not needed at present and that he was to hold his position and guard against any British attempt at a flanking move from the south. Despite his desire to move take his force into the fight to the north the commander was still a consummate professional and took his Company’s job here seriously. The main strength of his force was naturally concentrated at the peak of the mountain but he had positioned men in 2-4 man fighting positions at various points down the western slope of the mountain. This was a response to the British preference for night attacks. The men on the slope were there to provide advanced warning of and disrupt any British advance up the slope. Knowing that if such a thing was going to happen it was highly likely to be within the remaining hours of darkness the Company commander had had a field telephone system set up connecting him with all of the positions down the hill which he was using to check in with them regularly. This was what alerted him to the fact that something was wrong.

    First the position closest to the base of the mountain had missed a check in window and efforts to contact the pair of NCO’s manning it were unanswered. When the next position above was contacted and asked if they had noticed anything amiss, they had replied negative and had said that one of them would investigate. Knowing that this may take a while the Company commander had waited and waited. It wasn’t just that one position at the base of the mountain he was having trouble reaching as other positions were now seemingly uncontactable. Starting to get worried he conferred with the company signaller who pointed out that all the positions were connected to Company HQ by a single wire meaning that if something went wrong with that then depending where the fault was a large number of the positions would find their field telephones not working. Agreeing that this was the most likely cause of the problem as if enemy action was taking place surely at least on of the positions would have fired a shot or launched one of the flares that they had been given specifically to raise the alarm in that eventuality he detailed the signaller to try and identify and fix any fault in the system and sent the senior company NCO down the slope to check on each position and report back. The Company commander waited and waited but the man never reappeared. He looked down the hill into the murky darkness and began to worry that something was very wrong. He thought about informing battalion HQ but they would be busy enough as it is and what more could he report than a gut feeling and likely faulty field telephone. In darkness the human eyesight adjusts itself to focus on movement. Looking down the company commander thought he could see movement but he wasn’t sure if wasn’t just his mind playing tricks. He asked the men on sentry duty if they had seen anything but they all replied no. He looked on for longer staying still and letting his eyes adjusted to the darkness of this particular view and became certain that there definitely was something moving down there. But was thing the NCO or someone from one of the positions moving about. As he looked on and thought for longer he became for and more certain that it wasn’t. This was to big just to be an individual it was as if the whole ground was moving. He pulled out the illumination flare that he was carrying and took a few moments to decide if he really wanted to do this. If there was nothing there then not only would he look very stupid in front of his men which would be bad enough but he would be illuminating and drawing attention to their exact positions and thus placing them in danger. In the end after a minute or so’s debate with himself he decided that the worst thing to do would be to do nothing and so fired the flare into the air which promptly burned fiercely and daylight was for a moment restored to the area.

    Much to the Company Commanders shock and horror the ground was moving as the grass and mud stood up and took on human form. He could make out the outlines of what seemed to be short men and see the clearly contrasted whiteness of their eye balls and teeth and the light reflecting brightly off the blades they were carrying both bayonets and bizarrely what looked like swords. It took a few seconds while these thoughts were going through his mind for the company commander to register that these unearthly figures were charging towards him and his men with seemingly impossible speed and blood chilling war cries.
    The next 45 seconds have been described by British historians and “Intense hand to hand fighting” and by Argentinian historians, survivors and nationalist politicians as a massacre and scenes out of a slaughter house. Not a single shot was fired by the British but the element of surprise and shock factor combined with the hand to hand fighting advantage given to them by the Kukri knives and the ferocity and aggressiveness of the Gurkhas holding them meant that Mount William was secured with the Argentine defenders being almost literally thrown off the mountain and sustaining severe casualties. Survivors were predominantly men on the eastern and northern side of the peak and thus a little further away from the Gurkhas than those on the western side. They later related that they had been so overcome with terror that the thought to resist had never occurred to them and their survival instinct had made them run faster than they ever had before. They universally credited this as the single factor in their survival.
    It was noted that the majority of the Argentine dead had died of shock and blood loss resulting from massive trauma and organ damage consistent with wounds such as limb amputation.
    In a brief few minutes the Gurkhas who had only been ordered to make enough noise to act as a distraction had added a new complicating factor to the battle taking place on Mount Tumbledown and had yet again solidified their fearsome and almost mystical reputation.

    In 5th Marine Infantry Battalion’s HQ Commander Robacio was now very concerned about worrying reports from his southern flanks. What exactly had happened was unclear but there were a few worrying certainties. He was now unable to contact M Company which had been garrisoning Mount William. This was worrying as that company represented his reserves and he had been thinking about mounting some sort of counterattack to either drive the British off of Tumbledown or at the very least reinforce the defences which were being steadily ground down. He himself had seen a flare being launched from that direction which he knew was M company’s warning signal. Men closer than him to Mount William were sending reports that were adamant that they had seen two large bodies of men. One on the summit and the other chagrining up it and that they had also heard scattered gunshots. Clearly something had happened on Mount William and Robacio didn’t know what. If the British had taken the mountain then they had effectively ripped the guts out of his southern flank leaving him exposed. There was a ridgeline connecting Mount William to Mount Tumbledown meaning that if the British were now occupying it then they could simply walk across. Robacio quickly gave out instructions for an infantry platoon that had been about to move west to make up for losses that had been sustained fighting the British there to instead move south and block off the ridgeline from a potential attack. Things only became worse when the platoon moved into position and began to encounter individuals who had retreated from Mount William and appeared to be in a state of shock talking about monsters.

    The Fall of Mount William was a game changer to the ongoing action on Mount Tumbledown. With their reserves now gone or otherwise committed and a great deal of their ammunition already expended the Argentine defenders were unable to reinforce or replace losses on the western slope of the Mountain as the Scots Guards steadily ground down the defending company (which sustained the highest casualty rate for an individual unit in the conflict). The Scots Guards had actually been motivated by the threat of Argentine artillery to get close to the enemy which frequently overwhelmed them. Eventually the Scots Guards leading three Company’s had pushed the enemy far enough up the hill that the enemy defensive perimeter that combined with geography and minefields had been effectively containing them was broken. Fresh company’s of the Scots Guards and the Welsh Guards eager to avenge their fallen comrades broke out to the left and right of the peak of Tumbledown and began to envelop the mountain. The issue for the defenders was one of simple numbers. A single already much weakened battalion couldn’t defend against two fresh and near full strength battalions that now had all the advantages in terms of numbers, equipment and individual skill. The Argentines had been positioned in platoon and company sized positions which were now overwhelmed and defeated as they were attacked in the flanks or rear by superior forces. Even then it wasn’t as simple as that. Close quarter fighting took place in rocky outcrops as the British flushed out the defenders with grenades, automatic fire and bayonets.

    The CVR(T)’s have done sterling work but unable to proceed any further due to the terrain now began to ferry the wounded of both sides back down the mountain to where they could be medevac’d by helicopters.

    Lt Robert Lawrence of 3 of the Scots Guards would receive a Military Cross for his leadership during the battle and to him also went the honour of taking the peak of Mount Tumbledown. Fuelled by adrenaline and the sheer thrill of battle and famously carrying two L1A1 rifles as the sun came up he led his platoon in a bayonet charge that overwhelmed and wiped out the last of the Argentine defenders and charged towards the peak shouting “The mountain shall be mine!” and upon reaching the top let out a great cry of elation shouting “Isn’t this fun?!” seemingly unaware that the Argentines within earshot were by now all dead and that his own men had stopped short of the mountain to nurse their wounds or through sheer exhaustion.
    Lt Lawrence would later be the subject of a 1988 BBC television drama entitled “Tumbledown” where he was portrayed by a then little known actor by the name of Colin Firth. The film detailed the story not only of his experiences in the conflict but also of his struggles upon his return to Britain where despite the fact that physically he had returned home without so much as a scratch he struggled with almost crippling PTSD which eventually forced his medical discharge from the army. The film became controversial as it conveyed an impression of flat indifference shown by the government, society and public to returning wounded from the conflict. The film also generated notoriety for its unvarnished presentation of its protagonist such as his joys in the brutalities of combat and a stunning flashback sequence showing him exulting at the top of Tumbledown. The film conveys Lawrence’s love of military life and thrill of combat as well as his feelings of abandonment and bitterness as he finds that he no longer able to do the one thing he loved, soldiering and his struggles to cope with little help from the government that sent him to war.

    Even long before Tumbledown Peak had fallen Commander Robacio had seen the writing on the wall and ordered his force to withdraw east and escape the noose that the British were placing around their necks. First, he had intended to move his men to form a defensive line across the eastern part of the mountain but the British were hot on their heels meaning that withdrawing units were unable to break contact and in many cases unable to move from cover for fear of being caught and cut down in the open. Robacio got the impression that the British not being content with knocking his battalion out of the fight were now eager to kick the unconscious body into a bloodied lump of flesh. There was also the risk of the British reaching the planned line before his men making the whole exercise pointless. He therefore decided to withdraw to Sapper Hill to the East where he could dig in and force another uphill attack upon the British. Plus, there was a good chance that the British had only planned far enough ahead for the capture of Tumbledown (which annoyingly they had done) and would not pursue his men off of the mountain.
    He gave the necessary orders and began to get his HQ moving.

    Then came an order over the radio that sounded so unbelievable that everyone at first thought that it was some sort of British trick. It was a general order from the Malvinas garrison commander Brigadier General Menendez and then reiterated by 10th Mechanised Infantry Brigades Commander Brigadier General Jofre. “General order: All units in the Port Stanley AO are to immediately break contact with the enemy and withdraw into Port Stanley. Unit commanders acknowledge”.
  • With the fall of Tumbledown and Wireless Ridge and the decimation of yet more of his fighting units Brigadier Menendez had seen the writing on the wall. Tumbledown had represented the last natural obstacle from which he could hope to make a defensive stand to keep the British at bay. There was now nothing between them and Port Stanley. It was Brigadier Jofre who having quickly come to an agreement with Brigadier Parada had given the order for all surviving units to pull back into Port Stanley and the airfield.
    From a military point of view this made sense as all there was between the British and Port Stanley was flat open ground where there could be no hope of a successful defence.
    The only thing they could do to fight on would be to draw the British into costly urban combat within Stanley.
    However, it was by now obvious to even the most bone headed private that this whole enterprise was a lost cause. Fighting in Stanley would merely result in a bloodbath and would have no effect on the final result. Worse it would almost certainly result in a near massacre of the civilian population which the British would certainly not thank them for. Such a thing could even mean the difference between his men eventually going back to their homeland with a little dignity intact and his men ending up in body bags or even dancing on the end a hangman’s rope.
    Menendez had briefly entertained the idea of withdrawing his men out of Stanley and onto the airfield and mounting a last stand there but realised that all that would happen would be the British bombing and shelling them into obliteration at their leisure.

    It was time to end this madness. With a heavy heart Menendez had again made contact with the mainland and requested to speak directly with Lt General Galtieri (the commander in chief and president of Argentina) to update him on the situation.
    Having listened to Menendez’s account of how the heights had been lost to the enemy and of the current disposition and strength of the Argentine garrison Galtieri while not explicitly ordering him to do so said that Menendez should immediately counterattack the heights to catch the British by surprise and regain a better defensive position. He reminded Menendez that the Argentine military code explicitly forbid a commander from surrendering unless 50% of the men were casualties and 75% of the ammunition was expended. He also added “the responsibility today is yours”. Witnesses who were in the room with Menendez during the conversation with the mainland have often stated that from the expression on his face and general demeanour it was at this point that Menendez’s morale finally broke for good. He now felt psychologically isolated and believed that he was either being deliberately deserted by his government or that despite his best efforts they were deluded and out of touch with reality.
    Replying to Galtieri Menendez stated "I cannot ask more of my troops, after what they have been through. We have not been able to hold on to the heights. We have no room, we have no means, we have no support. We have no hope".

    There was also another factor in play. The leaflets that had been dropped on Port Stanley by a Vulcan a few days previously had been the work of a rather secretive team back in the UK who had been tasked with conducting psychological operations to undermine Argentine morale and willingness to fight. As part of these efforts a two man “Psyops” team had been at work over the last few days. The carefully chosen team consisted of a man known only as “Colonel Reid” of 22 SAS and Captain Rod Bell of the Royal Marines. The SAS Colonel’s background included negotiations during hostage sieges and extensive HUMINT experience. Captain Bell spoke flawless South American Spanish and more importantly had grown up in Latin America meaning he was familiar with Argentine social attitudes and values.
    The two men had been mostly operating from HMS FEARLESS where they had been making radio broadcasts twice a day. They had identified a common radio frequency that they could break in on. 45.5 kHz was the frequency used by the hospital in Port Stanley for a medical advice line around the scattered settlements throughout the islands. When the Argentines had occupied the island’s, they had kept this service in operation and attached their own bulletins advising their troops about how to stay healthy in the cold climate and how to recognise and treat things such as frostbite. This meant that the SAS and RM officers knew that this frequency was widely listened to by a wide number of Argentines.

    The purpose of the broadcasts was twofold. Firstly, to undermine enemy morale and secondly to attempt to establish a channel of communications with them. Initially the broadcasts took the form of requests to make contact with the garrison in order to discuss casualties, prisoners and other humanitarian related topics. As time went on the broadcasts included statements read by captured Argentine officers and the occasional implied threat from Col Reid of “consequences” should anything happen to any of the civilians.
    They would also give details of things such as the names of the men taken prisoner as a way of enticing the Argentines to keep listening.
    These broadcasts had begun to have an effect on the Argentine HQ staff as they were forced to keep a listening watch on the broadcasts in the hopes of gleaning information. Worse the British would occasionally address a member of the HQ staff by name severely unnerving not only that person but everyone else who heard the broadcast as if the British knew the first names of the people in the HQ how much else did, they know?
    In one notorious incident worried that the Argentines may simply be turning off their radios and no longer hearing their broadcasts Col “Reid” had actually telephoned them. Estancia House to the NW of Mount Harriet had a direct landline to Port Stanley and the owner quite conveniently knew the direct number for Government House which was by then known to be the location of the Argentine HQ. “Reid” had flown ashore to Estancia House dialled the number and quite casually announced who he was and asked if he could speak with the commander of the Argentine garrison and if he was not available might he be able to call back? He had been met with a stunned silence and the phone being hung up after a minute or so. The Argentines had been shocked that the British had been able to so easily contact them in their own HQ building. To Menendez it had seemed that wherever he went the British could quite easily reach him. This had seriously disturbed him.

    With the inevitability of the destruction of the garrison now clear to both sides Captain Bell had made another broadcast to try and increase the pressure on the enemy. He had stated “The position of the Argentine forces is now hopeless; you are surrounded by British forces on all sides. If you fail to respond to this message and is unnecessary loss of life in Port Stanley you will be held accountable and judged accordingly”.
    He went on to urge that a meeting should take place between the British and Argentines.

    Dr Alison Bleaney had been the Falkland Islands GP before the invasion and would later be recognised by the Argentine government for the numerous Argentine lives she had saved by assisting the Argentine medical staff in treating the wounded. Many of “Reid” and Bell’s broadcasts had been attempts to contact her directly as through her own medical broadcasts it was known that she would be listening to the frequency and that she had some sort of working relationship with the Argentines.
    One of these Argentines was Captain Melbourne Hussey who had been acting as a liaison between the Argentine garrison authorities and local community due to his English language skills. Captain Hussey was one of the officers tasked with maintaining a listening watch of the British broadcasts.
    Having heard this latest broadcast and its implied threat Dr Bleaney now started pressing Captain Hussey to respond. Initially Hussey refused to entertain the idea as he could not transmit without clearance from his superiors. Eventually slightly annoyed at Dr Bleaney Hussey phoned the HQ in order to shut her up but was stunned when he was given an order to transmit a message to the British.
    At 1000 Col “Reid” and Capt Bell received a message stating that the Argentine garrison commander was prepared to have a face to face meeting in 3 hours’ time. A Gazelle light helicopter aboard HMS FEARLESS was prepared to fly the two men ashore.

    Meanwhile out in the “Frontline” so to speak the forward British units were reporting sightings of numerous white flags. The Welsh Guards on the eastern part of Mount Tumbledown had been preparing themselves for an action the following night to take Sapper Hill. They could now see white flags on the top of the hill.
    A white flag does not necessarily mean a surrender. It is simply a request for a truce. Cautiously a company had moved down the slope of Tumbledown and up onto Sapper Hill where they had discovered abandoned positions and numerous Argentine artillery pieces and other equipment and recently abandoned positions and a handful of men who were displaying what is known as the thousand-yard stare and other signs of battle fatigue. It emerged that the Argentines had been ordered to withdraw to Port Stanley but these men had lost their willingness to carry on and could not be persuaded to move even when they had been threatened with instant justice. They simply no longer cared about what happened to them. Not wanting to hang around and thus endanger his other men longer than absolutely necessary the Argentine commander had decided that these particular individuals were no longer of any use to anyone and would simply be a burden. He had taken the decision that if they were to be a burden they might as well be a burden to the British and had left them behind. He wasn’t a cruel man though just a pragmatic one. Therefore, before leaving with his other still useful men he had erected a white flag to hopefully prevent the British from killing the men he was leaving behind.

    On Wireless Ridge Lt Col Jones’s 2 PARA passed by 3 PARA who were busy consolidating the gains of the night before and retrieving casualties and organising their prisoners into burial parties. Moving down the eastern slope of Wireless Ridge 2 PARA cautiously made their way towards and having found it deserted reclaimed the remnants of Moody Brooke Barracks. The barracks had been the home of Naval Party 8901 comprised of the Royal Marines who had defended the Falklands when the Argentines had invaded. They paused at Moody Brooke Barracks until B Squadron of the Blues and Royals who having supported the Guards in their assault on Tumbledown during the night had driven around the north of the mountain rendezvoused with 2 PARA.
    Having received reports of numerous sightings of white flags Brigadier Thompson of 3 COMMANDO Brigade had ordered Lt Col Jones to proceed with caution. The ground ahead of 2 PARA was open and flat and there was now a question mark regarding the enemy’s intentions. With support from the Blues and Royals and artillery support on standby 2 PARA was ordered to advance and take possession of the ground in front of Port Stanley. 42 COMMANDO who had moved forward from Mount Kent overnight were moving around the south of Tumbledown with the same objective and would support the Para’s southern flank. Commanders were firmly ordered to act with restraint and only fire if they came under fire themselves.
    As they moved forward the Blues and Royals sighted a platoon of what appeared to be Panhard Armoured Cars ahead of them. Knowing that the 90mm guns these vehicles carried could be fatal to his own Scimitars and Scorpions Lt Coreth’s first instinct was to open fire but his orders were not to do so until the enemy fired first. A tense few moments followed as the British continued to close on the now static vehicles until something extraordinary and extremely relieving happened. The Argentine crews began to climb out of their vehicles with their hands in the air. Unknown to the British at this point further to Menendez’s order to withdraw to Stanley he had ordered that no resistance was to be offered to the British unless his men came under deliberate attack and that any forces in contact with the British were to surrender. Major Carullo commanding the Panhard squadron had been positioning his force outside of Stanley ready to conduct a mobile defence to cover the retreat of the infantrymen when this order had come through.
    Not having anything to hand that could be used as a white flag the Major had become concerned that this may cause the British to view his vehicles as targets. When he had become aware of the British armoured and infantry force approaching him, he had immediately ordered his men to exit their vehicles and stand out in the open where they could be seen. A group of Paras had immediately moved forward to take charge of the prisoners and of the vehicles.

    Major Carullo experienced a sudden demoralising effect as the British soldiers got close enough for him to notice that they unlike his own men were wearing completely waterproof gear and rubber boots. To him it really drove home a feeling of how ill prepared the Argentine army had been for this campaign and how well the British had planned and organised themselves. Worse was what the British soldiers proceeded to do to his vehicles which like all good vehicle crews he and his men had taken so much care over and pride in. First the maroon bereted soldiers had climbed onto his vehicles and ripped off the small Argentine flags that some of his crews had been proudly flying. Worse came when they climbed into the vehicles and began to dismantle them for what looked like souvenirs and war trophies. Unknown to the major Lt Col Jones who already was going to have to detach some of his men to escort the prisoners back to Wireless Ridge where they could be left under the care of 3 PARA had not wanted to weaken his force further by leaving more men behind to guard these vehicles and had therefore ordered his men to disable them. This had was being accomplished by smashing up the controls and slicing wires and tubes in the engine compartments.
    As he was led away from the area like a convict Major Carullo began to feel real hatred for the British for what they were doing to his vehicles and the humiliation of being a prisoner. He however calmed himself down with the thought “Sod it they’re just the same as us. They were brought here too like we were”.

    The Para’s and Marines continued to move forwards with the Marines coming across the recently abandoned costal defence positions and picking up the odd Argentine straggler who had been left behind for various reasons. Upon reaching the outskirts of Stanley just short of the area of racecourse the British were ordered to halt. With white flags flying above Stanley and the risk of heavy casualties and collateral damage if any fighting took place within the town Major General Moore decided that no attempt should be made to move into Stanley without at least an attempt to obtain a surrender.

    In the hours between requesting a meeting with the British and that meeting actually taking place Menendez had been a very busy man. First, he had radioed the Libertador Building in Buenos Aries and advised high command of his intention to surrender the garrison. This had prompted a telephone call from Galtieri himself who had angrily said “You are all cowards. Jump out of your foxholes and fight!” to which Menendez had simply replied “My General you do not know what we are fighting here”. He had then ordered that all communications with the mainland be cut in case someone on the mainland should try to persuade one of his subordinates to relieve him of command or something equally stupid.
    Menendez’s great fear now was of reprisal actions being taken against the civilians by his own men. He had ordered officers and military policemen to be extra vigilant and given firm orders that no civilian buildings were to entered. As he left his HQ and walked out towards the agreed meeting point with his staff Menendez saw the streets now filled with masses of now aimless soldiers and became aware that his army was disintegrating into an ill disciplined mass of men with weapons further fuelling his fears regarding the civilians and impressing upon him the need to end this thing as soon as possible. Along the way he passed a platoon from 3rd Regiment and overheard the Lieutenant in charge ordering his men to take up positions in the houses and kill any kelpers (The nickname used by the Argentines for the islanders) who resisted. Menendez had immediately placed the Lieutenant under arrest and ordered the platoon to surrender their weapons to the military police. Things were clearly going from bad to worse.

    The Gazelle helicopter from HMS FEARLESS trailed a white parachute under its fuselage as a flag of truce and proceed to land on Port Stanley football pitch dropping of Col “Reid”, Capt Bell and their signaller Staff Sergeant Harwood of the Royal Signals before flying away.
    The British party was met by Dr Bleany who had been asked by the Argentines to act as an intermediary for these vital and tense first few moments. The obvious fear of walking right into the heart of the enemy camp was of being taken prisoner. The reason why “Reid” and Bell were here was partially because they were the ones who had been in direct contact with the Argentine authorities. Also because of the fact that despite their being unarmed in the case of the SAS colonel especially any attempt to double cross and overpower them would be guaranteed not to survive the experience.
    The colonel proceeded to as Dr Bleany about the mood of the Argentines and if she thought they were genuinely serious about surrendering. When she replied in the affirmative and went one to describe how all the fight seemed to have gone out of them Col “Reid” thanked her and sent her back to the Argentine party who were waiting o the edge of town a few hundred meters away with a message that the British wanted to wait a few minutes for a helicopter that would be bringing the rest of their party. While this was happening Staff Sergeant Harwood transmitted a message that it was safe to proceed. Minutes later a Sea King HC4 also trailing a makeshift white flag landed on the football pitch and dropped of a few more individuals before flying off. These men were Major General Jeremy Moore RM who was the most senior British officer on the islands, Colonel Pennicott Royal Artillery, Lt Col Field Royal Engineers, Colonel Mike Rose 22 SAS and Colonel Seccombe Royal Marines. With all of the British party now present and ready Dr Bleany proceeded to lead them towards the waiting Argentines. The Argentine party consisted of Brigadier General Menendez, Captain Hussey (who was acting as the Argentine translator), Vicecomodoro Carlos Bloomer-Reeve representing the air force and Vicecomodoro Miari who was the Argentine senior legal adviser. The two party’s met in a conference room which to the surprise of the British had been neatly laid out for the meeting. Places were set with paper, pencils and water and coffee was later provided during the discussion.

    As he entered the room Brigadier General Menendez saluted Major General Moore as he was a superior officer. The two party’s engaged in a brief exchange of compliments regarding what was described as tough but honourable fighting by both sides and then got down to business.
    It was straight away quite clear to the British that Menendez intended to surrender the garrison on East Falkland and so the main area of discussion was whether he could or would surrender West Falkland. The Argentines argued that because there was water between them and the garrison at Fox Bay, they were technically a separate command and consequently they had no authority to surrender it. Capt Bell countered that though Menendez was quoting correctly from the Geneva Convention regarding the subject the article he was invoking was meant to apply to islands that were not part of the same continental shelf. West Falkland was geographically a part of the Falkland group and therefore under his jurisdiction.
    The Argentines asked that the British party could allow them time for more discussion. Meanwhile Staff Sergeant Harwood was keeping Whitehall informed by radio satellite link at very stage of the negotiations. The Argentine officers were impressed by the fact that they were in effect talking directly to London.
    Both party’s withdrew into separate rooms. The Argentines used the time to consider their strategy while the British having already formulated their demands and negotiating position simply waited. Col “Reid” and Col Mike Rose both of the SAS waited by the door in case the Argentines should try any funny business. Anyone attempting to burst through that particular door would not live long enough to regret their poor life choice.

    The final round of talks followed much the same format as the first Menendez and Moore met outside the conference room and exchanged salutes but did not shake hands. Menendez said that each side had fought well and Moore replied in the same fashion. Then the British General said that they should get on with things and produced the pre prepared surrender documents.

    Upon reading the document Menendez objected to its use of the word “unconditional” with regards to the surrender pointing out that “Reid” and Bell’s broadcasts had promised that he would be able to surrender with dignity and honour intact.
    As a last act of defiance, he scribbled out the word “Unconditional” and also made demands regarding the prompt evacuation of every single one of his men back to Argentina as a condition of his signing the document. Moore agreed to this condition and stated that all Argentine personnel would be returned to the mainland within 14 days. As a condition of his agreeing to this condition though Moore demanded that Menendez immediately produce and turn over to the British party Lt Nick Taylor RN who had been captured a few weeks before when his Sea Harrier had been shot down during a photoreconnaissance run over Port Stanley becoming the only British POW of the conflict. Menendez had immediately called in one of the military policemen who were outside guarding the negotiations and given orders for Lt Taylor to be brought to the conference room immediately.
    Menendez made one final request which was to be allowed to insert the words “Islas Malvinas” after “Falklands” on the document but this was refused by the British. Finally, at 1500 on the 30th of May 1982 Menendez signed the surrender document and the undeclared war officially came to an end. The document was also signed by Major General Moore and was witnessed by Colonel Pennicott.

    When it was all over General Menendez asked if he might be allowed to join his men on the airfield where the Argentines were to be grouped and held prior to repatriation. When this was refused and he was told that he was going to be flown directly out to the aircraft carrier HMS EAGLE tears welled up in his eyes. As the now former commander of the Argentine garrison on the Malvinas left the conference room and stepped outside a famous photo of him was taken which has been compared to the photo of Tsar Nicholas II just after his abdication. As the British delegation escorted him back out to the football pitch where a helicopter was waiting for him he first passed a street lined with his own men stood to attention with officers saluting their outgoing commander. He was asked by Moore if he wanted to address his men but Menendez refused. He simply couldn’t think of anything worthwhile that he could say to them and so contented himself with returning the salute and trying to look proud and dignified in front of his men. As he reached the end of the street the British soldiers began to arrive and take those same men prisoner.

    The war was over
    The Casualties of War
  • Looking out of the window of the Sea King helicopter the now former military governor of the Malvinas Brigadier General Menendez saw the land he had tried so hard and failed to defend rapidly become smaller and smaller before disappearing over the horizon. Now with nothing to look at but ocean he had turned to look at his two chaperones Lt Col “Reid” (who Menendez had noticed from his beret badge was a member of the legendary British special forces unit the SAS) and Captain Bell RM. Also, in the rear of the helicopter was the aircrafts aircrewman. While the aircrewman stared at him with what could be described as a look of amazement and curiosity (it wasn’t every day you saw a captured enemy general after all) “Reid” and Bell kept their eyes firmly fixed upon him as if to say “don’t think about trying any funny business”. Not that the thought even crossed his mind anyway. As a man who had just personally surrendered his entire command as well as a piece of his nation to a foreign enemy and then been taken prisoner Menendez was too dejected to think much about anything.
    He noticed “Reid” call over the aircrewman and although he couldn’t hear what they were saying over the noise of the helicopter’s engine the aircrewman gave the colonel a thumbs up. He then moved forwards into the cockpit and said something to the pilots who Menendez noticed also gave a thumbs up. The aircrewman then came over to him and gave his seat straps a good tug evidently checking that he was secure. The aircrewman then proceeded to throw open the sliding door on the starboard side of the aircraft and Menendez was stunned by what he could see.

    Below him was the British carrier task group that he had invested so much time and effort in trying to locate. Indeed, quickly thinking about it he would agree that being unable to locate the carrier group was probably one of the decisive factors that had resulted in his current predicament.
    He had seen the Argentine navy conduct fleet exercises before (most of those ships and men he had seen were now lying on the sea floor somewhere) where as a senior army the he had gotten the impression that the navy had tried very hard to impress him. Here the British without even trying were impressing him with just the sheer number and size of the ships alone. He had to remind himself that this was probably only half of the British fleet as the amphibious ships plus their escorts were likely still at the beach head in San Carlos Bay. Remembering the photographs that his intelligence staff had shown him Menendez tried to identify some of the vessels. Two aircraft carriers were easily identifiable as EAGLE and INVINCIBLE. Menendez had once been a guest aboard the now destroyed flagship of the Argentine Navy the Veinticino De Mayo. He had remembered how the ships captain had proudly boasted that his was the biggest ship in the fleet and Menendez had admitted to being impressed at the sheer scale of the vessel and had greatly enjoyed watching a capability display put on by the A4Q Skyhawks as they had performed touch and go’s from the flight deck. But that ship was effortlessly dwarfed by those below him.

    It took a moment for Menendez to realise that while he had been deep in his thoughts the helicopter had circled the task group twice now. It might just be the pilots flying a holding pattern while they waited for landing clearance but a quick glance over to his “chaperones” told a different story. From the look on “Reid’s” face Menendez deduced that this was deliberate. Clearly they wanted him to see this but the reason for now escaped Menendez as the helicopter made an approach towards HMS EAGLE and proceeded to land.
    Once the aircraft was on deck the aircrewman came over and undid Menendez’s straps and Capt Bell led him out onto the flight deck. The noise was incredible but more so were they array of aircraft around them. He was familiar with the Skyhawks and Mirages flown by the Argentine air force having been to air bases and seen them up close many times but the Phantoms and Buccaneers that he could see here were nearly twice the size of them. He started to get the impression that everything about the British was bigger and better and this led to a feeling of how futile his efforts had been in the face of this ship and its aircraft. No wonder the navy and air force had been butchered.
    An officer approached him and his chaperones and saluted. Menendez returned the salute but was unable to hear what the officer said over the noise of the flight deck. The officer beckoned for them to follow and led them towards the island superstructure. Menendez felt a slight nervousness as he was led into the bowls of this gigantic vessel.

    In Port Stanley the PARA’s and Marines were busy overseeing the disarming of the surrendered Argentine garrison. The Argentines were made to surrender their weapons and ammunition and were searched for anything that might be of intelligence value. Members of the Intelligence Corps had been hurriedly helicoptered into town where they began picking out officers and prisoners, they deemed to be of particular interest who were separated from their comrades and held for questioning at a later time. In some cases even before the British arrived the Argentines were already arranging themselves in lines and depositing their weapons and ammunition onto what quickly became gargantuan piles. The British kept this process going. Each prisoner was individually searched and assuming they weren’t picked out by the Intelligence personnel for separate treatment formed up in marching formation in which they would be herded towards Port Stanley Airfield which due to is proximity and location on a peninsular had been designated as the prisoner holding area. Granted the process of individually disarming and searching thousands of prisoners was a very time consuming one and did lead to some unrest amongst the Argentines but there was a reason for that.

    The Scots and Welsh Guards were moving as fast as they could to secure Port Stanley Airfield however before it could be deemed secure enough to allow prisoners to be held there the place and prisoners captured there would have to be thoroughly searched for weapons and ammunition which would take a very long time. Consequently, the eastern end of the runway which was just open and moderately cratered ground and away from the tents and buildings on the western part of the airfield was quickly deemed safe to begin moving prisoners into. With no time to build anything more permanent the Royal Engineers had initially made a crude fence out of reels and reels of barbed wire. Some of the Argentine officers (who hadn’t been separated from the main body of prisoners) had complained about how they were being left to fend for themselves exposed to the unforgiving climate. They were told that tents would be coming soon and that as soon as the buildings of the airfield had been searched the “Cage” would be expanded to include those. As more and more prisoners from Stanley and elsewhere were herded into the makeshift facility it wasn’t long before the situation began to become worrying. With thousands of men who were becoming increasingly unhappy about the conditions they were being held in contained by just a few reels of barbed wire the obvious fear was of some kind of mass escape attempt which would be guaranteed to result in significant bloodshed. In the end there was only one outbreak of disorder amongst the prisoners. The “Cage” was expanded to include some of the now thoroughly searched and sanitised buildings of the airfield. This was to cope with the increasing prisoner population as the garrisons and positions located away from Port Stanley and on West Falkland were disarmed and the Argentine personnel rounded up. The Para’s guarding the cage noticed what seemed to be some sort of disturbance and to their horror when they saw that one of the buildings was on fire believed they had a riot on their hands. Realising they needed to stamp down hard on this thing before it spread and got out of hand 3 PARA’s mortar platoon entered the “cage” and through the liberal application of batons, riot shields and fists attempted to break up what seemed to be a mass brawl amongst the prisoners. Order was only restored when a section of about a dozen or so Gurkha’s entered the cage to back up the outnumbered Para’s. The mere sight of the smiling sword brandishing Nepalese warriors seemed to cow the prisoners into submissiveness meaning that surprisingly despite the use of Gurkhas in a riot control situation there was no loss of life amongst the prisoners.
    It was later learned by the British that when the buildings and tents had been made available to the prisoners the Argentine officers and NCO’s within the cage had attempted to pull rank and claim them for themselves. This had caused the pent up resentment and hatred held by the conscripts for their officers who they blamed more than the British for their suffering to spill over and had resulted in a riot.
    The British had assumed that the officers inside the wire would be able to maintain order and organise things such as the distribution of food but it was clear that the situation was unsustainable and that repatriation had to be a priority.

    When the Argentines had invaded back in April the Royal Marines of Naval Party 8901 had fought bravely in a last stand around Government House in Port Stanley making sure that the Argentine Operation was anything but bloodless. Marine Sean Egan had been part of No 2 Section and had fired well over 2000 rounds of machine gun ammunition defending Port Stanley back in April. His section had even destroyed an Argentine Amtrak. However, he had been forced to endure the sight of Argentine marines pulling down the union flag at Government House and replacing it with their own national flag. To him and the other members of Naval Party 8901 who had been repatriated back to Britain and then immediately returned to the Falklands to evict the foreign occupiers went the honour of removing the occupiers blue and white flag and raising the British union flag once more.

    For the Commander Land Forces Falkland Islands (CLFFI) Major General Moore RM the fighting may have been over but given the sheer amount of work that still had to be done he found himself unable to answer the numerous questions that his staff were passing to him from the men about when they would be going home. There was so much that needed to happen before he could even think about that particular question. The way he saw it he had four priorities. First though Port Stanley and the airfield had surrendered there were still outlying garrisons and concentrations of Argentines that would need to be taken into custody. Goose Green especially was estimated to have roughly 1000 Argentines that would need to be rounded up.

    Second once all of the Argentines had been rounded up they would need to be repatriated back to Argentina which present plenty of problems regarding finding enough shipping capacity and working out where to repatriate them too.
    Third what to do about the mountains of weapons, equipment and munitions that the Argentines had surrendered to them and the repair and reconstruction work that would have to be carried out on the islands infrastructure. Particularly doing something about the landmines and unexploded ordinance that now littered the area.
    Finally, the small matter of getting his own men back home.

    There was also a small detachment of Argentines located on the island of Thule in the South Sandwich Islands. Liberating this spit of land (which due to its geography and location was described by Moore as “The worthless arsehole of the South Atlantic which itself he considered to be armpit of the universe” and its large population of penguins was an operation all of its own codenamed KEYHOLE. HMS MINERVA in company with HMS ENDURANCE and RFA OLMEDA

    and a platoon from 42 COMMANDO had been despatched with orders to recover the 9 man Argentine detachment, demolish the facilities they had built on Thule and leave a token British flag before departing. One his own authority HMS MINERVA’s CO Commander Johnston who was in overall charge of OP KEYHOLE ordered one hut to be left intact and provisioned with tinned food and an emergency beacon should any wayward mariner be unfortunate enough to find themselves stranded there in the future.

    Already he had made a good start. Out in San Carlos a massive cross decking operation was taking place between the two cruise liners SS CANBERRA and RMS QUEEN ELIZABETH 2. The survivors from the sunken ships HMS GLASGOW, HMS ARDENT, HMS ANTELOPE and HMS ARGONAUT, a total of roughly 500 men were currently aboard the CANBERRA minus a few wounded survivors who were aboard other ships. It had been decided that the CANBERRA would one of the ships tasked with repatriating the Argentine prisoners and so the crews of the lost British ships would be transferred to the QE2 which would take them home. Major General Moore had already spoken with Brigadier’s Thompson and Wilson regarding getting any men and equipment such as the artillery units that were no longer needed aboard the QE2 so she could be despatched back to the UK as soon as possible. It was decided to wait until the remaining Argentines on the islands had been rounded up and concentrated in the cage at Port Stanley Airfield as this would free up a lot of manpower which could then be embarked. The shipwrecked survivors aboard the QE2 would also be joined by a number of the British wounded. The SS UGANDA had been designated as the vessel that would transport the Argentine wounded during repatriation. When they had taken Port Stanley the British had been shocked at how overwhelmed the Argentine medical system and staff were with the sheer number of Argentine wounded. They had immediately started treating Argentines within their own casualty receiving system and medical staff. This act would go on to be considered up there with the 1914 Christmas truce as proof despite the horrors and dehumanising effect of war the goodness of humanity still endures. Consequently, it became apparent that the UGANDA would have to be cleared of British casualties to make room for the incoming Argentines. The more seriously wounded and those who required more intensive care and treatment would be transferred to Either HMS HECLA, HMS HYDRA or HMS HERALD. Normally these were survey ships but their wartime role was that of hospital ships. The UGANDA being a converted liner had been acting as a sort of mothership to the three smaller converted survey ships. Once the transfer of patients to the three smaller ships had been completed, they would make best speed to Montevideo in Uruguay where they would be repatriated to Britain aboard RAF transport aircraft.
    The walking wounded and those with less serious injuries that were considered to be non life threatening would be transferred to the QE2 where medical staff were already setting up the appropriate facilities. It was judged that a long leisurely cruise back to the UK would probably be good for the patients in terms of not only their physical but also their psychological recovery.
    With all of the hospital ships now committed to taskings any further casualties sustained would be dealt with aboard either the aircraft carriers or amphibious ships which had extensive sickbay facilities.

    With regards to the rounding up of Argentines in far flung locations this job was to be given to the Scots Guards and 2 PARA. Operating in platoon and occasionally company sized formations moving by helicopter the Scots Guards made quick work of rounding up the various stragglers, as in groups of isolated Argentines believed to be in platoon or less sized groups. The captured Argentine senior officers in Port Stanley were extremely cooperative as they knew that it was in their men’s best interest if they helped the British reach and recover them as it would ensure their well being and repatriation. They knew the locations of the various Argentine units and were quite willing to share these. Furthermore, they knew the radio frequencies with which to contact these units and were able to communicate with them and order them to congregate in designated positions and turn themselves over to the British authorities. The three biggest round ups occurred at Fox Bay and Port Howard on West Falkland and at Goose Green. West Falkland hadn’t seen very much action throughout the campaign meaning that the 5th and 8th Infantry Regiments were still at nearly full strength when they were taken into captivity by the Scots Guards and air lifted to join their comrades in the cage at Port Stanley Airfield. Despite the use of all four of the Chinooks plus other available helicopters moving so many men still required multiple lifts.

    Goose Green was the largest and the final garrison to be subdued. Despite repeated and heavy airstrikes on the position over the course of the campaign (most notably the Vulcan strike on the 23rd of May) and a special forces raid on the 20th of May the garrison was still reckoned to be over 1000 strong. Though the Argentines claimed that they had sent and received acknowledgement of orders to surrender before the British had taken possession of the HQ in Port Stanley since then great difficulty had been experienced in communicating with the garrison leaving the British unclear as to the commanders’ intentions. The garrison was commanded by Lt Col Piaggi who commanded 12th Infantry Regiment along with a company of 25th Infantry Regiment and elements of 601st Anti-Aircraft Battalion. The big worry was that he may decide to make a fight of it as part of some kind of death before dishonour suicide pact with his men. Though in reality this was probably rather unlikely the British were not in the mood for taking risks. Knowing that the argentines still likely had anti aircraft weapons at their disposal it was judged too dangerous for helicopters to approach the area until the garrison had been secured.
    This task went to Lt Col Jones’s 2 PARA who were airlifted to a landing zone to the north that an SAS patrol that had been observing Goose Green at a distance for some weeks now had verified was clear. With airlift capability in high demand it took a while to get the entire battalion air lifted to the starting point. Under his command Jones had 3 rifle company’s, 1 patrol company, one support company and his own HQ company. Once the final lift had arrived the battalion set off southwards. Objective and strategy had been carefully worked out with his commander Brigadier Thompson RM and Major General Moore RM but also with input from the Argentine Brigadier Jofre who was the immediate superior of the Argentine officer commanding Goose Green.
    The plan was to move to accept a surrender while making a show of strength. Brigadier Jofre had been broadcasting a message on Argentine army radio frequencies reiterating the order to surrender and that a British force was on its way to disarm the garrison. Worryingly these messages went unanswered leaving the British worrying about whether the Argentines at Goose Green had simply stopped listening or if they were up to something more sinister.
    As they moved south across the open ground high above them the Para’s could see a pair of Phantom’s circling as a show of strength to the Argentines below and a warning not to try anything. The Phantoms would occasionally make high speed passes to ensure that if they couldn’t see them the Argentines would definitely hear them. The Phantoms however flew high in an effort to ensure that the Argentines didn’t spot that their wing racks were empty. A consequence of the munitions cupboard now being well and truly bare.
    Lt Col Jones was nervous as his men advanced in daylight across open ground. This was deliberate so that the Argentines would see them coming and hopefully avoid their approach being mistaken for a hostile act with the consequences that would likely bring. Though the lead men were not yet close enough to come into contact with where any Argentine picket was expected to be the lack of contact with the now supposedly former enemy was unnerving. Having led his men in action in the assault on Mount Longdon Lt Col Jones was very aware that if fighting did start it would be an extremely messy and bloody affair. He had asked if some batteries of artillery could be flown in just in case the worst should happen but his request had been turned down. There simply wasn’t the time or aircraft availability for the batteries to be transported and set up.
    Though he had already done it numerous times he felt the urge to again remind his men that they were under no circumstances to fire a shot unless they came under sustained and accurate fire. He had told them to think along the lines of Northern Ireland ROE only much stricter (if such a thing were possible).
    As the lead elements made their way up and over Darwin hill which bore plenty of evidence of recent habitation the lead elements of the patrol company reported encountering the first Argentine soldiers. They were lying in bomb craters dead and by the looks of them had been there for some time. B and D company made their way to secure the airfield which they found to be heavily cratered as a result of the numerous air strikes and naval gunfire missions that had taken place during the campaign but largely abandoned save for some Argentine air force personnel who had already piled up their weapons ready for the British to take them into custody. A and C company made for Goose Green settlement where they found the remainder of the Argentine garrison who promptly surrendered. It transpired that as a result of the frequent and devastating British strikes against the airfield the Lt Col Piaggi had started to keep some of his men billeted in the settlement itself where he hoped that the presence of civilians would discourage British attacks and provide a degree of respite and safety. When the order to surrender had come in the majority of his force had left their positions and moved there in order to shelter in the buildings while they awaited whatever the British had in store for them. The reason why the radio calls had gone unanswered was largely due the military radios in Goose Green being destroyed in an attempt to deny the British potential intelligence and also as a result of a mood of despondency that now hung over the surviving Argentines of Goose Green how had endured very heavy losses and now found themselves awaiting captivity and an uncertain future.

    As well as rounding up the Argentine soldiers there was also the matter of checking up on the civilians around the islands many of whom lived in isolated farms and communities without easy communications. Though the Argentines had been largely courteous and polite in their dealings with the Falkland Islanders (who the Argentines were theoretically supposed to regard as fellow countrymen) and there had been very few reported cases of misconduct or mistreatment by the occupiers wherever the British encountered civilians they were greeted as hero’s. Civilians gladly shared broke open their carefully hidden alcohol supplies for the British troops and were perfectly happy to welcome them into their homes and feed them. This took a certain pressure off the British as with their own nearly division sized force and now close to 10,000 prisoners there were nowhere near enough tents to go around. Being able to billet some of the men in civilian buildings went some way to dealing with this problem. However even then there were barely enough to provide shelter for the troops that weren’t billeted in the comfort of an actual building and as for the Argentines in the “Cage” on the airfield, they were simply left to fashion whatever shelter they could out of whatever came to hand.

    The next priority of the British was to close down the beach head at San Carlos and begin the repatriation of the prisoners. The three big facilities at San Carlos were the Prisoner holding facility, the field hospital and the helicopter operating base. With Port Stanley and its port facilities now in British hands and available for use the San Carlos position had now outlived its usefulness. Dismantling it would be the first big step towards British getting themselves into a position where they could think about going home. Those men that still had jobs to do were airlifted to Port Stanley along with any necessary equipment and supplies while those who were not deemed to be immediately necessary began to pack up and ferry themselves and their equipment back out to the ships anchored in San Carlos Bay. At Firebase Kent which had served as the forward operating base and primary artillery base for the assaults on the heights that surrounded Port Stanley on the 29th and 30th of May a similar process was taking place. With the base now having outlived its usefulness men and material were being moved either to Port Stanley or out to the ships that would ultimately take them home. The 105mm guns of 29 COMMANDO Regiment and 97 Battery Royal Artillery were over the course of several days helicoptered back out to waiting ships along with the Rapier Sam systems of 12 Air Defence Regiment and 63 Squadron accompanied by their remaining munitions stocks and support equipment.
    In San Carlos the field hospital was gradually cleared of casualties with the most being moved to the hospital ships accompanied by large portion of the medical staff. Some of the more seriously wounded who still required intensive care were moved to Port Stanley Hospital along with the remaining staff (including Surgeon commander Rick Jolly). The intention was to take advantage of and compliment the better facilities offered by the permanent hospital and also to consolidate the medical facilities on the island in order to more efficiently care for the remaining wounded.

    The prisoner holding facility at San Carlos contained a wide variety of Argentine military personnel including infantrymen captured in the fighting in the mountains around Port Stanley, pilots shot down over San Carlos and air force personnel captured on Pebble Island. All Argentines who had been captured before the final surrender at Port Stanley were held at this facility which at its peak held approximately 700 men. Those prisoners unlucky enough to have been designated by their British captors as being of “Special interest” were separated from the bulk of the Prison population and herded into the back of a pair of Wessex helicopters to be flown to Port Stanley and held in Port Stanley in a separate facility for Special prisoners that at least was in a building. The rest of the prisoners were marched down to the beach and onto landing craft where they were ferried out to the SS CANBERRA which would ultimately be taking them home. Once this was done the CANBERRA was able to sail around to Port Stanley to begin embarking more prisoners. Surprisingly during the embarkation process and during the repatriation voyage there were no recorded incidents of disorder amongst the prisoners. To a degree this was found to be down to the presence of the Gurkhas who acting as guards accompanied them. Their mere presence seemed to be something the Argentines found very intimidating especially after the survivors of Mount William told of their experiences and the horrors they had witnessed when they had fought these men.
    With the prisoner cage at San Carlos now empty the majority of the Gurkha guard force accompanied the prisoners onto the CANBERRA. The remainder packed up the tents and barbed wire and then accompanied it by helicopter to the Port Stanley cage where the wire and men reinforced the perimeter and guard force. The tents were used to provide some more shelter to the Argentines as it was now clear that there wasn’t enough sea lift capacity to repatriate them all in one go. Ultimately it would take a total of two round trips from the CANBERRA and UGANDA and one from the SS NORLAND until the last Argentine was repatriated.

    Repatriation was a difficult process as though the Argentine armed forces in the Falklands had surrendered there had been no formal cessation of hostilities with the Argentine state or their forces outside of the Falklands. Efforts to contact the Argentine authorities through third parties such as the International Red Cross had been less than successful meaning that for a while it looked like the British may have been unable to repatriate their captives. In the end the Uruguayans had solved the problem by agreeing to act as a neutral location to facilitate repatriation. Having better relations with their southern neighbours than the British they had agreed to and passed on the British proposal for the prisoners to be shipped to Montevideo where the Argentines would be free to collect and transport their men back home. The Uruguayans had stated that if for whatever reason the Argentine military didn’t come to collect their men then the Uruguayan military would take possession of them from the British and transport them to the Argentine border. Whatever happened to them as soon as they were across the border was not their concern.
    Nervous about the lack of contact with the Argentine government and uncertainty as to the current political situation within the Junta the British had to consider the possibility of some sort of attack on their ships as the came close to the Argentine mainland. To deter this Britain’s permanent representative at the UN Sir Anthony Parsons publicly announced in front of the UN that the SS CANBERRA, SS NORLAND and SS UGANDA were transporting large numbers of Argentine military personnel to Montevideo for repatriation. Though he didn’t make it public as a bit of extra security and insurance from hostile action the repatriation convoy was accompanied by HMS BROADSWORD.

    Onboard the ships morale was reported to be high amongst the conscripts who made up the bulk of the prisoners. Not only were they going home but for the first time in weeks they were dry and warm and were being fed two hot meals a day. Plus, for nearly all of them travelling aboard a luxury liner albeit one that had been converted to a troop ship was a unique and memorable experience. Now separated from their officers and NCO’s who were to be repatriated in the second and third run’s the conscripts in later life would often recount with some bitterness that fact that they had actually been treated better by their British captors than their own superiors.
    When the ships pulled into Montevideo it they were met by a welcoming committee comprised not only of Uruguayan soldiers but also the Argentine army who had come to collect their men. The Uruguayans had stated that no British personnel were to step ashore from the ships and that apart from those being offloaded no Argentines were to approach the vessels. A sizeable force of Uruguayans stood between the ships and Argentine receiving committee to ensure that the two hostile sides didn’t come into contact. In the case of wounded men who needed to be assisted or carried ashore in stretchers the British permitted Uruguayan medical personnel to come aboard the SS UGANDA to carry patients ashore. Amazingly it seemed that the Argentines hadn’t considered the possibility of collecting wounded men and hadn’t made any preparations for their care or transport. A quick bit of negotiating between the Argentine senior officers and the Uruguayan government officials resulted in the Uruguayans agreeing to look after a number of the more seriously wounded men in their military hospital until arrangements could be made to return them home. This would become national scandal in Argentina when it emerged that many months later those men were still lying in Uruguayan hospitals having seemingly been forgotten about or wilfully left there by an army that saw them as something of an embarrassment.

    Fate would not be kind to the returning Argentines. There would be no homecoming parades or thanks from a grateful nation. The soldiers who were landed at Montevideo were met by a welcoming committee of senior officers including generals who had warmly greeted them with handshakes, hugs and even kisses on the cheek and kind words about how they had done their duty for their fatherland. The men were herded onto lorries and busses and driven south over the border back home and into army bases in the north of the country. The conscripts irrespective of how much time they still had left to serve as soon as they had gotten off the trucks were directed to a building where they formed into long lines. As the lines moved forwards, they were made to handover all of their military equipment and exchange their uniforms for ill fitting civilian clothes. They then made their way through a series of army clerks who gave them discharge certificates, bus or train tickets to a destination of their choice and made them sign a non-disclosure agreement prohibiting them from talking about their experiences. One this process was complete the now discharged conscripts were escorted to the camp gates ticket and discharge certificates in hand and were pointed towards the nearest bus terminal or railway station which was usually a good few miles walk away. The roads outside of the army bases were lined with young men who couldn’t quite comprehend that I in some cases less than an hour after returning to their homeland they had been unceremoniously drummed out of the military and left on their own without even being sure of where they were. Groups of conscripts began to congregate together and walk towards the train stations. It was this way that the various Malvinas veterans’ organisations got started.
    The military had made it very clear that they wanted nothing more to do with these men and that they should not seek help. There was no question of things such as compensation for injuries sustained or help with coping with what they had experienced. Sadly, as a result of this wilful neglect by successive Argentine governments one of the main things that veterans are known for in Argentina is a high suicide rate.
    Many conscripts had been completely out of contact with their families for the duration of the campaign would arrive home to the surprise and joy of their families. Far to many families upon hearing the news that the conscripts were beginning to arrive home would end up waiting in vain for their loved ones who would never come home again.

    Of the repatriated officers and NCO’s some would be immediately drummed out of the army with the conscripts while the rest were confined to barracks and cut off from communication with the outside world while the government decided their fate. Ultimately some would be allowed to continue their careers while some would either resign or be discharged (without any reason being given) many of the more senior officers would be court martialled for alleged offenses relating to mistakes in the conduct of the campaign as the Argentine military tried to palm off responsibility for the shattering defeat.

    Whatever their fates the Argentines who returned from the Malvinas war came back to a very different country from the one they had left what seemed like a lifetime ago.
    The fall surrender of Port Stanley and defeat in the Malvinas conflict had been the final straw. With widespread public anger and disorder aimed at the junta it was clear to the Argentine military that the military government was becoming untenable. Though it was rumoured at the time that Lt Gen Galtieri had been forced to resign the office of President of Argentina (with some rumours claiming this to have been at gunpoint) in reality it had been obvious to him for some time now that his position had become untenable. He was aware that he no longer commanded the respect and obedience of the rest of the Argentine high command officers who now saw him and the other two members of the junta Admiral Franco and Brigadier Hughes (who had only just replaced Brigadier Dozo but consequently was now tainted by association) as sacrificial lambs to try and calm the unruly populace and take the blame for the disaster that had befallen the nation.
    Though all Galtieri having known for sometime that this day would come had secretly made private arrangements to leave the country all three now ex junta members instead found themselves escorted to a well protected but comfortable and remote country retreat. Officially this was to guarantee their safety.
    Galtieri’s last act while in office was to appoint the interior minister Major General Alfredo Saint-Jean as acting president.
    Maj Gen Saint-Jean knew would hold the position of president and commander in chief for a mere two weeks. Faced with what essentially amounted to a mass uprising at home and a threatening and possibly opportunistic Chile on the border Saint-Jean’s power and remit were limited and his only real function was to keep the day to day business of the government functioning until the Argentine military high command which now held the actual power in the country could decide upon a permanent successor to Galtieri.

    It was clear to them that military governance of the country was now untenable and that changes urgently needed to be made. Things had even reached the point where the reliability of the rank and file of the military was no suspect. News of the defeat in the Malvinas and the stories told by returning soldiers (despite the threats made against them) had critically damaged the militaries faith in the competence of its leadership. While the armed forces could still be relied upon to hold the line against the Chileans and angry sections of the populace any sort of crackdown against dissidents or mass round up’s were now completely out of the question as the soldiers couldn’t be relied on to carryout orders to this effect.
    One thing Maj Gen Saint-Jean had ordered was for the security and intelligence services to begin destroying evidence (including witnesses) of anything that could be regarded in future as criminal acts or war crimes.
    In the end the High Command appointed a retired Major General, Reynaldo Bignone as President.
    Bignone was viewed by the military as a suitable compromise candidate between the armed forces and the populace. Having had a long and distinguished career in the army and having retired the previous year Bignone was well respected by and able to exert authority over Argentina’s senior military officers and went to great lengths to emphasize to the populace that he was a civilian and not a member of a military junta.
    Even this appointment was not enough to bring things under control. The economy was failing and having already seen some concessions come from the government the populace was if anything getting louder in their calls for more.
    Bigone would hold office for a little less than a year and would be remembered for his attempts to repair Argentina’s shattered economy and his attempts to ensure a managed transition from military government to democracy with elections taking place in 1983. He did this in the face of opposition from some sections of the armed forces who seemingly had self preservation in mind.
    Bigone would be the last of the numerous military officers who had ruled Argentina and stepped down from office in favour of the democratically elected Raul Alfonsin who’s first act was to revoke a self-amnesty law established by the military in the dying days of the military government.

    In Port Stanley the final batch of prisoners to be repatriated were those who had been designated “Special category”. Most of these men were the argentine garrisons senior officers who were debriefed extensively regarding their actions and decision making during the campaign as the British tried to learn what they could about the other side with the aim of updating their own doctrine and tactics in the future in light of real world experience. While these debriefings were mostly run by Intelligence Corps interrogators and HUMINT specialists the workload saw British senior officers conducting many of the interviews. In many cases these were actually friendly chats between commanders who had fought each other directly. These actually turned out to be the most productive of the debriefings. Other Argentines given particular attention included those with technical knowledge such as pilots, intelligence types and particularly engineers who had been involved in laying minefields.
    The former Argentine commander Brigadier General Menendez had originally been flown out to HMS EAGLE immediately after he had surrendered his command. He had believed that the reason for this was the British wanting him away from things and in order for him to meet the British officer who had been in overall charge of their campaign. He had only learned that this mans name was Rear Admiral Woodward. His time onboard EAGLE had been spent almost entirely in a cabin under guard. The ships captain who had introduced himself as Jock Slater had given him a tour of what Menendez had been forced to admit was a very impressive ship. Menendez had been expecting some sort of meeting with this Admiral Woodward but apart from the ships tour his time was mostly spent being interviewed by members of the admirals staff before being informed early the next morning that he was to be flown to the LPD HMS FEARLESS where more detailed interviews would be conducted.
    Though it was breaking what was essentially an unwritten rule of chivalry in warfare Admiral Woodward had pointedly refused to meet Menendez. The reason for this was that he felt Menendez had dragged out the conflict far too long past the point where his defeat was inevitable and in doing so had caused unnecessary loss of life. Menendez had been absolutely stunned when he was informed of this.
    He wondered what the point of bringing all the way out to this ship was when clearly the British had always planned to debrief him elsewhere anyway?
    It wasn’t until he was in the helicopter again flying away from EAGLE and again able to see the entire carrier group now joined by some of the amphibious and merchant ships that he understood.
    The British had brought him here because they had wanted him to see this. He understood the message they were giving him. They were trying to make the point that he never really had a chance and that this whole Malvinas (Or Falklands as he had been reminded by his hosts to refer to the islands) endeavour had been utterly futile.

    With the last of the Argentines on their way back to their own country the British now turned their attention to the vast quantities of weapons, equipment and supplies they had left behind. Everything from steel helmets right the way through rifles, ammunition, rockets, radars right the way up to fully serviceable combat aircraft needed to be disposed of in some way.
    When Port Stanley and the airfield had been liberated the British had discovered vast quantities of stores mostly comprising food and fuel. It seemed that the Argentine garrison hadn’t been poorly supplied as originally thought. The supplies were there it was more that the Argentines had for various reasons been unable to establish an effective system for getting the supplies from the stockpiles out to the forces that needed them. Disposing of these stores had been relatively straight forwards. The British had been grateful for the liberated fuel which took pressure off of their own supply chain. The Argentine army rations were regarded by the British as barely edible but they had been useful for feeding the Argentinians in their custody who for the most part were happy that they were actually being fed properly for once never mind the quality.
    Disposing of munitions had been a more problematic and rather pressing issue. Though some of the small arms ammunition was NATO standard and could theoretically have been used by the British to replenish their own supplies the quartermasters were unwilling to allow this to happen as there was no way to verify the ammunitions origins or verify the quality.
    Despite some early attempts at disposing of the left over munitions by controlled explosions in the end the most effective method was to pack it into shipping containers which were then helicoptered out to sea and dropped into deep water.
    The Napalm canisters that the British were outraged to discover at Port Stanley Airfield proved a bit more problematic to get rid of.
    Dumping at sea was also the method used to dispose of the Argentine small arms as ensuring their security was becoming a major drain on manpower.
    Pretty much every office or regimental museum of the units that had been involved in the Falklands campaign now contains at least one captured Argentine firearm on display that had been brought back as a war prize. Souvenir hunting and collecting of captured artefacts by soldiers returning from a deployment was nothing new but the sheer amount of available material made it endemic in the Falklands campaign with items of clothing and headwear bearing Argentine insignias being amongst the most prized items.
    The massive piles of discarded small arms also had to be guarded against “souvenir hunting” by the local civilians. Children who have a natural attraction to all things military and who enjoyed playing soldiers were something of an occasionally heavily armed nuisance. Some islanders wanted to prepare in case the Argentines should ever try to return while many wanted a rifle to hang up on the wall as a reminder of this rather interesting period in the island’s history.
    Of the various vehicles recovered including lorries, 4x4’s and armoured vehicles those that were still in running order were for a while used by the British in the immediate aftermath of the conflict. These were later offered to the locals free of charge and even today a sizable proportion of all the vehicles on the Falklands were previously owned by the Argentine military. Of the 12 Panhard AML’s one was taken as a trophy by the Blues and Royals and ultimately found its way into the collection of the Imperial War Museum, the rest were scrapped along with much of the remnants of the Argentine occupation.

    The real prizes though came in the form of aircraft. Despite the repeated British airstrikes on the airfields a number of intact and serviceable aircraft had fallen into their possession along with much of the required support equipment and technical manuals.
    The four Chinooks of No 18 Squadron had proven themselves to be worth more than their weight in gold in terms of their contribution to British operations. When he had heard that a pair of Argentine Army Aviation Chinooks had been discovered undamaged the squadrons commander had immediately set out with a team of mechanics to investigate. The Chinooks were indeed found to be undamaged and serviceable and the RAF were adamant that these aircraft would be coming back to the UK with the Task Force. These aircraft had their rotor blades removed before being lifted by British Chinooks and flown out to HMS HERMES where they would be stowed in the hanger until the ship returned home. Though they would need to be stripped down and inspected before being brought up to British specifications it wasn’t every day that you got a hugely valuable and expensive to purchase aircraft for free. The RAF couldn’t believe their good luck in that they were effectively returning from a war with more aircraft than they had started with. Also recovered and pressed into British service alongside the Chinooks were a pair of Augusta A109 Helicopters which Colonel Mike Rose of the SAS had spotted would be very useful for SF operations. He had pulled a few strings to make sure that these aircraft were brought back to the UK.

    Of the fixed wing aircraft a total of 8 intact Pucara’s had been captured by the British of which three were in a flyable condition. Argentina was the only nation to operate these aircraft meaning that this was the first time that anyone else had been able to have a look at them. The three flyable aircraft were taken back to the UK for evaluation at the Aircraft and Armament Evaluation Establishment at Boscombe Down to see if anything useful could be learned from them. The others were either ripped apart in the Falklands for spare parts to support the flyable examples or were eventually shipped to the UK where they found their way into the collections of various museums.

    Not wanting to be left out of this free for all the Royal Navy came home with a new addition of its own. The 65 ton Z-28 class patrol boat ARA ISLAS MALVINAS was taken as a prize by HMS CARDIFF. She was taken back to the Portsmouth where she would be pressed into RN service as HMS TIGER BAY.

    One lasting and grim remnant of the conflict was the estimated 30,000 landmines that the Argentines had laid in approximately 150 separate minefields. British demining efforts mostly focused in identifying the locations and extent of the minefields. In this they were assisted by some of the “Special Category” Argentine prisoners. Initial mine clearance efforts focused on the minefields around Port Stanley and other populated areas. Things were complicated by the liberal use of cluster bombs and rockets by the British. There were plenty of incidents of bomblets or rockets impacting soft ground and not detonating. Whereas the landmines were in areas that were mostly known there was no way of knowing where Britain’s contribution to the UXO threat lay.
    It rapidly became clear that demining the Falklands would be a task that would take many years if not decades.

    Christ Church Cathedral, Port Stanley, 14th June

    Admiral Woodward and Captain Jock Slater had flown ashore to join other senior British commanders including Major General Moore and what seemed to be nearly every remaining British serviceman and every civilian on the islands for a special service of remembrance for the fallen. The congregation spilled out of the not exactly modestly sized cathedral and out onto the roads.
    A total of 204 British servicemen had been lost in the conflict. 128 of those had been lost when their ships were sunk or damaged or had been lost in aircraft crashes and 76 had died in actions ashore.
    It somehow seemed wrong to Woodward that while he was here honouring their memory in this warm and dry church the bodies of those brave men and boys were either forever entombed in ships rusting on the bottom of the sea or worse buried in shallow graves either here in Port Stanley or at San Carlos while arrangements were still being made to move them to a permanent cemetery outside of Port Stanley or return them to their loved ones for burial in the UK.
    As the Royal Navy chaplain leading the service asked the assembled congregation to observe a minute’s silence Woodward contemplated a certain piece of information that he had received just before coming here.
    The intelligence staff had been analysis Argentine records and transcripts of debriefings and had been doing some number crunching over the last few days. They estimated that over the course of the conflict Admiral Woodward and Major General Moore’s forces had killed approximately 2500 Argentines. Most of those had died at sea but the ones who hadn’t were buried in shallow mass graves near where they fell. AN offer of repatriation had been sent to the Argentine government who had simply replied that the men already lay in their homeland. The British had been tempted to point out a certain factual error but given the subject of the discussion had thought better of it.
    Therefore, a separate cemetery would be constructed for the Argentines whose bodies remained on the islands. Private arrangements would however be reached with some of the families of the Argentine deceased to repatriate them for burial on the mainland.

    With the service complete Admiral Woodward and Captain Slater had returned to HMS EAGLE and Maj Gen Moore and his staff to HMS FEARLESS.
    Getting himself comfortable in his chair on EAGLE’s bridge captain Slater turned to look at Woodward who silently nodded at him.
    Slater called out “Officer of the watch make your heading 040. Navigator plot a new course and take us home”.

    The conflict between Britain and Argentina in the Falklands resulted in a total casualty figure of 2772 deceased and 2830 wounded.
    Britain had sustained a total of 204 men killed most of whom died when their ships were sunk and 425 wounded and one POW who was later recovered. In a first for military medicine every single wounded man on the British side survived his injuries. This was attributed to the cold environment helping to prevent infection, the high standard of physical fitness amongst the wounded and the experience of Surgeon Commander Jolly’s medical staff in dealing with gunshot and trauma wounds from their time in Northern Ireland.
    Of the Argentinians a total of 2568 men were killed. This nearly 10:1 loss ratio came about as a result of the Argentines having suffered numerous high casualty incidents at sea. 1764 men had died either during the naval action on the 2nd of May or during the recapture of South Georgia. The massively lopsided figure when compared to British losses at sea can be attributed to various factors but the main one is generally held to be the Argentine ships being far away from help when they had been stricken leaving men at the mercy of the South Atlantic unlike the British ships that were never more than a mile away from others when they were hit.
    54 argentine airmen had been killed either in or not long after ejecting from their cockpits during the conflict.
    A total of 840 men had been killed on the Falklands either in direct contact with the British troops or during British bombing and artillery strikes.
    A total of 10660 Argentines were recorded as having been held in British custody at one point or another.
    2405 Argentines are recorded as having returned from the Falklands with wounds or medical conditions of varying severity. Unfortunately, the Argentine medical system had found itself unable to cope with the pressures placed upon it by this high intensity conflict.
    It is unknown how many wounded Argentine soldiers passed away in hospital while desperately hoping and waiting for help.
    The Pentagon Wars Part 1
  • The Pentagon, Washington DC, 21st June

    Much like the Soviet Union the United States had taken an extremely close interest in the first peer to peer modern naval conflict.
    The difference between the USA and USSR was that for the latter the Falklands was a conflict far away between a nation that it considered an enemy and another that it had never really cared about meaning that a lot of time and resources had to be spent to gain useful information though often limited about what was going on.
    Being the closest ally of one of the belligerents meant that the USA was not hamstrung by such difficulties and had been determined to make best use of this once in a lifetime learning opportunity.

    Much like what had been happening in Moscow when the conflict had started the United States Navy had put together a team to collate and analyse information relating to the course and conduct of the campaign and to report findings.
    Today a high level meeting was taking place where those findings would be reported and discussions would take place as to if and how those findings should be acted upon.
    Amongst those present were the Secretary of the Navy John Leman, The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General John Vessey, The Commandant of the United States Marine Corps General Robert Barrows and the professional head of the Navy the Chief of Naval Operations Admiral James Watkins. Though not every member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were present there were also very senior representatives from the US Army and USAF who felt that there were learning vital opportunities to be had. As well as the heads of the services the room was filled with an array of other admirals and generals many of whom had commanded, currently commanded or were going to take command of carrier battle groups not to dissimilar to that which the RN had used in action in the South Atlantic. One observer would later remark that there were enough admirals and generals stars in the room to constitute a small galaxy.
    A notable absence was the Secretary of Defence Caspar Weinberger who along with the other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff would be receiving a separate briefing in future which would be primarily focused upon the outcomes and recommendations of this meeting which was primarily a naval and marine corps affair. Depending on what those recommendations were it may then become necessary for Secretary Weinberger to brief the President.

    For the past decade since the end of the its involvement Vietnam War had not been kind to the US Military. It’s numerous failures in South East Asia had shattered its reputation and the not only the publics but its own confidence and faith in its abilities. There were numerous problems that had come about as a result of this such as drug addiction being rife, the military being viewed as a last resort for the desperate and the dregs of society as a career choice meaning that despite the draft having ended the standard of recruit had if anything gotten lower, endemic crime rates, budgets being slashed or funding withheld, the list went on. Something that was particularly worrying were CIA wiretaps that reported that even the US’s NATO allies had serious concerns regarding its ability to conduct operations. If NATO thought that of them what did the Soviets think and what did that mean for its deterrence mission?
    When the President had taken office in 1980 he had set out to rebuild the US Military and restore the nations pride in it. For the first time in years the funding for new equipment was available along the political willingness to do what was necessary. During the Vietnam War naturally a lot of resources, training emphasis and doctrinal development had gone towards developing equipment and techniques for counterinsurgency operations in the jungle. This had come at the expenses of conventional large scale operations to counter the Soviet Union in Germany. The result of this was that in many areas the US had actually fallen behind the Soviet Armed Forces as a result of what had in some ways amounted to neglect. The end of the Vietnam War had ended the overemphasis on small unit tactics and jungle warfare but with the US Military now unpopular with both the public and some areas of the government there hadn’t been any resources available to make the necessary changes.
    To effectively counter the Soviets funding had now ploughed into new programs such as the Rockwell B1-B Supersonic Bomber for the air force and the Bradly IFV and cutting edge M1 Abrams MBT for the army.
    The centrepiece of the administrations military rebuilding plans however was the plan for 600 ship navy. Vast amounts of money were being ploughed into new shipbuilding programs, older vessels were being refitted to update and give them longer service lives, production of the gigantic Nimitz class supercarriers was being ramped and even the old WWII vintage Iowa class battleships were being resurrected.
    The Falklands conflict was the first “modern” naval conflict in the sense that it was the first involving two roughly peer level opponents and the first in which modern technology such as guided anti-ship missiles, supersonic jets and nuclear powered submarines were used.
    It was clear even before it got going that the lessons of this conflict would have implications for the US Military going into the future.

    Though they had not taken direct part in hostilities the US hadn’t exactly been a neutral observer in it. In fact, some would say they had done absolutely everything short of actually declaring war and getting involved in combat operations. Though there had been some debate at first as to what the US’s position and role regarding the conflict should be (With Secretary of State Alexander Haig very lucky to still be employed after he had recommended siding with Argentina to the President even going so far as being ready to classified British military information to the Argentines to show that the US was truly impartial) there had never really been any question of the United States abandoning her closest ally in its time of need. Such a thing would certainly inflict irreparable damage upon NATO as a concept and god only knows what would have happened had the UK been defeated.

    The US Military had thrown its full weight behind providing material and intelligence support to their British friends.
    The RAF base on Ascension Island which had been a vital transport link and base of operations for the British was actually a jointly operated British and American facility naturally meant that American permission had been required for its use. This permission had been enthusiastically forthcoming even before it had been formally requested. Not only that but the islands fuel stocks (which belonged to the US part of the operation) had been made available to the British, USAF transports had helped to provide an air bridge between the islands and the UK, USAF tanker aircraft had taken over UK air defence duties from their British counterparts to allow them to be redeployed to support the Falklands campaign.
    Further afield the US Navy had sortied submarines and ships into the GIUK gap and other areas to relieve RN ships from their tasking and allow them to redeploy south.
    Probably one the most important contributions the United States had made was ensuring that the British had access to NATO munitions and supply stores for use in the campaign. Not only that but the USAF had even emptied its own stocks of the latest LIMA version of the AIM-9 Sidewinder and traded these with the British Task Force on Ascension Island for their older variants of the missile. While helping their British allies the USAF’s also had its own reasons for being so generous with some very expensive hardware. The Vietnam War had demonstrated the limitations of the AIM-9 Sidewinder and the LIMA version had been developed as an attempt to correct these deficiencies. The USAF was eager to see how their new improved missile performed in combat.
    The US intelligence community had a very good working relationship with the British. This had led to the British being given access to a significant amount of often vital intelligence products most notably satellite imagery.
    There was even a rumour flying around that the President had offered to loan the British the LPH USS IWO JIMA in the event that either of their aircraft carriers was sunk. No one could quite work out where that rumour had started and to be honest as detailed in the rumour such a thing would only occur if HMS EAGLE and her supersonic Phantom interceptors had been unable to defend themselves and had been destroyed. In which case what could IWO JIMA and a small number of Sea Harriers hope to achieve?

    In short the United States had been very helpful to Britain and according to the President even the Prime Minister had said that without their help the campaign might not have been possible. Britain owed them big time and now it was payday.
    To this end the British had been extremely open and forthcoming with regards to information. During the hostilities due to operational security considerations the flow of information had been limited but still of a good quality. Now that the campaign was over and the British task force was on its way home the British had in effect opened the treasure trove.
    On their journey home some of the British ships had stopped off at Ascension Island. US officers had been flown out there to meet them and had embarked on British ships where their job was to speak with the British crews and learn as much as possible first hand.
    Already invitations had been sent to the UK for Admiral Woodward and other senior officers to come over to the US and recount their experiences at various lectures and functions that were being laid on. The various UK/US exchange and liaison programs that had been running for years were now generating much more interest and enthusiasm on this side of the pond. The Americans were very keen to get some of the British Phantom and Harrier pilots into instructor roles in the USAF and USN and some of their own pilots imbedded with the British squadrons in order to capitalise on their unique experience. Indeed, some of these British pilots were now aces!
    No doubt any British serviceman who had been involved in the Falklands would find that they never had to pay for a drink in the US.

    The navy Captain who had been leading the information collation and analysis team was one of those officers who while undeniably good at his job had a habit of ruffling the wrong feathers and not always towing the party line. This had seen his career stall somewhat (after a successful tour as CO of a guided missile destroyer) as in any armed forces to move into senior command positions one really needs to be willing to play internal politics game. Unlikely to get a further sea going command he had been somewhat aimlessly hanging around the Pentagon working various staff jobs. However, he had been especially chosen to lead this team as he had the ideal combination of an analytical mind set, an ability for strategic thinking, number crunching and planning and most importantly a reputation for saying what he thought needed to be said and not being concerned about who he upset in doing so. This last point had been the decider as far too many officers and bureaucrats in the Pentagon at the time were largely careerists and were often unwilling to do anything that may ruffle feathers or potentially make them look bad out of concern for their future prospects.

    The team was based at the Naval War College in Newport and was largely made up of the faculty and some selected students.
    With available information limited at first and taking advantage of the available facilities the team had spent most of their times conducting a large number table top war games.
    These games were of varying scope and were run throughout the campaign as new information became available allowing for more up to date scenarios. As the real life campaign went on the starting point of each game would be the present day based on what was known of the present situation.
    The purpose of these games was mainly to work out what was likely to happen next and why? The Captain running the team was less concerned with what happened but why it had happened. What were the sequences of events and reasoning’s behind each decision that was made by either side?
    More importantly at every stage the question would be asked “What would we do in this situation?”
    This would then lead on into “knowing what we do now would we have done anything differently and why?”
    As the conflict had progressed its way to the forefront of the minds of every professional military planner worth his salt more and more resources had been made available to the Captain and his team. In his opinion the most vital resource he had been given was the patronage of the Chief of Naval Operations office which had given him considerable clout and allowed him to bring in quite a number of officers vastly more senior than for “consultations”.

    The officers who were brought in were admirals who nearly all were currently or had recent experience of command of carrier battle groups as they were felt to be the closest equivalent to the British task force commander Rear Admiral Woodward in terms of knowledge and experience of fleet command. Each admiral and his staff were given the same scenario twice each time playing the part of Rear Admiral Woodward.
    Each admiral would usually run through their given scenario twice. The first time would be using the situation in the South Atlantic as it stood (or best guess) with the aim being to try to work out what would might happen next.
    The second time the scenario would remain the same however with Britain being swapped out for the USA and the forces being changed to whatever units the USA would realistically have had available for a campaign in the Falklands. The aim of this was to see how the US would react when put in the same situations as faced by the British.
    With the forces available under the US scenarios being dramatically different naturally dramatically different outcomes had been the result. Because of this many of the participating admirals had insisted upon a full length USA wargame which had taken several days to be played out.
    As the campaign moved from a primarily maritime environment to a land one by the way of an amphibious landing members of the US Army War College and senior US Army and US Marine Corps commanders had been invited to participate.

    One problem the team faced was getting reliable information regarding the Argentine side of things. The majority of Argentine hardware including their ships and aircraft were of US or western origin meaning that their capabilities were of a known quantity. However, when gauging an enemy’s capabilities equipment is only half of the story. The deciding factor is often things like serviceability, training, morale, pilot flying hours, ect and very difficult to estimate from afar.
    The only reliable source the team had of such information related to Argentina’s fleet of A4 Skyhawks. Incredibly a USAF officer had been on secondment to Argentina helping to train pilots on the Skyhawk. Although he had been instructed to stop flying himself on the 30th of April he hadn’t actually been recalled and had continued to work out of his office as normal. The Argentines it seemed had experienced considerable difficulties with the Skyhawks ejector seat system and other maintenance problems and this officers advice seemed to have been a big factor in keeping their frontline air power in working order.
    Eventually someone had actually bothered to read the reports that this officer had been sending back regarding his activities and realised the potential for a diplomatic catastrophe if the British ever found out that an active duty officer of their closest ally had been assisting their enemy in wartime. The officer had immediately been recalled to the States and found his way into the Pentagon. In one room the officer had been extensively debriefed for every scrap of information he had on the state of play in the South Atlantic from the Argentine side. In another room of the same building a group of senior officers having only just recovered from their initial panic attacks tried to work out where to send this officer. They needed somewhere that was really far away (ideally overseas) from anywhere where he might potentially come into contact with any Brits.

    Their work largely done and the meeting at which to present their findings now convened the Captain leading the Information Collation and Analysis took the stage.
    The team had identified seven main strategic factors which had resulted in the outcome of the British being able to comprehensively defeat the Argentinians and capture the Falkland Islands.

    Securing Strong Alliance Partners
    As most of the men in the room had already concluded the British would have found it extremely difficult if not impossible to conduct their campaign without the logistical and intelligence support of the United States.
    As well as the US the British had been able to cultivate a partnership with Chile which had been perceived by the Argentines as a significant military threat causing them to have to allocate a significant proportion of their forces to cover that threat meaning that they could not bring their full strength to bare against the British.
    Since 1978 Argentina had been the subject of an arms embargo. This had prevented them from securing more modern equipment or replacing their material stocks which had put them at a decisive disadvantage against the British. In particular this had compromised the effectiveness of their most effective weapon the Exocet missile as they were unable to obtain significant quantities of these missiles. Had they been able to do so they could have seriously threatened the British warships and made it far too dangerous for the British amphibious ships to approach the islands and therefore prevented the British landings.
    Other countries in West Africa such as Gambia and Serra Leone had been extremely useful to the British in allowing the British access to their territory and facilities to facilitate the movement of supplies and thus easing a burden on the British supply lines.
    New Zealand and the United States had allocated warships to relieve British ships of their duties to enable them to take part in the campaign.
    The lesson to be learned here was the importance of being able to secure assistance from third party countries in order to facilitate lines of communication and as a way of preventing assistance to and applying pressure on the enemy.
    The only military power in the world that theoretically had the ability to conduct unilateral military operations far away from home on its own was the US. However even then a lot of its operational plans and assumptions relied upon the cooperation of other nations.

    In its fight against Britain, which was still a major, albeit declining, power, Argentina completely misjudged the response of not only Britain, but also America, the superpower with great influence. This turned out to be a fatal error and determined the outcome of the war. In addition, Argentina remained weighed down with its dispute with Chile, even though one ideally should minimize the number of its adversaries when starting a war. Argentina therefore was unable to fully concentrate its military forces where it needed them the most.

    Securing Air Superiority
    This one went without saying. The geography of the South Atlantic had favoured the British as they were able to mostly stay beyond the reach of Argentine airpower. Even when they had been able to locate and engage the British landing ships the Argentines had been at a disadvantage due to the distances, they had to travel relative to the British to even get to the fight and hamstrung by their lack of significant AAR capability.
    In the air to air engagements that had taken place the British had always come out on top due to their superior technology and aircrew quality.
    In the majority of air to air engagements the deciding factor had been the fact that the British were able to make use of their Skyflash missiles which had a vastly superior range to anything the Argentines possessed. Even at closer ranges the AIM-9L Sidewinder had proven to be a significant advantage due to its all aspect capability.
    The area where the British had been at a disadvantage was in terms of numbers of aircraft with only a single squadron of Phantoms and single squadron of subsonic Sea Harriers pitted against an entire air force. Therefore apart from the airfields on the Falklands whose destruction they had placed a high priority on the British had not been able to carry out any kind of operation against the Argentine airfields on the mainland or even in the water to the west of the Falklands as the air threat was too great.
    This meant that they had stayed to the East of the Islands meaning that the Argentines had been forced to come to them and fight on their terms. In effect the British had been able to dictate the course of the air aspect of the campaign.
    The loss kill ratio alone said volumes with the argentines having lost dozens of aircraft in air to air engagements and all of the British being the result of groundfire or accidents.

    The British had largely had local air superiority during the day and almost total air dominance during the night which had enabled them to carry out a sustained bombing campaign against the Argentine forces on the islands which had been a big factor in deciding the outcomes of the land battles later on.
    The Argentines had only been able to seriously challenge British air superiority by sortieing large numbers of aircraft and swamping the British defences rather than through air to air capability.
    The part of the campaign that occurred after the battle of San Carlos saw the British enjoying what amounted to total air dominance with the Argentine air force unable to provide support to their own forces ashore or prevent the British from being able to make extensive use of helicopter movement for troop and equipment movement and supply.

    It was felt that the big takeaway from this point should be the importance of being able to locate and engage enemy aircraft long before they came close to their assumed targets. It was also noted that the side that had the longest range in terms of both aircraft and missile range was likely to come out on top. The Phantom being a supersonic long ranged interceptor had again proven itself ideal for this roles.
    Situational awareness and air battle management had also been significant contributing factors as it had allowed for the coordination of a multi layered defence that would not have been possible years previously.
    During the Vietnam war the US had found that the advantages offered by the Phantom were negated by the need to positively identify a target before it could be fired upon. This had the effect of forcing the Phantoms to close with their targets and frequently end up in a tight turning dogfight against nimble Mig 21’s where they were at a distinct disadvantage and their missiles designed for long range struggled.
    Here the British had not been hamstrung by any such considerations owing to their declaration of a Total Exclusion Zone and had been able to engage targets at will. This was reflected in the vastly better results they had achieved.
    The combined plot provided by their AEW aircraft, fighters and shipborne air search radars had meant that the British were able to allocate hunting grounds to different units and use them to their full capability by provide them with clear fields of fire and minimizing the risk of friendly fire through keeping control of their aircraft. This concept had been around for years but this was the first time it had been used in a modern peer to peer war.
    The navy and the air force representatives were already starting to talk about how to act upon the points raised here.

    Securing Command of The Sea
    The battle of the Falkland Islands on the 2nd of May had utterly destroyed the Argentines as a fighting force and they had no longer been a factor in the future course of the conflict. This had removed a significant threat to the British fleet and had allowed them the freedom of movement necessary to conduct amphibious operations.
    Without any naval threat and being protected from the air threat by simple range the British sea lines of communication back to Ascension Island had been able to function completely without any interference or threat which had provided the British with supply line security.
    With their freedom of movement the British Amphibious group had been able to close with the islands in order to conduct Amphibious landings and had been able to position their escorts to protect themselves from the air threat.
    On the Argentine side the enemies command of the sea and air superiority had meant the Argentine forces on the Falklands had been cut off from any hope of resupply, reinforcement or retreat. This had meant that the British had been able to gradually grind them down into submission.

    Concentration of Firepower and Mobility During Ground Operations
    USMC doctrine for amphibious landings was to land as close to the objective as possible in order to ensure the shortest distance to travel and shortest supply lines. In the Falklands land campaign, the objective had been Port Stanley. The British had surprised many by landing a very long way from the objective and somewhere that the even the defenders hadn’t felt the need to defend in any great strength. The Americans however had seen the logic in this as it had allowed the British to take their time to get themselves properly established ashore meaning that the land campaign hadn’t begun until they felt that they were good and ready meaning the ground combat phase had begun on their terms.
    The Argentines had found themselves facing the traditional defender’s conundrum of having to divide their forces to cover all possible angels of attack while the British were able to concentrate forces at particular points and overwhelm the defenders.
    Given they were attacking defenders who were well positioned and dug in the British could have potentially faced great difficulties. Military logic usually dictates that when attacking a prepared position, the attackers need a roughly 4 to one superiority in numbers to prevail. Unable to move such a force to the islands the British had resorted to the use of extremely heavy amounts of firepower. The British had held the initiative during the land battles by being able to choose when and where they would occur as a result of Argentine inaction. This had allowed them to carry out extensive preparatory bombardments and make use of fire support during the assaults in order to make up for their lack of superiority in numbers. Fire support had been invaluable as it had often allowed the British to destroy and difficult Argentine positions rather than directly assaulting them.
    The quality of the British fighting men compared to the Argentines had also been a major factor.

    Of course, getting the men, guns and vast amount of shells that seemed to have been used over the great distance from the British Beach head to the battlefields around Port Stanley had been rather important. The British had declined to move anything overland and had instead made very extensive use of the airmobile capability provided by the large number of helicopters they had brought with them. They had even gone as far as to establish a heliport at San Carlos. The British had been able to move and sustain what amounted to two brigades by helicopter.

    When the details of the battles that had taken place around San Carlos had become known a group of US Army and USMC officers had been assembled and briefed on what had transpired. They had been asked to put themselves in the position of the Argentine defenders and work out what they had done wrong and what they could have done differently. They unanimously agreed that the problem was the defenders had been too willing to remain in their positions and had for whatever reason not attempted any moves of their own and thus allowing the British total freedom to do or act as they pleased. They also pointed out that the Argentines were at a critical disadvantage in important areas such as artillery and air capability.
    When they were asked what they would do if they were in such a position leading US troops who had the same disadvantages the general consensus for some sort of spoiling attack the moment, they became aware of the British and that the worst thing to do was stay put. They did however concede that Argentine commanders may not have felt their men capable of such action.
    When asked about the likelihood of success they were of the opinion that unless they were lucky enough to reach the British in the hour or so after they first arrived when they were still getting themselves established the best results they could hope for were a spoiling attack to throw disrupt the British plans. The longer they left it the more forces the British would have been able to bring into the field meaning that the odds of success would become slimmer.
    They also voiced the opinion that the only reason why the British had been able to move and fight this way was the complete lack of any threat to their helicopters meaning that the airbridge back to San Carlos could be sustained. They reasoned that had the Argentines been able to destroy a number of British helicopters in particular the vital Chinooks then the British would have been obliged to have their force travel overland largely on foot. This would have resulted in a much more drawn out and very different sequence of events.

    Superiority In ISTAR
    Intelligence Surveillance Target Acquisition & Reconnaissance. The British had had a vast superiority in intelligence gathering capability and situational awareness. This had enabled them to plan and execute operations more effectively.
    The Argentines had been severely hamstrung by their frequent inability to tell where the British were or what they were up to. Indeed, the movement of the Argentine naval groups before their destruction on the 2nd of May was that of a pincer movement supported by carrier borne MPA’s. This indicated that the Argentines hadn’t known the exact location of the British fleet which put them at a distinct disadvantage as it would have prevented any plans of attack from being drawn up until right at the last minute and would have impeded effective cooperation between units.
    The British through the use of their cutting edge airborne surface search radars and submarine mounted sonars had been able to pinpoint the locations of the Argentine warships and go on the attack with fatal results for the Argentines.

    Though the military leaders in the room didn’t need to be remined of this particular lesson this was yet more real world proof that the winner in any conflict was usually dictated by who had the best information. There was a very good reason why the US spent more money on intelligence than the total military budgets of every other country in NATO.

    Importance of Joint Operations
    When this subject was brought up many of the men in the room cringed as this was something that the US Military struggled with. Interservice rivalry and lack of cooperation was a massive problem for the US. This had been shown with the humiliating failure of Operation Eagle Claw in Iran two years earlier. The ill fated attempt to rescue US hostages in Iran had failed due to a massively overcomplicated and overambitious plan and due to men and units drawn from each of the armed forces being unable to effectively cooperate and work together.
    The problem was that the way the US Armed Forces were structured meant that interservice cooperation only really took place at the administrative, strategic and higher tactical levels. Individual services were geared towards being able to act largely independently of others (with the obvious exception of the USN and USMC) and there was a lot of overlap of capabilities. For example the USMC was effectively a mini version of the US Army with its own heavy tank battalions and air force whereas in most other countries marines were simply specialised infantry. The USAF, USN and USMC operated their own fast jet forces, the USAF effectively had its own infantry force and even the US Coast Guard operated what were effectively Frigates. As with any other armed forces worldwide the US armed forces were not above fighting amongst and backstabbing each other when it came to allocating money to projects. The men in the room were all old enough to remember the infamous “Revolt of the Admirals” incident which had come about largely as a result of the navy jealously trying to guard against the perceived threat from the air force.
    Even now in the room with money for new equipment potentially up for grabs officers from different services were eying each other suspiciously and thinking of ways to make sure that the money went to their services.

    The British had been able to achieve a seamless operational inter services cooperation at every level. RAF helicopters had operated from Royal Navy ships and MPA’s had supported and coordinated with the Navy. British army and marine personnel had been able to effectively work together with 3 COMMANDO Brigade known to me a joint army and marine formation. Even British army paratroopers had been able to deploy from navy warships aboard navy helicopters.
    it was clear in this respect that the British were lightyears ahead of the US having been forced by shrinking defence budgets over the years not always matched by shrinking commitments to make the best use of what they had.
    Part of the problem for the US was simple circumstance. When for example would US Army Paratroopers ever be required to deploy from US Navy LPH’s aboard air force helicopters when the USMC was available and equipped for this?
    The combined arms and self sufficient make up of divisional and fleet level units meant that operations were largely intended to be carried out by just one service.
    For example the US Navy operated the nations MPA capability whereas in Britain the Nimrod MPA’s were operated by the RAF however were only operationally used to support the navy.

    It wasn’t going to be easy or popular and would probably prompt a few early career endings but with the debacle of Operation EAGLE CLAW and now the British showing them up it was clear that there needed to be a culture change and a strong effort within the US Military to be able to work together more closely and play nicely with each other.
    It would almost certainly require the US Congress or Senate to get involved to achieve this. There were even rumours that the President was looking at forming a presidential commission to look at what would need to be done.

    By all accounts the Argentine armed forces had been completely unprepared for this campaign and wrongfooted by it and this had manifested itself at every level right down to men not having appropriate clothing for the environment they were deployed to.
    The British on the other hand being an island nation had always geared themselves towards overseas warfare and due to their foreign policy had generally kept their military at a higher state of readiness. This meant that a lot of preparations required for warfare such as stockpiling of supplies and adequate training had already taken place to enable their men to be ready to respond quickly. Granted this had in recent years been done with responding to a Soviet threat in Europe in mind but it was a testament to their higher preparedness that they had been able to reorientate themselves so quickly to respond to this unexpected situation in this unexpected place.
    The Argentines on the other hand had been more geared towards internal operations such as counter insurgency and homeland defence. When called upon to fight a conventional war away from the infrastructure of home their system had struggled to cope.

    With the briefing part of the days meeting now complete the audience broke for lunch. On the way out the Secretary of the Navy personally congratulated the Captain who had run the team and many of the senior naval officer’s present including the CNO had been very impressed by his work. Perhaps his career had just been given its second wind?

    The afternoon would be a smaller affair held in a conference room where the assembled senior officers would discuss the findings that had been presented and how the US Military should act upon them in terms of equipment purchases and doctrine.
    It would prove to be a rather more interesting meeting than those which usually took place I this room.
    The Pentagon Wars Part 2
  • Take any serviceman of any rank in any armed force in any nation across the world and it is a certainty that they will have a few things to say about the standard of the food they receive. None of them good. Even in the Pentagon of all places while the food was notably better than what the grunts on the frontline were fobbed off with the senior officers eating it could still find a reason to complain. It wasn’t that the chefs were bad or the ingredients of poor quality. Far from it. It was more that the chefs had learnt through experience that if they were tasked with preparing lunch for senior officers and government officials who were attending an all day meeting there was no need to pour their heart and soul into it. Either the meeting would overrun meaning no one got any time for lunch or the diners would be so busy talking that they wouldn’t get more than a few mouthfuls anyway. The chefs often reasoned that if it was mostly going to end up congealing on the plate anyway before ultimately being thrown in the bin then what was the point of putting more than the minimum amount of effort into their food?

    Indeed, on this occasion the chef’s assumptions were once again correct. Having absorbed so much information in the morning the assembled high ranking officers were to busy discussing its implications before the afternoon meeting to be too concerned about food. The afternoon meeting was intended to work out how the US Armed Forces should act upon the lessons that had been learned in the Falklands Conflict, particularly in terms of procurement and all the officers attending wanted to have some thoughts and ideas ready before it started.
    The afternoon meeting was a much smaller affair than the one that had taken place in the morning with attendance limited to service chiefs and their aides and those senior officers with responsibility and decision making power relating to procurement and development. Once again, the Secretary of the Navy John Lehman was chairing.
    Lehman had decided that he wanted the meeting ordered in terms of what could be brought into service soonest first and moving towards longer term procurement projects towards the end of the meeting.

    The Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Watkins was the first to offer his observations. One of his biggest takeaways from the morning briefing and the conflict in general was the vulnerability of surface ships to guided missiles. A total of 7 warships (6 Argentine and 1 British) had been destroyed by Anti-Ship Missiles. Granted one of those was to a French made Exocet which was arguably one of the most sophisticated ASM’s available at that time but the six Argentine ships had been lost to manually guided Martel’s. A missile considered to be obsolete!
    Previously it had been thought that an aircraft operating anywhere near a hostile surface unit equipped with SAM’s would be extremely vulnerable and indeed some naval theorists had even speculated that the advent of long ranged air search radars and sophisticated SAM systems aboard warships would probably make air attacks against warships too dangerous to be a realistic option. The Falklands conflict had certainly blown that theory out of the water. Now it was looking like in reality the surface unit was the one that was extremely vulnerable to the aircraft and not the other way around.
    It had been noted that three of the ships destroyed by air attack had been Type 42 Destroyers which were considered to be amongst the most modern warships afloat at the time equipped with a state of the art SAM system the Sea Dart. Yet these ships had been almost effortlessly destroyed by aircraft.
    Clearly some serious thought needed to go into a revaluation into all aspects of how US warships would defend themselves from guided missiles in general. The Soviets had long placed a high emphasis on guided missile technology and usage and the naval men in the room shuddered at the thought of just how easy it would be for a swarm of guided anti-ship missiles to overwhelm the defences of even a carrier battle group and inflict catastrophic damage. The fact that such a strike could be delivered by even a single SSGN didn’t help things.

    One new capability that the Admirals in the room were adamant would make a significant difference was CIWS or Close In Weapon System. The navy had slowly been introducing a new system called Phalanx which was an automated 20mm Gatling gun equipped with its own radar and intended to provide a last ditch defence against incoming missiles. With the exception of the Sea Wolf point defence SAM neither side in the Falklands had operated a modern CWIS leaving a serious capability deficiency. The navy men in the room were adamant that had a system like Phalanx been in play then some of the ships sunk would still be afloat today. Indeed, the RN were convinced that HMS GLASGOW would likely have survived the Exocet attack that led to her loss had she been equipped with a Phalanx system and had already sent an RFI (Request for Information) to the systems manufacturer General Dynamics. It was clear that the Brits were convinced of the value of CWIS and Admiral Watkins repeatedly emphasised the systems relatively modest unit price and the quantum leap in self defence capability that it offered.
    In the end General Vessey the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs had to stop the admiral saying that he was firmly convinced of the systems value. He then asked what the navy was proposing.
    The navy demanded that funds be made available for an immediate Phalanx crash procurement program. All new ships would be designed have Phalanx included in the design and ships currently in service would have the system fitted as soon as was possible. Given that currently only 23 systems had been ordered for the navy and only one ship USS CORAL SEA was currently fully equipped with the system this would necessitate Phalanx procurement being increased by at least ten fold. Installing it on new build would be easy enough as pretty much all recent and upcoming vessels had been designed to carry the system from the outset and already had space allocated.
    With regards to installing the system on older vessels this would require varying degrees of work depending on the size and age of the vessel in order to install the equipment necessary to operate and power the system and to make room to store the vast quantities of 20mm shells that would be required. It would also be important to make sure that the system was located somewhere that would give it the widest possible field of fire. Someone pointed out that with arcs of fire limited by the ships superstructure most ships would need at least two systems with larger ships such as the carriers needing at least four to be able to cover all directions. The navy was also insistent that they wouldn’t be content with just warships being fitted with CWIS. They wanted the system fitted to all of their currently mostly unarmed auxiliary and sea lift vessels. Some even went so far as for certain merchant ships likely to be of wartime value to have provision made for CWIS to be fitted during wartime.
    With regards to the actual fitting of the system to the ships themselves most of the ships could have the necessary work done either alongside or as part of their normal refit cycle depending on the availability of the Phalanx systems. Some ships particularly older ones where more work may be required to support the system would have to have special overhaul and upgrade periods.
    At that point Secretary Lehman stopped managed to stop the Admirals who he thought were getting slightly carried away and told them that he was more than sold on the idea and would give it his immediate go ahead on his own authority and regardless of its cost he would find the money from somewhere. He remarked that anyone who owned shares in General Dynamics right now would be doing very well over the next few months.

    The next subject to be brought up was the lessons learned relating to shipborne firefighting and damage control. Firefighting is taken extremely seriously by navy’s worldwide. Following the fires aboard USS ORISKANY in 1966, USS FORRESTAL in 1967 and USS ENTERPRISE in 1969 which had between them cost the lives of over 200 men the US Navy had realised how inadequate it firefighting practises were and so had heavily invested resources into firefighting and damage control equipment and more importantly making sure that every single one of its personnel was an expert on the subject. It was now commonly said that members of the USN were now firefighters first and sailors second.
    Naturally the navy men in the room were extremely interested in the RN’s experience in the Falklands with relation to damage control. Indeed, only days ago the subject had been discussed in depth during a telephone conversation between Admiral Watkins and his British counterpart the First Sea Lord Admiral Leach. During the course of the conversation Leach had shared some absolute gems of useful information relating to the RN’s experiences and findings.
    One thing he emphasised was the unsuitability of polyester and other manmade fibres for use in uniforms at sea. When exposed to the extreme temperatures encountered by RN personnel within burning ships the synthetic fibres in the men’s clothing had melted causing horrific and disfiguring burns.
    Watkins knew that RN uniforms being made out of such materials was a cost saving measure and had worried that his own force might at some point in future be forced by Congress to adopt such uniforms for the same reason. While the call was still ongoing he had handwritten a note to his aide to begin preparations to commission a report into the suitability of manmade fibres in navy working uniforms.
    Other significant issues that the British had encountered included not having sufficient quantities of firefighting clothing and equipment on their ships to equip sufficient numbers of men. The equipment they did have not being completely suitable for use at sea or in the conditions encountered. Aluminium which was increasingly being used in the construction of warships owing to its lighter weight and lower costs had been found to be a serious handicap when ships began to sustain damage. Aluminium had a lower heat failure point and many RN personnel who had been involved in the firefighting efforts on the aluminium constructed Type 21 Frigates had noted how bulkheads and decks had begun to warp under heat stress and how this had made fire containment extremely difficult if not impossible. Worse when aluminium reached a high enough temperature it had been found to release toxic gasses.
    This last point really caught the attention of the army and air force representatives in the meeting as many of their aircraft and vehicles were constructed out of aluminium. The army personnel were particularly concerned as from the sounds of it their new M2 Bradly APC when hit by enemy fire may actually turn out to be little more than a very expensive gas chamber for the unfortunate soldiers inside.

    Admiral Leach had stated that the British Ministry of Defence was going to be conducting a very in depth study into firefighting and damage control at sea and that this was likely going to result in sweeping changes across the whole RN in terms of equipment, training, procedures and just as importantly culture. He pointed out that even civilian fire brigades and merchant ship operators were keen to take part and benefit from the results. He also dropped the line “cost no object”.
    Watkins had gotten the strong impression the British were hinting that perhaps the US Navy would like to be a part of things.
    Watkins had agreed to this and recommended to the meeting that the British be offered funding for their study in exchange for not only the resulting reports and recommendations but British expertise and assistance in a follow on study to work out what would need to be done to apply the study’s findings to the US Navy.
    Watkins emphasised that the study itself would be the cheap bit. The expensive bit would be purchasing new damage control equipment and making the necessary changes to the ships themselves. Sensing that some in the room were not exactly happy with the likely costs or were not entirely convinced by the navy’s arguments and may try to restrict any funding for this Watkins sought to explain the navy’s reasoning. He stated that while the British no longer ruled the waves the RN was still one of the most professional organisations afloat. Indeed, though he was loathe to admit it in many areas they easily rivalled if not surpassed the US Navy. One of these areas was in ship board firefighting and damage control. If the British (who were now the most experienced people in this area) were worried and felt that serious changes were needed, then they were worth listening to. Watkins finished off his argument with the statement that not doing so would be an act of extreme negligence.
    Again Lehman was convinced and agreed to the navy’s proposals and promised that whatever the costs the money would be found.

    The meeting now moved on to those potential programs that would be larger and take longer to deliver. They started with naval aircraft.

    Going back to their emphasis on fleet defence and defence against guided missiles the navy stated that the Falklands Conflict had once again demonstrated the importance of air superiority. Three big naval air battles had taken place during the conflict. On the 2nd of May British carrier borne strike aircraft had attacked and destroyed 6 Argentine warships including an aircraft carrier. The Argentine ships had not had any air cover and despite having two Sea Dart equipped ships had been unable to effectively defend themselves against subsonic aircraft and ASM’s that were considered to be near obsolete. By contrast when the Argentines had attacked the British on the 6th and 21st of May despite still sustaining losses the British had been able to effectively defend themselves and had inflicted crippling losses to the attackers by virtue of being able to use top quality fleet interceptor aircraft.
    The main strategic focus of the US Armed Forces and the reason for its present build up was to counter the Soviets effectively. The Soviet Navy had in recent years entered the carrier game and was continuing to develop their naval aviation capability. They already had the KIEV class in service. Granted these were less aircraft carriers and more guided missile cruisers that could carry aircraft but they were clearly a stepping stone to something bigger. The Defence Intelligence Agency had already found evidence from satellite imagery that the Black Sea shipyard that had built the KIEV’s was gearing itself up to work on something bigger. Most analysts agreed that Soviet carrier battle groups would become a thing within the decade and therefore the US Navy would need to be prepared to counter this. As well as potential future Soviet aircraft carriers and ever larger surface ships such as the monstrously large nuclear powered KIROV class guided missile cruisers there was also the increasing threat from Soviet land based long ranged bombers such as the supersonic TU-22M which carried large and long ranged anti-ship missiles such as the KH-22.

    To counter these threats, the navy had two recommendations. The Falklands had demonstrated the value of fast long ranged interceptors that were able to race out and destroy enemy aircraft before they got close enough to become a threat to a carrier group. Indeed, the best protection against ASM’s was to intercept and destroy the aircraft carrying them before they got within launching range. The navy’s current interceptor and air defence aircraft was the Grumman F-14A Tomcat.
    Having been in service for 8 years now the navy had been working on a modest upgrade package to modernise the aircraft up to F14A+ standard. The navy now wanted to go further with updating the aircraft.
    Rather than simply updating a number of existing F14A’s to A+ standard they wanted to go with what they termed the F14B. They wanted the existing TF30 engine replaced with something more powerful such as an improved version of the General Electric F110 to improve the aircrafts performance, the addition of a Radar Warning Receiver system and the replacement of some avionics with more up to date systems.
    The stated intention was for all F14’s currently on order to be completed to F14B standard and for as many A models as possible to be upgraded. They accepted that due to cost it was unlikely that all of the existing F14A’s could be updated but they were happy to accept that as they also had something else in mind for the F14.
    As well as the F14B which would simply be an upgrade of existing aircraft the navy now pushed for the development of a new variant of the F14 for now dubbed the “Super Tomcat”.
    The intention was for the F14B to serve as an interim aircraft before the introduction of the “Super Tomcat”. These aircraft would be new builds as opposed to upgrades of existing aircraft and would be a much more extensive update of the F14 design intended to improve performance keep the F14 at the cutting edge of technology and capability going into the future. The navy said that they would ideally want this new aircraft in service by the year 1990.

    Next up the navy stated that they would need a new strike aircraft to replace the A6 Intruder which they estimated at already nearly 20 years old couldn’t be reasonably expected to last past 1995.
    The Falklands had thrown up a number of interesting points with regards to naval strike aircraft. While the most effective method for an aircraft to attack a ship at sea was now without a doubt to launch a guided missile at it there was still a need to be able to deliver bombs dropped from above a target. The British beachhead at San Carlos had been carefully chosen to prevent the effective use of guided missiles due to the protection provided by simple geography. The Argentine pilots therefore had been required to attack the British ships with bombs which had necessitated overflying them. This had in turn exposed them to interception by British aircraft and to the British missile and gun defences which had extracted a terrible toll upon the Argentines.
    Clearly aircraft survivability was something that needed to be given priority with regards to the development of a new attack aircraft.
    This was where the navy wanted to try something new (and probably expensive). Rather than trying to make a new aircraft that was faster and more manoeuvrable and better able to protect itself they wanted to go in a different direction, Stealth.
    The USAF was currently working on bringing a revolutionary new aircraft into service. The F117 Nighthawk stealth attack aircraft promised to be a complete game changer that could simply fly right through any air defence network with the enemy being none the wiser.
    The navy were very interested in the possibilities offered by such an aircraft being operated from aircraft carriers. To this end they proposed that the aircraft that ultimately replaced the A6 should be a stealth attack aircraft possibly a derivative of the F117 Nighthawk. Although it would take a very long time to develop such an aircraft the proposal to bring a new stealth attack aircraft into service by 1994 was enthusiastically received. The Marine Corps liked the idea of having some of their own and even the USAF who at the time believed that the future lay in stealth aircraft thought that such an aircraft could even serve as a good follow on to the F117.
    It was agreed to recommend the development of what was for now dubbed the Advanced Tactical Aircraft to the President.

    The next subject to be discussed would relate to surface ship design and need for situational awareness and ways to improve this. With regards to the latter it had been noted how the Argentines in the Falklands had had very little information regarding the disposition of their enemy and that often Argentine pilots had effectively been flying into the unknown. This was considered to be a decisive factor in the overall outcome.
    It wasn’t enough to simply gather the required information relating to situational awareness but more about how it was handled as this would influence command decisions about how to act upon it. Luckily this was something that had already been addressed and acted upon even before the conflict in the Falklands had broken out.
    AEGIS was a new integrated computer and naval weapons system that was due to come into service the next year aboard the first of the new TICONDEROGA class guided missile cruisers. The system tied together the ships sensor, computer and weapon systems and enabled quick and more effective responses to threats. It had been developed when it had been recognised that human operators would struggle to keep up in a modern high intensity naval battle involving multiple extremely fast moving threats such as supersonic missiles. The intention had been to reduce reaction and response times by introducing as much automation as possible and moving as much of the information processing requirement and demands off of the human operators and onto the much quicker thinking computers. A key advantage of AEGIS was its ability to quickly identify, prioritise and respond to threats with the human operator present more as an oversight and check than anything else. The Falklands conflict had in the opinion of the navy demonstrated the value of such a system.
    Despite AGIES it had now been recognised that one of its limiting factors when responding to threats such as guided missiles would be the ships missile reload speed.
    Currently SAM’s within the US Navy were launched off of launcher rails with the new TICONDEROGA class using a Mark 26 twin rail launcher system. The limiting factor with rails was once a missile was launched precious time would be lost reloading.
    In the case of the British attack upon the Argentine DE MAYO carrier group the escorting Type 42 Destroyers had launched four Sea Dart SAM’s from their twin rails. Despite two of the Martel ASM’s having been downed the basic problem was the British had launched a total of 8 missiles at the two destroyers who had only been able to respond with a total of 4 Sea Darts. There simply had not been enough time to reload and get off a second shot before the British missiles had impacted their targets (again highlighting the need for effective CIWS). This inherent flaw with rail launched missiles meant that theoretically it would be very easy to destroy a surface force by saturating the defences with missiles as the defenders wouldn’t be able to launch enough missiles in defence quickly enough.
    The team that had conducted the initial analysis and war gaming of the conflict and who had presented their findings this morning had recognised this limitation and recommended the adoption of a vertical launching system. Instead of missiles being stored in a magazine and individually moved to a launching rail on deck the theory was that a ships entire compliment of missiles would be arranged on deck in their own individual launch tubes. The advantage of this was their rate of fire would not be limited by launcher availability and so the ship would be much better able to defend itself against saturation attacks.
    The navy officers in the room agreed with the analysis team’s recommendation that Vertical Launch Systems should be included in future warship construction. With regards to the TICONDEROGA class the hull was large enough to allow for a VLS but this would require extensive redesign which would take well over a year. The first 5 ships had already been ordered and 2 were already under construction with the first USS TICONDEROGA having already been launched and due to commission early next year. Clearly making such extensive changes to these ships was completely unfeasible. The navy therefore would have to accept these first five cruisers as they were. Therefore they decided to halt any more orders for the class for now and conduct the necessary redesign work before recommencing production of the ships which would from hull 6 onwards be equipped with VLS systems.

    The subject now turned to destroyers. In 1980 the navy had initiated design studies for a new class of destroyer which would be a follow on to the Spruance Class. In light of the lessons learnt as a result of the Falklands conflict and taking advantage of the fact that no decisions had yet been made let alone awarding of contracts or steel cutting having taken place it would be wise to stop and start over again.
    The specifications for the new destroyers would be rewritten in light of the conflict. The meeting went on to a very rough outline of what those specifications should be. The new destroyer was to be of all steel construction with aluminium having proved itself to be unsuitable and potentially dangerous. Vital spaces would be protected with double armour, the design was to be equipped with AEGIS and VLS. Where possible elements of stealth were to be included and the ships internal layout to be designed based upon the results of future studies into shipboard firefighting and damage control. Based on these requirements alone the men in the room could see that such a ship would easily be over 8000 tons in displacement which wouldn’t be far off the TICONDEROGA’s 9500 tons.

    The next item came in the form of the Navy asking the Marine Corps if they had given any thought to the potential offered by their AV-8 Harriers in light of the Royal Navy’s experiences with using the Sea Harrier in combat. The head of the USMC’s aviation branch had replied that the USMC didn’t really think that the Harrier offered much in the way of air defence capability and that it would be much better suited to providing the marines with their own organic ground attack and close air support capability. Despite RN Sea Harriers having successfully intercepted and downed a small number of Argentine attack aircraft the Falklands Conflict hadn’t done much to change this view but they were interested in how the RN had made maximum use out of a comparatively limited aircraft. One of the naval officers pointed out how the use of a ski jump aboard HMS INVINCIBLE had allowed British Harriers to launch with greater weapon and fuel loads compared to their USMC counterparts who either had to take off vertically which used a ton of fuel or make straight run take offs off the bow of the LPH’s which again limited the weight of weapons that could be carried. The navy suggested that it might be worth looking at retrofitting ski jumps to the TARAWA class LPH and including them in the design for the planned follow on LPH class, the WASP class. The marines however immediately stamped on this idea before it could get off the ground so to speak. While Harriers provided an important capability to LPH’s in the USMC’s opinion they were of secondary importance to the LPH’s primary role of providing helicopters to air lift marines ashore. Installing ski jumps would mean the loss of at least one helicopter landing spot and thus an adverse effect on troop lift capability that they were not prepared to accept.

    Instead the marines actually surprised the naval officers while being able to take pleasure in chastising them a bit. They pointed out that one thing that had seemingly been ignored during the course of the day was ASW.
    One of the admirals though slightly embarrassed countered that they hadn’t considered it to be as relevant as other things. There had only been three incidents of submarine action during the conflict. The first had been an elderly WWII era submarine being caught on the surface near South Georgia and promptly sunk by British helicopters. The navy had reasoned that such an outcome was inevitable as any submarine that was caught on the surface by the enemy was in serious trouble anyway and that the elderly Balao Class submarine had no business operating in the same vicinity as the finest submarine killing organisation in the world (The RN) meaning that that particular incident could be discounted.
    The second was the sinking of the ARA GENERAL BELGRANO and ARA HIPOLITO BOUCHARD by the British SSN HMS CONQUEROR. Again this had been discounted as unrepresentative of what a modern conflict would be like as the Argentine ships were again elderly WWII era vessels with next to no ASW capability pitted against a modern SSN.
    The third incident which had taken place earlier the same day was the assumed sinking of the Argentine Type 209 SSK ARA SAN LUIS by British helicopters. Some pointed out that this was again unrepresentative as this incident involved a single SSK compared to the multitude of modern SSN’s and SSGN’s that the Soviets would likely employ in any conflict. The US Navy and USMC had been rather interested with how the RN had used large numbers of ASW helicopters operating from both HMS INVINCIBLE and the LPH HMS HERMES. They remembered how INVINCIBLE had originally been intended to be a large flat top ASW helicopter carrier and thought that the idea had merit. It wouldn’t be that difficult to embark large numbers of ASW helicopters onto an LPH like the TARAWA class and use them as ASW platforms. The Commandant of the Marine Corps General Barrows stated that he wouldn’t be against the idea of ASW Helicopters being routinely carried aboard amphibious ships as they could provide an extra layer of ASW protection. Something that kept him awake at night was the thought of a fully loaded LPH (2500 men in the case of USS TARAWA) being torpedoed. Furthermore, if it came down to it ASW helicopters could still be used as transports.

    Next up came the final and most expensive issue that needed to be resolved. Munitions usage. Despite the Falklands being classed as a limited low intensity conflict the British had expended vast quantities of munitions of all types not to mention fuel and other supplies. In fact the British had admitted that towards the latter stages of the conflict their operations and decision making had begun to become seriously affected by munition supply concerns.
    The Americans were seriously worried about the fact that munitions in this limited conflict expenditure had massively exceeded their expectations and what this would mean for a conventional operation’s in Europe.
    The RAND corporation had been doing some number crunching regarding munitions and supply usage and resupply rates for a large scale conventional conflict against the Soviets. The results made for sobering reading. It seemed that pervious plans and assumptions had been way to optimistic and that NATO forces in Europe were ill prepared to sustain prolonged combat operations. Based on the RAND Corporation’s revised estimates taking into account expected munitions losses as a result of enemy action NATO forces would exhaust their supplies within a matter of days. NATO’s reinforcement and resupply plan codenamed Reforger if given enough lead in time before the outbreak of hostilities could theoretically buy a bit of extra time but in reality this would likely be cancelled out as any munitions brought over from the US would most likely simply be used up by the expected reinforcement units that were slated to be transported. Any losses to the resupply convoys would quite quickly make prolonged combat operations unsustainable and everyone in the room knew what that would likely mean. Once supplies became exhausted and commanders lost their ability to fight conventionally then they would most likely be forced to resort to tactical nuclear weapons. Once that genie was let out the consequences would be dire for mankind.

    Now was when things would become really expensive. It was estimated that the quantities of munitions stockpiled not only in theatre but also in the strategic reserve within the continental United States would have to be more than doubled. This would involve building new storage deports and possibly even subsidising the construction of new munitions production facilities.
    That wasn’t even the worst part. It wasn’t enough to simply have more ammunition but there would need to be an increase in the capability to move it from the supply deports to the frontline units that needed it. The RAND Corporation had not only taken into account the revised estimates for supply consumption but also anticipated losses of transport ships and aircraft due to enemy action and resulting disruption. The Military Sealift Command which was the branch of the navy that operated the various auxiliary and transport ships would see a vast increase in size with new classes of RoRo vessels and auxiliary oiler commissioned.
    Not only that but it was also recognised that moving supplies and reinforcements by sea may well be to slow to keep up with demand meaning that an enlarged air lift capability would be required. Even then it was reckoned that even if operating at maximum capacity and tempo the Air Force’s transport aircraft would merely be able to reduce the rate at which supply and munitions stocks already in theatre would be depleted. The best they could hope for from a strategic point of view would be to buy time for the Reforger convoys to arrive.
    The USAF officers in the room stated that the best way to meet this last requirement would likely have to be the restarting production of the gigantic Lockheed C-5 Galaxy strategic transport aircraft.

    Getting the funding from Congress for the increased munitions stocks and extra transport ships and aircraft would be an emotional affair for all involved. It was hard enough getting funds for “sexy” items such as tanks, warships and combat aircraft but asking for yet even more vast sums of money for support capability would be even harder to get pass politicians who perhaps didn’t appreciate the vital importance of supply capability in the same way that military men did.

    With the meeting drawing to a close Secretary Lehman who had been chairing the meeting outlined what would happen next. The recommendations that had been made would be presented to the Secretary of Defence Casper Weinberger and the Joint Chiefs of Staff along with other senior officers who had not been present at this meeting. If the recommendations met with the Secretary of Defence’s approval then they would be presented to the President. Ultimately they would have to go before congress and the various Senate appropriations and armed services committees before the required funding and go authorisations could be obtained. Some items could be proposals could be enacted immediately and paid for out of existing budgets without the need to get the politicians involved. Some would hopefully sail through Congress and the Senate (or at least move as smoothly as was possible when politics was a factor). Some of the more expensive items though vital would have to be fought for tooth and nail.

    With the meeting now effectively over Secretary Lehman asked the standard question “any other business?”. It was at this point that the Commandant of the Marine Corps General Barrow said that he wanted to talk about Naval Gunfire Support. This drew an immediate groan and a few protests from all the naval officers assembled as they knew what the General really wanted to talk about. When Secretary Lehman agreed to the Generals request this resulted in a chorus of groans, protests and angry and sarcastic instructions to aides to cancel appointments and tell spouses that they wouldn’t be home for up to a few days.
    The army and air force contingents pointed out that they were present more as observers and that the upcoming conversation had little to do with them as they unsuccessfully tried to excuse themselves. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Vessey, himself a US Army officer stopped ordered them to remain seated stating that if he had to sit and suffer through this one then they were damned well going to as well.

    The reactivation of the four WWII vintage IOWA class battleships was a bit of a touchy subject within the navy.
    it was something that had been forced upon them by Congress as part of the 600 ship navy policy. The official reasoning behind this was for the ships to act as a counter to the Soviets new 28000 ton nuclear powered KIROV class guided missile cruiser. Further influencing the decision to reactivate the IOWA’s was the marine corps insistence that it needed the NGS capabilities offered by the 16 inch guns when conducting an amphibious landing and that some within congress somewhat erroneously believed that reactivating older ships was cheaper than new builds.
    While bringing back the battleships did have its advocates within the navy there were many more officers who were less than thrilled about the prospect. First there were the practicalities of reactivating, updating and operating 58000 ton battleships.

    The ships were approaching 30 years old and had spent the overwhelming majority of their lives laid up in reserve. Indeed, the USS MISSOURI hadn’t been to sea since 1955. In the opinion of one naval officer in the room the damned thing belonged in a museum. In fact the USS ALABAMA which was only 2 years older than MISSOURI actually was in a museum!
    The fact was that these ships had been designed more than 40 years ago to fight a war that had come and gone and required extensive modernisation to be brought back into service. Since these ships had been built big naval guns had been replaced by guided missiles, AA guns had been replaced by SAM’s and sea planes had been superseded by helicopters. Each ship would have to be receive engine overhauls to allow them to run on distillate fuel which was the navy’s standard fuel having moved on considerably from the second world war era. Obsolete electronics and anti aircraft gun armament would have to be ripped out and replaced with modern electronic warfare systems, CIWS and missiles. The cost of modernising each was about the same as building a brand new OLIVER HAZARD PERRY class frigate. Given that the IOWA’s were already 40 years old and would have a limited lifespan remaining many within the navy would have much preferred to have the new frigates instead.
    Then having spent the estimated $1.7 Billion that it would take to reactivate the ships there would be the various issues around actually operating the damned things. Each ship would have a complement of about 1800 men. The manpower it would take to run all four would be almost enough to crew an entire carrier battle group. Worse despite the extensive upgrades that the ships would receive there would still be plenty of old and obsolete systems onboard which would throw up all sorts of maintenance and training headaches. With regards to the main armament of 16 inch guns they would have to start from scratch with training personnel to operate them as no one had fired the damned things in almost 15 years. The were all sorts of plans to integrate the elderly guns with modern targeting systems but in reality this would throw up a whole heap of issues with trying to make technology separated by 40 years work with each other and take them even further into unknown territory with regards to training personnel to use them. Navy officers cringed at the fact that they were probably going to be forced to drag elderly WWII and Korean War veterans out of retirement to act as instructors.

    With regards to providing naval gunfire support to the marines the navy questioned the value of the capability offered by the battleships when compared to the costs of operating them. Sure, there weren’t many things in the world that could argue with a 16 inch shell but there was more one way to skin a cat. The navy pointed out that the British had used the smaller and more modern 4.5 inch guns on their frigates and destroyers quite successfully in the NGS role. Why couldn’t US destroyers and cruisers do the same? Also the USMC was soon to introduce the new Harrier AV-8B which like their predecessors would be routinely deployed aboard LPH’s. Surely one of those things armed with laser guided bombs could be just as effective against even hard targets as a 16 inch shell?

    There were other problems relating specifically to the 16 inch guns. In the same way that aircraft are only rated for a certain number of flight hours naval guns are only rated for a certain number of shells. With the ships having seen extensive action in WWII, Korea and Vietnam plus the various training exercises in between the guns had already fired more than a few shells and were by now fairly worn down on the inside of the barrels. In fact some of them realistically had as few as 200 rounds left in their lifespans before it would become dangerous to fire them. Bearing in mind that a large number of shells would likely be expended in testing and training that figure would rapidly decline meaning that soon they could well reach the point where they would have paid vast sums of money for ships that could no longer use their primary armament.
    Shells were another issue. Manufacture of 16 inch shells had stopped at the end of the second world war when it had been felt that there was no future for battleships. Since then whenever the ships had been called into action the navy had been forced to did in to a vast but finite stock of shells kept in storage seeing as there was no longer the capability to manufacture new ones. Just as bad was the fact that large shells manufactured 35 years ago could well prove to be below what was considered acceptable by the modern navy with regards to ammunition safety.

    With regards to the ships primary mission of taking on the Soviet KIROV class the navy considered this to be utterly ridiculous. Sure they would be fitted with Harpoon SSM’s and the upcoming Tomahawk missiles but if the Falklands Conflict had done anything it had proven what many had been saying for years that in the modern world surface engagements were extremely unlikely as in reality the ships would most likely have been sunk by aircraft or submarines before they ever came into missile range. As for the guns the KIROV’s were known to carry SS-N-19 Shipwreck SSM’s with an estimated range of over 600km. There was not the faintest chance of the IOWA’s ever getting close enough to engage with guns.

    The navy did accept some of the reasoning for reactivating the ships but their main concern was the cost of bring what was an obsolete type of ship back to life particularly now there would be so many other funding priorities and the need for all four ships.
    The USS NEW JERSEY had seen service in the Vietnam War and had been put to bed in 1969. Therefore, she was already somewhat modernised compared to her sisters and would cost the least to reactivate. Indeed, the work to do so was already underway. USS IOWA was slated to be brought back to life next rentering service in 1984 with MISSOURI and WISCONSIN to follow at 2 yearly intervals.
    The navy were happy to bring NEW JERSEY and at a push IOWA back into service but wanted to abandon plans to reintroduce the final two ships and instead use them for spare parts to support their active sisters.
    The marines were outraged by this and pointed out that the decision had already been made by congress and the navy had no choice in the matter.

    Sensing that as with so many other discussions on the subject this one was yet again going to devolve into a shouting match that would go on all night General Vessey silently prayed to god to somehow end is suffering and wondered if he would ever get to see his home again.
    The Eagle's Nest
  • HMS EAGLE, South Coast Operating Area’s, 3rd July

    The Phantom pilot felt the G forces press his body back into his seat as with in the blink of an eye his aircraft was accelerated by the bow catapult and thrown off the end of the flight deck. Now taking active control of his aircraft he pulled back on the stick and quickly gained altitude.
    With this aircraft launch now complete the Wessex HAS 1 SAR Helicopter that had been acting as plane guard was given permission to depart for shore.
    The order was then given for the ship to fall out from flying stations.
    With that order having been given a round of applause erupted within the FLYCO and bridge and also down on the flight deck.
    With that last Phantom now airborne the entire air group had now departed the ship and were now heading to their air bases ashore.
    The Buccaneer’s had launched first and were now on their way up to their home base at RAF Honington. The Phantoms had formed up into a V shape formation and flew performed a low flypast of the ship before turning north.
    With the aircraft now gone the now empty EAGLE was able to start making her own way home to Devonport.

    The Task Force had entered the western approaches to the English Channel during the late hours of the previous day where it had begun to disperse. Those ships heading for Portsmouth had raced off eastwards to try and be in a position to enter the harbour on the morning tide. The Devonport bound ships had mostly anchored behind the shelter of the breakwater at the entrance to Plymouth Sound where their crews were no doubt enjoying “Channel Night” while they waited for the weather and tidal conditions required for them to make the journey into the harbour and up the River Tamar to the naval dockyard at Devonport. While the ships and crews had all made that particular journey dozens if not hundreds of times this particular homecoming was guaranteed to be an extremely high profile event. HMS EAGLE had remained offshore sailing in a box waiting for dawn to be able to send her aircraft home. Though the ship was perfectly capable of launching these aircraft during the night it had been decided to wait until morning for a number of reasons.
    Being a large ship EAGLE was only able to enter Plymouth Sound during tidal windows that occurred in the mornings and evenings otherwise she wouldn’t have enough water under her keel to be sure of a safe passage. The ship would have to follow a narrow deep water channel to its berth. The width of the channel relative to the ship meant that there was very little margin for deviation in any direction. This meant that even high winds could prevent the ship from being able to enter or leave harbour. In fact during a transit out of the Devonport in 1972 EAGLE had been very nearly grounded which could easily have seen her sustain damage that would likely have been uneconomical to fix and would probably have ended her career then and there.

    With the ship now on course for home and on track to be in a position to take enter Plymouth during the morning tidal window the ships officers gathered for the entering harbour brief. Captain Slater began by reminding everyone that EAGLE’s homecoming was going to be an extremely high profile event so it was important that there were no mistakes and that despite spirits amongst the crew naturally running high everyone must behave in a professional manner while the ship was in the spotlight. He reminded the officers that when the ship had left home for the Falklands back in early April he had said “When this is over I will have ensured that for better or worse every man woman and child in the country knows the name of my ship”. That aim had certainly been achieved and right now it was for all the right reasons and he didn’t want that to change on today of all days. The ship had had its own “Channel Night” during the night which meant that there would no doubt be a few sore heads amongst the ships company this morning. Channel Night is a tradition whereby ships returning from deployment have what can often turn into a fairly wild celebration the night before they went alongside. Having been away for a few months and participated in an actual shooting war with all constant fear and stress that had come with it meant that there had been a need to blow off some steam and to celebrate the fact that they had survived and were returning home victorious.
    Next up was the ships meteorological officer who quickly ran through the days forecasted weather conditions and confirmed that there would be no weather or tidal issues that would affect the ships entry to harbour.
    CMD AIR who being in charge of the air group didn’t usually attend these briefings reminded everyone of what his aircraft would be doing. During their flights back to their home bases the squadrons would be performing a number of flypasts all starting with Plymouth. This would hopefully give the expected crowds something to get excited about but would also be pretty good PR for a navy that was always keen to raise its public profile. Indeed, some of the Frigates that had been anchored by Plymouth Breakwater would already be making their transit to Devonport. The sight of those ships with crews lining the sides and formations of Buccaneers and Phantoms flying overhead would now doubt make for some spectacular photographs and film. Aircrews and fast jet pilots especially love to show off and pretty much all of the aircraft were now decorated with silhouettes denoting things such as bombs dropped, aircraft shot down, ships sunk, ect. There were four Buccaneers that very proudly sported the silhouette of an aircraft carrier.
    Finally the Ops officer spoke and gave the main part of the brief which concerned the important things such as tugs, route to be taken, berth, Pilot, ect.

    With the entering harbour brief completed Captain Slater dismissed his officers who would now go and change into their No1 uniforms in preparation for procedure alpha. But not before ordering the ships bosun to secure a broom handle to a prominent position on the ship’s mainmast. This order drew smiles all around as the broom handle was a tradition indicating a clean sweep or complete destruction of an enemy fleet. It had been a very long time since any ship had been able to carry out this particular tradition. The broom would in later years find its way into the collection of the Royal Navy Museum where it would be one of the most prized exhibits.

    With the ship now making its approach towards Plymouth Breakwater the order was given for the ships company to carry out procedure alpha. This meant the entire ships company (excluding the special sea dutymen who would be busy handling lines) donning their No1 uniforms and lining the sides. As Captain Slater came back onto the bridge he looked down onto the flight deck where he saw the always amusing sight of the gunnery senior ratings shouting at the ships company and trying to get them equally spaced along the edge of the flight deck in something that resembled order. The phrase herding cats was often used in relation to this. The ship was now approaching the position where the tugs and Admiralty harbour pilot would meet them to guide her into the harbour and to her berth. The tugs were easy enough to spot but identifying the small pilot launch was proving to be more problematic. It seemed that every small craft afloat had come out to see the mighty ship return. Slater estimated the number to be easily well over a hundred and most likely over two hundred. Picking out the small pilot launch from the mass of yachts, dingeys, small motor launches and pleasure craft took a while.
    While it was nice to receive this kind of a welcome from the public the vast numbers of small craft in close proximity to the 54,000 ton ship made everyone on the bridge uneasy as with the ship being extremely restricted in its ability to manoeuvre the potential for a collusion was high. Fortunately, one of the Ministry of Defence Police launches that always accompanied ships in and out of harbour as security had taken station ahead of the ship and was clearing the various small craft out of the way of the ship. The other launches were busy keeping civilian craft a good distance away from the ship so they didn’t interfere with the delicate operation of attaching the tugs.

    With the tugs secured and the pilot embarked EAGLE now made her way into the harbour. As she passed the anchorage just inside the breakwater a number of other ships were still anchored awaiting their turn to make their way to Devonport. Having a much more limited window of opportunity to enter harbour and being the flagship and star of todays show EAGLE had priority over every other ship. Despite this the anchored ships had their crews line the sides and cheer EAGLE as she sailed past. The sound of ships horns blaring in celebration carried for miles.
    Despite still being a few miles away from Plymouth crowds of people and what seemed like an entire sea of Union Flags were visible ashore.
    As the ship made its turn around Drakes Island and into the Tamar it seemed that every open space, building and road ashore was packed with cheering crowds, flags and cameras. It is estimated that over 100,000 people turned out in Plymouth to see the victorious ships return home. No doubt right now HMS INVINCIBLE and HMS HERMES were getting a similar welcome as they sailed into Portsmouth.

    Clearing the gap between Devils Point to starboard and Mount Edgcumbe to port EAGLE now turned north and began making her way to her berth towards the northern part of Devonport Dockyard. At this point Captain Slater saw the rusting hulk of the decommissioned HMS ARK ROYAL, EAGLE’s sistership and began to wonder. Officially ARK ROYAL had been in reserve since she had decommissioned 3 years ago but in reality, there had never been any possibility of her being reactivated. The only reason she hadn’t made the trip to the breakers yard yet was because she had been used as a source of spare parts to keep the elderly EAGLE going. Looking through his binoculars Slater noticed that a large number of dockyard workers had taken a boat over to the rusting hulk and set up deck chairs on the rust stained flight deck to get a prime view of the day’s events. The poor condition of ARK ROYAL stood in stark contrast to the condition of his own ship which still had a crew to carry out maintenance and keep the ship clean and paint over rust.
    ARK ROYAL was likely not long for this world. Over the course of the 3 years she had been out of service she had been mostly stripped of any useful parts. Indeed before EAGLE had sailed many man hours had been spent aboard ARK stripping her of anything that might be needed by EAGLE or any of the other ships of a comparable era such as HMS HERMES. Whatever was left aboard that was worth salvaging would probably fit into a warehouse ashore meaning that ARK would no doubt soon find herself being ripped apart inside one final time before being sold off for scrap as the navy tried to make up for all of the money that would have been spent fighting for the Falklands.

    Thinking about the fate of the former HMS ARK ROYAL turned Captain Slaters mind to the future of his own ship. The truth was that despite being the ships captain and the person that over 2500 of her men looked to for leadership and inspiration he simply didn’t know what fate would hold for his ship or crew even in the short term.
    The ship had been scheduled to decommission this year and was supposed to have already made her final entry into Plymouth flying her decommissioning pennant. That was before the events in the South Atlantic had taken place and now the future was uncertain.

    As per standard operating procedure in the days before the ship returned home a signal had been sent to Northwood detailing all of the ship’s maintenance needs so that the dockyard would know what needed to be done and could get started straight away. The fact that he had received a signal confirming that the work package had been approved gave Slater some hope that EAGLE still had a future.
    Whereas he had been in the process of winding down is crew and preparing to put EAGLE to bed fate had now dictated that his ship and crew was now probably the most worked up and experienced carrier in the world at that time. The aircrews especially were arguably the most professional carrier air wing anywhere afloat. Surely the powers that be would simply just throw away all of that.
    Slater knew that whatever happened would be dictated by politics and finance. The government would likely not want to be seen to be decommissioning the ship that had won the Falklands Conflict so soon after it had ended and at the very least a farewell tour of some kind was still possible.
    It may well be that defence policy would change and decide that conventional fixed wing carrier capability was something worth hanging on to. After EAGLE’s performance down south Slater would be perfectly happen to question the motivations, competence and sanity of anyone who still held true to the pre Falklands plans and assumptions.
    Whatever happened to his own ship the Falklands would no doubt have a dramatic and far reaching effect upon the RN.
    If it was felt that big deck carriers were something worth holding onto then EAGLE may well have some more years ahead of her. The problem with all of these scenarios though was where would the money come from.
    Carriers were very expensive to build and run and the nations finances weren’t exactly healthy. While retaining EAGLE and building new carriers may sound logical to military planners the bean counters in the treasury may well never give them the required money and politicians would probably feel that with the economy and unemployment rates as bad as they were the money would be better spent elsewhere.
    Slater could very easily see a scenario where his ship would remain in commission but alongside for another year or two until the post conflict euphoria had passed and she had slipped out of public consciousness when she could then be quietly decommissioned. The problem was there was no getting away from the fact that EAGLE was an elderly ship and very maintenance and manpower intensive. Even to run her on for another few years would require a significant overhaul. If the navy decided to order new carriers then it would make sense to carry out such an overhaul to buy EAGLE a few more years. If not then the MOD would probably decide that it wasn’t worth spending the money to overhaul and run a ship that they were going to lose soon anyway. The ships that had been lost in the Falklands would need to be replaced and no doubt the navy would rather spend any EAGLE refit money on replacement vessels.

    Speaking of lost ships as EAGLE made her way up the sea front of the dockyard the bridge crew noticed two old friends in the drydocks ashore. HMS ALACRICITY had been damaged by an air attack on the 6th of May when a bomb had smashed its way through the ship without detonating. She had limped her way back home and by the looks of things was in an advanced state of repair. Also visible was HMS ANTRIM which had sustained 2 bomb hits in the air attacks on San Carlos. These bombs had detonated and pretty much demolished the entire stern end of the ship. Slater wondered what would happen with ANTRIM. The ship had been approaching the end of its planned service life anyway and her now destroyed Sea Slug SAM system had proven itself worse than useless meaning that repairing her from a purely pragmatic point of view would just be a waste of money. However, the government not wanting the potential embarrassment of having to take the ship out of service would probably order that something be done with her. No doubt naval architects and engineers would be crawling all over her to gather data about how a relatively modern warship design had stood up to battle damage and fire. As for returning her to service there would be no point in replacing the destroyed and obsolete Sea Slug system. Even if the RN wanted to it wouldn’t have the necessary parts anyway. Fitting her with Sea Wolf was a possibility but expensive. If they really wanted to then she could probably be refitted with Sea Dart but the cost of doing that would probably be the equivalent of building a new TYPE 42. In Slaters opinion if they really had to return the sip to service it would be better to use her as some sort of training ship and build extra accommodation areas in the stern area of the ship.

    Other ships that had been part of the Task Force had also sustained battle damage and having been at sea in the unforgiving climate of the South Atlantic for so long pretty much every ship in the Task Force would need some time alongside and plenty of work done to them. This would completely throw off the maintenance schedules and refit cycles for at least a year. The dockyard workers would have just found themselves with a much greater degree of job security.

    Slater then thought of the brand new INVINCIBLE class HMS ILLUSTRIOUS which would still be tied up alongside at Swan Hunter’s shipyard on the River Tyne. After his planned departure from HMS EAGLE Captain Slater had been due to be the first commanding officer and take her through her sea trials and work up period. If EAGLE was to be around for longer would he still be going up to the Tyne or would he be staying with his current command?
    Of his crew most a large number of them had also been scheduled to move to ILLUSTRIOUS to form the core of her crew. Part of the reason for decommissioning EAGLE had been to free up manpower to fill gaps in other areas. The Falklands Conflict would have thrown these plans into disarray. HMS ILLUSTTRIOUS was now complete but tied up alongside unable to begin her sea trials due to a lack of manpower.
    If the navy did want to keep EAGLE for longer then some tough decisions would have to be taken regarding manning levels.
    One thing that was playing on Slaters mind were issues with his own crew. The previous years defence review had seen the navy incur a reduction in manpower which had resulted in just over 10,000 redundancy notices being handed out including many of which had gone to men aboard HMS EAGLE. When EAGLE had been ordered south these notices had been put on hold but now those men were naturally worried and were asking about their future. Would they now be retained in the service or would they still be leaving? This was a matter that Captain Slater had been taking very seriously. He had even taken it to Admiral Woodward who had assembled the men concerned and given them his word that this would be the first thing he would sort out when he got to Northwood. He had stopped short of telling them that if EAGLE was to be retained then they likely would be as well as he didn’t want to give them a false hope or jinx them.

    With EAGLE now level with her berth the tugs began to push the ship towards the dock and heaving lines began to be thrown to enable lines to be passed.
    Looking down from the port side of the bridge (Which was the equivalent of looking down from atop an 8 storey building) the bridge crew could see the enormous crowd made up of their families that were waiting for them ashore. Every man on the port side of the ship tried to spot their loved ones amongst the thousands strong crowd.
    Also present was the obligatory Royal Marines Band seemingly playing Hearts of Oak and Rule Britannia over and over again (But being nearly drowned out by the noise of the crowd) and dozens of photographers, reporters and TV camera crews.
    The lines now secured the cranes ashore began to move the gangways into position. The ships company still lining the sides on the flight deck were smartly marched back inside the ship and dismissed. With his job now done Slater thanked the harbour pilot who then left the bridge. With the bridge crew now having completed their jobs they began to swiftly clear out eager to get ashore and be reunited with their families. Being the CO tradition dictated that Captain Slater always went ashore before anyone else. On the way from the bridge down to the forward gangway Slater picked up Rear Admiral Woodward. The admiral had been observing things from the admiral’s compass platform one deck below EAGLE’s bridge to stay out of the way of the bridge crew. The two officers passed through passage ways and compartments packed with men waiting eagerly to go ashore who instinctively made space for them to pass and came to attention.
    Waiting in the forward port berthing bay for the buffers party to finish installing the gangway Slater scanned the crowds for his wife Ann and two Sons Charles and Rory. He spotted them just as the buffer informed him that the gangway was ready and smiled as his young sons began to wave franticly at him. He became aware that the assembled officers and ratings around him were anxiously waiting for him to proceed ashore as that would be the signal that the ships company were free to run ashore to their loved ones.
    Followed by Admiral Woodward Captain Jock Slater proceed to calmly walk down the gangway towards his waiting family.

    HMS EAGLE and her men had finally come home.
    The 1983 Defence Whitepaper
  • In the year following the Falklands conflict much had happened on the British political stage. The Defence Secretary John Nott had initially attempted to resign when the Falklands had been invaded. However, the Prime Minister had refused to accept all of his attempts to step down. Though she would never confirm or deny it it was strongly felt that this was in order to have a scapegoat to absorb the political all out and shield her. Finally, in January 1983 after the PM felt that Mr Nott had served his purpose, she had summoned him and much to his surprise told him that she had decided to accept his most recent resignation letter (Which he had not actually written yet). Nott’s last act in office was to retrospectively write and backdate his resignation letter and also to sign a statement handed to him by a member of the PM’s staff announcing that he would be standing down as an MP at the next election.

    His replacement as Defence Secretary was Michael Heseltine who was charged by the PM to implement the lessons learnt as a result of the Falklands Conflict and to conduct a strategic defence review which would be reported in a Whitepaper.
    The previous defence review had been conducted by Mr Nott in 1981 and resulted in a Whitepaper titled: The UK Defence Program: The Way Forward. This review had sought to implement large scale cuts across the armed forces but particularly to the Royal Navy in an effort to save money. This review had been blamed for directly causing the Falklands Conflict and was thus now discredited. In light of the lessons learned from the conflict and the new strategic realities which blew many of the previous theories and assumptions completely out of the water it was felt at the highest levels of government that a full review of all aspects of defence was required. This review had begun in February of 1983 and had initially been expected to report in June. However, it had been somewhat delayed by the disruption caused by the PM’s decision to hold a snap general election.

    The immediate aftermath had seen a surge in patriotic feeling and support for the PM’s actions in the conflict which had been dubbed the “Falklands factor”. This coupled with a noticeably improving economy and reduction in unemployment had seen the PM and Conservative Party’s popularity rise. The opposition Labour Party was at the time struggling with an ineffective leader, some of its own MP’s splitting off from the party and a general swing to the hard left.
    It was felt by the government that this current surge in its own popularity combined with the struggling opposition was the perfect time to call an election.
    The Conservatives had played to their strengths by running a campaign based on employment, economic growth and defence. The Labour Party had willing obliged the PM by putting forward a manifesto that had been dubbed by one of its own MP’s as the longest suicide note in history. Their manifesto had included things like scrapping the UK’s nuclear weapons capability, abolishing the house of lords, withdrawal from NATO and withdrawal from the EEC. All of these had played right into the hands of the Conservative party.

    The result had been a decisive victory for the Conservative Party who came away with well over 400 seats. The Labour Party was crushed and for a while after the election it was said that Britain was effectively a one party state as Labour spent many years infighting before they were able to begin the long process of getting themselves organised into something that would appeal to the electorate. They would remain out of power for almost 15 years.

    The disruption caused by the General Election meant that the Defence Review was not in a position to report until July 1983. While a large part of the delay was down to the Defence Secretary being busy campaigning and uncertainty over the make up and whims of the future government there was another reason for this. The defence of the realm had been a major part in the governments re-election campaign. With the election out of the way service chiefs and senior MOD officials wanted to make the most of this extra political will to invest in defence.

    The driving force behind the 1981 review had been the need to cut spending across the board owing to the state of the nation’s finances. While the economy had improved a little bit and there was now a new appreciation of the armed forces the MOD would still need to trim its budget. The problem facing defence chiefs was how to implement cuts while funding the various new equipment programs that were now considered necessary. The result was a review that was described by one commentator as “A compromise that satisfied no one”. While on the face of it cuts were being made in reality the money saved was being absorbed by new programs. The treasury naturally was not happy with this but were absolutely furious when it became apparent that in many cases extra funding would have to be allocated. The Chancellor of the Exchequer Geoffrey Howe had complained to the Prime Minister but was stunned when she had come down on the side of the MOD and warned him against trying to be obstructive or difficult. He had privately considered resigning in protest or leaking the story to the media but his political instinct indicated that doing so would be playing right into the hands of others. Public opinion was still on the side of the armed forces and it wouldn’t be very hard for certain vested interests to paint the treasury and himself in an extremely damaging light. He still remembered the day when the First Sea Lord Admiral Leach had pretty much single handily convinced the PM to go to war over the Falklands. Since then he had an appreciation for the Admiral’s skills at political manipulation and had been silently relieved when the Admiral had retired. All the same for the same reason he was still very wary of tangling with Leach’s successor Admiral John Fieldhouse.

    The overall strategic aim of the new review was mostly unchanged from the previous one with the strategic focus being on combatting the USSR. The only difference was that unlike the previous one this review would allow for the possibility of out of area and independent operations such as the Falklands.
    Another thing that hadn’t changed from the previous review was the vulnerability of each service to downsizing. The British Army’s commitments to NATO in Germany made it politically very difficult to make any meaningful reductions without disproportionately harming Britain’s standing within NATO. The RAF was involved in multiple major equipment programs but these were often in partnership with allied nations meaning that again it would be extremely politically and diplomatically difficult to make any significant cuts. Therefore, the navy once again found itself the first in the crosshairs.
    The review was described within the RN as a “Jam tomorrow” review with the service agreeing to make cuts now in order to free up resources for major future equipment programs.

    The review read as follows:


    Aircraft Carriers

    · The Royal Navy would procure two new conventional aircraft carriers with an option for a third.

    This was the headline item and centrepiece around which the rest of the navy’s plans had been made. The performance of HMS EAGLE in the Falklands had convinced the navy of the continuing need for big deck aircraft carriers operating large, fast and capable jet aircraft. Furthermore, the intelligence agencies were increasingly frequently quacking up little snippets of information about a new Soviet carrier program. Therefore, the navy had pushed hard for new aircraft carrier construction even going to the point of sacrificing numerous other vessels in order to free up resources for what everybody knew would be an extremely expensive program.
    Naturally the proposal to build new big deck aircraft carriers had run into immense opposition. The treasury were almost incandescent with rage about the fact that the navy seemed to have ignored the bit about cost cutting and were now pushing for gigantic ships that would cost a fortune to build and then run at a time when the economy and nations finances were barely able to hold things together as they were without this added burden. Many politicians from both sides of the spectrum had voiced their opposition to such a program believing it to be little more than an unaffordable and unnecessary vanity project. The Army and RAF were also opposed as they realised that their own programs would likely be scaled back in order to help pay for these ships.
    The previous aircraft carrier program CVA-01 had been cancelled owing to interservice rivalry and unaffordability. Even before it had gotten off the ground the new carrier program had found itself having to essentially fight the same battles almost 20 years later. Many within the MOD were unhappy about the fact that years of defence policy and planning (which had been for the RN to abandon large conventional carriers in favour of light STOVL carriers) was essentially being ripped up.

    The Whitepaper confirmed that the CVF 90 (Future Aircraft Carrier 1990’s) program would indeed be going ahead. It was extremely early days yet and so far, pretty much all of the efforts had gone into securing funding for a carrier program and getting it green lit. However, some preliminary research had been done in order to work out the very rough specifications of the vessels.

    1. The first of the class was to enter service by 1994 with the second ship arriving in 1996

    2. The ships were to be conventionally powered

    3. The ships would have a displacement of between 55,000 and 65,000 tons.

    4. The airgroup would be comprised of up to 50 aircraft.

    5. The ships would be CATOBAR configured vessels with at least two aircraft catapults.

    It was estimated that it would take until mid 1986 at least to carryout the necessary R&D work needed to come up with a viable design. At the moment the closest thing to a design were some artists impressions of a very generic aircraft carrier. That meant that the first ship probably would not have its keel laid until early 1987.

    The option for the third ship was in reality a political dodge rather than a serious proposal and was the brainchild of the Defence Secretary. Knowing that at some point during the course of the decade long program the treasury would be certain to at least once demand cost cutting and downsizing. The option for a third vessel had been included for this eventuality as it would be an easy bone to throw to the bean counters without actually affecting the MOD’s plans.

    · HMS EAGLE would remain in service until 1986.

    HMS EAGLE had done sterling work in the Falklands Conflict and had seared her name into the public consciousness. Indeed, the ship now ranked with other British icons such as the Spitfire and Concorde. This however didn’t change the fact that the ship was old and worn out. It was estimated that with a major overhaul that would probably last for well over a year and cost nearly as much as building a new TYPE 22 Frigate EAGLE could probably remain in service until the early 1990’s. However, with a new and expensive aircraft carrier construction program to fund the navy had taken the decision not to overhaul HMS EAGLE. In the long term it was felt that the costs in terms of paying for the work and then running and manning EAGLE couldn’t be justified by the extra 4 or 5 years of life that she would gain and that the money would instead be better spent on the CVF 90 programme.
    Without the overhaul and with a reduced operating tempo it was calculated that HMS EAGLE could remain in service until 1986 at which point the supply of spare parts would be exhausted and much of the ships machinery would be at the end of its lifespan.
    Keeping the ship until 1986 would allow for the third INVINCIBLE class ship HMS INDOMITABLE to be commissioned which would mean that the RN would still have a minimum effective carrier force.
    At this stage EAGLE’s fate after her decommissioning was undecided. Already an EAGLE preservation society had been formed however they had yet to come up with any serious and viable proposals.

    · The sale of HMS ILLUSTRIOUS to the Royal Australian Navy would go ahead as planned

    Before the Falklands Conflict it had been intended to sell HMS INVINCIBLE to the RAN. However in the immediate aftermath the sale of INVINCIBLE had been cancelled for political reasons as the government had not wanted to be seen to be disposing of such a high profile and still nearly brand new ship.
    Three ships of the INVINCIBLE class were under construction and it had been decided that with new large carriers potentially on the horizon operating all three vessels was just not feasible in terms of manpower and cost. The Australians had instead been offered the choice of the brand new HMS ILLUSTRIOUS which was available right away or if they were prepared to wait a bit longer HMS INDOMITABLE. The RAN’s previous aircraft carrier the MAJESTIC class HMAS MELBOURNE had already been decommissioned due to the ships age and inoperability. THE RAN had favoured purchasing the still under construction HMS INDOMITABLE as this would allow for the ship to be completed to their own specifications. In particular they were not keen on the idea of the Sea Dart SAM as having only one such equipped vessel in their fleet would be disproportionately expensive. However, the decision had been made by the newly elected Hawke government to go with HMS ILLUSTRIOUS. The ship was already complete however owing to manpower shortages within the Royal Navy caused by extending HMS EAGLE’s service apart from her builders trials the ship had next to no mileage on the clock. This combined with her immediate availability had swayed the Australian government. They had convinced the RAN by pointing out that if they felt they could get by the next few years without a carrier while they waited for INDOMITABLE then perhaps, they didn’t need one at all.

    Already RAN personnel were in Britain conducting training both ashore and at sea aboard HMS INVINCIBLE and forming a crew aboard HMS ILLUSTRIOUS. The intention was for the ship to complete another round of trials followed by commissioning into the RAN and an intensive training and work up period under the supervision of Flag Officer Sea Training before sailing for her new home in Sydney. The plan was for the ILLUSTRIOUS which was to be renamed HMAS AUSTRALIA to arrive in her new homeport before Christmas. At this point the Australians had not formally inquired about purchasing Sea Harrier although they had made it clear that their intention to do so in the near future. For the first few years of her life HMAS AUSTRALIA would operate as a large helicopter carrying ASW platform much like the role that the class had originally been intended to carry out.

    · The former HMS ARK ROYAL would be scrapped

    The rust covered and rapidly decaying hulk of the former ARK ROYAL had after four years been essentially stripped bare of any useful spare parts. One last survey of the ship would be undertaken to identify and remove any remaining parts that could be used to support ARK ROYAL’s sister HMS EAGLE. These parts would be stored in a warehouse ashore in Devonport Dockyard. The hulk of the decommissioned aircraft carrier would then be sold off for scrap.

    The overall plan for the RN’s carrier fleet was for HMS EAGLE to carry on until 1986 at which point she would decommission and the pair of INVINCIBLE class light carriers HMS INVINCIBLE and HMS INDOMITABLE equipped with upgraded Sea Harriers would take over and cover for the decade it would take to get the CVF-90’s into service. At this point it would be likely that the still relatively young INVINCIBLE class would be sold off as the newer and bigger carriers took over.

    Amphibious Warfare Vessels

    · HMS HERMES would be decommissioned by 1984
    HERMES was an elderly, large, manpower intensive and expensive to run ship. Due to the ships age she was judged to have little life left in her and offered to little capability to justify the high cost of continuing to run her. She would be decommissioned and disposed of. This would free up a significant amount of manpower for other areas and relieve a burden on the navy’s finances. The ship would be made available for sale although it was recognised that there was unlikely to be much interest in purchasing a large LPH. To make the ship more attractive to a foreign buyer a study had been done into the costs and work package required to refit the ship to operate the Sea Harrier reverting her back to her original role of a light aircraft carrier. The only potential buyers for such an elderly aircraft carrier would probably be India and Brazil. However, the cost of purchasing the ship and then carrying out the necessary work (which as a condition of the sale would have to be completed in a British shipyard) to enable her to operate the Sea Harrier which would themselves have to be purchased would in all likelihood make HERMES unaffordable to these nations. In the likely event that no buyer was forthcoming the ship would be stripped of parts to support HMS EAGLE before being sold off for scrap.

    · HMS FEARLESS and HMS INTREPID would be retained in service for the foreseeable future

    The 1981 defence review had discounted the possibility of out of area operations and thus the need for LPD’s. While it had not explicitly mentioned disposing of FEARLESS and INTREPID the implication of doing so in the near future was clear. With the government now wishing to retain the ability to carryout amphibious warfare the future of the LPD’s was now secure. Resources would be made available to overhaul these ships in order to extend their lives and to retain them in service for at least the next decade.


    · The remaining COUNTY Class Destroyers would be decommissioned

    The four remaining COUNTY Class destroyers were large ships that were expensive to run in terms of both money and manpower. During the Falklands Conflict the Sea Slug SAM which was the primary armament of these vessels had proven to be worse than useless. These ships were now judged to be obsolete and a drain on resources. HMS KENT, HMS FIFE and HMS GLAMORGAN would be decommissioned and disposed of via sale or scrap. HMS ANTRIM which had been heavily damaged in the Falklands had been rebuilt as a training and trials vessel and would be retained in service in this role for the foreseeable future. The time she would remain in service would depend upon the fate of her sisters as any of the other ships that were not sold overseas could be used to provide spare parts for ANTRIM and thus keeping her going for longer. The destroyed stern end of the superstructure which included the Sea Slug SAM system had been rebuilt into cadet accommodation. HMS ANTRIM would spend the rest of her days fulfilling the role of training ship for the cadets of the Dartmouth Naval College.

    Regarding the TYPE 42 Destroyers the only decisions taken were to refit the entire class to carry the Phalanx CIWS system and not to procure another ship of the class to replace the lost HMS GLASGOW.


    · A Third Batch of TYPE 22 Frigates would be built to an updated design

    At present there were four TYPE 22 Batch 1 frigates in service with the first three vessels of Batch 2 under construction. Three more Batch 2 vessels (HMS BLOODHOUND, HMS BRUISER and HMS BOADICEA) were already on order and due to begin construction in the next year. A third batch of six ships was to be procured to replace the ships five lost in the Falklands conflict (including HMS ANTRIM). These six ships would be built to a greatly improved design intended to incorporate the lessons learnt in the conflict. Whereas the earlier ships of the class were high end ASW escorts the third batch would be more large general purpose frigates while retaining their cutting edge ASW capability. The only major weapon system shared with their older sisters would be the pair of six cell Seawolf launchers. The Exocet SSM’s would be replaced by the more capable Harpoon which would be positioned on the superstructure aft of the bridge. The space freed up on the foredeck would be used to accommodate a 4.5 inch naval gun to give the ships NGS capability. Finally, the ships would be fitted with the Goalkeeper CWIS.

    · The ten remaining 4.5 inch gun turret equipped LEANDER Class Frigates would be refitted to carry the Sea Wold SAM System.

    In their current configuration the only missiles systems carried by these 10 ships was the Sea Cat which was now hopelessly obsolete and was to be phased out across the fleet. There was little place in the modern world for escorts equipped only with guns and subsonic missiles. However, the RN couldn’t afford to weaken itself by disposing of these 10 frigates. Therefore, to keep these ships relevant in the modern age they would have their twin 4.5 inch gun turret removed and replaced with a six cell Seawolf launcher. This would involve each ship being given deep refits to equip them with the modern computer systems and sensors necessary for operating the cutting edge Seawolf. While this would not be cheap the RN felt that it had no choice. The ships to be refitted were to be HMS ACHILLES, HMS DIOMEDE, HMS JUNO, HMS ANDROMEDA, HMS HERMIONE, HMS JUPITER, HMS APOLLO, HMS SCYLLA, HMS ARIADNE and HMS CHARYBDIS.

    · The Sea Cat missile system was to be phased out

    Sea Cat had proven itself to be hopeless as a point defence system when faced with fast moving threats. Therefore the system was to be removed from service and replaced with either modern CWIS such as the Phalanx or Goalkeeper or by conventional gun mounts such as the 20mm mounts which were to be fitted to the Ikara and Exocet carrying LEANDER Class Frigates.

    · The Type 81 TRIBAL Class Frigates would be Decommissioned

    The five remaining ships of this class were old and obsolete and were already laid up as part of the standby squadron with only caretaker crews. Even if reactivated they would provide little in the way of capability. Therefore, they were to be scrapped as an economy measure.

    · The Type 12 ROTHESAY Class Frigates would be phased out by 1988

    Like the Type 81 Frigates the nine ships of the ROTHESAY class were obsolete and unsuitable for modern warfare. Their withdrawal from service would be more drawn out so as to preserve force levels. HMS LONDONDERRY and HMS TORQUAY were in service as trials ships. They would be withdrawn from service immediately as with the introduction of HMS ANTRIM in this role they were now surplus to requirements.

    · A new class of General Purpose Frigate, The Type 23, would be procured to replace the Leander’s and Type 21’s

    This program had initially started life as a result of the 1981 defence review. Originally intended to be a class of small and cheap vessels equipped with ASW weapons only (nicknamed Towed Array Tugs) this class had been extensively redesigned as a result of the Falklands Conflict and had evolved into larger General Purpose Frigates.
    The design had grown in size and complexity to encompass a Vertical Launch (VLS) Sea Wolf system with an extra tracking system as a defence against low-flying aircraft and sea-skimming anti-ship missiles such as Exocet. With the addition of Harpoon surface-to-surface missiles and a medium calibre gun for naval gunfire support, the Type 23 had evolved into a more complex and balanced vessel optimised for general warfare, which introduced a host of new technologies and concepts to the Royal Navy. These included extensive radar cross-section reduction design measures, automation to substantially reduce crew size, a combined diesel-electric and gas (CODLAG) propulsion system providing very quiet running for anti-submarine operations along with excellent range, vertical launch missile technology and a fully distributed combat management system.

    These vessels would be cheaper than the TYPE 22 Frigates and the intention was to procure between 15 to 25 ships with the first to enter service by the end of the decade.


    · Trident

    The Trident SLBM and future SSBN programs were explicitly exempted from the review. These were judged to be national assets and thus were not funded by the defence budget but by a separate ringfenced budget all of their own.

    · The first batch of four Type 2400 SSK’s would be ordered.

    The Type 2400 SSK was the much delayed replacement for the OBERON class SSK. A total of 12 boats were planned to enable the OBERON’s to be replaced almost on a one in one out basis. There were high hopes that the Type 2400 would be an export success as the OBERON’s had been.

    · HMS SEALION & HMS WALRUS would be withdrawn from service

    The final two remaining boats of the PORPOISE class SSK’s would be retired as a cost cutting measure. Keeping only two vessels of a class in service was disproportionately expensive and the Submarine Service was keen to free up the crews for the nuclear powered boats.

    · The SSN building program remains unchanged

    As it said on the tin. Though they had played a vital role in the Falklands campaign the SSN’s were arguably the only part of the RN not to be affected by the post Falklands changes within the service.

    Fleet Air Arm

    · The Fleet Air Arm would procure the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 to operate from the decks of the future aircraft carriers

    It went without saying that the future of the FAA was going to be dictated by the needs of the future aircraft carrier. The FAA’s current combat strength was made up of Phantom interceptors, Buccaneer strike aircraft and Sea Harrier VISTOL multirole aircraft. The Phantoms and Buccaneers were already starting to show their age in terms of the individual airframes age and being left behind by advances in naval aviation as a new generation of jets began to render them increasingly obsolete. Once HMS EAGLE was retired the FAA would lose its Phantoms and Buccaneers (with the surviving aircraft being transferred to the RAF as previously planned) and be forced to rely on the Sea Harrier until a new aircraft could be brought into service.

    The bean counters who had barely been persuaded to finance a new aircraft carrier program had had a significant role in the choice of a new naval combat aircraft. They had mandated that the new aircraft must be an existing “off the shelf” aircraft. The money required to finance the development of a new aircraft or navalise an existing aircraft (proposals for a naval variant of the Tornado and Jaguar had been examined and rejected for cost, performance and technical reasons) would simply not be forthcoming.
    It had also been mandated that the new aircraft must be a multirole aircraft as operating numerous types with only small numbers of each was not going to be affordable in future.

    The choice of carrier capable aircraft available at the time was rather limited.
    The Grumman F14 was without a doubt a highly capable interceptor and the Americans were continuing to produce the aircraft heavily investing in keeping it up to date. However, it came with a number of drawbacks that ruled it out as an option. It was a very large aircraft which would limit the number that could be carried aboard a carrier. While this wasn’t so much of a problem for the enormous US Navy supercarriers it certainly would be aboard the smaller proposed RN carriers. Another reason was the aircrafts high unit and operating cost. This would again limit the number of aircraft that could be operated. Finally, the F14 was an interceptor and would not ideal for ground attack and naval strike missions meaning that it would not be able to meet the Royal Navy’s requirements.

    Some thought had been given to purchasing the French made Dassault Super Etendard. After encountering it during in the Falklands the RN certainly had a healthy respect for its capabilities as a strike aircraft. However, political considerations about purchasing this particular aircraft and the fact that it was not capable as a fighter ruled out this option. Being based on the original Etendard which was a 20 year old design it was felt that if the RN were to go down this route then probably even before it entered frontline service with them they would be looking for a new aircraft as they struggled with obsolescence.

    The option of buying used older aircraft such as the A4 Skyhawk or F8 Crusader or continuing to operate the F4 Phantom had been examined. This option had only been entertained on the grounds that it would be vastly cheaper than any of the others. The problem with this however was again obsolescence and aircraft age. If they were beginning to look obsolete now then how would they look in a decade when the new aircraft was expected to be in service never mind another 20 or so years of service afterwards.

    In the end that left only one realistic and in the option of many the ideal option. The US Navy was in the process of introducing the new multirole F/A-18 Hornet as a replacement for their Crusaders and Phantoms. The aircraft met the RN’s requirements in that it was able to carryout both air to air and air to surface missions and was carrier capable. It also met the treasuries requirements in that there would be no need to pay any development costs only those of purchasing the aircraft themselves which were cheaper than F-14’s. Being a brand new cutting edge of technology aircraft meant that the problem of obsolescence wouldn’t be an issue.
    The RN were happy to go with the F/A-18 and were planning on purchasing 80 aircraft. They recognised the fact that realistically only one carrier would be available at one time meaning there would only be the need to provide one air group with the other aircraft being used in training and support roles.
    The RN had a close working relationship with the USN so it was hoped that RN pilots could be seconded to the US to gain experience on the F/A-18.
    As a sop to the British aircraft industry the possibility of trying to obtain a licence to build the aircraft in the UK was hinted at. With the aircraft not needed in frontline service for at least another decade there would be plenty of time to develop a variant suited to the UK’s particular needs as had been done with the Phantom. By then the Americans would probably be working on new variants of their own and if the British were purchasing the aircraft their might be the possibility of British companies manufacturing some components.

    · The Sea Harrier would receive an upgrade

    With an approximately 10 year gap between HMS EAGLE being retired and the new carriers coming online the RN would be forced to rely on the Sea Harrier as its only fixed wing naval aircraft. Many considered this foolish as the aircraft simply could not compare with the capabilities of even the aircraft that it was succeeding. It was short ranged and subsonic and carried only 2 short ranged AIM-9 Sidewinder air to air missiles. Its only air to air s in the Falklands had been successful but this was considered to be more down to luck and proper fighter control rather than a testament to the aircraft’s capabilities. Even the Australians who would ultimately need the aircraft to operate from the newly purchased HMAS AUSTRALIA had indicated that they were not happy with its capabilities.
    To this end a new variant of the Sea Harrier would be developed and brought into service before 1986 when EAGLE would be retired. The new Sea Harrier was to feature a more powerful radar, the ability to carry a longer ranged missile, a new sidewinder launch rail enabling four of the missiles to be carried as opposed to a mere two and updated avionics. The Australians would probably wait for this new variant to become available before buying Sea Harrier and had been making positive noises about contributing towards the development costs in exchange for a share of the workload.

    · The E-2C Hawkeye would be procured as a replacement for the Gannet

    Airborne Early Warning had been vital in the Falklands and was not a capability that the RN was willing to lose. Even the civil servants in the MOD and Treasury could see how important early warning was to a fleet’s survival. The current AEW aircraft was the Fairey Gannet. This aircraft was old and pretty much obsolete meaning that a replacement was required. Again, budgets dictated that a new aircraft would have to be something that was already in existence as there wasn’t the money to develop a new aircraft which would only be built in small numbers anyway.
    The only option available was the Grumman E2 Hawkeye. As with the F/A-18 there would be no need to pay any development costs and it was recognised that this aircraft was vastly more capable than the Gannet it would replace.

    · A naval variant of the British Aerospace Hawk would be developed and produced as an aircraft carrier capable training aircraft

    The MOD and RN were very mindful of the high attrition rate naval aviators had historically suffered. Operating aircraft at sea from the deck of a carrier is an inherently dangerous business requiring a high level of skill. Unfortunately, the intensive flying required to reach this skill level meant that there was far too much opportunity for fatal mistakes to be made. Given the cost of the F/A-18’s that were going to be purchased such a high accident rate could not be allowed to continue. Part of the problem was the massive “step up” from the trainer aircraft to the frontline combat aircraft in terms of the pilots work load and capabilities. They would only once they were actually converted onto the frontline aircraft would they be taught how to land on a carrier which any naval pilot will tell you is one of the most difficult and stressful things you can do. The solution was to introduce an interim aircraft where pilots could learn the art of carrier landings in in a less demanding aircraft before transitioning onto frontline types. This would also have the added bonus of weeding out those who simply couldn’t do it before they got onto the very expensive part of training.

    He most cost effective option was to navalise the current jet trainer the British Aerospace Hawk. The Americans were known to be in the market for a new carrier training aircraft. If they could be convinced to adopt the navalised Hawk then the sheer number they were likely to buy would likely cover the cost of development and mean that the Government may even make a profit off of the aircraft.

    · A number of Sea King airframes would be converted to an AEW role

    Aware of the severe limitations of even the upgraded Sea Harrier compared to the Phantoms that they would supersede the RN felt the need to make sure that the aircraft were able to be used as effectively as possible. To them this meant situational awareness and command and control. Unfortunately, as capable as the E2 Hawkeye it could not operate from the small decks of the INVINCIBLE class. As a stopgap measure Westland had been able to produce a proposal to convert a number of Sea King HAS.5 ASW helicopters by removing the ASW equipment and fitting a Searchwater Radar. While this radar had originally been developed as a surface search radar it did have the capability for air search. An AEW Sea King was by no means a perfect solution but it would be much better than having nothing.

    · The EH101 Helicopter would be procured as a replacement for the Sea King

    The need to keep up with advancing Soviet Submarine capabilities meant that the Sea King would soon need to be replaced. In 1981 the Government had allocated funding for a new helicopter developed as a joint project between Westland and the Italian company Augusta. This announcement merely confirmed that this project would continue (though its cancelation to free up funds had been considered but ultimately rejected).


    · Chatham Dockyard would be closed

    With the RN’s fleet getting smaller there was now a surplus of Dockyard capability and Chatham had found itself surplus to requirements. The closing of an entire dockyard and subsequent sale of the real estate would go a long way to balancing the MOD’s budgets. Apart from ending a centuries old association with Chatham the major downside of this would be the loss of the Nuclear Submarine refitting facility located there meaning this facility would have to be restablished elsewhere at great expense and having a knock on effect on the SSN refit cycles.


    The RN would incur a manpower reduction of 5000 people reducing the service to a strength of 70,000. The previous defence review in 1981 had planned for 10,000 redundancies. These had been put on hold when the Falklands Conflict had broken out. The post war decision to run HMS EAGLE on meant that there would be a need to provide sufficient manpower to crew her. To this end half of the previously planned redundancies had been cancelled.

    Royal Air Force

    · Procurement of the Panavia Tornado would be scaled back

    The RAF were understandably extremely upset about this one. The money saved was being diverted to the CVF-90 carrier program which being a naval project made senior RAF officers very angry. In a repeat of 1966, the RAF had (unsuccessfully) argued that carriers were not needed. This time rather than producing doctored maps of the world they had pointed out that any naval conflict with the Soviets would take place near to UK waters where they would be in range of land-based RAF aircraft. In their opinion this was a much less risky option than putting a very expensive aircraft carrier and a lot of men in harm’s way. Unfortunately the RAF had suffered from the perception that they had only played a secondary support role in the Falklands Conflict meaning that they had been unable to win the argument against carriers and were now obliged to make sacrifices to pay for the new generation of carriers.
    Originally it had been planned to purchase 255 of the ground attack variant of the new Panavia Tornado. This was to be scaled back to 200 aircraft. Worse was to come though.
    An Interceptor version of the Tornado was in development and the RAF had been planning to purchase 180 of these powerful interceptors. The MOD had had a serious look at cancelling the interceptor Tornado program all together as the aircraft was still in development. In the end it wasn’t the RAF’s protests about the loss of capability and seriously detrimental effect on UK air defence that had saved the aircraft but simply the fact that doing so would have harmed the UK’s relationship with Germany and Italy the other partners in the multinational Tornado program. Despite this the RAF would have to content with the planned buy being almost halved to just 100 aircraft.

    · The F/A-18 would be procured by the RAF to replace the Phantom and English Electric Lightening

    This aircraft was to be jointly operated with the navy under a “Joint Hornet Command” to be able to consolidate and achieve best value for money on training and maintenance costs. A total of 200 aircraft would be produced with 80 going to the navy and 120 for the RAF. The RAF while not displeased with the fact that they would be receiving a cutting edge multirole combat aircraft were unhappy with the fact that this was not their choice but something that had been forced upon them from above.
    There was some consolidation in the fact that the F/A-18 would be a more than capable replacement for the Phantom and Lightening and that not having to wait for carriers the RAF would be able to start receiving its aircraft first and start converting its squadrons off of older types sooner. The “Joint Hornet Command” concept meant that there would be a lot of cross training with the Navy with some RAF pilots being trained in carrier operations. When the RN retired HMS EAGLE their Phantoms and Buccaneers would transfer to the RAF. The Buccaneers would probably continue to fly seeing as the RAF already operated the same type but the Phantoms being of a different variant would probably be grounded and used as a source of spare parts for RAF Phantoms as an economy measure. RN pilots transitioning off of these aircraft would likely find themselves on secondment to the RAF’s first F/A-18 squadrons to gain experience on the type for preparation for its entry into RN service.

    · The procurement of the second generation of Harrier would be going ahead

    The RAF’s current Harrier GR3’s would be complemented and ultimately replaced by a new generation of new build Harrier II aircraft dubbed the Harrier GR5. These aircraft would essentially be licence built British variants of the McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Harrier II which was developed from the original generation of British Harrier’s.

    · The number of Nimrod aircraft to be refitted to MR2 standard would be increased to 34 airframes

    This increase of 3 over the originally planned 31 aircraft was in response to the navy’s reduction in the number of escorts to compensate for the lost ASW capability.

    · The proposal to build a new air base on the Falkland Islands would not go ahead

    In the aftermath of the Falklands Conflict Britain considered it necessary to maintain a strengthened permanent military presence on the islands to deter further Argentine hostility. The RAF had proposed to build a completely new airbase at a site called Mount Pleasant to provide QRA capability and an air link to the UK. With the damage the Argentines had sustained in the conflict such as the effective destruction of their navy and air force now known their ability to threaten the Falklands was considered negligible. Therefore, the proposal for a new air base had been rejected as unnecessary. Instead the RAF would establish a presence at Port Stanley Airport to act as a jump off point for reinforcements should the Argentines begin to pose a significant threat.

    British Army

    · The number of Challenger MBT’s to be procured was to be increased to 450

    No one in the RAF or RN was quite sure where the army had found the money for an extra 30 MBT’s. The army’s official reasoning was that they wanted to be able to forward base more of the brand new cutting edge MBT’s in West Germany to enable them to free up a larger infantry contingent for rapid response operations. The Falklands had caught the army by surprise slightly and it had been a bit of a desperate scramble for them to pull together the force required. In doing so they had effectively had all of their units committed to taskings and duties meaning that if something else had kicked off such as an increase in violence in Northern Ireland that required troops, they would not have been able to respond without abandoning other commitments. Publicly senior army officers had stated that this was a situation they had felt very uneasy about finding themselves in and this was a measure to try and reduce the risk of that occurring again. Many suspected privately that the army really wanted some more examples of what they at the time were calling the best main battle tank in the world and had used the defence review to syphon money off from somewhere to pay for them.

    · A new series of armoured fighting vehicle would be procured to replace the FV430

    The FV432 vehicles were looking rather dated and the army was looking for a replacement. They also wanted a common vehicle to replace the wide variety of vehicles in the FV430 series that could still carry out all of the roles. The new vehicle rather than being a simple APC would be a much larger Infantry Fighting Vehicle with a 30mm cannon in a turret for fire support able to work with the infantry in battle rather than simply transport them there. Crucially it would have to be able to keep up the Challenger MBT’s something which the current FV430 was unable to do.
    This project dubbed “Warrior” had been in the works before the Falklands conflict and was one of the few programs not affected by the conflict.

    · Milan

    The MILAN ATGM had proven a very effective tool in the Falklands for destroying hardened enemy positions. It was likely that it would be used in exactly the same manor in future conflict as well as for its design role of destroying armoured vehicles. In light of this the number of MILAN launchers and missiles on order would be increased and the number allocated to units increased to account for new higher usage estimates.

    · War Stocks would be greatly increased

    This was the one that had caused some in the treasury to have what the attending paramedics had described as a “cardiac episode”. The Falklands had proven all munition and supply consumption and usage estimates to be woefully underestimated. In fact, based on new calculations it was reckoned that in the event of conflict in Germany the British armed forces would only be able to operate for a matter of days based upon their current stockpiles. Clearly the amounts of stockpiled materials and munitions would need to increase vastly. This would come at great expense which some would sarcastically joke rivalled the Trident and CVF-90 programs. They were only a few million pounds away from making an accurate statement. Even after all of that expenditure it was estimated that the increased stockpiles would at most by a few more days of operations.

    · Special Forces

    This last point was not publicly revealed as the UK Government at the time had a policy of not openly discussing special forces operations. During the Falklands conflict Special Forces units had shown a remarkable capability for the small size of the units involved. Even away from the Falklands in the realm of counter terrorism SF units were the most effective asset. In Northern Ireland it had been noted that the SAS were the unit who had been able to inflict the most damage on the IRA in terms of operations carried out and casualties inflicted upon the enemy.
    Because of this more resources were to be allocated to both the SAS and SBS to enable them to expand the size of the units. There were high hopes that this relatively modest investment now would pay large dividends in future.
    CVF-90 Part 1 (R&D)
  • Warships are the most expensive single artefacts in any defence budget and it is essential that the finished product that is delivered to the Navy is a ship that is capable enough to justify the effort and comes at a price that the country (Taxpayer) can and is willing to pay. Unlike almost all other defence equipment programs there is no prototype. Hull 01 has to be operational after trials. The procurement process for any naval vessel is a long complicated and daunting one. However, for something as large, complex and expensive as an aircraft carrier the challenges that must be overcome may at the outset seem insurmountable. The process of taking a ship design from initial conception through the various stages of development and approval up to the point of actually ordering construction of the first of the class (where the real problems will commence) could be accurately described as a game of snakes and ladders. With every role of the dice you advance slightly further towards your goal but each move carries significant risk. A change of priority’s or requirements or budget alteration or failure to gain approval for something trivial can see the process thrown all the way back to the starting point. On the other hand, positive risk such as gaining approval for something first time or a technical breakthrough could see the design able to jump forward a few steps.

    In the wake of the 1983 Defence Whitepaper the RN’s Royal Corps of Naval Constructors found itself saddled with the seemingly impossible task of designing a new class of supercarrier completely from scratch.
    The Defence review had merely set out the case for building new aircraft carriers in light of HMS EAGLE’s performance in the South Atlantic and laid out a very broad set of requirements that looked impressive on paper but left plenty of leeway in their interpretation.
    The first stage of the CVF 90 program was the setting up of an Admiralty Requirements Committee. This committee was made up of naval planners, naval architects, representatives from the MOD finance department and many others. Its task was to draw up a detailed list of requirements that the new carrier design would be expected to meet. This would cover every single aspect of the new ship from length, width, draught and displacement all the way down to lightbulbs and toilet seats and everything inbetween.
    The various members of the committee were all “Stakeholders” within the CVF 90 project and came with their own requirements. The men from the Navy and MOD were interested in making sure that the ship that was built fulfilled their needs in terms of capability offered. The naval architects and various scientific and technical types were there to ensure that the design would be technically feasible and the finance and treasury men (and women) were there to make sure that all of this was affordable.
    Naturally the navy’s requirements took priority with the other stakeholders effectively green or red lighting them for various reasons.

    To the layman the logical order of things would be for the Requirements committee to complete their work and present their findings to the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors who would then be able to start designing the ship. In reality though the Requirements committee had been formed and commenced work first the Design team began work almost concurrently. This was because of the need to contend with a design that was constantly evolving to meet requirements as they came in to produce a rough baseline from which the designers would be able to start the more detailed design and development work once they knew what was required of them.

    The design and development phase of the CVF 90 program began in early 1984 and lasted well into 1987 at a cost of close to £200 million. This was before the order to begin construction had even been placed let alone steel having been cut.
    The story of the ships design process and the various challenges therein is a subject worthy of several books.
    However, the headline grabbing items as it were are as follows:

    One of the first issues that designers had to content with was a lack of experience. The only aircraft carriers built in Britain in the last 20 years were the 3 ships of the INVINCIBLE class. These were small light carriers without such complicated things like aircraft catapults and arrestor wires and angled flight decks. The last “conventional” carrier was the MAJESTIC class HMS HERCULES which had been completed in 1961. Even then that particular ship had been launched in 1945 and immediately laid up uncompleted when the end of the war made her surplus to requirements. In 1957 she had been taken in hand for completion but even something as theoretically simple as fitting out the empty hulk had taken four years. HERCULES had been subsequently sold to India where she was still serving as INS VIKRANT (It was known that the Indian’s where starting to look for a replacement).
    The last time the Royal Navy had attempted to build a large conventional carrier was the CVA 01 program that had been cancelled while it was still on the drawing board in 1966.
    The upshot was there was no one involved with the project who had any practical experience in designing or building the kind of large aircraft carrier that was demanded. This actually had a significant influence on the final design as the designers were forced to start from scratch rather than producing an evolution of an existing design as was often seen with other warship types.

    The logical starting point was to examine the documentation left over from the CVA-01 project as it was recognised that apart from 20 years of technological development CVA-01 and CVF 90 would not be too different in overall size and capability as a result of being a response to similar requirements. It was hoped that by relearning the lessons that would have been learned during the CVA 01 project it would be possible to make savings in terms of time and money through not having to effectively re-tread old ground.
    Another old program that was looked at was the much more recent US Navy Aircraft Carrier Medium (CVV) program which had aimed to produce a conventionally powered aircraft carrier of about 55,000 tons to serve as a follow on from the KITTYHAWK class and be a cheaper alternative to building more gigantic NIMITZ class nuclear powered supercarriers. The US was very keen for Britain to retain large deck carrier capability as they felt that this would complement and take some pressure off of their own carrier fleet and for a more capable Royal Navy to help counter the growing Soviet Fleet. To this end they had been very willing to offer support and short of actually paying for it do whatever was necessary to make sure that CVF 90 became a reality. The majority of their support came in the form of technical assistance including being given access to some of the technical data left over from CVV.

    As when designing any ship one of the biggest issues that must be resolved is that of propulsion and power and this was one of the first major points where the CVF 90 team found themselves stuck.
    Just getting a ship of the proposed size (Specified in the Defence Whitepaper as in the region of 55,000 – 65,000 tons) to move through the water requires an enormous amount of power. The unique challenge faced by aircraft carriers is that on top of this they must also produce highly pressurised steam to power aircraft catapults and arrestor gears that are needed to launch and recover 30 ton aircraft. It was the need to produce steam for the catapults and wires that was the problem.
    Up until that point every single aircraft carrier in the world that was equipped with catapults and arrestor wires was powered by boilers that would produce high pressure steam to power both the ship and catapults and wires. The problem was that the Royal Navy was now moving away from steam powered ships and towards gas turbines in its most recent ship class’s such as the INVINCIBLE class, Type 42’s, Type 22’s and planned Type 23’s. Again this meant that there was a lack of recent knowledge and experience in designing and building boiler powered propulsion systems.
    The RN and MOD were not exactly enthusiastic about the prospect of the ships being steam powered. Doing this would result in delays and additional costs as a result of having to design a new steam power plant. Going forward the intention was to phase out steam powered vessels within the next 15 or so years. This would mean that steam powered CVF-90’s would be a major logistical nightmare as they would need their own unique training streams and spares supply chain. This would render them increasingly uneconomical as time went on. The ships were expected to have a 40 year lifespan and while operating a large steam powered vessel might be just about manageable and affordable now would that still be true 20 years in the future?
    Future proofing was a major consideration in the design. When HMS EAGLE and ARK ROYAL had been built towards the end of the second world war they had a capacity of 60 aircraft. Over the course of their lives the size of aircraft had increased exponentially meaning that now being towards the end of her life HMS EAGLE could carry less than 40 aircraft and struggled to fit them into her hangar’s on the flight deck. One of the key requirements of CVF-90 was that there must be spare capacity on the vessel to provide space for whatever future equipment and growth she may need over the course of her life.

    This was an issue that the Americans had faced and gotten round by switching power source. The USS JOHN F KENNEDY was the last conventionally powered aircraft carrier built anywhere in the world. Since then the Americans had only built Nuclear powered carriers. Nuclear power had many practical advantages. It meant that the NIMITZ class and USS ENTERPRISE had virtually limited endurance, didn’t need to be constantly refuelled and not needing to carry vast amounts of fuel for the ship freed up lots of space for a greater quantity of aircraft fuel and munitions (this was something that the British were particularly interested in following issues encountered by HMS EAGLE in the Falklands conflict relating to onboard munitions stocks) and most importantly could easily and quickly produce the required amount of steam for flying operations. The downside was that nuclear power was hellish expensive and came with all sorts of political baggage. For this reason, the Defence Whitepaper had dismissed the idea of nuclear power and insisted that the ships be conventionally powered.
    Despite this documents found in the national archives many years later showed that the idea of pursuing the nuclear option had actually been briefly considered. A quick study had been done to determine the feasibility of using a PWR2 nuclear reactor then currently under development to power the new class of SSBN’s that would carry the Trident SLBM. The document showed that this idea had been declared impractical as the reactor which had been designed to propel a 15,000 ton submarine would struggle to produce enough power to drive a ship four times that size. Doing so would mean that the reactor would have to be constantly run at nearly maximum capacity just to keep everything moving and would also result in a ship with a lower than acceptable maximum speed.

    The path that the CVF-90 team decided to go down was to develop a combined gas turbine/boiling water system. The ship itself would be powered by gas turbine engines while a separate gas turbine system would power a high pressure steam generator. When initially proposed this was felt to be a compromise that didn’t really satisfy anyone. However, it was decided that this was the most promising proposal and so the long and expensive process of development began.

    The next major hurdle was the shape and layout of the ships flight deck. The designers aim was to maximise the amount of deck space while factoring in the needs of the ships island superstructure, the equipment needed to launch and recover aircraft, ect. To save money it had been decided that rather than produce a new type of aircraft catapult in Britain it would be better to go with an “off the shelf solution”. Therefore, the CVF 90’s would be equipped with a pair of C-13-2 aircraft catapults purchased from the United States where they were being developed to equip the NIMITZ class. Though consideration had been given to equipping each ship with 3 catapults the decision in the end was to go with two, one bow and one waist, on the grounds of cost, deck space and demands on the steam generation plant. At 99m long it had been suggested that the C-13-2 might be too large for the CVF 90 and that a shorter catapult of 80m should be used instead seeing as this would still be adequate to launch the F/A 18 that was intended to fly from this ship. The decision to go with the larger catapult was based on the perceived need for future proofing as at the time it was still expected that carrier aircraft would become gradually bigger. Even if the RN’s aircraft stayed at the same size there was no telling what monsters the US Navy may be flying in 25 years and the RN was keen to maintain the ability for cross decking with US carriers.

    There were some easy wins such as the decision to go with aircraft lifts on the edge of the flight deck as opposed to in the centre so as not to interrupt flying operations when the lift was in use (an issue present on both HMS EAGLE and the INVINCIBLE class).
    The positioning and shape of the ships island superstructure was a unique challenge. The island contains the ships bridge, flyco, flight deck control, funnel, radars and electronics, ect. A lot to cram into a relatively small structure and each with their own unique requirements. For example, the ships bridge is better positioned further forward and must have a completely unobstructed view in every direction while flyco is better positioned further aft so as to have a better view of aircraft during approach and landing. At the same time the various radars and aerials must be positioned so as not to interfere with each other.
    The result was an island superstructure that externally was not to different from the one that had been proposed for the CVA 01 class. Positioned on the starboard side at about midships the structure was about 70m in length. The layout was the bridge and flyco both positioned forward one above the other. Whereas HMS EAGLE and ARK ROYAL had a large wing protruding from the port side of the bridge to give flyco a better view of the flight deck the CVF 90 would instead have something that resembled half of an airport control tower. Again located on the port side of the bridge but split into two levels with the bridge on top and flyco below. The two levels were easily distinguishable by the bridge above having small windows and the flyco effectively being a large glass box. This unique design fulfilled the requirements of both the bridge and flyco for a clear and unobstructed view and allowed them to not get in the way of each other while still being easily and quickly accessible. Both Flyco and the flight deck control office would make extensive use of CCTV cameras to be able to see what the naked eye couldn’t (everything from aircraft at the beginning of their approach many miles away to the more usual catching aircraft handlers trying to have a quick cigarette out of view of the bridge.
    On top of the bridge would be a powerful Type 1022 air search radar. The ship would also be equipped with a pair of Type 1007 navigation radars. Aft of this would be the foremost of two funnels followed by a tall radar mast that carried communications equipment and Type 996 surface search and target indication radar. On the starboard side would be a weapons sponson where a CWIS system and chaff launchers would be located. Finally, at the aftermost end would be the aft funnel and camera position that would record the approach and landings of aircraft for future review.

    Another issue was that of self defence. The ship had been designed from the outset to include four positions for CWIS systems (likely to be Phalanx) to give all round coverage. Some were saying that this wasn’t enough and that the ship should be equipped with its own point defence missile system as it may not always be able to count on the protection of its aircraft or escorts. This was a concern born out of the Falklands conflict and in particular the sinking of the Argentine carrier 25 DE MAYO which despite having two modern escorts had found itself utterly helpless against even the ageing Martel ASM’s with predictable and terrible results.
    When the CVA 01 program had been cancelled the chief designer had stated that in a way he was glad as the design had ended up containing so many compromises that the whole program had become a massive risk. One of these had been the requirement to carry Sea Dart air defence missiles which had resulted in designers having to sacrifice a large chunk of the flight deck to accommodate the launcher and never really solving the issues surrounding the flight deck being temporarily unusable by smoke and the need to check for FOD after even a single missile launch. For these reasons many on the design team were wary of including missiles within the design.
    The good news was that no one was proposing something massive like Sea Dart but instead Sea Wolf for point defence to complement the CWIS systems as the last line of defence.
    The challenge was where to locate it. Initially 6 cell launchers currently in service aboard the Type 22 and being fitted to some of the LEANDER class frigates was proposed. The proposal was for them to be positioned in a similar fashion to CWIS on dedicated platforms below the flight deck level. The issues here were blast and reloads and potential interference with the CWIS systems.
    The blast from each missile launching would need somewhere to go as it would otherwise likely cause major damage to the ships side through heat and would likely cause the paint to boil and run off the side. Therefore, either a jet blast deflector or an extractor system similar to the one surrounding the Sea Dart launcher aboard HMS INVINCIBLE would be required. This would be very expensive in terms of additional weight and space within the ship that it would occupy. Furthermore, having multiple separate launchers would mean that either four separate magazines and missile workshops near the launchers would be required which would again be very expensive in terms of space or a central magazine could be used which brought up the issue of how to get the missiles from the magazines to the launchers. It was likely that this would have to be done by putting them on bomb lifts along with the aircraft munitions and then carting them over the flight deck before somehow lowering them down to the launchers. Hardly a safe or effective solution.
    Because of this a compromise was reached. Instead of 6 cell launchers firing missiles horizontally instead designers decided to take advantage of the Sea Wolf vertical launch system being developed for the Type 23 frigate.
    The missiles were positioned in 2 groups of 8 at the very aft of the flight deck to the port and starboard of the glide path. The reason for positioning them as far aft as possible was to limit the effect that a launch would have on flying operations. The wind over the flight deck generated by the movement of the ship would blow the smoke generated by a launch clear of the flight deck along with a hopefully large amount of any debris generated. Being vertically launched from the flight deck meant that the missiles would enjoy a clear and all round field of fire.
    Though it was not envisioned that the ship would carry them on a regular basis any Sea Wolf reloads would be stored in the magazines and would have to be brought to the flight deck via the bomb lifts where at least loading them into the launchers would be comparatively straight forward if not quick. The designers were accepting that there would be no battlefield reloads but justified this by pointing out that if it ever got to the point where a carrier was having to fire its own SAM system in anger then something had gone wrong somewhere and during an attack by a supersonic anti ship missile there most probably wouldn’t be time to launch all 16 missiles on the flight deck anyway and even if this weren’t a factor surely 16 missiles would settle the issue one way or another.

    One interesting chapter in the birth of the CVF 90 was that of the French connection. The French Navy even before the Falklands conflict had started to look at a replacement for their pair of 22,000 ton CLEMENCEAU class aircraft carriers. Naturally when Britain had announced that it intended to build a new class of aircraft carrier the French had become interested in collaborating with the view of possibly producing a common design to reduce costs. French and British naval and technical delegations were warmly received by either side and information was exchanged regarding each nations proposals. As time went on however issues began to arise. One of the basic problems was that each nation had differing requirements resulting in different designs. Many on both the British and French sides felt that really the other side was going to press ahead with their own design and just wanted them to build a ship to that design so they could take advantage of economies of scale and pass on some of the development costs.
    Another major obstacle was that both the British and French programs had already been going ahead before the other nation had become interested and thus not being dependant on each other the teams involved didn’t have all that much of an incentive to make allowances or compromises to accommodate the other side.
    Propulsion was a major point of tension as the French didn’t think much of the British combined gas turbine and steam generator solution and instead wanted nuclear power. This was part of the reason why they had become interested in cooperation with the British as the French had like the Brits recognised the enormous costs involved and were hoping that they could be shared with the British as part of a joint program. For reasons already mentioned the British were completely against the idea of using nuclear power.
    Another issue was the relative size of the ships desired. Whereas the British were looking at designs of up to 65,000 tons the French baulked at this as they had been thinking along the lines of a more modest fleet carrier of below 50,000 tons.
    Over time it became clear that there was little was little political or military desire on the part of the British to cooperate with the French and little desire on the French side to make the design compromises that cooperation with the British would require.
    Ultimately in August 1986 during a press conference the French Minister of Defence Andre Giraud responded to a question by confirming that cooperation with the British regarding future aircraft carrier construction had been considered but ultimately decided against. Both nations aircraft carrier programs carried on regardless.

    About the time of the French Ministers conference and with the CVF 90’s final design now coming together the question was who would or even could build such a gigantic and complex vessel. The final design at this point was for a class of ships with a displacement of 62,000 tons. With a length of 285m, a beam of 68m at its widest and draught of just under 11m at a cost of just over 1 billion pounds each. This price was excluding the development costs and would make the chosen shipyard owners extremely happy but was already causing many inside and outside the MOD to tear their hair out in frustration.
    Officially the plan was still for three ships but everyone knew that in reality the third ship was never a serious prospect (and hadn’t yet been budgeted for) and that only two would be built (if that!). The plan was for the second of the class to begin construction approximately 2 years after the first. The navy had a quiet sense of urgency regarding getting the second carrier ordered before the inevitable delays and cost overruns with the first persuaded an always cash strapped government to cancel and leave them with just one carrier. Therefore, given the time between ordering and launching of the first ship there was a strong possibility that the second ship may be ordered from a different yard. Politically this was attractive as it could be presented as sustaining more jobs and there were some within the Conservative government that wanted to use the carrier program as a political tool as part of their ongoing campaign to paint the Labour Party as soft on defence and possibly even sap away at Labour’s support in the primarily Labour voting areas where most shipyards were located.

    There were only a handful of shipbuilders in the country judged capable of building the CVF 90 and the program had reached the stage where the ship builders would need to be brought in to help develop the build plan.
    The dominant payer within the British shipbuilding industry at the time was The British Shipbuilder Corporation which was the publicly owned corporation that had resulted from the nationalisation of the British shipbuilding industry in 1977. The complicating issue was that the corporation was currently in the process of being privatised with its various constituent companies being sold off.
    Four ship builders were invited to compete for the contract to construct the first ship.

    Cammell Laird based in Birkenhead had recently been privatised and was now owned by Vickers Ship Building. The yard had a long history of constructing large warships including HMS ARK ROYAL meaning that it had the space and most of the facilities to build a large aircraft carrier. It’s lack of recent experience in building large warships was not held against them for the simple fact that no one anywhere in the UK had built something this size since the second world war.

    Swan Hunter based in Wallsend on the Tyne had constructed the Invincible class HMS INDOMITABLE and HMS ILLUSTRIOUS (Now HMAS AUSTRALIA). AT the time of the contract decision the company was due to be privatised however the government had stated that if Swan Hunter were to be awarded the contract privatisation would be postponed so as not do disrupt construction. This would have the added advantage of allowing the government to provide direct financial support as the yard’s finances were rather less than healthy and privatisation had been seen as a way of bringing in the necessary cash injection required to keep the yard going. The state of their finances was a mark against awarding the contract to Swan Hunter as the government was worried about the prospect of escalating costs and having to bail out the yard.

    Harland and Wolff based in Belfast were the legendary builders of the TITANIC and also of HMS EAGLE. Equipped with a large slipway and two gigantic heavy lift gantry cranes named Samson and Goliath the Belfast based yard certainly had the capacity for the work. There was however one large and literally explosive problem. Belfast even in the late 1980’s was a warzone with constant riots and civil unrest and regular terrorist actions by various armed groups such as the IRA. Building a large aircraft carrier that would dominate the local skyline and be an extremely obvious symbol of British rule was to put it mildly asking for trouble. The various security concerns meant that building in Belfast was never really a serious option. Harland and Wolff had in reality been shortlisted mainly for political reasons but given the planned use of prefabricated sections in the construction there would possibly be some subcontracting work awarded to Belfast. Despite this for appearances sake the MOD had to go through the movements of considering Harland and Wolff even though the outcome regarding the yard was already a foregone conclusion. As always a poor relatively junior civil servant was told to start working on a report into why Belfast wasn’t an option. The report whose page count eventually ran into the hundreds did actually attract the interest of various military officers within HQ Northern Ireland which was the body responsible for the conduct of military operations within the province. The report described how with the shipyard’s workers being mostly Protestant building warships there could be easily interpreted by the Catholic community as the British government siding with their mortal enemies (though many pointed out that this view already was widespread amongst the community) and lead to increased unrest. Regarding providing security for the ship itself while under construction the report recommended that Harland and Wolff’s yard basically become a heavily fortified military base in its own right such would be the number of soldiers required to provide security. Likely threats ranged from long distance rocket and sniper attacks against what would be an “extremely bleeding obvious and difficult to miss target” (those words were scratched out and translated into another several pages of reporting) to attacks against shipyard employees outside of the relative safety of their workplace and the possibility of someone smuggling a bomb onboard to be detonated within the ship.
    When the civil servant finally presented his report though his superiors were impressed with the level of detail they told him that he should have just written “IRA” and “terrorism threat” a few times and saved himself a lot of effort.

    Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Ltd more commonly referred to simply as VSEL owned the ex Vickers yard in Barrow-in-Furness and were another contender. The yard was well known as being the place where the majority of the Royal Navy’s Nuclear Submarine’s had been constructed and definitely possessed the technical knowledge and facilities to build CVF-90. There was however an issue.
    The yard was currently committed to building the United Kingdom’s new fleet of Trident SLBM carrying SSBN’s. This was the one defence program that unquestionably had a higher priority than even the new aircraft carriers that the RN wanted as the centrepiece for the fleet for the next few decades. In fact, long even before the Falklands conflict vast sums of money had been invested in the site with the monolithic Devonshire Dock Hall having been constructed between 1982 and 1986. The building was vast covering 6 acers and was where the future SSBN’s which had been named the VANGUARD class were to be built with the first being laid down in 1986. There were serious concerns about the yards capacity to take on another megaproject and the risk of knock on effects for the VANGUARD class construction program.

    Building an aircraft carrier is one of the most expensive things that a navy can do. It’s not just a case of financing the cost of the ship and aircraft themselves but also of the extensive infrastructure building program required to be able to operate those shiny new toys. In the case of the CVF 90 program one of those infrastructure projects was dredging. These ships would be the largest the Royal Navy and the simple fact of the matter was that as things stood, they were simply too vast to be able to make it into either Portsmouth or Plymouth without scraping their hulls along the bottom of the harbours. Because of this an extensive program of dredging work would have to be undertaken to deepen the harbour enough to enable the ships to enter. This rather than any strategic consideration had determined the choice of Portsmouth over Plymouth as the ships home base as it was felt that Portsmouth need less work and thus cost less.
    As well as the harbour itself it would also be necessary to dredge a deep water channel out of the harbour and into the Solent. It had however been recognised that this could benefit both the commercial port within Portsmouth and also neighbouring Southampton by allowing access to ever larger merchant vessels. For this reason, the port operators were very keen for the dredging of Portsmouth to go ahead and a deal was eventually negotiated whereby they would make a significant contribution towards the cost of the work. This cost saving for the MOD made Portsmouth a much more attractive option than Plymouth which would need its long and windy channel significantly widened and deepened and had no commercial interests nearby to help shoulder the financial burden.
    Dredging Portsmouth would be a long process requiring extensive planning and preparation. Dredging work would not begin until after the construction of the first ship commenced and even by that point it was clear that it was going to take a lot longer than originally anticipated. Survey divers had already come across numerous bits of unexploded ordinance left over from various wars that would require careful disposal and worse items of significant archaeological value that could very well result in protection orders that would need to be circumnavigated somehow.

    As well as the dredging work extensive upgrades to the docks themselves would need to take place to strengthen them so they didn’t simply crumble when 62,000 tons of ship tried to berth. An entirely new dock was to be constructed from the south end of Victory Jetty all the way up to the top corner of Sheer jetty at a length of over 650m. This would have the advantage of effectively providing more real estate for waterfront support buildings.
    As well as the docks there was also the issue of drydocking. The RN simply didn’t posses any dry dock big enough to host the new ships. This situation was felt by the RN to be unacceptable. The problem was that the treasury were already less than happy about expense of the carrier program and considered the drydock issue to be a problem that was to expensive to solve. During the CVA 01 program plans had been drawn up for the construction of a large new dry dock in Portsmouth which would jut outwards from northwest wall into the harbour. There were benefits to this proposal as the RN would not only gain a large and modern drydock but also a large amount of extra berthing space. The drawback to this however was the enormous cost (which would be almost as much as building that third ship) and the estimated near decade that it would take to complete the building work to say nothing of the various technical challenges that would be involved and the major disruption to shipping traffic within the harbour.

    Another option looked at was expanding the existing D Lock within the dockyard. However the technical challenges of going down this route would be if anything even more problematic than starting from scratch and the RN wasn’t too keen about loosing the only Drydock in Portsmouth big enough to take the INVINCINBLE class carriers and effectively locking them out of the dockyards nontidal basin.

    In true government style the response to the issue was to simply kick the can down the road again and again by telling planners to go and look for other more cost effective option the drydock issue remained an ongoing saga.

    Finally in June 1987 the MOD was in a position to present its final proposal. The design had been finalised and builders selected. The RAF was already making progress with the F/A 18 program and everything was in place to begin. All was needed now was the go ahead. This period was the scene of some intensive efforts by the treasury to get the whole thing called off as they regarded CVF-90 and all of the other projects that it would spawn as horrifyingly detrimental to the nations balance sheet.
    There were many within the cabinet who were unsure as to whether the project should be allowed to proceed as the Defence Whitepaper had been viewed by some as more of a military wish list than a seriously costed policy document. However, in a scene reminiscent of a meeting which had taken place in Chequers on the 1st of May 1982 the day before another aircraft carrier had met its end it was the Prime Minister who settled the issue by simply saying Build Them.

    The keel laying for the first vessel was scheduled for October 1987. There was however one final thing that needed to be agreed upon. What was this first ship to be called?
    The EAGLE Has Flown
  • December 1987 HMNB Devonport

    Coming here just before Christmas when the majority of people both military and civilian had or were about to leave for Christmas had been the right decision. Reflection and reliving old memories is something that most people prefer to do alone and with the dockyard pretty much empty the suited man was not bothered by anyone and ignored the drizzling rain as he stood on a quay and had his gaze fixed upon the enormous grey hulk out in the Tamar. He wasn’t the sort to shed tears and maintained a neutral expression but deep down he certainly felt something.
    To the casual onlooker the mere size of the hulk out in the Tamar would easily be an impressive sight but to the more clued up it was a sorry and to some tragic sight.
    The ship was completely deserted and silent, the superstructure and masts looked bare without the various radars, antennas and aerials that had previously adorned it. Furthermore, grass had even begun to grow on the flight deck which was now reddened with rust. Right at the stern just below the quarter deck was the hulks former name. Where the letters on an active ship would be painted bright red, the name had been painted over in warship grey after decommissioning to blend in with the hull. However, if he squinted enough the man on the quay better known as Commodore Alan Grose could make out the name of his former command EAGLE.

    The last time he had been to sea was when he had brought EAGLE back into Devonport for the final time 18 months ago. It felt a lot longer than that though.
    His previous appointment before EAGLE had been as Captain of the TYPE 82 destroyer HMS BRISTOL. Though he had felt that he hadn’t really done anything more than any other CO would have been expected to do members of his own crew and CO’s on other ships had sung him praises over his actions and handling of BRISTOL during the Falklands conflict. As well as a DSO someone higher up the food chain had decided that he was a good and safe pair of hands to take over HMS EAGLE from the outgoing skipper the legendary Captain (now Rear Admiral Jock Slater). He remembered the day the day almost 5 years ago when he had assumed command of EAGLE who was tied up alongside at the very quay on which he now stood. He distinctly remembered catching sight of EAGLE’s sister the former HMS ARK ROYAL which had been moored out in the exact spot where EAGLE now rotted. Even in that fleeting glimpse he had remembered being struck by the contrast between the decrepit ARK ROYAL and the newly painted EAGLE. How times had changed!
    He remembered being piped onboard and greeted by the outgoing CO. Having commanded HMS BRISTOL and HMS ESKIMO before her Grose had been well used to the privileges that came with being a captain but being piped aboard an aircraft carrier which was now his own had been an unexpectedly stirring experience.
    He had accompanied Captain Slater down to his new stateroom in order to fill out and sign the various bits of paperwork required by a change of command but it had also allowed for the outgoing captain to have a frank chat with the new captain about the state of the ship. Having commanded the ship for a total of two years and having taken her to war Slater easily knew the condition of the ship better than his own (something his wife and doctor kept on trying to correct).
    Since returning from the South Atlantic the ship had spent most of her time alongside undergoing repair and maintenance work and hosting VIP visitors such as the PM. Slater had only taken her to sea once since the conflict for a few weeks of post maintenance trials and air group training.
    Much to his surprise Slater had started by apologising to him for what he had dumped on him. The ship had previously been planned to have been decommissioned by this point with the Falklands conflict having given her an unexpected stay of execution. This life extension however was just as much motivated by political considerations as opposed to practical ones meaning that no one was really 100% sure what the ship was supposed to do for the next few years. This meant that it had been difficult to work out a plan for things like maintenance and training. The only target they really had to work towards was a decommissioning date.
    In Slaters opinion this meant that crew motivation would likely be something of a problem going forward.
    Mechanically the ship was in a poor state. At this point Slater had recounted a rather frank conversation he had recently had with the MEO who was also departing the ship. There was no getting away from the fact that the ship was old and worn out and that supplies of spare parts and specialist knowledge for the now almost antiquated machinery onboard were now largely exhausted. Slater warned Grose to brace himself for his first set of Captain’s engineering rounds which he reckoned would just be an endless list of equipment that was broken down and unable to be fixed for various reasons and equipment that would break down sooner rather than later.
    As an example, Slater pointed out that the ship was no longer capable of reaching her official top speed. He further went on to point out that he wasn’t really sure what the maximum speed the ship could reach was now but recommended that Grose didn’t try to find out.
    In Slaters opinion EAGLE had given everything she had left during the long and gruelling time at sea during the Falklands campaign and there was now no question of her taking part in another conflict or doing anything that pushed her machinery hard.
    With the paperwork now signed Captain Slater gave one final piece of advice to his successor which was to remember that commanding an aircraft carrier would probably be the highlight of his career and to savour and enjoy every moment of it but also to always remember the enormous weight of the trust and responsibility placed upon him by his superiors, his ships company and their families. With that both men stood up and shaking hands Captain Slater said “You have the ship Captain Grose” to which Grose replied “I have the ship Captain Slater”.
    At that point almost as if he had been listening at the door the Master at Arms knocked on the door and informed the old and new Captain’s that the ships company was now mustered in the hangar ready to be addressed. As the outgoing CO Captain Slater had departed his now former cabin to give his farewell address to the crew while Captain Grose now had a few moments to contemplate things.
    The violently loud shout of the Chief Gunner bringing the ships company to attention indicated the start of Slaters address.
    A few minutes later Captain Grose heard another loud sound, that of applause indicating the end of the former CO’s address. Grose thought about the fact that the crew were cheering the man who had led them to war and brought them back without so much as a scratch (save the one’s on the flight deck from a Phantom crash that he had only recently found out about) and wondered what they would think of this newcomer. He secretly worried about the fact that he would always be compared to Slater and how hard he would have to work to be seen as a worthy successor.
    The Master at Arms had reappeared and informed Grose that the crew were ready for him to address.
    As he walked into the hangar once again, he heard the Chief Gunner loudly ordering over 2000 men to attention. As he walked past the ranks of men making his way to the podium his nerves evaporated. It had been almost if he had forgotten that he was the man who had taken his ship and two others deliberately into harms way in the Falklands and had given them a nasty and bloody surprise (When HMS BRISTOL in company with HMS EXETER and HMS BRILLIANT had taken up position west of the Falklands and disrupted the Argentine air attacks on the landing force in San Carlos on the 21st of May).
    In his address he had praised the hard work and effort they had put in for Captain Slater and reminded them that the nation was now extremely proud of this ship. He had set them the challenge of maintaining that pride and the ships reputation.

    Two and a half years later Grose had once again stood in the hangar addressing his 2500 strong ships company. He had thanked them for all of their hard work and told them that he could not have been prouder of them. They had responded by offing caps and giving him three cheers before applauding him as he walked through the hangar to the gangway and departed the ship for the final time. This time however the crew had been dismissed immediately after his departure. There would be no address from a new captain because as of a few days previously HMS EAGLE was no longer a part of the Royal Navy.

    During Captain Grose’s tenure as CO of HMS EAGLE the ship had mostly operated in and around home waters with short stints further afield to conduct foreign port visits and exercise with NATO allies in Norway.
    Grose had been charged with keeping the ship operational and maintaining warfighting capabilities until the new INVINCIBLE class carrier HMS INDOMITABLE came online and replaced her.
    It was recognised however that there were limits to what the ship was still capable of and in many ways, she was more of a platform for trials and training than a frontline fighting ship. Even her wartime role in the event of conflict with the Soviet Union had been changed. Whereas previously the ship had been planned to sail up into the arctic circle and launch airstrikes against the Soviet naval and air bases on the Kola Peninsula (admittedly this would have likely been a suicide mission) the ships deteriorated material state meant that she would instead have been employed closer to home providing air cover to convoys approaching Europe.
    The Falklands Campaign had been the last major voyage that the ship had undertaken as it was felt that she would not have been able to endure another long period away from home. There had been plans for a 6 month Atlantic deployment over to the US east coast to exercise with the US Navy. However it had been decided that the costs and potential risks weren’t justified by the potential gains of such a deployment given the ships limited remaining lifespan. Instead HMS INVINCIBLE had been sent over to the US as she and hr sistership would be the sum total of RN fixed wing flying for the next decade or so. The furthest Captain Grose had taken EAGLE away from home had been a 2 month Mediterranean voyage which had been more of a showing the flag trip with plenty of high profile port visits (and good runs ashore). In Malta it was estimated that more than 10,000 people had turned out to see the ship depart from Valletta for the final time. The last few months of the ships life had been largely a series of farewell visits to ports around the UK with a more limited tempo of flying operations.
    The only significant thing to happen to the air group had occurred in late 1984 with the replacement of the Gannet AEW.3 with the newly developed AEW version of the Westland Sea King dubbed the ASaC Mk7.
    As a cost saving exercise the elderly Fairey Gannet had been withdrawn from service after more than 30 years of service. This was a result of not wanting to pay the expense of keeping such a limited number of elderly aircraft in service just for EAGLE and the superior capability offered by the Searchwater radar carried by the new Sea King variant compared to the old AN/APS-20 radar carried by the Gannet’s.
    849 Naval Air Squadron had been disbanded but was slated to reform in future to operate the E2C Hawkeye that the RN was planning to purchase to operate from the new generation of carriers.

    Regarding the Phantoms and Buccaneers things on that front had been wound down. About the same time as HMS EAGLE had been withdrawn from service these aircraft too had been withdrawn. Of the aircraft themselves all remaining examples belonging to the RN had been passed over to the RAF.
    The Phantoms being of a different variant to those used by the RAF would never fly again and instead were in a hangar somewhere being cannibalised over time for spare parts for the RAF’s Phantoms.
    The Buccaneers however were still flying. For this reason while the type had remained in service with the RN the RAF had gone out of their way to try and limit the amount of time these aircraft were deployed at sea aboard HMS EAGLE as they wanted to make sure that the aircraft they inherited still had as many flying hours as possible left in them. The result of this was that EAGLE’s last days of flying operations had mostly been competed with Phantoms.
    Even while they were still flying from her deck an increasing proportion of EAGLE’s aircrew were actually RAF officers. With the previously planned retirement of EAGLE in 1982 and ARK ROYAL having retired in 1979 the RN had stopped training aircrew for the Phantom and Buccaneer in 1977 planning to rely on the remaining pool of pilots for the next few years. EAGLE’s unexpected life extension had thrown up problems which had been solved by seconding RAF aircrew to fill the gaps. Of the RN aircrews they still comprised half of EAGLE’s final air group. Some had left flying duties as a result of retirement or career progression, some had moved away from frontline duties into instructor roles as the MOD was keen to capitalise on the experience these man had gained in the Falklands and a select few were over in the US gaining experience on the F/A-18 Hornet which the RN was going to operate in future. The majority of the pilots who would remain on flying duties were going to or were already converting onto the Sea Harrier.
    The Observer’s however were facing an uncertain future. With the withdrawal of the Buccaneer and Phantom there was no longer a role for fast jet Observers in the RN as with the exception of trainers it would no longer operate twin seat fast jets. The only options this cadre of airmen had was to either transfer over to the RAF and keep flying in fast jets or to retrain for helicopters or switch branch entirely.

    Grose now thought about the final time EAGLE had been at sea. Her last “Foreign” run ashore for the men had been in Gibraltar where number of men brought before him for disciplinary reasons had been testament to the crew having enjoyed themselves. The ship had then proceeded to make its final UK port visit to Liverpool where her sister HMS ARK ROYAL had been built. It was a shame that she could not have visited her own birthplace in Belfast one last time but with the security situation being what it was there was no way that could ever have been considered a good idea. In Liverpool thousands had taken the opportunity to visit the ship when she had opened the doors to the public for the final time.
    After departing Liverpool for home another significant milestone marking the end of the ships life occurred. Hundreds of members of the ships company had crowded onto the flight deck to witness what would not only be the final fixed wing catapult launch from the ship but also the last that would be conducted by the RN for many years. A joint RN/RAF crew comprising of Flt Lt Macleod in the front seat and Lt McCallum in the rear seat were catapulted from the deck in a Phantom using the waist catapult. With this done the crew had decided to celebrate this milestone by indulging in seemingly their favourite pastime of finding whatever they could to catapult off of the flight deck. As demanded by tradition the wardroom piano found itself strapped to the bow catapult and flung into the sea along with other bits of furniture and equipment. This time however much to the relief of those in the accounting office none of it would be getting replaced.
    During EAGLE’s final voyage preparations had been underway by some members of the ships company to ensure that naval charities would cash in on the public interest in the ship. Ashore a number of company’s had been producing souvenirs such as prints, T shirts, mugs, ect. One businessman in the Midlands had reportedly invested £16,000 in wall plaques which provided some income for naval charities. Onboard members of the ships company were ordered to search the ship for redundant copper, brass and easily removable woodwork which was to be remodelled into traditional naval rum jugs and other souvenirs which were to be sold to raise funds for naval charities.
    As well as this there was also a great deal of souvenir hunting by members of the ships company which often crossed into the territory of outright thievery and criminal damage as fittings and anything bearing the ships crest “went missing”. Even the ships senior officers got in on the act with Captain Grose reminding everyone that the Captains chair on the bridge was for the Captain only and would be leaving the ship with him and the XO laying claim to the ships motor launch.

    The end had finally come on the morning of the 4th of June 1986 as the ships company had manned the side one final time for Procedure Alpha. As she had slipped past Plymouth Breakwater the ships 450ft paying off pennant had flown from her lattice mast gently fluttering in the breeze. As she had made her way up the notorious passage into Devonport thousands had turned out to welcome her home despite the early hour. Commodore Grose remembered how that had been the only time during his tenure as CO where during the passage into Devonport they had been exactly on the navigational track all the way through with every fix bang on.
    Once EAGLE had been secured alongside Grose had ordered the engines to ring off for the final time at 08:50am thus bringing an end to his own naval career as a ships captain and that of HMS EAGLE.

    After EAGLE had arrived in Devonport there had been a wardroom ball for current and former officers of the ship. Before the ball had started Grose had held a dinner for the former Captains of EAGLE in the admirals cabin while the XO had held a dinner for former Executive Officers in his cabin. There was a feeling amongst those present who had also been present at the 1979 decommissioning of HMS ARK ROYAL that EAGLE’s decommissioning was more poignant as when ARK ROYAL had paid off there was still a limited period of fixed wing flying left for the RN whereas the demise of EAGLE meant a major change of life for many within the Fleet Air Arm.
    The organization for the event had started months ago but even at this late stage the unexpected had occurred. To stop ladies’ long dresses getting dirty the hangar deck had been repainted. A local MP had found out about this and had decided to make a fuss about the cost of the paint. Captain Grose’s response had been to point out that the paint was expired anyway and had come from the ships own stores and so hadn’t actually cost anything. Other than that, the MP was given a stiff ignoring.

    Grose wondered if the MP had gotten that upset over £100 worth of expired paint what would he have done if he had found out that Grose had personally ordered that the ships remaining funds be spent on one hell of a party for the ships ratings the evening following her decommissioning complete with a free bar. The XO had walked around the ship the next morning and observed the scenes of devastation with empty beer cans, glass bottles and not quite dead yet bodies littering the ship. Whereas his normal reaction would have been to have become apoplectic at the state of the ship he had instead decided that seeing as the ship was no longer a part of the RN and he probably wouldn’t like what he found if he ventured into the mess decks to get people out of bed to clear up he might as well let someone else deal with this.

    On the Quay side in Plymouth Commodore Grose smiled as he thought about a rather amusing incident which he had recently found out about that had taken place aboard the ship during this wild party. It seemed that the KGB had been operating an agent in the area. The agent in question was a rather gorgeous young woman who worked in a pub just outside the dockyard gate and was well known and liked amongst the junior rates. It seemed her way of gathering intelligence had mostly consisted of seduction and honey trapping people and forming relationships with unsuspecting sailors who thought that it must have been to good to be true. Amazingly it seemed she had actually been aboard his ship during the ratings party. Grose smiled when he thought about the KGB agent trying to give her date the slip and fruitlessly searching the ship for any classified material (Which Grose knew had already been removed by that point) while trying to avoid the attention of any one of the thousands of drunken sailors onboard.
    She had later been compromised and picked up by an MI5 counter intelligence operation who had then tried to determine who or what had been compromised.
    Grose had laughed out loud when he had heard the story of how a room full of sailors who were known to have come into contact with the woman in question were asked to put their hands up if they had not had intimate relations with her at some point. A rather dejected looking few had done so.
    What was interesting and also rather worrying was the fact that a number of other “barmaids” in both Portsmouth and Plymouth had disappeared not long afterwards.

    With EAGLE’s days under the white ensign now behind her and his own departure imminent Grose’s task had become the destoring and deammunitioning of the ship and removal of any equipment that might still have some potential reuse value.
    This task had started almost as soon as the officers and ratings had finally sobered up after their respective party’s and continued long after Captain Grose’s departure. The 1st Lieutenant had taken charge after the departure of the CO and XO along with a significant chunk of the crew. The manning pool had been desperate to have as many men released from EAGLE’s crew as soon as possible to fill gaps elsewhere. The majority of the men initially released in this first wave had found themselves joining the new HMS INDOMITABLE. Though the new carrier was significantly smaller than EAGLE the contrast between a brand new state of the art ship and the decrepit EAGLE was like night to day. Back aboard EAGLE the process of “putting the ship to bed” had begun. Barges came alongside the ship to pump out fuel and remove ammunition for transport to their respective storage facilities elsewhere within the harbour. To speed up the enormous task of destoring the millions of items onboard Sappers from the Royal Engineers had been brought in to build a huge temporary ramp from the dock up to the flight deck to enable lorries to drive straight onboard where they could be lowered into the hangar on the aircraft lifts, loaded up and driven out again.
    While all of this was underway the army Sappers had decided to indulge in a little bit of advertising. On of the items held onboard was a huge banner which said “Fly Navy” and was displayed whenever the ship was open to visitors or conducting a high profile port visit. While the ship was being destored this banner had been attached to the side of the ramp that the sappers had built. The officer of the day onboard EAGLE had been very surprised one morning to receive an angry phone call from a furious naval base commander in the base wardroom ashore demanding to know why this banner had been replaced with one that now said “Sail Army”.
    With the job destoring the ship continuing and more members of the ships company departing it was time to ensure that some parts of the ship found a new home. The ships bell and crest were removed and put on public display at the Royal Navy Museum and Fleet Air Arm Museum. These items were only on loan on the understanding that they would be returned if and when they were needed again. Also going to the Fleet Air Arm Museum was one of the ships anchors which along with an anchor from HMS ARK ROYAL is now displayed at the entrance to the museum.
    In one of his final acts before departing the ship Captain Grose had presented the chairman of Harland & Wolff with EAGLE’s engineering number plate and a small section of deck tread plate in a small ceremony attended by a number of the men who had helped to build her all those years ago.
    Gradually more and more of the ships company including the First Lieutenant departed and more and more compartments were sealed. The ship was eventually handed over to the care of the Fleet Maintenance Unit who towed her out into her present position in the Tamar where she had remained undisturbed ever since.

    Realising he had been stood staring at his old ship for quite a long time now Commodore Grose was thankful that there had been no one around to see him and wonder if he was ok. As he made his way back through the empty dockyard he noticed a conspicuously empty looking 5 Basin.
    After leaving HMS EAGLE he had been promoted to Commodore and appointed to the position of Assistant Chief of Defence Staff (Operational Requirements) in Whitehall. This meant he was well aware of what was really going on behind closed doors and of the story’s behind the official announcements.
    A recent departure from Devonport Dockyard was that of the former LPH HMS HERMES. The ship had been decommissioned in 1984 as a result of the previous years defence review in order to relieve a burden on the RN’s finances and manpower.
    Rather than being stripped for parts and then scrapped the ship had instead been offered for sale to India after the Indian’s had expressed an interest in purchasing her and a number of Sea Harrier’s.
    Unfortunately, things had not gone smoothly with the Indian’s. It had been recognised by both sides that the ship would need a deep refit to extend her life and enable her to operate Sea Harrier’s the most noticeable modification being the addition of a ski jump. The deal offered to India was that the ship itself would be given to them for a token sum and the refit which would be conducted in Devonport would be paid for by them. Along with this they would also pay a discounted rate for a number of Sea Harrier’s. These would be of the older FRS1 type modified to Indian specifications as the RN was developing a newer version which would likely be new build aircraft (and which they were not comfortable about sharing with India).
    Unfortunately, the MOD had found that Indian Government bureaucracy and decision making had a well deserved reputation for being slow and inefficient. Grose couldn’t believe some of the issues the Indian’s were having. First, they had wanted to conduct the necessary refitting work in an Indian Dockyard despite their own government documents acknowledging that this wasn’t technically feasible. Then they had decided that the Falklands Campaign had in fact demonstrated the supremacy of larger CATOBAR aircraft over the STOVL Sea Harrier and had wanted HERMES to be reequipped with catapults and wires and wanted Buccaneers instead of Sea Harriers despite protestations from the British that it was simply no longer possible for the ship to be modified in this way on the budget the Indians had in mind and that the Buccaneers were simply never going to happen.
    The British had found themselves increasingly frustrated at how they seemingly could never get the Indian’s to commit to even the simplest thing or make any kind of decision. While this was going on the former HMS HERMES was in the basin in Devonport Dockyard where the RN was having to pay for the preservation of the ship for its increasingly unlikely transfer to India. A task made all the more difficult by the slow but steady dismantling of the ship for spare parts for EAGLE.
    Eventually things had come to a head in early 1987 when the British Government had presented the Indian Navy with an ultimatum that they either commit to the original deal immediately or the British Government would withdraw the offer of the ship. When as expected the Indian’s had not provided them with an answer the British had formally walked away from the deal and HERMES had been ultimately sold for scrap departing Devonport in November 1987 for the breakers yard in Cairnryan in Scotland which had already been ripping apart HMS ARK ROYAL.

    Quietly though many in the MOD were quite pleased that the sale of HERMES to India had fallen through. The plan was to retire HMS INVINCIBLE and HMS INDOMITABLE when the 62,000 ton ships of the CVF-90 program entered service and offer them for sale. India was now a prime candidate for taking over one of the ships which would be a deal worth rather more than simply refitting the old HERMES.

    Talking of the INVINCIBLE class Grose had also heard a lot of complaining about the Australians. The RAN had taken over the brand new HMS ILLUSTRIOUS which they had renamed HMAS AUSTRALIA. The RAN were currently operating the ship as an ASW helicopter carrier operating Westland Sea King helicopters.
    When the RN had realised that they would have to spend a decade with the Sea Harrier as its only fixed wing combat aircraft they had decided that it needed some serious capability upgrades. The Australians not being happy with what they felt was the limited capability offered by the current FRS1 variant had indicated that they would not procure harriers for their new aircraft carrier until the newer more capable variant which had been dubbed the Sea Harrier FA2 was available.
    Officially the upgrade project was a joint British and Australian project. In reality this was a British project with the Australians footing some of the bill in exchange for some subcontracting work.
    The program had produced quite an impressive aircraft equipped with a much more powerful radar and Skyflash air to air and Sea Eagle air to surface missiles. The first of these new aircraft had recently entered frontline service with the RN.
    The Aussies however had shocked everyone including their own delegation in the UK by having a sudden change of heart. They had announced that their preference was now to procure the American’s McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Harrier II instead of the British Sea Harrier. To say that this was a controversial decision in Australia would be an understatement and in Britain the government was understandably dismayed and wondered if the Americans had somehow got to the Aussies. The Australian argument was that as good as the Sea Harrier FA2 may be it would in their opinion still be inferior to the land based supersonic aircraft that it was considered most likely to come up against. Instead they argued that the AUSTRALIA should be a strike carrier as opposed to an air defence ship. The AV-8B offered a greater ground attack capability than the Sea Harrier. Furthermore, they made the argument that with a greater number of AV-8B’s in the world than there ever would be Sea Harriers it would be cheaper to purchase and operate the American aircraft. This argument was rather less than watertight on basis that the Australians had already paid a significant amount of money towards the development of the Sea Harrier FA2 and the British had made it extremely clear that there would be no refunds.
    Grose was good friends with a certain Commodore Thomas Dadswell RAN who had commanded Australia’s fleet of A4 Skyhawks and was too have been in charge of introducing the Sea Harrier into Australian service when he took assumed command of the RAN’s Fleet Air Arm as was planned. He had been an extremely vocal critic of the Australian Government’s decision to switch to the American Harriers and in an extremely controversial and damaging move had found his distinguished career come to an abrupt end.
    Thankfully while annoying the Australian decision to not purchase the Sea Harrier had very little affect on them apart from maybe pushing up the individual aircraft price a little seeing as the development costs had already been paid.

    Making his way back to his car Commodore Grose thought about what the future held for his own ship. Deep down though he knew but still didn’t quite want to accept what was going to happen. Various proposals had been put forward for EAGLE’s preservation as a museum and the MOD in recognition of the ships status in the public consciousness was publicly happy to entertain any serious proposals. An HMS EAGLE Preservation Trust had been formed and put forward a number of proposals after being invited to tour and inspect the ship.
    The trust had put proposed to moor EAGLE in at Greenwich as a museum and centre for education and nautical research as part of the national maritime museum. The plan would involve towing the stern first through the Thames Barrier without any power or control of her own which would be an extremely risky undertaking. The ship was now completely dead which meant that if she made it as far as becoming a museum at Greenwich major work would be needed to bring connect her to power and water supplies from ashore to say nothing of the internal work required to make her safe and accessible for members of the public.
    While a nice idea running a ship the size of EAGLE as a museum was unlikely to be financially viable due to the cost of carrying out restoration and preservation work to say nothing of the disruption caused by parking such a large ship in the busy waterway that was the Thames at the time. There was certainly no question of any government or MOD subsidy money and the ship would have to attract a ridiculously large number of visitors paying high ticket prices to stay afloat financially.
    Though this wasn’t public knowledge it had been all but decided that the only viable bids for the ship were those from the ship breakers. Unless someone somewhere pulled off something spectacular EAGLE would more than likely be towed up to the Scottish yard where her sister had met her end.

    Now driving home Commodore Grose thought a bit more about things. Though he was based in Whitehall his family home was out here near Plymouth hence he had come back for Christmas Leave and stopped off on the way home where his family were already. His wife Gillian mostly lived down here while he lived in an official flat in London and came home for the weekends on those rare occasions where the trains were not on strike and were actually running on time. The last time he had seen his wife on a weekday was back in October when she had accompanied him to a very special event.
    He had been present at Cammell Laird’s yard in Birkenhead near Liverpool for the keel laying ceremony of the first ship of the new CVF-90 aircraft carrier program. The monsters that this program would produce would dwarf his old ship in every possible way.
    Tradition demands that the first capital ship of a monarch’s reign be named after them. Hence Commodore and Mrs Grose had witnessed the keel laying for the new HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH.
    Though he wasn’t on the ship naming committee he knew enough people who were to know the reasonings behind most of their decisions. Many on that committee had remembered when the previous generation of carriers of the CVA-01 program also to have been named the QUEEN ELIZABETH class had been cancelled. In a way they had felt that reusing the name was the right thing to do.
    First ship aside there had been much speculation of what names should be given to the others. There were plenty of good and proud names currently available. HERCULES, LEVIATHAN, PRINCE OF WALES, KING GEORGE V, BELLEROPHON and many others had been considered. A surprising front runner had been for the second ship of the class to be named HMS THUNDERER. If nothing else those would be some pretty impressive cap tallies.
    Grose however was of the opinion that if his HMS EAGLE were to meet her end then the name EAGLE should live on. He wasn’t alone in thinking this.

    Before reaching his home however there was one last thing that played upon Grose’s mind. Back when he had been CO of HMS BRISTOL in the Falklands Campaign, he had started having these very vivid weird dreams about his ship and crew having been transported back in time to the second world war. The dreams had included things such as him having conversations with Churchill, his men introducing future technology and the second world war having ended in 1941 as a result. He had kept on having these dreams intermittently ever since. It had at times almost been like he was living in two worlds. The reality he inhabited and the alternate post war world of his dreams.
    Not long after returning from the Falklands he had actually consulted a doctor about them who had put them down to a result of the stress he had obviously been under during the conflict. Grose had accepted this explanation at the time but when the dreams had continued to persist, he had decided against seeking further advice in case he ended up derailing his career by getting himself labelled insane.
    He had in secret started writing all of this down into what he described as an “alternate history novel”. Using a pseudonym, he had sent extracts to publishers and reviewers and received extremely positive feedback.
    Later that night after waking up from yet another such dream he had laid awake mucking it over trying to find some explanation. As he drifted to sleep again his last thought was that maybe rather than this other Alan Grose’s WWII universe being an alternative to the “Prime” universe where he had been the final commander of HMS EAGLE they perhaps were both living a sort of alternate history to that of a very different world.
    CVF-90 Part 2 (Build)
  • HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH the lead ship of the CVF-90 aircraft carrier program was laid down at the Cammell Laird shipyard in Birkenhead in October of 1987. Though the ceremony marking the event was the official start of the 62,000 ton ships construction it could be argued that construction had been started weeks earlier in a Rolls Royce facility when the production had begun on some of the “long lead” items such as the ships machinery or in the steel works that had been pumping out steel plates destined for the ship.

    During the bidding process for the construction of the first ship of the CVF-90 program Cammell Laird had emerged as the obvious front runner and ultimately been awarded the contract for a number of reasons. Namely the shipyard had the required space for the project and the capacity in terms of workforce. The same week that saw HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH being laid down had also seen the launch of the TYPE 22 Batch 3 Frigate HMS CAMPBLETOWN. This meant that the yard was at the time largely empty and thus in a position to be able to devote the necessary industrial capacity and resources to the aircraft carrier building project.
    Rather than being built on a slipway the QE (as the ship was often abbreviated to) would instead in a new move for British warship construction be constructed in Cammell Laird’s Number 5 graving dock and would be floated out instead of being launched down a slipway. Despite being one of the biggest graving docks in the country at 290 m long and 42.5m wide space was going to be extremely tight with only meters between the ship and dock walls.

    Before construction of the ship could even begin the government had had to agree to finance a multimillion pound program of upgrades to the yard to enable them to build something of the scale of QE. In fact, this was still very much an ongoing program even during the laying down ceremony for the ship with many visiting VIP’s commenting that the yard looked like a building site. Intentional or not the were in fact right on the money with those remarks. The graving dock itself had been extensively surveyed and some maintenance work had been carried out. on the dockside all existing structures had been cleared to make way for large covered storage buildings and workshops and a large open storage space. This area was still under construction at the time of QE’s laying down ceremony. A large 100m tall gantry crane named “Goliath” had been constructed in Germany and shipped over to Birkenhead and erected over the graving dock. The crane had the capability to lift objects weighing up to 1000 tons and enabled entire sections of the ship to be prefabricated elsewhere and then lifted into place. Two smaller cranes had been erected either side of the dock to erect “Goliath”. These cranes would remain in place and be used to move smaller loads. One of Goliaths most important features was its ability to reach out up to 20m into the River Mersey. This meant that large prefabricated sections of the ship such as the Island superstructure and aircraft lifts could be transported on barges which would be positioned at the end of the graving dock where their loads could be lifted straight off by Goliath and lifted onto the ship.

    Many on Cammell Laird’s board of directors were already thinking about how to drum up work for after HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH’s completion. Having recently been privatised and with a newly upgraded and now very modern yard capable of building large vessels the future for now looked bright.
    One major concern was security. With the troubles in Northern Ireland showing no sign of letting up and now beginning a campaign of bombings and other actions on the British mainland the threat from the IRA was in everyone’s mind. The shipyards security was beefed up as a condition of having been awarded this very lucrative contract. Barbed wire was erected around the yards perimeter wall, floodlighting was erected both along the perimeter and throughout the yard along with a (for the time) extensive CCTV network and extra security staff working closely with the various government and MOD security services. Around Number 5 Graving Dock itself and the areas and buildings associated with the QE build project a separate perimeter fence was erected as an extra layer of security with checkpoints checking people and deliveries coming in as there was considered to be a high risk of dissident Irish Republicans attempting to smuggle a bomb aboard. People were also checked on their way out as it was all but certain that the intelligence services of the Soviet Union would be taking an interest in the ship.

    Perhaps the most serious security concern was the fact that the graving dock and QUEEN ELIZABETH were very close to the yard’s perimeter wall. Barely 10m at its closest point in fact. Close enough in fact that anyone who for some reason felt the need to do so could stand outside of the yard and throw bricks at the ship with a very good chance of a hit. The obvious solution would have been for the government to issue a compulsory purchase order of the adjacent land and to expand the yard and thus push the perimeter further away from the ship. Unfortunately, the adjacent land was occupied by the Birkenhead Priory, a monastery dating back almost a millennium which rendered this option a bit of a nonstarter. Worse the perimeter wall in this area was only about 2m high meaning that it would not have been that difficult for someone to climb over and potentially gain access to the ship for nefarious reasons. The occupants of the priory were extremely unhappy with it but the solution eventually adopted regarding the northern perimeter was to erect 3m high corrugated iron sheeting with barbed wire, CCTV and lighting atop along the top of the wall extending its height to 5m and blocking the view of anything going on inside the dockyard and of the ship.
    Something else the security people were very worried about was the possibility of a long ranged sniper or rocket attack on the ship which would ultimately tower over everything that surrounded it. While it would be impressive and awe inspiring to see it would also be a pretty large target.

    With the preparatory work complete and the ship formally laid down construction got underway. Gradually the piles of sheet steel and piping in the open storage area were transformed into decks and bulkheads, entire prefabricated sections were lifted and welded into place. What had started out as an almost pathetically small pile of metal in the bottom of the vast graving dock which had been dwarfed and looked as if it could have been very easily lost in amongst the crowd that had packed into the dock to watch its birth grew and grew and over the weeks, months and years that followed into a ship that dwarfed anything the Royal Navy had ever possessed before. One shipyard worker described it as a growing monster with and insatiable hunger for steel, wire, machinery and men. The ship was said to glow in the dark as during the darkness of early evenings in winter it was lit up by the many hundreds of welders torches at work onboard and floodlights in the scaffolding that enveloped her and was said to roar thanks to the noise of the builders machinery, cranes and the ships own and builder temporary ventilation systems.

    Remarkably for a project of this scale there were very few delays or cost overruns caused by technical difficulties or supply chain problems. This was largely due to a very well planned out build plan and efficient project management (now that the managers were having to play by private sector rules).

    Nevertheless, there were plenty of delays and attendant cost overruns. While a lot of these were down to government inaction or indecision there were two big causes. Terrorism and militant trade unionism.

    While Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast was probably the most capable out of all British shipbuilders of taking on a project of this scale, they had been ruled out due to the unacceptable risk from the ongoing sectarian violence and terrorism.
    Instead H&W had been awarded the contract to build the first of a planned 6 32,000 ton FORT VICTORIA class Replenishment Oilers for the Royal Fort Auxiliary which would support the QUEEN ELIZABETH class aircraft carriers and escorting ships.
    Nevertheless, even while she was still just a pile of steel being worked into the shape of a warship QE was a potent symbol of British military power and prestige and thus a target for those who wished to inflict harm upon Her Majesty’s Forces. Barely 3 weeks in the first security scare came when various shipyard workers reported having been approached in pubs by an individual asking about the workings and layout of the dockyard. This information was passed onto the security services who naturally took great interest and a proactive approach. If nothing else it served as a warning to everyone to be vigilant. The first serious incident occurred months later when during a routine search of a delivery lorry a sniffer dog located a suspicious object strapped to the underside of the vehicle prompting an evacuation of the area and resultant stoppage of work while the object was investigated and made safe by a bomb disposal team. The object was found to be an improvised explosive device and despite some pretty intensive questioning the vehicle driver was found to have had no knowledge of it and was thus released without charge.
    A statement later released by the IRA claimed responsibility and stated that it was a warning and that they would be successful next time.
    After this incident security around the shipyard was tightened and drivers and shipyard workers were urged to be extra careful outside of the yard.

    Another incident that took place was when a civilian motorboat was spotted trying to approach the shipyards waterfront at night time. As part of the tightening of security the MOD police had taken up a number of security responsibilities within the yard including the basing of a number of security motor launches. The suspicious civilian motorboat was warned off. However, when it was spotted again a few nights later security personnel became extremely concerned. The worry was that this may be some sort of attempt at infiltration. Chase was given but was given but was broken off when the security launch crew became suspicious that this may be an attempt to draw them away to allow a potential second craft to approach the waterfront. While an intensive police manhunt was mounted, they failed to locate the craft or identify any of its occupants. The theory was that it had been abandoned somewhere and then carried out to sea by the strong Mersey currents.
    These incidents were the only confirmed attempts at a direct attack upon HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH and the shipyard.

    From that point on the IRA began to adopt what could be described as asymmetrical tactics. Numerous bomb threats were telephoned into the dockyard over the course of QE’s construction. Each threat would cause major disruption as work would have to be stopped and the yard evacuated for perhaps days while the area and ship were searched for a bomb that wasn’t there because it had never been there. The dockyard management were later quoted as stating that these hoax bomb threats were probably causing more disruption and attendant financial cost than an actual bomb attack would.
    Despite considerable effort being expended attempts to identify and locate the caller were fruitless.

    Things took a much more sinister turn when the IRA made threats against the shipyard workers and their families in an attempt to cause disruption by making people scared to go into work. However here was where the IRA had miscalculated. In an attempt to prove that they were serious about their threat they had identified the home of one of the workshop foremen in Liverpool and attempted a break in during the night. However, their target was not actually home at the time meaning that the pair of IRA men instead discovered his wife and children who promptly started screaming for help and thus waking up the entire street. Panicking the IRA men ran out of the house and down the street in full view of the various neighbours who had at that moment opened their curtains to see what was going on. The Foreman was at the time not very far away in a pub frequented by many other workers at the yard and other people of what was a fairly tightknit community. Upon hearing what had happened it didn’t take long for the occupants of the pub and nearby streets to work themselves up into an angry lynch mob looking for the two intruders. Nor for the police to begin to arrive.
    Unlike Belfast where there was plenty of friendly territory and locals willing to assist them the pair of IRA men found themselves very much on the run in unfriendly territory. A new and very unwelcome experience for them. One of the men was “fortunate” enough to be apprehended by the police. The other man had to be rescued by the police from a group of the foreman’s friends who were initially arrested on suspicion of causing actual bodily harm. They were subsequently quietly released without any charges being pressed due to “extraordinary circumstances”.
    The police and security services were very surprised at the botched nature and overt method employed by the would-be assassins. They had expected the IRA to do something along the lines of planting a bomb under someone’s car as they had done in the past.
    Despite fears that the IRA’s botched attempt may still have the intended effect of scaring the shipyard workers the terrorism threat actually decreased as other IRA operatives were forced to leave the area or go into hiding for fear of having being compromised. Nevertheless, security was once again stepped up in light of this incident. This in turn tied into another ongoing issue. That of industrial relations.

    When the Conservative Government had come to power in 1979, they had introduced new union laws to combat industrial unrest which had plagued the previous Labour government. This had resulted in a bitter and long lasting stand off between the government and trade unions. The Prime Minister saw strong unions as an obstacle to economic growth and had sought to impose restrictive legislation upon union activities. This had resulted in what essentially amounted to open warfare with between the unions and the government. Most notably the miners’ strike of 1984-85. However, by the time that construction had begun on the first ship of the CVF-90 programme much to the relief of many it appeared that the government had well and truly won. There had been a real fear that so called “union baron’s” may attempt to effectively use the project as a hostage in order to continue their fight against the government by attempting to bring the yard to a grinding halt through industrial action.
    There were various unions represented within the shipyard and the majority of these came under the umbrella of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions.
    A big part of the problem was the governments privatisation of many previously nationalised industries including Cammell Laird which had previously been a part of the British Shipbuilders Corporation. This had necessitated a massive culture change within these industries as they found themselves no longer subsidised and having to make fundamental changes to the way they functioned in order to survive in a competitive market without the safety net of government support. Within Cammell Laird almost overnight the management attempted to bring in fundamental changes to modernise and deal with inefficient working practises. In particular the attitude towards the workforce changed as the managers were now much less willing to tolerate what they regarded as groundless industrial disputes and actions and were much less willing to tolerate things like absenteeism and inefficiency.
    Many of the workers adapted well to this culture shift. Many did not. The union in particular saw these changes as a fundamental attack upon their way of life. Had this happened a few years earlier things got have gotten very ugly. However, by 1988 the power of the unions was in steep decline. The failure of the miner’s strike is often cited as the decisive point in the dispute between the unions and government. Across the country union membership was declining and many held the view that union leaders were either dinosaurs clinging to a time that had passed or more motivated by their own interests than that of their members. Though there were some small scale industrial actions at Cammell Laird there were no general strikes of total stoppages of work (despite attempts by union organisers who merely found themselves outvoted in ballots on proposed action again and again). There was however a “Work to Rule” lasting a few weeks as a result of a dispute over overtime pay. In this case the management decided to agree to the workers rather reasonable requests rather than risk a wider strike. The resulting overtime was largely spent trying to bring the project back on schedule following the disruption that this had caused.
    Unfortunately, a number of the older hands within the workforce found that their attitudes towards work were simply not compatible with the new working ethos within the yard and that the modernisation of working practises meant that their skillsets no longer as valuable to the company as they once had been. Some of these men simply drifted away quietly while others went kicking and screaming.

    Things came to a head following yet another hoax bomb threat which had stopped work for a number of days while the yard and ship were thoroughly searched. The threat had indicated that the bomb was actually aboard the ship hidden in one of the machinery spaces. This had prompted the security services in conjunction with the yards management to carry out a thorough vetting of the workforce. A monumental task to say the least but one that was felt necessary. As a result, a handful of employees had been identified who were felt to be potential security risks for various reasons. The MOD had demanded that these employees be removed from the project. With nowhere else that they could be usefully employed the inevitable result was redundancy. Naturally the union had kicked up one hell of a storm about the affair and what they felt was unfair discrimination against the affected employees simply because of their Irish connections. Unfortunately for the union it was during this time that the IRA made their ham fisted attempt on the life of the workshop foreman.
    Literally overnight attitudes dramatically changed and hardened and as a result the union found its credibility and popularity amongst the people it was supposed to represent completely shattered. Many in the workforce now whether justly or unjustly regarded the union as being supportive of the people who had been threatening them. Following that incident, the likelihood of industrial action receded from view.

    While there were no running battles between the police and striking workers similar to those seen outside Yorkshire coalmines outside the shipyard gates there were still a few spectacular punch ups between the police and various protest groups. With the ship growing to dominate the skyline for miles the yard became almost a magnet for various anti-war groups such as Greenpeace and the CND (Who for reasons best known to themselves laboured under the misassumption that the ship was nuclear powered). Most of the time these groups confined themselves to protest marches and occasionally graffiti on the shipyard wall. However, some did occasionally choose to resort to attempting “direct action”. The most notable was when incident a large march descended into violence when a large group of locals and shipyard workers fed up with the disruption caused and irritated by the fact that the marchers were in affect trying to put them out of work decided to make their feelings clear. Many were arrested for pubic order offenses in what essentially amounted to mass roundups by the police. This incident is notable partly because amongst those rounded up were two Members of Parliament from the Labour Party. The MP’s whose far left wing and pacifist views were well known soon found themselves brought up in front of a Labour Party disciplinary panel charged with bringing the party into disrepute. Frank Field the Labour MP for Birkenhead was furious about the actions of his colleagues pointing out that they had dealt considerable damage to the parties reputation within his constituency where many of his constituents now felt that the Labour party was endorsing those who wanted to put them out of work and attack their way of life. This perception wasn’t helped by statements given by one of the MP’s and the circulation of photographs in the media of them present at the march. The result was that the party felt that it needed to take decisive action to prevent any further reputational damage. The two MP’s found themselves ejected from the party. The Constituency Labour Parties in Islington and Glasgow found themselves having to look for new candidates to stand in the next general election.

    By April 1989 the future HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH had been under construction for 15 months and now had a displacement greater than that of an INVINCIBLE class carrier and was soon to exceed that of an AUDACIOUS class carrier. The time had now come to begin work on the second ship of the CVF-90 programme.

    The builder selected to build this second ship was Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Ltd more commonly known as VSEL who would build the ship in their facility in Barrow In Furness.
    The choice for the contract for the second ship had been between VSEL and Swan Hunter on the Tyne. VSEL possessed a number of advantages which had brought the decision down in their favour. One of the biggest and most decisive advantages they possessed was the fact that the recently privatised Cammell Laird was now a subsidiary of VSEL. This meant that VSEL were already familiar with the design and build plan and that many of the men currently working on QUEEN ELIZABETH would be able to be temporarily moved to the yard in Barrow to work on the second ship. This would mean that the build process could be sped up as workforce building the ship would include a large number of workers who had done this before and had an in depth understanding of the ideal way to do things and would be able to anticipate and deal with any issues before they became problems. VSEL had successfully argued that they would be able to achieve efficiencies and economies of scale unlike the Swan Hunter workforce who would have to spend much time gaining knowledge that Cammell Laird and by extension VSEL already possessed.
    Another reason was the superior facilities that the yard in Barrow possessed compared to the Swan Hunter yard in Wallsend.
    Unlike QE which was being built in a graving dock and would be floated out the lack of a second suitable graving dock and the RN’s unwillingness to wait for the one in Birkenhead to become available the second ship would be built on and launched from a slipway in a more traditional approach. The slipway at VSEL’s facility was considerably larger than that possessed by Swan Hunter which had just about been able to accommodate the 22,000 ton INVINCIBLE class ships and would need major expansion to be able to cope with a 62,000 ton vessel.

    When Cammell Laird had been awarded the contract for the first CVF-90 programme ship in June of 1987 it also had been announced that VSEL were the preferred choice to build the second ship. The actual order however hadn’t been placed until January of 1988. The timing was necessary as the slipway upon which the ship was to be built was at that time in use by a number of other build projects which would need to be completed and then as with the yard in Birkenhead extensive work would need to be undertaken to enable the yard in Barrow to be able to build such a large and complex ship. This work would include extending the length of the slipway by clearing some buildings (meaning that new buildings to replace the lost facilities would need to be built), the construction of another mammoth “Goliath” gantry crane and the dredging of the channel and at the end of the slipway to increase the depth of the water to prevent the 62,000 ton ship from simply slamming into the seabed of side of the channel upon launch.

    Things were complicated by the fact that while all of this work was going on and even when construction of the ship began they would be sharing the slipway with the under construction TRAFALGAR class SSN HMS TRIUMPH which was due to be launched in 1990. This launch date would be pushed back to 1991 after welders working on the boat unfamiliar with new procedures and building methods accidentally welded a part of the boat in an upside down position resulting in a considerable delay while the defect was rectified. Even as far back as 1985 it had been recognised that having both an SSN and supercarrier being built on the same slipway at the same time had the potential to cause significant problems. Serious consideration within the MOD had been given to cancelling the boat and limiting the TRAFALGAR class to just 6 boats. This would have the advantage of freeing up money to cover any major cost overruns on the CVF-90 project. The RN had already made plenty of sacrifices to pay for their new carriers and expected they would have to make more in future. They were however unshakable in their belief that the Submarine Service was the single most important tool for containing the Soviet menace and guaranteeing the security of the country through providing the nuclear deterrent and was thus regarded as untouchable. There was no way that they were going to sacrifice what would be one of the most advanced submarines in the world.

    Barrow in Furness has the distinction of being the birthplace of all of the UK’s nuclear submarines being the only such facility in the country capable of building such vessels. With the construction of a 62,000 ton aircraft carrier combined with the various other ongoing project the yard now had the distinction of being the busiest warship building yard in Europe and the biggest employer in North West England as the workforce was expanded greatly to cope with this new megaproject.
    A few hundred meters north of the slipway where HMS TRIUMPH would soon be joined by the new carrier was the 25,000 square meter Devonshire Dock Hall. Within this cavernous space was VSEL’s other ongoing megaproject. The construction of the new generation of SSBN’s that would be armed with the Trident SLBM and succeed the RESOLUTION class boats currently in service as the carriers of Britain’s nuclear deterrent and power on the world stage. At the time of the laying down of the aircraft carrier on the slipway to the south the workers in the haul were assembling the first two of a planned 4 boats weighing in at 16,000 tons. These boats were the future HMS VANGUARD and HMS VICTORIOUS.

    In the basin immediately outside of Devonshire Dock Hall the first example of another new class of RN submarines was fitting out. HMS UPHOLDER the first of a new class of 2,400 ton SSK’s designed to replace the OBERON class boats currently in service was undertaking first of class trials and was very near to completion. A total of 12 of these boats were planned with UPHOLDER as the first boat being effectively the prototype with another planned 3 batches of the class to follow. Given the lack of capacity within their Barrow yard VSEL had decided to allocate all future SSK building work to their subsidiary Cammell Laird to be carried out at in Birkenhead. Cammell Laird was felt to be capable of building SSK’s as the design work would still be done in Barrow and there would be no need for nuclear skills or facilities. Plus if Birkenhead could build something as vast and complicated as HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH then an SSK barely a 30th of the size shouldn’t be too difficult. A smaller submarine building facility which was essentially a smaller version of Devonshire Dock Hall had been built in the southern part of the Birkenhead Yard and was currently working on the next 3 of the “Batch 1” boats HMS UNSEEN, HMS URSULA and HMS UNICORN. With the upcoming completion of the final TRAFALGAR class SSN the RN was keen to maintain force levels by being in a position to replace the aging OBERON’s as they reached the end of their service lives. Therefore the next batch of 4 boats had already been pencilled in with construction to start as soon as space in the submarine building facility became available with the launch of the boats currently under construction. The MOD, VSEL and Cammell Laird had high hopes of some export orders and were aggressively marketing the class.

    One of the unavoidable knock on effects of the decision to build the second aircraft carrier in Barrow was that with the Devonshire Dock Hall capacity completely taken up by the VANGUARD class program there was now no available capacity for the building of nuclear powered submarines for the next 10 years at least. This meant that the planned follow on SSN to the TRAFALGAR class (known as the SSN20 project) which would be have replaced the older VALIANT and CHURCHILL class SSN’s would now have to be postponed indefinitely. At that time it had been envisaged that the SSN20 design would be an improved TRAFALGAR (also known as Trafalgar Batch 2) which caused the RN to briefly look at the possibility of constructing an 8th TRAFALGAR class boat in HMS TRIUMPH’s space on the slipway when she launched. However it was quickly determined that this would be unfeasible for both practical and financial reasons.

    Though they were understandably disappointed at missing out on such a lucrative contract as building a supercarrier Swan Hunter were not losing out. With VSEL and Cammell Laird now working at peak capacity on the new carriers and submarines Swan Hunter and Yarrow (who not possessing facilities big enough had not been considered for the CVF-90) in Glasgow were to handle the RN’s frigate construction. In 1989 Swan Hunter as a busy yard building not only TYPE 22 Frigates but one of the first of the new TYPE 23’s. The final 3 ships of the 6 strong TYPE 22 Batch 3’s which had been ordered to replace those ships lost as a result of the Falklands conflict were in various stages of build. HMS CHATHAM had launched in 1988 and was now fitting out. HMS CHIEFTAIN was due to launch in August and HMS CAMBRIAN in March of 1990. Alongside these ships was the future HMS MARLBOROUGH which would be the second ship of the new TYPE 23 general purpose Frigates (The first HMS NORFOLK being built in Glasgow by Yarrow). With 3 TYPE 23’s already in Swan Hunters orders book and the Defence Whitepaper calling for up to 25 examples of the class the future for Swan Hunter looked secure. The possibility of export orders for the TYPE 23 was also very tantalising.

    The late 1980’s were a high point for UK warship building with recently modernised yards and full order books. However, it was recognised by those in government and those on the director’s boards of the various shipbuilders that once the CVF-90 and VANGUARD programs were complete the industry would find itself dealing with the issue of overcapacity. Beyond the current programs there wasn’t currently anything envisaged at all let alone something that would require even half of the currently existing build capacity.
    As one shipbuilding industry analyst put it “right now they are growing fat on a feast. In a decade they will start to wither through starvation”.
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