Author Topic: The Empire Strikes Back!  (Read 3396 times)

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The Empire Strikes Back!
« on: April 04, 2022, 01:39:44 AM »
Reposting a story hidden away in an old GB.

The Empire Strikes Back!

On 2nd April 1982, Argentine forces mounted amphibious landings of the Falkland Islands. The invasion met a nominal defence however the token forces on the Island were no match for the Argentine forces led by the Amphibious Commandos Group (Agrupación de Comandos Anfibios, APCA).

Following the invasion on 2 April, after an emergency meeting of the cabinet, approval was given for the formation of a task force to retake the islands. This was backed in an emergency session of the House of Commons the next day.

On the evening of the 3 April, Britain's UN ambassador Sir Anthony Parsons put a draft resolution to the United Nations Security Council. The resolution, which condemned the hostilities and demanded immediate Argentine withdrawal from the Islands was adopted by the council the following day as United Nations Security Council Resolution 502.

The UK received further political support from the Commonwealth of Nations and the European Economic Community (EEC).  The EEC also provided economic support by imposing economic sanctions on Argentina. Argentina itself was politically backed by a majority of countries in Latin America and the Non-Aligned Movement.

The war was an unexpected event for Great Britain and one that caught it unprepared to deal with.  In the years proceeding this, the Royal Navy had shrunk considerably.  Now Admiral of the Fleet Terence Thornton Lewin was forced to advise the Government that they had no contingency plan for an invasion of the islands and that the task of retaking the Islands may well prove too great a task for the British forces. Amongst it’s allies, the U.S. Navy considered a successful counter-invasion by the British to be 'a military impossibility’.

The main constraint for the British was the disparity in deployable air cover.  With only two carriers available, HMS Invincible and HMS Hermes, only  a total of 28 Sea Harriers and 14 Harrier GR.3s were available for the rapidly thrown together task force. Against this, the British estimated they were facing some 122 serviceable Argentine jet fighters, of which about 50 were employed as air superiority fighters and the remainder as strike aircraft.  Moreover, the Argentine navy also had their own carrier , which whilst only equipped with a small force of aircraft, could still present a formidable and unpredictable threat.  Added to this was the fact the Argentina appeared to be receiving increasing support from other South American countries such as Peru which was already reportedly  deploying forces including fighter aircraft to Argentina.

With such a unfavorable prospect facing it, Great Britain looked to its friends and Allies for assistance.  After initially trying to mediate an end to the conflict, following Argentine refusal of U.S. peace overtures, U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig announced that the United States would prohibit arms sales to Argentina and provide material support for British operations. Both Houses of the U.S. Congress passed resolutions supporting the U.S. action siding with the United Kingdom.  Such resolutions stopped short however of providing anything further then some intelligence support and certain material and logistics elements.

More direct support was offered by Britain’s two closest Commonwealth members, Canada and Australia though.  Following confidential approaches from the British Government, both these countries agreed to provide military forces.  To help balance the forces in the air, these countries first proposed to deploy a squadron each of fighters.  However before this could be done, they needed to identify where to operate from.  After all, it wasn’t as though they could operate aircraft from the British carriers, even if there was room to do so.

Initially Australia looked to quickly deploying the aging carrier HMAS Melbourne, however over the last 12 months, this had fallen into a state of disrepair as the Government deliberated selecting a replacement.  As such, this idea was soon abandoned.  Soon however a solution presented itself. 

When the Falklands War broke out, Chile still had a long-standing dispute with Argentina over access to the Beagle Channel.  Taking advantage of this dispute, Britain now began a careful, covert negotiation with the Chilean Government to gain permission to conduct operations from Chilean territory.  Chilean bases offered British forces the only realistic chances they had of decent facilities within reasonable reach of both Argentina and the Falklands Islands.  After days of negotiations, this permission was finally forthcoming.  The Chilean Air Force Air Base "Chabunco" (Base Aérea "Chabunco") at Punta Arenas was made available for operations by Commonwealth forces.  In return, Britain would supply Chile with 18 Panavia Tornado GR.3 aircraft.

Detailed planning now began in earnest.  The initial proposal was for Australia to send a squadron of Mirage III fighters and for the Canadians to send a squadron of CF-104 fighters.  However given the fact that the Fuerza Aérea Argentina (FAA) already operated variants of the Mirage, the risk of friendly fire was considered too high.  Eventually, an even more powerful contingent was decided upon.  This would comprise a squadron of RAAF F-111s (actually comprising a mix of 1 and 6 Squadron aircraft and crews).  This heavy hitting force would be joined by a squadron of Canadian CF-101 interceptors.  The idea being for the CF-101s to provide escort/protection for the F-111s and their bases as well as a long ranging fighter threat to the FAA.  In addition to these, the British would deploy a number of helicopters and special forces to the base for covert operations into Argentina.

On the 17th May, the Australian and Canadian forces began their deployments.  In both cases they were assisted by USAF tankers providing aerial refueling.  By the 24th April, both contingents were at Chabunco and preparing for operations.  This whole operation was conducted without the realisation of the Argentine forces.

First Australian and Canadian Forces arrive at Chilean Air Force Air Base "Chabunco".

Battle is Joined

On the 30th April the British Naval task force arrived within 200-mile exclusion zone surrounding Falklands.  On the very next day the first real air operations of the war commenced.  Timed to coincide with the Black Buck operations by RAF Vulcan bombers, 8 RAAF F-111s made a number of strikes against FAA bases at Río Gallegos, Rio Grande, Puerto Santa Cruz and Puerto San Julián.  These strikes, each comprising 2 aircraft carrying laser guided bombs provided a sudden shock for the Argentine forces who until now did not realise the F-111s were even within the area.  This raid and the Black Buck missions would soon make headlines world wide under the title “The Empire Strikes Back!”

Magazine Article Proclaiming “The Empire Strikes Back!”

However, once the initial shock had worn, the Argentine forces quickly threw themselves into the task and settled down for the fight of their lives.  Instantly standing patrols of fighters were ordered.  The Mirages of the Fuerza Aérea Argentina (FAA) were joined by a contingent of similar aircraft from Peru.  Equally importantly, the air defence forces of the Argentine military supported by contingents from both Peru and Bolivia were all put on full alert throughout the country.  They were determined to not be taken by surprise a second time.

The very next night however, the RAAF F-111’s struck again.  Once again, this strike consisted of four flights of two aircraft.  The targets this time included return strikes on two FAA air bases as well as a strike on the Almirante Quijada Naval Air Base at Río Grande, Tierra del Fuego.  Most important though was a strike by two F-111s on the Argentine Ministry of Defense in central Buenos Aires.  Once again, no F-111s were lost in these attacks.

Images of Australian F-111s and Canadian CF-101s during operation in the Falklands War

The strategy behind these strikes was to both totally disrupt the Argentine military and especially their Air Defence Forces as well as to force them to look at defending the mainland thus allowing the British Navy to operate largely unhindered in the main operation of retaking the Falkland Islands.  So far, the strategy was working...almost.

The day of the Exocet!

Despite the diversions caused by the Australian and Canadian forces on the mainland, the Argentine Military soon proved that they had not forgotten the British amarda approaching the Falklands.  On 4th May, six Dassault-Breguet Super Étendard of da Escuadrilla Aeronaval de Caza y Ataque (EA32) of de Aviación Naval Argentina (COAN) set out for the Islands.  Each was armed with a single AM39 Exocet missile.   Approaching virtually undetected, the Argentine pilots soon showed that they were as professional as any Air Force in the world.  After briefly popping up to acquire targets, each aircraft released their Exocets before turning away.  Soon six missiles were streaking in.  Within the next few minutes, the Royal Navy suffered its worst single day since WWII.  Both Type 42 Destroyers HMS Sheffield and HMS Coventry were struck.  HMS Sheffield was struck amidships, with devastating effect, ultimately killing 20 crew members and severely injuring 24 others. The ship was abandoned several hours later, gutted and deformed by the fires that continued to burn for six more days. She finally sank outside the Maritime Exclusion Zone on the 10th May.  HMS Coventry was struck in the aft engine rooms exposing the largest open space in the ship to uncontrollable flooding. Within 20 minutes the ship had been abandoned and had completely capsized. 19 of her crew were lost and a further 30 injured.   Finally, and most devastating of all, the County-class destroyer HMS Glamorgan was also hit.  In this case, two Exocets struck.  One almost blew the bow off the ship.  The other struck amidships. Within a matter of minutes the ship sunk with a loss of all crew.

Argentine Super Étendard with Exocet...

...and the end result:  HMS Sheffield

The destruction of these ships had a profound impact on the British public, bringing home the fact that the "Falklands Crisis", as the BBC News put it, was now an actual "shooting war".  Moreover, it forced the Allied forces to deal directly with the Exocet threat in an immediate fashion.

The Battle of the Río Grande

Within hours of the attacks on the Royal Navy ships, plans were being put into effect to eliminate the threat posed by the Argentine Super Étendards and Exocets.  One option was to land a SAS force onto the Argentine mainland to raid the Argentine base at Río Grande, Tierra del Fuego where the Super Étendards were based (this even was given a code name - Operation Mikado).  However, the lack of on-site intelligence regarding the Argentine ground defences plus the fact that experienced SAS members viewed the mission to be a suicide mission, with little chance of success resulted in the plan being changed.

Instead, it was decided that a maximum effort attack by the F-111s would be undertaken.  This mission, codenamed Operation Khukuri would comprise a force of 8 F-111s escorted by an equal number of CF-101s.  The escort was especially crucial this time since it was planned to conduct the entire mission in daylight - mainly to ensure full destruction of the Super Étendards.  Half of the F-111s were armed with 4 laser guided bombs each whilst the rest were armed with cluster bombs.

At just after lunch time on the 6th May, the Australian/Canadian force departed Chabunco.  The flight to Río Grande was a relatively short one.  Unfortunately, the Argentine forces were expecting an attack of sorts and were fully prepared.  Not only were ground based air defences fully alerted but there were also constant airborne patrols not only by Mirages but even A-4 SkyHawks.

At 1337, the first of the incoming aircraft were spotted.  These were a pair CF101s flying a fighter sweep in advance of the main force.  Both the Argentine and Canadian pilots spotted each other at almost the same time.  Both sides fired missiles without success.  Soon more fighters from both sides entered the fray as a large dogfight developed over the Patagonia landscape.  Below this dogfight the F-111s streaked.

Coming from three different directions, the F-111s rapidly approached the Air Base.  They were met by a combination of anti-aircraft fire including missiles from a Roland Missile battery.  The effect would be deadly.  As they prepared to release their bombs the lead F-111 was struck by anti-aircraft fire.  Flying at high speed and relatively low level, the crew never had a chance.  The disabled aircraft careened across the airbase and cashed into the sea beyond.  The crew were killed instantly..

Recovery of F-111 shot down over Río Grande.

However, before the Argentine forces had a chance to congratulate themselves, the remaining F-111s struck with a vengeance.  Soon the base and its precious Super Étendards were ablaze.  Moreover, the runways themselves were a mess as the cluster bombs rendered them largely unusable (Argentine pilots in the air at the time would later divert to road based runways around the area).  However, despite this, the Argentine forces would gain another scalp as a F-111 was stuck by a Roland SAM shortly after departing the area.  It’s crew did however manage to eject and were able to escape and be picked up by a Sea King helicopter operating with the forces in Chile.

Downed F-111...

...and Crew Escape Capsule

In the air, the fight was equally vicious as both Argentine and Canadian pilots fought to gain an advantage.  However, just as fast as it developed, the fight was over.  In the aftermath, it was discovered that the fight had been a draw with the Argentine’s losing two Mirages and a Skyhawk to the Canadian’s three CF-101s.

FAA Mirages operating from hastily prepared strip after "Battle of the Río Grande”.

One of the CF-101 Voodoos returning from the battle

Overall though, the strike, which soon became known as “The Battle of the Río Grande”, was rated a success by the Allied forces since the Argentine Super Étendard/Exocet threat was now essentially neutralised.


Battle of the Río Grande would however essentially mark the highpoint of major Australian/Canadian participation in the conflict.  Although a number of missions were carried out after this point, these were mainly focussed on surgical strikes by small numbers of aircraft against targets across the southern half of Argentina.  These strikes did however serve their purpose with the Argentine forces never being able to properly focus on the Royal Navy’s approach to the Falklands.

On the 12th May, the British conducted their first landings at San Carlos Bay with men from the Royal Marines and Paras being landed along with commando artillery and engineer units.  10 days later, all the Argentine forces on the Falkland Islands surrendered.

The Falkland's War/Guerra de las Malvinas was over.  Within weeks, the Canadian and Australian Forces were returning home...less some of their countrymen.  In the years that followed, many would return to the area and develop friendships with their former enemies.
All hail the God of Frustration!!!

You can't outrun Death forever.
But you can make the Bastard work for it.

Offline apophenia

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Re: The Empire Strikes Back!
« Reply #1 on: April 04, 2022, 04:06:33 AM »
'Hidden away' but well remembered  :smiley:

Not so well remembered is that those 'Night Hawk' Voodoos were scheduled to be replaced by camouflaged aircraft from 425 'Alouette' Squadron.

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Re: The Empire Strikes Back!
« Reply #2 on: April 05, 2022, 12:45:35 AM »
All hail the God of Frustration!!!

You can't outrun Death forever.
But you can make the Bastard work for it.

Offline Buzzbomb

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Re: The Empire Strikes Back!
« Reply #3 on: April 05, 2022, 01:40:59 PM »
Nice one. Well Australian never got to use the F-111 for what they were theoretically bought for, so why not the Falklands.

Great Alt History there Greg.