That Famous Runway at Port Stanley – Part 2 (Conflict)

This is one of those posts that started out as a quick follow up to the Atlantic Conveyor and San Carlos Harrier FOB posts I wrote a while ago and thought a nicely rounded trilogy would be finalised with information about the runway at Stanley Airport post conflict, how it was used by Harriers, Phantoms and other types before Mount Pleasant was opened.

But, as soon as you start writing about that famous runway at Stanley one simply cannot ignore the Black Buck Vulcan raids so before you know it, the research list has ballooned and no one is reading Think Defence because I haven’t posted anything in over a week.

It was just too tempting a subject to resist so apologies for the lack of posting recently.

Many articles, books and documentaries have been produced on Black Buck but very little exists that looks at the runway, instead most of the material tends to focus on the Vulcan and fail to see it from the runways perspective!

The runway at Stanley Airport is about more than just Black Buck though, after the surrender of the Argentine forces it played a vital role in the defence of the islands at a time when the threat was still elevated.

Until the airport at Mount Pleasant was completed it was the only air link to Ascension Island and beyond to the UK.

As I mentioned above, things rapidly expanded so instead of a single post, this is a trilogy within the trilogy!

Pre Conflict


Post Conflict


As it became obvious that Argentina was going to invade, the runway at Stanley Airport was blocked with oil drums and over 30 vehicles.

Operation Virgin del Rosario started in the late evening of April 1st 1982 when Argentine special forces landed at Mullet Creek. Follow on forces were to land a short while later and to the North of Stanley, after a special forces team landed from the submarine Sante Fe, the main force came ashore at Yorke Bay, pushing through the sand dunes and on to the airport

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Argentine troops approach Port Stanley Airport terminal building [Flickr:Pablo Andreotti]

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Port Stanley Airport – Invasion 1982

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Port Stanley Airport – Invasion 1982

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Port Stanley Airport – Invasion 1982

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Port Stanley Airport – Invasion 1982

The airport was captured without resistance and the ‘La Estación Aeronaval’ established with the Argentine flag raised

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Port Stanley Airport with the Argentine flag raised [Flickr: Pablo Andreotti]

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Port Stanley Airport with the Argentine flag raised [Flickr: Pablo Andreotti]

The occupying force then quickly set about reinforcing the Islands from both land and sea.

One of the first tasks was to change the sign at the airport.

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All change

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All change

After the surrender of the Royal Marines they were flown to Montevideo by an Argentine Air Force C130 that had landed at the airport.

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Royal Marines repatriation

TC-63 returned

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TC-63 FAA C130H

Fokker F28 Fellowship jet airliners, C130 Hercules, Boeing 737, Lockheed Electra and BAC 1-11 aircraft were also used to fly in weapons, vehicles, supplies and personnel.

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Post Stanley Airport 1982 – Post Invasion Consolidation

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Post Stanley Airport 1982 – Post Invasion Consolidation

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Post Stanley Airport 1982 – Post Invasion Consolidation

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Post Stanley Airport 1982 – Post Invasion Consolidation

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Post Stanley Airport 1982 – Post Invasion Consolidation

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Post Stanley Airport 1982 – Post Invasion Consolidation

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Post Stanley Airport 1982 – Post Invasion Consolidation

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Post Stanley Airport 1982 – Post Invasion Consolidation

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Post Stanley Airport 1982 – Post Invasion Consolidation

Both sides knew the airport had immense strategic potential

When looking at Black Buck and operations around the airport we have to be very careful in separating what we know now, with the benefit of over 30 years of 20:20 hindsight and the internet, and what was known by British force planners and intelligence teams in 1982.

The recently released documents shed some light on what the prevailing view was at the time.

Key to decision making was a SECRET intelligence briefing document produced on the 7th April 1982.

There are three key passages that I have extracted below;

Airfield Development by Argentine Engineers. Argentine Air Force Engineers constructed a temporary airstrip 4000 ft long 50 ft wide in 1971 near Rookery Bay between Port Stanley and the existing airfield. This airstrip was surfaced with US AM2 aluminium surfacing expedient which was lifted and removed from the Falkland Islands in 1978. With the engineer plant available on East Falkland, augmented by extra plant which is known to be in transit from Argentina, the Air Force Engineers could level and surface a completely new airstrip on a suitable site like the one previously used at Rookery Bay. Alternatively, in 2 to 3 weeks it is estimated that the existing airfield could be extended to 6000 ft maximum if a surfacing expedient such as the US AM2  was imported. We have no knowledge of Argentine ability to provide bulk refuelling facilities on shore. There are several sites near the airport where an LST could beach, and this could be one way of bringing in a large quantity of fuel in drums or tanks. Even if they have no dracones and pillow tanks they could very quickly set up a significant reserve of aviation fuel near the airport

Argentine Air Force Air Transport Operations from Stanley. If pressed, the Argentine Air Force should be able to operate C130 Hercules into Stanley Airport carrying a maximum payload of 17000kg. In addition the Fokker F27 and F28s could fly in fully laden. All this assumes that the aircraft do not refuel at Stanley and that they arrive from the nearest mainland base. Because there is no perimeter track and the apron is restricted, the number of sorties will be limited. They should have no difficulty however in unloading and clearing a minimum of say 12 aircraft per day, which could give an inward airlift in the order of 200 tons of stored per day.

Argentine Offensive/Defensive Air Operations. The Argentine Mirage III, Mirage V and their A4 Skyhawks could operate from Stanley Airport with almost full payloads to defend the Island. The limited parking area would again be a problem. If the Argentine Air Force Engineers chose to improve this, however, there is no reason why, say, 4 of these fighter aircraft could not operate from Stanley. The factor most likely to limit the sortie rate is that of fuel supply. With forward planning and the engineer work described above it must therefore be assumed that the Argentine Air Force could give themselves at least some air cover

I have reproduced this lengthy passage because it puts into context the planning for subsequent operations.

Clearly there was an expectation that Stanley Airport could and probably would be used for fast jet operations.

And so would have evolved the case for the Vulcan Black Buck raids that were to commence on May 1st

On the 22th of April Rear Admiral Woodward requested plans on how the Sea Harriers could be used to interdict Port Stanley Airport and this prompted more serious consideration of earlier discussions about the use of the soon to be withdrawn Vulcans.

Initial plans had considered a light bomb load to reduce the tanking and fuel requirement but after tests on Garvie Island this was revised to the full 21 thousand pound bombs.

In the meantime, Argentine forces continued air operations including basing Aermacchi MB339 and Beechcraft T-34C Mentor trainers and light attack aircraft, in addition to the ubiquitous IA 58 Pucara

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Pucara and Hercules, Port Stanley [Flickr:Pablo Andreotti]

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Hercules and Pucara [Flickr:Pablo Andreotti]

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Aermaccho MB 339a Port Stanley 1982 [Flickr:Pablo Andreotti]

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Hercules and MB 339 Port Stanley 1982 [Flickr:Pablo Andreotti]

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Argentine Hercules and Chinook – Port Stanley 1982

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Pucara, Port Stanley 1982

In the following days there was considerable debate about the merit of the Vulcans, their potential for other tasks, comparisons with the Sea Harrier and the political implications of launching offensive operations of the US base at Ascension.

These debates eventually concluded, Sea Harriers were too important for air defence and not best suited to runway denial were the main decisive points in the debate.



British Attacks on the Airport at Stanley

The chronology of the Black Buck raids on Stanley Airport and the surrounding area are well known, I am not going to repeat the many excellent resources available on-line but instead have a look at some of the controversial issues that have arisen since, for scene setting though…

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Black Buck I was intended to cut the runway

Naval gunfire and Sea Harrier strikes also added to the destruction.

The runway was intended to be attacked at a very specific angle from a very specific height, the reason being simple maths, to maximise the potential for a bomb to hit the runway given a known release rate.

There is some uncertainty about the intended target of Black Buck 2, the RAF maintain that it was intended to deny Argentine forces the ability to lengthen the runway by cratering the Eastern end of the runway but in the Official History of the Falklands Campaign Volume II, Laurence Freedman stated [on Black Buck 2]

but the higher altitude adopted, to stay clear of Argentine Roland surface-to-air missiles, meant that the attack itself was less successful

He also added that there was frustration about the bombs missing the runway.

I don’t know what the intended target was, the two sources seem to contradict each other and it is entirely logical to believe that an obvious target was the runway but equally logical to believe that preventing lengthening was an equally valid objective. There is no scope for lengthening to the East.

Black Buck 7 was intended to destroy stores and troops in the open; it is the one that attracts criticism on fusing errors. The point here is that war is waged with machines, not by machines and in a very human endeavour replete with human error, something all three services are more than familiar with. Others would also suffer fusing errors.

The others were intended to destroy the air defence radars so I am not going to cover these specifically.

On the claims and counter claims…

The RAF pushed it through for their own ends

Some have postulated that in a blatant act of self-interest the RAF rode roughshod over everyone in order to get in on the action and demonstrate that they could take an active role in the conflict, thus proving their continuing relevance, budget justification and to get a load of medals to boot.

If you are of such a mind that this is easily believed then it is entirely plausible, but the evidence just doesn’t support the thesis.

One of the main concerns of the Task Force commanders and others was its vulnerability to air attack and the finite number of Sea Harriers. Operating in the South Atlantic at a high tempo would inevitably mean non-combat aircraft losses and this was before the effect of combat was taken into account.

It was recognised early on that should the Argentine forces establish fast jet operations from Stanley the Task Force would be at severe risk.

The Exocet armed Super Etendard was viewed as the highest threat and one which would not be operable from Stanley but other aircraft were not discounted and despite vigorous efforts by MI6 to stop anyone with an Exocet selling them to Argentina there was some uncertainty about the risk, the queue of countries lining up to sell Exocet’s to Argentina was not a short one.

Therefore, a maximum effort joint operation was planned to put the runway and airport out of bounds for the very capable Skyhawk’s and Mirages. Into this mix the RAF, Chief of the Air Staff and acting Chief of the Defence Staff Michael Beetham suggested that Vulcan’s could be used as well although it has been reported that he stated a minimum of 25 sorties would be needed to completely deny the runway.

Black Buck was therefore clearly an RAF suggestion but then why wouldn’t it be, it’s an RAF aircraft after all.

The general dismissal of this so called attempt at muscling in is bemusing because surely all three services wanted to get stuck in in any way they could. There were several accounts of soldiers trying to stowaway on the troop ships, the general desire was to get involved and in seeing an account of the RAF suggesting a Vulcan strike or a soldier trying to sneak aboard the Canberra seem entirely in keeping with the best traditions of the services.

If the RAF pushed Black Buck, even against a perceived low probability of success, so bloody what?

It would not have proceeded unless the Royal Navy Task Force Commander (Sir John Fieldhouse) agreed with the plan, Admiral Fieldhouse was a thoroughly modern thinker and understood that the whole operation must be a joint one to succeed.

Those that criticise the RAF tend to aggregate around the dark blue spectrum but in making claims of RAF show-boating perhaps they might like to read the The Official History of the Falklands Campaign: Vol. II: War and Diplomacy by Lawrence Freedman;

Henry Leach was seen was seen to have seized the opportunity to demonstrate the Royal Navy’s continued worth to the United Kingdom

The Chief of the Defence Staff, a relatively new appointment at the time, was Admiral Sir Terence Lewin and he later described how the Chiefs of Staff meetings had ‘a tendency towards post-operational arguments’

Or future cake slices if one is being uncharitable

It seems to me that despite the obvious main task at hand, there was a degree of post conflict resource grabbing and outright rivalry from all three services.

It should be obvious that the tanking plan would have had to have been planned some time in advance and the Black Bucks would not have proceeded if there were other priorities, C130 supply flights of Nimrod for example.

The assembled Admirals, Generals and Air Marshall’s  saw BOTH the tactical AND strategic potential of the raids and agreed to them.

It Missed the Runway

The degree of damage done to the runway is one of the most controversial issues regarding Black Buck

Much of the commentary, even by those who were there, suffers from being ill informed about the civil engineering aspects of runway construction and repair. It is not uncommon to read about the craters being casually filled and the runway being back in business ten minutes later.

Did the Black Buck I bomb hit the runway centreline or clip the edge?

Post raid photographic reconnaissance by the Sea Harriers was required to provide a counter to potential Argentine propaganda that the RAF was indiscriminately bombing civilians and to assess damage but was made difficult by cloud cover, a lack of training and interpretation facilities, it did happen though.

According to the Official History of the Falklands Campaign Vol. II

Visual assessment, however, was ‘long scar 250m long 70m wide across the airfield straddling centre of runway north-east-southwest with three apparent craters one on runway, and one each side’. Follow up Sea Harrier raids, which destroyed the two Falkland Islands aircraft that had been captured by the Argentines, were also difficult to assess due to bad weather, but the ‘general observation was area devastated’.

The day after Rear Admiral Woodward submitted the following report

Vulcan attack made single crater with first bomb halfway down runway just south of centre, remaining bombs landed over to SW over 1000m run without further damage. 3×1000-lb retard bombs laid down by one SHAR during suppression attack all hit runway centre line causing damage over 150m in area of Vulcan hit. Other damage done in stores and dispersal area at west end of runway by cluster bombs

There are many photos on-line but most of them are low quality, their origins and time of taking uncertain, have orientation/scale differences or have been subject to image enhancement.

For reference, the airport today

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Port Stanley Airport (click to enlarge)

I have taken those that are readily available and adjusted scale and rotation using the diagonal roadway to the West of the terminal building as a datum line.

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Port Stanley Airport runway craters post raid(s) photo recce (click to enlarge)

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Port Stanley Airport runway craters post raid(s) photo recce (click to enlarge)

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Port Stanley Airport runway craters post raid(s) photo recce (click to enlarge)

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Port Stanley Airport runway craters post raid(s) photo recce (click to enlarge)

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Port Stanley Airport runway craters post raid(s) photo recce with claim of a miss (click to enlarge)

For reference and comparison the originals as found on-line are below (in no particular order)

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These images would have been taken at different times

You can click to enlarge these and see for yourself.

There is certainly evidence to suggest a crater on the runway but is it a filled in crater or is it one of the decoy craters that Argentine forces used to confuse us?

From the image, it is impossible to tell so other evidence must be investigated.

Lt Col Ewen Southby-Tailyour, in his book, Reasons in Writing: A Commando’s View of the Falklands War, stated that he was unable to find ‘any sign of their vaunted crater’

Writing in the Telegraph;

RAF hit the target

Sir – Ewen Southby-Tailyour (Letters, May 5) is wrong in his description of the damage to the Stanley runway.

As Commander, Royal Engineers, I was responsible for its repair immediately after the surrender. There was one large crater caused by a 1,000lb bomb from the RAF Vulcan raid, and four smaller craters resulting from earlier Harrier attacks. (The Argentines had also created dummy craters to confuse our aerial reconnaissance.) Repairing the large crater and the large area of runway took about two weeks and 1,000 square metres of captured Argentine runway matting.

Lt Col Southby-Tailyour is, however, correct in stating that Argentine aircraft were able to continue to use the runway, despite the bombing raids, by temporarily backfilling the craters. This, perhaps, is why his “recce” did not spot the true extent of the damage.

Writing in RAF News in April 2002, Air Commodore John Davis said;

This rogue crater required a succession of repairs amid what soon became high intensity air operations.

An Institute of Civil Engineers Paper called Military Engineering in the Falkland Islands 1982-83 by Major General G. B. Sinclair, Brigadier F. G. Barton and Lt Colonel L. J. Kennedy, all Royal Engineer officers, stated in the section of the recovery phase;

The first task was to carry out a reconnaissance of the airfield and, in spite of it being a gigantic prisoner-of-war compound, this was started on 17 June. There was a single large crater on the runway caused by a 1000lb bomb dropped by an RAF Vulcan, as well as other smaller craters and hundreds of scabs caused by rockets and cannon fire.

A plan was devised to repair the northern half of the runway first, thus avoiding the Vulcan crater in order that Hercules could land as early as possible. The craters had already been filled by the Argentines and work was limited to cutting out soft patches and heaved pavement areas around the craters and filling with waste from the old quarry. In addition the asphalt surface was cut back to a size to accommodate aluminium panels left behind by the Argentines which provided a good surface.

The northern half of the runway was repaired in three days and the first Hercules landed on 24 June right on schedule. The remaining repairs to the airport runway, including the large Vulcan crater, took longer but all emergency repairs were completed by the end of June.

This diary account from one of the MB339 aircrew discusses the impact (amongst other things) of the airstrikes.

Con el Capitán Anselmi salimos en el jeep; en la plataforma ya encontramos muchas esquirlas y colas de granadas tipo Beluga. Por la pista fuimos hacia los aviones, y con sorpresa descubrimos que sólo una bomba habla hecho impacto en el centro de la pista, costado sur; el resto se encontraba bien, sucia pero bien.

Unfortunately I have to rely on Google translate

With Captain Anselmi left in the jeep, on the platform already found many shrapnel grenades and type queues Beluga. On the track went into the aircraft, and with surprise discovered that fact speaks only impact a bomb in the center of the track, south side, the rest was all right, but rather dirty.

This is obviously limited but it suggests fragments (possibly from the cluster bombs dropped by the Harriers) and a single large crater in the south side of the runway.

There have been other images produced that claim hits or misses

The image below is is from the immediate post conflict period, the Pucara’s have been moved into a single location, made safe and made ready for disposal.

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Parallel to the runway is what looks like another short runway, this is in fact an operating strip made from aluminium matting that was used for interim Harrier operations. In the picture, above that is a square patch of bare earth on the runway, this is the repair in progress. The asphalt has been cut back to expose the underlying and adjacent sub base ready for packing and reinforcement.

However, if you look at the placement, the square patch is on the North side of the runway

I am not sure when the image below was taken but it shows what also looks like a repair in progress

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But this one is in the wrong place, at the Eastern end of the runway and on the Zona Militar thread linked to above the user Drupi confirms this one as a decoy.

This image might be a good contender

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Finally, I found these photos with some interesting labels

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Like a dummy, I can’t remember where I found them but worth posting regardless

Game set and match perhaps?

Thoughts anyone

There is a lot of contradictory and confusing evidence but on balance I think that Black Buck I created a significant crater in the runway, on the south side, somewhere in the middle and Harrier strikes also hit the runway but did much less damage.


Redeployment of Argentine Air Force aircraft post raid

This is one of these enduring stories that has been turned into fact but the documentary evidence is quite slender.

The Junta would no doubt have been quite shocked by Black Buck and one could easily appreciate the impact upon them, the British had just demonstrated the ability to reach out from incredible distances against what they thought was a heavily defended location.

They might have equally dismissed them as a stunt and no threat to the Argentine mainland.

Anecdotal evidence online suggests that some personnel and aircraft from 8 Grupo Mirage were relocated but this was for a limited duration and affected only a small number of aircraft.

Further, although the timing would suggest cause and effect it could equally have been from a change in tactics, a review of their effectiveness against the Sea Harrier or even a lack of drop tanks (I have read online all these suggestions)

I think after a short period of shock, military and political logic would have prevailed and the Junta would have come to the conclusion that Vulcan attacks against the mainland would be unlikely.

This is one claim that is the hardest to back up with evidence and consequently, I tend to think it was, and is, over exaggerated.

However, I am certain that the realisation that the RAF could reach that far would have created a range of practical countermeasures that would have taken time and resources. Not huge or even significant in the grand scheme of things but still a positive effect.

The Argentine Forces never intended to use the runway for fast jets

The recently released intelligence briefing is somewhat contradicted by the Institute of Civil Engineers paper by the Royal Engineers officers, Sinclair, Barton and Kennedy;

On the one hand we have

The Argentine Mirage III, Mirage V and their A4 Skyhawks could operate from Stanley Airport with almost full payloads to defend the Island

And on the other,

The Air Staff were therefore advised that the Argentines would be able to operate lightly loaded Hercules transports from the airport but not fast jets

It could be that the intelligence document suggests that the Argentine forces could operate the aircraft ONLY IF they carried out the appropriate engineering works, or not, it’s not that clear.

How the Royal Engineers clear statement was interpreted, how it made its way through the intelligence analysis process and how ultimately it came to be completely contradicted in the intelligence document is not clear.

Perhaps it was an evil RAF conspiracy that saw it ignored!

This point to differing opinions, opinions formed hastily and a general degree of uncertainty which has been one of the defining characteristics of armed conflict for thousands of years. With the speed of response it is not surprising therefore that there are differences and contradictions.

Whatever the circumstances, the Task Force planners took the line that it was at least possible, recognising the potential threat and resolving to do something about it regardless of either actual Argentine intent or capability.

Besides the issue of the seemingly conflicting statements there are three interesting issues that arise;

  • Did the Argentine forces consider using Stanley Airport for fast jets?
  • Was AM2 matting available at Stanley or not?
  • Would the runway support fast jets, with or without AM2?

In a paper for the USAF Air University, Argentina’s Tactical Aircraft Employment in the Falkland Islands War, Gabriel Green USAF stated;

While maintenance worked on the modification, the pilots worked on employment options. This included practice of short-field take off and landings to determine if sustained operations from the 4100-foot runway at Port Stanley were feasible. They learned it would only be suitable for emergency landings

In another paper, The Falklands 20 Years On, Phillip Grove, stated

More importantly Argentina had no intention of using fast combat aircraft from the runway following tests earlier in April

Quoting Anderson in a US Naval Postgraduate School paper called The Falklands War Understanding the Power of Context in Shaping Argentine Strategic Decisions, Scott Nietzel stated

Argentina had ample supplies of steel matting and enough time to ship it Stanley, but when Air Force engineers studied the practicalities they decided it would be too difficult to sustain high performance jet aircraft from such a primitive airfield

Scott also goes on to argue that it was a complete lack of inter-service cooperation and joint decision making that caused the Argentine forces to make so many strategic blunders including the failure to better exploit the runway at Port Stanley Airport.

Citing Arquilla and Rasmussen he wrote;

Some evidence exists that the FAA refused to base out of the islands because it would have come under some degree of Navy operational control. Indeed Admiral Carlos Busser, who led the invasion, points out the FAA pilots rebelled at this notion, even to the point of refusing instruction from naval aviators in how to attack ships at sea

Wiki states that A4 Skyhawks and S-2 trackers were deployed to Stanley in order to conduct a recce although the cited document seems to only mention the S2’s, perhaps they meant this…

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A-4C Skyhwak – Port Stanley 1982 [Flickr: Pablo Andreotti]

An operational diary; reproduced here, mentions S2’s but again, no Skyhawks. This operational diary also states that because of the runway length only the T-34 and MB339’s were operable from Port Stanley.

S2 Trackers did operate from Port Stanley

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Argentine Navy tracker at Port Stanley

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S2 Port Stanley

And so did the MB339

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MB 339

I have also read that only basic plans were made to improve the facilities at Port Stanley because the Argentine leadership didn’t think the UK would respond militarily.

The Argentine Air Force (FAA) also planned a mission against RN ships at South Georgia on the 26th April using Canberra bombers. Although it was aborted due to unsuitable conditions at South Georgia the mission had planned to use Port Stanley as a refuelling point.

So back to the question of intent, perhaps there were discussions and debates or the idea just fell through the numerous tactical and strategic cracks but crucially, there was enough evidence of intent AND evidence of some low level activity by the Argentine Air Force Engineers to improve the facilities that it was entirely plausible for British forces to react, if for no reason than ‘just in case’

The second question I posed was about the presence of AM2 (or other) surface expedient materials.

The intelligence briefing reproduced above stated that Argentine AM2 matting was used for runway construction at Rookery Bay but was subsequently withdrawn back to mainland Argentina. It also suggests that it was on the way back to the Falkland Islands.

The Institute of Civil Engineers paper by the Royal Engineers officers, Sinclair, Barton and Kennedy said;

In addition the asphalt surface was cut back to a size to accommodate aluminium panels left behind by the Argentines which provided a good surface.

The picture below shows a damaged Fokker F28 at Port Stanley Airport with what looks very much like AM2 panels being used.

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Port Stanley 1982 Damaged F28 Fellowship

The image in the previous section of the MB339 also shows what looks like AM2 style aluminium panels in use for a taxiway and the image below from immediately post invasion shows what looks very much like AM2 panels at the bottom of the image

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Port Stanley Argentine Puma

A quote from an Argentine PPRUNE forum user (Marcantilan) who was at Port Stanley during the occupation stated;

Later on the Aluminium things for the runway show up at the airport but were used to stretch the area were airplanes park to unload their cargo , and many more just went to be used to reinforce protection fox holes .

This would suggest that there was indeed AM2 matting at Port Stanley Airport, either left there from the previous construction or transported during the occupation.

Another quote from the zonamilitar site (user Drupi on this thread;

En la cabecera oeste se colocaron algunas, pero cuando comenzaron los ataques se dejaron los trabajos, muchos de estos paneles se usaron para reforzar las posiciones. A dos de ellos les debo mi vida ya que pararon una esquirla que iba justo a mi cabeza en la noche del 29 de mayo.

Google translation

In the western end some of them (the plates) were placed but when the raids started, works were abandoned, many of them were used to reinforce the positions. Thank to two of them I´m alive at the moment, as they stopped shrapnel direct right on my head in the night of 29th may”.

Finally, another source suggests a 200m extension was completed (although this sounds rather large and may well be a spelling error) using matting that was both bought from the mainland and left over from a previous construction.

The 1st Air Brigade Construction Group was stationed at Port Stanley did make some improvements but it seems that the AM2 (or other matting) that was there was not utilised beyond aircraft parking augmentation and perhaps a very short runway extension. It is also evident that stocks of AM2 were not adequately controlled because they were used for general purpose construction materials and to reinforce field fortifications used by the defending security detail.

Other sources suggest that a large stock of AM2 was loaded aboard the Argentine vessel Cordoba but it never reached the Islands because by the time it was ready to sail, surface transport to the islands was impossible due to the arrival of the British Task Force.

If this is the case it would demonstrate some intent and maybe the limited improvements were due to the realisation that no more materials would be arriving so improvement opportunities were taken as far as they could.

Whatever the reason, if there was intent, it was not followed through which leads on to the next question of potential.

Even lengthening and strengthening the runway would still leave the rest of the facilities needing to be improved, especially bulk fuel handling. But even if the Airport was used as a simple forward arming and refuelling point for Argentine aircraft it could still have tipped the strategic balance.

When we talk about fast jet operations we mean Skyhawk, Mirage or even Super E’s, not the Aermacchi MB339A’s that were indeed a fast jet and were operated from Port Stanley Airport. Fokker F28 and Boeing 737 are also fast jets’ of sorts although obviously not a combat aircraft but they were flown from the runway at Port Stanley as well.

The same diary as above about MB339 operations from Port Stanley states they deployed to the airport on the 23rd of April, only a few days before Black Buck I and the follow up Harrier/NGS attacks, it mentions ‘aluminium planks’ used to support the aircraft.

There are two main factors that limit operation of jet combat aircraft like the A4 Skyhawk or Mirage III from a given location and that is runway length and load bearing strength.

on length…

The Comando de Aviación Naval Argentina – COAN (Argentine Naval Aviation) operated Aermacchi MB.339A, McDonnell Douglass A-4Q (B) Skyhawk and Dassault Super Etendard, Grumman S-2E Tracker, Beechcraft T-34 Mentor, Fokker F28 and Lockheed L-188 Electra.

From photographs and other documents we know that of these, all but the Super Etendard and A-4Q Skyhawks operated from the runway at Port Stanley Airport.

The Fuerza Aérea Argentina (FAA) or Aerolienas between them operated C-130H Hercules, Boeing 737, Boeing 707, Fokker F28, Fokker F27, English Electric Canberra, Learjet 35A-L, FMA IA 58 Pucara,  McDonnell Douglass A-4C Skyhawk, McDonnell Douglass A-4P (B) Skyhawk, IAI Dagger and Dassault Mirage IIIE.

From photographs and other documents we know that of these, all but the Canberra, Skyhawks, Daggers, Boeing 707 and Mirages operated from the runway at Port Stanley Airport.

Of the Skyhawks, all were the B versions except the C, the P and Q being designations specific to Argentina, even though they were the B variant.

The specification sheet here is for an A4-D which had a slightly more powerful engine than those in Argentine service but it is still good for comparison and has a number of flight and load profiles. The data sheet shows that an A-4D can take off at sea level with zero head wind, two 150 gallon drop tanks and two 1050lb stores in 3,050 feet in a sea level delivery profile.

A number of other profiles and wind conditions are shown but most of them are within the 4,100 feet runway length at Port Stanley. Landing distances are also within the length of the runway.

Weather conditions, especially crosswind an, wet runway conditions, landing aids availability, the slightly lower power output of the Argentine A4’s and other factors might still have made it not possible, there is always more to something like this than a simple table but this information would have been available to UK planners.

If the A4’s were operated from Port Stanley their range would have put the carriers under threat to a degree that in order to withdraw further East, the range to the Islands would have meant little or no cover over potential British landing areas, i.e. the amphibious force would have been without combat air cover and had to rely on missiles and guns fired from ships or ground locations.

I am not going to say it would be possible or not, as I said, there are many factors to consider but It is easy to see, even with the benefit of hindsight, why this was such a concern to the Task Force.

The Super Etendard and Mirage III would be a different matter and so would the difference between wartime and non-wartime conditions.

So from this, the runway length, at least for the A4, becomes a ‘possible’

Most people who have looked at this online have tended to concentrate on runway length as the single determinant of fast jet operability but runway strength is equally important.

on strength…

From the intelligence report reproduced above the runway at Port Stanley Airport was a minimum of LCN 16 and up to LCN 30 in places, unhelpfully, it doesn’t specify which places. The RE paper repeats this but doesn’t shed much more light on the subject except that in planning for post conflict operations from Port Stanley Airport, the RAF specified Phantoms and Buccaneers who’s LCN was 45.

i.e. much higher than 16

The Phantom and Buccaneer were much heavier than the Skyhawk and other Argentine aircraft but weight is not the only factor in matching runway LCN’s with aircraft.

This where we have to delve into the fiendishly complex subject of runway loading and strength indicators, like the MLC bridging system there have been a number of methods developed to make matching aircraft to runways easier.

There is the ICAO LCN, British LCN/LCG, CBR and Shell PDM methods to name but four. The ICAO method established a set of rules for Type 2 Prepared Asphalt Runways and Type 3 Prepared Concrete Runways that matches aircraft to runways. LCN ranges are then associated with a Load Classification Group. The ICAO then modified the system in 1990 and introduced a new one called the Aircraft Classification Number (ACN) and the Pavement Classification Number (PCN), for a particular aircraft to operate without restriction at a given location the two must match or the ACN must not exceed the PCN.  The numbers are further qualified by the type of subgrade and pavement.

The British LCN/LCG method is based on the first version of the ICAO LCN which did not include the differences between flexible and rigid surfaces, i.e. asphalt and concrete.

I assume that the LCN figures reported in the intelligence briefing and Institute of Civil Engineers report uses the British LCN/LCG method.

Boeing have a very good description of the British LCN/LCG system here

The document makes the point that because of the lack of distinction between pavement types the system is not considered to be highly precise.


The briefing says the runway was designed for the Fokker F27/F28 with a minimum LCN of 25, the Inst of Civil Engineers paper says 16. This could be a simple error or a description of the same thing but using a different method. Another table online says the Fokker F27 has an LCN of 19.

We can use a comparison with the C130H, which we know operated from the unimproved runway, a number of different sources state the LCN for the C130 is 37 on asphalt.

Again, this points to some uncertainty and doesn’t help with the search for Skyhawk, Mirage or Super Etendard loading data.

I have not been able to find the LCN/LCG or ACN for any of these aircraft which is not surprising given their age but I will end this section with a very crude analysis.

The ACN for a C130 at 170,000 pounds and based on a flexible surface (Category B) is 32

The ACN for a Fokker F28 Fellowship at 65,000 pounds and based on a flexible surface (Category B) is 17

We know both these operated from Port Stanley Airport (although not at what weight, which is important)

The ACN for an F-16 at 37,500 pounds and based on a flexible pavement (Category B) is 33.

The A4 Skyhawk maximum take-off weight was roughly 24,000 pounds and the tire size is only slightly smaller

There is an awful lot of guesswork here because of missing data but it’s interesting to compare the figures and guess whether the runway at Port Stanley would have supported the high tire pressure A4’s or Mirages.

The airport today has its Pavement Classification Number defined as 14  FCXT which is 14 / FLEXIBLE / SUBGRADE CATEGORY C (LOW) / MAX TIRE PRESSURE 217 PSI / TECHNICAL EVALUATION

This means that the 737-100 at ACN 26 is off the menu and so is the BAC-111 Series 400 at 27, the Fokker F28 at 20, Hercules C-130 at 37 and Lockheed L188 Electra at 33, yet we know all these operated at Port Stanley in 1982. Either the runway has deteriorated, something is amiss or I am off at the deep end.

Until I can find specific LCN information (any helpers out there) I am not sure I can offer an opinion either way.

Harriers would have done a better job

Another claim is that instead of the Vulcan raids, the Sea Harriers and Harrier GR.3’s would have made a better job.

The first of this issue to look at a better job of what exactly.

If you go back to the beginning, Black Buck had many layers, it was to deny Argentine fast jets (Super Etendard, Skyhawk and Mirage) the opportunity to operate from Port Stanley but it there was also a number of other layers, strategic and psychological.

Even in a world where Sea Harriers and Harriers were in infinite supply it is doubtful they would had the same impact as the Vulcan strikes.

After Black Buck I a flight of 9 Sea Harriers of 800 Naval Air Squadron attacked Port Stanley Airport with 1,000 pound and cluster bombs. Considerable damage was caused to facilities and stores and to follow this we threw in some naval gunfire from HMS Alacrity, Glamorgan and Arrow. A FIGAS Islander was destroyed by one of the Sea Harriers cluster bombs.

In combination, this was devastating, the point being it was a combination, and something that I think is sometimes lost in the arguments. This was a big punch, delivered early and left the Argentine occupiers and political leadership on the mainland under no illusion that the point for a settlement had passed, they had a fight on their hands.

On the 3rd a Skyvan was destroyed at the airport by naval gunfire and later that night, Black Buck 2 delivered another load of 21 thousand pounders.

The lethality of the Argentine ground based air defences was confirmed when a Sea Harrier was shot down whilst attacking Goose Green. On the 6th, the number of Sea Harriers available to the Task Force was reduced to 17 when two Sea Harriers collided in heavy fog, this bad weather would characterise this early period. Another Sea Harrier attack was scheduled on the 9th but was aborted due to fog. On the 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th Sea Harriers attacked Port Stanley Airport sometimes as part of their Combat Air Patrol, but without effect, more harassment whilst passing I have read it referred to.

On the 18th the Harrier GR.3’s joined from the Atlantic Conveyor. On the 23rd another Sea Harrier attack on Port Stanley Airport was marred by the accidental loss of a Sea Harrier.

The 24th would see the first Sea Harrier and Harrier GR.3a attack on Port Stanley Airport. But fusing issues meant that those that hit the runway failed to detonate.

4396486010 a528a8dc5f That Famous Runway at Port Stanley – Part 2 (Conflict)

Unexploded British 1,000 pound parachute retarded bomb at Port Stanley Airport [Flikcr: Pablo Andreotti]

The 25th saw another attack;

At midday a mission was tasked as a six aircraft attack on the runway at Port Stanley Airfield. Each pair of GR.3s was led by a Sea Harrier. The 1(F) pilots flying the mission were Wg Cdr Squire, Sqn Ldr Pook, Sqn Ldr Harris, and Flt Lt Rochfort. The attack was carried out with the GR.3s formatting on Sea Harriers in loose vic formation for simultaneous release of bombs. Following the release of his weapons Sqn Ldr Pook climbed into the airfield overhead to observe ‘fall of shot’. Bombs from the first three aircraft were seen to impact on the West end of the airfield whilst those from the second wave fell approximately 100 yards north of the Eastern threshold. Whilst in the overhead, Sqn Ldr Pook was locked up by Roland and saw the missile in flight. It peaked at about 15,000ft – some distance below him. He also saw a Tiger Cat launched against the second wave; this too fell short.

Sqn Ldr Harris and Flt Lt Hare later carried out a further similar mission to drop free-fall 1,000lb bombs against Port Stanley Airfield runway from a level delivery at 20,000ft. The bombs were dropped singly, but aiming for this method of delivery is imprecise, the fall of only 3 bombs being seen and these fell in Yorke Bay. Harris and Hare both saw AAA and Roland fired during the attacks but their aircraft remained out of range.

Sqn Ldr Harris flew a final late singleton mission to carry out a further medium-level bombing of Port Stanley Airfield runway but owing to the weather, this was changed to 30-degree loft. All 3 bombs fell short of their target.

As the conflict progressed the focus of air operations switched to supporting the land elements and no concerted efforts were made against the airport until the 31st of May when in a reaction to a sighting of ‘swept wing aircraft’ i.e. Super Etendard, at Port Stanley Airport another combined Sea Harrier and Harrier GR.3a mission was completed. Post raid analysis suggested that these were decoys but subsequently, this was revised to the MB339a’s

On the 1st of June a Sea Harrier is shot down by a Roland missile near Port Stanley. By the 11th, the date of another Sea Harrier attack on Port Stanley Airport, the Argentine air threat had more or less diminished.

What this shows is that a number of attacks by Harriers were made but most of them had limited effects as they were during high level transit to their CAP stations and the more direct attacks were no doubt risky.

What I think many fail to appreciate is at the time, the Sea Harrier was in short and a very finite supply. Task Force commanders recognised this and at a number of points quite rightly sought to conserve them, understanding that until the landings were complete, the centre of gravity for UK forces was their carriers.

It also illustrates the differences in training and equipment fit for different types of bombing profile.

Swings and roundabouts meant that in order to take advantage of the one type of equipment the aircraft would be exposed to missiles, chose another method and accuracy suffers, chose another and the threat now becomes AAA.

In order to create the necessary ‘heave’ under the runway the bombs would have to be launched from medium to high altitude, the same altitude that would have put them in the risk envelope for the Roland missiles and radar controlled 35mm automatic cannons and reduced accuracy. Using cluster bombs, retarded bombs and rockets would have put them directly into the danger zone for the numerous automatic cannons and small arms.

It has been said that Task Force commanders refused to send Sea Harriers on toss bombing raids which were arguably the only profile that could produce the necessary accuracy and ‘heave’ to completely deny the runway but surely that was the correct decision.

Sea Harriers were especially precious and their main job was air defence, not flying down the throat of radar guided 35mm automatic cannons and Roland missiles so whether they could have done a better job is not the point really.

The runway continued to be used so the raids were a failure

In some respects this is correct, the runway was in continual (more or less) use for the duration of the conflict.

But night time supply runs and operating a Skyhawk is completely a different thing.

I actually wonder whether crater from Black Buck I was repaired properly at all because in accounts from the C130 crew that undoubtedly performed miracles in sneaking in and out of Port Stanley they mention that the runway was reduced in width, less than 20m.

A good report, sorry, in Spanish again, on C130 operations from Port Stanley is here

It records how one Hercules was lost to a Sea Harrier but it was not a transport flight, instead a recce type.

The supply flights, not just Hercules but Electra’s and Fokker F-28’s as well, managed to move over 500 tonnes of supplies and many personnel, the last flight being on the 13th of June.

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Hercules night time supply flight

As impressive and courageous as these supply flights were, crucial in many respects, they did not have the potential to change the outcome.

If the mission was to completely deny the use of Port Stanley Airport then yes, in isolation, the Black Buck raids were a failure.

But they were intended to deny Port Stanley Airport to fast jets, in that, one could reasonably say they were a success even if not wholly responsible for this situation.

The damage done to and at the airport by naval gunfire, Harrier and Vulcan strikes was significant, especially to the windows icon smile That Famous Runway at Port Stanley – Part 2 (Conflict)

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The conflict ended with this


To start the conclusion this is a good quote from Islander Tony Chater about the first nigh time Vulcan raid, Black Buck 1

“The whole house shook, as though there had been an earthquake. There was terrific jubilation. From then on, we felt confident the British forces would come to our rescue”

Putting the superb airmanship and engineering ingenuity to one side (they are a given) the controversy surrounding the Black Buck runway denial raids have obscured a couple of important factors.

First, the runway really was of massive strategic importance. It was a blunder on a grand scale by the Argentine forces to fail to plan properly for its exploitation and implement in a meaningful manner. They had the time, they had the materials and they certainly had enough intelligence. Some put this failure down to only involving the FAA at the last minute, perhaps this is true, I don’t know. Maybe it just wasn’t feasible or too marginal to do but in failing to use the location for both defensive and offensive combat aircraft the Argentine forces suffered the tyranny of distance that is familiar to all that operate combat aircraft. Their loss was our gain and we knew full well that the campaign would be very different if we did not put even the smallest of a possibility that they might, completely beyond doubt, this is what drove the opening attacks on the airport, risk reduction.

Second, efforts to deny the runway to Argentine fast jets were a JOINT effort. Naval gunfire, Sea Harriers and the Vulcans all combined to produce something that was greater than the sum of its parts. It was a grand opening display by the old empire, had an air of panache, displayed deadly intent and showed just who the big dog on the park was. It was a bravura feat of arms that was designed not only to have the practical effect of denying the runway at Port Stanley to Argentine fast jets but also to send a message to the Junta that the time for negotiation had passed and Great Britain was about to smash its back doors in (to coin a phrase!)

Subsequent attacks by Harriers (both flavours), Vulcan’s and naval gunfire failed to completely close the airport but although those that made the supply flights were extremely brave and skilful  they had no chance of altering the final outcome, the ongoing attacks ensured that any lingering hopes of operating an effective combat aircraft presence from the airport were snuffed out.

It is also clear that very little is clear.

Some of those nagging questions about Argentine forces intent to operate fast jets from Port Stanley and whether they and it had the capacity to do so remain tantalisingly ambiguous.

Confusing and contradictory testimony and documented evidence creates a vacuum into which opinions are drawn into.

This post is no different in that regards.

What is a shame though is that acrimony, principally between some parts of the RN/FAA and RAF, has been allowed to grow. So much so now that opinions seem to have entrenched and it is self evident that this has forced each side to distort, embellish or downplay the reality.

The Black Buck raids were neither hero or villain, there were positive outcomes but there were equally failures.

I see them as part of a larger jigsaw and I hope this is how they are judged.





RAF Historical Society, Journal No 30

Air War in the Falklands, 1982

US Department of the Navy, Falkland Islands Lessons Learned

Falklands Aftermath: Picking up the Pieces, Edward Fursdon

Air Scene UK

Vulcan to the Sky

Argentina’s Tactical Aircraft Employment in the Falkland Islands War, Gabriel Green USAF

The Falklands War Understanding the Power of Context in Shaping Argentine Strategic Decisions

Radar Malvinas (a great site with lots of information)

Zona Militar (an Argentine military forum that is serious, not at all jingoistic and a fantastic resource, including many posts where veterans from both sides discuss the conflict. Where I have quoted from this site it is done so from a difficult position, I don’t speak Spanish but would recommend readers go there and have a look, there are many excellent contributors and I would like to say thank you to a number of selected forum members whose comments helped me a great deal in researching some of the specific points)

PPRUNE, ARRSE, Fighter Control and Military Photos discussion forums

Images; many of the images in these posts, especially those from the Argentine perspective, seem to float around the internet on forums and image sharing sites so it is difficult to properly attribute, where possible and if the source is on Flickr, I have attributed. Elsewhere, please accept my thanks in advance to the photographers and if you are the original owner please let me know if you want it removed or properly attributed. I normally err on the side of caution with images but in this case because I think its an important subject, I have been a little less careful.






About Think Defence

Think Defence hopes to start sensible conversations about UK defence issues, no agenda or no campaign but there might be one or two posts on containers, bridges and mexeflotes!

80 thoughts on “That Famous Runway at Port Stanley – Part 2 (Conflict)

  1. Simon


    Ever thought of doing a TV documentary, you’ve got enough photos to string together to form a movie ;-)

    Excellent article.

    You know my standing on this, however I like one of your concluding remarks: …It was a grand opening display by the old empire, had an air of panache, displayed deadly intent and showed just who the big dog on the park was…”

    Displaying “deadly intent” was (in my mind) the only thing it actually achieved. The value of this is debatable but certainly real.

    I do wonder how much effort was actually put into the denial of the airport. I think we had so few resources that we were operating a reactive strategy rather than a proactive one, so probably only bombed the runway (with Harriers) if we thought that something was coming into land.

    I think it’s pretty poor (sorry to all those involved) that we didn’t manage to totally obliterate the runway. Probably why we are now pretty good a runway denial and copter based ASaC, both of which are probably the hard lessons we learned (and will soon forget) in 1982.

  2. mike


    add to that list ship based CIWS. Also refueling probes…

    Looking forward to reading this in a less rushed manner…fantastic :D been looking forward to it since I saw it on your to-do list :)

  3. TrT

    Regarding RAF bashing.

    It may (or may not) be true that the Argentine Forces had no intention of using the airfield.

    But it is indisputable that the UKs first and most extensive measure taken once the islands were secured, was to build a big **** off air strip to operate fast jets in defence of the islands.

    If we did it, its pretty sensible to assume that we thought they would do it too.

  4. All Politicians are the Same


    AS per usual a well researched and thought provoking piece.

    Interestingly enough even after all your research you were unable to come up with a definitive conclusion. So for me.

    1. Did they play an important part in the campaign? Unkown.
    2. Were they executed with panache and bravery in the best tradition of the UK armed forces? Absobloodyloutely!

  5. Opinion3


    Very enjoyable read. Given the challenge of retaking the Falklands, and indeed the political pressure being applied the Black Buck raids needed to demonstrate a can do attitude. Or more accurately a will do attitude.

  6. Chris.B.

    For me the bigger issue is not whether they were effective, or what the intention was, or even what the intelligence was. It’s the simple fact that if they weren’t bombing Stanley then they would have just been sitting around doing jack s**t. So why not put them to some use?

  7. Mark

    A thoroughly researched and interesting read!

    Vulcan 607 is quite a gd reading for expanding the black buck section by Martin withers.

    TD you may have come across this but some maths maybe needed for extrapolation to types but some Boeing data on lcg/lcn

    Or a a very detailed us military runway guide
    Page 30 giving some a/c of interest.

  8. Think Defence Post author

    Cheers all

    @Mark, thanks, have read those during my deliberations but the problem I have is finding LCN or ACN values for any of the relevant aircraft, A4′s, Super Etendards etc

    @Simon, I think you underestimate the value of the initial raids. Most of the Harrier raids were dropping a single bomb on the way to the CAP station. The effort needed, well, it was whatever was needed to stop them basing fast air there

    @TrT, thats a fair point

    @Apats, I think I come to the conclusion that when taken together with the other means, yes, they played an important part but there is still a lot of uncertainty about specific aspects of the ‘Black Buck Story’

    @Op3, yes, thats an important point as well

    @Chris.B, agree, if yo uhave an asset you might as well use it. I did read that as part of the planning the Naval staff, who to be fair to them didnt really understand what it could do, thought it should be used in the anti shipping role

  9. martin

    Very interesting post TD,
    I think you have answered many of the questions beyond a shadow of doubt and dispelled many of the documentary myths that have crept up over time.

    There is no doubt the Black Buck missions were worth the effort. The psychological impact alone makes it worth it. One thing we have failed to mention is the impact of these raids on the troops around Stanley. The shear noise of 21 1,000 pound bombs going off must have been intense. If the Argentines had fought in Stanley they may have beaten us and I am sure that their mindset must have been altered by the effects of these raids. There was a comment from an Iraq commander after the 1991 Gulf war about the B52 strikes. He stated that the effect of these devastated his and his mens moral. When asked how many times his unit had been hit he answered none but he had visited a unit that had been hit.

    Looking at the damage to the Terminal building at port Stanley airport its clear that if any high end jets had been based there they would likely have sustained major damage from shrapnel as well.

    One question that does stick in my mind is why the black buck missions were not expanded. The major air threat from the Super E’s and Exocet was based on the Rio Grande airbase in Tierra Del Feugo. Again the documentary myth is the air base was too large to be taken out by air attack however 21, 1000lb bombs would make a hell of a mess, even if they did not close the runway they may have damged the aircraft missiles or support infrastructure.

    I know UK forces were so worried about the threat from Rio Grande that Thatcher even considered loading an entire SAS squadron into C130′s and trying to storm the runway. They shelved the plan due to the low probability of success. Was Black Buck kept away from the Argentine mainland due to technical limitations (Stanley was already at the extreme edge of what was possible) or political considerations such as the Americans refusing use of Wide Awake airfield or the government not wishing to inflaim international opinion. I can certainly see strikes against BA and the sourrounding area as unpalitable however striking an isoltaed airbase that is hitting you seems relativley fair.

  10. Observer

    martin, as chance would have it, I actually have a BDA air photo of that airfield almost immediately after Raid 1 I think it was. The most obvious damage was the line of small bomb craters at the aircraft revetment area dropped by harriers. Of the main raid, IIRC, only 2-3 of the bombs actually scored direct hits on the runway. TD, I doubt individual harriers only lobbed one bomb, there was a few line of craters, which imply a string of bombs from multiple planes.

    As to why it was not expanded, well, once you have planted a great honking crater smack in the middle of the runway, it’s almost safe to say you have curtailed the enemy’s ability to use the runway. Any more holes in it would be 1) redundant and 2) hinder your own airlift once you have retaken the airfield. That is probably also why it isn’t in the UK’s interest to pound the airfield into total uselessness. What you bomb now, you’ve to fix later and I severely doubt the RN/RAF has the time to create a new airfield from scratch with all the other things on their plate then. You also have to know when to bow out. The Vulcans got a success, if they had continued with the same pattern, sooner or later, the enemy would have sicced a flight of fighters on them. If a flight of Vulcans was lost, it would have changed a “complete success” into a “qualified success”.

  11. wf

    Great article, very illuminating!

    With regard to the effectiveness of Blackbuck airfield denial missions, I suspect a single bomb on the runway doesn’t quite qualify as something worth the effort involved, eg

    - 11 Victor tankers (more than half the available Victor tankers in the fleet – at the height of the Cold War)
    - large quantities of aviation fuel (1000 tonnes per mission)

    If the RAF had spent more effort getting Paveway down South earlier, a SF marker could have allowed a Sea Harrier/GR3 to have shut the field comprehensively in a day. Why this wasn’t considered a priority, I don’t know.

    If the Vulcans had struck the Argentine mainland on the other hand, that would have been a game changer. Presumably the risks to a bomber without fighter escort were considered too high

  12. martin

    @ WF

    “If the Vulcans had struck the Argentine mainland on the other hand, that would have been a game changer. Presumably the risks to a bomber without fighter escort were considered too high”

    Maybe but I don’t think the Argies had radar on there fighters and catching a Vulcan appearing from the sea then disappearing back out would be quite difficult. It might also have forced the Argentine’s to have more of their aircraft guarding their airfields and hence make less available to attack the task force.

    “With regard to the effectiveness of Blackbuck airfield denial missions, I suspect a single bomb on the runway doesn’t quite qualify as something worth the effort involved, eg”

    I don’t agree. Black buck took a lot of resources but then as Chris B points out what else would those planes have been doing. Anything that gave us the psycological edge over the argies and took pressure of the harrier force is welcome.

  13. ArmChairCivvy

    TD, a great piece! Why did you decide to omit the part of the action against air defences?

    @Simon: how come we are so great in runway denial, in the years that followed? Despite a very expensive, specialist weapon developed for the purpose, the effort against Saddam’s runways was only a half success?

  14. ArmChairCivvy

    Martin, you make a related point later, but I have always had a suspicion that Project Mikado was b.s. fed through appropriate channels to keep the only Argentine unit trained and equipped for night fighting, their Marines, exactly where it was… Defending the Rio Grande airbase

  15. wf

    @martin: as you and @Chris.B pointed out, the Vulcan’s weren’t doing much else, and the detachment of say 6 from the total of 30 wouldn’t tip the balance for Brezhnev :-)

    But the loss of half the RAF’s tanker capacity for NATO ops is very significant, ditto two thirds plus of the available RN capacity. The difference between the two is that the former didn’t *have* to be used: it was a choice made at the time which was probably not worth the risk (although those Hercules resupply flights would have demanded some, the Vulcans drove the larger numbers)

    BTW, the Mirage IIIE’s had radar and 530 missiles. Although they were pulled back to cover Buenos Aires after the first raid, they went back into action later when it became clear that no mainland raids were going to happen. IMHO, this was an error: one bomb one the Presidential Palace would have been worth more than 100 on Stanley for effect, and one on Río Gallegos would have been very significant, although the latter is another 500k to fly.

  16. TrT

    Since we were pulling tankers out of museums to hit Stanley, was there even an option of hitting the mainland?

    Several sites have mentioned that the tankers could have been used to fly Harriers down south, or cargo drops, instead of bombers.
    But since Vulcan was already finished, it would make far more sense for the RAF to be playing up the logistical capabilities it was keeping over bombing runs it was losing.

    I think its simply a case of us fighting the wrong enemy.
    At the time of the war, for 40 years, the first action any force did when consolidating its control of an area, was to seize or create an airbase.
    The fall of France, the pacific islands campaign, the various colonial wars, all centered on, airfields, or at least airfields were a serious concern (France).

    Any modern soldier looking at the Falklands would have immediately set about building an airstrip. Its what we would have done, its what the Americans would have done, its what the French would have done, and indeed, just did in Mali, seized a functional airstrip.
    Galtieri wasnt a modern soldier.
    He had never fought a war, and spent his long career as a combat engineer, building field fortifications for infantry. And so thats what he ordered his engineers to do, build dug outs for a large infantry force.
    The idea that the war would be won or lost in the air likely never occurred, he neglected to even inform the Airforce of the invasion until it was underway.

    He fought his war, entrenched infantry to wait us out. We fought ours, force his airforce off the islands and cut his entrenched forces up piecemeal.

    All that said, it makes perfect sense for the RAF to bomb the middle of the airstrip, and the end we considered most likely to be extended.
    It might not be the case that that is was we were actually trying, but it seems more than reasonable.

  17. Simon


    “…how come we are so great in runway denial, in the years that followed? Despite a very expensive, specialist weapon developed for the purpose, the effort against Saddam’s runways was only a half success?”

    Good question.

    JP233 from Tornado was certainly better than the previous attempt but still suffered from the fundamental flaw in the Tornado concept (low level, high speed, bombing is suicide against any worthwhile enemy). Fortunately Iraq were not a worthwhile enemy and suspended flying in less than a week so I’d guess that the JP233 had at least some credible effect.

    What do we use now? Tomahawk? Same error as 1982… too easy to fix a single hole, you need to rip up the entire runway surface. Since we got out of the cluster-bomb game, are investing in small-weaponed F35B (oh and don’t get me started with the tactical cruise nuke game) we have very little capability for most of the things that are fundamentally necessary for SEAD…

    …even ALARM has been deleted from Typhoons requirements hasn’t it? So when Tornado goes we have almost zero capability for day-one warfare.

  18. Simon

    Following on from TrT’s comments…

    The bombing run that phenomenally landed the middle bomb in the middle of the airfield negated (in hindsight) the need to do the 35 degree cross bombing. If the pilot and bombardier had gone along the runway it might well have put it completely out of action.

    I find it amazing that it took 11 Victors to get a single Vulcan to the target. Talk about waste of resources and cost-per-bomb. 16 aircraft worth of fuel to take 21 x 1000lb bombs to target. Just compare that with what can be achieved by a carrier with a small squadron of SHAR, which also provides CAP. Makes you realise the value of a carrier for the opening stages of an offensive, prior to construction or seizure of an airstrip.

  19. TrT

    “What do we use now? Tomahawk? Same error as 1982… too easy to fix a single hole,”

    Depends deeply on the hole.

    Wiki has an excellent write up of earth quake (or which BROACH is arguably a type) bombs, which rather than cratering the surface, simply blow the foundations from underneath the runway.
    Foundations which could be as much as 4ft thick, and could be badly damaged tens of meters from the impact site.

  20. wf

    @Simon: the HB876 mine is banned, but there’s nothing to stop us fitting the SG357 cratering bomblet to Tomahawk/Storm Shadow/whatever. It would seem a good idea to have a family of munitions that have the space and margin to accept both unitary warheads and specialist bomblets like this (Sensor Fuzed Weapon springs to mind)

    @TrT: you may have a point there. BROACH or BLU109 perhaps best of all :-)

  21. Observer

    Simon, yes if done utterly, the whole runway would have been destroyed. Which would leave the RN needing to create a whole new runway to support operations on the islands after they are retaken.

    Total War is best practiced on areas that are not your own territory.

    As for the Argies not putting up a better show, I suspect that they were not really expecting having to fight for the islands. Remember that during that period of time, the UK was in the throes of a mass territory give away, having gone from 700 million British citizens to a meager 7 million. My read on the situation was that the Argentinians believed that the UK would have just given up on the Falklands due to both distance and lack of resources on the island, and Argentina would have snatched a small chunk of the UK decolonisation pie.

  22. Simon


    I still think (you can tell I haven’t been on the receiving end can’t you ;-)) that any single non-nuclear bomb crater is relatively easy to fix. This is why you need to pepper the runway surface leading to the need for the entire surface to be reworked.


    Thanks, I didn’t realise there was still an option with the SG357. Can we fit this into F35Bs weapons bay?

  23. ArmChairCivvy

    Just read a first-hand report by a weapon technician that though the safety and arming for the SG weapon was only completed in 85, they were in the Falklands under the SM222 designation
    - i.e. prototypes, not cleared for service
    - but wasn’t the order to use all efforts?

  24. Chris.B.

    @ TrT,
    “Several sites have mentioned that the tankers could have been used to fly Harriers down south, or cargo drops, instead of bombers.”
    – Most of the Harriers were already down or on their way down if I recall. And how much cargo do you think those C-130′s are going to drop? At most you can replace one Black Buck raid with one C-130 flight.

    @ Simon,
    “The bombing run that phenomenally landed the middle bomb in the middle of the airfield negated (in hindsight) the need to do the 35 degree cross bombing. If the pilot and bombardier had gone along the runway it might well have put it completely out of action.”
    – Or they might have missed by a few feet to the left and hit nothing. Hence why the runway was bombed at an angle.

    “I find it amazing that it took 11 Victors to get a single Vulcan to the target. Talk about waste of resources and cost-per-bomb”
    – I’m not sure bean counting was exactly at the fore front of the minds of those involved. Which is why we drop guided bombs on the enemy in Afghanistan. Expensive, but acceptable given the circumstances.

    “16 aircraft worth of fuel to take 21 x 1000lb bombs to target. Just compare that with what can be achieved by a carrier with a small squadron of SHAR, which also provides CAP. Makes you realise the value of a carrier for the opening stages of an offensive, prior to construction or seizure of an airstrip.”
    – In that one, highly specific example. Yeah, I guess so.

  25. Mark

    Martin Withers interview on the runway attack


    ” we have very little capability for most of the things that are fundamentally necessary for SEAD……even ALARM has been deleted from Typhoons requirements hasn’t it? So when Tornado goes we have almost zero capability for day-one warfare.”

    Alarms not going on typhoon nor do I think its currently in use. SEAD is now done with systems on the aircraft and if weapons are required they are not specialist one.

    Also think we realised a while ago you target the aircraft on the ground, the shelters and taxi ways before the runway not possible with unguided weapons in 1982 very very much possible today..

  26. Simon

    Chris B,

    I’m not talking about financial cost rather the logistical cost and the piss poor sortie rate delivered by 12 heavy aircraft. 12 aircraft, 21 bombs, one hit. You do the maths ;-)


    Our interpretation of SEAD obviously differs. Jets are pretty key in a nation’s air defence capability. Plus you can’t bomb jets on the ground if they’re not there. I’m thinking before a squadron turns up to defend the air you can take out the runway.

  27. Mark


    And the logistical cost/effort to get 20 sea harriers 100miles from the Falklands was what?

    Suppression of enemy air defences either the hostile surface to air capability or the destruction of enemy aircraft in the air or on the ground is well within the current capabilities provided by typhoon and tornado or typhoon on its own especially in the next 2-3 years. If you destroy the means of the aircraft to get to the runway or there logistics and support or indeed the aircraft themselves who cares if there’s a runway there.

  28. x

    “And the logistical cost/effort to get 20 sea harriers 100miles from the Falklands was what?”

    Share that by the utility that the ship brings. Hermes and Invincible did more than just cart Harriers about. The RFA’s did more than just move stores. And so on.

    Or better how much effort and treasure would be required to keep one Vulcan in the air permanently for 100 days?

    Bombers are one trick ponies.

    We can have 150 to 200 bods supporting those one trick ponies. Or we can have those 150 to 200 supporting a platform that can shoot down aircraft, sink submarines, sink ships, bombard shore targets, evacuate refugees, host cocktail parties, help in relief efforts, chase pirates, chase drug smugglers, and by carrying a missile in a VLS cell hit targets hundreds of miles inland.

  29. phrank

    I think the blackbuck raid was in many ways like the Doolittle raid of WW2. It was mostly about letting the enemy know that we were coming for them.

  30. Mark

    I see you couldn’t answer the question x

    Why keep the Vulcan in the air for 100 days when on each sortie its strikes with the equivalent fire power of your entire carrier air wing.

    And those one trick bombers can, do presence fwd or just presence, host cocktail parties, sink ships or pirates provide intel on drug smugglers or anything else and bombard shore installations almost anywhere on the planet. Plus look really gd on the birthday fly past.

  31. Chris.B.

    @ Simon,

    “I’m not talking about financial cost rather the logistical cost and the piss poor sortie rate delivered by 12 heavy aircraft. 12 aircraft, 21 bombs, one hit. You do the maths”

    – What else would you have all that do? The other option was; sit around and not contribute anything. Do something or do nothing. Seems like a fairly easy choice to me.

  32. Think Defence Post author

    Just found another couple of images on my PC, I cant remember where or when when I got them but I think it might just be game set and match on whether it hit the runway or not :)

  33. Fedaykin

    The bombing run that phenomenally landed the middle bomb in the middle of the airfield negated (in hindsight) the need to do the 35 degree cross bombing. If the pilot and bombardier had gone along the runway it might well have put it completely out of action.

    I find it amazing that it took 11 Victors to get a single Vulcan to the target. Talk about waste of resources and cost-per-bomb. 16 aircraft worth of fuel to take 21 x 1000lb bombs to target. Just compare that with what can be achieved by a carrier with a small squadron of SHAR, which also provides CAP. Makes you realise the value of a carrier for the opening stages of an offensive, prior to construction or seizure of an airstrip.”

    You know it never fails to amaze me even after a very clear article explaining the reasoning people still come up with the same old silly stuff!

    Point A:

    If the pilot and bombardier had gone along the runway they would probably of missed altogether! The reason a 35 degree angle was selected was to place at least one bomb on the runway or to straddle it and cause it to subside. A 35 degree angle with the bomb release interval ensures that the runway is damaged by subsidence if not hit!

    Point B:

    Yes it does take 11 Victors to get one Vulcan and 21 x bombs on the target and it is based on some rather hard calculations. Because it is a dumb bomb being tossed at the target dropping as many as possible in a stick makes it more likely that one or two will do the job! I think in todays modern era of Paveway IV and GPS we forget that they had to use INS stripped out of ex British Airways Super VC-10, a WW2 bomb computer and dead reckoning to get the aircraft to the bomb release point. As for waste of resources … well that can be up for debate but consider these points:
    1) It is a time of war! Pay for it afterwards!
    2) The Vulcans and Victors were available.
    3) There was no loss of strategic deterrent as Polaris was still on patrol.
    4) The fuel required was provided by the Americans from their global fleet of fuel tankers and dispatched to Ascension. We paid for it later!
    5) The task force had all the fuel it could take with it so using some to support Black Buck was no hindrance to its operations.

    There is also a sixth point which answers a criticism some have made here about the Victors not being available to UK air defence region tanking.
    6) During the war whilst RAF Victors were supporting the war effort the USAF discretely deployed KC-135 with drogue adaptors on the boom. Technically the USAF was providing tanking to the UK air defence region as part of NATO defence plans and the fact it released our tankers for the war effort was a handy side effect! This is also so probably why some USAF tanker crews could be bumped into in the late 80′s early 90′s saying they were involved in the Falklands war. Technically they were not and were just providing tanking to support a NATO ally protect against Russian incursion over the UK air defence region and the GIUK gap but crewman being being crewman in a bar the story got spun into “Our tanker was on Black Buck”!

    I agree with the articles main point that it is easy to talk with hindsight but I do feel that some of the more silly points need to be laid out for what they are.

  34. Simon


    “Why keep the Vulcan in the air for 100 days when on each sortie its strikes with the equivalent fire power of your entire carrier air wing.”

    Surely not. 20 Sea Harriers could have dropped about 60-80 1000lb bombs each day… that’s 6000-8000 bombs in the same 100 days isn’t it? Even a single squadron of 6 GR3 would deliver more firepower each day than the Vulcan did!

    Anyway as Chris B, eludes. They may as well have done something, so I suppose the Black Buck raids were useful even if it were (which I’m not necessarily saying they were) only useful from a psychological point of view.

    Good Lord some of you don’t take things literally enough…

    When I said “The bombing run that phenomenally landed the middle bomb in the middle of the airfield negated (in hindsight) the need to do the 35 degree cross bombing”… I meant just that, in hindsight. I’m basically saying it was an excellent job and if time could be reversed the chances were that they wouldn’t have missed because they were so “bang on”.

    As for Fedaykin’s point B, fair enough. A high-altitude bombing run would indeed have meant lots of bombs to hit a single massive target, however hitting the same target with 8 x Snakeeye at low-level is pretty trivial. Just line yourself up with the airstrip as though you’re going to land (or buzz the tower) and “bombs away” :-)

  35. Think Defence Post author

    Simon, have you actually read the post??!!! :)

    Especially the bit that explains heave, the availability of Harriers and Sea Harriers, air defence risks over Port Stanley, differences in bomb aiming equipment and training, bomb arming problems, air defence tasking priorities and almost every one of your points, all covered in the post mate!

  36. Fedaykin

    Surely not. 20 Sea Harriers could have dropped about 60-80 1000lb bombs each day… that’s 6000-8000 bombs in the same 100 days isn’t it? Even a single squadron of 6 GR3 would deliver more firepower each day than the Vulcan did!”

    Not wanting to sound petulant but I have heard that argument plenty of times and it just doesn’t hold up!

    There is NO WAY the Harriers in the task force could of maintained that kind of tempo dropping bombs even with the GR3 there from the beginning! They were busy enough providing air defence and latterly CAS. 60-80 to 1000lb bombs per day was way beyond what the task force could of done! Even on day one every Harrier in the task force would of been needed to drop just 21 x 1000lb bombs realistically! Throw in trying to toss bomb inside the lethal envelope of the Roland, Oerlikon GDF-002 and Rhienmatall MK-20 would of been a brilliant way of losing the limited number of Harriers we had. Yep dropping lots of Snake eye cluster bombs all over the airfield would of been fantastic but from low level lethal and highly wasteful of jets we couldn’t quickly replace!

    Vulcan on the other hand could toss its bombs outside the engagement envelope of the GDF-002 and MK-20 and at the edge of the Roland system.

    I suppose the thing for me is what could of been done with dumb bombs if the Vulcan had a modern bomb computer and radar installed! The A-6E Intruder had amazing accuracy at night with dumb bombs (for that matter so did the earlier DIANE fitted A-6A).

    Geez makes me want to dig out my Flight of the Intruder DVD ;-)
    “Flow with it! You see Iron Hand is my thing”!

  37. Red Trousers

    I’m just jolly glad that the Kevins could do the job, but I am more inclined to look at it strategically than tactically.

    (That was really difficult to write. Kevins dining well for our nation. Deep breath. I only assume that they had proper laces in their flying shoes, and had been properly inspected for decent creases and an absence of polyester before being allowed to fly).

    Not sure that TD’s scope includes an analysis in Parts 4…n of the bickering between the Argentinian services, but I recall a little vignette of a heated discussion between the Argentinian airman and army officer on the UK staff course in 2000, an argument over my own dinner table. Neither were old enough – nor was I – to serve in the Falklands, but they disagreed fundamentally over whether the Arg air force ever wanted to forward base fast jets at Stanley. The airman saying “we would have, but you did not upgrade the airfield” and the Army man saying “you never offered or asked”. Lord knows which was right, and both probably only replaying only their own service’s recollection. The fact that Gen Menendez seems totally silent on the matter indicates that it was probably a failure of Jointery, but then the UK was not very Joint in those days.

    Both of them good fellows, and instructive that only 20 years later attending the British staff course as allies. Mind you, I was at Sandhurst with an Iraqi in 1984, and I’m pretty sure he was on OPFOR in 91.

  38. Simon


    Yes, but I fear my “Fly Navy” filter kicked in ;-)

    My comments are based on nothing more than…

    1. I don’t think 1000lb bombs were the right solution. We should have “peppered” the airstrip with smaller, more numerous munitions from a low-level attack profile.

    2. The risks of Argentine air defences are the same kind of risks Tornado blissfully storms in against and yes, it would have been risky, bit I think worth it… there is an extremely valid point about the value of the Sea Harriers for air defence which I guess I’m ignoring. However, I’d have shipped the GR3s down on Hermes for exactly this job.

    Other than this I’m not really saying anything else. I accept that the 1000lb bombs really needed dropping from a dangerous altitude to create the “heave”. I accept that they did not go off. And I accept that the SHARs were supposed to be for air defence. However, I’d have mitigated all of this by doing 1 and 2 above (I think).

    All of this is with the benefit of hindsight, but oddly, it’s how I would do it with the assets we had in 1982 regardless… most probably wrongly. Today, I’d do both mid-altitude cluster bombing and precision strikes with 2000lb Paveway and ALARM/HARM, all of which we don’t have. Just goes to show how off my thinking really is :-(

    This is a great post and one I’ve been looking forward to.

  39. Fedaykin

    Also another thing they were not bang on! They got the first bomb in the stick on the runway. Ideally they would of got the middle bomb of the stick on the runway. If the bombs had released just one second later no bomb would of been close enough to cause damage by subsidence. In other words they almost released too late! Actually an ideal strike at 35 degrees would of placed a bomb on each side of the runway at the edge. They were darn lucky all things considered! If they had tried a run down the runway they might of missed by a long way with the technology available!

    Back to the perennial argument about if it was worth the effort and my argument is this:

    As the use of materials and fuel did not hinder the progress of the task force it was worth it! The task force crammed every item of use on-board when they arrived at Ascension, by the time it was entering the area of operations around the Islands using fuel and resources to support the Vulcans made little difference.

  40. Simon


    Sorry missed your post…

    “Even on day one every Harrier in the task force would of been needed to drop just 21 x 1000lb bombs realistically!”

    Do you means this and undertaken the CAP duties they were supposed to do?

  41. Fedaykin

    Thing is the couldn’t get the GR3 down at that time, they had to be adapted and arrived when they could.

    As for Tornado blissfully storming in against those kinds of threats at low level…well yes it did in GW1 and promptly got shot down by exactly the kind of stuff the Argentines had around the airfield. By the end of GW1 the RAF had smartly moved to medium altitude and rushed LGB into service. Another thing those Tornados were part of an allied Air campaign, even if they stopped operations (or worse all been shot down) it wouldn’t of changed the outcome. The Falklands on the other hand was another kettle of fish…28 Sea Harriers (by the end of the war) and 14 GR3…that was it! We couldn’t afford having them messing around at low level against modern radar guided AAA and surface to air missiles! Peppering the airfield with cluster munitions dropped by our valuable Harriers was too great a risk! If Vulcan was lost… embarrassing yes…but not a loss to the war effort! Vulcan could carry the bomb load and it was expendable, the Harriers were not! I have actually seen some Rheinmetall test articles for the 20mm MK-20, armour plate cut off a sunk German battle ship! It rounds cut through like a hot knife on butter and that was the smaller system the Argentines deployed!

  42. Red Trousers

    You also have to wonder why airfield denial was not given more importance pre-war. A few Rapid Cratering Kits (RCK) could have been important. We used to practice RCK usage for the Harz Mountains – it is heavy work, but I know that it is possible to hump an RCK in your bergen and still do your CFT in under 2 hours, and I’m sure the RM could do it in quicker time than a Cavalry troop.

    Hopefully, MPA has a few built-in culverts for explosive, so you don’t need to hump the RCK under fire at no notice.

  43. All Politicians are the Same

    If we had had something like the guided 5 inch Oto breda round we could simply have put a salvo on the taxi way and various runway sections every time they tried to use the airfied from a ship 60Nm away :).

    Pilots would soon get pissed off and aircraft are fragile things.

  44. Fedaykin

    Do you means this and undertaken the CAP duties they were supposed to do?”

    That is without CAP!

    To be fair day one The Harriers attacked the airfield and other targets with various munitions straight after the Vulcan but it was a quick in out job! The Sea Harriers lacked the appropriate bomb computers, sights or for that matter trained pilots to sustain a high intensity bomb campaign against the airfield and the task force couldn’t of sustained the Harriers in that kind of operation. Apparently they did try and drop a bomb or two at high altitude over the airfield off the centreline bomb station but it didn’t amount to much.

  45. Pete Arundel

    Have to say I agree with Fedaykin. I’ve said before that I feel that the RAF is now an unnecessary organisation but having the ability to drop 21,000 pounds of bombs on your adversary without him being able to do anything to stop you was a capability that was better used than not. Don’t know if harassing raids by SHar and GR.3 would have had the same effect.

    What nobody has asked, however, is whether an FAA that hadn’t been hamstrung by RAF bullshit would have done the job even better. Arc Royal and an air wing of Buccaneers and Phantoms . . . (Having pulled the pin and thrown the grenade I shall now retire! Well it’s no worse than the average game of fantasy fleets . . .)

  46. Fedaykin

    The answer is not as much as you think…

    Actually the old documentary “Sailor” the captain of the Ark Royal reveals the reality of the period when it came to crewing her! They were having to use RAF pilots to fly in the Buccs and Phantoms. As for the task force a number of the pilots flying Sea Harriers were from the RAF….so saying the FAA could of done better without the “RAF bullshit” smacks of inter-service cheer-leading then acknowledging the cold hard realities of those days.

    AS for the RAF being unnecessary … that is your opinion … I don’t agree but as you were throwing a grenade so be it.

    My riposte is this:

    How would of the task force done if the RAF hadn’t provided the air bridge to Ascension?

    Also how would you manage the significant loss of personnel if the RAF was abolished and subsumed into the RN and Army? My contacts on the inside of the RAF point out that many would walk in disgust if their service was cut. Also getting rid of the RAF would cost money – lots of money…personally I find the idea a wasteful concept just to satisfy certain VERY spiteful armchair generals and admirals…

  47. Observer

    To be honest I don’t see what the fuss is all about. Runway needs to be taken out temporarily? Done. Does it matter if it was done by Vulcan bombers, the god Vulcan himself setting up shop in the middle of the runway and selling hammers or the whole cast of Star Trek throwing a keg party and getting everyone there totally sussed? What matters is that the runway needed to be temporarily taken out of commission and with a decently minimal expenditure of resources, risk and effort. So sorry Simon, but I do think you’re nitpicking. All in all, a fair piece of work. Not jaw dropping spectacular, just solid workmanship. You want spectacle? Try Hollywood, not the Armed Forces. Spectacular in the army or navy tends to mean someone in serious shit somewhere.

  48. Pete Arundel

    Fedaykin, loss of a service doesn’t necessarily mean loss of a capability. The RNAS and RFC became the RAF. The flying units of the Army and the Navy became an airforce. I am in favour of capabilities returning to the users. This, however, ain’t the place to argue it and as it’s been argued many times before, it probably never will be the place again!

    Now, wipe the righteous froth from your mouth and consider the question; “Had the RAF not been able to successfully argue that they could ‘protect the fleet at sea’ and the FAA had been able to keep big decks, Phantoms and Buccs, would they have been able to do a better job than Black Buck?”

    It’s merely speculation.
    For fun . . . ?

  49. Simon

    Okay, I appreciate what you’re saying, and sort of agree. If I had a magic wand I would not risk turning back the clocks to do it my way. But I do still think the war would have been over in a few days if we had disabled the runway and we had moved Vince into the Falkland Sound.

  50. Observer

    @PE, I believe that with big decks and the level of capabilities that you implied they retain, they could have done a better WAR, Black Buck was too niche a job that the FAA might not have bettered it, but the overall condition of the war would have been much better.

    But at what cost?

    No point getting top of the line equipment, only to have to sell it off when you can’t afford to maintain it. A lot of European military equipment was up for grabs at firesale prices when the economic crisis hit because their funding got slashed. You could have 3 super-carriers with 240 aircraft and nuclear missiles, but for how long? How long can overspending be sustained before you end up with even less than you could have had with fiscal prudence?


    1) The runway WAS disabled
    2) It wasn’t used for anything much strategically so it would not have changed anything.
    3) Vince eating a ground launched exocert is classed as a bad idea.

  51. Fedaykin

    Thing is Pete, it is 2013 now the RFC and RNAS were merged into the RAF in 1918!

    Merging the RAF into the AAC and FAA it would involve massive upheaval and cost! Every person I have spoken to in the RAF especially in the lower ranks say pretty much the same thing…they joined the RAF if they are forced into a different service and have their history insulted in such a way they would leave the service…PERIOD!

    So I do regard childish comments about disbanding the RAF as an irritant! Calls for it are usually from types with a chip on their shoulder and a piteful streak when it comes to inter-service rivalry! I despise inter-service rivalry of that kind…it is a waste of time and resources!

  52. ArmChairCivvy

    Back to the SM222s being handled and armed in the Falklands… The statement did not include for which mission.

    The Harrier version was not like the later weapon for Tornados, but each type of bomb had its separate dispenser pod.

    Could the casual lobbing of one bomb on the way to CAP station been the more important pod, ie. Several bombs? Taking both pods would surely have negated the ability to carry enough for the CAP, too.

    this is pure speculation as the statement from the person who did the handling and arming is so short, but there must be sources that have been overlooked simply because the official ISD was later, in 1985.

  53. wf

    @Simon: Falkland Sound is very restricted. Since a carrier should try to maintain an consistent wind over deck in a consistent direction for flight operations, steaming in such a location might be inadvisable!

  54. Nick London

    As I understood it the Grey Funnel Line were due to lose most of their surface fleet following the John Nott defence review ,so the task force was a case of was Use It or Lose It. And it was effective, the ships stayed and Nott went; IFRR.

    So with Black Buck, the first and last opportunity for an operational attack using the Vulcan. Hardly surprising the opportunity was grasped. What ever the effect south of the equator, it had a considerable effect at home.

    When I saw the TV documentary on the Black Buck raids, I was amazed at how primitive some of the technology used in the raid was even for ’82. Look at @Fedaykin’s point about releasing the bombs one second later and none of the bombs would have hit the runway.

  55. Peter Arundel

    Fedaykin, since I’ve never served in the RAF, Navy or Army, I class myself as an interested outsider. My own thoughts on inter-service rivalry are vitriolic to say the least. the sheer childishness of some servicemen is, to an outsider, sickening. I don’t believe in the disbandment of the RAF. I believe in it’s withering away. The AAC have attack helicopters which, had they existed in 1918, would have become RAF assets. I believe that more capabilities should move to the FAA and AAC over time as new aircraft and capabilities are introduced and obsolete ones are retired. For example, why shouldn’t the Army fly Chinooks – or whatever replaces Chinooks? (any answers to this question that include the term ‘air-minded’ will be treated with the contempt they deserve . . .) In my mind it mainly boils down to the very simple question of What Is The RAF For?
    I have no beef with the RAF as an organisation as some have. I certainly have no beef with RAF personel.
    Anyway, As I said before this certainly isn’t the place to discuss this but if you feel the need to send me an e-mail (possibly with LOTS of capitalisations!) then feel free and I shall be happy to debate [].

  56. TrT

    I think the RAF is bigger than it needs to be, and does the wrong things, but its essential.

    I realise we have lost MRA, but who would handle MRA or AWACS?
    Who would control Air Superiority? The Navy? The Army? Some sort of split? Wouldnt that just move and extend the current fighting?

    If we were going to do any major reorganisation, I strongly believe we should make our own path.
    I’d split into two forces.
    A “Home islands” defence force, and an expeditionary force.

  57. x

    @ TrT

    No airpower is essential. We live in a purple world. Look at Afghanistan. Are you really telling me that it was essential for Tornado to be operated by a third service to stop infighting? Army and FAA helicopters operated in theatre without disrupting the karmic balance of theatre. Army helicopters moved soldiers about the place. FAA Junglies moved RM and soldiers and others about the place. The RAF moved soldiers about the place. How does removing one service then make things more complicated? If the Army operated land based aircraft and the RN operated ship based aircraft and aircraft that operated over the sea how does it make things more complicated?

    You have to remember that uniforms don’t matter here as long as matter enough to keep three services. Saying uniforms don’t matter as an argument for getting rid of a service though is bad jiu-jiu and being silly. You have to remember this site is about defence reform; as long as the reforms mean keeping three service, the Army wanting heavy armour, etc. etc.

  58. Tom

    Peter Arundel – Why can’t the RAF operate Attack Helicopters? The Dutch and Singapore Airforces do? Why do we need the AAC?

    I’m not saying the RAF is perfect, but the FAA and AAC aren’t either.

    TrT – That would seem to a less flexible and less efficient force structure that would end up duplicating capabilities.

  59. Challenger

    I haven’t fully read this thread yet so apologies if this has been said before, but it seems to me that if the RAF hadn’t of carried out Black Buck and been generally unhelpful then we would all be sitting at our computers 31 years later saying that it would have been worth a try and they were sitting on their arses doing sod all whilst the RN bravely and gallantly fought the war single-handed with it’s Sea Harriers blah blah blah…

    I think we can reach a consensus that whilst the usefulness of the raids as part of the wider victory can be debated, it can be said that it was a well implemented and impressive operation that was at least worth an attempt. Far from being a purely set piece stunt to get the RAF in on the act I think the collective contributions of both the RAF and the Army to what was a predominately RN affair shows how the problems/perils of inter-service rivalry, though very real, can be exaggerated and are often put aside in times of urgency.

  60. x

    @ Tom

    US Army operate more helicopters of all types than any other organisation.

    What do you think AH spend their days doing?

    There is a little bit more to this than who wipes the windshield and tops off the gas.

  61. mike


    “No airpower is essential. We live in a purple world. ”

    Its a good day :)

    Some good comments here on a fab post C: even Peter gives us a idea of what people out of the services may think… a lot of focus of the junior services’ contribution to the conflict is either black buck or the RAF pilots bolstering the then fledgeling FAA SHAR force… but I think the logistical effort to support the whole show deserves more than what it got… even if it lacks the daring do and such. Its that part wehich really shows one of the the RAF’s niche roles in this (and future long distance conflicts) as the RFA can only respond so fast.

    Peter Arundel

    Do try to remember that your assumptions are if the economy ever allowed for your assumptions, remember that before this we had a crushing recession, winters of discontent and political & social discontent… the 70′s was kinda a odd decade for the forces; RAF agendas, political interference, admiralty infighting or otherwise

  62. Pete Arundel

    @Tom – There’s no reason I can see why the RAF shouldn’t operate attack helicopters from a practical point of view. I think it’s right the Army should have them. They are used for direct air support of the Army on the ground. Once that idea is accepted then why not other flying assets which exist only to support the Army? Transport helicopters, tactical transport – extrapolate this line of reasoning and RLC operated C-17s are the result (the horror!) Why not? They operate RCLs (not that I’m comparing flying a C-17 to conning an RCL . . .) Remember I’m not advocating disbanding the RAF overnight just letting it wither as capabilities move elsewhere.

    @Mike – Yes, Mike, although I was only 11 in ’82 I know enough to know roughly what state the economy was in back then and before. Still, nothing wrong with a bit of speculation.
    Truth be told, I think that the Illustrious and her sisters have turned out to have been exactly the right sort of ship the UK needed. Given the choice I’d ahve replaced them with three new, STOVL carriers with a new or evolved Harrier to fly off them. Lot’s of people out there flying Harriers off little carriers who are now either stuck with rapidly aging Harriers or wedded to the hugely expensive F-35. I think there might have been a nice, profitable niche there for Bae to exploit.

  63. All Politicians are the Same


    Given the choice I’d ahve replaced them with three new, STOVL carriers with a new or evolved Harrier to fly off them. Lot’s of people out there flying Harriers off little carriers who are now either stuck with rapidly aging Harriers or wedded to the hugely expensive F-35. I think there might have been a nice, profitable niche there for Bae to exploit.

    But we are getting 2 new STOVL carriers :) with a far more advanced jet to fly off them. I would expect AV8B surplus sales to allow some nations to keep harrier derivatives flying for some time but TBH they will be a 3rd gen jet in a 4th and 5th gen world. fantastic for bombing civvies and technicals not much use for anything else.

  64. Fedaykin

    Letting the RAF whither and die just wouldn’t work…and again sounds more like an exercise in spite then something practical!

    Whilst this period of transfer happens the RAF would still have to provide the capabilities it has and recruit…how does that work?! Who is going to join a service that is on its way out? How do you retain the skilled personnel already in who have just been told their service is being canned?! Some would transfer but many others would just walk! Transferring all the personnel and logistics trails to the other two services would have a significant cost wrapped up in it. The paperwork would be vast and it is highly unlikely the current serving RAF personnels from the lowest rank to the highest are going to be helpful in the process of slow murder of their service!

    It is a waste of time and material as a concept and however reasonable it is made to sound is clearly to me just an exercise in inter-service spite! Anyhow the government has said it is not going to happen and the opposition do not support the concept…it is a dead duck politically.

    Right now I am off to wipe the froth from my mouth and listen to the Battle of Britain March ;-)

  65. Fedaykin

    To be honest I found the documentary disappointing as it missed out all sorts of juicy stuff about the mission.

  66. Gloomy Northern Boy

    The current institutional arrangements with respect to the armed forces may well leave something to be desired in strictly rational terms…but they ain’t bust so don’t need fixing…not unlike the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (and the BOT’s and this and that here and there)…the rather old, odd and lovable set-up we are thinking about defending in fact.

    I’m off for a medley of the Hearts of Oak, British Grenadiers, and the Dambusters theme myself…the only people who benefit from inter-service rivalry are politicians and others who see it as a golden opportunity to say “if you boys don’t stop squabbling, nobody can have any toys…I’m going to give all the Christmas money to those nice girls N(ora)HS and D(ori)SS…and the poor boys and girls overseas that D(ave)fID looks after!)

  67. WiseApe

    @Fedyakin – Re: juicy details – well if you bundle moustachioed men into a confined space for a prolonged period of time…

    @Fedyakin – “Whilst this period of transfer happens the RAF would still have to provide the capabilities it has and recruit…how does that work?!” – I don’t advocate scrapping the RAF, never have, but I have toyed with the idea on this site of merging the three forces into one, so organisation disappears but function doesn’t. Apparently this is one of my more bonkers ideas.

    Mind you, I haven’t revealed all of my ideas….

    If anyone has an hour and six minutes of their life to spare (well it is Sunday) you may find this pro airpower animated film (by Walt Disney, no less) interesting. Or you could just jump to about 54 minutes in and watch the superbombers blasting the fighters out of the skies. Personally, I’d have gone with the 100 aircraft carrier fleet mentioned a little earlier in the film.

  68. Fedaykin

    Off the top of my head two countries of note have merged their armed forces like that Belgium and Canada. It didn’t work well for either countries and Canada is even starting to slowly reverse the decision albeit they would come up against the same problem now de-merging that would be faced merging the UK armed forces…it costs money to do it.

    I have a lot of time for sensible purple operations but I see little real point in merging the armed forces. I do see some interesting synergies for example the F-35B which should be pooled between the RAF and FAA. I was going to write about the F-35B purchase in one of the posts set up about that but I see possibilities for significant cost savings in comparison to prior fast jet purchases.

    In the past a fast jet was purchased up front in large batches to ensure availability and so the aircraft meets its out of service date. One of the common complaints the public and ignorant sections of the press made about Typhoon is the large numbers purchased that are then placed into storage. What they don’t understand is to maintain availability and meet the out of service date aircraft are rotated between squadron, maintenance and storage. Now that Typhoon has adopted a monitoring based as needed maintenance schedule aircraft spend less time in maintenance, that should be adopted for F-35B from the get go! Next when it comes to aircraft in storage, this was done to help meet out of service date and balance airframe life. This does bring up issues, firstly the public complaints of aircraft doing nothing in storage and updating aircraft purchased years before. I propose with F-35B we don’t buy enough to balance airframe life through to out of service date by storing them. We buy enough to operate them in RAF/FAA service for a number of years with a few attrition replacements then when they run out of hours retire them in favour of new builds direct of the Lockheed Martin line. This has a number of advantages:

    1) We are not buying as many aircraft up front at higher prices.
    2) We buy them later at lower prices.
    3) The retiring F-35 are parted out to provide spares to the rest of the fleet.
    4) We are no longer having to update older block airframes. We buy them to the latest standard off the line.
    If the F-35 is intended to be in production for decades we no longer have to buy them all upfront! The fleet purchased should be rotated between the RAF and FAA to balance their shore and carrier life. Those operating off land should try and avoid STOVL as much as possible as it reduces life of the aircraft. Because the type has vastly reduced workload RAF pilots can keep STOVL currency mainly in the simulator avoiding stressing the airframes and a small number of F-35B should rotate every year onto the carrier or land based carrier training that puts the greatest stress on the airframe and engine.

  69. Brian Black

    It has often been implied that the RAF were simply party crashing the Army-Navy soirée, but the whole campaign was a maximum effort affair. Black Buck is representative of the all-out effort required from across all of the services to take back the islands.
    That the RAF failed to decisively deliver a knock-out blow in a single sortie is neither here or there to whether the missions were worthwhile. The planners and the Air Force used what was available to them at the time – which was far from ideal for the task in hand; the inference from criticism of the partial damage to the airfield is that if total destruction was not possible, then the airfield should have been left unmolested.
    If no terminal damage was caused, the Vulcans, Harriers and gunfire still restricted the enemy’s use of a vital asset during a very close run campaign.

  70. Corroncho

    Con el Capitán Anselmi salimos en el jeep; en la plataforma ya encontramos muchas esquirlas y colas de granadas tipo Beluga. Por la pista fuimos hacia los aviones, y con sorpresa descubrimos que sólo una bomba habla hecho impacto en el centro de la pista, costado sur; el resto se encontraba bien, sucia pero bien.

    Unfortunately I have to rely on Google translate

    Not any more.

    We went out with Captain Anselmi in the jeep, and found the platform covered with shrapnel and the tails of beluga type grenades. We went down the runway in the direction of the aircraft, and to our surprise we discovered that a single bomb had impacted in the centre of the runway, on the southern side; the rest was ok, albeit dirty.

    Let me know if you want anything else translated.

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