Although I have written about aviation on the Falkland Islands prior to the 1982 invasion elsewhere, it is worth reproducing some of it here to set the scene for elements of the analysis later.
Before the 1982 conflict, aviation on the Falkland Islands was increasingly important to the health, wealth and well-being of the islanders.
During WWII, a number of seaplanes visited the islands, this Sunderland for example
The image below shows a Falkland Islands and Dependencies Aerial Survey Expedition (FIDASE) CANSO flying boat, sometime between 1955 and 1957, on its way to Deception Island. The two PBY-5A CANSO aircraft were provided the Hunting Aerospace Surveys Ltd.
In 1944, the new Governor of the Falkland Islands, Miles Clifford, proposed that the Australian Flying Doctor Service would be an ideal model for a new aviation service on the islands, reportedly, after reading about it in a Readers Digest on his journey south. A pair of ex-RAF Taylorcraft Austers was located, purchased for £700 and shipped to the islands on the RRS John Biscoe in 1948. G-AJCH and G-AJCI became VP-FAA and VP-FAB.
After reassembly at Stanley Racecourse, they were flying by March 1949. Their first operational use was in transporting a child named Sandra Short with peritonitis from North Arm in East Falkland. The mission was a success, the young patient saved, on Christmas Day. Suitable landing strips on the Falkland Islands were uncommon and after a rough landing at San Carlos, one of the Auster’s was damaged. After repair, it was converted to a float plane.
After the Auster’s the Falkland Island Government Aviation Service (FIGAS) made use of a second hand Canadian Noorduyn Norseman 5 floatplane.
At this point, floatplanes were still the preferred option.
When this became unserviceable due to corrosion it was replaced with a DHC-2 Beaver, operated from 1955 to 1956. After an accident, it was replaced with another Beaver that flew until retirement in 1967.
Because most of the settlements were near the sea, the floatplane enabled air transportation without creating runways but in many instances, sea conditions made landing impossible. The aircraft were hangared near a lanch ramp, near Port Stanley. The hangar would be used to store Argentine war dead in 1982.
The first notable Argentine aviation related incident came in 1964 when Miguel Fitzgerald flew a Cessna 185 to the Falkland Islands and landed on Stanley Racecourse.
Recounting his flight, Miguel said;
The aircraft is currently in a museum.
Not amused, the Colonial Secretary, Mr. WH Thompson, ordered the racecourse be furnished with obstructions for when not in use. Unfortunately, they were removed some time later.
Two years later, the race course was to see another unwanted aircraft visitor.
A short time after the World Cup quarter-final defeat of Argentina by the England team, on September 28th, 1966, a group of Argentine radicals (Condor Group) hijacked an Aerolíneas DC4 and forced the pilot to fly to the Falkland Islands. The group included eighteen members of the metal workers union and a journalist named Dardo Cabo.
There is some dispute about whether they knew Stanley had no runway or not, but when it arrived the pilot executed a very skilled landing on the short race course. Three Falkland Islanders went to assist but were taken hostage, although in some accounts, the hostages were Royal Marines. Soon after, the aircraft was surrounded by a fully armed contingent from the Falkland Islands Defence Force and Royal Marines. Later that day, the hostages were exchanged for the Royal Marines Captain, Ian Martin, and local Police Sergeant, Terry Peck.
Using a familiar tactic, the islands defenders took to ostentatiously demonstrating the value of copious amounts of warm food and tea whilst the erstwhile invaders shivered under the wing as the temperature plummeted. After thirty-six hours, common sense and a helpful intervention from a local Catholic priest named Father Rodolfo Roel ended the stand-off.
The aircraft did not have enough fuel for the return leg and was bogged in but this was soon rectified and the aircraft sent on its way, the hijackers repatriated on board the ship Bahía Buen Suceso. Carbo was arrested when back in Argentina and served three years in prison, eventually executed by the Junta in 1972. The others served shorter sentences.
The incident resulted in an increase in the size of the Royal Marines contingent on the island, Naval Party 8901.
The final incursion occurred in 1968, Senor Fitzgerald again. This time, he flew a twin-engine Grand Commander, owned by the Daily Chronicle. Because the race course had been blocked he was forced to land on Eliza Cove Road, damaging the aircraft in the process.
The aircraft and its passengers (after spending 48 hours in a cell) we repatriated to Argentina by HMS Endurance.
Both countries agreed that part of a normalisation process would require improved transportation links.
Following a few exploratory flights by the FAA, Líneas Aéreas del Estado (LADE), the Argentine military airline, operated a Grumman Albatross amphibian aircraft service to the Falklands using Albatross aircraft from February 15th, 1971, the first flight being a medical evacuation for a critically ill sailor. The first passenger flight was on July 3rd and on the 15th the ‘Communications Agreement’ was signed to regularise traffic on a two weekly basis.
The next stage was the construction on a runway.
After the signing of a communications agreement, the UK and Argentina agreed to build a temporary runway to the South of Stanley, at Hookers Point. The temporary runway at Hookers Point was constructed by Grupo I de Construcciones de la Fuerza Aérea (FAA) using aluminium matting from the Harvey Aluminium Co in the USA, it was 730m long by 20m wide, extended to 800m at a later point. A couple of small outbuildings supported basic maintenance and storage. The agreement called for the UK to fund the construction materials (including $1m for the matting) and Argentina to provide labour and plant.
Stanley Airport’s (Hookers Point) first landing took place on the 16th of November 1972, a Fokker F-27.
On the first anniversary of the runway at Hookers Point being operational, a delegation from Argentina landed.
As can be seen in the image above, the Sunday best uniforms were out and in a US Marine Corps Staff Paper called Offensive Air Operations of the Falklands War, Major Walter F. DeHoust recalls;
In what will become significant later, the new runway was extended to 800m using additional AM-2 aluminium matting, works completing in October 1976. The occasional C130, Learjet and FMA IA50 Guarani flights were made and the service continued for a several uneventful years until transferred to Stanley Airport.
Hookers Point remained operational after Stanley Airport was built for temporary and emergency use until in May 1978 when a storm scattered many of the aluminium matting runway panels.
A solution to the problem was already well underway, a permanent runway East of Stanley at Cape Pembroke. The £4.2 million build contract was awarded to Johnson Construction in 1973 with first works on drainage commencing in 1974. The runway was to be 1,200m long, 45m wide and constructed to a standard that would allow Fokker F-27 Friendship and Hawker Siddeley HS 748 to land. It had a minimum Load Classification Number (LCN) of 16 although in places it was as high as 30, 300mm of compacted crushed stone on white sand with a minimum of 32mm of asphalt. A single airport terminal building and parking apron were also built, in addition to a number of smaller storage buildings.
The islanders knew full that by failing to build longer and stronger, they would be dependent upon Argentina, a position no better than the runway at Hookers Point. An extension was proposed but denied for political reasons, despite it being of modest cost.
Discussions between the Falkland Islands Legislative Council and oil exploration companies commenced in Stanley followed by the Daily Chronicle in Argentina launching an appeal fund for an invasion of the islands! The diplomatic and public mood towards the UK and Falkland Islands darkened, with more or less open threats of invasion. On the 5th of February 1976, the Argentine frigate Almirante Storni fired shots across the bow of the RRS Shackleton 78 miles South of Stanley.
A 1976 review by the Falkland Islands Government Aviation Service (FIGAS) concluded that given the by now widespread availability of grass airstrips at most of the settlements, the floatplanes should be withdrawn and replaced with larger, land only aircraft. The aircraft selected was a Britten-Norman BN-2A-27 Islander. Conventional landing aircraft were also much cheaper to maintain than floatplanes.
On the 17th May 1978, the first Fokker F-28 Fellowship landing at Stanley. Flights took place before the airport was officially opened on May 1, 1979, by Sir Vivian Fuchs, the first ‘official’ landing was by a local named Jim Kerr in a Cessna 172. The first jet aircraft to operate from the Falkland Islands was a LADE Fokker F28 Fellowship.
The occasional Guarani also visited.
The first Islander was brought into service by FIGAS in 1979, VP-FAY.
In the same year, an employee of the Scottish operator Loganair surveyed the grass airstrips of the Falkland Islands. He found 41 grass or hard sand landing sites, all of good to excellent quality, with suitable drainage for extended operation times. By the end of the year, FIGAS had carried just under four thousand passengers.
There were several reports that Argentine military pilots flew both as passengers and pilots on the regular LADE flights but of course, these were ignored.
15 years of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office trying their hardest to appease Argentina at the expense of the Islanders came to a head in December 1980, a report in the Times noting;
June 1981 saw an overflight of South Georgia by an FAA C-130 Hercules, and continued prevarication and mixed messages from the British Government, for example, the announcement of the withdrawal of HMS Endurance, HMY Britannia got a refit, though.
And despite the political environment becoming increasingly toxic and the likelihood of a military action equally obvious, flights continued, like this one in 1981.
Up until the occupation, LADE carried 465,763 passengers and 21,597 pounds of cargo between the Falkland Islands and the mainland, amassing 3,553 hours.
On March 11th, 1982 an Argentine Air Force (FAA) C130H made an ‘emergency landing’ at Stanley Airport but were out within the hour, and another landing, by an FAA Learjet followed on the 19th
Both raised eyebrows but also ignored, there were clearly reconnaissance and proving flights.
The last three scheduled LADE flights in Stanley Airport took place on 16th March, 23rd March and 30th March 1982.
On the evening of the 1st of April, 1982, one of the Islander’s was flown to the racecourse in readiness for a first light recce flight but events of the early hours of the 2nd made this moot, it was flown back to Stanley Airport.
By the beginning of the conflict, the Falkland Islands had many grass airstrips and a permanent runway with associated facilities.
Importantly, there was also a large stock of aluminium airstrip matting on the island and the local forces knew full well both the importance of the runway and that Argentine forces were both intimately familiar with and had augmented this with aircraft specific reconnaissance flights.