By the beginning of April 1982, the invasion was imminent and expected. Vastly outnumbered, the Royal Marines and Falkland Island Defence Force deployed two personnel to the beach at York Bay with barbed wire and a GPMG, the runway at Stanley Airport was blocked with vehicles and the directional beacon switched off, and a section deployed to the Airport.
The Argentine invasion plan emphasised overwhelming force in order to convince Naval Party 8901 to surrender without fighting. Landing Force (Task Unit 40.1) comprised 904 Marines and soldiers in a combined arms unit with engineers, artillery, air-defence units and amphibious armoured vehicles. Although it was a combined force, the majority were Marines, with only 39 from Ejercitos 25h Infantry Regiment.
The landing force was in possession of ample intelligence on Stanley Airport and the surrounding areas.
At 5.30am on the 2nd April, Admiral Busser sent a message to the Landing Force, Operation VirgEn del Rosario was about to move beyond the point of no return;
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 Santa Fe, the main force came ashore at Yorke Bay, pushing through the sand dunes and on to the airport.
The first wave consisted on four LVTP-7’s, the second, fifteen Amtrac’s and the final wave, five LARC’s and a recovery LVTP-7.
The airport was quickly occupied and the task of clearing the runway obstacles began.
After a brief firefight, Governor Rex Hunt ordered the Royal Marines to surrender. One Argentine Marine later died from his wounds and two others were seriously injured.
Images of the prone Royal Marines were iconic but what was not widely known at the time was that the soldiers that ordered the Royal Marines to do so were admonished by an Argentine officer who then requested the Royal Marines stand up and be proud of themselves.
The first Argentine aircraft to land was a Sea King, 2H-231, landing at 07:34.
Later that morning, ARIES 82 (FAA air bridge) commenced, the first aircraft into Stanley Airport were a C-130(H) (TC-68) landing at 08:45 followed by two F-28’s from Comodoro Rivadavia, carrying personnel of the 25th Infantry Regiment and a number of FAA specialist personnel.
The ‘La Estación Aeronaval’ was established with the Argentine flag raised, preparations were quickly made to change the signage.
As can be seen from the images above, the airport was also called Base Aérea Militar (BAM) Malvinas.
After the surrender of the Royal Marines, they were flown to Montevideo by an Argentine Air Force C130 that had landed at the airport.
The occupying force then quickly set about reinforcing the Islands from both land and sea, pretty much, with everything they had. Fuerza Aerea Argentina (FAA) and Aerolineas Argentinas Fokker F28 Fellowship, Boeing 737, Lockheed Electra and BAC 1-11 aircraft were also used to fly in weapons, vehicles, supplies and personnel.
FAA C130 Hercules were used for bulky and palletised stores and the Royal Marines 4 tonner was used for loading and unloading.
The control tower was a hive of activity (note the intact glass)
Aermacchi MB339 and Beechcraft T-34C Mentor trainers and light attack aircraft, in addition to the ubiquitous IA 58 Pucara were all based at Stanley. Chinook’s, Puma’s, A109’s, Skyvans and S-2E Trackers also used ‘La Estación Aeronaval’ during April.
The first to arrive were four Pucaras from Grupo 3, on the 2nd of April. The S-2E trackers arrived on the 3rd but had left within ten days.
The five S-2 Trackers conducted 528 flying hours over 112 sorties from Stanley. Two Skyvan’s (PA-50 and PA-54) and a Puma (PA-13) were used for search and rescue and general transportation tasks.
The FIGAS Islander was also pressed into service, flown by LADE pilots in multiple sorties totalling 30 hours.
Perhaps the most important early arrival was the FAA’s Westinghouse AN/TPS-43F 3D radar, on the 2nd of April. Although originally intended to enhance local air traffic control it would go on to be a vital component of the Argentine defence of the islands, and one that despite the UK’s best efforts, remain operational until surrender.
It was first sited near the airport but then moved to Port Stanley on the 13th of April and disguised amongst a number of civilian houses, civilian houses the Argentine forces did, in fact, pay rent for. A dummy was left in its place. The FAA used the modern Westinghouse AN/TYP-43F and supporting Ejercito Cardion AN/TPS-44 radar with a great deal of skill, using its capabilities to extrapolate the location of the aircraft carriers by plotting Harrier movements for example. The Cardion AN/TPS-44 was initially deployed to Sapper Hill but was also moved into Port Stanley.
Providing local air defence for the airport and surrounding areas were a plethora of systems; Roland, Tigercat and a number of different types of radar guided (Skyguard and Super Fledermaus) and manually aimed medium calibre automatic weapons. The air defence system was formidable and would also be used to provide advanced warning of ships approaching to attack the area using their guns, specifically, the Cardion radar.
Later in the conflict, they would also be used to support the ground launched Exocet attacks and counter NGS using the Argentine 155mm artillery.
On the 3rd of April 1982, the UN passed Resolution 502, demanding the withdrawal of Argentine forces, a cessation of hostilities and a political solution. This came as a surprise to the Argentine leadership, they genuinely thought the UN would support their intervention.
By then, the ‘British Military Machine’ was starting to move…
By the 7th of April there was a realisation in the minds of the Argentine leadership that the world, and more importantly, the UK, was not going to accept the status quo.
This precipitated a crash programme of reinforcement and because of the Maritime Exclusion Zone declared by the UK on the 12th of April and the fear of British submarines meant the bulk of this additional equipment and other stores would have to travel through ‘BAM Malvinas’.
Equipment was taken off ships and broken down for transport via the hard pressed C-130 force.
By the 10th, the operational tempo of this airlift operation had increased markedly, as had the type of equipment by now streaming into Stanley, radar equipment, anti-aircraft guns, artillery and vehicles, for example.
The image below shows an Argentine reconnaissance photograph of the airport on the 18th of April 1982.
By the time of the start of combat operations at the beginning of May, the combined Argentine force included 46 aircraft, these would be joined by an additional 12 Pucara and 2 MB339 in May.
They operated from the three main locations of Pebble Island, Stanley and Goose Green, the latter two protected by a formidable integrated air defence system.
Of the 60 aircraft thus deployed, only three would escape destruction or capture.
If April was a busy but peaceful month, May was to be very different.