Throughout April, the Argentine forces were busy consolidating their positions on the Falkland Islands, but they were not the only ones being busy. Intense diplomatic efforts were trying to find a solution but by the 5th of April, the task force was heading south.
Gradually, countries chose sides and Argentina found itself without many.
The clock was ticking, and everyone knew it.
On the 9th, US Intelligence reported that Argentina was lengthening the runway at Stanley in order to accommodate C-130′, A-4 Skyhawks, Mirage/Dagger and Etendard combat aircraft. The 200 mile Martine Exclusion Zone came into effect on the 12th
On the 22nd 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Stanley Airport and this prompted more serious consideration of earlier discussions about the use of the soon to be withdrawn Vulcans.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 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.
Whatever the results of the debate, the Argentine forces at Stanley Airport were about to get a wake-up call that looked something like this;
I am not going to dwell on the superb airmanship and improvisation that preceded Black Buck 1 because they are amply covered by many excellent authors such as Roland White with Vulcan 607, Wikipedia is also very good and even a casual online search presents many other sources of information.
At 4 am Vulcan XM607 delivered its bomb load of twenty-one, one thousand pound bombs, at an angle of 35 degrees across the runway at Stanley Airport.
It was a bravura feat of arms that took the world, Argentina, and especially, those at Stanley Airport, completely by surprise
A follow up by nine Royal Navy Sea Harriers of 800 Naval Air Squadron with cluster and one thousand pound bombs and naval gunfire from HMS Alacrity, Glamorgan and Arrow caused further damage. The attacks caused damage to the runway, control tower, fuel supplies and the ‘Quonset’ storage building.
The FIGAS Islander was damaged by one of the Sea Harriers cluster bombs and subsequent attacks. These attacks also destroyed the three civilian registered Cessna light aircraft operated from Stanley Airport.
A Mirage, Dagger and Canberra was shot down and a similar Sea Harrier/NGS attack was carried out at goose Green, resulting is a destroyed Pucara. During this engagement, a Grupo 8 Mirage was damaged and attempted an emergency landing at Stanley Airport, it was shot down by Argentine ground forces.
The aftermath of Black Buck I also caused the hasty departure from Stanley harbour of two Argentine merchant vessels without having fully unloaded their cargo.
The 20,000 tonne Formosa was later attacked by the Argentine Air Force and sailed all the way back to Argentina with an unexploded bomb in her hull, alongside nearly 4,000 railway sleepers and 200 rails that were to be used for field defences in the hills surrounding Stanley.
The other, the 10,000 tonne Carcaraña, departed Stanley with 50 tonnes of aviation fuel, all B Company GADA 10’s ammunition and vehicles, a multi launcher rocket system and various other stores
The FIGAS Islander (VP-FAY) was destroyed, its tail severed, during the attacks on the 2nd
Although not at the airport, the FIGAS Beaver floatplane was also destroyed during later attacks, the image below is post surrender.
The airport control tower was relieved of its glass but, at least, the defending forces supply of girly magazines survived!
From May 2nd, all resupply flights to Stanley Airport were conducted at a low level and in radio silence and visual blackout.
The inevitable cartoon appeared…
Videos, including footage from an Argentine TV camera crew…
Although not related to the airport, the next day saw the Royal Navy sink the General Belgrano with a loss of 368 lives.
On the 3rd a Skyvan was destroyed at the airport by naval gunfire and later that night (early hours of the 4th), Black Buck 2 delivered another load of 21 thousand pounders, the bombs landing to the east of the runway. A Sea Harrier was lost to enemy ground based cannon gunfire near Goose Green.
Two Sea Harriers were lost in what is assumed to be a mid-air collision in thick fog on the 6th and Argentine forces struck HMS Sheffield. On May 7th, the Total Exclusion Zone was announced, any Argentine warship or military aircraft found more than 12 nautical miles from the coast will be liable to attack. During the first couple of weeks of May, despite the intense start to the conflict, diplomatic efforts to bring the conflict to an end would continue.
Positions around the airport were attacked with naval gunfire on the 9th and 10th, and the first blockade running transport mission into Stanley took place on the 15th
A FIGAS Beaver was damaged on the 10th
Sea Harriers attacked the airport on the 15th, 16th, 17th, without significant effect and also on the 17th, a Fokker F-28 flight brought in equipment and evacuated wounded personnel.
Back Buck 3, against the runway at Stanley, was aborted due to severe weather.
On the 18th, the Harrier GR.3’s joined the task force from the Atlantic Conveyor.
OPERATION SUTTON commended on the 21st, the landings as San Carlos. Launching from Stanley Airport, the first attack on the ships in San Carlos water was from an MB339 (4-A-115), piloted by Lt Guillermo Crippa. For this extremely heroic lone attack, he was awarded Argentina’s highest award for valour.
A damaged Skyhawk attempted an emergency landing at Stanley Airport but a damaged left undercarriage forced him to eject safely nearby. The pilot was rescued by an Army UH-1 (AE-424).
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.
24th, 4 Harrier GR.3’s and two Sea Harriers launch another attack against Stanley Airport. The Sea Harriers perform defence suppression by tossing 1,000-pound bombs 45 seconds before the GR.3’s arrive to target the runway with their 1,000-pound retarded bombs. One Pucara and one helicopter damaged during the attack with some minor damage to the runway. Future attacks against the runway will use high angle attacks in order to achieve desired penetration.
From Wing Commander Peter Squire’s diary;
One the same day, laser-guided Paveway II bombs are air dropped to the fleet by RAF C-130 Hercules aircraft and Flt Lt Glover is transported to Argentina aboard a C-130, from Stanley Airport.
On the 25th, another set of sorties was launched against Stanley Airport, two Sea Harriers and four GR.3’s. This time, the bombs were dropped from 20,000 feet, none of them hit the runway, some falling into Yorke Bay. The last sortie was forced to release at medium altitude, again, none hit the runway. Roland and Tiger Cat missiles were launched against the attacking aircraft.
It was thought at this time that an arrestor gear system had been deployed to Stanley Airport to support the Super Etendard or Sky Hawk.
The day after, a Fokker F-28 flight to Stanley airport was completed and another sortie against Stanley Airport was attempted.
Three sorties against British forces at Goose Green were launched from Stanley airport throughout the 28th using Pucara and MB339, 3 Pucara and MB339 were lost. The day after, two flights of Fokker F-28’s and one Electra flew into and out of the airport.
On the 31st of May, following a visual sighting by a Sea Harrier of a ‘swept wing aircraft, possibly Etendards’, two GR.3’s and Sea Harriers are launched. No such aircraft were found and it is though likely they were the Aermacchi. A single Fokker F-28 flew into and out of Stanley Airport.
Black Buck 5 was executed against radar installations Port Stanley, to little effect.
On the 1st of June, a C-130 (TC-63, seen in images above, the one with the Union flag) was shot down. The same day also saw a Sea Harrier from 801 NAS shot down with a Roland missile near Port Stanley. A helicopter and Pucara were launched from Stanley Airport to locate the pilot that had ejected but were unsuccessful. He was rescued later by a Sea King of 820 NAS.
The 2nd saw an F-28 flight into and out of Stanley Airport and the day after, Black Buck 6, also against mobile radar. This time, it was more successful and managed to damage the Skyguard radar and kill three personnel. The day after, two MB339’s were flown back to Argentina from Stanley Airport. Between the 8th and 12th, several F-28 flights were completed. An Argentine C-130 also flew in a number of trailer mounted Exocet missiles on the 11th and following some excellent improvisation were used against HMS Glamorgan on the 12th
Black Buck 7 was mounted against stores and aircraft at the eastern end Stanley Airport.
The final supply flight by C-130, carrying 155mm ammunition, was flown into and out of Stanley Airport, the night before the Argentine forces surrender on the 14th.
All three privately owned Cessna light aircraft at Stanley Airport were destroyed during the attacks.
At the cessation of operations, Stanley Airport had suffered three Vulcan strikes, nine multi-aircraft attacks by Sea Harrier/GR.3 and many attacks using naval gunfire. The total munitions expended included 50 one thousand pound bombs, 135 five hundred pound bombs, many cluster bombs and over 1,000 4.5″ shells from Royal Navy vessels the garrison (25th Infantry Regiment and School of Military Aviation Security Company) suffered only three casualties.
The airport itself remained operational throughout the conflict, the F-28 force alone managing to transfer over 500 tonnes of supplies and hundreds of personnel. Between May 1st and June 14th, the C-130(H)’s of the FAA completed 31 flights into Stanley Airport, carrying 514 passengers and 434 tonnes of supplies in addition to evacuating 264 wounded personnel.
Both Hercules and F-28 flights would be carried out at night and time spent on the ground was minimised.