Argentine air forces in the Falklands War

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This article describes the composition and actions of the Argentine air forces in the Falklands War (Spanish: Guerra de las Malvinas). For an overview of the air forces of the United Kingdom, see British air services in the Falklands War.

Background[edit]

Despite initiating the war, Argentina had not prepared a plan for the subsequent defence of the islands. The military dictatorship that governed the country at the time regarded the seizure of the Falklands as a political act to obtain a diplomatic bargaining position, and not as an act of war. Consequently they were taken by surprise when the British responded with a large-scale mobilization, and a task force to retake the islands.[1]

The Argentine Air Force (Fuerza Aérea Argentina; FAA) had never considered the possibility of waging a long-range naval air campaign against a major NATO power. It was not trained or equipped for such a mission. The FAA had only two tanker aircraft to serve the whole air force and navy, and its fighter-bomber Mirage IIIs and IAI Daggers were not equipped for aerial refuelling. The FAA's training, tactics and equipment were focused on a possible war against Chile, resulting from disputes such as the Beagle conflict.[1][2]

The option to attack Chile[3] was a cause of great concern to the Argentina military during the war. The Chilean armed forces had deployed a significant force to Chile's common border with Argentina, and the FAA was forced to reinstate their retired F-86 Sabres to bolster Argentina's air defences.[4] In Argentina's favour, Peru immediately offered its support to the Argentine cause, with the Peruvian Air Force even offering to fly combat missions. This was politely declined by the Argentine government. As the war progressed, Peru and Venezuela sent critical aircraft spare parts to Argentina, urgently needed by the FAA and the Brazilian Air Force leased two EMB111 Bandeirantes maritime patrol aircraft to the Argentine Navy.[5] Finally on June 4, ten Peruvian Mirage 5 with AS-30 missiles arrived to Tandil but the war ended before they could be used.[6] Israel Aircraft Industries technicians that were in the country under the 1979 IAI Daggers contract continued their work during the conflict.[7]

By the best estimates, Argentina totaled about 240 planes when the war broke out. About half of those were posted in the interior and along the Chilean border.[8] The long distances from their bases prevented them from using their top speed or they risked running out of fuel.[9][n 1] Although the Argentines had more aeroplanes than the British Task force, a good number of them were Pucara turboprops.[10][n 2] Also, the A-4 Skyhawk force were dependent on the two available KC-130 tankers, limiting the amount of aeroplanes that could attack simultaneously.[11]

Argentina's fleet of A-4 Skyhawk attack jets was in very poor condition. The arms embargo placed by the United States in 1976, due to the "Dirty War", had made most airframes unusable. The involvement of Israel in helping to return the A-4 to full operational status has been alleged, but has never been confirmed.[12]

The small air arm of the Argentine Navy (Armada Republica Argentina; ARA) was in the middle of the transition from the A-4Q Skyhawk to the new Super Etendard. Only five of the Etendard's anti-ship Exocet missiles had been delivered at the time of the conflict, at which point an arms embargo prevented the delivery of further shipments. Additionally, the required programming for the missiles to interact with the Etendard's computers had not been completed by French engineers when the conflict broke out. France, being an ally of the United Kingdom, recalled all technicians, which left Argentine scientists and electronic engineers to figure out a way to make the missiles take input from the plane's computers. Navy pilots, particularly those of the 3rd Naval Fighters Squadron flying A-4Qs were the only ones trained in bombing warships. Air Force pilots trained during April against the two Argentine Type 42 destroyers, similar to those of the British Fleet, and according to the Naval officers all the sorties were shot down, causing great concern to the High Command until the successful May 1 strikes which proved that aircraft could survive.[12][13]

Finally, Argentine military aviation had never been involved in an international conflict, indeed the last time the Argentine military had been involved in an international conflict was the War of the Triple Alliance more than a century before.

In spite of these disadvantages, Argentine air units bore the brunt of the battle during the six-week war, and inflicted serious damage and losses to the naval forces of the United Kingdom. Low-flying jets attacking British ships provided some of the most sobering and dramatic images of the war. By the end of the conflict, the British forces had come to admire the FAA's spirited conduct in the face of an effective air defence network.[14] [n 3] Admiral Sandy Woodward, the British Task Force commander said: "[t]he Argentine Air Force fought extremely well and we felt a great admiration for what they did."[15]

The British Operational Research Branch Report declassified and released to the public in February 2013 states:

Organisation[edit]

The Air units involved in the Falklands War were under the following chain of command:

  • Military Junta - Brigadier General (Lieutenant General) Basilio Lami Dozo
    • Air Defence Command (Spanish: Comando Aéreo de Defensa) - Brigadier Jorge Hughes. Was in charge of the radar network, Mirage IIIEA interceptors and anti-aircraft defences on the mainland.
    • Strategic Air Command (Spanish: Comando Aéreo Estratégico) - Brigadier Helmuth Weber. Coordinated air assets through all the country. The CAE also had the main role of long range maritime surveillance with Boeing 707s and C-130 Hercules.
      • Southern Air Force (Spanish: Fuerza Aérea Sur) - Brigadier Ernesto Crespo. The FAS was the main organisation involved in combat over the conflict zone.
    • South Atlantic Military Theatre (Spanish: Teatro Operaciones Atlantico Sur) - Vice Admiral Juan Lombardo. Basically a naval command with the role of coordinating the air, surface and submarine assets in the South Atlantic area. Initially, during the invasion of the Islands on 2 April and before hostilities broke out, the islands were supposedly to be under their command and was considered as the only organisation needed to managed the crisis.
      • Falklands Military Garrison (Spanish: Guarnicion Militar Malvinas) - Brigade General Mario Menéndez (Army)
        • Air Component (Spanish: Componente Aéreo) - Brigadier Luis Castellano.

Deployment[edit]

Argentine airbases: Distances to Port Stanley Airport:[17] Trelew: 580 nautical miles (1,070 km), Comodoro Rivadavia: 480 nautical miles (890 km), San Julián: 425 nautical miles (787 km), Rio Gallegos: 435 nautical miles (806 km) and Rio Grande: 380 nautical miles (700 km).
Due to the distance required to fly to the islands, two minutes was the average time Argentine attack aircraft had available in the target area.
Argentine airfields The only paved runway was at Stanley although was unsuitable for fast jets and its main role was to maintain the airbridge to the mainland. Isla de Borbon - Pebble Island, Pto. Argentino - Port Stanley, Isla Gran Malvina - West Falkland & Isla Soledad - East Falkland.

Air units moved from home bases to southern facilities. Amid fears about British/Chilean air strikes and/or SAS raids, Argentine aircraft were dispersed in the surrounding areas of their southern airfields, e.g., several parts of the national route #3 were used for this purpose.

Units[edit]

The numbers in bold are the number of aircraft engaged in combat without counting those in reserve, the numbers in brackets are the number of aircraft lost during the war.

Canberra B-108 during its last mission
Israel supplied 39 IAI Dagger since 1978
The Super Etendard was the platform for the Exocet missile.
UH-1H Iroquois "Huey" helicopters, at Port Stanley Airport. These ones were transported to the islands by C-130H "Hercules" aircraft and had not had their rotors reattached yet.

Argentine Air Force[edit]

Spanish: Fuerza Aérea Argentina

Argentine Navy[edit]

Spanish: Comando de Aviación Naval Argentina - COAN (Argentine Naval Aviation)

Argentine Army[edit]

Spanish: Comando de Aviación del Ejército Argentino ( Argentine Army Aviation )

Argentine Coast Guard[edit]

Spanish: Prefectura Naval Argentina

Argentine traffic planes[edit]

Gates Learjet, Cessna Citation, Hawker Siddeley HS-125, Aero Commander 690 and Mitsubishi MU-2.
Boeing 737[19] and BAC 1-11 (airlift to Patagonia and Port Stanley).

Armament[edit]

Air Campaign[edit]

Missions[edit]

  • Attack Missions:
System Obs
A-4 Skyhawk 133 sorties by the A-4B and 86 by the A-4C. They flew with unreliable ejection seats due to the US embargo placed from 1977. Naval A-4Q performed 12 sorties. They were highly dependent on the two available KC-130 tankers, limiting the number of aeroplanes that could attack simultaneously.
Canberra 46 bombing sorties against ground targets, operating from Trelew, to avoid more congestion on the closer southern airfields.
Dagger 153 sorties against naval/ground targets by the two squadrons. Their lack of aerial refueling capacity severely affected their performance without any chance of manouvering over the islands. They were obliged to fly the shortest flightpath and had less than 10 minutes to find their targets. The discovery of their approach corridor by the British led to 7 aircraft being shot down by Sea Harriers CAP, something just realized when one of the downed Dagger pilots was recovered by own troops. By the end of May they began carrying an improvised chaff dispenser consisting of aluminium strips inside their airbrakes.
Total Sorties: The above figures shown a total of 430 attack sorties from the mainland of which 18 aircraft were intercepted by the Sea Harriers and another 14 were shot down by anti aircraft defences.
  • Other Missions:
System Obs
Mirage IIIEA Argentine sources indicate that a number were withdrawn from operations over the islands to protect the mainland against Vulcan strikes,[23] [n 6] [24]

[n 7] [25] [n 8] however, they made 58 sorties providing decoys for the strike units with particular success on the June 8 attacks against the British landings ships.[26] Their lesser internal fuel capacity, compared to the Daggers, prevented them from being used in their escort role.

Boeing 707 The unarmed airliner made 54 cargo flights and other 61 for reconnaissance and surveillance duties[27] against the British Task Force heading southFAA map locating the fleet for the first time on April 21 when a Sea Harrier shepherded the 707 away. On May 22 another 707 managed to evade 4 Sea Dart missiles launched against it but the risk of further sorties was too great and from that point on the 707's made no further attempt to find the Task Force.[28] On another occasion they made a casual encounter with a British Nimrod both unarmed aircraft looked each other over and continued their missions.
Embraer P-95 Bandeirulha Two aircraft were incorporated into the naval aviation on May 21. They flew 39 maritime patrol sorties from Rio Gallegos airbase. They were returned to the Brazilian air force on June 24[29]
IA 58 Pucará They performed reconnaissance and ground attack missions from the Falklands airfields and surveillance of the Patagonian coast from bases in Southern Argentina. Most of the island-based Pucarás were destroyed on the ground, due to the lack of Hardened Aircraft Shelters. They shot down a Royal Marines Westland Scout during the battle of Goose Green.
Fenix Squadron 126 decoying plus 52 reconnaissance sorties. They were also extensively used as communications relay and pathfinder flights to guide the combat jets with the Learjets’ superior navigation systems.
C-130 Hercules 33 night flights to BAM Puerto Argentino in May/June (Blockade runner). Among the cargo transported in those flight were the 602 Army Commandos Coy, 155 mm CITEFA cannons, an improvised land based Exocet launcher, the Roland SAM system and a RASIT radar replacement. They evacuated 263 wounded and a British PoW in their returning flights.
Starting 15 May, they also took over the dangerous task of searching for naval targets for the strike units, after the retirement of the last SP-2H Neptune available. On one of these daylight missions, a Hercules was intercepted and shot down by a Sea Harrier.
29 May, the British tanker British Wye was hit by bombs dropped by a Hercules, north of South Georgia[30] (Not officially recognized by the FAA)
KC-130 Hercules Refueling sorties for A-4s and Super Étendards, also for battle damaged fighters.
Fokker F-28 Navy 15 night flights to BAM Puerto Argentino in May/June (Blockade runner)
Army Aviation 796 helicopter flights on the islands
1st Air Brigade Construction Group Air Force In charge of maintaining Port Stanley airbase operable. Throughout the conflict, the airport installations were attacked with 237 bombs, 1,200 shells from the Royal Navy gunline and 16 missiles, however, it was never out of action entirely. Many sources claim that the runway was covered with piles of dirt during the day causing British intelligence to surmise that repairs were still in progress.[2] Craters were in fact heaps of earth placed there to make it look as though the runway was damaged.[31] In fact, the British were well aware that the runway was still in use by C-130[32] and attempted to interdict these flights leading to the loss of a C-130 on June 1.[33]

Successes[edit]

Description Notes
Ships Sunk HMS Sheffield, HMS Coventry, HMS Ardent, HMS Antelope, RFA Sir Galahad, Atlantic Conveyor plus a Landing Craft Utility ("Foxtrot Four" from Fearless)
Ships Damaged[34] HMS Glasgow, HMS Antrim, HMS Brilliant, HMS Broadsword, HMS Alacrity, HMS Arrow, HMS Argonaut, HMS Plymouth, RFA Sir Bedivere, RFA Sir Lancelot, RFA Sir Tristram, RFA Stromness

Casualties and aircraft losses[edit]

  • Aircraft Lost in the Air: no suffix: Air Force

Argentine strike aircraft did not carry air-to-air missiles, with the exception of 8th Air Brigade Mirage IIIEA fighters and 6th Air Brigade Daggers on May 1. All retained a secondary armament of either 20 mm or 30 mm cannon.

11 IAI Dagger A 9 by Sea Harrier,[n 9] 1 Sea Wolf HMS Broadsword,[n 10] 1 SAM Rapier[n 11]
10 A-4B Skyhawk 3[n 12] by Sea Harrier, 3[n 13] Sea Wolf HMS Brilliant, 1[n 14] Sea Dart, 1[n 15] AAA HMS Fearless, 1[n 16] 20mm cannon Fire from HMS Antelope and 1[n 17] friendly fire
7 A-4C Skyhawk 2[n 18] by Sea Harrier, 3[n 19] Sea Dart, 1[n 20] Sea Cat from HMS Yarmouth, 1[n 21] combination Sea Cat/Rapier/Blowpipe
3 FMA IA 58 Pucará 1[n 22] by Sea Harrier, 1 SAM Stinger, 1 small arms fire 2 PARA
3 A-4Q Skyhawk Navy 3[n 23] by Sea Harrier.
2 Mirage IIIEA 1[n 24] by Sea Harrier, 1[n 25] friendly fire
2 B.Mk62 Canberra 1[n 26] by Sea Harrier, 1[n 27] Sea Dart
1 C-130E Hercules 1[n 28] by Sea Harrier
1 Aermacchi MB.339A Navy 1[n 29] by Blowpipe
1 Learjet 35A 1[n 30] by SAM Sea Dart
3 Puma SA330L Army 1 gun fire, 1 by SAM Sea Dart, 1 FIM-92 Stinger.[36]
1 Puma SA330L Army Royal Marines gun fire in South Georgia, April 3
Captured Army UH-1 was used by the British forces after the Argentine surrender
  • Total

75 fixed-wing aircraft and 25 helicopters.

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ "the Mach 2 Mirage and Dagger which in low-level attack are extremely subsonic. ..while low-level attacks by the Argentine aircraft..there would not be a lot of fuel to spare, especially if afterburner was used." From Aviation Fact File - Harrier (1984), page 42.
  2. ^ "The Argentine-built Pucará counter-insurgency aircraft proved its worth in numerous attacks on British land forces, and it was even used to attack shipping. About 75 Pucarás were in service at the start of the conflict." From Sea Combat off the Falklands (1982), page 33; by Antony Preston; Willow Books, ISBN 00-218046-4
  3. ^ "The British were awed by the courage of the Argentine pilots, flying suicidally low to attack, then vanishing amid flashes of pursuing Sea Cat, Blowpipe, Rapier, racing across the sky behind them. Alone among the enemy's three services, the air force seemed highly motivated and utterly committed to the battle. 'We should have been able to work out that any nation which produces first-class Formula One racing drivers is also likely to turn out some pretty good pilots.'" - Chapter 12; Hastings, Max: The Battle for the Falklands (1983) Michael Joseph Ltd ISBN 0-7181-2228-3
  4. ^ According to Aeroespacio, Issue 520: "hacia el 15 Abr se producía la recepción de los misiles Matra 550 Magic adquiridos tiempo antes" ("towards April 15th the Matra 550 Magic missiles bought time ago were received")
  5. ^ "In late afternoon Pucaras attacked the British forces, two dropping napalm tanks which only just missed forward troops. Two Pucaras were shot down during the battle, along with an Aeromacchi [sic]". - Chapter 21 The Bridgehead and Beyond, the battle for Darwin and Goose Green - Lawrence Freedman, Signals of War, The Falklands Conflict of 1982, 1990, Faber and Faber-London, ISBN 0-571-14116-1
  6. ^ According to Globalsecurity.org (DWF):"As a result of these heavy losses...it was decided to pull the Mirage III's back to the mainland to stand alert for a possible Vulcan attack."
  7. ^ According to Globalsecurity.org (HJA):"Finally, the bombing raids caused the Argentines to fear an air attack on the mainland, causing them to retain some Mirage aircraft and Roland missiles for defense."
  8. ^ As per article "La familia Mirage" in Aeroespacio (Issue 520): "Los M III debían defender el territorio continental argentino de posibles ataques de los bombarderos Vulcan de la RAF, brindar escolta a los cazabombarderos de la FAA, e impedir los ataques de aviones de la Royal Navy y de la RAF sobre las Malvinas." ("The M III would defend the Argentine mainland against possible attacks by Vulcan bombers from the RAF, providing escort of fighter bombers to the FAA, and to prevent attacks by aircraft of the Royal Navy and RAF on the Falklands.")
  9. ^ SN:
    C-403, May21, Sea Harrier ZA190/"009", pilot Capt. Donadille ejected,
    C-404, May21, Sea Harrier ZA190/"009", pilot Maj. Piuma ejected,
    C-407, May21, Sea Harrier ZA175/"004", pilot Lt. Senn ejected,
    C-409, May21, Sea Harrier XZ455/"12", pilot Lt. Luna ejected,
    C-410, May24, Sea Harrier ZA193/"93", pilot Lt. Castillo killed,
    C-419, May24, Sea Harrier XZ457/"14". pilot Maj. Puga ejected,
    C-430, May24, Sea Harrier XZ457/"14". pilot Capt. Diaz ejected,
    C-433, May1, Sea Harrier XZ455/"12". pilot Lt. Ardiles killed,
    C-437, May23, Sea Harrier ZA194. pilot Lt. Volponi killed
  10. ^ SN: C-428, May21, pilot Lt. Bean killed
  11. ^ SN: C-436, May29, pilot Lt. Bernhardt killed
  12. ^ SN: C-204, C-226 and C-228
  13. ^ SN: C-206, C-208 and C-246
  14. ^ SN: C-244
  15. ^ SN: C-215
  16. ^ SN: C-242
  17. ^ SN: C-248
  18. ^ SN: C-309 and C-325
  19. ^ SN: C-301, C-304 and C-310
  20. ^ SN: C-319
  21. ^ SN: C-305
  22. ^ SN: A-5??
  23. ^ SN: 3-A-307, 3-A-312 and 3-A-314. One was damaged by 30 mm cannon fire, attempted to land at Port Stanley but the undercarriage was inoperative and the pilot elected to eject.
  24. ^ SN: I-015
  25. ^ SN: I-019
  26. ^ SN: B-110
  27. ^ SN: B-108
  28. ^ SN: TC-63
  29. ^ SN: 4-A-1??
  30. ^ SN: T-2?
  31. ^ SN: 3-H-42
  32. ^ According to www.naval-history.net/F64argaircraftlost.htm a Pucará was lost over the Atlantic on a reconnaissance mission from Comodoro Rivadavia
  33. ^ SN: C-303 and C-313

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Argentine Airpower in the Falklands War
  2. ^ a b Offensive Air Operations Of The Falklands War - USMC
  3. ^ Argentine newspaper Perfil Después de Malvinas, iban a atacar a Chile on 22 November 2009, retrieved 22 November 2009:
    "Para colmo, Galtieri dijo en un discurso: „Que saquen el ejemplo de lo que estamos haciendo ahora porque después les toca a ellos“".
  4. ^ Lt. Col. Hezsely, Csaba (May 1988), "Argentine Air Power in the Falklands War", Air War College, Research Report (in English): 39, AD-A202 551  Lt. Col. Hezsely's report notes 16 F-86F deployed at Mendoza
  5. ^ "PDF book: Historia de la Aviacion Naval Argentina". www.trackerenmalvinas.com.ar (Spanish). Retrieved 2010-01-21. 
  6. ^ Dagger Technician memories
  7. ^ Dagger Technician memories
  8. ^ Los Angeles times, May 27 1982
  9. ^ Aviation Fact File - Harrier, page 42.
  10. ^ Sea Combat off the Falklands (1982), page 33.
  11. ^ "Two A-4B Skyhawks warplanes of the Grupo 5 link up...after topping up their tanks from a KC-130H tanker." page 62 in Air War in the Falklands 1982, 2001
  12. ^ a b Commodore Ruben Oscar Moro La Guerra Inaudita, 2000 ISBN 987-96007-3-8
  13. ^ HALCONES SOBRE MALVINAS, ISBN 950-9294-07-1
  14. ^ Hastings, Max: The Battle for the Falklands
  15. ^ clarin newspaper Clarin newspaper Woodward Interview
    La fuerza aérea peleó extremadamente bien y nosotros sentimos una gran admiración por lo que hicieron
  16. ^ AN EXAMINATION OF ARGENTINE AIR EFFORT DURING THE FALKLANDS CAMPAIGN
  17. ^ Argentine Airpower in the Falklands War: An Operational View
  18. ^ "PDF book: Historia de la Aviacion Naval Argentina". www.trackerenmalvinas.com.ar (Spanish). Retrieved 2009-04-07. 
  19. ^ http://www.malvinasmdp.org.ar/Images/Fotos/M085.jpg
  20. ^ Aeroespacio, Issue 520 (Official FAA magazine)
  21. ^ Battle Atlas of the Falklands War 1982 — British ships lost & damaged.
  22. ^ Signals of War, The Falklands Conflict of 1982 (1990), Lawrence Freedman.
  23. ^ Globalsecurity.org (DWF)
  24. ^ Globalsecurity.org (HJA)
  25. ^ [1] La familia Mirage, Aeroespacio, Fuerza Aerea Argentina, ISSN 0001-9127
  26. ^ Official FAA Magazine (Spanish)
  27. ^ Exploración y reconocimiento en el Atlántico Sur
  28. ^ "Boeing 707". Spyflight.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-08-09. 
  29. ^ Avioned Brasileros en el conflicto del Atlantico Sur
  30. ^ Sir Lawrence Freedman: The Official History of the Falklands Campaign, 2005, Routledge, ISBN 0-7146-5207-5
    "British Wye, carrying fuel for the Task Force, came under attack by a modified C-130 Hercules...eight bombs were released, one of which struck the tanker without exploding.
  31. ^ The Avro Vulcan and the Black Buck raids
  32. ^ Morgan, David, Hostile Skies, Orion Books Limited, London, 2006, ISBN 978-0-7538-2199-2
  33. ^ Ward, Sharkey,'Sea Harrier Over The Falklands: A Maverick at War, Phoenix; New Ed edition, London, 2007, ISBN 978-0-304-35542-6
  34. ^ Sir Lawrence Freedman: The Official History of the Falklands Campaign, 2005, Routledge, ISBN 0-7146-5207-5
  35. ^ Fuerza Aérea Argentina
  36. ^ Argentine Puma Shot Down By American “Stinger” Missile
  37. ^ Official Army Aviation Site - AE-410 by air attack at Moody Brook, AE-418 by naval gunfire at Stanley
  38. ^ Fuerza Aérea Argentina
  39. ^ Fuerza Aérea Argentina

Bibliography[edit]

  • FAA Commodore Ruben Oscar Moro La Guerra Inaudita, 2000 ISBN 987-96007-3-8
  • (Spanish) Dagger & Finger en Argentina ISBN 987-43-8536-7 book link
  • (French) Frédéric Marsaly: Super Étendard au Combat: la saga d'un guerrier, Aviation Française Magazine, Jan/Feb 2007, ISSN 1951-9583.

Online sources[edit]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Foreign Studies[edit]

Official Sites[edit]

Other sites[edit]