Raid on Pebble Island
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Immediately after the Argentinians had seized the Falkland Islands they established a small airbase, Aeródromo Auxiliar Calderón, on Pebble Island (Argentine name: isla Borbón) using the local airstrip on which were based FMA IA 58 Pucará light ground attack aircraft and some T-34 Mentors. Reconnaissance by these aircraft could have compromised the Royal Navy's manoeuvres before its intended landing on East Falkland.
Special Air Service ("SAS") elements, then embarked on HMS Hermes, were tasked with eliminating the threat, with naval support from the Type 22 frigate HMS Broadsword as Hermes defensive escort and the County class destroyer HMS Glamorgan to provide naval gunfire support with its Mark 6 4.5 inch gun. The Naval Gunfire Support Forward Observer (NGSFO) who was responsible for co-ordinating the naval gunfire support was Captain Chris Brown RA of 148 Battery 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery.
Initial intentions were for a Squadron strength air insertion from Hermes using personnel from D Squadron, 22 Regiment. The raiding party would destroy the deployed aircraft, radar site, ground crew and the force protection garrison before helicopter exfiltration to return to the deck before daybreak.
Reconnaissance for the raid was conducted by personnel from the Boat Troop of D Squadron, conducting an infiltration by Klepper canoe. The patrol found that strong headwinds would increase the time taken to fly in from Hermes launch point, delaying time on target and reducing the available offensive window to thirty minutes, rather than the planned ninety. In light of this information the planning emphasised the importance of destroying the aircraft as a priority, with support personnel as a secondary priority.
During the night of 14 May, two Westland Sea King HC4 helicopters of 846 Naval Air Squadron, part of the Commando Helicopter Force, departed with 45 members of D Squadron on board. The delivery point was 6 km (3.7 mi) from the airstrip on Pebble Island. Mountain Troop was tasked with the destruction of the Argentine aircraft, while the remaining personnel acted as a protection force, securing approaches to the airstrip, and forming an operational reserve.
The raiding party unloaded over 100 L16 81mm Mortar bombs, explosive charges, and Rocket 66mm HEAT L1A1 Light Anti-tank Weapons to carry into the engagement zone from the helicopters, with each man in the raiding party carrying at least two mortar bombs. For small arms, M-16 rifles were used, some with underslung M203 grenade launchers. Approach navigation was conducted by a member of the Boat Troop who had carried out the reconnaissance.
As the raiding party approached the target they spotted an Argentine sentry but were not seen, allowing them to enter the target and lay charges on seven of the aircraft. Once all the aircraft had been prepared the raiding team opened fire on the aircraft with small arms and L1A1 rockets. All of the aircraft were damaged, with some having their undercarriages shot away. Following this cue Glamorgan began shelling the Argentine positions on the airfield using high-explosive rounds, hitting the ammunition dump and fuel stores.
The defending force did not engage until the entire raiding party had re-grouped and were preparing to move out. One British soldier was hit and wounded while the raiding party returned fire using small arms and M203 grenade launchers, resulting in the death of the Argentine Commanding Officer (according to British assessments) and the suppression of any defensive effort.
The Argentine version states that their marines remained in shelters during the Glamorgan shelling, so they were unable to face the SAS in combat. The British wounded were the result of shrapnel from exploding charges settled by the Argentines under the airstrip in order to deny its use to the enemy. The blasts were triggered in the belief that the operation was a full-scale assault to take over the air base.
The wounded man was hauled back to the recovery site with the raiding party reaching the aircraft by the required time for transportation back to Hermes before daybreak. The decision was made to proceed with exfiltration rather than returning to attack the defending force.
Assets destroyed during the raid totalled:
- Six FMA IA 58 Pucarás, air force.
- Four Turbo Mentor trainer/light attack aircraft, navy.
- One Short SC.7 Skyvan utility transport aircraft, coast guard.
- Destruction of the ammunition dump
- Destruction of the fuel dump
The raid was considered a complete success, reminiscent of the type of operation carried out by the SAS in the Second World War.
- "The SAS raid on the airfield at Pebble Island - 14 May 1982 at the RAF website". Retrieved 2013-05-10.
- "El ataque al Aeródromo Auxiliar Calderón (Spanish) at the Argentine Air Force website". Retrieved 2007-01-29.)
- Ruiz Moreno, L.J.:Comandos en acción. Ediciones Emecé, Buenos Aires, 1987. Chapter VII, page 111. ISBN 950-04-0520-2 (Spanish)
- The Complete Encyclopedia of the SAS, Barry Davies, p. 133, Virgin, 1998
- Pebble Island Raid - Falklands War 1982
- [A-502, A-523, A-529, A-552, A-556]