Battle of San Carlos (1982)

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Battle of San Carlos
Part of the Falklands War
HMS Antelope (F170).png
HMS Antelope explodes on 24 May
Date21–25 May 1982
Result British establish successful beachhead
 United Kingdom  Argentina
Commanders and leaders
United Kingdom Sandy Woodward
United Kingdom Michael Clapp
Flag of the British Army (1938-present).svg Jeremy Moore
Argentina Gen. Mario Menendez
Argentina Brig. Ernesto Crespo
2 destroyers
7 frigates
11 landing ships
Sea Harrier CAPs
90 fighter-bombers on the mainland
2 KC-130 Hercules tankers
10 attack aircraft on the islands
Casualties and losses
1 destroyer sunk
2 frigates sunk
8 ships damaged
4 helicopters lost
49 killed
22 aircraft lost[1]
11 killed
Battle of San Carlos (1982) is located in Falkland Islands
Battle of San Carlos (1982)
Location within Falkland Islands

The Battle of San Carlos was a battle between aircraft and ships that lasted from 21 to 25 May 1982 during the British landings on the shores of San Carlos Water (which became known as "Bomb Alley"[2][3]) in the 1982 Falklands War (Spanish: Guerra de las Malvinas). Low-flying land-based Argentine jet aircraft made repeated attacks on ships of the British Task Force.

It was the first time in history that a modern surface fleet armed with surface-to-air missiles and with air cover backed up by STOVL carrier-based aircraft defended against full-scale air strikes. The British sustained losses and damage but were able to create and consolidate a beachhead and land troops.


After the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands the United Kingdom initiated Operation Corporate, sending a Task Force 12000 km south in order to retake the islands. Under the codename Operation Sutton the British forces planned amphibious landings around San Carlos, on an inlet located off Falkland Sound, the strait between East Falkland and West Falkland. The location was chosen as the landing force would be protected by the terrain against Exocet and submarine attacks, and it was distant enough from Stanley to prevent a rapid reaction from Argentine ground troops stationed there.[4]

The landing took the Argentines completely by surprise; Argentine Navy officers had considered that the location was not a good choice for such an operation, and had left the zone without major defences.[5]

Argentine aircraft[edit]

Argentine forces operated under range and payload limitations as they had limited refuelling resources and were operating at maximum range.

  • A-4 Skyhawk: The A-4 was used by both the Argentine Air Force (FAA) and Argentine Naval Aviation (COAN). In spite of using two 295-gallons drop tanks, they needed aerial refuelling twice during missions. Bomb load used during the conflict was one British-made 1000 lb (Mk 17) unguided bomb or four 227 kg Spanish/American built retarding tail bombs. The aircraft were armed with two 20 mm Colt Mk 12 cannon.
  • IAI Dagger: The Israeli-built Mirage 5 did not have aerial refuelling capacity, and even using two 550-gallon drop tanks to carry extra fuel, they were flying at the absolute limit of their range. Their main weapon during the conflict was the British-made 1000 lb (Mk 17) unguided bomb. They retained their 30 mm DEFA cannon.
  • Mirage IIIEA: The French-built interceptor has an internal fuel tank smaller than that of the Dagger, so they could not fly low enough to escort the strike aircraft. They carried a pair of R550 Magic IR missiles in their high-altitude flights to the islands, but the British Harrier combat air patrols concentrated on the low-flying bombers.
  • FMA IA-58 Pucara: The Argentine-built counter-insurgency aircraft operated from the Goose Green grass airstrip during the battle. The aircraft were armed with rocket pods, two 20 mm cannons, and four 7.62 mm machine guns.

British amphibious force[edit]

British air cover was provided for the first time by "Harrier carriers". These carriers deployed short-takeoff, vertical-landing Harriers.

800 NAS Sea Harrier FRS1 from HMS Hermes


Argentine airbases: Distances to Port Stanley Airport:[6] 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.

This is a list of the main sorties carried out by Argentine air units showing approximate local time, Aircraft and Call signal.

21 May[edit]

Lt Owen Crippa and his Aermacchi MB-339
HMS Fearless at San Carlos
Gate guardian at the flying club Mar del Plata painted in the colours of 3-A-314, the last A-4Q to attack HMS Ardent

The Argentine Army force on site was a section from the 25th Infantry Regiment named Combat team Güemes (Spanish: Equipo de Combate Güemes) located at Fanning Head. The British fleet entered San Carlos during the night and at 02:50 was spotted by EC Güemes which opened fire with 81mm mortars and two recoilless 105mm rifles. They were soon engaged by British naval gunfire and a 25-man SBS team and forced to retreat, losing their communications equipment but shooting down two Gazelle helicopters with small-arms fire, killing three members of the two aircrews.

1st Lt Carlos Daniel Esteban from EC Güemes informed Goose Green garrison about the landings at 08:22 (he was finally evacuated by helicopter on 26 May). The Argentine high command at Stanley initially thought that a landing operation was not feasible at San Carlos and the operation was a diversion. At 10:00, a COAN Aermacchi MB-339 jet based on the islands was dispatched to San Carlos on a reconnaissance flight. In the meantime, the FAA had already started launching their mainland-based aircraft at 09:00.

Between 10:15 and 17:12, seventeen sorties were carried out by FAA and COAN. Dagger and A-4C of the FAA made attacks on HMS Antrim, HMS Argonaut, HMS Broadsword, HMS Brilliant, HMS Ardent, and HMS Brilliant. Sorties of MIIIEA aircraft were used as diversions as well. While many of the bombs did not explode, HMS Ardent and HMS Argonaut were hit, sustaining damage and casualties. Sea Harriers intercepted some of the attackers, destroying 8 FAA aircraft.

22 May[edit]

Bad weather over the Patagonia airfields prevented the Argentines from carrying out most of their air missions; only a few Skyhawks managed to reach the islands. The British completed their surface-to-air Rapier battery launcher deployments.

23 May[edit]

On 23 May Argentine aircraft resumed attacking, striking HMS Antelope, HMS Broadsword, HMS Yarmouth, and HMS Antelope. Only HMS Antelope was damaged, sinking after an unexploded bomb detonated while being defused. Of the attacking aircraft, two were shot down. An additional COAN pilot was killed after ejecting from his A-4Q after a tyre burst upon landing.

24 May[edit]

IAI Dagger

On 24 May the Argentine pilots on the continent openly expressed their concern about the lack of collaboration between the three branches of the armed forces, and protested with passive resistance. General Galtieri, acting president of Argentina, decided to visit Comodoro Rivadavia the next day, 25 May (Argentina's National Day), to try to convince them to keep fighting, but when he arrived in the morning the pilots had changed their minds and were already flying to the islands.[7]

Six sorties were launched by the FAA against the British forces. RFA Sir Lancelot and probably Sir Galahad and Sir Bedivere and ground targets were attacked. Four attack aircraft were shot down, with one pilot killed.

25 May[edit]

Attacks by the FAA on 25 May proved more successful than the previous day. HMS Coventry was sunk after being hit with 500 lb (230 kg) bombs. Attacks on HMS Broadsword damaged the frigate's communication systems and hydraulics and shattered the nose of her Sea Lynx helicopter. RFA Sir Lancelot was also attacked. One sortie accidentally attacked Goose Green, mistaking it for Ajax bay, and was hit by small arms friendly fire. Three attackers were shot down, one by the combined San Carlos air defences, claims include HMS Yarmouth's Seacat, Rapier, Blowpipe and ship-based gunfire, with two more shot down by Sea Darts fired by HMS Coventry.


British troops Yomp to Stanley

I think the Argentine pilots are showing great bravery, it would be foolish of me to say anything else

— John Nott British Defence Minister[19]

In spite of the British air defence network, the Argentine pilots were able to attack their targets but some serious procedural failures prevented them from getting better results – most notably problems with their bombs' fuses. Thirteen bombs[20] hit British ships without detonating. Lord Craig, the retired Marshal of the Royal Air Force, is said to have remarked: "Six better fuses and we would have lost".[21]

The British warships, although themselves suffering most of the attacks, were successful in keeping the strike aircraft away from the landing ships, which were well inside the bay.[22] With the British troops on Falklands soil, a land campaign followed until Argentine General Mario Menéndez surrendered to British Major General Jeremy Moore on 14 June in Stanley.

The subsonic Harrier jump-jet, armed with the most advanced variant of the Sidewinder air-to-air missile, proved capable as an air superiority fighter.

The actions had a profound impact on later naval practice. During the 1980s most warships from navies around the world were retrofitted with close-in weapon systems and guns for self-defence. First reports of the number of Argentine aircraft shot down by British missile systems were subsequently revised down.[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ [9 Dagger, 5 A-4C, 3 A-4Q, 3 A-4B & 2 Pucara]
  2. ^ Yates, David (2006). Bomb Alley – Falkland Islands 1982. Pen and Sword. ISBN 978-1-84415-417-3.[page needed]
  3. ^ "Americas | Charles ends Falklands tour on sombre note". BBC News. 15 March 1999. Archived from the original on 27 January 2010. Retrieved 7 February 2010.
  4. ^ "Julian Thompson interview". clarin. Retrieved 18 May 2012.
  5. ^ Commodore Ruben Oscar Moro: La Guerra Inaudita, ISBN 987-96007-3-8, ... consideraban que el desembarco Britanico no podia ser alli ... debido a un concepto naval que asociaba la capacidad de una flota con su espacio de maniobra para un desembarco ...
  6. ^ "Argentine Airpower in the Falklands War: An Operational View". Archived from the original on 2 January 2014. Retrieved 18 May 2012.
  7. ^ Costa, Eduardo José (1988). Guerra Bajo la Cruz del Sur. Hyspamérica, p. 334. ISBN 950-614-749-3 (in Spanish)
  8. ^ "Major Carlos Tomba's Pucara". BBC News. Retrieved 24 June 2009.
  9. ^ "Some sources identify this ship as the Rio Carcaraña but other sources place the cargo vessel in Bahía Rey (King George Bay)". Archived from the original on 28 April 2010. Retrieved 12 March 2010.
  10. ^ "Board of Inquiry – Report into the Loss of HMS Ardent, page 2" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 September 2012. Retrieved 18 May 2012.
  11. ^ La balada del piloto bahiense y el estanciero kelper (in Spanish)
  12. ^ "Primer Teniente Guadagnini". Retrieved 18 May 2012.
  13. ^ "3ra. Escuadrilla Aeronaval de Caza y Ataque". Archived from the original on 31 May 2015. Retrieved 18 May 2012.
  14. ^ "Carlos Zubizarreta". Archived from the original on 17 December 2009. Retrieved 6 December 2009.
  15. ^ Official site of the Argentine Air Force: Fuerza Aérez Argentina – Martes 25 de Mayo Archived 4 May 2009 at the Wayback Machine (in Spanish)
  16. ^ Piaggi, Italo A. (1986). Ganso Verde. Ed. Planeta, p. 83. ISBN 950-37-0186-4. (in Spanish)
  17. ^ "Cpt Tomas Lucero interview". Youtube. 10 December 2009. Retrieved 18 May 2012.
  18. ^ "HMS Broadsword damage control". Retrieved 18 May 2012.
  19. ^ "Google". Los Angeles Times. 27 May 1982. Retrieved 18 May 2012.
  20. ^ "British Ships Sunk and Damaged – Falklands War 1982". Archived from the original on 22 January 2010. Retrieved 7 February 2010.
  21. ^ Gethin Chamberlain (5 April 2002). "Would British forces be able to retake the Falklands today?". The Scotsman. p. 12. Archived from the original on 27 March 2007. Alt URL
  22. ^ Pablo Carballo: Halcones sobre Malvinas
  23. ^ Of 14 kills and 6 probables, only one Argentine aircraft was shot down by Rapier, as originally noted by Ethell and Price. Similar discrepancies arose over other weapons systems, notably Blowpipe (one confirmed kill as against nine confirmed and two probables in the White Paper) and Sea Cat (zero to one against eight confirmed and two probables in the White Paper). FREEDMAN, Sir Lawrence, The Official History of the Falklands Campaign (Abingdon, 2005). Volume II, page 732-735


External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°30′28″S 59°4′47″W / 51.50778°S 59.07972°W / -51.50778; -59.07972