During the first quarter of 1982 the likelihood of war between
Great Britain and Argentina seemed inevitable. The Argentinean forces had
invaded a small island group located in the South Atlantic,
northeast of the southern tip of South America. Although the
Falklands [or Islas Malvinas as the Argentineans called them] only
have a total area of about 12,173 sq km (4650 sq miles) the
Argentine authorities demanded sovereignty of them sighting the fact
that in 1816 the ruling Spanish had been overthrown by the Argentine
army, and thus the islands belonged to them. However it appears that
as early as 1592 an English navigator called John Davis first
encountered the rocky outcrop and proclaimed it as British.
A typical Falkland Islands
Seventeen years after
the 1816 Argentine uprising the British regained control of the
Falklands Isles. However Argentina protested that they were by
rights Argentinean property. Much political wrangling went on, and
in the mid-1960's the United Nations were called in to try and
settle the dispute. These talks were still continuing in April 1982,
when Argentine military forces invaded and occupied the islands.
This attempt to use force to decide the outcome of the sovereignty
dispute led to a state of war being declared by Prime Minister
Sketch map of the
A number of missions
were planned which involved dropping 21,000lbs of high explosive
bombs onto the only runway on the Falklands. This was situated at
Port Stanley, and was being used by the Argentine forces to deliver
munitions to their troops stationed on the Island. It was also
assumed that, given time, the Argentine air force would use the
runway as a base for Mirage and Skyhawk fighters.
The Avro Vulcan
was chosen for these missions.
At this time only
three squadrons were still active. Indeed it had been decided by the
Ministry of Defence (MOD) that the Vulcan would formerly be retired
from active duty in June of that year. In order for the Vulcans to
make the journey to Ascension Island and then, ultimately, on to the
Falklands it was vital that they could be refueled in mid-air.
Although many Vulcans had retained their refueling probes (first
fitted in the 1960's) the system had not been used for many years,
and was inoperative. RAF personnel were required to repair the
probes and fuel systems which resulted in some probes being
"borrowed" from Nimrod and Hercules planes from British air bases
and, in some instances, as far a field
as Canada and the USA.
It was decided that
five Vulcans should be completely converted for the mission. As well
as the overhaul of the fuel system, the conversion process consisted
of fitting bomb-carriers, Delco inertial navigation systems,
Westering House ECM pods (to prevent detection from Argentine radar
installations), the bottom surfaces were painted sea grey and the
throttle controls were modified to allow full power to be taken from
the Olympus 301 engines (this had previously been limited in order
to promote longevity).
RAF Ascension Island has been
used as a military airbase since 1942. Its strategic position,
roughly half-way between the UK and the Falkland Islands, made it
the ideal location to stage, what was then, the longest bombing
sortie in history. The airfield, called Wideawake, has a 10,000ft
asphalt runway. It was used by British forces as the base for
Vulcan, Victor, Nimrod, Hercules and Harrier aircraft en-route to
Bob Shackleton, from Cape
Town, was residing on Ascension island during 1982. He took these
excellent photos, and kindly allowed me to include them on this
website. Click them to see bigger versions.
From left to right, A
Vulcan is prepared, A Hercules lands with vital supplies, Vulcan &
Hercules, Vulcan, Hercules and Nimrod, Victor Tanker, Harriers
waiting for action
Thanks to Bob Shackleton, Cape Town.
The first brace of
Vulcan aircraft (XM607 & XM598) left for Wideawake airfield on Ascension
Island on the 29th April 1982. This journey was to last over 4,000
miles and took nine hours to complete. Just over twenty four hours
later, in radio silence, and with all navigational lights
extinguished, the two Vulcans departed, each carrying 21 one
thousand pound bombs. They were escorted by four Victor tankers.
Shortly after this another convoy of seven Victor tankers joined
them. The thirteen aircraft climbed to 27,000 feet
and headed south towards their target.
pressurisation problems and was forced to return to Ascension
Island. This left just one Vulcan en-route to deliver its deadly
cargo. It had been planned that the Vulcan would require five
mid-air refueling. However due to turbulence and additional drag
from the ECM pod XM607 actually required an addition refueling
maneuver to take place.
Vulcan refuelling plan (click image
for bigger picture)
When XM607 was barely 300
miles from target she descended to her attack height of 250 feet. At
this height she was able to fly under enemy radar, and could
approach her target without detection. With fifty miles to go the
pilot climbed back to 10,000 feet and after using the onboard radar
to secure a "picture" of Port Stanley traveled towards the airfield
in a diagonal attack run. This maximised the chance
of the payload actually hitting their designated target.
Although no Vulcans
were shot down by enemy fire, not all the missions went as planned.
On one mission XM597 was attempting a mid-air refueling when the
refueling probe snapped off. This left the aircraft without enough
fuel to return to Ascension, and so she had to divert to Rio de
Janeiro in Brazil. As it was, the Vulcan had to climb into thinner
air so as to conserve as much fuel as possible. The two missiles she
was carrying were launched to reduce weight and drag, but one of
these stuck. Mission orders and other important documents were
jettisoned into the sea via the crew hatch. After a "Mayday" signal
was sent to the Brazilian authorities clearance was given to XM597.
The captain, Neil McDougall, landed the aircraft with only 2000lb of
Not enough to complete a circuit of the airfield!
authorities impounded XM597 until the 10th of June but during their
stay in Brazil both crew and aircraft were treated well. However the
Brazilians did request the "jammed" missile as a souvenir of the
These are the actual Brazilian newspaper reports
from 1982 which have been kindly donated to me by Rodney Veiga Von Oncken
The stricken Vulcan was escorted
to Galeao airfield by Mirage III interceptors
The photo shows XM597, complete with missiles, shortly
after making a forced landing due to lack of fuel.
This cutting shows how the Vulcan was escorted to the Rio airfield
A cutting from a local Rio de Janeiro paper
There were 7 Black Buck sorties flown against
Argentinean forces. Each one was flown at night and all squadron
markings and other distinguishing features were removed from the
The Black Buck
Black Buck 1
In order that both
ground-based and sea-based forces would be able to attack enemy
forces dug-in across the Falklands it was clear that the runway at
Port Stanley, used by the Argentines to launch air strikes, and to
re-supply their troops from the mainland, needed to be destroyed. On
the 30th April two Vulcans XM598 and XM607, accompanied by 11 Victor
tankers left Wideawake to begin a long-range bombing sortie which
was to last almost 6 hours. Shortly after take off cabin
pressurisation problems resulted in Capt. john Reeve returning to
Ascension Island with XM598. The remaining Vulcan, Captained by
Martin Withers continued. To prevent alerting the Argentinean forces
of the impending attack the Vulcan was flown the last 200 miles at a
height of 300 ft to prevent enemy radar detecting them. With
40 miles to the target the Vulcan climbed to 10000ft and began to
approach the target. 21 one thousand pound bombs were dropped
diagonally across the runway. One made a direct hit rendering the
runway inoperable. The others caused major damaged to parked
aircraft and supplies. For this mission the Captain was awarded the
Distinguished Flying Cross.
Black Buck 2
A second sortie, using one
Vulcan (XM607) armed with 21 one thousand pound bombs, attacked the
runway and surrounding areas on the 3rd May. This resulted in
peripheral damaged to the airfield, but no direct hits on the runway
itself. Captain John Reeve and crew returned safely to Ascension
Black Buck 3
This mission, again
targeting the runway at Stanley to deny
enemy use of the facility, was cancelled due to bad weather.
Black Buck 4
This mission had to be
aborted due to the failure of a Victor tanker refueling drogue.
Captain Neil McDougall, and Vulcan XM597, were forced to return to
Ascension island 5 hours after leaving to attack Radar installations
with Shrike pylon-mounted missiles.
Black Buck 5
By 30th May it was decided
that enemy radar emplacements needed to be destroyed as they were
hampering attempts by the RAF and Royal Navy to launch carrier-based
Harrier attacks. XM597, captained by Neil McDougall, was equipped
with wing-mounted Shrike missiles. This left room in the bomb-bay
for the addition of spare fuel tanks. These tanks gave the Vulcan
the ability to spend longer over the target area "looking" for enemy
radar installations. The Shrikes were launched and caused damage to
one radar installation.
Black Buck 6
On the 2nd June Capt. Neil
McDougall flew XM597, armed with Shrike anti-radar missiles, to
attack radar installations. The Vulcan was detected by enemy forces
who immediately switched their radar off, thus preventing the Shrike
missiles from gaining a lock. After almost 45 minutes the Shrike
located, and locked-on to, Argentinean radar emissions. Two missiles
were launched and the enemy ground-based radar was destroyed.
However, on the return leg of the mission, during a scheduled refuel
with a Victor tanker, the refueling probe became damaged. as the
Vulcan could not take on enough fuel to return to Wideawake the
Captain had to divert to the only airfield he could reach before
running out of fuel. Thanks to his skill the Vulcan was landed at
Rio de Janeiro (Galeao Airport). The aircraft, and her crew, were
impounded for a week before being released on condition that XM597
took no further part in the conflict. Capt. Neil McDougal received
the Distinguished Flying Cross for this, and previous sorties.
Black Buck 7
This final mission was flown
by XM607 (Capt. Martin Withers) on 11th June 1982. It dropped both
anti-personnel and iron bombs on equipment and stores located in the
vicinity of Stanley Airfield.
The Argentine forces were able to hold out for 10 weeks before
surrendering to the British task force
on the 14th June 1982.
Argentina continues to claim the island, but the British Government
refuses to participate in further negotiations.
The BBC have produced an excellent overview of
Only time will tell if another conflict over
the isles will re-occur.
One thing is for sure however, the Vulcan will not play a part in
deciding the outcome next time.