A history podcast that explores the narratives, turning points and characters that shape conflicts, encompassing a blend of social and military history. Following on from the series on the Falklands War, best-selling military historians Patrick Bishop, and Saul David turn their attention to the war in Ukraine.
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Mon, 16 May 2022 01:00
The Argentinian Air Force mobilise and attack the landing British Task Force at San Carlos Water. Hear thrilling eye witness accounts from Mark Hankin, a 17-year-old Royal Marine tasked with machine gunning down the Argentinian jets, and Sargeant Dave Watkins, who was attempting get troops to shore in the cumbersome landing craft.
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Hello and welcome to the Battleground Podcast. I'm Saul David and today Patrick Bishop and I will be talking about arguably the most dramatic moment of the Falktons campaign. When, with the bulk of three Commando Brigade Safely Assure Ones, Falkland, Argentinian planes attack the warships and merchant support vessels in Falktons Sound and San Carlos Water during the morning of 21 May 1982. We ended the last episode with the arrival of the first Argentinian plane, a ground attack per car at around 8am. Patrick, you were on the bridge of the trutche camera known as the Great White Whale. Tell us what happened next. Well, this is my view from the bridge. The bridge had these projecting wings, bridge wings that stuck out actually beyond the superstructure of the ship. So you had a fantastic view there. And when I got back, I wrote about what I saw in my book Winter War, which I wrote with John Widherow, who came down with Fai Brigade. Anyway, this is what I said at the time. East Falkland looked delightfully green and soft. It did not, however, look nearly as safe as we had imagined it to be from studying the maps. And instead of rearing straight out of the water, as the contour lines suggested, the hills around San Carlos Water slope gently into the sea and were clearly not going to present the enemy aircraft with much of a problem. We'd been enjoying the view for only 10 minutes when the ship's tanaway announced an air alert red. After all the dummy runs, it had got to the point when it was almost inconceivable that a real Argentine plane would appear. I should say now that there were all these sort of endless drills on the way down. Air alert, yellow, meant prospect of an enemy air attack, air attack, red meant there is an actually attack. We had heard this so many times that we'd got pretty blasey about it. Anyway, this time we actually saw an aeroplane, a Pukara whipping fast over a hill at the eastern end of the water. We watched from the bridge with fascinated horror. Engage, engage, reward captain Christopher Bern, he was the naval senior officer on the ship. The GPMGs on the ships side started pouring bullets at the plane, something twinkled under its wings at a salvo of rockets streamed brightly down towards HMS Argonaut. Judging from the boldness of his approach, the pilot did not expect to see so many ships because he quickly swung away towards the shelter of the hills on the northern side of the water, pursued by machine gun bullets, blowpipe missiles, and sea cats that exploded harmlessly behind him. It's a great description, Patrick. I'm incredibly dramatic and this is just the beginning, isn't it? I mean, this is the first moment. So, I mean, the real danger, of course, is going to come when the faster, heavier or more heavily armored and loaded in terms of weapons. Plains are right, and that is the Mirage and Skyhawk jets. How long does it take for them to get there? I suppose it about half an hour later. So, this was just the order, you know, but it was very dramatic because it's the first time we've actually seen an enemy aeroplane. And it's suddenly, as it's a avalanche of incoming aircraft, Mirage and Skyhawks. Now, the Mirage, remember, is the aircraft supplied by the French to the Argentinean Air Force and the Skyhawks in America, and quite by now, quite elderly American. Jeff would talk a little bit about that later on, but basically, what we saw was just this incoming aircraft after aircraft. It was just continuous. We felt that continuous action. There were a few lulls in between, but you'd hear this sort of countdown as the aircraft came in. You know, it's 200 miles and closing, 150 miles and closing, etc. And suddenly, WAM, there it was, in front of you. And it's huge defensive barrage of, you know, GPMG is making a hell of a lot of noise. All these missiles coming from all over the place. And it really is quite sort of strange you have this sort of detached feeling because you're watching these planes flash by and these been chased by these missiles. And you're kind of a whooping on the missile, if I, and then once in a while, in one case, I did see a jet, one of the missiles, connect with a jet and there's this fireball and that's the end of that jet. Though miraculously almost, it seemed we saw one jet being hit and then this little black shaped shootout from the cockpit and then a parachute blossom and float down to the water. We were relieved that the guy appeared to have got out on her and indeed later I went and saw this pilot and he, the only injury that's sustained was breaking his leg on the way out when his knee hit the edge of the cockpit. So it was pretty astonishing stuff. Now, onboard camera with me was, we were actually, it turned out later we discovered we were in the same place. We were both standing on the bridge wing. And this was a young 17 year old machine gun and Mark Hanken. Now he's got some very vivid memories of what he was doing at that day, at that hour. The air raid started and fight ejects from Argentinian mainland started arriving in San Carlos attacking the ships. When the first air raids came in, I was with the rest of 4, 2 in the Peacock lounge on board camera and it was just a terrifying time. The wind is well blacked out. I can remember we were all sat round in sections, cross luggage sat on the floor. Oh, all ready to fight, Cam Cremon. We all had a, you know, a fighting order, a weapons and ammunition. And we just sat there listening to these planes screaming overhead, machine gun fire, rockets firing, anti air craft fire going on. The bombs and missiles getting fired and it was just terrifying. You know, remember looking at the floor, grit and matey. No one was talking or laughing now. You know, if a bomb would have come through that ceiling, I've no doubt it would have been the biggest loss of life during the conflict. You know, we're probably about 900 Marines all sat up altogether. You know, it would have been an absolute disaster. But mid morning, being a GPMG gunner, I went and took a shift up on the camber. Now the bridge on the camber, it has sort of one of a better word to hone sticking out from it. My position was on the end of the port side of one of these homes on the bridge. I mean, I don't know how high up they are from the level of the water, but it must have been 150 feet, something along those lines. And certainly if you'd have fallen off the tip of the horn, you wouldn't have actually hit the ship, you'd have dropped straight in the water because they were actually hanging over the side. The GPMG that I had, we had a pinhole mounting for it that would fit to the rail. And the idea was that obviously that that mountain would hold the gun steady. And you could fire at the incoming aircraft. Mid morning, me and Chris Burns, Burns, it was my number two on the gun. GPMG is sort of, you know, it's a section troop weapon. It's a belt fed machine gun firing 7.62 ammunition. It's got an effective range of 800 meters or more. It can go further within a sustained fire roll. And my job was obviously to aim and pull the trigger. And Burns's job was to keep clipping belts on so the wet and didn't run dry. So we got onto the bridge. Now we could see what was actually happening. And during the lulls in the air raids, you know, there was landing craft, shugging up and down, there was helicopters flying actually below our eye level, staying low and ferrying troops and the equipment, sure. In the bridge behind me, there was obviously senior officers to me in there. And I could hear the radio blowing away. And we had Royal Navy ships steaming up and down in San Carlos water with the radar dishes whirling. And I assume that they're obviously looking for the incoming aircraft. Anyway, we've been up there for a short time. And then the next thing, the radio behind me in the bridge sparks up. And you can hear a voice on it saying there, erade warning red, two hostile aircraft, 50 miles, ETA, five minutes, burying 1234. So then a rumoring sergeant would come out of the bridge. And right behind my position, there was like this old naval compass set in a station on the deck behind me. He would come out, repeat the message that we'd just had over the radio, we'd shout it out and then set the burying on the compass. And then he'd point to the horizon in the direction where the threat was coming from. So now it's like, you know, you can hear your heartbeat in your head, your ears breathing fast, pulse is going like the clappers, dry mouth, erade warning lead, 10 miles, ETA one minute, sergeant comes out, repeats it, sets the compass, pointing in another direction. I'm sure I was swearing under me breath. What the hell, if I can't we get this right? And then the next thing, two aircraft would come screaming through the sound from a completely unexpected direction, not the last one given. And they just the noise of explosions, rockets being fired, bombs being dropped, machine guns firing. And oh, my job was to do was to pull the trigger back, hold the trigger back and try and create a wall of lead for the planes to fly through. Now the planes were coming in that low. You didn't have to fire up into the sky to hit them. We're actually firing out from the ship, from the bridge horizontally. And, you know, be firing straight ahead and we had one in one trace, you could see where your rounds were going. And then you'd look to the right as the planes were flying towards the fire. And you just adjust the elevation of your wall of lead. So it was at the right elevation for the plane to fly through it. And then the planes would fly through it and then you'd do a quick readjustment and start firing again. Burns is by me side, he's clipping more belts on so the ammo doesn't run dry. And this just kept getting repeated and repeated all morning, lulls and then the same air raid warnings would come through. So it was a pretty exciting time. I'm sure I was scared on there, but the most frightening part of that day was being in the peacock lounge in the dark, because they'd black the windows out, listening to it. I felt like on the bridge that actually you could see what was going on and you could try and do something about it. You know, it was, let's say it was an exciting, it was in an exhilarating time. And eventually that morning, we eventually got the message that four two were going to be put ashore. And I must admit it was a big relief. None of us wanted to be sat on that big white ship, you know, in the middle of the sound. I mean, that, how they never hit us, I don't know. I think I've sintered that the pilots thought that we were a hospital ship because we were painted white. And that was just our coincidence that the camera was a white ship. And I think that was pretty lucky on our behalf because, you know, if we'd have been painted gray or some other color, they probably got hit pretty bad. But that was it then. We got ashore and it was a big relief to get ashore. It was just great to get off that boat. So that was Marine Mark Hanken, remembering his time on board camera when the raids came in. And it's a wonderfully dramatic account of him and his 900 comrades of 42 Commando sitting in the peacock lounge. And as he describes it, if a bomber had actually come in there, it would have been an absolute disaster, probably the worst loss of life of the whole war. And it's interesting. You get something similar as we will come onto with a segala had disaster where you've got people packed below decks incredibly vulnerable. And then of course, he actually comes out to where you were Patrick because he describes firing the GPMG from one of the horns of the bridge. Must have been literally just yards from you firing belt fed ammunition and that description of not knowing where the planes are coming from constantly changing his position. I mean, it's just an extraordinary account of a young soldier who clearly felt a lot happier like you did out on deck than he did below deck where you just can't see anything and you're so disorientated. The other thing is that I think being behind a weapon gives you a feeling of security that you don't have if you're just standing there. Even though the weapon might not be doing very much, it's a sort of psychological crutch, if you like. Now, I want to say something here, I saw about the about the Argentinian kit because you know, it's perfectly natural that the Argentinians would be buying stuff from France that Mirage went all over the place. I mean, these railies used Mirage's then made their own version of Dagger, which also is sold back to the Argentinians. But there's a bit of controversy lately. Hasn't there about the whole question of what happens when you send kit to a nation that gets into a war with one of your allies, all this business about the Exissette and what the French didn't do to aid our sponsor more. What you did a bit of work on this, what's your feeling about that controversy? Maybe we could just explain what the controversy is to start off with. Yeah, well, the controversy is alleged. I mean, I'm still to see any hard proof to be fair, but it is strongly alleged that the Exissette missile French built and supplied to the Argentinians, as you say, fired both from land and ships and also in most cases during the Falklands War from planes, the super et on, our fighter bomber plane. The allegation is that it had a kill switch on it. In other words, it had technology that if the French had activated it, it would have meant that the missiles would have fallen harmlessly into the sea. And of course, the argument is that they had this safety device in built on the missiles, just in case they were up against an enemy themselves that actually wanted to use these weapons against the French. Now, of course, the argument then goes, well, we were NATO allies of the French. Why didn't they give us this information? What we haven't got is a comment from the French at the moment as to why that was the case, or if indeed there is any truth in that. You might say, well, that's hardly surprising. The argument is reasonably compelling, which is, and this is the argument made by the current Admiral Lord West, who was then Captain Alan West, who was the skipper of the frigate ardent, which was later sunk during the campaign by bombs, but he very much has skin in the game. He feels very strongly about this issue. And he's come out on the record saying the reason they never gave us that information is because the sale of exoscept missiles would have fallen through the floor. If people buying it had known that the French could literally disarm it if they wanted to. And it's a reasonably credible argument. So is that the case? We don't know. We'll have to wait and see what's going to happen next. But certainly, there have been a lot of challenges by Admiral West and others in Parliament for the French to come clean about this. Yeah, I mean, that rumbled on almost from the end of the war about what the French hadn't done. And it was often said that President Mieterau had not been our greatest friend in the conflict. I think it's quite a lot of evidence that French were giving us stuff that wasn't made clear at the time, including some air combat practice, if you like. So it's one of those things. It's part of the great never ending rivalry between Britain and France. I think we'll probably never get to the bottom of it properly. Now, the most vulnerable vessels during this period, of course, are the slow moving flat bottomed and virtually defenseless landing craft, which are constantly going back and forth, ferrying men, kits from ship to shore. Now, in one of those was Sergeant Dave Watkins, the Royal Marine Coxon of Fox Trophy, who we interviewed previously. Now, his memories of that occasion are very interesting. So let's listen to them now. The first time it happened, I can remember clearly. I didn't actually see it. I heard it. It's just a high pitch scream. And we didn't know. We didn't know what was going on. We heard all the air raid warning reds coming over radio and all that sort of stuff. But when you get an air raid warning red, that's one thing. But you don't know where it's coming from. And we had to just carry on. We made well have had a boatload of ammunition or a boatload of troops or a boatload of equipment. So you couldn't offload that. You just had to carry on and do the best you could. And then we got to a point where air raid warning red would be given. But it would then give you a direction either from the east or from the west or whatever. And by this time, quite a few people are both on the boats within the sand collars water now. And that were on the land who for some bizarre reason began firing weapons at the aircraft, which are travelling at like five or six hundred mile an hour. And you were in as much danger from a shore fire as you were from the aircraft fire. Do you remember rounds falling in and around the boat? Yeah, most definitely. And when the bombing started, when they were dropping bombs, one of the things that sticks in mind, mind even today, it just makes me, yeah, you know, blood run cold. If the audience in your aircraft or Air Force are targeted, the landing craft, which were about as maneuverable as the 10 mile an hour, you know, boats, flat bottom, everything would have gone on pear shades. But for some reason, we escaped it. They targeted the capital ship, the fear of it and all that. And they seemed to drop bombs ad hoc, really. It would be very difficult to say they were targeting anything. I think a lot of them were just trying to get into sand collars water, get rid of the bombs and get away because by which time they had an immense range of firepower from the ships with the sea cap missiles and then from the land with the rapier missiles and so on and so forth. And then obviously on top of all that, yeah, the harriers and around as well. So they must have been quite a fraught sort of mission for them to come in. They lose 16 aeroplanes that day, you know, which is quite a toll. And as you say, as the casualties mounted, they must have very much been of the, you know, of the mindset. Let's get in and get out as quickly as possible. An interesting sort of quip that came out from it. It wasn't my particular boat. It was one of my colleagues who picked up an Argentinean pilot who'd come down in sand collars water. And I think he'd suffered a severe leg break or two leg breaks. I'm not really sure now, but this guy was absolutely adamant that he was going to be eaten because the raw memories and the powers are evil people and they will kill you in each and he firmly believed that. So that was Dave Watkins, the coxen of Land and Craft Fox Trot 3. And he makes a fascinating point. I think Patrick about the mistaken Argentinian strategy to attack warships. If they'd actually targeted the landing craft as Dave Watkins suggests, and we will come on to the targeting of a landing craft on that infamous day, eight June later on in the story. But if they'd done that at this early stage, you know, in his view, and it makes a lot of sense, they'd have cut the invasion off of the knees. But it's not, it's not really surprising that they didn't because the Argentinean Air Force had never actually planned or trained for this kind of war that all their efforts were pointing towards Chile. So they had literally zero preparation for a war of some duration against a well equipped NATO standard country. And so they were starting from scratch. And I think we've got to remember that when we're looking at what they did, I think of the three Argentinian services, the Argentinian Air Force performed by far the best. And we can't really say that we defeated them because they were still operational right up until the last minute. It really was an extraordinary effort, both in terms of skill, bravery, and thinking on their feet and making up a plan as they went along. It did present us with huge problems. They could have been bigger, but that's something we've got to be thankful for. But in the circumstances, they made life extremely hard, both during and after the landing. There's no question the bravery of the Argentinian pilots and indeed their aeronautical skill. But I think it is perfectly fair to question the targeting. What are they actually aiming for? They should have gone for the Canberra's. We've discussed in an earlier episode, I think Patrick. They should have gone for the auxiliary ships as much as for the warships. But anyway, we'll leave that issue and let's move on. I did love the bit right at the end of that where he talks about the Argentinian pilot who presumably with the broken legs was the same one you spoke to or you saw later on, Patrick. But him telling the crew of the landing craft who picked him out of the water that he genuinely believed that if captured, he's going to be eaten. So for Ocious was the reputation of the British paras and marines. And it reminds me of the world war two stories of some of the books I've written where the Japanese leadership, I mean, this isn't a slightly grimmer sense. Convinced civilians on Pacific islands like Okinawa and elsewhere that it was better to literally top themselves, commit suicide and be captured by the American marines because they would be raped, killed and even eaten. It's interesting that that sort of slur as it were, recurs again. Anyway, back to the action and another man who remembered the air raids on the 21st of May was Jeremy Larkin, the skipper of the amphibious assault ship HMS fearless. Let's hear from him. We started in darkness as I say, little H and like all these things, it always takes longer than you mean. It was a very successful day. We got everyone ashore quite early. We then moved the ships into Zankarlas and were more or less established than ever before. The Argentines got themselves together to cut up the first rains and of course second half of the day was quite exciting from that point of view with the loss of our training also ardent and damaged to some other ships including Entremarical. What was your own personal experience that day? I mean, where were you on fearless during the day of the landings? Oh, that's quite funny really because she wasn't really hugely well fitted for modern warfare by the standards of the day and we had an amphibious operations room which was quite well fitted with good communications, Tansom was a new radio we had then but the maritime option was very pokey. It looked very much like the option I'd enjoyed when I was qualifying as a young navigator in frigates 15 years before and it wasn't very big either and it was full of the Commodore, quite a large person and his and my staff and what's more what radar we had couldn't see over land so far as aircraft were concerned. So I enjoyed the first attack squeezing the corner wondering what the hell that was doing here. I said to myself this name of course and I convinced Michael of the red place and he was actually to be somewhere this is visible so I tampered up to the gun directions that was right above the bridge and really spent the rest of the war up there so far as attacks were concerned amongst the young men and the missile and gun sides and we had a lot of people around the upper deck we had a lot of small arms apart around the place that were extemporized, the sandbag shelters and things and not the energy to hit anything but for lots of trace for things to be coming up at aeroplanes it does disturb your concentration of it. And your position was not exactly safe was it? I mean there was an incident where I think someone in the gun direction platform with you actually gets injured by shrapnel. Well well quite short deoris involved but I mean something came withing by and there was a bang I'm not sure it wasn't actually one of our own four five inch shells which exploded near the aircraft but we did collect some shrapnel and the various eyes and pops around me and I looked over that was an occasion actually going back to my anecdote about people not leaving the weapon systems. I looked over my two magnificent teams manning these ancient both for 40 millimeters on the way into the bridge with young men lined up feeding them with ammunition and sparring side cues of them about six on each mounting just just holding tips of ammunition and clearly someone was heard so with all my decibels which were then considerable I'd advise them to get back on the guns which they did. Well the medical scenes came and did the right stuff with the airport chap with headed calf shot through that piece of shrapnel but it was an object lesson and yes let the medical people do it and don't get distracted. Well the next lock came burning by quite shortly afterwards. What I love about that piece from Jeremy Larkin Patrick is again this idea that much better to be up on deck actually seeing what's going on so very much fits with the point you were making and also Mark Hanken but also he really is determined to lead by example isn't he you know that that description of someone being wounded and everyone going to a system and him saying look for goodness sake you know stick to your post the medical people will come and help but just on a more general point pretty much everyone we've spoken to has very nice things to say about Captain Larkin and from that extract you can see why. Yeah I think I think we see that tradition of bleeding from the front leading by example being visible to your men in virtually every unit that took part in the operation. I want to say something here as well about the very high level of fortitude that was shown by the non military people that were there in San Carlos water you've got to remember that Canberra was starved by men and a few women who actually never been anywhere near a war before when the ship got to ascension the crew were offered by P&O the opportunity to get off there go back home forget all about it and they were given this choice and they all said no we're going to stay so you have this very stoic or civilian crew going about their duties completely unflustered by what was going on and I think not enough is made of that you know terrific sort of courage that they showed cheer for just as if they were really on a cruise that they've been pulled off when the war broke out so bravo to them. Yeah it's a very good point Patrick and I think you you mentioned either before or in your book that they're actually going about their business making lunch that day while this this air battle is going on ahead of them while everyone is immortal danger many extraordinary song foie shown by the by the merchant seamen and a great effort frankly to have stayed on and gone down into the war zone. Even though this was all very wonderful we'd all much rather have been ashore as Julian Thompson was this is the command of course of three brigade he was able to watch this all going on from the relative safety of the shore where he set up his his HQ and he tells us what he was seeing from that vantage point. Well it was a lovely day it's all like a being in Scotland in the best a lovely winter's day clear blue skies and we sailed into the sand cold of water having the first ways having landed from outside and there was nothing going on suddenly this airplane popped over the horizon started bombing and that's when it started so there were air attacks all that day luckily mainly against the ships outside the sand cold water otherwise the escorts out in forklands sound not against many of the ships inside though they were some a sank it was ardent and they damaged two or three others and so the navy started taking casualties right away and the navy put a fantastic show in fact it was probably the hardest fight they'd had against airplanes since Crete in fact it was the biggest air sea battle since the Second World War a lot of ships a lot of aircraft eventually over the various days got shot down and it was quite an inspiring sight actually watching the Navy fighting back and we were in the best seats all around the edge where time we landed and you could hear ringing cheers guard every time an airplane was shot down you know we felt very strongly that the navy was doing a great job and it's a great little piece isn't it of you know you you like to think in an amphibious action the danger is getting to the shore getting on shore we spoke last time of course about how there wasn't really any opposition but there's an awful lot of opposition in terms of planes and the danger is for the navy and he gives due complement obviously the Royal Marines are all with have been closely attached or are under the overall command of the Royal Navy but he gives proper QdOS to the Royal Navy for fighting back against this pretty desperate action in San Carlos water and Falkland sound and as he describes it and it's interesting when you put it in these terms the largest air sea battle since the Second World War and in particular for the Royal Navy since the infamous fight at Crete in 1941 went awful lot of destroyers and other Royal Nagel ships are lost that's right yeah it's um there wasn't anything like that between the the end of the war and this period and and it says again play to that theme that we've been talking about about how this feels very much in that sort of World War II tradition there certainly never been anything like it since anyway great sort of historic moment and particularly from the air war perspective so when we come back we're going to be hearing from two harrier pilots who are flying combat air patrols above San Carlos water that day welcome back in part one we discussed the counter attack by Argentinian planes on the day of the landing the 21st of May 1982 and heard the dramatic accounts of those including Patrick who face the attacks in ships landing craft and on the ground now we're going to hear from two sea harrier pilots who are in the air that day Tim Gage was then a 39 year old left hand and commander in the naval air service and a former commander of 800 squadron which was flying off Hermes at the start of the war he was asked to create a new sea harrier squadron called 809 and in just three weeks he managed to scrape together eight planes and pilots six naval and two REF as the main task force had already left the squadron flew part of the way via Gambia and Ascension and went the rest of the way in the merchant ship Atlantic Conveyor which had been converted to carry sea harriers arriving down in the south Atlantic in mid May Gage and his men flew from the Atlantic Conveyor to the two aircraft carriers Hermes and Invincible which was stationed to the east of the foreklens now they went of course divided up for per carrier Gage interesting enough all those the left hand and commander and a former boss of 800 squadron really just adds himself as a super numeric to the unit and flies effectively under the orders of the new commander you know Patrick talked about the skill of the Argentinian pilots and we're now going to hear from Gage about the confidence that they the British pilots would be able to take on anything the Argentinians could throw at them with that trying to sand to smug about it I think we were very confident that we could put up a good show we were heavily outnumbered but in the two years that I'd had command of 800 we'd fought the sea harrier against a huge number of different types of aircraft in fact most of the aircraft in the western world both in the United States and in Europe actually fun enough with the sole exception of the Mirage 3 a lot of us had got experience of fighter aircraft the Cvixen and later the Phantom aircraft and we knew what the sea harrier could do and perhaps more particularly we knew what it could not do so I mean that in air combat is is hugely important so we had this experience of practice air combat missions and also we had done a lot of this on instrumented ranges so I had huge confidence that we would put up a good show despite the numerical disadvantage and that proved its worth when we were down there so that was left on and commander Tim Gage interesting to hear that they'd done this wide range of training except for the Mirage 3 but I think that was well within the kind of capabilities that they'd gained from their exercises with other aircraft now on that fateful day the 21st of May the job of the sea harriers was to fly combat air patrols caps as they're called close to San Carlos water one just to the north one to the south and one over Westforkland obviously with the intention of trying to stop the Argentinean attackers before they got there at first light a pair of harriers took station at each of these locations to vector onto the attacking aircraft either by actually citing them themselves or by radar directions given from one of the ships the aircraft carriers were normally 150 or 200 miles east of the fork and islands so we had quite a long range transit into the main sort of area of operations or the amphibious operations area which is where the majority of the Argentine attacks were expected because that was where our shipping was this involved a sort of 20 or 25 minute transit flight the normal way we operated was to do the first sort of 50 miles or so at very low level to a particular point in the ocean and then climb out from that point the reason for doing that was we knew that there was a TPS 43 radar they had in Stanley it was a pretty capable radar and that could actually see well out to see it couldn't see surface targets but it could certainly see aircraft climbing out from a point so we reckon that if we climbed out always from a particular point they would think that the aircraft carriers were there and that proved to be the case in fact so the normal sorting was a sort of 50 mile low level transit then a climb transit for 20 25 minutes and then you'd be on task for 20 minutes and by that time you'd have to come back. What's interesting about what we've just heard from Tim Gage who was one of the carrier pilots over San Carlos water that Patrick is he couldn't react even when he saw our Argentinian planes for the very good reason that he would be moving into that sea defense zone that the pilots effectively had to stay out of and we're going to come on in a future episode to hear Gage talk a bit more about this and an opportunity where they could have interceded if this hadn't been the case but I suppose you know when you think about it it makes complete logical sense you know if the British planes are going to go into that defense area there's a danger that will be shot down they're going to confuse the anti aircraft defenses I mean there's a logic to it but it's also quite counter intuitive when if in the case of Gage you actually see the enemy closing in on British ships and you can't do anything about it which effectively means that the air defense system as far as the sea carriers were concerned was really about either intercepting the Argentinians before they got there or tackling them after they'd already dropped their bombs and attack the ships. Interdiction as it's called I think but of course that business of getting within range of your own guns is something that's plagued British Air Force pilots ever since the invention of military aviation I mean we've all heard the rye comments by World War II pilots saw that you know done Kirk and places like that the thing you really had to worry about was not the Luftwaffe but the Royal Navy anti aircraft gunner said that's a perennial problem of military aviation whatever side you're on. Now another pilot in the air that day was David Morgan Morgh to his friends who was an RAF pilot but he was an exchange pilot and had been training with sea carriers at Yovlton the Royal Naval Air Base there he was attached to 800 squadron which was on board HMS Hermes the carrier. His first mission in the South Atlantic was a ground attack at Port Stanley Airfield that was back on the 1st of May now that's going back up here but it's so we want you to hear this because it's a really fascinating bit of testimony this is taking part remember at the time of Operation Black Buck when the Vulcans try and bomb the airport and stop the Argentinians using it this is what he told me yes we I'd spent seven years two tours in Germany one on the ground and one flying GR3s so we were very much orientated against the Soviet Union and of course I my whole life had been ground attack up until then and now I was trying to become an air defense pilot. Was there any training that you had for that order do you have to make it up as you went along? There was a course it was 90 hours of flying and probably about the same amount of ground school and I'd done about a third of it when the Argentine's invaded and within 48 hours I was sailing for the South Atlantic and never did finish the course. So when do you actually start flying operations off Hermes? We did a fair amount of flying all the way down there working out tactics and practicing dropping weapons which the Navy hadn't seen before things like the cluster bombs working out air to ground air to wear air to ship tactics but the first actual war mission we did was on the 1st of May quite appropriate being May Day a 9 ship attack on the air field at Stanley. Remind me what what the outcome of that was. The Volcan went in before first flight and managed to get the very first bomb on the southern half of the runway. We came in very shortly after dawn with a view to taking out any infrastructure at the airfield and any aircraft we could find. So this was the this was in the wake of the Black Buck raid. Initially we were tasked to go and go and fly post strike reconnaissance for the Volcan and we said, sob that we're going with weapons and course and mayhem. So what were you firing into the airfield? The first four aircraft had loft £1000 bombs thrown in from three and a half miles using the fairly advanced kit we had on the aircraft. You could get a fairly accurate bombing from three and a half miles. Then the rest of us came in five of us came in at low level aiming for a standard sort of attack on a Warsaw packed airfield using cluster bombs. The last aircraft following up with three tarred thousand pound bombs to drop on the runway which we knew wouldn't do any good but the captain was insistent that we try to get some bombs on the runway. And how are these guided are these are these just dumb bombs that just go straight down? Yeah. We didn't get laser guided weapons until the last couple of days of the conflict. And we were running in between five and fifteen feet on the radio altimeter, pulling up to 150 feet to drop the weapons to give them time to fuse and then diving back down into the smoke and the crud to try and get away from the ground fire again. But you did actually get hit at one point, didn't you by anti aircraft fire? I got hit a huge bang and everything started vibrating but the aircraft was still flying. So I dropped the third cluster bomb over the aircraft pan outside the control tower and then dived into the smoke behind the control tower going past. Level I was level with the windows of the control tower which is normally around about 50 feet on an airfield. And it wasn't until I went back later I realized it's a two story building and the bottom of my aircraft was probably about ten feet off the ground. Now can you tell me what you were doing on the day of the landings? That's the 21st of May. What was your role then? For the landings we basically were putting caps north and south of Forkland sound and also some over west Forkland trying to catch people coming in through the mountains. I actually didn't have any trade on the 21st although there were a lot of aircraft shot down by my fellows and by the ships obviously. Would it mean actually flying a cap of combat air patrol in terms of the routine? You're on a station for what kind of amount of time? That varies a lot and it was one of our bug bears. The ships were obviously trying to stay as far away from the island as possible to avoid the exits. And we wanted and the army wanted us and the ships in the south to get us close as we possibly could so we could have the maximum time on our air patrol. But shortly after the landings we actually got to the stage where the ships were so far away that by the time you got in at high level dropped down to a cap height of typically between five and ten thousand feet. You actually had about two minutes before you had to turn around and go home again. We were just coming in with the radar blaring to try and scare anyone away if they were in the area. It improved hugely a few days after the landings when we got word that there was a tin strip at Port San Carlos had 650 feet. I think it was a PSA1 strip which was enough to get us airborne with full weapons and internal fuel. So once we got that in action we could spend about 30 minutes transiting in, do about 30, 35 minutes on cap and then land at San Carlos, refuel, get airborne again, do another 20 minutes on cap and then go back to the carrier. So we were getting 50 minutes to an hour on cap whereas before we only had two minutes. What's the going through your head when you're flying over those islands or indeed over the sea? It's a pretty lonely place, isn't it? If anybody goes wrong you're going in and you're probably not going to be rescued. What kind of psychological stress does that place on you? The only real psychological stress I experienced was actually on the ship. I think I'm writing saying everyone felt the same as me. Once we were in the air we thought we were the kings of the world and although we knew that numerically probably a number of us were going to get shot down. I always felt it probably wasn't going to be me. So I didn't have any psychological stress when I was in the air. I was frightened a couple of times when I saw the ground fire coming back on the first of May from Stan the airport for a fraction of a second I was frightened and then training took over and we carried on. The only other time I think was in my final engagement on the 8th of June where I was suddenly aware that I was there effectively at the time for a few seconds on my own with four enemy aircraft but once again it was very transitory and then just got on with the job. So that was David Morgan a sea harrier pilot talking about his first mission in the Falklands when this low level ground attack which is very interesting actually because we've spoken about the Blackpark attack as you've already referenced Patrick. The fact that the sea harrier pilots then went in afterwards on an attack mission of their own you know is not so well known and I think it's gripping to hear the description of the low level flying. I mean one of the interesting things about when they're training is that they're absolutely very strict rules about how low you can fly. In wartime that goes out of the window and if you're a daredevil pilot which of course a lot of these guys are you know all bets are off you know he's talking about literally 10 or 15 feet flying above the surface you know heading down into the crud so that he could get away from that attack. I mean really absolutely gripping description of mountain flying in a combat situation. Yeah I don't think any of us can really conceive the skills that you need or the reactions, the physical mental reactions you need to be able to do that sort of stuff. I was also slightly taken aback by that reference to cluster partners because of course now these are banned and we regard them as a pretty kind of nasty sort of weapon but obviously they were in our repertoire in those days. There's also an interesting reference which Gage of course talks about which was the confidence of the British pilots and you know you and I both know a lot of warfare is mental and it sounds like they're bigging themselves up but it's tremendously important when you're going up against an opponent armed with some pretty serious kit themselves that you have that confidence that you can deal with them. What was his description? We were the kings of the world when we were in the air and everyone felt that you know almost to a man the sea harriers and we should also remember as was mentioned by Tim Gage they were hugely outnumbered so it's absolutely vital that you believe in your kit and you believe in your training which it seems that they did. That's right you've got to have that spree really if you're going to do that job. Now on that day the 21st of May neither Tim Gage nor Morgan shot down enemy planes but many of their comrades did and two of Morgan's 800 squadron comrades on Hermes one of whom was Lieutenant Commander Mike Blissett were chasing two skyhawks out of the anchorage when they spotted a new wave approaching. They shot down four skyhawks these are the American A4s and then two hours later Lieutenant Clive Moral and flight Lieutenant John Leary who is about to become one of the most successful pilots of the war shot down one each. The areas were armed with the sidewinder missiles the American manufactured designed. They were particularly deadly once dead locked on to an enemy aircraft and of the 27 fired in the entire war 24 hit their targets that's a very impressive rate. Lieutenant Commander Andy Alde the commander of 800 squadron said combat was exactly as we'd imagined as we'd been briefed as we'd been trained I felt as if I had done it all before except firing the missile. Well praise for your training doesn't come higher than that so what was the final totals remind me so what was the actual kind of score if you like of the air combat that day? Well as is usually the case patch it there's a disagreement on exact numbers I but you know they're very close I've read two either 16 or 17 Argentinian planes shot down that day on the 21st of May and not a single British plane loss and no British plane lost during the whole campaign to air to air combat but that didn't mean that they were stopped getting through attacking the ships as you know all too well and by the end of this dramatic day four ships had been damaged by bombs and other missiles and one the frigate HMS Arden had actually been sunk so although the landings have been a success and 4000 men are now ashore the ground war has begun properly in earnest and this threat from Argentinian planes is going to continue for a farewell longer we're going to discover exactly how big that threat was next time when we'll be discussing the disastrous sinking of HMS Coventry and the merchant's supply ship Atlantic Conveyor on the 25th of May that's just four days later and then we'll be moving on to talk about the controversial land battle that took place at Goose Green three days after that we'll see you then