Visit a British air show before September and it’s possible you’ll get the opportunity to witness the last Vulcan bomber in flight — and this is definitely the last year you’ll get the chance, this time.
Alongside the staple leather-clad wing-walking ladies, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, simulated Apache attack-chopper scenarios and Red Arrows displays, you may find XH558 — now owned and flown by charity Vulcan to the Sky Trust, funded by charitable donations and Lottery cash.
The Vulcan holds a very special place in the hearts of many, not just for that unmistakable shape but because it functioned as a basic but wholly British nuclear deterrent early on in the Cold War.
Such was its frontline status and iconic image, the Vulcan was used by James Bond scriptwriters and given generous screen time in Thunderball (1965) — in which the V-bomber is hijacked by SPECTRE resulting in the loss of two nukes, which Commander Bond must then retrieve.
In the real world the Vulcan’s only combat action came in 1982, as part of the Falklands War. The “Black Buck” raids in which Vulcans — supported by a large fleet of aerial tankers — travelled all the way from Ascension Island to attack the Falklands held the longest-distance combat bombing record for nine years until the USAF took the top spot with B-52 raids in the 1991 Gulf War.
Standing as I did at the Cosford Airshow — one of those last displays — just few hundred yards from XH558, with its engines running at full tilt, you knew it was something special. The ground shook and your stomach throbbed as this mighty aircraft passed overhead.
To understand the reasoning behind the creation of the Vulcan you need to know the backstory about the freezing of the nuclear relationship between the UK and the US after World War II. When the bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the war entered its final phase. Unfortunately, so did the nuclear relationship between the UK and the US.
The US, wanting to keep all the nuclear toys for itself, passed the McMahon Act — officially the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 — forbidding the transfer of nuclear knowledge or technology to any country, even those former allies (Britain and Canada) that helped develop the bombs which had been dropped on Japan.
July 19, 2015
May 19, 2015
Think Defence looks back at the successful amphibious landings in the Falkland Islands by a less-than-fully-prepared British military:
If the amphibious operations in Normandy were unprecedented because of the scale those in 1982 in the Falkland Islands were equally remarkable, nor for scale but for the huge distance involved. Another breathtaking feature of Operation Corporate was the speed in which it was mounted and the degree of improvisation that would in the end, be needed.
One might argue that even taking into account Inchon and Suez it was the worlds most complex and demanding amphibious operation since D-Day.
Since VE day and Suez the UK’s amphibious capabilities had dwindled both in scale and capability, the Royal Marines concentrating on their Northern Europe role.
When Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands in 1982 the scale of the challenge had many echoes of D-Day; a need for joint service cooperation and a number of technical challenges to overcome for example. What we did not have was the luxury of time, no time to develop new and novel solutions, no time for testing and no time for practice beyond what was available on the journey south.
Due to the short timescales British Rail could not reposition their rolling stock to get the War Material Reserve (about 9,000 tonnes just for 3CDO, 30 days combat supplies and 60 days of general stores) to the ships so instead, a fleet of RCT and civilian trucks were used.
More or less, we went with what we had.
In little over a month from the invasion, the first ships had departed the UK on their 8,000 mile journey South.
There is no need to recount the general history of the campaign but from a ship to shore logistics perspective there were a number of equipment and capabilities available to Commodore Clapp and Brigadier Thompson worth describing.
Earlier posts on the Falklands War can be found here.
February 18, 2015
Published on 16 Feb 2015
Vice Admiral Maximilian Reichsgraf von Spee is one of the most famous admirals of World War One. When the war broke out, he and his East Asian Squadron are stationed in the Pacific. But instead of surrendering to his superior enemies, he manages to reach South America during an audacious cruiser war. At the Battle of Coronel, he ends the legend of the invincible Royal Navy.
December 12, 2014
Published on 11 Dec 2014
Near the far away Falkland Islands the story of the German East Asia Squadron is coming to an end: in a naval battle nearly the entire squadron sunk and Maximilian von Spee dies together with over 2000 German seamen. Meanwhile, the war of attrition is still going on in Europe and Austria-Hungary has to learn that their conquest of Belgrade is not putting a lid on the Serbian resistance.
May 31, 2014
H/T to Jonathan Liew for the image.
February 24, 2014
The Argentine government has announced it will be increasing spending on their armed forces by a third in the coming year. While this report in the Daily Express takes it seriously, it fails to account for the overall sorry state of the Argentinian economy … it’s not clear if there’s any actual money to be allocated to the military:
Buenos Aires will acquire military hardware including fighter aircraft, anti-aircraft weapons and specialised radar, as well as beefing up its special forces.
The news comes months before drilling for oil begins in earnest off the Falkland Islands, provoking Argentina’s struggling President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.
Last month she created a new cabinet post of Secretary for the Malvinas, her country’s name for the Falklands.
Meanwhile, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has refused to confirm that Britain would retake the Falklands if they were overrun by enemy forces.
The extra cash means Argentina will increase defence spending by 33.4 per cent this year, the biggest rise in its history. It will include £750million for 32 procurement and modernisation programmes.
They will include medium tanks and transport aircraft and the refurbishment of warships and submarines. The shopping list also includes Israeli air defence systems, naval assault craft, rocket systems, helicopters and a drone project.
As reported earlier this month, the economy is suffering from an inflation rate estimated to be in the 70% range, the government has expropriated private pensions and foreign-owned companies, and is unable to borrow significant amounts of money internationally due to their 2002 debt default. Announcing extra money for the military may well be the economic version of Baghdad Bob’s sabre-rattling press conferences … just for show.
On the other hand, military adventurism is a hallowed tradition for authoritarian regimes to tamp down domestic criticism and rally public opinion. Being seen to threaten the British in the Falkland Islands still polls well in Buenos Aires.
August 7, 2013
Sir Humphrey thinks there’s rather less than meets the eye in the media’s coverage of the Spanish government’s recent series of escalations over Gibraltar:
Its August, the sun is shining, the politicians are on holiday and the media are desperately searching around for some kind of story to fill the news. Suddenly, the perfect story has emerged — those dreadful Spanish are doing all manner of dubious things to threaten Gibraltar and simultaneously the Falkland Islands. Is there reason for panic, or is it a case of just summer bluster in order to distract attention from other problems? The UK has always had a challenging relationship with the Spanish over Gibraltar — no matter how much the UK wishes to move the relationship forward (and in many areas it remains an extremely strong and positive relationship), this feels as if it is an issue which cannot easily be resolved.
The current situation owes much to the Spanish ratcheting up tensions after claims that Gibraltar was laying concrete blocks into local waters, in turn threatening traditional fishing grounds. It is hard to work out whether this is a genuine grievance, or merely a convenient pretext in order to gain some traction on putting pressure on the territory. Following a previous weekend where long traffic jams occurred with checks on all cars transiting the border, the Spanish are now reportedly considering imposing an entrance / exit tax of 50 Euros on anyone transiting their side of the border. While such taxes may be deeply unpleasant, they are perhaps not necessarily new (many countries impose similar entrance taxes around the world). The question is to what extent would this damage the local economy? It is worth considering that many Gibraltarians work in southern Spain, so any tax would probably make it difficult to get to work and damage the livelihood of many small businesses – perhaps appealing in a nation where youth unemployment is ever higher, but in the interim it could easily cause more long term economic damage to both the Spanish and Gibraltarian economies.
So what is the tie-in to the Falkland Islands? A media report on Spain selling Mirage fighter jets to Argentina:
It is not clear whether this is actually news, or whether it’s the case that the Tabloid press have been looking on Wikipedia and turned what is a one line entry on future Spanish Mirage jet prospects into an article designed to raise tensions. In reality this site has long made the point that the Argentine Armed Forces are in a parlous state, and that they are desperately short of spares, training and operational experience.
They’ve also taken various fleets of aircraft out of service in recent years, so its entirely reasonable to expect some form of replacement at some point. In the case of the Mirage jets, they entered service in 1975 and are extremely old and not necessarily front line fast jet material any longer. Acquisition of a small number of 1970s vintage jets which have been worked hard for nearly 40 years is not really going to change the balance of power in the South Atlantic. Indeed, its worth noting that right now (if you believe Wikipedia) the entire Argentine Mirage fleet is grounded anyway due to spares and safety issues. At best this acquisition may try and restore some limited capability. So, its fair to say that the Falkland Islands are hardly at risk of collapse — if the acquisition of a small number of ancient fighter aircraft materially changes the balance of power, then something has gone very badly wrong in UK defence planning circles.
May 21, 2013
HMS Edinburgh, the last of the Type 42 destroyers, will be hauling down her flag on June 6th:
In 1966 the Labour government cancelled the CVA-01 aircraft carrier project and the Type 82 destroyers that were designed as the carrier’s main escorts. The Type 82 programme was quite advanced and HMS Bristol was eventually completed. The Type 82 was really a light cruiser, large, heavily armed and expensive, with complex steam & gas turbine propulsion. In some ways it was a blessing that the costly Type 82′s were axed as the RN was able to get decent numbers of the alternative cheaper Type 42s.
The Type 42 was always an ‘austerity design’ and although by the batch 3 ships many of the problems had been cured, they were always considered only a partial success. Sometimes the quality and excellence of the RN crews could overcome these deficiencies, sometimes not. In the design stage it was decided not exceed a certain hull length in the erroneous belief that would save on cost, the first 8 ships were too short and this caused various problems throughout their lives. Poor sea-keeping was not only tiring for crews but affected the operation of the gun and delicate missile launcher on the foredeck. Rather cramped with a crew of around 250 (300 could be crammed in at a push), there was small margin for additional equipment but the RN just about managed to keep them effective with small incremental upgrades. The Type 42 was built around the Sea Dart missile system that was designed to provide area defence for the fleet from medium or high level Soviet bombers. The Sea Dart was pretty effective when the targets obliged by flying high but lacked the ability to engage close-in and low-level aircraft and anti-ship missiles. The RN developed the excellent Sea Wolf system for this role but it would be too costly to fit to the already cramped Type 42. Inexcusably for an air-defence destroyer, close-in weapons (CIWS) amounted to just 2 of manually–aimed WWII vintage Oerlikon 20mm cannons. This was quickly remedied after the Falkland’s war with fitting of 4 modern 20mm cannons and ultimately by the 1990s all ships were properly equipped with 2 Phalanx 20mm radar-controlled gatling guns. Unlike the Type 82, there was a hangar and flight deck which allowed the carrying of a Wasp and then the superb Lynx helicopter which gave the ship a major anti-submarine capability and light anti-shipping punch. Finally the Mk 8 4.5” gun provided limited air defence capability, last-ditch anti-shipping role, but was mainly used for bombarding land targets.
[. . .]
The Falklands war has dominated the story of the Type 42. On 4th May 1982 HMS Sheffield was hit by an Exocet missile, caught unawares while transmitting on satellite comms, she failed to detect the missile but without adequate CIWS would probably have been unable to save herself anyway. The missile failed to explode but the resulting fire eventually destroyed the ship, killing 22 of her crew. On 12th May HMS Glasgow was hit by a 1000lb bomb which fortunately passed right through the ship without exploding. She was patched up but had to limp home leaving HMS Coventry as the only remaining air defence ship in the task force. Coventry was sunk on 25th May 1982 by bombs while bravely operating in an exposed position to defend the landing ships with Sea Wolf-armed HMS Broadsword. The idea was that the combination of Sea Dart and Sea Wolf would provide long and short-range anti-aircraft coverage but although initially a success, Coventry’s luck ran out when she accidentally blocked Broadsword’s field of fire. This would not have been a problem for a single ship fitted with both weapons. HMS Exeter and Cardiff arrived as replacements and Exeter (with her better radars & electronics) achieved 3 aircraft kills. The Sea Dart system was a partial success in the Falklands war, exact figures are disputed but it achieved a roughly 50% hit rate. Its greater achievement was to force Argentine pilots to attack at low-level where their bombs sometimes didn’t fuse properly and failed to explode. What can be seen is that the presence of fighter aircraft (Sea Harriers) was a more effective weapon against attacking aircraft. Ship launched missiles are generally inferior to fighter aircraft, although missile systems in theory can be available 24/7 when it is difficult to maintain continuous combat patrol (CAP) cover. Although 2 were lost and 1 damaged the ‘expendable’ ‘fighting 42s” achieved their main strategic objective that was to defend the carriers and other ships that ultimately won the war.
April 8, 2013
The Iron Lady is dead. Her place in 20th century British history as the first female PM and the victor in the 1982 Falklands War is counterbalanced for many people by her battling, confrontational style and her attempts to dismantle large parts of the postwar welfare state. Here is the initial BBC report:
Former Prime Minister Baroness Thatcher has died “peacefully” at the age of 87 after suffering a stroke, her family has announced.
David Cameron called her a “great Briton” and the Queen spoke of her sadness at the death.
Lady Thatcher was Conservative prime minister from 1979 to 1990. She was the first woman to hold the role.
She will not have a state funeral but will be accorded the same status as Princess Diana and the Queen Mother.
The ceremony, with full military honours, will take place at London’s St Paul’s Cathedral.
The union jack above Number 10 Downing Street has been lowered to half-mast.
[. . .]
Former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair called her a “towering figure”, while his successor Gordon Brown praised her “determination and resilience”.
Labour leader Ed Miliband said Lady Thatcher had been a “unique figure” who “reshaped the politics of a whole generation”.
He added: “The Labour Party disagreed with much of what she did and she will always remain a controversial figure. But we can disagree and also greatly respect her political achievements and her personal strength.”
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg described Lady Thatcher as one of the “defining figures in modern British politics”, adding: “She may have divided opinion during her time in politics but everyone will be united today in acknowledging the strength of her personality and the radicalism of her politics.”
London Mayor Boris Johnson tweeted: “Very sad to hear of death of Baroness Thatcher. Her memory will live long after the world has forgotten the grey suits of today’s politics.”
UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage called Lady Thatcher a “great inspiration”, adding: “Whether you loved her or hated her nobody could deny that she was a great patriot, who believed passionately in this country and her people. A towering figure in recent British and political history has passed from the stage. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family.”
Lady Thatcher, who retired from public speaking in 2002, had suffered poor health for several years. Her husband Denis died in 2003.
April 2, 2013
In History Today, Patrick Bishop recounts his experiences as a war correspondent during the Falklands War, 31 years ago:
For me, a young reporter attached to 3 Commando Brigade aboard the requisitioned cruise ship Canberra, covering ‘Maggie’s war’ was a process of constant revelation. The soldiers, the sea and landscapes, the actuality of combat — everything was surprising and collided with expectations.
I arrived in the war, like Britain itself, bemused at the suddenness of events. One minute I was a home news hack on the Observer, the next I was an official war correspondent, with a red cloth-covered Second World War-issue booklet of regulations and the rank of honorary captain.
We left from Southampton on a drizzly Good Friday evening. Two or three hundred wives, girlfriends and children had gathered on the quayside to say goodbye and good luck to their menfolk, while onboard a band played ‘A Life On The Ocean Wave’ and ‘Land Of Hope And Glory’. The crowd was cheerfully patriotic. Some waved union flags. Two buxom girls, soon the object of close attention by the TV cameras, were wearing T-shirts with the legend ‘Give The Argies Some Bargie’.
Who were these people? To my metropolitan eyes they appeared somewhat alien. Indeed they were. The era of Callaghan’s Labour government, which was replaced by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative administration in 1979, had forced patriotism underground. Mrs T. was untried and not yet confident enough to encourage its resurrection.
March 13, 2013
I figured the Argentine government would brush off the overwhelming result of the Falkland Islands referendum once it became clear that the result would not flatter Argentinian egos:
In her first public comment on the referendum, the outspoken president dismissed the vote as a “parody” and thanked Argentinians for their “monolithic opposition”.
She said the referendum, where residents voted in favour of remaining a British overseas territory, was “as if a group of squatters had voted on whether to continue to occupy a building”.
Speaking at an event at the Presidential Palace in Buenos Aires, she added: “We reaffirm our commitment to dialogue in accordance with the UN.
“To achieve a solution that also included the interests of those who live on our Malvinas islands.”
She quoted British Foreign Office minister Hugo Swire as saying that the referendum result didn’t change the situation “from a legal point of view”.
The vote wasn’t even close, with only three votes for the “No” option out of 1,517 total votes cast.
January 23, 2013
The Argentinian defence minister was sure to include the possibility that the ARA Santísima Trinidad was sunk by enemy action:
Arturo Puricelli, the defence minister, said the loss of the Holy Trinity was due to “negligence in the best-case scenario, or an attack” aimed at making the government look bad. He did not go into detail.
The destroyer, which was retired from active service in 2004, took on water at the Puerto Belgrano naval base after a six-inch pipe burst, the navy said.
The minister later said, however, that he was surprised that the ship sank quickly while it was moored at the port.
First it started listing, he said. “So the breakdown must have been major, or someone opened a value to sink it,” he said.
The ARA Santísima Trinidad was the warship that landed the first military forces — 84 marines and a team of divers — to start the Falklands War of 1982.
Update: I wonder if Colby is freelancing for the Sun now:
— Colby Cosh (@colbycosh) January 23, 2013
January 13, 2013
If nothing else, the heated rhetoric from Argentina is encouraging the British government to think about sending more military resources to the Falklands:
Britain is prepared to send additional military backup to the South Atlantic as a ‘show of force’ to Argentina over the Falkland Islands.
It is understood an extra warship, another RAF Tycoon [sic] combat aircraft and further troops could be dispatched to the region ahead of the March referendum over whether the islands remain part of the UK.
According to the Sunday Telegraph, the options being proposed by planners at the Permanent Joint Headquarters in Northwood, London, include conducting naval exercises in the region.
Alternatives include sending elements of the Army’s 16 Air Assault Brigade — the airborne task force which includes members of the Parachute Regiment — which has just completed a series of demanding exercises in Spain preparing for ‘general war’.
Islanders will vote on March 11 on whether they wish to remain an overseas territory of the UK.
It is expected there will be a 100 per cent ‘yes’ vote, which intelligence officials have warned the Prime Minister could lead to an aggressive ‘stunt’ by Argentina, such as planting the country’s flag on the island.
September 13, 2012
History Today has an Archie Brown review of Reagan and Thatcher: The Difficult Relationship by Richard Aldous:
… Thatcher had serious reservations about Reagan’s Strategic Defence Initiative project (SDI — soon popularly referred to as ‘Star Wars’). In particular she rejected his idea that this hypothetical anti-missile defence system would make nuclear weapons — and the concept of deterrence — obsolete. When, at the Reykjavik summit in 1986, only Reagan’s determination to continue with SDI prevented his agreeing with Mikhail Gorbachev on a plan for total removal of nuclear weapons from global arsenals, the British prime minister became incandescent with rage.
Her strong attachment to nuclear weapons as a deterrent, in the belief that they would never be used, went alongside a foreign policy that was less bellicose than her popular image might suggest. Thatcher’s willingness to use force to take back the Falkland Islands, following their takeover by Galtieri’s Argentina, should not obscure her extreme reluctance to endorse military intervention where there had been no external attack on Britain or on a British dependency. Aldous cites her clearly-expressed opposition to military interventions for the sake of ‘regime change’:
We in the Western democracies use our force to defend our way of life … We do not use it to walk into independent sovereign territories … If you’re going to pronounce a new law that wherever communism reigns against the will of the people, even though it’s happened internally, there the USA shall enter, then we are going to have really terrible wars in the world.
That was provoked by the American invasion of Grenada to reverse an internal coup. Thatcher also took a sceptical view of American military strikes in Lebanon and Libya, saying: ‘Once you start to go across borders, then I do not see an end to it and I uphold international law very firmly’.
June 14, 2012
A ceremony in Port Stanley today, marking the 30th anniversary of the end of occupation during the Falklands War between Britain and Argentina:
The anniversary of the liberation of the islands after 74 days of Argentine occupation was marked at a service of thanksgiving at Christ Church Cathedral in the Falklands capital.
Veterans of the 1982 war then led a military parade to the Liberation Monument for an act of remembrance.
The names of the 255 UK servicemen and three Falklands civilians who died in the war were recited at Liberation Monument. An estimated 650 Argentines were also killed during the conflict.
Wreaths were laid at the monument and the national anthem was played.
The BBC’s defence correspondent Caroline Wyatt, in Port Stanley, said it was a day of high emotion for veterans who had come back to see the battlefields where many of their friends and comrades laid down their lives.
For islanders, it was a vital ceremony to mark their liberation and to express the undying gratitude they felt for the servicemen and women who came 8,000 miles to help them.
In his statement, Mr Cameron said the anniversary was “an opportunity to remember all those who lost their lives in the conflict and to look forward to what the future holds for the Falklands”.