Importance - With the Navy flying just about
all the operations around South
then the Falklands, although with a number of RAF Sea
Harrier pilots, the RAF's role can be overlooked.
And yet it's ability to rapidly transport men,
supplies and aircraft, first to Ascension and then later further
south was so important to success.
Between the UK and Ascension
and VC.10 transports flew over 500 sorties to Ascension by the end of the war to
bring in more than 5,000 people and 6,000 tons of
freight. The Hercules, some the lengthened C.3's,
but mostly C.1's, were from the pool of over
fifty aircraft of 24, 30, 47
and 70 Sqdns of the Lyneham Transport Wing. The first
two squadrons concentrated on the UK/Ascension
airbridge and the other two on missions south,
and by the end of the war, six aircraft had been
fitted for in-flight refuelling to extend their
As well as flying
to Ascension, the thirteen VC.10 passenger
aircraft of 10 Sqdn from Brize
returned with ship's survivors, and from Montevideo, brought back prisoners
and deportees from the Falklands and South
wounded men from battle. They also continued to
fly the Atlantic to the United
transport capacity was provided by chartered
Boeing 707's and five ex-RAF Belfast freighters.
Ascension-based Aircraft and
their way south in early May, three
GR.3's of 1 (Fighter)
Sqdn were retained at Wideawake for air defence, but later
relieved by three supersonic
29(F) Sqdn from RAF Coningsby. By then, and with the
shortage of helicopters on the island, a
HAR.3 of 202 Air-Sea
had joined a
of 18 Sqdn on vertrep duties.
Apart from units
responsible for air movements, communications and
supply, the RAF also took on ground defence with
the arrival of HQ Unit, 3 Wing and Field Flight,
15 Sqdn of the RAF Regt.
Missions Flown from Ascension
First to deploy were two
maritime patrol aircraft
Sqdn from St Mawgan to
patrol Ascension waters and act as links with the nuclear
subs. Later in April, they were replaced by some of the
thirteen plus and more modern
of 120, 201
and 206 Sqdns from Kinloss.
In over a hundred sorties from Wideawake, they flew ahead of the Task
Force, reached as far as Argentine waters, and provided SAR and radio links
and coordinated air refuelling for Victor and Vulcan
missions and Harrier staging flights. By the surrender,
some MR.2's were fitted for air-refuelling and some with
Sidewinder AAM's for self defence, but no aircraft
equipped with the Harpoon anti-shipping missile were
ready in time. In addition, R.1 reconnaissance aircraft
Wyton's 51 Sqdn may
have taken part.
south from Ascension, few missions would have beeen
possible without the Victor K.2 tankers of 55
and 57 Sqdns from Marham,
some twenty of which reached Ascension. Apart from
refuelling each other as needed, they first flew three
maritime radar reconnaissance missions leading up to the
recapture of South Georgia. Then in nearly 600 sorties the Victors
supported other aircraft in often complicated logistics
patterns. These included (with outline numbers of tanker
sorties) fighters staging to Ascension and some Harrier
GR.3's on from there, Hercules long range drops (6),
extended Nimrod patrols (12), Vulcan raids on Stanley (15).
They also provided cover
as "Atlantic Conveyor" went south with her
Harriers and helicopters.
Although the Waddington-based Vulcan B.2 bombers
of 44, 50
and 101 Sqdns were due to retire from service, a number
were fitted with extra ECM and readied for action. Four
aircraft in total reached Ascension, the first two at the
end of April to start a planned series of seven, single
aircraft "Black Buck" missions against Stanley through to mid June. Conventional
bombs were used on three occasions and Shrike anti-radar
missiles on two, with one mission of each type being
of 47 and 70 Sqdns were trained in
tactical support and based at Ascension to air drop men
and urgent supplies to the Task Force further south. As
47 Sqdn included a Special Forces Flight, it may have
been used for undisclosed covert operations.
the Navy's Sea Harriers, Harrier GR.3's of 1(F) Sqdn, RAF Wittering were prepared for carrier service. Although
fitted with Sidewinder and ECM and with the pilots
receiving limited ski-jump training at Yeovilton, they were mainly used in their
normal ground attack role. Nine out of ten aircraft
setting out in early May reached Ascension, and apart
from the three that temporarily stayed on, the other six
sailed with "Atlantic Conveyor" and later flew
off to "Hermes". Six more arrived at the end of
May to add to the three already there.
Of this nine,
four flew direct to
four sailed with merchantman "Contender
Bezant" too late to join the fighting
one returned to the UK with fuel leaks.
Thus a total of ten GR.3's
flew with the Navy, with three shot down by ground fire and one damaged
beyond repair in landing.
With the boggy terrain
and almost total lack of roads, heavy lift
helicopters were a must. Hence the importance of the
of 18 Sqdn, RAF Odiham carried by "Atlantic
Conveyor". One stayed on Ascension, but three of
the remaining four were lost in the Exocet attack.
The one survivor worked wonders, and not until the
surrender did three more plus the Ascension Chinook
arrive on "Contender Bezant".