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Taken by Bob Shackleton

RAF Vulcan bomber (click to enlarge)

on to Part 2, Ships and Aircraft


It is with regret that I learnt of the death of Bob Shackleton on 24th November 2012 in South Africa from his daughter Carol.
His important historical photographs remain.


The Story of the Photographs
Background to Ascension and its Role


People and Places on Ascension
The RAF Helmet Story
Troops and Training
Aircraft and Movements



If you can identify people, places, ships, planes, or my errors, please email Gordon Smith

1.   2.

Once the first RAF Hercules transports arrived at Wideawake airfield during the week of  the 29th March 1982, Ascension could not have been more busy or interesting for the people and especially the children of the Island, including these South African youngsters

3.   4.

Part of the Carrier Battle Group, including carrier Hermes and two of her escorts, believed to be frigates HMS Broadsword and HMS Yarmouth arrived on Friday 16th April and after carrying out a major vertrep (vertical replenishment) by helicopter were on their way by Sunday 18th. Note the Sea King helicopter, first over Hermes and then Broadsword, also the seamen over the side of the frigate painting out her pennant number, F.88.

Below right, troop transport Canberra arrived the week of the 19th April with transport Elk and five Landing Ship Logistics (LSL) carrying most of 3 Commando Brigade

5.   6.
7.   8.

Above - a damaged Gazelle, probably belonging to 3 Commando Brigade Air Squadron Royal Marines down with rotors removed, followed by a Sea King lift, attended by many children (and some adults). Below a parade and White Ensign at half mast outside the Ascension police station following the loss of HMS Sheffield on the 4th May


11.   12.

An official reminder to the civilians of Ascension that their island was now at of war (upper left) and (right) seen from Cross Hill just above Georgetown the capital, two LSL's closer inshore, Canberra, two LCU's (Landing Craft Utility, four of which were each carried by the two assault ships) and one of these assault ships, possibly HMS Fearless

13.   14.
Above - the capital of Ascension, Georgetown with Hermes and her two escorts at anchor. Below carrier HMS Invincible and Royal Mail and local supply ship RMS St Helena. Also Hermes appearing beyond only the second hint of green on the island, the first being the tree outside the police station above
15.   16.
17.   18.
The main "port" facilities of Ascension, one small jetty in Clarence Bay and a mobile crane. The vessels below include Canberra, two LSL's and transport Elk
19.   20.
Above - a partial panorama of Wideawake airfield and below the individual photographs (21-28), showing a Victor tanker landing
21.   22.
23.   24.
25.   26.
27.   28.
29.   30.
Above - USAF C-5A transports and right - another Victor landing. All three images again clearly show the sterile volcanic terrain - presumably cinder cones from earlier eruptions



by Bob Shackleton

"Helicopter Pilot’s helmet modification - During the Falklands War in 1982, the RAF on Ascension Island approached me to photographically record a modification to their helicopter pilot’s helmet. The reason given for the modification was that the “active” infra-red night sights being used by the RAF were being easily picked up by Argentinean snipers.  I understand that the “passive” night sights were provided by the USA.

The modification was done in the workshop of the South Atlantic Cable Company (SACC), a South African company that operated the SAT-1 Submarine Cable System which linked Cape Town, South Africa to Sesimbra, Portugal, via Ascension Island and the Canary Islands. Photographs 01 to 10 show the progress of the modification (only two of the photos are included here).  I was then asked to made copies of the sets of photos which together with the “passive” night sights were dropped to the task force on their way to the Falklands. Photos 11 & 12 (only one included) show RAF Flight Sergeant Sandy Sandman in the SACC workshop busy with the helmet modification.

This was all done with the understanding that there was no way that the RAF could “officially” reimburse me for the photographs provided but later that day an old helmet was dropped off at the SACC building. My son David spent many years playing with the helmet and it has now been handed down to his nephew, my grandson Caleb, who also enjoys playing with it whenever he visits (last photo)."

32.   33.
34.   35.

36.   37.
Photos 36-39 are all HQ Company 40 Commando, mostly MG Section.
36, 37 and 39 have C/Sgt "Jimmy" Jewell in the front.
38.   39.
The tall Marine with slung rifle is Marine Pete Caldwell (third in the enlarged version) and behind him is Corporal Phil Scotthorne.    

From the cap badges, these troops in training all appear to be Royal Marine "yompers", apparently joined or infiltrated, in one case, by members of the Chinese Army!

From Guy Williams -  "I cannot recognise anyone so I do not think they are 42 Cdo RM, it might be 40 Cdo"

Lance Corporal Barney Clifton confirms "that images 36-39 are HQ Company, 40 Commando. He was a member of the Company in the Falklands and cross-decked to LSL Sir Lancelot on which he was bombed off San Carlos. In the enlarged version of No. 38, the tall Marine third from the front was Marine Pete Caldwell and behind him is Corporal Phil Scotthorne."

Dave Gammage who confirms what Barney says - "photos 36-39 are HQ Coy, 40 Cdo and most are the MT Troop and Provost Section. Photos 36, 37 and 39 have C/Sgt "Jimmy" Jewell in the front. He was the provost sergeant and his badge of office can be seen on his right wrist. Photo 42 is mainly Signals Troop and the two senior NCO's are C/Sgt John Gillies and Sgt "Buck" Stagg. I think the naval Lieutenant at the left in photo 43 was the unit education officer, but I cannot remember his name."

and from Stewart Bratherton, with additions by Pete Butcher - "as a member of Bravo Company I can confirm that most are of 40 Cdo. Picture 40 is LCpl Archer, 41 is Mne Pessoll (who is still serving), and 42 looks like Signals troop, there is a young Neil Adler in the middle of the front rank, and it looks like Pete Butcher giving the Victory Sign. As I organised the 40 Commando 25th Anniversary last year, I have a few contact details of the lads from Alpha Company, so will ask them to look and hopefully give you a few more names."

from another correspondent:
Ref photo 36
These are in fact mostly MT and Provost Section.
Ist C/Sgt Jimmy Jewel who was the Provost Sgt.
2nd Can't remember
3rd L/Cpl Freddie Phelps Provost Section.
4th L/Cpl Mark Hammond Provost Section.
5th L/Cpl Irishman Provost Section. Can't remember his name.
Ref photo 38
Cpl Phil Scotthorne MT Section was my Section Commander. I was 2IC.
3rd Pete Caldwell (MT) was one of our men together with 1st and 2nd (both MT)
On a personal note - Phil was a switched on Section Commander and we all worked really well together, even when the chips where down. I owe a debt of gratitude to them all." 

40. Close up of a GPMG carried by by L/Cpl Archer   41. Marine Pessoll, still serving in 2008
42.   43.
Mainly Signals Troop 40 Commando. Included are C/Sgt John "Jock" Gilliss (one of two senior NCO's), Pete Butcher, Sgt "Buck" Stagg (the other senior NCO), Neil Adler, Mne Cooper, Mne Scott, Ian Race, Steve Froggett (who is now a Beefeater in the Tower of London), and the Unit Education Officer. (Names have been added to the enlargement)   Another shot of Signals Troop. The naval Lieutenant at left was the Unit Education Officer of 40 Commando, believed to be Tony Hawkes
44.   45.

The LCU's (Landing Craft Utility) above, believed to be two of the four assigned to assault ship HMS Fearless, may have been moving supplies or taking part in landing exercises, presumably in English Bay.



The Story of the Photographs

The following email says it all:

----- Original Message -----

Sent: Saturday, February 10, 2007 5:18 AM

Subject: Falklands Island War photos - Ascension Island


Dear Mr Smith


I am Bob Shackleton, who together with my family, lived on Ascension Island from 1978 to 1982 and witnessed and photographed the preparation for the Falkland Island Campaign from April to June 1982 while working for the South Atlantic Cable Company, a South African company which operated the SAT-1 Submarine Cable.

I have scanned to electronic format the negatives of about a hundred of the best photos of both ships and aircraft, colour & monochrome, which I would like to donate to anyone who can use them so that they are not lost.


Unfortunately a number of the Royal Navy ships arrived at Ascension with their identification number painted over but I am sure that most naval historians will be able to identify them.


I also plan to send a copy to The Royal Naval Museum, Fleet Air Arm Museum in Yeovilton (which I visited in 2001) and the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.



...........May I suggest a small correction to your excellent website about the Falklands Campaign - Section 19 (which follows below):


With only a few movements each week, it mainly served the US satellite and missile tracking facilities and South African submarine cable and British satellite relay stations. American-controlled and operated by Pan American Airways, British aircraft normally had to give 24 hours notice of use, but during the war this requirement was waived. The population consisted solely of contracted employees and their families from St. Helena, Britain, South Africa and the United States, and at the last census totalled 1,051.




The Task Force could not be completely self-contained and a lot of men and supplies had to be ferried out to the South Atlantic by a constant stream of RAF Hercules and VC.10's, chartered freighters and mainly undisclosed American aircraft (USAF C-141 Starlifter and C-5A Galaxy) bringing in such stores as the latest Sidewinder AAM's.


See attached photo (in Part 2) which shows the presence of USAF MAC (Military Airlift Command) flights at Wideawake Airfield during the build-up to the war.


Bob Shackleton, Cape Town, South Africa,



from Battle Atlas of the Falklands War 1982


19. ASCENSION ISLAND - Stepping Stone to Victory


Geography - Located at position 07.56' South, 14.22' West, 4,200 miles (3,700 nautical) from Britain and 3,800 (3,300 nautical) from the Falklands, Ascension was vital to the success of the Task Force. Close to the equator, but not unbearably hot, the 38 square mile island is a product of the mid-Atlantic ridge and completely volcanic in origin.


In effect a mountain peak rising out of the sea, it is covered by sharp rock and extinct cones of dust and clinker. The highest point of Green Mountain is covered by the only tropical vegetation and trees in a largely barren landscape devoid of water and shelter. Surrounded by the almost continual swell of the South Atlantic, there are no natural harbours and only a single jetty at Clarence Bay and a small landing cove at English Bay. Amongst the abundant wildlife around the island is the sooty tern or wideawake.



History - Discovered in 1501, presumably on Ascension Day, the island remained uninhabited until the early 19th century, when with Napoleon exiled to nearby St Helena, a small Royal Navy garrison was established. Until 1922, the Admiralty was in control but then Ascension became a dependency of St. Helena with the Administrator appointed by Britain.


Wideawake airfield was built in World War 2 as a staging post between Brazil and Africa and had since been developed by the Americans and the single runway extended to over 10,000 feet to take heavy transport aircraft. With only a few movements each week, it mainly served the US satellite and missile tracking facilities and British submarine cable and satellite relay stations. American-controlled and operated by Pan American Airways, British aircraft normally had to give 24 hours notice of use, but during the war this requirement was waived.


The population consisted solely of contracted employees and their families from St. Helena, Britain, South Africa and the United States, and at the last census totalled 1,051. The capital is Georgetown. By 1982 the associated islands of St. Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha were one of the few Colonies remaining to Britain. With the use of Simonstown in South Africa ruled out for obvious political reasons, Ascension Island with its airfield was the only possible forward base. But one nearly 4,000 miles from the scene of action.


Role - Even then Ascension was invaluable. The Task Force could not be completely self-contained and a lot of men and supplies had to be ferried out to the South Atlantic by a constant stream of RAF Hercules and VC.10's, chartered freighters and mainly undisclosed American aircraft bringing in such stores as the latest Sidewinder AAM's. These were either delivered to the ships as they called in or passed by, or in urgent cases, air-dropped to them on the way to the Falklands or South Georgia.

Few ships spent much time there although most of the Amphibious Task Group with 3 Cdo Bde did stay to prepare for the coming landings. In the case of the troops, only limited preparation was possible as there was no room for large scale manouevres other than marching, although they were able to train on the rapidly constructed firing ranges and practice disembarking from the troopships by helicopter and landing craft.


More importantly, the opportunity was taken for the hastily loaded ships to re-distribute some of their stores to other ships, to receive much needed supplies from the UK, and where possible to "combat load" for an amphibious landing. Much of the necessary "cross decking" was carried out by the helicopters with their vertical replenishment capabilities, but also taking part were the Navy landing craft, Royal Corps of Transport Mexeflotes, and locally hired lighters.


In all this movement there were major logistical problems. Wideawake had one runway and limited dispersal areas and helicopters could only land there because of the volcanic dust, there was no port, and the one jetty was three miles away and not always useable because of the Atlantic waves.


Ascension was also the main base for RAF operations in support of the Task Force. Usually refuelled in the air by a great number of Victor tanker sorties, air attacks on Stanley, reconnaissance, airdrops, and SAR were carried out by the resident Vulcans, Nimrods and Hercules. Added to all the helicopter and transport movements, these made Wideawake one of the busiest airfields in the world with up to 400 movements of all types each day.


Responsible for this array of activities was the British Forces Support Unit Ascension Island commanded by Capt R. McQueen (awarded CBE) RN. Involving all three services, some 1000 men, occasionally rising to 1500 did everything needed to support the Task Force, work the airfield in cooperation with the resident Americans and defend the island against possible attack by Argentine forces.


In general the RAF was responsible for airfield operations and both air and ground defence, the Army built and manned the necessary additional facilities, and the Navy [NP 1222, Cmdr G A C Woods (OBE) RN] operated a forward logistical base for the Task Force ships.


So important to the morale of the men taking part as well as the operation of the Task Force was the efficient handling of the vast amounts of private and official mail passing through the island. Although involving all services, the Royal Engineers Postal and Courier Service [WO1 R G Randall (MBE) RE] handled up to 2 tons of airmail daily and 1000 bags of parcels each week.

..... continued in Part 2, Ships and Aircraft



Internet version of Ascension Island's only newspaper, The Islander


on to Part 2, Ships and Aircraft
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revised  5/12/10