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Monday, April 8, 2013

Margaret Thatcher Dies; Her Falklands Defense Required Extensive Helicopter Operations on Land and at Sea

By Andrew Drwiega, International Bureau Chief

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who died on Monday at age 87, may be remembered militarily for leading the United Kingdom in the campaign to retake the Falkland Islands in 1982, which had been invaded by Argentina’s forces in a surprise attack.

She served three terms in office and her defining moment could be said to have been during the Falklands War. Her close relationship with then U.S. President Ronald Reagan ensured, after the failed shuttle diplomacy by Secretary of State Alexander Haig, that the United States provided the UK with the latest AIM 9-L Sidewinder missiles for British Harrier aircraft (a crucial contribution) as well as logistical support and the use of Ascension Island (from which the longest bombing raid in history was made—the attack of Port Stanley airfield by a Vulcan bomber over 8,000 miles).

The role of helicopters during the conflict was also essential. Ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore operations while the British counter invasion fleet were reorganizing at Ascension Island, half way to the Falklands, and then again when the British landed at San Carlos Bay.

There was also the attack and subsequent beaching of the Argentinian submarine Santa Fe by two Westland Wasps and ultimately a Westland Wessex (Sikorsky S-58). Westland Sea Kings (Sikorsky S-61) and Lynx helicopters also played a role in anti-submarine warfare by using their dipping sonar to protect the fleet.

Westland Scouts also played a role in battlefield casualty evacuation as well as conduction missile attacks on land targets.

Perhaps the most famous aircraft from the war was a Boeing Chinook (CH-47), Bravo November, that was airborne when an Argentine Exocet missile fired by a Super Etendard hit its mother ship, the Atlantic Conveyor. One of four Chinooks on the ship, it was the only helicopter remaining in the Falklands task force that could conduct heavy lift tasks—one of the reasons why the British infantry had to ‘yomp,’ not fly in bounds in their campaign to retake Port Stanley. The aircraft is still flying today and has been continuously active during the Afghanistan campaign.

Related: Military News

 

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