Battle of San Carlos (1982)

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The Battle of San Carlos was a major battle between aircraft and ships that lasted from 21 to 25 May 1982 during the British landings on the shores of San Carlos Water (which became known as "Bomb Alley"[1][2]) in the 1982 Falklands War (Spanish: Guerra de las Malvinas). Low-flying land-based Argentine jet aircraft made repeated attacks on ships of the British Task Force.

It was the first time in history that a modern surface fleet armed with surface-to-air missiles and with air cover backed up by STOVL carrier-based aircraft defended against full-scale air strikes. The British sustained severe losses and damage, but were able to create and consolidate a beachhead and land troops.


After the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands the United Kingdom initiated Operation Corporate sending a Task Force 12000 km south in order to retake the islands. Under the codename Operation Sutton the British forces planned amphibious landings around San Carlos, on an inlet located off Falkland Sound, the strait between East Falkland and West Falkland. The location was chosen as the landing force would be protected by the terrain against Exocet and submarine attacks, and it was distant enough from Stanley to prevent a rapid reaction from Argentine land troops stationed there.[3]

The landing took the Argentines completely by surprise; Argentine Navy officers had considered that the location was not a good choice for such an operation, and had left the zone without major defences.[4]

Argentine aircraft

Argentine forces operated under range and payload limitations as they had limited refuelling resources and were operating at maximum range.

  • A-4 Skyhawk: The A-4 was used by both the Argentine Air Force (FAA) and Argentine Naval Aviation (COAN). In spite of using two 295-gallons drop tanks, they needed aerial refuelling twice during missions. Bomb load used during the conflict was one British-made 1000 lb (Mk 17) unguided bomb or four 227 kg Spanish/American built retarding tail bombs. The aircraft were armed with two 20mm Colt Mk 12 cannon
  • IAI Dagger: The Israeli-built Mirage 5 did not have aerial refuelling capacity, and even using two 550-gallon drop tanks to carry extra fuel, they were flying at the absolute limit of their range. Their main weapon during the conflict was the British-made 1000 lb (Mk 17) unguided bomb. They retained their 30 mm DEFA cannon.
  • Mirage IIIEA: The French-built interceptor has an internal fuel tank smaller than that of the Dagger, so they could not fly low enough to escort the strike aircraft. They carried a pair of R550 Magic IR missiles in their high-altitude flights to the islands, but the British Harrier combat air patrols concentrated on the low-flying bombers.
  • FMA IA-58 Pucara: The Argentine-built counter-insurgency aircraft operated from the Goose Green grass airstrip during the battle. The aircraft were armed with rocket pods, two 20 mm cannons and four 7.62 mm machine guns.

British amphibious force

British air cover was provided for the first time by "Harrier carriers". These small carriers deployed only short-takeoff, vertical-landing Harriers, subsonic aircraft with less range and payload than land or conventional carrier-based aircraft.

800 NAS Sea Harrier FRS1 from HMS Hermes


Argentine airbases: Distances to Port Stanley Airport:[5] Trelew: 580 nautical miles (1,070 km), Comodoro Rivadavia: 480 nautical miles (890 km), San Julián: 425 nautical miles (787 km), Rio Gallegos: 435 nautical miles (806 km) and Rio Grande: 380 nautical miles (700 km).
Due to the distance required to fly to the islands, two minutes was the average time Argentine attack aircraft had available in the target area.

This is a list of the main sorties carried out by Argentine air units showing approximate local time, Aircraft and Call signal.

21 May

The Argentine Army force on site was a section from the 25th Infantry Regiment named Combat team Güemes (Spanish: Equipo de Combate Güemes) located at Fanning Head. The British fleet entered San Carlos during the night and at 02:50 was spotted by EC Güemes which opened fire with 81mm mortars and two recoilless 105mm rifles. They were soon engaged by British naval gunfire and a 25-man SBS team and forced to retreat, losing their communications equipment but shooting down two Gazelle helicopters with small-arms fire, killing three members of the two aircrews.

1st Lt Carlos Daniel Esteban from EC Güemes informed Goose Green garrison about the landings at 08:22 (he was finally evacuated by helicopter on 26 May). The Argentine high command at Stanley initially suggested that a landing operation was not feasible at San Carlos and the operation was just a diversion. Finally, at 10:00, a COAN Aermacchi MB-339 jet based on the islands was dispatched to San Carlos on a reconnaissance flight. In the meantime, the FAA had already started launching their mainland-based aircraft at 09:00.

Naval Aviation Aermacchi MB-339
  • 10:15 : COAN MB339 4-A-115. Lt Guillermo Owen Crippa in a reconnaissance flight flew over the landing force twice to determine the exact composition of the fleet, earning the highest national military decoration, the Argentine Nation to the Heroic Valour in Combat Cross. He attacked HMS Argonaut and an unidentified RFA ship with guns and rockets, then withdrew.
  • 10:15 : FAA Pucara Tigre. Three (of four) planes scrambled from Goose Green and were engaged by gunfire from HMS Ardent. Cpt Benítez was shot down by a Stinger missile fired by the Special Air Service; he ejected and walked back to his base, arriving at 19:00. The other two pilots, Mj Tomba and 1st Lt Micheloud, fired 2.75 inch rockets at a shed apparently used by British forces as an observation post, but were intercepted by two Sea Harriers during their escape. Mj Tomba was shot down (ejecting safely) by pilot Nigel Ward,[6] while Lt Micheloud's aircraft escaped and landed at Port Stanley's airfield.
  • 10:20 : FAA MIIIEA. Four aircraft made a diversion north of the islands.
  • 10:25 : FAA Dagger Leon. From San Julian, Cpt Dimeglio and Lt Castillo attacked HMS Antrim with their 30mm cannon. Their 1,000 lb (450 kg) bombs failed to explode.
  • 10:30 : FAA Dagger Ñandú. From Rio Grande, Tierra del Fuego, Cpt Rodhe and Lt Bean attacked HMS Argonaut, Lt Bean was shot down by a Sea Wolf SAM from HMS Broadsword; Broadsword was attacked by pilot Cpt Janet.
HMS Fearless at San Carlos
  • 10:35 : FAA Dagger Zorro. Cpt Dellepine, Cpt Diaz and Cpt Aguirre-Faget bombed and strafed HMS Brilliant but the bombs hang-up.
  • 10:50 : FAA Dagger Perro. Mj Martinez, Cpt Moreno and Lt Volponi attacked HMS Antrim. Their 1,000 lb (450 kg) bombs did not explode, but one of them hit the stern of the destroyer, which also received damage from 30 mm strafing. During their escape, Sea Harriers launched Sidewinders against the Daggers but they fell short.
  • 12:45 : FAA A-4C Pato. Cpt Almoño, Cpt Garcia, 1st Lt Daniel Manzotti and Lt Nestor Lopez were intercepted by Sea Harriers; Manzotti and López were shot down and killed by Sidewinders.
  • 12:45 : FAA A-4B Mula. Cpt Carballo and Ensign Carmona. Mula 2 attacked an unknown ship, most probably the abandoned Argentine cargo vessel Rio Carcaraña, and withdrew,[7] Carballo continued alone and attacked HMS Ardent straddling her with two bombs, both of which failed to explode.[8]
  • 13:37 : FAA A-4B Leo. 1st Lt Filippini, Lt Autiero, Lt Osses, Lt Robledo and Ensign Vottero hit HMS Argonaut with 1,000 lb (450 kg) bombs which did not explode, with one crashing through her Sea Cat magazine, detonating two missiles and causing damage and two fatalities among Argonaut's crew.
  • 14:30 : FAA MIIIEA. Two aircraft took off as a diversion.
  • 14:35 : FAA Dagger Cueca Cpt Mir Gonzales, Cpt Robles, 1st Lt Luna and Lt Bernhard were intercepted by Sea Harriers, and Lt Luna was hit by a Sidewinder but ejected safely. The other three pilots attacked HMS Ardent and return to base.
Gate guardian at the flying club Mar del Plata painted in the colours of 3-A-314, the last A-4Q to attack HMS Ardent
  • 14:53 : FAA Dagger Laucha Mj Puga, 1st Lt Román attack HMS Brilliant. The third pilot attacked an unknown ship, probably HMS Antrim.
  • 14:58 : FAA Dagger Raton Mj Piuma, Cpt Donadille and 1st lt Senn were intercepted by Sea Harriers of Nigel Ward and Lt Thomas. The Daggers dropped their ordnance −2 fuel tanks and one 1,000 lb (450 kg)- and tried to escape, but the three were shot down by Sidewinders, with all pilots ejecting safely. After recovering the pilots, the FAA realised that the San Julian-based Daggers' approach corridor had been discovered and made efforts to correct the situation.
  • 15:15 : COAN A-4Q Tabanos. Cpt Philipi, Lt Arca and Lt Marquez hit HMS Ardent with several 500 lb (230 kg) retarding tail bombs and cannon fire. Two aircraft were shot down by Sea Harriers during their escape, killing Lt Marcelo Márquez. Lt. Philippi ejected safely and, after being sheltered by local farmer Tony Blake during the night,[9] he rejoined the Argentine forces. The third A-4Q, Lt Arca, was damaged and the pilot bailed out into the sea approximately 800 to 1,000 meters off Cape Pembroke, Port Stanley. Arca was rescued from the water by Capt. Jorge “Picho” Svendsen's Huey UH-1H from the Army's 601 Helicopter Battalion. HMS Ardent sank. Both crew were decorated with the Valour in Combat Medal.
  • 17:02 : FAA A-4C : No ships found.
  • 17:12 : FAA A-4B : No ships found.

22 May

Bad weather over the Patagonia airfields prevented the Argentines from carrying out most of their air missions; only a few Skyhawks managed to reach the islands. The British completed their surface-to-air Rapier battery launcher deployments.

23 May

  • 13:30 : FAA A-4B Nene. Four A-4Bs (Carballo, 1st Lt Guadagnini, Lt Rinke and Ensign Gomez) attacked HMS Broadsword and HMS Antelope. Carballo's plane was damaged by a Sea Cat missile, fired from Antelope, during his bombing run, so he broke off the attack and returned to Rio Gallegos. A second Argentine plane dropped a 1,000 lb (450 kg) bomb on Antelopes starboard side, killing Crewman Mark R. Stephens. Lieutenant Guadagnini was hit and killed by HMS Antelope's 20mm cannon and crashed through her main mast while carrying out his bombing run; his bombs pierced the frigate's hull without exploding.[10] After the attack, one of these detonated while being defused, sinking the ship.
  • 13:45 : COAN A-4Q Tabanos. Cpt Castro Fox, Cpt Zubizarreta and Lt Benitez attacked HMS Broadsword, HMS Yarmouth and HMS Antelope without visible success. Cpt Carlos María Zubizarreta was killed in Rio Grande, Tierra del Fuego when his parachute did not fully open after he ejected from his A-4Q due to a tyre bursting on landing with his bombs still loaded. The plane stopped by itself and did not suffer any damage.[11][12]
  • 15:10 : FAA Dagger Puñal. Mj Martinez and Lt Volponi intercepted by Sea Harriers, which shot down the second aircraft, whilst Martinez returned to base.
  • 15:10 : FAA Dagger Daga. Struck targets inside Ajax Bay
  • 15:10 : FAA Dagger Coral. Struck targets inside Ajax Bay

24 May

IAI Dagger
  • 10:15 FAA A-4B Chispa y Nene. Five A-4Bs (Com Mariel, 1st Lt Sanchez, Lt Roca, Lt Cervera and Ensign Moroni) attacked ships inside the bay. RFA Sir Lancelot was hit by a 1,000 lb (450 kg) bomb, which did not explode. Two LCUs are also attacked.
  • 11:02 FAA Dagger Azul. Cpt Mir Gonzalez, Cpt Maffeis, Cpt Robles and Lt Bernhardt attacked unidentified ships, probably RFA Sir Bedivere, inside the bay.
  • 11:07 FAA Dagger Plata. Cpt Dellepiane, 1st Lt Musso and Lt Callejo stroke ground targets with 500 lb (230 kg) retarding tail bombs.
  • 11:08 FAA Dagger Oro. Mj Puga, Cpt Diaz and 1st Lt Castillo were intercepted and shot down by Sea Harriers. Castillo was killed and the other two ejected safely.
  • 11:20 FAA A-4C Halcon. Cpt Pierini, 1st Lt Ureta and Lt Mendez were intercepted by Sea Harriers but managed to return to base.
  • 11:30 FAA A-4C Jaguar. 1st Lt Vazquez, Lt Bono and Ensign Martinez attacked unidentified ships, possibly RFA Sir Galahad, inside the bay. The three aircraft all received battle damage with Bono's aircraft crashing during the return flight. The other two Skyhawks were rescued by a KC-130 tanker, which approached the islands and delivered 30,000 litres of fuel while accompanying them to the airfield at San Julian.

On 24 May the Argentine pilots on the continent openly expressed their concern about the lack of collaboration between the three branches of the armed forces, and protested with passive resistance. General Galtieri, acting president of Argentina, decided to visit Comodoro Rivadavia the next day, 25 May (Argentina's National Day), to try to convince them to keep fighting, but when he arrived in the morning the pilots had changed their minds and were already flying to the islands.[13]

25 May

  • 09:00 FAA A-4B Marte. Cpt Hugo Palaver's aircraft was damaged in a friendly fire incident when he and Lt Daniel Gálvez accidentally flew over Goose Green and strafed the pier there, in the belief that they were over Ajax Bay.[14] The main anti-aircraft artillery identified the fighters as friendly and did not fire, but soldiers on the ground engaged with small arms fire.[15] When they returned to the strait, Palaver was shot down by a Sea Dart missile fired by HMS Coventry
  • 12:25 FAA A-4C Toro. Cpt Garcia, Lt Lucero (C-319USN pic), Lt Paredi and Ensign Issac attacked ships inside the bay, probably RFA Sir Lancelot; after the attack Lucero was shot down by a Sea Cat missile fired from HMS Yarmouth. He successfully ejected over the landing force,[16] was rescued and then transferred to the hospital ship SS Uganda. Another Sea Dart, fired by HMS Coventry, shot down Garcia, whose aircraft had been damaged by small arms fire during the attack, to the North of San Carlos. Cpt Garcia ejected, but was not recovered and died. Ensign Isaac was losing fuel but was rescued by the KC-130, which accompanied him to his base while refuelling him in flight.
  • 15:20 FAA A-4B Vulcano. Cpt Carballo and Lt Carlos Rinke attacked HMS Broadsword,picture from shipdamaging the frigate's communication systems and hydraulics and electrics[17] and shattering the nose of her Sea Lynx helicopter Pictures of the Damage
  • 15:20 FAA A-4B Zeus. 1st Lt Velasco and Ensign Barrionuevo sank destroyer HMS Coventry after hitting the ship with three 500 lb (230 kg) bombs.British video Argentine video


File:Heading into Port Stanley.jpg
British troops Yomp to Stanley

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I think the Argentine pilots are showing great bravery, it would be foolish of me to say anything else

— John Nott British Defence Minister[18]

In spite of the massive air defence network, the Argentine pilots were able to attack their targets but some serious procedural failures prevented them from getting better results – most notably problems with their bombs' fuses. Thirteen bombs[19] hit British ships without detonating. Lord Craig, the retired Marshal of the Royal Air Force, is said to have remarked: "Six better fuses and we would have lost".[20]

The British warships, although themselves suffering most of the attacks, were successful in keeping the strike aircraft away from the landing ships, which were well inside the bay.[21] With the British troops on Falklands soil, a land campaign followed until Argentine General Mario Menéndez surrendered to British Major General Jeremy Moore on 14 June in Stanley.

The subsonic Harrier jump-jet, armed with the most advanced variant of the Sidewinder air-to-air missile, proved capable as an air superiority fighter.

The actions had a profound impact on later naval practice. During the 1980s most warships from navies around the world were retrofitted with close-in weapon systems and guns for self-defence. First reports of the number of Argentine aircraft shot down by British missile systems were subsequently revised down.[22]

See also


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  4. Commodore Ruben Oscar Moro: La Guerra Inaudita, ISBN 987-96007-3-8, ... consideraban que el desembarco Britanico no podia ser alli ... debido a un concepto naval que asociaba la capacidad de una flota con su espacio de maniobra para un desembarco ...
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  7. Some sources identify this ship as the Rio Carcaraña but other sources place the cargo vessel in Bahía Rey ( King George Bay ? ) at the time
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  9. La balada del piloto bahiense y el estanciero kelper (Spanish)
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  13. Costa, Eduardo José (1988). Guerra Bajo la Cruz del Sur. Hyspamérica, p. 334. ISBN 950-614-749-3 (Spanish)
  14. Official site of the Argentine Air Force: Fuerza Aérez Argentina – Martes 25 de Mayo (Spanish)
  15. Piaggi, Italo A. (1986). Ganso Verde. Ed. Planeta, p. 83. ISBN 950-37-0186-4. (Spanish)
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  21. Pablo Carballo: Halcones sobre Malvinas
  22. Of 14 kills and 6 probables, only one Argentine aircraft was shot down by Rapier, as originally noted by Ethell and Price. Similar discrepancies arose over other weapons systems, notably Blowpipe (one confirmed kill as against nine confirmed and two probables in the White Paper) and Sea Cat (zero to one against eight confirmed and two probables in the White Paper). FREEDMAN, Sir Lawrence, The Official History of the Falklands Campaign (Abingdon, 2005). Volume II, page 732-735


External links

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