Harrier Diary 4
The No 1 (Fighter) Squadron Operation Corporate Diary
Reproduced by kind permission of Air Chief Marshal Sir Peter Squire, Chief of the Air Staff
Thursday 20 May
After a quiet night the weather today is pretty grim. However, Rochfort makes it in the 6th aircraft and by the evening the remaining troops have also arrived.
The bad weather and the ship's working time zone (Zulu) give us hours in which to plan the attack at Fox Bay. Iveson, Sqn Ldr JJ Pook and I pour over maps in the dining room. We plan to fly in Escort and have three different routes to take account of bad weather.
We launch at 1400 armed with 3 CBUs and the run into the target (Hi-Lo-Hi) works as advertised. Sharky Ward hears us transiting in as "GREENx" and asks after me by name!! He gets a gruff response. The target is easily acquired and Iveson reports that my weapons cause extensive secondary explosions. There is no obvious groundfire and the recovery goes fine.
The invasion (Operation SUTTON) looks certain for tomorrow and thus it is likely to be a busy day.
Friday 21 May
Operation SUTTON begins at dawn and the squadron is tasked to carry out a combination of Air and Ground Alerts for use in the AOA. The first mission of, however, is Jerry Pook and Mark Hare carrying out armed recce for helicopters - a most successful sortie.
I have split the 8 pilots into 4 pairs of Leaders and No 2s. I am paired with Jeff Glover and we launch at first light for the AOA. My undercarriage stays down and I send Jeff on alone. We have often done this as an expedient during peacetime exercises but this was a mistake. He is shot down and no-one seems to know where. The LLAWC ship (Brilliant) did not task Jeff in the AOA and it turned out that Fearless tasked him to carry out armed recce in the Port Howard area.
The loss hits everyone extremely badly but that evening a signal intercept refers to a Flt Lt William Glover and there is a chance that he may be OK.
Saturday 22 May
Operation SUTTON continues but there is no requirement for CAS. We carry out pre-planned 4-ship attack on Goose Green which is heavily defended and one armed recce sortie.
Mid-afternoon; and while preparing to launch on the armed recce mission we receive the confirmation that Glover is a POW, albeit injured. We cannot communicate this to UK owing to compromise of sources and we shall have to hope that the Red Cross get in on the act as soon as possible. In my letter home that night I try to reassure Carolyn and Dee in guarded terms It will in fact be some days before official information is received.
Generally, it has been a quiet day. The Argentineans appear to be attempting to re-supply their forces. We shall need some luck in finding them.
Sunday 23 May
The min sortie of the day is the 4 aircraft attack on Dunnose Head airstrip which might be a FOB for Pucara aircraft or possible even Hercules. The weapons used are a mixture of CBUs and 1,000lb bombs to educe the time over target. No 2 (Mark Hare) is hit by the CBU furniture of his leader and drops his bombs late. Sadly this causes some damage to the local settlement and injury to Tim Miller (loss of one eye). The Navy hold a Unit Enquiry, the motive for which is not clear. In any event, the conclusion is not critical of anyone. Subsequently, Mark and Tim become firm friends; after the ceasefire Mark went ashore with some groundcrew to help repair the damage.
News received that Glover is to be transferred by helo from Goose Green to Stanley. All helicopters are removed from the ROE until the following day.
800 Sqn launch 4 aircraft after dark to loft bombs on Stanley airfield. Gordy Batt, on his first night launch in the Sea Harrier, flies into the sea shortly after take-off. I watch from FLYCO and observe the white flash on impact. We are likely to be tasked against the runway tomorrow.
Monday 24 May
As expected we are tasked to attack the runway at Stanley with 1,000lb retard bombs. The Sea Harriers will loft bombs at the airfield for defence suppression during our run-in. Some RN pilots over emphasize the dangers of attacking the airfield at low level and as a result I have to alter the composition of the formation to include myself.
All four aircraft return safely despite the ground-fire. We hit the runway ¾ times but the bombs have been fuzed with 40m/sec delayed action and so they have stripped and the damage is not significant.
It is my first sortie with Mark Hare and we work well together as a team, which will be useful later.
The mission was delayed by weather and not flown until 1200Z (0800 local). There were no further tasks during the day.
As a result of debris damage to one aircraft and relative lack of effective penetration of the runway, Command decide that future bombing efforts should be high-angle.
LGBs are air-dropped to Hermes.
Tuesday 25 May
The day is spent attempting high angle deliveries onto Stanley airfield, where the local commander has made provision for CHAG (arrester gear) in order to support Etendard operations. To this end, we fly in formation with SHARs for loft delivery and on our own we either do manual loft or high angle from medium level. With no weapon aiming computer, it is not surprising that we do not succeed in hitting the runway.
It has always been thought that the Argentineans will plan to use the 25th for a major coup. Etendards attack the fleet before dusk and, as a result, both Coventry and Atlantic Conveyor are sunk. The latter has much of our stores, including 200 CBUs , but fortunately all the groundcrew were already safely embarked. Some of the survivors are brought on board and we sadly learn of the loss of Captain North.
The Chinook which has been reassembled and disembarked spends the night on Hermes before proceeding to San Carlos the following day. Three Chinooks and 6 Wessex are lost.
Wednesday 26 May
A day of little air activity. We fly just 5 missions ranging from pre-planned attacks on targets in the Port Howard area, to loft-bombing of Port Stanley runway, to armed recce.
The final sortie of the day results in the successful destruction of another enemy Puma helicopter. However, this requires repeated passes and considerably increased risk to the aircraft, one of which has battle damage.
We are being tasked on a number of armed recce sorties which against a static enemy are not proving effective. We have the F95 and recce pod and tasking on photo recce of given areas might produce better results, albeit that the film processing is a slow process.
The army is coming under pressure to make progress. The RN feel that they are taking too long to consolidate in the San Carlos area and fear their ships will run out of time on station.
The Atlantic Conveyor remains afloat but no more stores have been recovered.
Thursday 27 May
2 Para commence their attack on Darwin and Goose Green. At sea there is fog and no flying is possible before 1400Z (1000 local). We are tasked to support the Paras but suffer all the known problems of FAC:-
Poor comms; we have to orbit at 7,000ft+ to make contact
Poor choice of IP; it is in cloud
Small targets; poor/late acquisition and no laser target-marking
We are locked up at the IP and all chance of surprise is lost. Target identification is very difficult and first run attacks are rarely possible. Bob Iveson shot down on 4th pass by heavy AAA. Mark Hare believes that he ejected but we will have to wait. In the meantime I launch Jerry Pook on a recce mission. Apart from being shot at he is unable to see or hear anything of Iveson.
Naturally everyone is a bit wound up. The tasking appears to be gash and the debate as to the wisdom of re-attacks is debated fiercely. Although not ideal, there are occasions when one has to bite the bullet in order to support land forces. Mark has been No 2 on a number of busy sorties and he will fly with me from now on.
Friday 28 May
The day starts with sea fog and even when this clears the weather is pretty foul with a strong sea. On the first mission of the day, we fly in atrocious weather at low-level and it takes some time to positively identify our position on the coast of Fonia. However, I am pleased that we succeed in putting weapons into the target area - it was quite a challenge. On the way in, at high-level, I hear a transmission on Guard using Iveson's callsign of the previous day (3M503A). Back on board I try to persuade the captain to support a helo recce but he is not interested and suggests that it might be a spoof.
That evening Peter Harris leads a most successful attack on Goose Green. For once the targets are easily acquired and the Paras are left in no doubt that the results were instrumental in achieving the ceasefire. While this is being deliberated upon we are put on standby to mount a "firepower demonstration".
Saturday 29 May
The surrender of Goose Green is formally completed with the taking of 1,000 prisoners. 2 Para also pick up Bob Iveson who has had to rough it for a couple of nights.
Otherwise it is a very quiet day with only one successful mission. Some hours are spent on deck alert for CAS tasking. This is the only time I feel any apprehensions - not quite knowing where or when one might be tasked. We normally limit the time spent in the cockpit on deck to 2-3 hours and in that time I tend to write a few letters home (strictly against the R to I guidance), but it certainly helps to pass the time.
The inadequacies of the tasking system grow all the more apparent. Poor comms exacerbate the problems but the main cause is the lack of any effective tasking organisation on the ship. The carrier-borne GLO has been transferred to the Admiral's staff and the ship's ops officer cannot cope with air defence, attack, hels and RAS as a digital post. Furthermore we have no ground situation maps. Scrutiny of the tasking signals later on will show that on occasions we responded to air requests rather than air tasks. (The ship did not understand the system).
CAS : Close Air Support.
CBU : Cluster Bomb Unit.
FAC : Forward Air Controller.
LGB : Laser Guided Bomb.
IP : Initial Point (on the run in to a target).
POW : Prisoner of War.